Molly Horan

Zac knows all the statistics about his leukemia—the survival rate, the chance the cancer will return even if his new bone marrow gives him a temporary clean bill of health. But he’s still hopeful he can get back to his old life after months in solitary with only his mother for company—his mother, and the faceless girl fighting her own battle next door.

Mia is angry—angry she has cancer, angry the treatment makes her so sick, angry her doctors and mother don’t seem to understand she just wants the treatment to be done so she can get back to her friends. The only one who seems to understand, even a little bit, is the boy in the other room. He knows nothing about her except that a sore ankle led to her cancer diagnosis. He calls her lucky—she has good odds.

Then Zac goes home to try to regain his pre-cancer life, and Mia goes home with so much less than she ever dreamed. Inevitably they end up together again—Zac desperate to help, and Mia desperate to run from everything.

It’s almost impossible for a book about two teens fighting cancer to escape a comparison to The Fault in Our Stars, and on a very surface level the two books share DNA: sick teens falling in love, sometimes angry, sometimes hopeful, sometimes resigned. What Zac and Mia does best, however, is capture the feelings of loneliness and isolation. Mia’s need to pretend her cancer doesn’t exist separates her from her friends even as she interacts with them online, and when the reality of her illness catches up with her she finds it impossible to connect with her former friends, who have nothing heavier than a zit weighing on their minds.

Zac and Mia is much more than a book about illness; it's a book about learning to trust a person, and trusting they can care about you when you feel completely unlovable.

 

Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School.

Zac knows all the statistics about his leukemia—the survival rate, the chance the cancer will return even if his new bone marrow gives him a temporary clean bill of health. But he’s still hopeful he can get back to his old life after months in solitary with only his mother for company—his mother, and the faceless girl fighting her own battle next door.

For Rose, summers at Awago Beach are a constant. She and her parents have been renting a cottage there for as long as she can remember, and none of the changes in her life can alter the yearly trip to the beach—not even her parents’ sudden surge of fights. She’s reunited with her best beach friend Windy, and at first everything falls into the usual rhythm. But her mother won’t join in the fun, no matter how hard Rose and her father try to pull her in, and the year-and-a-half age gap that separates Rose from Windy seems bigger than before.

As things between her parents get worse and Windy seems more and more irritating, Rose focuses on the drama surrounding the local DVD rental store and the cute boy who works behind the counter. She and Windy discover that his girlfriend is pregnant, but Rose is certain her crush isn’t at fault.

This One Summer effortlessly captures the moment when the adult world begins to seep into childhood’s summertime rituals.

Written and illustrated by the team behind the critically acclaimed graphic novel Skim (2008), This One Summer perfectly captures the comfort of returning to a safe place steeped in tradition, and the dawning realization that no matter how static a place may stay, the process of growing up forces a change in feelings and perceptions. Author Mariko Tamaki does a masterful job of tackling issues often shied away from in young adult novels, such as the instinct to blame a girl for an unplanned pregnancy rather than the boy, either out of jealousy or a sense of societal norms. Tamaki also excels at weaving in questions of bodies and boys in an authentic preteen voice.

Illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s artwork complements the story perfectly, slowing it down when the pace needs to be calmed and focusing on unusual details—such as what it’s like to look through a gummy candy—to really connect the reader to the scenes.

This One Summer is a beautiful book in more ways than one and will have readers eager for summer vacation. Its illustrations will stay with you as much as the unique-yet-relatable narrative.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

For Rose, summers at Awago Beach are a constant. She and her parents have been renting a cottage there for as long as she can remember, and none of the changes in her life can alter the yearly trip to the beach—not even her parents’ sudden surge of fights. She’s reunited with her best beach friend Windy, and at first everything falls into the usual rhythm. But her mother won’t join in the fun, no matter how hard Rose and her father try to pull her in, and the year-and-a-half age gap that separates Rose from Windy seems bigger than before.

Cy Williams is not a slave, but his life is far from his own. Growing up in Georgia in the 1890s, he knows that the cruel white plantation owner his father works for could throw him in jail or even kill him in a second.

When a tragic accident leaves the plantation owner’s son—and Cy’s best friend—dead, the blame falls on Cy. Still mourning, Cy finds himself bound and blindfolded, on the way to a chain gang where he’ll work, shackled to a line of other boys who dared to make a white man angry. Four years spent working under the threat of a whip breaks Cy’s spirit and drains him of all hope that he’ll ever see his father again. But when his father appears with clean clothes and a plan, Cy dares to believe there might be freedom in his future.

Cy in Chains is a difficult, painful novel, but it’s an important one. Cy quickly morphs from a kind, compassionate boy, looking out for his friend before the accident, to a young man who’s been broken by a life of hard work and cruelty, and who comes to see compassion as a weakness he can’t afford.

His transformation is shown in sharp contrast from another boy on the chain gang, Jess, whose deep faith keeps him hopeful and who takes care of the younger, weaker boys. Jess’ sense of responsibility to help those who can’t stand up for themselves highlights Cy’s every-man-for-himself attitude, as well as exposing the cracks in it. It’s a prerogative Cy adopted to survive, not a true representation of his character.

The details of the horrors Cy and the other boys suffer at the hands of the men who run the chain gang are vivid and varied, from sexual abuse to physical abuse, to neglect so severe their lives are in danger. Each new punishment is more horrible than the last.

Cy in Chains is a book for those who love historical fiction and don’t want the horrors of the past sugar-coated.

 

Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School

Cy Williams is not a slave, but his life is far from his own. Growing up in Georgia in the 1890s, he knows that the cruel white plantation owner his father works for could throw him in jail or even kill him in a second.

Twelve-year-old Jewel has never liked her birthday. Celebrating the day she was born is just another reminder to her family of the brother she never met, 5-year-old John, nicknamed Bird by her grandfather, who tried to fly off a cliff and fell to his death while her mother was in labor with Jewel. It’s more than loss and grief that surrounds Bird’s death; it’s superstition and blame that Jewel has never fully understood. Her grandfather hasn’t spoken since the day Bird died, and her father is sure the nickname “Bird” attracted a Duppy, a Jamaican spirit, that convinced him to jump.

Sick of living in the shadow of a ghost and never living up to her parents’ expectations, Jewel is ecstatic when she meets a new kid in the neighborhood who shares her love of science and climbing trees, who listens to her problems and worries and seems to understand. But when she brings him home, her parents are unnerved, and her grandfather is livid—because the boy's name just happens to be John.

Bird is a heartbreaking story of a girl trying everything she can to fill the hole her brother left in her family. While the majority of the book shows her parents as incredibly sad, too wrapped up in their own grief to notice the love and needs of the child they still have left, the most powerful sections describe their fleeting happiness. Each smile from her mother terrifies Jewel, because she never knows when the next one will come or exactly how to bring it about. Every declaration of pride from her father is hard-won and treasured.

Author Crystal Chan also paints a vivid picture of what it means to grow up in a mixed-race family. Jewel takes pride in her father’s Jamaican garden, but she’s frustrated when her neighbor expects her to be able to speak Spanish, and even more frustrated when strangers ask what she is instead of who.

Bird is a fast read but will stay with you. You’ll remember Jewel’s spirit, what John teaches her about space and the message that there are plenty of ways to show you love someone without actually saying those three words.

 

Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School.

Twelve-year-old Jewel has never liked her birthday. Celebrating the day she was born is just another reminder to her family of the brother she never met, 5-year-old John, nicknamed Bird by her grandfather, who tried to fly off a cliff and fell to his death while her mother was in labor with Jewel. It’s more than loss and grief that surrounds Bird’s death; it’s superstition and blame that Jewel has never fully understood. Her grandfather hasn’t spoken since the day Bird died, and her father is sure the nickname “Bird” attracted a Duppy, a Jamaican spirit, that convinced him to jump.

Felix’s last season of high school football is all that matters. When he’s out on the field, he can forget about his older brother who never came back from the war, his mother who disappeared inside her own mind after losing her oldest son, and the mining town that seems to be crumbling around him. If he can just lead the Muckers team to victory, he knows everything will be all right.

But even as the Muckers win more games, it’s hard to ignore everything that’s going wrong in his small Texas town. The threat of communism has everyone on edge, and race relations in the multiethnic immigrant community are near a boiling point. One of his best friends is heading off to the Korean War to prove himself, and the town will never accept the fact that Felix is white and the only girl he wants to kiss is Mexican.

Muckers is a strong piece of young adult historical fiction that manages to touch on many topics without seeming disjointed. The frame of a local newspaper helps to add some extra historical content without forcing it into the dialogue.

The novel is strongest when it gets inside Felix’s head off the football field, when he’s forced to think about not only his painful past, but his future. His desire to honor his parents and brother is strong, but what makes him a truly compelling protagonist is his thirst to prove his worth to himself, and his determination to avoid a life in the mines.

Muckers will entertain anyone interested in 1950s America, but it will especially capture the attention of football fans and anyone who’s ever felt hometown pride.

Felix’s last season of high school football is all that matters. When he’s out on the field, he can forget about his older brother who never came back from the war, his mother who disappeared inside her own mind after losing her oldest son, and the mining town that seems to be crumbling around him. […]

Eighteen-year-old Cath is not looking forward to her first year of college. Her twin sister Wren, who has always seemed like her other half, decides they should both use college as a time to meet new friends—separately. But even as she stresses about her sister’s distance or what living alone will do to her loving but scatterbrained father, she has one constant in her life to lean on: her fan fiction.

Cath has been writing Simon Snow fan fiction since she was a preteen, and she’s become a bit of a celebrity in the community. With the series finishing up in the spring, she’s desperate to finish her version of Simon’s story before the author ends his journey in canon. In fact, she’s so busy writing her final fanfic, she barely has time to deal with an absentee mother who suddenly wants to re-enter her life, an English professor who admires her writing but thinks fan fiction is plagiarism, or the attention of a boy who’s always coming to her rescue no matter how many times she pushes him away.

Rainbow Rowell’s latest YA novel is truly fantastic. She creates an incredibly relatable protagonist with Cath, a college freshman who would rather live off granola bars for the entire year than ask her intimidating roommate for directions to the cafeteria. Yet in spite of her social anxiety, Cath is a character with tremendous inner strength who comes to the aid of her family without a second thought and who finds her confidence with a pen in her hand.

Rowell also creates a very believable romance, with a slow build and false starts that seem genuine to the college experience. All stages of her developing relationship are equally important, from Cath’s disbelief that such a guy would be interested in her to her questions about his expectations.

Fangirl is bound to become a classic for anyone who grew up writing fan fiction and to all the teens scrolling though Tumblr, hoping to meet others who have decided that their favorite novel’s protagonist and antagonist are actually the romantic leads. Even readers who have never heard of fanfic will be drawn in by Cath’s witty, original voice and the sense of safety she feels when disappearing into the world of a book.

 

Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School.

Eighteen-year-old Cath is not looking forward to her first year of college. Her twin sister Wren, who has always seemed like her other half, decides they should both use college as a time to meet new friends—separately. But even as she stresses about her sister’s distance or what living alone will do to her loving […]

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