Erin McCahan's second novel for teen readers, Love and Other Foreign Words, would've been an easy favorite for my 12-year-old self. It stars an over-analytical, brilliant 17-year-old named Josie who can't keep her hilarious and too-astute commentary (and enormous vocabulary) to herself—and thank goodness she can't. The precocious teen approaches the world around her as an outsider, observing and translating the communication styles of others. The pattern and familiarty of language—from math to the "language of beautiful girls"—make sense to her, unlike the language of romantic love, an area where Josie's brillance offers no insight. So when her older sister Kate plans to marry the insufferable Geoff, Josie is determined to break them up.
Naturally, this doesn't go as planned, and Josie ends up learning a bit more about love than she expected. Read on for an excerpt, when she first starts considering the possibility of falling in love and makes a list of her potential guy's necessary critera:
"Okay. He has to be older than I am. And taller. Preferably handsome but not so gorgeous that he knows it. And smart in a way that makes me just want to sit and listen to him talk."
"About what?" she asks.
"Just—everything interesting. We have to be able to have marathon conversations. But we also need to be comfortable being quiet together." He will appreciate the value of self-possessed silence and practice it judiciously, I want to add, but don't.
"He should play some instrument too," I say. "Preferable guitar or piano, but I wouldn't mind a woodwind. Bagpipes would be my first choice, but percussion is out of the questions."
"Bag—? Josie," Sophie says.
"Well, he has to be able to do things I can't do that don't drive me crazy so that I stay interested."
"Like walking a straight line without falling over?" Stu asks.
"Yeah. Like that," I agree, pointing at Stu and shaming a smile.
"Stop listening to us," Sophie orders him. "Just go back to driving."
"You realize I haven't stopped driving," he says.
"Be quiet," she says. To me, she asks, "What else?"
There's more. There's lots more.
He will never ask me to eat gray, slimy, gelatinous food nor will he tousle my hair. Not that he could tousle it since I wear it daily in a neat and tidy ponytail, but there are times—showering, blow-drying—when my hair is, in fact, tousle-able. I'd prefer it if he just never touches my head or touches it only with my permission, which I will grant on special occasions such as Arbor Day, poor, neglected holiday that it is, but never on my birthday.
What are you reading this week?
Our teen top pick for April is Printz Award winner John Corey Whaley's refreshingly unique novel, Noggin. When 16-year-old Travis Coates is faced with terminal cancer—acute lymphoblastic leukemia—he decides to donate his head to a cryogenic lab. But instead of "waking up" to a future of flying cars and jet packs, he's reinstated just five short years later with the body of a teen who suffered from brain cancer.
Travis is suddenly thrust back into a world that has moved on without him: his girlfriend and first love is engaged to someone else, his parents grieved, his best friend is navigating college and yet Travis is the same high schooler he was five years ago.
With plenty of wit and head puns, Whaley makes a bizarre concept absolutely lovable and surprisingly moving.
Check out the quirky trailer from Simon & Schuster below:
What do you think, readers? Interested in picking up Whaley's second teen novel?
Sally Green recently kicked off her much-anticipated Half Life trilogy with the release of her first YA novel, Half Bad. Green weaves a paranormal world of do-gooder White Witches and evil Black Witches into her setting of a modern-day United Kingdom.
Sixteen-year-old Nathan Byrn is seen as "an abomination, a Half Code" thanks to, you guessed it, his White Witch mother and Black Witch father. After Nathan's mother takes her own life out of shame for her role in the affair, he is forced to struggle for freedom from his cruel father, Marcus, and from the regulatory hand of the Council of White Witches.
Murky alliances, questionable methods employed by the self-proclaimed good guys of the Council and a cliffhanger ending make this an absorbing read that's sure to lure fans of strong YA series.
Get introduced to Nathan in the darkly cinematic trailer from Penguin Young Readers below:
What do you think, readers? Does this sound like a book for you?
It's been a great year for children's books (and it's not over yet), and it's always fun to see which of our favorites get recognized during awards season.
Kicking it off is the 2013 National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature, released today:
• Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
• Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses
• Lisa Graff, A Tangle of Knots
• Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince
• Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck
• David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing
• Tom McNeal, Far Far Away
• Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone (BookPage review coming in October)
• Anne Ursu, The Real Boy
• Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints
Got any favorites out of this bunch?
Stay tuned throughout the rest of the week for National Book Award longlist announcements for nonfiction (Sept 18) and fiction (Sept 19)!
A few years ago, YA lit fans were calling for more sci-fi, and it's safe to say that the genre answered. With YA's built-in fanbase for apocalyptic thrillers, the opportunities were endless: zombies, contagions, aliens, interplanetary romances and doomsdays that can be thwarted only by 16-year-olds.
Characters in high-action teen lit are right at home a hundred years in the future on Mars (Losers in Space, Black Hole Sun), surviving on space stations (Glow, Mothership), waking from stasis to discover a strange new future world (Across the Universe, A Long, Long Sleep) and thwarting dominate species (The Lunar Chronicles).
But this summer, it gets personal.
YA sci-fi comes to the home front as alien invasions sweep this summer's crop of teen lit. Naturally, many are set post-invasion, because honestly, YA dystopia will never die.
Here are a few of the big ones:
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Putnam, 5/7)
Aliens quickly and mercilessly destroy the majority of the human race in attacks called "Waves." The few survivors include Cassie, who runs along an abandoned highway in search of her missing brother, completely unaware that the aliens' most terrifying strike is yet to come. Think The Host, only much better. Read our review from the May issue.
Icons by Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown, 5/7)
The aliens in this one barely show their faces—but that's what makes them creepy. The survivors of this post-alien invasion world are so scared of their overlords that they perpetuate the aliens' horrors willfully. Four teens with a special immunity to the aliens are Earth's only hope. Fans of Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series will enjoy this one.
In the After by Demetria Lunetta (HarperTeen, 6/25)
Amy and a toddler she calls "Baby" survive after aliens invade Earth and kill almost all of the population. But when Amy and Baby are miraculously rescued, everything is not as it seems, and she begins to discover the truth behind "Them."
Neptune's Tears by Susan Waggoner (Holt, 6/25)
Call this one an alien invasion of the heart. Set in London in the year 2218, an empath named Zee falls in love with David, a member of a mysterious alien race. Sure, there's some fighting, but it's mostly fighting for their love. An alien invasion tale for the romantic set.
And one more to look forward to: The fourth book in Pittacus Lore's I Am Number Four series, The Fall of Five, comes out on August 27.
Are you a fan of YA sci-fi? Are you excited for the upcoming thrilling alien reads?
The Diviners by Libba Bray
Little, Brown • $19.99 • ISBN 9780316126113
On sale September 18, 2012
Ages 15 and up
With the recent news that Baz Luhrmann's take on The Great Gatsby (Fitz, help us) has been pushed back to Summer 2013, you'll need something to tide you over until then. I know you've already purchased your flapper dress and bedazzled your dancing shoes, but you can still go crazy about the Roaring Twenties with the help of Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray's newest, The Diviners.
This atmospheric novel is technically for teens, but it'll fit right in on your TBR list with Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone and Emma Straub's upcoming Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures (9/4).
Evie O'Neill comes to glamorous NYC in 1926, where she's thrilled to explore speakeasies, shopping, Broadway and more. The only downside is she has to live with her uncle, curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. Not to mention, Evie has a supernatural secret of her own: She can uncover details about people by holding any object that belongs to them. When a girl is found murdered and branded with a cryptic symbol, Evie might be able to use that power to find a killer.
And that's only the beginning! Check out an excerpt from the opening gin party, where Bray draws you in with her pitch-perfect '20s flair:
The hostess, a pretty and spoiled young thing, notes her guests' restlessness with a sense of alarm. It is her eighteenth birthday, and if she doesn't do something to raise this party from the dead, it will be the talk for days to come that her gathering was as dull as a church social.
Raising from the dead.
The weekend before, she'd been forced to go antiquing upstate with her mother—an absolutely hideous chore, until they came upon an old Ouija board. Ouija boards were all the rage; psychics have claimed to receive messages and warnings from the other side using Mr. Fuld's "talking board." The antiques dealer fed her mother a line about how it had come to him under mysterious circumstances.
"They say it's still haunted by restless spirits. But perhaps you and your sister could tame it?" he'd said with over-the-top flattery; naturally, her mother lapped it up, which resulted in her paying too much for the thing. Well, she'd make her mother's mistake pay off for her now.
The hostess races for the hall closet and signals to the maid. "Do be a darling and get that down for me."
The maid retrieves the board with a shake of her head. "You oughtn't to be messing with this board, Miss."
"Don't be silly. That's primitive."
With a zippy twirl worthy of Clara Bow, the hostess bursts into the formal living room holding the Ouija board. "Who wants to commune with the spirits?" She giggles to show that she doesn't take it seriously in the least. After all, she's a thoroughly modern girl—a flapper, through and through.
The wilted girls spring up from their club chairs. "What've you got there? Is that a wee-gee board?" one of them asks.
"Isn't it darling? Mother bought it for me. It's supposed to be haunted," the hostess says and laughs. "Well, I don't believe that, naturally." The hostess places the heart-shaped planchette in the middle of the board. "Let's conjure up some fun, shall we?"
Everyone gathers 'round. George angles himself into the spot beside her. He's a Yale man and a junior. Many nights, she's lain awake in her bedroom, imagining her future with him. "Who wants to start?" she asks, positioning her fingers close to his.
"I will," a boy in a ridiculous fez announces. She can't remember his name, but she's heard he has a habit of inviting girls into his rumble seat for a petting party. He closes his eyes and places his fingers on the scryer. "A question for the ages: Is the lady to my right madly in love with me?"
The girls squeal and the boys laugh as the planchette slowly spells out Y-E-S.
"Liar!" the lady in question scolds the heart-shaped scrying piece with its clear glass oracle.
"Don't fight it, darling. I could be yours on the cheap," the boy says.
Now spirits are high; the questions grow bolder. They're drunk on gin and good times and the silly distraction of the fortune-telling. Every mornin', every evenin', ain't we got fun?
"Say, let's summon a real spirit," George challenges.
Be sure to check out some of the other great crossover YA novels from this year!
Vampires are so over. Kids killing kids have trouble topping Katniss. Dystopia still has momentum . . . for now.
But what's the hot topic in teen novels for fall? Genetic engineering. Clones.
It's by no means a surprise topic for the genre, as questioning the meaning of humanity is familiar territory for teen lit. However, it seems this fall has a particularly large number of female heroines that are either clones or projects, or are discovering the genetic question for themselves. Check out a few of the bigger titles for this fall:
Origin by Jessica Khoury
Enter the Amazon jungle with the tale of Pia, a girl raised in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the rainforest. She was created to be the first of a new immortal race. This one's big—it's the first title on the 2012 Penguin Teen Breathless Reads. Keep an eye out for our interview with debut author Khoury in September!
Eve & Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate
The author duo behind the Animorphs series also set their book in a sinister laboratory. Eve is the daughter of the leading geneticist at super secretive Spiker Biopharm, and after a terrible accident, she finds herself bedridden and bored. Her mom gives her a special project: Design the perfect boy—but nothing is ever that simple.
The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna
This debut novel stars Eva, an "echo" designed to replace a real girl, Amarra, if she ever died. Eva must do everything Amarra does, eat what she eats, learns what she learns. When Amarra dies, Eva must choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original.
Beta by Rachel Cohn
On the island of Demesne, the wealthiest people on earth employ clones as workers. Elysia is the experimental model of the first teenage clone, and she quickly discovers she's not as unfeeling or soulless as she's supposed to be. She must keep her emotions secret or suffer the consequences—but keeping quiet in a place like Demesne isn't easy.
Why do you think YA books seem concerned with the question of what it means to be human?
Ever wished the handsome hero in the book you’re reading could jump out of the page and into your life? That is just what happens in Jodi Picoult’s new teen novel, Between the Lines, written with her 16-year-old daughter Samantha van Leer.
Delilah, a loner who spends most of her time reading and rereading her favorite fairytale from the library, finds she has caught her fictional Prince Charming’s attention. What follows is a charming revision of an ancient fairytale, one that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Check out our interview with Picoult and her daughter here, and enjoy this trailer put out by Allen and Unwin:
What do you think of Between the Lines?
In Wednesday's edition of Reading Corner, we revealed the Best Children's Books of 2010, as determined by the editors of BookPage. We chose 10 picks in each age range (picture books, middle grade and teen), and our choices include a range of genres: from historical fiction to humor, from fantasy to true-to-life family stories.
Here's the for the full list of our Best Children's Book of 2010. Check it out, then tell us what we missed.
Jane by April Lindner
Poppy • $17.99 • ISBN 9780316084208
On sale October 11, 2010
After 19-year-old Jane's parents die in a car accident, our heroine is forced to drop out of Sarah Lawrence and find a job through a nanny service. Because she's more into classical music than rock and never reads the tabloids, Jane is placed in the home of Nico Rathburn (it's better to avoid the fans)--a rocker with a bad boy image and a young daughter. I won't say more and spoil the ending . . . although if you've read Jane Eyre, I think you know where it's going. Still, it's a lot of fun to anticipate familiar scenes and watch them play out in a modern setting, and it doesn't hurt that Jane and Nico have awfully good chemistry.
Since Halloween is just around the corner, here's a creepy scene that Brontë fans will surely be able to place:
Once again, the house was silent, and I felt myeslf drifting back to sleep. I had just started dreaming when another sound startled me awake. This time it was a laugh--low, suppressed, and deep--that seemed to be coming through the keyhole of my bedroom door. I bolted upright. The room was pitch-dark; the only light would have come in between the slats of the window blinds, but tonight there was no moon. I sat perfectly still, waiting for my eyes to adjust. Had I dreamed that laugh? Had my sleeping mind taken a distant sound--a loon's cry, maybe?--and distored it?
"Is somebody there?" I whispered, and heard a floorboard creak just outside my door. Then I noticed something that made my heart pound even faster--a faint aroma of sulfur. I switched on the light, crept to the door, and yanked it open. On the carpet, at the top of the stairs, I saw a match smoldering. The air was thick with smoke, but the blue billows seemed to be coming from Mr. Rathburn's wing, on the opposite side of the house.
Also, do you have a favorite retelling of a classic?