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Sanctuary

Caryn Lix. Simon Pulse, $19.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-5344-0533-2

In space, no one can hear you scream—except for the aliens stalking you. Kenzie, 17, is a junior guard on Sanctuary, an orbital prison for superpowered teenage criminals. When she’s captured as part of a mass breakout attempt, she discovers an unexpected affinity with her captors, which comes in handy when they need to work together to survive an extraterrestrial invasion. With terrifying monsters stalking the space station and no hope of rescue, Kenzie and her new allies must use every ability at their disposal to escape. In this debut, Lix pays obvious homage to comics and movies such as the X-Men and Alien, creating a tense, claustrophobic thriller that finds room for romance along the way. While the premise is engaging, the worldbuilding feels lacking in places, leading to unanswered questions. The juxtaposition of superpowered teenagers, marauding aliens, corrupt corporations, and dark secrets makes this an exciting, if overstuffed and sometimes disjointed, story. However, the diverse cast and fast pace make up for these flaws. Ages 14–up. Agent: Caitie Flum, Liza Dawson Assoc. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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How We Learned to Lie

Meredith Miller. HarperCollins, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-247428-5

The newest YA novel from Miller (Little Wrecks) takes place circa 1979–1980 on Long Island with chapters alternating between Joan and Daisy, best friends and neighbors who have wildly dissimilar interests. Joan, who is black, is interested in marine biology; Daisy, a white boy who was nicknamed by his mother, has a knack for hacking into phone systems. Both have complicated families, which in Daisy’s case, leads to his being abandoned. An undercurrent of dread runs throughout the story, and Miller’s vivid, haunting writing is filled with prose gems (“I took a big breath and dove straight into Nick Tomaszewski without checking first to see how shallow he was,” Joan narrates). Daisy and Joan’s longtime friendship is engaging, and their internal monologues are revealing and compelling, yet narrative murkiness impedes forward momentum: by the time tragedy is set in motion, the events feel anticlimactic and disconnected, even for these two promising characters. Ages 14–up. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Sea Witch

Sarah Henning. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-243877-5

Deftly transforming a fairy tale into a richly layered exploration of culture and relationships, Henning tells the origin story of the Sea Witch from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” Sixteen-year-old Evie is a child of Havnestad, a Danish fishing town, and of the sea, but she also possesses a dark secret that could see her killed by her own people. After the death of their mutual best friend, Anna, Evie and the crown prince, Nik, forge a friendship, which is tested daily by public judgment as well as their private pain from the loss of Anna. Evie finds welcome escape from her grief with Iker, Nik’s cousin, a crown prince in his own right and the young man who has captured her heart. Then Annemette, a mysterious young woman, arrives in the kingdom and quickly fills the role that Anna previously held in Evie and Nik’s lives. Exquisitely detailed examinations of Danish seaside traditions lend gravitas to a debut novel rooted in the sea and its mercurial moods. A focus on Evie’s internal monologue and romantic attachments unfortunately overshadows the subtly nuanced explorations of magic and its uses, but readers who persevere will be rewarded with richly woven threads of fairy tale allusions and a surprising ending. Ages 13–up. Agent: Rachel Ekstrom, Folio Literary Management. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book 1)

Yecheilyah Ysrayl. Literary Korner, $1.99 (162p) ISBN 978-0-692-91344-4

Ysrayl’s well-crafted historical novel—the first in a planned series—centers on 17-year-old Nora White, the child of black landowners in 1920s Mississippi. Though her parents expect her to attend college, Nora instead escapes to Harlem’s outskirts to pursue writing. She works as servant to a wealthy white woman who, while unpleasant, is benefactor to the writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance whom Nora so deeply admires. Nora meets Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Dubois, and other figures, and she finds a mentor and friend in Hurston—whose outsized personality and charisma are genuinely conveyed. Ysrayl smoothly integrates poetry and literary references into Nora’s narrative, and she writes with awareness of Jim Crow Era laws and racism in the North and South. Chapters told from Nora’s mother’s perspective focus on their turbulent family history but somewhat lack the urgency of Nora’s sections; even so, Ysrayl captures the crackling energy of the Harlem Renaissance. This first installment of Nora’s story offers little resolution, but it sets up an intriguing set of dramatic circumstances for subsequent novels. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Wrong in All the Right Ways

Tiffany Brownlee. Holt, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-13053-2

In her YA debut, Brownlee models the ill-advised love affair between her protagonist, Emma, and Emma’s foster brother, Dylan, after Catherine and Heathcliff’s forbidden love in Wuthering Heights. When Emma’s parents bring home her new foster sibling, she assumes he will be close in age to her seven-year-old brother, Matthew. But Dylan is Emma’s peer, and attraction immediately strikes. The duo’s halfhearted attempts to keep apart quickly find them involved in a clandestine romance that could threaten Dylan’s adoption. Meanwhile, Emma is reading Wuthering Heights for class and writing letters to Catherine, confessing about her growing feelings and romance with Dylan, the secret they are keeping from her parents, and her attempt to protect this secret by openly dating her new best friend’s brother. Soon, Emma is enduring Dylan’s Heathcliff-like mood swings, and tragedy looms over them both. Emma’s voice is frank and intelligent, though the story’s obsession with Dylan can make other characters and aspects of Emma’s life seem like filler. For readers looking for star-crossed romance and melodrama, Emma’s rocky relationship with Dylan is sure to satisfy. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jill Kramer, Waterside Productions. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Letting Go of Gravity

Meg Leder. Simon Pulse, $18.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-5344-0316-1

When the McCullough twins were in fourth grade, Charlie got leukemia, and his sister, Parker, decided that the best way to keep everyone happy was to announce that she would become a doctor. Now, at 18, Charlie is recovering from a relapse, and while Parker has been accepted by Harvard and lined up a great summer internship, she also starts having panic attacks and wondering if all the work she’s put in has been worth it. Amid the tension, the once-closer-than-close siblings can barely tolerate each other. Over the summer, Parker gradually finds out what she actually likes to do when she isn’t fixated on getting a perfect GPA; she makes a new friend and reconnects with Finn, her recently returned childhood best friend. The complications and dangers surrounding Finn’s life form a strong part of the book, which can otherwise feel a bit slow. But Leder (The Museum of Heartbreak) effectively shows how illness affects families and how a person can get stuck acting out a persona and end up knowing very little about herself. Ages 12–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Hullmetal Girls

Emily Skrutskie. Delacorte, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5247-7019-8

In this spacefaring adventure, mankind’s fate rests in the hands of people who’ve traded their humanity for cybernetic enhancements to become Scela—cyborg soldiers who serve the colonization fleet housing Earth’s refugees. Seventeen-year-old Aisha Un-Haad undergoes the change to provide for her brother, who dwells in one of the fleet’s most impoverished lower-class ships; 18-year-old Key Tanaka comes from their society’s highest tier but has no memory of why she underwent the brutal process. Mentally linked with the rest of their new squad, the two girls become reluctant allies, even friends. As they work to protect the fleet as it searches for a habitable planet, they’re forced to make consequential choices that could save or doom everyone. Skrutskie’s (The Edge of the Abyss) tale is packed with diverse characters: Aisha identifies as aromantic and asexual, and adheres to a Muslim-like faith, while her squadmate Woojin Lih is pansexual; other characters are coded as Asian or Indian, and much of the story’s conflict stems from class-based tension. Skrutskie’s examination of what defines humanity, family, and free will makes this an engaging, satisfying story. Agent: Thao Le, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Ages 12–up. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Toaff’s Way

Cynthia Voigt. Illus. by Sydney Hanson. Knopf, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5247-6536-1

Fans of Voigt’s Davis Farm books will relish this newest animal adventure featuring Toaff, a gray squirrel whose curiosity gets him in trouble as much as it brings happy surprises. Spanning one year, Toaff’s story begins when the tree where he lives is uprooted during a winter storm. Not knowing where his family has fled, Toaff sets out to find a new place to live. He’s been taught survival skills, but he still has many questions about the world: Are humans friends or enemies? Why is he supposed to hate red squirrels? What lies on the other side of the drive? In his quest to find answers, Toaff develops some unexpected friendships with a young red squirrel, a group of gray squirrels living a life of luxury, a playful dog, and a litter of orphaned “Littles.” As the seasons pass, scary moments, such as when Toaff is attacked by a fisher, are well balanced with cozy moments when the young squirrel is warm and safe. Skillfully presenting sights from an animal’s perspective and touching upon social issues such as prejudice and elitism, Newbery Medalist Voigt provides a lovely story to curl up with. Ages 8–12. Agent: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Spell & Spindle

Michelle Schusterman, illus. by Kathrin Honesta. Random House, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-399-55070-6

Set in 1952, Schusterman’s suspenseful, complex tale of adventure, magic, and soul-swapping stars an unstoppable pair of siblings, 13-year-old Constance and 11-year-old Chance Bonvillain, as well as a sad and startlingly lifelike marionette, Penny. Constance and Chance have always lived above the rundown Museum of the Peculiar Arts, where Penny and Fortunato, the museum’s elderly owner, reside, and where Chance helps out. When the museum is sold, the Bonvillains prepare to move to the suburbs, and Chance, in despair, hatches a plan to run away. Things grow complicated when Fortunato bequeaths Penny to Chance—and more complicated still after he and Penny discover that they can hear each other’s thoughts. When Chance and Penny accidentally switch bodies, the story takes on layers of mystery, introducing a creepy, ageless puppeteer, a host of missing children, and a traveling carnival that becomes key to the fast-paced plot. As her brother’s drama draws him into danger, clever Constance jumps into action to save him, and Penny proves herself a hero, too. The novel’s increasingly complicated intrigue will keep readers speculating right up to the gripping climax. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Not So Normal Norbert

James Patterson and Joey Green, illus. by Hatem Aly. LB/Patterson, $13.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-316-46541-0

Conformity is the ironclad rule on the United State of Earth, where individuality and imagination are banned, and middle school students wearing mandatory gray jumpsuits pledge subservience to the despotic Loving Leader daily. The laws of the land don’t sit well with seventh-grader Norbert Riddle, a creative cut-up who has lived with his servile aunt and uncle since his parents were whisked away by the Truth Police. Arrested after doing a mocking impersonation of Loving Leader, Norbert is banished to another planet to live at Astro-Nuts Camp for young earthlings who are deemed “different and dangerous.” He attempts to convince the camp honchos that he is a die-hard conformist loyal to Loving Leader, in hopes that he’ll be sent back to Earth and find his parents. Buoyed by Aly’s boisterous drawings, Norbert’s droll wordplay, wisecracking banter, and oddball characters, the comedy reaches farcical heights before careening to an unforeseen conclusion. The authors balance the inanity with real-life, affecting emotion, convincingly depicting Norbert’s fright as well as his yearning for his parents. A parting clue that Norbert has another space adventure ahead should get a thumbs-up from readers. Ages 8–12. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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