Books 2017: Three-Star Young Adult

YA Mystery

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavellaro. Synopsis from GoodreadsThe last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.
From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

Interesting, and held my attention well enough, but I wanted more quirks that differentiated it from the canon. This is just another iteration of Holmes being prickly, aloof, brilliant but lacking social skills, and Watson being the admiring lackey who often feels irritated and unappreciated but can't bring himself to leave. Yeah, Holmes happens to be female, but there needed to be some kind of exchanging of roles or any kind of twist for this to add up to anything other than basically fan fiction.

The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos. Synopsis from Goodreads: All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist, she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when Imogene was a baby, a woman who was always possessed by a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as “troubled waters.”
Now Imogene is seventeen, and her father, a famous author of medical mysteries, has struck out in the middle of the night and hasn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. And she decides it’s up to her to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of reading her father’s books to track down a woman she’s only known in stories in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.

I just saw that this book is in the 'Readers also enjoyed' section for A Study in Charlotte - I wonder if that's how I decided to read it. This wasn't what I thought it was going to be, and sometimes I have a hard time recovering from that. Fortunately, what it was was done very well. Good treatment of mental health issues, really nice depiction of female friendship and a non-formulaic kind of coming-of-age for a female protagonist. It's always nice when increased confidence and self-love for a female character comes without any kind of big makeover or weight loss. Actually, from how I remember it, I'm surprised I gave this three stars instead of four. *shrug*

The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci. Synopsis from Goodreads: When Christopher Creed, the class freak and whipping boy, suddenly disappears without a trace, everyone speculates on what could have happened to him. Soon fingers begin pointing, and several lives are changed forever.

This has been on my radar for ages, possibly just because I thought the name Christopher Creed was kind of elegant and it made the title memorable. It also wasn't what I thought it was going to be, but was done well. It kind of pairs well with The Mystery of Hollow Places, actually, in the coming-of-age thing and having to break away from friends that you come to uncomfortable realizations about, but from a male point of view instead. Some keen observations about small-town life as well. 

With Malice by Eileen Cook. Synopsis from Goodreads: It was the perfect trip…until it wasn’t.
Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.
As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.

This is clearly modeled on the Amanda Knox thing, and true crime or thinly-veiled true crime is not really my thing, so I assume this was another insomnia library e-read. It was fine. Quite a few reviewers I often agree with on Goodreads gave it four stars, but for me it didn't jump to that next level, even though I like books that look realistically at female friendships, and I'm usually all over a plot that involves amnesia in a completely unrealistic way. Anyway, the consensus among much-followed reviewers is that it's quite good. 

Young Adult Fantasy/Science Fiction

A Song to Take the World Apart by Zan Romanoff. Synopsis from Goodreads: What if you could make someone love you back, just by singing to them? Fans of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun and Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender will be captivated by this contemporary love story with hints of magical realism.
Hanging out with Chris was supposed to make Lorelei’s life normal. He’s cooler, he’s older, and he’s in a band, which means he can teach her about the music that was forbidden in her house growing up. Her grandmother told her when she was little that she was never allowed to sing, but listening to someone else do it is probably harmless— right?
The more she listens, though, the more keenly she can feel her own voice locked up in her throat, and how she longs to use it. And as she starts exploring the power her grandmother never wanted her to discover, influencing Chris and everyone around her, the foundations of Lorelei’s life start to crumble. There’s a reason the women in her family never want to talk about what their voices can do.
And a reason Lorelei can’t seem to stop herself from singing anyway.

Hmm. Her name is Lorelei and her grandmother has warned her never to sing. Yeah, the twist is telegraphed pretty hard. This was slightly disappointing, mostly because of the comparison to Jandy Nelson (this was NO "I'll Give You the Sun", and that blessing should be bestowed VERY SPARINGLY ). Entertaining enough to hold my attention for the evening. I did appreciate the musing on the poisoned blessing of being able to make someone love you, and the consequence here is right and good. 

Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse. Synopsis from Goodreads: Five teens.
Five futures.
Two worlds.
One ending.
One year from now, Dylan develops a sixth sense that allows him to glimpse another world.
Ten years from now, Brixney must get more hits on her social media feed or risk being stuck in a debtors' colony.
Thirty years from now, Epony scrubs her entire online profile from the web and goes “High Concept.”
Sixty years from now, Reef struggles to survive in a city turned virtual gameboard.
And more than a hundred years from now, Quinn uncovers the alarming secret that links them all. 
Five people, divided by time, will determine the fate of us all. These are stories of a world bent on destroying itself, and of the alternate world that might be its savior--unless it's too late.

Three and a half stars. Calling it an embryonic Cloud Atlas isn't totally out of line, although it's clearly the product of a much younger and less sophisticated author. A couple of the sections dragged slightly, but a couple were brilliant, particularly detailing the out-of-control voyeurism in the near future. I'll be interested to see what this author does next.

Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn. Synopsis from Goodreads: Make a wish…
Lennie always thought her uncles’ “important family legacy” was good old-fashioned bootlegging. Then she takes some of her uncles’ moonshine to Michaela Gordon’s annual house party, and finds out just how wrong she was.
At the party, Lennie has everyone make a wish before drinking the shine—it’s tradition. She toasts to wishes for bat wings, for balls of steel, for the party to go on forever. Lennie even makes a wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was murdered six months ago.
The next morning gives Lennie a whole new understanding of the phrase be careful what you wish for—or in her case, be careful what wishes you grant. Because all those wishes Lennie raised a jar of shine to last night? They came true. Most of them came out bad. And once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Quinn's first book, Another Little Piece, was a near-perfect thriller in my opinion. Dark, twisty, a measured revealing of forgotten things, great characters, pathos and gravity. Every successive book has been disappointing to me. I thought the title of the first one was coincidental, but she seems to be hell-bent on titling everything after songs. This starts out well but then she tries to add humour and outright silliness, among some still very dark elements, and the effect is odd and off-putting. I will keep reading, though, because I have hopes for another one to match the first. 

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. Synopsis from Goodreads'It came from the woods. Most strange things do.'
Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.
These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.
Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there.

Interesting, and the art was lovely, but I felt it relied a bit too much on atmosphere and poetry and lacked a bit in actual plot, which I still need even with beautiful art and atmospheric writing. 

And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich. Synopsis from Goodreads: Stay away from the woods…
When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the manor is cursed. The endless creaking of the house at night and the eerie stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too—questions that Silla can’t ignore: Why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer? Who is the beautiful boy who’s appeared from the woods? And who is the tall man with no eyes who Nori plays with in the basement at night… a man no one else can see?

This paired well with The Darkest Corners which I read immediately before, with another main character who is shaped and hardened by traumatic circumstances in her formative years and consequently finds it almost impossible to manifest 'normal' human emotions (and with The Marsh King's Daughter, which I hadn't read yet). Overall this was disappointing though, since I read it because of all the reviews that declared it extremely frightening. The story was in desperate need of a good edit, with a bloated middle section which I guess is meant to keep heightening the suspense and disorientation of Silla's and Nori's situation, but really just becomes tedious and repetitive; in two separate instances Silla muses on how 'hopeless' is a much prettier word than it should be given its meaning (hence the need for editing). The ending makes sense, but in my opinion relies too much on telling over showing - it lacks that delicious sense of slow realization that comes when the reveal is done well.

Young Adult Graphic Novels

Boxers (Boxers and Saints #1) by Gene Luen Yang. Synopsis from Goodreads: China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.
Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers--commoners trained in kung fu--who fight to free China from "foreign devils."
Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of "secondary devils"--Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

I don't read many graphic novels - I generally find that the writing is not as good as it would be without pictures, and can't escape the feeling that I'm just reading a grown-up comic book (not that that would be the worst thing ever, it's just not my thing). This was on the recommendation of the Teen Librarian where I was doing my placement last winter, and of several of the teen-agers who had read it at her urging. It was really good - the writing was simple, but effective, and taught me more than I'd known before about the Boxer Rebellion. The art was captivating. When you put the two books together, the cover images make one picture.

Saints (Boxers and Saints #2) by Gene Luen Yang. Synopsis from GoodreadsChina, 1898. An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name by her family when she's born. She finds friendship--and a name, Vibiana--in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. 
But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is in full swing, and bands of young men roam the countryside, murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie...and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

Much of the story is the same, told from Four-Girl's point of view until her story merges with Little Bao's. Also very good. 


Nicole said…
J is a huge fan of fantasy and sci-fi, so noting these down.

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