Kimberly Giarratano

Two years after his mother dies of breast cancer, high school junior and amateur photographer Jamison Deever decides to channel his grief into a photography project. At a street corner he could see from his mother’s hospital window, Jamison photographs whoever happens to show up at 9:09 p.m., the exact time at which his mother died. 

Initially, Jamison simply wants to honor his mother’s memory, but when he creates a website and begins uploading his work online, the photos garner attention, both local and national. A popular girl named Kennedy exploits Jamison’s talent in the hope of kickstarting a modeling career, while another girl named Assi, who is dealing with her own loss, butts heads with Jamison in English class. Friendship—and then something more—grows between them. As Jamison’s photography inspires others to embark on their own 9:09 projects, he begins to understand the transformational power of expressing his grief. 

As author Mark H. Parsons was drafting The 9:09 Project, his mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and she died before the book was published. Through Jamison, Parsons offers a strikingly honest and moving depiction of loss, grief and healing. As the novel opens, Jamison is adrift, struggling with the reality that life after the death of a loved one doesn’t come with a road map. Instead, he must find his own path, apart from but alongside his supportive sister, father and friends. 

Parsons’ first-person narration is spare and never weighed down by heavy descriptions, focusing instead on Jamison’s thoughts from moment to moment. This strong internality adds to the novel’s appeal as Jamison undertakes a journey through grief, which, sooner or later, every reader must also experience. Not every teen who has suffered a loss will be ready for the raw emotions Parsons captures here, but when they are, the novel’s honesty will likely be a comfort.

In The 9:09 Project, author Mark H. Parsons draws on personal experience to craft a strikingly honest depiction of loss, grief and healing.

Kit Sutherland is a new codebreaker, hired by the United States government to decipher Japanese codes during the height of World War II. Unbeknownst to her colleagues, Kit is also an imposter. She had been working as a lady’s maid to a fragile student at Arlington Hall, a prestigious Virginia boarding school. Just before her employer died, she made Kit promise to assume her identity: “Say you’ll live, even when I can’t.” 

Contributing to the war effort at Arlington Hall, which has been purchased by the U.S. Department of War, gives Kit a chance to make a difference. For the first time in her life, she makes friends, saves lives and controls her own destiny—until she and her friends stumble upon a gruesome crime scene. Another girl who works at Arlington Hall has been viciously murdered, and she isn’t the perpetrator’s first victim. The police ignore obvious clues and connections, so Kit and her friends set out to solve the crimes using their codebreaking skills, even though doing so means putting themselves directly in the murderer’s path. 

Australian author Ellie Marney’s The Killing Code is an engaging historical mystery with a vibrant cast of characters, including Moya, Kit’s glamorous supervisor and romantic interest; Dottie, Kit’s loyal roommate; and Violet, a Black codebreaker from the segregated unit whose friend was one of the killer’s first victims. Together they form a fearsome team as they utilize their codebreaking expertise to develop a profile of the murderer. Scenes that depict how Kit and her fellow codebreakers intercept and decipher Japanese ciphers are as fascinating as the investigation itself and are likely to send readers to the resources mentioned in Marney’s author’s note, which also includes two codes for such readers to try their hand at cracking. 

Marney (None Shall Sleep) knows how to pen suspense. Although seasoned mystery fans will likely guess the perpetrator long before the reveal, Marney ratchets up the tension by focusing on how Kit and her friends systematically take down the murderer, ending with a nail-biting showdown. Teens are sure to recommend this book to their friends; they might even do so in code.

A WWII codebreaker sets out to solve a series of gruesome murders by using her codebreaking skills in this engaging historical mystery.

High school senior Brynn Gallagher has recently moved from Chicago back to her Massachusetts hometown, a welcome if difficult change. After a scandal in Chicago got her kicked off the student newspaper, Brynn is now starting over at her old private school, Saint Ambrose.

In an attempt to repair her reputation and impress college admissions officers, Brynn lands a coveted internship at “Motive,” a buzzy true crime TV show. Her first assignment is digging into the four-year-old unsolved murder of William Larkin, a Saint Ambrose English teacher whose body was discovered in the woods by three students.

One of those students is Brynn’s former best friend, Tripp Talbot, who ended their friendship in humiliating fashion. As the anniversary of Mr. Larkin’s death approaches, Tripp is still haunted by the lies he told, and he’s drinking more than ever.

The danger mounts when secrets from Mr. Larkin’s past collide with Brynn’s investigation. Brynn and Tripp are surrounded by suspects, including their own family members, and it begins to look like everyone at Saint Ambrose has a motive for murder.

Nothing More to Tell is another suspenseful page turner from bestselling author Karen M. McManus. In her signature style, McManus (One of Us Is Lying) never gives readers a moment to relax, drawing out suspects and secrets in rapid succession. As the clues build momentum, so will readers’ desire to plow through the novel to see how it all ties together.

However, the most compelling element of McManus’ storytelling is neither the crime nor the victim but the trauma of the survivors left behind. As Tripp drinks to numb his pain, Brynn makes sacrifices to help him, stoking both romance and healing between them. The novel’s well-rounded cast of supporting characters includes Brynn’s feisty genius of a sister; her uncle, who has a troubled Saint Ambrose connection of his own; and Regina, who owns the bakery where Tripp works and is a supportive breath of fresh air.

Brimming with twists and turns, Nothing More to Tell is a fine addition to the genre that McManus helped popularize.

The most compelling element of bestselling author Karen M. McManus’ latest thrill ride is neither the crime nor the victim but the survivors left behind.

Zarela Zalvidar is practically royalty in Santivilla, the capital city of Hispalia. Her mother was a celebrated flamenco dancer before she was killed by dragon fire, and her father is a respected Dragonador whose family has owned and run La Giralda, a dragon-fighting arena, for more than five centuries. After some dragons escape during a show at the arena, killing many spectators and gravely wounding Zarela’s father, she must find a way to save La Giralda from financial ruin and unmask a traitor who is sabotaging her family’s business.

In order to lure back La Giralda’s audience, Zarela must enter the ring herself, but she’ll need a trainer if she’s to leave the ring with her life. Arturo, a handsome former Dragonador turned trainer who scorns the Zalvidar family and their dragon-fighting legacy, seems like the perfect choice—if only Zarela can convince him to help. With only one chance to secure her family’s future, Zarela will do anything and risk everything to succeed.

Headstrong, resourceful and tenacious, Zarela is eager to emerge from the shadow of her mother’s fame. Arturo is a worthy foil who challenges Zarela to rethink her long-held beliefs regarding dragon fighting. He’s also one of only a few people in Zarela’s life who doesn’t underestimate her, and their crackling chemistry will please fans of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

In Together We Burn, author Isabel Ibañez (Woven in Moonlight) grounds her fantasy world in the culture of medieval Spain, including its food, art and language. Her depiction of the divisions between characters who believe that dragon-fighting is cruel versus those who defend it as a cultural tradition mirrors present-day debates in countries that practice bullfighting.

Packed with high stakes, a well-executed mystery and an appealingly swoony romance, Together We Burn has something to entertain a wide range of genre fiction fans.

In this medieval Spain-inspired fantasy tale, Zarela will do anything to save her family's dragon-fighting arena—even if it means entering the ring herself.

Best friends Evelyn and Mina were 10 years old when they summoned a spirit to do their bidding. They wanted to clear Evelyn’s father of suspicion in the mysterious drowning deaths of three Long Island teenagers known as the Cliffside Trio. Six years later, the girls are still paying the price: Mina has a painful scar on her wrist in the shape of a sand dollar, and Evelyn’s family has collapsed. Even the girls’ friendship couldn’t survive the fallout. 

When Evelyn gets caught in an academic cheating scandal, she summons another spirit to salvage her college prospects, but the consequences are even more disastrous. The only person who can help Evelyn out of her supernatural mess is Mina, but it won’t be easy. The malevolent spirit not only haunts the girls but also draws power from tormenting the souls of the Cliffside Trio. Evelyn and Mina’s attempts to investigate and banish the spirit reveal secrets and cover-ups, not to mention a budding romance. It’s soon clear that they’ll have to risk everything to discover the truth.

In The Drowning Summer, Christine Lynn Herman’s elaborate ghost mythos departs significantly from typical haunted house narratives. The souls of the novel’s dead dwell in the ocean, where they can be called upon by the living to vanquish problems, as Evelyn and Mina did when they were children. Readers who enjoy detailed world building will find their appetites thoroughly satisfied by Herman’s creative framework.

In addition to a compelling ghost story, however, The Drowning Summer is a deft exploration of both girls’ grounded, authentic family dynamics. In a well-intended but misguided attempt to protect Mina from danger, Mina’s mother unintentionally puts her daughter in harm’s way. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s older sister, who is still reeling from their parents’ divorce and their mother’s abandonment, causes additional hurt to their suffering father.

Herman struggles at times to craft a mystery as absorbing as her story’s supernatural and interpersonal elements. For instance, the novel establishes that Evelyn’s father had the means to commit the Cliffside Trio murders, but never indicates what his motive would have been. Most mystery enthusiasts will nonetheless find the compounding clues and the novel’s resolution fulfilling.

Fans of Shea Ernshaw, Kerri Maniscalco or the CW’s “Nancy Drew” will love The Drowning Summer’s blend of supernatural thrills, cold-case mystery and sweet romance. It’s an empowering tale about working through family trauma and rising above expectations.

Christine Lynn Herman’s The Drowning Summer blends supernatural thrills, a cold-case mystery and sweet romance for a haunting tale perfect for fans of the CW’s “Nancy Drew.”

Rafael “Flaco” Herrera and his buddies, Magaña and Tiny, live in an impoverished Houston neighborhood where their choices for the future are limited. They can decide between working low-paying jobs or joining the military and possibly winding up dead, like Flaco’s cousin Carlos.

So when the boys have an opportunity to buy and fix up a rare 1959 Chevy Impala that Magaña’s godfather is storing in a barn in a south Texas town called Diamond Park, they jump at the chance. They plan to restore the car to its former glory and sell it for cash. Tagging along on the trip is Susi Taylor, a neighborhood girl Flaco has a serious crush on.

What starts as a youthful adventure quickly becomes a nightmare when a man is murdered and Susi is arrested for the crime. Feeling responsible, the boys embark on a journey into Mexico to clear Susi’s name. Their quest puts their lives and their families in jeopardy, but also transforms them into the men they have always hoped to become.

Author Phillippe Diederich, the son of Haitian exiles who grew up in Mexico City, has penned a poignant and powerful story about a compelling group of Mexican American teens. Flaco knows his mother wants more for him than the meager living she makes. He wants to become an artist, but she’s pushing him to study medicine or law. Magaña, whose father is in prison, worries that his only option will be to work at the local AutoZone. And despite his stellar grades, Tiny can’t apply to college because his parents entered the country without documentation when he was a child. Instead, he lives in fear of being discovered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported. Through their stories, Diederich offers a moving depiction of the injustice, poverty and trauma that many new Americans experience every day.

In Mexico, Flaco begins to find his way to hope when he reflects on how his life would have been different if his mother hadn’t come to the U.S. “It’s weird how one decision made by one person changes everything for everyone who comes later,” he thinks. There’s hope, too, when tough-talking Magaña has an epiphany of his own. “We need to shoot for more than what they expect from us,” he tells Flaco.

Tense, raw and gorgeously written, Diamond Park will resonate with any reader who, in a world filled with ample reason for pessimism, strives instead for optimism.

Tense, raw and gorgeously written, Diamond Park follows an adventure that becomes a nightmare when Flaco’s friend is falsely accused of murder.

On a cold January morning, the ghost of Todd Mayer watches as his naked, frozen body is discovered in a park by someone passing by. He listens as two police detectives question his family and private-school classmates about his whereabouts the night before. They don’t question his friends, though, because Todd doesn’t have any friends. Instead, the detectives focus their investigation on one of Todd’s male teachers, who took an unusual interest in him.

While Todd silently observes the aftermath of his death, a girl named Georgia, whose brother was one of Todd’s classmates, is dealing with issues of her own. Carrie, one of the most popular students at their all-girls’ school, has recently decided she and Georgia should be friends, but Georgia’s feelings about Carrie are decidedly more complicated than just friendship. Then Georgia realizes she might know something about what happened to Todd on the night he died, setting Georgia and Todd on a collision course with the truth.

Author Mariko Tamaki is best known for This One Summer, a graphic novel she co-authored with her cousin Jillian Tamaki that received Caldecott and Printz Honors. In Cold she creates a fast-paced mystery reminiscent of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.

The novel alternates between Todd and Georgia, with Todd’s chapters in third person and Georgia’s in first. Tamaki gives Todd’s sections a fitting sense of detachment: “Todd didn’t want to see his dead body anymore. Not because it upset him. It just didn’t interest him anymore. Like a plate of cold, half-eaten food on the table after dinner.” Meanwhile, Georgia’s chapters brim with emotion as her feelings for Carrie conflict with her insecurities. Throughout, Tamaki nails the dialogue, peppering it with the perfect amount of slang and teenage witticisms.

Sharp and authentic, Cold doesn’t just take its title from the chill of a wintry day but also from the cruelty and isolation of adolescence. Readers who love intense, suspenseful storytelling will devour it in one sitting.

Sharp, intense, authentic and deeply suspenseful, Cold is a fast-paced mystery guaranteed to be devoured in one sitting.

What if the events in the fairy tales you heard as a child didn’t really happen that way at all? This is the question posed by Martha Brockenbrough’s Into the Bloodred Woods , a savage spin on happily ever after. 

The novel takes place in a mythical kingdom ruled by a king, his gold-spinning queen and their twin children, Ursula and Albrecht. Ursula, a serious and thoughtful princess, can transform into a bear, which gives her tremendous physical strength. She dreams of the day that she will become queen and can free other shape-shifters from the oppressive rules that limit their freedom. Cruel Albrecht fancies himself an inventor, but his horrifying creations often involve unwilling test subjects. When the king dies, his kingdom is divided between the twins until Albrecht invades Ursula’s half, usurping his sister’s land. To save her people and protect herself, Ursula must destroy her brother or die trying.

Brockenbrough offers a thoroughly feminist novel that reimagines many well-known fairy tales. In her versions, Little Red Riding Hood falls in love with the wolf, while Hansel and Gretel are kidnapped by Albrecht and forced into servitude. Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella and the Pied Piper are also referenced, but Brockenbrough reconfigures their stories so that they’re far less Disney and far more Grimm.

Toward the end of the novel, a character muses, “Why was it a crime to be more than one thing? Why could people not be exactly who they chose to be in the world? Who was harmed when people lived their own truths?” It’s a striking moment that will resonate with teens who have asked themselves similar questions about their own world. As potent an allegory as the fantastical stories upon which it draws, Into the Bloodred Woods reminds readers of the power such stories hold—and of their own power to rewrite them.

This savage spin on happily ever after offers a thoroughly feminist allegory as potent as anything the Brothers Grimm dreamed up.

In Carly Heath’s debut YA novel, set on a small Norwegian island in 1904, a trio of young people reject their community’s traditional values and strive to live together.

Asta Hedstrom, who is deaf in one ear, must either marry or face a future as an impoverished spinster. She has resigned herself to marrying Nils Tennfjord, a boy she does not love. Her friend Gunnar Fuglestad has just survived a horrific accident that killed his mother, concussed his brother and required that Gunnar’s arm be amputated. His family’s farm will also soon be lost because of unpaid taxes. Meanwhile, Gunnar’s boyfriend, Erlend Fournier, has been kicked out of his wealthy home for refusing to abandon Gunnar.

After a violent altercation leaves Gunnar with a spinal injury and unable to move his legs, Erlend purchases a cabin for the two of them to live in. With little money of her own and no employable skills, Asta rejects Nils’ proposal and joins them, deciding that she’ll learn the blacksmithing trade with Gunnar’s brother. The trio’s best chance at survival is to win a local horse race and its hefty cash prize, but they’ll have to go up against the best and most dangerous thoroughbreds in the region.

Alternating between Asta’s and Erlend’s points of view, The Reckless Kind explores the bravery and brutality required to carve out unconventional paths in a time in which otherness was shunned and people were rejected to the fringes of society because of their sexuality, mental illness, religious beliefs or disabilities. Heath takes great care in conveying Asta and Erlend’s optimism in spite of Gunnar’s harrowing physical challenges, even reassuring readers in an author’s note, “No tragic ending here.”

Readers who enjoyed the equestrian culture of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races will enjoy the heart-pounding horse race in the final act, but Heath’s thoughtful portrayal of headstrong teenagers who successfully defy the expectations of their time has broad appeal.

In this thoughtful tale, set on a Norwegian island in 1904, a trio of young people reject their community’s traditional values and strive to live together.

Adriana Mather’s Killing November opens as November Adley, an unassuming 17-year-old, wakes up at the Academy Absconditi. She was dropped off at this peculiar boarding school, which is housed in a medieval castle in an undisclosed European location, by her ex-CIA father with little explanation, other than the fact that she is there for her own safety. 

But November feels anything but safe; in fact, one of the calculating and conniving students punches her in the face on her first day. And the administration? They simply encourage November to retaliate in an equally violent fashion. This is all a bit alarming, but soon November learns that she is a member of an ancient family of powerful assassins and tacticians. Without realizing it, November has been training for this school her whole life. But when a student at the academy is murdered, the blame immediately falls on November, and she’ll need to count on her survival instincts to find the truth.

Unlike her highly suspicious classmates, November is an optimist who refutes cynicism—even in the face of life-and-death conflict. What might be most refreshing for readers is the academy’s egalitarian ideals: There are no limitations placed on any student, regardless of gender. And November proves she can handle the most challenging task with aplomb, securing her place in this school of renegades.

Suzanne Young’s Girls With Sharp Sticks is also a tale of female empowerment but with a sci-fi spin. At Innovations Academy, the student body is a homogeneous group of intelligent and beautiful teenage girls who study gardening, etiquette and decorum in a repurposed factory. They are all graded on manners, beauty and compliance. This is the norm for Innovations student Philomena.

She doesn’t know what it’s like to have bodily autonomy or freedom, and she doesn’t question life at the academy until one of her friends goes missing. Suddenly, the academy’s all-male staff doesn’t seem like it has the girls’ best interests at heart. But any girl who doesn’t behave and comply with the staff’s orders gets a dose of impulse control therapy, which affects their memories. Even more disturbingly, a sweet budding romance between Philomena and a local boy is juxtaposed against the unsettling advances of the much older staff. As Philomena and the other girls discover what they’re really being groomed for, they begin to defy orders.

Girls With Sharp Sticks is a thrilling story about a sisterhood smashing the patriarchy. Philomena and her friends resort to subversion in order to protect one another, relying on the same tribal instincts that were encouraged in their education. While this novel reads like a feminist manifesto, it’s also a reflection of modern movements to end sexual harassment.

Both Killing November and Girls With Sharp Sticks are fast-paced and gripping female-centered stories in which the class curriculum centers on survival. But be prepared—they’re both perfectly primed for sequels.

Hidden campuses, bitter rivalries, subversive relationships and a lapse of adult supervision make two new boarding school stories tantalizing reads. The curriculum? It’s all about survival.

Very different in tone but equally compelling, these two ghost stories will haunt readers long after the last page.


In Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, Printz Medal-winner Laura Ruby weaves a heart-wrenching story about loss and familial bonds as two girls, an orphan and a ghost, struggle to make their way during the early 1940s.

Pearl, who narrates, died in 1918 and haunts the Chicago orphanage where Frankie is abandoned by her father, a poor shoemaker. Pearl watches as Frankie endures both harsh treatment by the nuns and the heartbreak of her father’s remarriage and subsequent move to Colorado without her. Frankie must also weather the loss of her first love, who enlists in the Army at the height of war. 

Over time, Pearl meets other spirits and begins to unburden herself of the secrets that keep her locked in the mortal realm. She discovers that her afterlife doesn’t have to be spent wandering Chicago’s streets, trapped in an endless loop.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All calls to mind A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, another story that explores the struggles, heartache and joy of those who grew up without privilege in the early 20th century. Pearl is a tragic heroine, a product of the social expectations placed on a beautiful young woman in the late 1910s, and Frankie comes of age amid the uncertainty and instability of World War II—yet both refuse to succumb to hopelessness. A beautiful and lyrical read that pushes against the boundaries of what we often think a young adult novel can contain, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is sure to garner Ruby even more acclaim.

The ghosts in Rules for Vanishing are tragic entities with malevolent intentions. A year ago, Sara Donoghue’s sister Becca traipsed into the Massachusetts woods, never to be seen again. Only Sara knows where she went—in search of a ghostly road that emerges on the anniversary of the disappearance of Lucy Gallow, who vanished in 1953 and whose ghost now calls out to travelers for rescue. Now Sara must try to find Becca. To do so, she enlists the help of some old friends and ensures that everyone knows the rules of the road: Everyone must search in pairs. Everyone must bring a lock to open a gate. And everyone must stay on the road. But breaking the rules, even unintentionally, is easier than it seems, and the consequences for doing so are gruesome. To reveal anything more than that would spoil the reading experience.

Kate Alice Marshall interweaves video footage transcripts, interviews, emails and text messages, documentary-style, into Sara’s first-person narration. The effect not only heightens suspense but stretches the confines of the story and causes readers to question Sara’s version of events. What is real, and what has been distorted? Marshall doesn’t shy away from violence or gore, and readers will feel like they are watching a horror film unfold on the page. Shudder-inducing and unusual, The Rules for Vanishing checks all the boxes for a pulse-thumping read.

Heartwarming or hair-raising, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All and Rules for Vanishing will keep readers up all night.

Very different in tone but equally compelling, these two ghost stories will haunt readers long after the last page. In Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, Printz Medal-winner Laura Ruby weaves a heart-wrenching story about loss and familial bonds as two girls, an orphan and a ghost, struggle to make their way during the early […]

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