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Just Imagine

Pippa Goodhart, illus. by Nick Sharratt. Kane Miller, $12.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-61067-343-3

In a companion to You Choose, the question “Can you imagine being big?” kicks off a succession of what-if scenarios featuring a redheaded girl and a bespectacled boy exploring and transforming themselves amid pages crowded with animals, magical creatures, wild machinery, and more. “Imagine being made differently—not really human at all,” Goodhart suggests as Sharratt pictures the boy as a centaur and a living candle, while the girl morphs into a ghost and a balloon. Other spreads invite readers to imagine traveling through time, inventing the “best machine,” and living underground or underwater. Sharrat’s signature brand of simple, bright cartooning and Goodhart’s reader-directed prompts and tidbits of information offer diversions aplenty. Ages 3–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Through the Woods

Emily Carroll. S&S/McElderry, $21.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4424-6595-4

Canadian graphic artist Carroll uses familiar horror motifs—the first wife's ghost, the monster that dwells in the forest—to create fresh and disturbing tales. Sure in her handling of line, color, and sequential art techniques, she revels in period settings, placing her five stories in identifiable historical eras that include colonial North America and the Roaring Twenties. Carefully drawn clothing and furnishings provide ironic backdrops for Lovecraftian revelations of parasitical possession and hideous evil. In the most explicitly gruesome story, a dowdy girl named Mabel is forced to stay with her prosperous brother and his perfect wife, who, Mabel begins to see, is a monster inhabiting the skin of a human: "I only wanted to wear her," the wife says dreamily of the housekeeper, whose bloodied wrist Mabel has spotted, "but when I tried her on, there was no stretch left." Instead of the gratifying defeat of evil, the gothic stories often leave off unsettlingly with a twist of the knife, just at the moment some fresh horror beckons. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jen Linnan, Linnan Literary Management. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Barbarian Lord

Matt Smith. Clarion, $17.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-547-85906-4

He may look like a musclebound lug who takes his style cues from Conan the Barbarian, but when it's time to wax poetic, Barbarian Lord shows he has brains to match his brawn. After sorcery and skullduggery drive him from his native Garmrland, Barbarian Lord journeys to the kingdom of Krigsland and earns the chieftain's favor with awesome displays of violence and verbiage. He returns with a mean-looking posse and delivers swift and permanent retribution. Indeed, battle is what Barbarian Lord does best, and whether he's exchanging blows with a troll or insults with a skull-headed bard ("Men will sing for ages beyond count of all your deeds... empty as your sockets, barren as your skull"), he proves an unrivaled warrior and wordsmith. Smith (who illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux) weaves lore and laughs into this bombastic saga; thanks to his dynamic art (the lack of color is but a slight disappointment) and cinematic staging, seeing his hero conquer every challenge that stands in his way never gets old. All hail Barbarian Lord! Ages 12–up. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Four: A Divergent Collection

Veronica Roth. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-234521-9

Four's story is already achingly familiar to fans of Roth's Divergent—his close relationship to protagonist Tris Prior in the author's original trilogy allowed readers to grow fond of this fiercely protective yet guarded character. In this aptly numbered collection of four stories, all told from the perspective of Four (aka Tobias Eaton), readers receive an inside look at how he came to be a Dauntless instructor in the first place, got his name, uncovered the plot by Jeanine Matthews to attack the Abnegation faction, and fell in love with Tris. Divergent fans will thoroughly enjoy this extra bit of backstory, which is filled with names and places that became beloved in Roth's bestselling trilogy. Roth's storytelling retains the same mix of tension, uncertainty, and hope that made the original stories irresistible. For those who were brokenhearted to find themselves at the last page of Allegiant, this brief look back through Four's eyes will be a welcome trip down memory lane. Ages 14–up. Agent: Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Before You

Amber Hart. Kensington/KTeen, $9.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-61773-116-7

Hart debuts with a steamy romance about affirming love. Faith Watters, 18, returns for her senior year in Oviedo, Fla., after a year in rehab that no one knows about except for her family and best friend, Melissa. Ever since Faith was abandoned by her drug-addicted mother 10 years earlier, she has felt compelled to act the part of her pastor father's perfect daughter. Every aspect of Faith's life feels stifling, including her relationship with her bland boyfriend of four years that resembles an "arranged marriage." When she's assigned to be a "peer helper" to cocky new student Diego Alvarez, the physical attraction between them is immediate. Their inaccurate assumptions about one another and defensive personalities cause conflicts, yet as trust builds, Faith reveals her family history, and Diego confesses his involvement with a drug cartel. As Hart alternates between Faith and Diego's self-aware and expressive first-person narratives, readers will be invested in the couple's intense cross-cultural relationship as they persevere despite an onslaught of personal and societal pressures. Ages 14–up. Agent: Beth Miller, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Truth About Alice

Jennifer Mathieu. Roaring Brook, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-59643-909-2

Four high-school juniors—Elaine, Kelsie, Josh, and Kurt—narrate the eponymous Alice's story in turns. A callous jock named Brandon starts a rumor that Alice slept with him and another boy at Elaine's party. Shortly afterward, he dies in a car crash, and Josh suggests that texts from Alice distracted Brandon. These rumors take on a life of their own, transforming Alice from a well-liked girl into a cafeteria pariah with a "Slut Stall" dedicated to her in the girls' bathroom. Mathieu's well-crafted debut portrays all the teens sympathetically, revealing the insecurities that motivate their actions; for example, Kelsie thinks the popular girls "could smell my old middle school nerdiness on me like it was some kind of disease," and would rather betray her best friend than lose her newfound popularity. Their accounts unintentionally reveal Alice's decency, emphasizing the cruelty of the ostracism and underscoring the integrity of the one boy who dares to befriend her. Alice gets the final word, yet Mathieu avoids reducing her story to a revenge narrative, instead offering a quietly powerful testament to perspective and personal resilience. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sarah LaPolla, Bradford Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

Lucy Frank. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $19.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-307-97975-9

Two girls struggle with Crohn's disease in this moving verse novel from Frank (Lucky Stars). When Chessie winds up in the emergency room after a painful bout of stomach pain and an embarrassing "moment" with a crush, her immediate concern is living through her mortification. During her hospital stay, Chessie grapples not only with tubes up her nose, dietary restrictions, and mood-influencing steroids but also with the psychological effects of being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Her assertive hospital roommate, Shannon, who suffers from a more aggressive form of Crohn's, makes Chessie's diagnosis easier by cracking jokes and airing her grievances, indirectly encouraging Chessie to follow suit. Frank's decision to split the narrative vertically on the page (the middle line represents the curtain between Chessie and Shannon's beds) doesn't always pay off, sometimes distracting from rather than enhancing the verse. But the girls' anger and palpable fear ("How do you know who you are when you can't trust your own body?") contribute to a raw, unsentimental perspective on the fight to keep an illness from overpowering one's identity. Ages 12–up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied

Jess Keating. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $7.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4022-9755-7

Wry, honest seventh-grader Ana tries to make sense of the middle-school feeding tank while grappling with her best friend's move to New Zealand, the school "Sneerers" clique, and her longtime crush. Then there's Ana's family: her annoying twin brother, whose best friend is suddenly looking kind of cute; her zookeeper parents; and her celebrity naturalist grandfather, who just showed up to make a movie showcasing the whole family. Ana wants to shake her paralyzing fear of public speaking so she can do a presentation at the zoo and also nail an art project meant to express her identity, but she's not sure she has it in her. Readers should find it easy to become invested in Ana's troubles as she looks for the right boy, seeks her moment of glory, and defines herself on her own terms. Keating, a zoologist, enriches her debut novel with fascinating animal facts, awkward moments with a variety of wild species, and "creature files" Ana use to amusingly classify her peers. Ages 9–12. Agent: Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Luck Uglies

Paul Durham, illus. by P%C3%A9tur Antonsson. Harper, $16.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-227150-1

In Durham's witty fantasy debut, 11-year-old Rye O'Chanter is bent on mischief with her friends Quinn and Folly. They live in Village Drowning, a muddy place haunted by tales of ravenous Bog Noblins, vicious creatures from Beyond the Shale, and criminal Luck Uglies, outlaw robbers long since driven away by the Earl of Longchance, who holds Drowning in an iron grip. Rye's household offers no respite from the peculiarities of the outside world: her mother enforces a cryptic set of House Rules, Rye's pet cat Shady can't possibly be only a cat, and her father's identity remains unknown to her. When a monster from legend and a tattooed man named Harmless appear, Rye aligns with the blind street rat Truitt and the Earl's unpleasant daughter, Malydia, to help the Luck Uglies save Drowning from dangers without and tyranny within. First in a planned trilogy, this adventure staggers slightly under the weight of its thorny plot turns, but is kept aloft by brisk wordplay, a charming heroine, and a provocative blurring of the border between heroism and villainy. Ages 8–12. Author's agent: Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Katheryn Russell-Brown, illus. by Frank Morrison. Lee & Low, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-60060-898-8

A musician plucked from jazz history is the subject of Russell-Brown's debut picture book. In the music-filled Kansas City of the 1920s, young Melba Doretta Liston wants to play an instrument, eventually swooning over a shiny trombone and learning to play. Staccato rhythms pepper the fluid prose: "Blues, jazz, and gospel rhythms danced in her head—the plink of a guitar, the hummmm of a bass, the thrum-thrum of a drum." Eventually, Liston's talent attracts the attention of Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and others, but her struggles are laid out plainly: "Some white folks didn't show good manners toward folks with brown skin. Hotel rooms were hard to come by, and the band members often had to sleep on the bus." Morrison's oil paintings practically sway with a jazz beat, though somber moments crop up, too: the shadows on Liston's face signify the trials of life on the road. A final image showing long-limbed Liston in profile as she plays under the glow of stage lights is exquisite. Ages 6–10. Author's agent: Adriana Dominguez, Full Circle Literary. Illustrator's agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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