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A Plague of Unicorns

Jane Yolen. Zonderkidz, $15.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-310-74648-5

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Yolen (Owl Moon) weaves a magical yet believable tale of myth and magic in this charming middle-grade fantasy. In the mythical kingdom of Callanshire, James, son of the Duke of Callander, is sent away at age nine to study at Cranford Abbey. The abbey, struggling to stay financially solvent, plans to make its extraordinary golden Hosannah apples into cider for sale. Unfortunately, unicorns also love these delicious apples. No matter how the monks try, they cannot get rid of the horned orchard raiders until James summons a singer named Sandy, who may have a way with unicorns. James is a hero to be emulated: he is curious, brave, and caring. His family and the monks are all well-drawn, with delightful details (James nicknames his tutor, Benedict Cumber "Cumbersome," for his dry delivery of obscure facts; Alexandria, James's sister, has eyes "like Spanish steel"). Though partially set in an abbey, this tale avoids an overt religious message. It does, however, offer a winsome example of how to live life responsibly. Ages 8–12. Agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Graphic Canon of Children's Literature: The World's Greatest Kids' Lit as Comics and Visuals

Edited by Russ Kick. Seven Stories, $38.95 trade paper (450p) ISBN 978-1-60980-530-2

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Having been sparsely represented in the first three Graphic Canon volumes, children's literature is featured exclusively in this anthology of more than 40 fables, fairy tales, and classic stories adapted into comics. Like its predecessors, the book allows readers to see timeworn stories in a new light, whether it's Lance Tooks's trio of Aesop's fables, set in the worlds of tabloid celebrities and love-struck gangsters; Sandy Jimenez's take on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, featuring David Bowie and Freddie Mercury; or R. Sikoryak's Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which spoofs Bil Keane's "Family Circus." Nearly all the contributors chose to adapt early, gnarlier versions of stories that were sanitized over the years, most notably by Disney for its animated films; through their efforts, the stories reclaim some of their original eccentricities and philosophical merit. These dazzlingly varied renderings run the gamut from haunting to comical while offering visceral reminders that children's stories are often densely layered, infinitely transposable, and peddle in imagery both macabre and whimsical. It is the unfettered imagination of these stories that make them not only wildly entertaining, but also vessels of forgotten truths. All ages. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Stitching Snow

R.C. Lewis. Hyperion, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4231-8507-9

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Even by the rough-and-tumble standards of the frozen planet Thanda, Essie is unusual—she likes to cage-fight angry men just back from working in the mines, and when Essie isn't fighting, she's a mechanic, fixing ships and tinkering with drones. After a stranger named Dane crashes on Thanda, Essie tries to help him, but ends up getting kidnapped. She's taken to Dane's planet, Candara, where his people plan to trade her to the king in exchange for the release of Candaran prisoners, one of whom is Dane's father. Essie is a valuable find—she's actually a young princess who escaped the clutches of the stepmother who tried to kill her when she was nine. In this interplanetary retelling of Snow White, debut author Lewis reveals a talent for worldbuilding and creating complex, memorable characters. As Essie owns up to her past and takes control of her fate, SF and fairytale fans alike will enjoy watching her beat the odds and find romance in the process. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Jesus Jackson

James Ryan Daley. Poisoned Pen/Poisoned Pencil, $10.95 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-1-9293-4506-9

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Daley's first novel revolves around the psychological and philosophical conflicts facing 14-year-old Jonathan Stiles. His older brother, Ryan, has just been found dead in a ravine; Jonathan believes he was killed, but everyone else thinks Ryan's death was accidental. Jonathan attends the ultra-religious St. Soren's Academy, where he is a loner, due in part to his atheism. In a state of shock and confusion following Ryan's death, Jonathan meets Jesus Jackson, a self-proclaimed "Spiritual Contractor" who wants to help Jonathan rediscover his faith. Though Jonathan frequently reflects upon matters of belief in the aftermath of Ryan's death, he is more concerned with avoiding his classmates and their disingenuous sympathies and finding Ryan's killer. The last time Jonathan and his friend Henry saw Ryan was during a "drug-enraged fistfight," and a football player is their chief suspect. Daley believably depicts Jonathan's conflicting emotions as he passes through the stages of grief. Yet Jesus Jackson comes across more as a gimmick than a real catalyst for Jonathan's developing understanding of loss, faith, and the unknown. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Little White Lies

Katie Dale. Delacorte, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-385-74067-8

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As far as anyone knows, Louise "Lou" Shepherd is "a normal fresher starting at uni," but she's actually living under an assumed name in order to escape her family's notoriety—her uncle is in jail, her cousin is in a coma, and all of England associates her family with scandal. At school, she runs into Kenny, a boy who knows all her secrets, and meets Christian, a handsome stranger she'd like to date, but who harbors secrets of his own. Soon Lou's past is colliding with her present as she makes disturbing discoveries about her university friends and how their histories connect to hers. Dale (Someone Else's Life) has wound an overly complicated and circuitous thriller that leaps from one event to another. An abundant use of exclamatory dialogue gives the impression that Dale's characters are virtually shouting at each other (Lou's friend Vix is a particularly egregious offender). Along with a profusion of plot twists, the result is a frantic, scattered read. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jenny Savill, Andrew Nurnberg Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Incredible Story of Henry N. Brown

Anne Helene Bubenzer, trans. from the German by Bryanna Klarr Weiche. Nortia (Itasca Books, dist.), $24.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-940503-04-2

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In her debut novel, German writer Bubenzer uses a device usually employed in stories aimed at young readers to follow 10 unrelated families in nearly as many nations through most of the 20th century. Henry N. Brown is a teddy bear created in 1921 by a grieving young Englishwoman whose husband went missing in WWI four years earlier. Sometimes lost, sometimes abandoned, sometimes given away, Henry discovers his particular role in each household, learning about life, love, and loss while dispensing his wisdom to readers. Henry's owners not only stretch across geographical borders, they also encompass a wide range of ages and personalities, and while the book's overall structure is predictable, Henry's stay with each family is a novella in itself. What could be a cloying, saccharine story has a straightforward compassion, gentleness, and humor, thanks to Bubenzer's graceful writing. A pleasing saga, but one that may have difficulty finding an audience: not many teenagers will pick up a book with a teddy-bear narrator, and younger children may find the length, and some of the subject matter, daunting. Ages 14–up. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beau, Lee, the Bomb & Me

Mary McKinley. Kensington/KTeen, $9.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61773-255-3

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When a life of being violently bullied becomes unbearable, 16-year-old friends Rusty, Leonie, and Beau load up in Rusty's parents' minivan and leave Seattle for San Francisco, where Beau's gay uncle lives. They are happy to leave "Baboon High" in the dust—it's where Rusty was taunted for being overweight, Leonie was slut-shamed by classmates and caught up in a manipulative affair with her English teacher, and Beau was beat up by homophobic bullies. Snarky and bookish, Rusty narrates their quest for solace and acceptance as they travel through small West Coast towns and rescue a stray dog (aka "The Bomb"). McKinley's TV writing and sketch comedy background show in her smart dialogue, and her debut reads like a love letter to the geography of the Northwest. She quickly develops these three outsider characters, exploring how friendships can be forged through common suffering and the role that complacency plays in perpetuating bullying. McKinley puts forth positive messages about being true to oneself and avoiding judging others, though the heavy-handed delivery overwhelms the story at times. Ages 13–up. Agent: Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Vango: Between Sky and Earth

Timothée de Fombelle, trans. from the French by Sarah Ardizzone. Candlewick, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7196-9

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Young Vango Romano longs to become a priest, despite his interest in Ethel, a girl he can't seem to forget. With the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party looming as a backdrop on Vango's ordination day in April 1934, he's accused of murder. Vango escapes the police by scaling the walls of Notre Dame like a spider and racing across the rooftops of Paris (and eventually the world) as multiple parties give chase and war erupts. Vango's past is murky—he washed up on the shores of a remote Italian isle with his nurse, a woman desperate to hide his origins—yet Vango's identity might hold the answer to why so many people want to find him. In this exceptional, sprawling novel, French author de Fombelle (Toby Alone) builds a layered tale around his mysterious protagonist, one full of humor and memorable characters. Part fantasy, part adventure, part historical novel, the story of Vango's flight across Europe and the smart young women that populate his life will be sure to thrill fans of Kenneth Oppel and win de Fombelle many enthusiasts of his own. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Autumn Falls

Bella Thorne. Delacorte, $18.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-74433-1

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In actress Thorne's YA debut, sophomore Autumn Falls, stuck with a name "that calls me out as a complete klutz and seasonally challenged," moves with her family to Florida after her father's accidental death. There, Autumn's Cuban grandmother gives her a magical journal and tells her it "could change your life." And the journal does seem to make Autumn's wishes come true, leading to the temptation to seek revenge when she is bullied by pretty, popular Reenzie ("Pro tip... you want to take care of [your skin] out here. Heat can make breakouts even worse"). Thorne's book has a fun premise and some silly moments (such as when one of Autumn's written wishes has Reenzie slip and fall in a pile of dog poop during track practice), and a few of the characters have inauthentic affectations, such as Autumn's grandmother's belief that there are sleeping pills in the ice cream at her assisted living home. But as Autumn begins to realize the problems with payback, her insights help compensate for an over-the-top and oversweet final scene. Ages 12–up. Agent: Matthew Elblonk, DeFiore and Company. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Julius and the Watchmaker

Tim Hehir. Text Publishing (Consortium, dist.), $9.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-922079-73-2

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When readers meet Julius Caesar Higgins, a 14-year-old boy living in Victorian London, he's on the run from bully Crimper McCready and frustrated by his inability to stand up for himself. Julius's grandfather, who owns an antiquarian bookstore, has two clients interested in the same journal by a famous watchmaker, and Julius gives the book to one of the men, Springheel, in exchange for temporary lodging and respite from his tormentors. Yet the journal holds the key for Springheel to open a vortex in time, unleashing dangerous forces from "parallel vibration fields" into Victorian London. The other interested book buyer, the Professor, enlists Julius to try and stop Springheel by using a magic watch to pass through the vortex and close the portal. First-time novelist Hehir skillfully develops a shadowy London backdrop, with clear allusions to Dickens, while drawing steampunk elements into the story. Readers may be as confused as Julius is over the machinations behind the time travel, but should still find it easy to get swept up in his rapid-fire adventures. Ages 11–13. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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