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By Your Side

Kasie West. HarperTeen, $9.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-245586-4

After two high school students get locked in the local library over a three-day weekend, they end up sharing intimate details of their lives with each other, even though Autumn is well aware that Dax’s “reputation wasn’t exactly stellar,” and he thinks she is a “naïve, spoiled priss.” When Autumn emerges, she finds her life in chaos: her family and classmates thought that she had been in a car accident involving her friends. As Autumn copes with the consequences of the weekend, she turns to Dax, a lonely foster kid, for distraction and comfort. West (P.S. I Like You) offers a largely formulaic story of a golden girl falling for a bad boy, from the initial accident that throws the unlikely pair together to the path their relationship takes and its effect on Autumn’s friendships. Fans of opposites-attract romances, though, should enjoy watching Autumn and Dax find each other, even as the two teens pushback against a host of judgments, expectations, and assumptions. Ages 13–up. Agent: Michelle Wolfson, Wolfson Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Frostblood

Elly Blake. Little, Brown, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-316-27325-1

Seventeen-year-old Ruby Otrera is a Fireblood with a poorly controlled ability to create and control flame, but her kind have been outlawed and persecuted by the cold-wielding Frostbloods, who rule her land. After her true nature is discovered and her mother killed, Ruby is imprisoned, then freed by members of a rebellion seeking to defeat the tyrant Frost King. Ruby hones her skills with the aid of a sullen Frostblood named Arcus, only to be captured again, this time sent to fight as a gladiator for the king’s entertainment. This is a strong debut for Blake, though the overall structure and plot points will be familiar to fans of stories in which a specially skilled young woman is manipulated into overthrowing a corrupt regime, alongside untrustworthy allies and a sexy-yet-mysterious guy. But while the story hits some predictable beats, the overall execution is solid, and as the kickoff to Blake’s Frostblood Saga, it succeeds in laying down intriguing framework for the books to come. Ages 12–up. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dreadnought

April Daniels. Diversion, $14.99 trade paper (276p) ISBN 978-1-68230-068-8

A transgender teenager is transformed into her ideal self after being imbued with the powers of the world’s greatest superhero in this thought-provoking first book in the Nemesis series. As the latest iteration of Dreadnought, 15-year-old Danielle is expected to train with the local team, the Legion Pacifica, until she’s ready to become a full-fledged hero. Unfortunately, her parents would rather “cure” her and turn her back into Danny, and her reception among the other heroes is mixed at best. Danielle teams up with vigilante heroine Calamity to track down the previous Dreadnought’s murderer, only to stumble upon a plan to destroy the human race. In an impressive debut, Daniels skillfully conveys Danielle’s pain, confusion, and emotional complexity as she faces a host of detractors and conflicts. While Danielle’s supernatural transformation comes off as an easy solution compared to journeys of real-world trans teenagers, the novel’s comic-book trappings allow for a fascinating exploration of gender identity in a fantastical setting. Danielle’s evolution from confused teen to confident hero is entertaining and inspiring. Ages 12–up. Agent: Saritza Hernandez, Corvisiero Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Gorilla Dawn

Gill Lewis, illus. by Susan Meyer. Atheneum/Dlouhy, $16.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8657-6

In the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rebel soldiers have started an illegal coltan mine that will make them rich but has endangered the native habitat. Among those imprisoned in the soldiers’ camp are Imara, a girl with a disfiguring scar who is believed to have supernatural powers; Bobo, a 14-year-old intent on clearing the name of his father, a missing wildlife ranger; and Kitwana, a baby gorilla destined to be sold off and smuggled to the city. Using a narrative that shifts among all three characters, Lewis (Moon Bear) weaves an enrapturing tale of survival as the orphans hatch a plan to return the gorilla to his family while plotting their own escape. Imara, plagued by a demon who bleats in her ear, is resistant to helping the other children held hostage and used for slave labor, but she cannot avoid developing a maternal tenderness for Kitwana. By focusing on the plight of one sick animal, Lewis crystallizes broader issues of corruption, destruction, and rebirth while exploring deep psychological scars and traumatic events in a war-torn region. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 9–13. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Wearle

Chris D’Lacey. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-545-90018-8

D’Lacey’s Last Dragon Chronicles explored a time after dragons ceased to exist on Earth; in this prehistoric fantasy, which begins the Erth Dragons series, he follows the struggles of the initial dragon colonists who traveled to this planet from Ki:mera. Gabrial, a young dragon, wants to prove himself worthy of guarding the new hatchlings, but when disaster strikes, he’s stripped of his name and responsibilities. As Gabrial attempts to redeem himself, a bold human boy named Ren discovers a dragon hatchling, which brings him into conflict with his own community. As Gabrial and Ren’s stories collide, they attempt to save their peoples from a conflict that could destroy all of them. As in the Last Dragon Chronicles, there is a preponderance of G names where dragons are concerned, as well as odd stylistic choices that include the mid-word colons of dragonspeak (“i:mage,” “De:allus”) and the human, or “Hom,” terms for animals: instead of horses, rabbits, and butterflies, there are whinneys, hoppers, and flutterflies. Newcomers may be distracted by the linguistic quirks, but this remains a rousing adventure with sweeping aerial action scenes and a tense mystery at its center. Ages 8–12. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Crystal Ribbon

Celeste Lim. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-545-76703-3

At age 11, Li Jing is sent away from her beloved father and brothers, and married off for five pieces of silver. Her family assures her that she will be cared for by the Guos, but she is instead greeted by a life of servitude and harsh beatings. As a tongyang xi, Jing serves as caregiver for her three-year-old child husband. The Guos, in financial straits, sell Jing to a chinglou, where she is to become a courtesan. Refusing to resign herself to this life, she escapes with the aid of forces both human and magical. Set in 1102 C.E. in medieval China, Lim’s debut viscerally captures the harsh realities of Jing’s life. Despite the often difficult circumstances, Jing is surrounded by people and forces willing to help her, rewarding her kindness and persistence. These supportive presences, coupled with Jing’s encounters with magical spirits and the noble feats she accomplishes throughout her journey, give Lim’s novel a mythical air. Well-researched historical elements meet rich fantasy in this tale of determination and devotion. Ages 8–12. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Noodles’ and Albie’s Birthday Surprise

Eric Bennett, illus. by Milanka Reardon. Penguin Place, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-692-78885-1

Noodles the penguin and his fish friend, Albie, get a chance to save Christmas in this humorous follow-up to Noodles and Albie: A Penguin Journey. (Never mind that neither animal has heard of the holiday.) Bennett’s story primarily revolves around another celebration: Noodles’s birthday, which falls on December 24. Albie gives him a compass as a present, and Noodles quickly regifts it after they run into a “chubby tourist” dressed in red, stranded with his reindeer on an Antarctic ice floe. Bennett and Reardon both get in some good jokes: Santa describes how his new GPS system’s incessant instructions led him to go off-course, and during a visit to an underwater amusement park, Albie and Noodles take a spin on the Octowhirl ride, an actual octopus. The story meanders a bit, and Reardon’s artwork wavers uncomfortably between cartoonish and naturalistic in places, but readers should still get a kick out of the animals’ obliviousness to all things Christmas. A lighthearted Q&A with Albie—featuring questions about the Antarctic, how compasses work, and more—rounds out this warm friendship story. Ages 4–8. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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I’ll Hug You More

Laura Duksta, illus. by Melissa Iwai. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4926-2618-3

Duksta returns to the two-in-one format of I’ll Love You More (2007), using a large cast of animals to celebrate the comfort inherent in a parent-child hug. Reading the book from one end reveals a child’s perspective (“I’ll hug you to say thank-you/ for getting my breakfast ready./ I’ll hug you and snuggle with you/ and my favorite teddy”), and flipping it over presents an adult’s take as a hug-filled day progresses from morning to night. Two purple ring-tailed lemurs kick things off both times, and the lemurs again appear in the middle, where the narratives converge. Iwai’s (Let’s Go to the Hardware Store) cheery, multi-textured illustrations highlight the sheer versatility of hugs one can give: a small hippo offers a one-handed, behind-the-back number as it eats cereal at the breakfast table, a ladybug uses all six limbs to cling to its parent, and two snakes entwine in a cozy, circular embrace. The rhythms of Duksta’s verse can be somewhat clunky, but her reassuring message comes through loud and clear. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Cathy Hemming. Illustrator’s agent: Chris Tugeau, Christina A. Tugeau Artist Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Wayward Heroes

Halldor Laxness, trans. from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton. Archipelago, $20 trade paper (472p) ISBN 978-0-914671-09-1

Two sworn brothers wage a quixotic battle against their time and place in Nobel-winner Laxness’s rich, impressive novel. The time is roughly 1,000 years ago, the place is Iceland, and the brothers are Porgeir Hávarsson, whose father is murdered in a neighborly spat, and Pormóður Bessason, a gifted young poet, or skald, bound to serve an older widow named Kolbrún. Raised on “tales of the prowess of champions of yore,” Porgeir intends to become a hero himself. Soon after he meets Pormóður, who only wants to write lyrical narrative poems in praise of such men, the two go “freeloading” throughout the district of Vestfirdir, “calling particularly... on better-off farmers holding feasts,” beating up Christian clerics, and avenging the death of Porgeir’s father. But this boisterous idyll must end; Kolbrún intends to exercise her hold on Pormóður, despite his love for a wealthy farmer’s daughter, while Porgeir joins a Viking band of mercenaries, going on campaigns in England and France. Drawing on historical events, including King Olaf’s reign in Norway and the burning of Chartres Cathedral, Laxness revises and renews the bloody sagas of Icelandic tradition, producing not just a spectacular historical novel but one of coal-dark humor and psychological depth. The old-fashioned violence Porgeir and Pormóður admire is rendered in all its futility and cruelty, and readers will find that these honorable but deluded heroes become objects of pity. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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La Femme de Gilles

Madeleine Bourdouxhe, trans. from the French by Faith Evans. Melville House, $15.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-61219-587-2

This 1937 novel, a portrait of a Belgian housewife driven to desperation, established Bourdouxhe as an early, essential feminist author. The “giddy” Elisa whiles away her days eager for her factory worker husband, Gilles, to return home—until the evening when her younger sister, Victorine, drops by and Gilles is filled with “spontaneous desire” that leaves him “dumbfounded, unable to move.” They begin an affair, and once Elisa finds out, her once-happy “monotonous existence” lurches suddenly onto “a course of misery.” But Victorine is a “fickle” lover, and when Gilles finally tells Elisa of his angst about their relationship, Elisa’s love leads her not to scorn him, but rather to assume the “unusual position of confidante.” Even as Gilles rages, “If I caught her with one of those other guys I might kill her,” Elisa counsels, “You can’t truly love her if you say a thing like that.” As Gilles’s jealousy drives him to violence, Elisa remains “inhibited by this overwhelming love of hers,” and as she careens towards tragedy, what emerges is a heartrending study of the compromises a woman is willing to make to preserve her marriage. In Bourdouxhe’s hands, love is contorted from a source of stability into a force that can leave a woman lying in bed and weeping “little strangled tears, a handkerchief over her mouth so as not to wake Gilles.” (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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