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Just Kill Me

Adam Selzer. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4814-3494-2

Growing up in a funeral home has given Megan Henske a macabre sensibility. Her new job as a historical ghost-tour guide in Chicago seems like a perfect fit until her former-babysitter-turned-current-boss, Cynthia, hatches a plan to drum up more business. By systematically scaring willing victims to death (such as an elderly woman living miserably in a nursing home), she hopes to create real apparitions. "I nod along, not sure if they're serious or not," thinks Megan. "Like, they're talking about how to make someone into a ghost in the same kind of tone you'd use to tell someone how to make a Denver omelette." This offbeat tale meanders toward an eerily open-ended conclusion, taking side roads to explore Megan's relationships with her mother and an online girlfriend. Along the way, Selzer (Play Me Backwards) packs in plenty of stylized, rapid-fire exchanges and obscure film and pop culture references, as well as a bit of Chicago history, but these disparate pieces never entirely coalesce, leaving many unanswered questions. Ages 14–up. Agent: Adrienne Rosado, Leibo Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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For This Life Only

Stacey Kade. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4814-3248-1

When the twin sons of a preacher die in a car wreck, only one is revived. Now the life that Jacob Palmer knew has been extinguished, along with his hopes of a baseball scholarship. As his family implodes, Jacob grapples with his parents' religious devotion, painfully aware of the nothingness he felt in the moments before he was resuscitated, and tries to uncover brother Eli's final secret. In a striking meditation on grief, blame, fate, and losing one's faith, Kade (The Ghost and the Goth) exposes the layers of Jacob's loss from numerous angles, including the fact that Eli was always the "good twin," dutifully responding the night Jacob called for a ride. In a physical education class for "broken and damaged people," Jacob finds a kindred spirit in Thera, whom Eli had been tutoring. At the heart of Kade's reflective story is a philosophical tug of war between right and wrong, knowing the difference, and the relief that can be found in making a choice even when there are no clear answers. Ages 14–up. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Thieving Weasels

Billy Taylor. Dial, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-42924-1

Adult author Taylor's (Based on a Movie) first book for teens quickly draws sympathy for Cam Smith, a graduating high school senior who works at the cafeteria to afford tuition at his private boarding school. Cam may have his sights set on Princeton, but he is anything but privileged—he ran away from his con-artist family in hopes of starting over and pursuing a normal life. Now that the family has tracked Cam down and wants his help on their latest scheme, Cam's above-board life is in jeopardy. Taylor's characters—including gun-toting, tough-talking, biscotti-eating Uncle Wonderful; Hummer-driving, disability-fraudulent Vinny; and conscience-free cousin Roy—will feel plenty familiar to fans of the con-artist/tough guy genre. Taylor puts Cam in an impossible position, unable to trust anyone (especially if they're family) and uncertain whether he can escape his past. As Cam tries to juggle the nefarious demands of his relatives and his own respectable ambitions, Taylor's comedic crime novel entertains with its madcap, rapid-fire antics. Ages 12–up. Agent: Uwe Stender, TriadaUS Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Afterward

Jennifer Mathieu. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62672-238-5

In a sensitive portrait of trauma and recovery, a kidnapping kindles an unlikely friendship. Caroline Anderson's 11-year-old younger brother, Dylan, disappeared from in front of the family's Texas home only to be found four days later in a man's apartment. Dylan isn't the only one there: also present is 15-year-old Ethan Jorgenson, who vanished four years earlier. Dylan, who has autism, can't say much about what went on during his brief time with his captor, but Ethan's head is full of painful buried memories. Alternating between Caroline and Ethan's perspectives, Mathieu (Devoted) explores both the effects of trauma—it's clear without being explicit that Ethan suffered some form of sexual abuse—and the role that class plays in recovery, with Ethan's parents able to pay for extensive therapy. Drawn to each other, Caroline and Ethan develop a bond that's initially music-centric and becomes something deeper. It's a fully realized story of what happens after the news cameras fade away and the real work of moving forward begins. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kerry Sparks, Levine Greenberg Rostan. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom

David Neilsen, illus. by Will Terry. Crown, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-93578-1

Ever since Dr. Fell moved into the abandoned house at the end of Hardscrabble Street, things haven't seemed right to 10-year-old Gail Bloom; her younger brother, Jerry; and her best friend, Nancy Pinkblossom. The rest of the town, however, seems hypnotized by the hunched old man: kids flock to the doctor's spectacular playground, and parents are delighted by his offer of cheap physicals and ability to heal the increasingly serious injuries that occur on his playground. When Gail appears to be brainwashed following an exam with Dr. Fell, Nancy and Jerry team up to save her and the town. The doctor's verbosity ("Shouldn't you three be running amok within and throughout my magnanimous neighborhood donation?") should give readers' vocabularies a boost, but comes across like a forced quirk; determined though they are, Gail, Jerry, and Nancy never wind up the most captivating of heroes. Terry's spot illustrations, not all seen by PW, help establish an atmosphere of dreamlike strangeness, complementing the creepy threads of medical and supernatural horror Neilsen weaves through his debut novel. Ages 8–12. Author's agent: Eric Myers, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Sleeping Gypsy

Mordicai Gerstein. Holiday House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2142-8

Henri Rousseau's painting "The Sleeping Gypsy" has a mysterious charm all its own. Gerstein (I Am Pan!) builds his story around it—and in it. The original painting shows a woman fast asleep in the desert with a lion standing over her. Gerstein rewinds to the start of her journey, showing her walking across the desert, then lying down at nightfall to sleep. Desert animals begin to nose about, and then a lion leaps through the group, ready to eat her. At that moment, a man wearing a beret steps out of the shadows. "I am Henri Rousseau," he says. "We are all in a dream. It is my dream." Setting up his easel, he takes charge: "You, Lion, stay just where you are and lift your tail a bit." When the other animals complain ("You've made my nose too big"), he summarily paints them out—all but the lion—then repairs to Paris to finish the canvas. Gerstein interprets Rousseau's painting style both faithfully and freely, and his story suggests that there's nothing inevitable about the famous works of art we think we know. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Meltdown!

Jill Murphy. Candlewick, $15.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8926-1

Murphy's books have often comically explored the relationships between headstrong children and frazzled parents, and this story is no exception. Roxy, a rambunctious bunny toddler, is ready to help her mother shop for groceries, but she soon starts rolling cans down the aisle and throwing loaves of bread in the air instead of placing them in the cart. After Roxy gets her hands on a "piggy cake" that she's eager to eat, the messy result involves lots of wailing on Roxy's part and just as many apologies from her mother: "Everyone was looking." Carefully inked illustrations telegraph the emotions of all of Murphy's characters, including Roxy's eagerness and rage, her mother's embarrassment and anger, and the irritation of their fellow shoppers. Murphy's use of repetition (Roxy often echoes her mother's comments) and a mischievous ending—suffice it to say, the words "I'm sorry" never escape Roxy's lips—are just a few of the ways Murphy keeps her story true to life, as she suggests that sometimes the only way to beat a tantrum, as far as parents are concerned, is to suffer through it. Ages 3–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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