Wherever life takes you: books for teen read week
Whether your tastes lean toward reality, history or fantasy, our four choices for Teen Read Week (October 16-22) will take you on unexpected journeys through landscapes both strange and familiar.
Enter the labyrinth
Traditional versions of the Minotaur legend often portray Ariadne as a tragic figure: After helping her lover Theseus escape the labyrinth, she is later abandoned on an Aegean island. Tracy Barrett’s retelling of the legend, Dark of the Moon, turns this image on its head. Barrett’s Ariadne is a powerful but socially isolated priestess, and the Minotaur who lives under her palace is no monster, but instead her beloved, deformed brother Asterion. Ariadne is confident in her hereditary role of She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess and the future it will bring her. But when she meets Theseus and his fellow tributes, she finds friendship for the first time, learns about the world beyond her palace and begins to question the role she might play in determining her own path.
Barrett both incorporates and undermines well-known aspects of her story, giving new interpretations to Ariadne’s ball of thread, Theseus’ interaction with the Minotaur and the reason for black sails on the Athenians’ returning ship. Details of the complex politics and rituals of her reimagined Krete abound, as do references to other people and places of Greek mythology. She does not shy away from violence, but the bloodiness always serves to establish the characters and setting and is never gratuitous. Chapters are alternately narrated by Ariadne and Theseus, allowing the reader to gain insight into the actions, thoughts and motivations of both characters. In the end, this tale leaves both its characters and its readers questioning the very nature of how stories are told and retold. Fans of mythological retellings will relish this fresh, feminist interpretation of the tale of Ariadne and Theseus.
Pirouettes and puberty
Don’t call 19-year-old Hannah Ward a ballerina, a term reserved for the stars of the prestigious Manhattan Ballet. As a dancer in the company’s corps de ballet since leaving home at 14, she’s a true bunhead, dedicating nearly every waking moment to her profession. Hannah’s world is an unusual mix of constant jealousy, as every girl tries to outperform the others for coveted soloist positions, and fierce loyalty forged out of years of devotion together. To remain competitive and to maintain their gaunt appearances, the dancers practice to near exhaustion before their three to four performances per evening and succumb to unhealthy diets that only lead to fatigue and injuries later.
Despite the anxiety in her shared dressing room, Hannah feels confident that she can advance as she enters the fall season. But when puberty strikes, causing her breasts to grow, she faces the impossible task of losing her curves. An even bigger obstacle—named Jacob—also enters the scene. Hannah, who’s never even been kissed, can only manage to spend a few precious hours with Jacob, and she begins to see how little of the city, and the world, she’s experienced outside of ballet.
In Bunheads, her eye-opening debut novel, former New York City Ballet dancer Sophie Flack gives readers a compelling look at the rigorous life of ballet dancers. Will Hannah forfeit everything, including Jacob, to take her dance to the next level, or can she give up the only life she’s known, and even her friends, to start over in the real world? Either path requires sacrifices in this unforgettable journey of self-discovery.
Searching for identity in a war of angels
Seventeen-year-old Karou is an unusual girl. She speaks foreign languages without any effort, is handy with a knife and sports naturally blue hair. By day, she is an art student in Prague, but during her off hours, she runs questionable errands for Brimstone, the father-like demon who raised her. Traveling through portals to the underground markets of Paris and Marrakesh, she buys human and animal teeth, which Brimstone strings together into necklaces in his magical shop. Despite her downworld upbringing, Brimstone is the only family Karou has, so when she is suddenly locked out of the shop, she resorts to dangerous tactics to get back home. Then she meets Akiva, an angel in the middle of an otherworldly battle. Fated and forbidden, Karou and Akiva struggle to be together when their sides are at war.
Laini Taylor’s beautifully written novel features a well-drawn cast of characters. From Karou’s serpent-bodied nanny to her arrogant actor ex-boyfriend, each character is alive in the reader’s imagination. Even the city of Prague feels personified, as Taylor describes it: “The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.”
The first in a trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a romantic, incredibly imaginative and gripping story; readers will find themselves heavily invested.
Love in the nuclear age
Life: An Exploded Diagram, the new novel from award-winning British author Mal Peet, is a reminder that labeling a work as “YA” (young adult) is often, well, arbitrary. Peet may put young people at the center of his fiction, but his work is so spectacular that it can—and should—be savored by readers of all ages.
This far-reaching, ambitious historical novel begins toward the close of World War II on the day Clem Ackroyd is born, after a German pilot flies a plane low over his mother’s house on March 9, 1945. By the time Clem, a good student who wants to go to art school, is a teenager, his father has gone to work for Gerard Mortimer, whose family owns Bratton Manor. Picking strawberries on the Mortimer farm one summer, Clem finds himself attracted to the Mortimer daughter, Frankie, even though, as Clem’s friend Goz puts it, “She Mortimer You Ackroyd.” Clem and Frankie begin meeting secretly. But just as readers might be expecting a traditional Romeo and Juliet crisis to unfold, Peet steps back from his canvas to paint a compelling picture of the historical landscape that envelops the young lovers—in this case, the Cuban missile crisis.
The random violence of war and terrorism threads through this compelling novel; but Peet weaves it in so seamlessly and relentlessly that when the crisis does come for Clem and Frankie, it is unexpected and devastating. It is not until decades later, when chance and violence once again play a part in their lives, that we fully begin to understand the depth of their connection.
If you’d like to give a young person this novel, do yourself a favor: Read it first!