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The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Sarah Ockler. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0127-2

In an imaginative but mixed retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” Elyse moves from her idyllic home on the island of Tobago to the stormy Oregon coast after an accident stripped the aspiring singer of her voice, severing her from her twin sister and singing partner. There, she meets handsome ladies’ man Christian and begins working with him to repair his boat for the annual Pirate Regatta. Christian must win the race to stop his father from selling their summer home to developers with plans for commercializing the cove. Ockler’s (#scandal) poetic writing captivates from the outset (“My first breath outside my mother’s body was salt water; the Caribbean Sea lay claim to my soul the moment it took hers”), and Elyse’s backstory—including the mystery of exactly how she lost her voice—is inventive and well-drawn. But while steamy scenes between Elyse and Christian are enticing, some of the other plot lines feel contrived, from the bet over the boat race to a thread about Christian’s younger brother’s desire to march in a mermaid parade reserved for female participants. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ted Malawer, Upstart Crow Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dancing with Molly

Lena Horowitz. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1552-1

This diary-style novel offers a straightforward cautionary tale about the drug Ecstasy. The unnamed 17-year-old narrator, “an average-looking band geek with mousy, frizzy hair the color of dishwater,” feels invisible and awkward both at school and at home. She’s thrilled when the band is invited to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, but her mother is more impressed that the narrator’s younger sister, a sophomore, has been invited to prom by the school quarterback. Sick of being stuck in the shadows, the narrator is seduced by the prospect of “pure bliss” by taking Ecstasy offered by her friends. She only plans on trying the drug once, but she falls in love with the feeling of losing her inhibitions and being lifted out of her normal life. Soon she’s engaging in other high-risk behavior and can’t enjoy anything, even her new boyfriend, while sober. While the plot is predictable, it’s a realistic look at how easily one can be lured into drug use, and most readers will be pulled through the story by the candidness of the narration. Ages 14–up. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Between the Notes

Sharon Huss Roat. HarperTeen, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-229172-1

When 16-year-old Ivy Emerson and her family are forced to move to the “poor” side of town after the bank forecloses on their home, Ivy’s charmed life is replaced by one in which her family is crammed into a shoebox-sized house, she has no money to go out with her friends, and her mother shops for groceries at a food bank. Debut author Roat uses the intensity of major life changes to force Ivy to reevaluate everything she believes about herself, her friends, and her family. Ivy’s understandable bitterness and shame eventually give way to discoveries about what is—and isn’t—important in life, especially in the case of her neighbor Lennie, who has a reputation as her school’s “most notorious druggie,” but turns out to be kind and generous. As Ivy tries to choose between Lennie and a boy who represents a connection to her former life, the novel’s romantic and economic stakes feel too transparently tied to an overarching message about looking beyond appearances and material wealth. Ages 14–up. Agent: Steven Chudney, Chudney Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Because You'll Never Meet Me

Leah Thomas. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61963-590-6

Two teenage boys—separated by geography and unusual disabilities—forge an unlikely friendship in this epistolary story from debut author Thomas. Verbose and energetic, Ollie lives as a hermit: encountering electricity triggers his epileptic fits. Moritz is a humorless German boy born with no eyes, a weak heart that requires a pacemaker, and a superhuman ability to use echolocation to see. The two may be eccentric outcasts, but their conflicts, heartbreak, and eventual bond form a relatable and engaging narrative despite their farfetched backstories. Most of the time the setup works, although the boys’ penchant for writing lengthy direct quotations from other conversations can stretch the bounds of an already improbable story. The dual plots coalesce like yin and yang, a roller coaster of role reversals that sees both boys struggling with typical teenage problems in an absurdist landscape. While Ollie is closed off from the world and longs to see mundane things like a humidifier, Moritz has seen and knows too much. The two inevitably (and rewardingly) balance each other out as their first real friends. Ages 14–up. Agent: Lana Popovic, Chalberg & Sussman. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation)

Sue Stauffacher. Knopf, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-375-83097-6

Eleven-year-old Cassidy Corcoran couldn’t be more upset that her great-grandmother’s dying wish was that she attend a five-week etiquette course, especially since her sister gets to go to forensic camp. Cassidy’s dream, rather, is to become a hobo, riding the rails (she’s even renamed herself “Calamity Cassidy”). During the etiquette course, Miss Melton-Mowry’s lessons in posture, table manners, and proper conversation alternately annoy and bore Cassidy. What’s worse, ever since a young beauty pageant contestant moved in next door, Cassidy’s best friend Jack seems more interested in being the girl’s handyman than being Cassidy’s partner in crime. But Cassidy makes some unlikely friends in etiquette class, including Officer Weston, an “uncivilized clod” of a policeman, and enemy-turned-ally Delton Bean. While Stauffacher’s (the Animal Rescue Team series) plot drags in the middle, Cassidy’s flair for the dramatic (“I had no idea there was a word for the very thing I’m genius at!” Cassidy thinks after learning the meaning of “obfuscate”) makes for many amusing moments along the way. Ages 8–12. Agent: Wendy Schmalz, Wendy Schmalz Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Miss Todd and Her Wonderful Flying Machine

Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee, illus. by Kristina Yee, Isona Rigau, and Nick Cooke. Compendium (APG, dist.), $18.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-938298-76-9

Based on the authors’ stop-motion animated short film, this story about Lily Todd, the first woman to design and build a plane, is illustrated with photographs of paper puppets in model sets. Growing up at the turn of the 20th century, Todd developed an early fascination with flight and, at her Grandpa Joe’s urging, learned everything she could through books and model-making. After Todd was rejected from universities because of her gender, philanthropist Olivia Sage gave her space to build a full-size flying machine. The photographed scenes dominate, sometimes divided into panels to graphic-novel-like effect. Skillful use of shadow and lighting gives the scenes theatricality, while the puppets themselves evoke powerful emotions. Despite the restrictions Todd faced, the collaborators emphasize her passion and perseverance: “When she was soaring high above the clouds, flying free with the wind in her hair, she knew that nothing could hold her down—not even gravity.” An invented scene in which Todd sneaks onto her plane after being denied the chance to fly it, which the book fails to identify as fiction, is the only strike against this richly imagined tribute. Ages 4–up. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!

Elise Parsley. Little, Brown, $17 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-37657-0

A shaggy-haired, moon-faced girl named Magnolia morphs from smug to seething in Parsley’s debut, a cautionary tale about the risks of bringing an alligator to school. In second-person narration à la If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Magnolia explains how to defuse an unhappy teacher (“You’ll tell her that it’s okay and that you know all about alligators. The alligator will be good and quiet and he won’t eat anyone—cross your heart”), but the gator’s mischievous tendencies test the girl’s patience and threaten to land her in the principal’s office. (Eventually, Magnolia’s name ends up written on the classroom chalkboard with three checkmarks next to it “and an underline”!) Parsley’s digitally created illustrations brim with energy and just-edgy-enough humor (during math, a classmate is blissfully unaware how close he is to becoming the alligator’s next meal), and the well-chosen school-day details in both the artwork and text (“By now, of course, you’ll wish you brought a hollow stick or a bird’s nest or some sparkly rocks for show-and-tell”) deliver a steady stream of laughs. Ages 3–6. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Jampires

Sarah McIntyre and David O%E2%80%99Connell. Scholastic/Fickling, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-545-81663-2

When Sam’s doughnut is left “wrinkly and dry,” completely drained of its filling, who could be to blame? Two suspicious fangmarks are the only clue. Sam won’t stand for this kind of insult, so he “set a trap before going to bed/ and used his dry doughnut as bait./ In place of the jam he used ketchup instead,/ then hid under the covers to wait.” His laundry-basket trap nabs two pale “jampires” with enormous round eyes, pointy-eared hoods, and lips red with jam (or, at the moment, ketchup). Though jam and blood look a lot alike, McIntyre and O’Connell play this story for laughs—there’s never a moment of concern that the jampires might turn their fangs on Sam. Instead, they apologize profusely (they simply wandered too far from home and got hungry) and take the boy on a whirlwind tour of the Candyland-like “land of the Jampires,” which is filled with mountainous desserts and layer-cake cities, as well as cookies, macarons, and other goodies. Galloping verse and cartoons dusted with humor and magic add up to a light, dessert-themed mystery that’s both silly and sweet. Ages 3–5. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Ladybug Race

Amy Nielander. PomegranateKids (pomegranate.com), $19.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7649-7187-7

Two checkered lines sit at the far edges of debut author-illustrator Nielander’s clever and nicely designed picture book. They mark the start and finish of the race referred to in the title, and more than 100 red, pink, orange, and gold specimens (drawn actual size) are crammed along the left margin, waiting for the contest to begin. Each page turn reveals the race’s progress—seen from above, the ladybugs surge forward across the blank white page in a blobby mass of colorful dots. One tiny gray ladybug flies instead of crawling, and it’s a good thing—while it lands safely on the right side of the spread, the hundreds of other beetles disappear into the book’s central gutter. In a display of good sportsmanship (and following a silent exchange with a larger gray ladybug who was bringing up the rear—a parent, perhaps?), the small ladybug backtracks to help pull its fellow racers out in a chain that turns into a giant spiral to complete the race, while the gray ladybugs reunite. Rarely has a swarm of bugs been so charming. Ages 2–8. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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