Category Archives: Young Adult Literature

I’ve read so many YA books in my PhD studies as well as my stints on ALA committees. I’ve been indulging in adult books (I always have to explain what I mean by that) lately, but these books can be terrific.

Break My Heart 1,000 Times by Daniel Waters

I love ghost stories; this one did not impress me.

I confess that I was not familiar with the author, but, apparently, Daniel Waters is critically acclaimed for Generation Dead which has two sequels. I have not read those books. I’m not tempted.

I was intrigued by the concept, but it was never explained. There was a great deal that was left unexplained.

Since the “Event,” ghosts are a normal part of life now. Veronica’s house has two ghosts: her father’s ghost appears at the breakfast table each morning. A boy haunts her bathroom. But what was the “Event”? Was it a virus, a holocaust, a bomb, what? Calling it the Event implies that it was a single instance, but other allusions suggest that it continued over a period of time.

Some people who died have not reappeared as ghosts. Some ghosts can’t leave a specific space; others seem to be able to move about at will. Other ghosts have certain schedules when they appear; others pop up when least expected.

Veronica and Kirk take it upon themselves to investigate Mr. Bittner, one of their teachers who seems to have an intense interest in Veronica. What they uncover they never suspected.

The shift from one character to character is confusing and often distracting. Honestly, for me, the plot was predictable, the characters stereotypical. There was much more telling than showing. For example, we are told that Veronica is a flirt and has dated dozens of guys; however, there is only one other boy, besides Kirk, who figures in the story.

Apparently, Break My Heart 1,000 Times will be a movie. I think I would rather be reading another book.


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My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

You can’t tell a book by its cover. I received an ARC from the publisher; I’m glad they changed it. I only wish I hadn’t procrastinated reading this book. Unusually, I find the manner in which the family’s separation is resolved to be trite and cheap. In this case, it was necessary. The family members might not have found themselves back to each other. It was very sad, but often you don’t appreciate what you have until you lose something else very important to you.

Pitcher’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, deals with the tragedy of a family torn apart by a terrorist attack. Jamie has ginger hair and a wonderful cat called Roger. What Jamie doesn’t have is his older sister, Rose, who was killed by a bomb which exploded in London when Jamie was just five years old. Although everyone in the family tries to live with what’s happened, it’s impossible. Jamie’s dad starts to drink too much, Rose’s twin sister, Jas, dyes her hair pink and Jamie’s mum moves out to live with another man called Nigel.

The story begins when, just before Jamie’s 10th birthday, he, Jas, their dad and Roger move to the Lake District. Jamie has to cope with starting at a new school and making new friends as best as he can without the help of either of his parents. His dad’s too sad and too drunk and his mum’s not there. Throughout the book, all he wants is to have a happy family again.

This book tackles interesting subjects in a realistic, honest way. At school, Jamie has to worry about friendships and bullying. At home, he has to worry about death, divorce and change. The issues of racism, religious differences and injustice also feature in the story. The aftermath of the terrorist attack is handled sensitively and the characters discover a way to live together in peace.

Also, the book tackles the idea that even when dreams come true, there’s always a risk that you’ll end up feeling terribly disappointed.

The way the book is written, Jamie seems like a real person. I think this is because the author explains the many controversial subjects through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy who obviously doesn’t think about them in the same way as an adult would.

Even though his sister had been killed, his parents are getting divorced and he feels terribly sad and lonely, he still has to carry on and try to stay positive. It’s a great reminder that we often don’t always know what’s happening in our friends’ lives and sometimes they might be feeling sad at school because of what’s going on at home.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece has become a bestseller and has been translated into many languages. It was shortlisted for the Red House Children’s Book Award, The Galaxy milk chocolate Children’s Book of the Year, the 2012 Carnegie Medal in Literature, and the 2011 Dylan Thomas Prize. It won a Royal Society of Authors’ Betty Trask Award, the Hull Children’s Book of the Year and the prestigious 2012 Branford Boase Award for most outstanding debut novel.

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The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

This novel is the second book in Johnson’s Shades of London series. The first book, The Name of the Star, was an Edgar Award nominee.  

 After her near-fatal face-off with the Jack the Ripper copycat Alexander Newman, Rory Devereaux has left school to live in Bristol with her parents. She can’t tell anyone what actually happened; there is too great a chance that she will find herself in a mental health institution. The stress and anxiety are seriously affecting Rory’s mind and body. The therapist she is seeing is useless since Rory can’t tell her the truth. The prospect of never being able to tell people the truth about being able to see ghosts or her involvement in the Jack-the-Ripper criminal investigation is frightening and overwhelming for Rory.

 So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory is eager to get back to school and normal life. One downside: she discovers that she has acquired another talent. She’s become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades—the city’s secret ghost-fighting police—are responsible for her return. They need her because Newman had destroyed their mechanical termini; now they have a human one. There is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory discovers that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it’s too late.

In addition to her other problems, she is failing her classes, and she becomes involved in a cult of people who share her talent for seeing ghosts. They want to use her abilities for their own agenda.

This book ends with another cliffhanger that makes the reader want the third book immediately. It is much more tightly written than the first book, without the day-to-day teenage detritus that tended to clutter The Name of the Star.


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The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Rory is the typical YA outsider – she’s an American from Louisiana attending a British boarding school, and she learns that she has a very particular aptitude that she can’t tell anyone about.

When she arrives at Wexford, she settles in, even though she has to learn how to play field hockey, likes her roommate, meets a boy she really likes, and gets used to English food and English ways of doing things. Johnson truly immerses the reader into the rain/not-rain ambience of London. Her English fellow students find her Southern style amusing. (She may be a little stereotypically Louisianan.) She has one mishap: she chokes on a piece of beef and almost dies.

 Otherwise, everything is going fine until murders reminiscent of Jack the Ripper begin happening. When a murder occurs near the campus, Rory sees a strange man when she and her roommate are sneaking back into the dormitory. The strange thing is that her roommate doesn’t see him.

 Shortly after, Rory is approached by Stephen, a police officer in a very secret unit for her help. Her near-death experience triggered an innate skill for seeing ghosts. This makes her part of the investigation for the Jack-the-Ripper copycat, putting her in great danger.

 The novel takes turns I wasn’t expecting, and once things got started, I couldn’t put it down. There is the paranormal, history, London geography, English culture, and humor and tension. The book begins as a typical, formulaic YA book and evolves into a supernatural thriller. Johnson takes a different approach to the supernatural in YA fiction; there aren’t any vampires, werewolves, or witches. The characters, even the ghosts, are realistic and convincing.

 One problem I have with the book is that we don’t learn about what is so special about Rory until half-way through the book. There are hints, but things don’t really get going until then. It is at that point that Rory must face the effects this ability is going to have on the rest of her life. Plus, the Ripper begins to pose more of a menace to all the characters.

 Good book!  The Name of the Star is an intriguing, creepy mystery with an awesome setting and a great cast of characters. Be prepared to read it from cover to cover.

The next book in the series, The Madness Underneath, is due to be published soon. I think Rory is going to be an interesting character to follow.

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Moonset (The Legacy of Moonset) – Book One by Scott Tracey

Moonset is a new series about teenage witches and their dysfunctional family and a mysterious legacy

Justin Daggett, his trouble-making sister Jenna,and their three orphan-witch friends/siblings, Malcolm, Bailey, and Cole,  havegotten themselves kicked out of high school onceagain. The Congress (no, not that one) has to step in and relocate them to another new town. For some reason, they are moved to CarrowMills, New York, the town where their parents—members of the terrorist witch organizationknown as Moonset—began their evilexperiments with the dark arts, known as Maleficia, fifteen yearsago.Justin’s parents, in fact, were the leaders and were executed.

They have Witchers assigned to supervise them; the leader is Quinn, who just happens to be the son of Justin’s parents executor, Illana Bryer. The town seems a bit off, and strange things are continually happening. Justin finally gets a girlfriend, Ash, which brings some welcome happiness to his life. However, the kids come to believe that they were moved to Carrow Mills as bait for the remaining members of Moonset.

The siblings are accused of unleashingblack magic on the town, and they must prove their innocence. This leads Justin to learn a shocking discovery about Moonset’s past . . . and its deadly future.

Moonset has humor in addition to all the elements of a YA horror story. It also reminded me of The Unfortunate Events series because of the sibling relationships, I suppose. The magic and spells also had a bit of Harry Potter in it. On the other hand, it is probably difficult to write a book about magic and witches without reminding the reader of Harry. Also, there were so many names and terms for the people in the Congress and Moonset that it got a bit confusing. Another confusing element was that I didn’t realize until the 3rd or 4th chapter that Justin, the narrator, was a boy. I thought the story was being narrating by a girl. Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention. Otherwise, there really wasn’t anything fresh in this book; the mild humor was its saving grace.

Its ending – and its title – promises sequels. It might be interesting to see what Justin, Jenna, Malcolm, and the others – and we – learn about this paranormal battle.

 Scott Tracey’s first novel, WITCH EYES, was listed as a YALSA Popular Paperback for 2011, and an Amazon Best of 2011 book in the LGBT category. DEMON EYES is his latest release.

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Sam Cruz’s Infallible Guide to Getting Girls by Tellulah Darling

OK, I admit it, I’m getting too old for this kind of YA book. Sam is a high school senior? How many times has he repeated 12th grade? Because he acts like he is in his mid-20s, at least.

Even Tellulah Darling’s website says that this is for older YA’s. I agree, in their 20s.

Sex, sex, sex. As I’ve asked elsewhere, when do these kids have time to go to school, do homework, finish research papers? All they do is party, use their parents’ credit cards to buy inappropriate clothes (does the school have a dress code?), and have sex. Not having sex is much more life-threatening than not passing a test, apparently.

And the language. Please, one should be able to express oneself without four-letter words. At least, we used to be able to. If you can’t think of another way to say “pissed off,” get a thesaurus. I hear you can get one built in with Word.

When these kids have done it all before they graduate from high school, what do they have to look forward to?

As I said, I’m too old for this book; maybe I’m just too old. I’ve started thinking that that is what young folks want – for us post-war baby boomers to hurry up and die off, we’re such buzzkills.

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Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor LaValle

Don’t go near 6D. Not if you value your life. That was where the Kroons live, and they’re crackheads. That’s the advice Loochie’s brother, Louis, gives her, and he is ten years older than she, so he knows.

However, when your best friend, Sunny, who has cancer, is supposed to come play but doesn’t, you take chances, venture up the fire escape and find out whether the Kroons have Sunny.

Loochie meets monsters and enters a dark fantasyland where she finds lush forests growing from concrete, pigeon-winged rodents, and haunted playgrounds. Are they hallucinations – remember those odd cigarettes Sunny and Loochie smoked? – or are they real?

Victor LaValle has written that this book is partly an homage to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and a prequel to his upcoming novel, The Devil in Silver, but more a tribute to the commitment and grace of two best friends.

In the appendix to The Other, which I have cited elsewhere, Don Chaon calls that book “an intense, lyrical meditation on childhood, nostalgia, and loss.” I think that could apply to this book as well.

I’m looking forward to reading The Devil in Silver, which continues the story of Lucretia and her life without Sunny.

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