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Child prodigy Ronald Earl Pettway has always accepted his gift of healing, which has led to endless tent revivals and a sheltered life on the road with elderly, scripture-spouting evangelists Sugar Tom and Certain Certain and his great-aunt Wanda Joy. But now that he’s turned 16, Ronald Earl, known simply as Little Texas, finds himself doubting his once-solid gift. He has begun to take an interest in girls, especially a ghost-like girl named Lucy, whom he failed to save one evening on a revival stop.

“One thing I have learned is every story of the strange has a mustard seed of truth,” Sugar Tom tells the boy, and in R.A. Nelson’s modern-day horror story, Days of Little Texas, forgotten truths wail to be heard.

Sensing Ronald Earl’s adolescent changes, Wanda Joy leads the troupe to Vanderloo, a former cotton plantation in Alabama. This last remaining structure atop an island, created when the Tennessee Valley Authority flooded the area, is better known to the locals as Devil Hill. Wanda Joy hopes to encourage the teenager’s loyalty to the church by testing his gift and avenging the diabolical death of her grandfather decades earlier.

With the help of Lucy, Ronald Earl discovers Vanderloo’s dark slavery secrets, held captive since its pre-Civil War days. His battle against its demons also becomes a personal fight against fear and for love and independence. Nelson’s eerie and sometimes downright scary descriptions of the plantation’s evil inhabitants and effective twists create a spine-chilling experience.

Although Ronald Earl may have a gift from God, he questions the world like any teenage boy. His stolen moments with Sugar Tom and Certain Certain, discussing his dilemmas and their own scrapes in life, provide rich commentary on living in the world today. Readers drawn to the story’s horror will also find a formidable champion for setting the past and present straight.

Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond.

 

Child prodigy Ronald Earl Pettway has always accepted his gift of healing, which has led to endless tent revivals and a sheltered life on the road with elderly, scripture-spouting evangelists Sugar Tom and Certain Certain and his great-aunt Wanda Joy. But now that he’s turned 16, Ronald Earl, known simply as Little Texas, finds himself […]
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Next-door neighbors Anna and Frankie have felt like sisters all their lives. In Sarah Ockler’s poignant debut novel, Twenty Boy Summer, the girls’ friendship is tested when a freak accident changes their lives forever.

Anna’s longtime crush on Frankie’s older brother, Matt, turns to love when he kisses her on her 15th birthday. They keep their romance a secret, since Matt wants to wait until his family’s summer vacation to break the news to his sister. But the night before the big trip, the three teens experience a tragic car crash which takes Matt’s life.

Now a year later, Anna joins Frankie’s family on their California excursion. While hanging out in all of Matt’s favorite locales, Anna meets Sam and finds instant, mutual attraction. She can’t help but worry, though, that falling in love with Sam means erasing her memories with Matt.

With friendship at the forefront, Anna explores grief and love and the pain and wonders of it all. The teen’s dilemma—how to remember Matt, move on with Sam and still be loyal to Frankie—gives a firm tug on the reader’s heart.

Next-door neighbors Anna and Frankie have felt like sisters all their lives. In Sarah Ockler’s poignant debut novel, Twenty Boy Summer, the girls’ friendship is tested when a freak accident changes their lives forever. Anna’s longtime crush on Frankie’s older brother, Matt, turns to love when he kisses her on her 15th birthday. They keep […]

Seventeen-year-old Mia has her entire life ahead of her. She’s a shoo-in for the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and the biggest decision she has to make is whether to move to New York on her own or stay in Oregon with her boyfriend Adam. That decision seems trite in comparison to the one she faces after a deadly car crash changes the course of her life forever.

If I Stay  is a page-turner, save the moments when reflection is required. In a fairly slim volume, author Gayle Forman manages to create a believable and virtually blameless character in Mia. Readers will find themselves drawn to empathize with Mia and nearly all of the other characters at some point.

Mia contemplates her love for the cello, her boyfriend Adam and her best friend Kim. She also considers what life will be like having lost so much. Life and death are the two choices presented to Mia, but the first-person account offers no insight into who is presenting that decision. Religion, faith and pre-conceived notions about life after death play no role in this bare-bones depiction of the psychological inner-workings of one young woman.

Soon to be a film, If I Stay calls to mind Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, but readers must cope with the tragic events in the novel without having the satisfaction of a specific character to blame. Teen readers will be thrilled, horrified, saddened and excited by the subject matter. The implications of Mia’s choice—and eventual decision—will resonate with readers of all ages.

Seventeen-year-old Mia has her entire life ahead of her. She’s a shoo-in for the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and the biggest decision she has to make is whether to move to New York on her own or stay in Oregon with her boyfriend Adam. That decision seems trite in comparison to the one she […]
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Robert B. Parker’s literary protagonist, Boston detective Spenser, is brave, witty, strong and smart, with a streak of impregnable integrity and a stubborn determination to do the right thing. Through almost 40 novels, Parker has given us glimpses of Spenser’s past, but his newest novel, Chasing the Bear, takes us back to an incident that molds the boy into the man he would become.

As a teenager growing up in Laramie, Wyoming, Spenser is raised by his father Sam, and his two uncles, Patrick and Cash. An all-male household means a lot of testosterone-influenced activities, including boxing and hunting. But the three men also try to expose their young kin to the classics (like Shakespeare and Milton) and encourage him to do what’s right. These lessons come into play when Jeannie, a friend from school, is taken upriver against her will by her abusive, alcoholic father, and Spenser has no choice but to follow them in a small, rickety skiff. The choices he makes in trying to rescue Jeannie will have repercussions both in the short term and for the rest of his life.

Chasing the Bear will appeal to teen readers in much the same way the Spenser mysteries appeal to adults. Spenser’s wit, strength and moral rectitude serve as a stand-in for the way we want ourselves to be. He’s the quintessential hero, and we all need a hero, no matter what our age.

Robert B. Parker’s literary protagonist, Boston detective Spenser, is brave, witty, strong and smart, with a streak of impregnable integrity and a stubborn determination to do the right thing. Through almost 40 novels, Parker has given us glimpses of Spenser’s past, but his newest novel, Chasing the Bear, takes us back to an incident that […]

Following the death of her mother, 16-year-old Katie D’Amore is spending the summer tending to the grounds at the home of the famously reclusive Miss Martine. It’s the kind of work Katie’s mother would have appreciated—the quiet pursuit of beauty—and the physical labor is a welcome diversion. She joins a cast of devoted caretakers, working under the guidance of the inscrutable Old Olson, who begin clearing a patch of land for a new gazebo. The project is the latest in a string of orders seemingly handed down by Miss Martine herself—though she was last seen in 1954—that reflect a meticulous and somewhat puzzling need to perpetually reorganize the lush landscape of the vast estate.

In Nothing but Ghosts, acclaimed author Beth Kephart (Undercover and House of Dance) artfully juxtaposes themes of grief and torment with the persistence of beauty. Katie must reconcile herself with the notion that “Things disappear and vanish. That’s the fact. Before you’re ready for them to go, they go, and after that all you can do is keep the idea of them bright inside yourself.”

Spurred by a need to make sense of her own recent loss, Katie becomes compelled to solve the mystery that has shrouded Miss Martine’s withdrawal from society. She begins to delve into the community archives with the assistance of a local librarian, an atypical beauty herself, trying to break through a tangle of riddles and hidden truths.

Though confronting her own ghosts, Katie keeps busy through the long, hot summer, dividing her time between the big old house she now shares only with her father, the library where she conducts her research, and Miss Martine’s garden where secrets are being unearthed daily. Meanwhile, Katie’s father is grieving in his own eccentric but even-handed way. He restores paintings for a living and his latest acquisition might just hold an important key.

Beth Kephart’s dazzling new novel is wise and wonderful, certain to be a revelation for young adult readers. As Katie makes a few necessary discoveries, she begins to let love in once again. In doing so, she honors an important promise, “a daughter’s promise: to live my life with my eyes wide open. To honor exuberance, and color.” 

Ellen Trachtenberg is the author of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Children’s Literature.
 

Following the death of her mother, 16-year-old Katie D’Amore is spending the summer tending to the grounds at the home of the famously reclusive Miss Martine. It’s the kind of work Katie’s mother would have appreciated—the quiet pursuit of beauty—and the physical labor is a welcome diversion. She joins a cast of devoted caretakers, working […]
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Evie Spooner is a 15-year-old New Yorker growing up in post-World War II Queens; she loves the Dodgers, candy cigarettes, her parents and Frank Sinatra, though not necessarily in that order. She's learning from her friends how women are supposed to act, but she doesn't think she'll ever be as pretty and sophisticated as her mother. Evie's looks apparently came from her long-departed father, a man eclipsed by her adored stepfather, Joe. Her late summer reverie is broken by his announcement that the three of them will be vacationing in Palm Beach, Florida, but this is a trip that will cover more than miles: it will be a journey from childhood to adulthood, where her loyalty will be tested and she will learn both the joy of love and the shattering pain of betrayal.

What I Saw and How I Lied, which won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in November, is the marvelous new book for teens by Judy Blundell, a veteran writer of more than 100 books, who is publishing under her own name for the first time.

Blundell has good reason to want her name on this work; it's a compelling coming-of-age story of blackmail and tragedy with a strong moral center. Evie Spooner is that center, and as the awkward teen tries to fit into the social scene at a rundown hotel her father is negotiating to buy, she finds herself falling in love with handsome young Peter Coleridge, whose Long Island father has "business interests" in Palm Beach. More importantly, he served with Evie's father in post-war Austria, and she quickly realizes that there's more to their past connections than he's saying. As summer wanes, her feelings for Peter increase, her stepfather's negotiations become strained, and there's talk of bad weather ahead. More than one kind of storm is brewing for Evie.

This beautifully written story is full of period detail, from a post-war New York City right out of Life magazine to a sleepy and sticky Florida courthouse, and its well-drawn and original characters spring to life on the page. Like much of the best literature being written for teens, this gripping novel would also make a top-notch read for adults.

James Neal Webb works in a university library.

Evie Spooner is a 15-year-old New Yorker growing up in post-World War II Queens; she loves the Dodgers, candy cigarettes, her parents and Frank Sinatra, though not necessarily in that order. She's learning from her friends how women are supposed to act, but she doesn't think she'll ever be as pretty and sophisticated as her […]
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They’re not charming or sexy. The undead members that make up The Reformed Vampire Support Group, by Australian author Catherine Jinks, are bored, apathetic, unattractive whiners prone to headaches, eye bleeds and nausea. Rather than spread their “infection” among more of the living, they curb their addiction and sustain themselves with specially bred guinea pigs (easy to clean up and dispose of) and supplements.

Narrator and Sydney native Nina used to be a party girl until she was fanged 51 years ago at the age of 15. Now she spends her time holed up in her faded bedroom, writing romanticized novels of vampire super-heroine Zadia Bloodstone. Former musician Dave, physician Sanford, arthritic Gladys, Internet scammer Horace and the rest of the motley group pick up odd jobs when they can (a vampire still has to pay the rent). Even their Tuesday night, AA-like support group has become mundane until fellow member Casimir (directly and indirectly responsible for most of the group’s fangings) turns up staked in his coffin.

Now the ragtag bunch must really support each other, as they solve the mystery of Casimir’s killer and protect themselves from a potential vampire slayer. They receive more help from Nina’s elderly chain-smoking mother, idealistic Father Ramon and unlikely strays they meet along the way. Because vampires are dead to the world during the day (literally and figuratively), these humans are needed to take care of daytime necessities and fill in the gaps of Nina’s narrative.

Through the adventurous twists and turns of saving herself from vampire haters, Nina discovers justice, friendship and maybe even romance. She begins to emerge from the depression, lethargy and victimization of vampirism (also symptoms of adolescence) to find life (er, death) worth living. With this budding heroine in her own right at the forefront, this ensemble of eccentric characters gives a wry spin to the ever-popular vampire tale.

As a child, Angela Leeper slept with a blanket around her neck to ward off vampires.

They’re not charming or sexy. The undead members that make up The Reformed Vampire Support Group, by Australian author Catherine Jinks, are bored, apathetic, unattractive whiners prone to headaches, eye bleeds and nausea. Rather than spread their “infection” among more of the living, they curb their addiction and sustain themselves with specially bred guinea pigs […]
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In the 15 years since Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade was published, novels in verse have become a familiar genre, but Wolff was a pioneer and remains a master of the form. Interviewed by Roger Sutton for the Horn Book magazine in 2001, she said she wasn’t even sure that her writing was poetry, calling it “prose in funny-shaped lines.” But her free verse poetry was a perfect vehicle for her story of 14-year-old LaVaughn, who takes a babysitting job for down-on-her-luck Jolly, an unwed mother of two young children, and their relationship becomes a journey of discovering how to turn life’s lemons into lemonade.

Wolff won the National Book Award and a Printz Honor for True Believer, the sequel to Make Lemonade. Now, in the final novel in the Make Lemonade trilogy, three years have passed since the tale began, and LaVaughn is zeroing in on her life’s ambition to be the first in her family to attend college. She has been accepted into a special program called WIMS—Women in Medical Science. Science is her passion, as is doing good works for people, and she continues to babysit Jolly’s children, Jilly and Jeremy. But she makes a startling revelation and the scientific mystery she unravels will pull readers into the narrative as LaVaughn stakes her whole future on an act of conscience that could reunite Jolly with the mother she has never known.

Free verse poetry serves LaVaughn’s first-person narrative as a direct line to her heart and mind, carrying the energy and emotional truth of LaVaughn’s voice in natural speech rhythms. The three volumes of the Make Lemonade trilogy exemplify what the free verse novel can be, a perfect matching of form and narrative to tell a powerful story.

This Full House is a memorable tale of family, friendship, conscience and tenacity. Though this third novel in Wolff’s series can stand on its own, teen readers new to the story will want to go back to the beginning and live three years with LaVaughn and Jolly.

In the 15 years since Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade was published, novels in verse have become a familiar genre, but Wolff was a pioneer and remains a master of the form. Interviewed by Roger Sutton for the Horn Book magazine in 2001, she said she wasn’t even sure that her writing was poetry, calling […]

The Devil’s Paintbox begins in April 1865. At the close of the Civil War, 16-year-old Aiden Lynch and his younger sister, Maddy, are near starvation, the sole survivors on their family’s Kansas farm. So when a man named Jefferson Jackson shows up looking to recruit workers for a Seattle lumber camp, Aiden knows his only chance is to convince the man that taking them along is worth the risk.

In this compelling coming-of-age adventure for teens, Victoria McKernan, author of the acclaimed Shackleton’s Stowaway for middle-grade readers, doesn’t shy away from some of the grittier aspects of life in the old West. Aiden’s journey is marked by hardship, tragedy and conflict. Through Aiden’s experiences, readers glimpse a changing world, where settlers, soldiers, timber workers, Civil War veterans, women and Native Americans struggle for existence.

Aiden is a likeable, engaging hero, and the secondary characters stand out as real individuals of the time. For instance, the wagon train’s doctor is a man trying to recover from his war experiences. A young woman Aiden meets explains why she is forced to make her living as a prostitute. McKernan also captures the dramatic, often random events that transformed people’s lives: a difficult crossing, an encounter with a rattlesnake, an outbreak of disease.

Smallpox and its tragic effects on Native Americans are major themes of the novel. The book gets its title from the words of a doctor describing this dreaded disease: “This death is a devil child playing with a paintbox, just spattering all over. You reach out to grab its hand and make it stop, but you find this devil child is made of smoke.”

Through his unlikely friendship with Tupic, a Nez Perce boy, Aiden is thrown headfirst into the controversies surrounding the vaccination of Indians against smallpox. The author’s extensive research makes Aiden’s world accessible to readers, whether it’s daily life on a wagon train, or learning to survive in the harsh world of Pacific Northwest timber camps.

The Devil’s Paintbox is a wonderful choice for teens—both boys and girls—who want a break from a diet of fantasy, science fiction and of course, vampires.

The Devil’s Paintbox begins in April 1865. At the close of the Civil War, 16-year-old Aiden Lynch and his younger sister, Maddy, are near starvation, the sole survivors on their family’s Kansas farm. So when a man named Jefferson Jackson shows up looking to recruit workers for a Seattle lumber camp, Aiden knows his only […]
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Seventeen-year-old Miranda has no idea that she’s being watched—and followed and loved—by a guardian angel. Zachary has known Miranda since the moment of her birth, watching and protecting her—and falling in love with her as she grows into a beautiful, if a bit awkward and insecure, young woman. But when Miranda’s life is threatened by a rogue band of vampires, Zachary falls down on the job. 
He’s been disgraced in the sight of “the Big Boss,” and he’s lost track of Miranda, who has become the gothic Princess to the reigning Dracula, head of a worldwide underground vampire network. So when Zachary is given a second chance to redeem himself, he jumps at the chance to help Miranda find her own brand of redemption. But there’s one little problem. As a human, Miranda was sometimes unhappy, sometimes ridiculed, sometimes disappointed over her parents’ divorce. Life as an eternal, where she has a horde of servants, a killer wardrobe and a tricked-out SUV, is something completely different: “I’m finally the life of the party. All I had to do was die.”

Peopled with vampires, werefolk, angels and other eternals, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s book continues to explore the mythology she developed in her first gothic novel, Tantalize. Riddled with references to popular culture and classic literature, filled with dozens of clever one-liners (“With each button, I feel more like a refugee from the prom of the damned.”), Eternal introduces serious ideas—about loyalty, love, faith and salvation—in a lighthearted guise. Fans of Tantalize and Eternal—especially those frustrated by the cliff-hanger endings of both novels—will be pleased to learn that these parallel story lines will unite in a future series installment. Smith has built on centuries of vampire lore to create a spooky, snarky, supernatural world all her own.
 

Seventeen-year-old Miranda has no idea that she’s being watched—and followed and loved—by a guardian angel. Zachary has known Miranda since the moment of her birth, watching and protecting her—and falling in love with her as she grows into a beautiful, if a bit awkward and insecure, young woman. But when Miranda’s life is threatened by […]
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On his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin traveled around the world, from the Cocos-Keeling Islands of the Indian Ocean to Australia, Patagonia, Brazil and Chile, collecting fossil bones, fish preserved in spirits of wine, rocks, plants, carcasses of dead animals, and beetles. Home for two years, he thought long and hard about another adventure: should he marry? Would marrying rule out future voyages? Would he miss the “conversation of clever men at clubs”? Most importantly, would he have time to develop his new theory to explain evolution—or transmutation, as it was called then—that would change the way the world thought about creation?

Darwin decided to marry his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood. Where Charles was devoted to science, Emma was devoted to her Christian faith. Their love story—a true marriage of science and religion—became one of the greatest adventures of Darwin’s life, and readers will revel in the drama of the opposites captured by Deborah Heiligman in Charles and Emma. Darwin’s scientific work—his theory of evolution, in particular—was, indeed, a real test of their relationship.

Emma feared that Charles would go to hell and they would not be together for eternity. But they were a loving couple, their marriage a leap of faith that love could transcend differences. It’s a story for all time, a story of appreciating differences and getting along in spite of them.

Heiligman’s writing is so good—so rooted in particulars of time, place and Darwin’s scientific thought, yet so light and full of drama—that readers will care about Charles and Emma and their love story. The debate between science and religion continues today, but the relationship of Charles and Emma Darwin demonstrates that science and religion are not incompatible.

On his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin traveled around the world, from the Cocos-Keeling Islands of the Indian Ocean to Australia, Patagonia, Brazil and Chile, collecting fossil bones, fish preserved in spirits of wine, rocks, plants, carcasses of dead animals, and beetles. Home for two years, he thought long and hard about […]
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It wasn’t terrorist attacks but a war between humans and faeries that left the Earth destroyed 20 years ago. In the post-apocalyptic Bones of Faerie, Janni Lee Simner’s first young-adult novel, 15-year-old Liza has been taught by her xenophobic father that magic leads to death. When her baby sister is born with pale, almost translucent hair, a sure faerie sign, and left to die; her mother disappears; and she begins to see disturbing visions of the War and her mother, Liza must escape before her father discovers her own treacherous secret.

The teen flees her isolated village, despite warnings that trees in the adjoining forest start to kill at night. She is not alone long before she is joined by Matthew, another teenaged villager who has been hiding his shape-shifting abilities. Soon, the two are indeed attacked by sinister trees. Rescued by a wandering faerie and taken to a fey village, Liza must reconcile her trust of the faeries and her own growing magic with her teachings about the War.

Riddled by more visions and a puzzling connection between her mother and her faerie caretakers, Liza must find her runaway mother. Matthew joins her again, as does Allie, a faerie healer. The three young people head for St. Louis, now known as Faerie, where the famous Gateway Arch has become a portal to a world of magic. They use their special gifts of sight, touch and smell to help one another and ward off evil.

Amid the recent deluge of post-apocalyptic novels, Simner offers a unique spin, with her poetic, atmospheric prose brilliantly capturing the tug between human and faerie and the blending of the two. Because Liza narrates the story, readers, pulled into the teen’s search for her mother and questions about the War, slowly learn the answers along with her. They not only relish her gains in magic, but in her self-confidence, trust and love. Readers can only hope that lingering questions in the book will be answered with a sequel and more glimpses into Liza’s faerie powers.

Angela Leeper recently visited the Arch and saw no signs of faerie infiltration.

It wasn’t terrorist attacks but a war between humans and faeries that left the Earth destroyed 20 years ago. In the post-apocalyptic Bones of Faerie, Janni Lee Simner’s first young-adult novel, 15-year-old Liza has been taught by her xenophobic father that magic leads to death. When her baby sister is born with pale, almost translucent […]
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It’s been 10 years since Laurie Halse Anderson burst onto the literary scene with her powerful debut novel, Speak. Now Anderson is back with her fifth novel, one whose raw emotion, troubling subject matter and indelible images will further cement her reputation as one of the best young adult authors writing today.

Although Anderson’s theme is eating disorders, Wintergirls is a far cry from the kind of popular “problem novels” about anorexia and bulimia that seem to flood bookstore shelves. Instead, Anderson simultaneously explores both the brutally isolating self-loathing experienced by those suffering from these diseases and the twisted “support” that girls with eating disorders offer each other, encouragement that often spirals into mutual self-destruction.

At the center of Wintergirls is Lia, a high school senior who has already been hospitalized twice for anorexia. Now living with her father, stepmother and stepsister to avoid conflict with her overbearing mother, Lia has managed to keep her whole family in a state of denial.

Inside, though, Lia is in crisis. Her longtime best friend, Cassie, died the night she called Lia 33 times, each voice mail more desperate than the last. Lia ignored every one and is now wracked with guilt. The two girls had a difficult relationship, both of them locked in a dangerous pact to be the skinniest girl in school.

Tear-jerker novels and books of pop psychology might lead many to believe that there are simple, straightforward reasons why girls develop eating disorders. In her typically thoughtful style, Laurie Halse Anderson reveals that, in many cases, the motivations are far more complex, nuanced and dangerous. With naked emotion, brutal honesty and a narrative that’s simultaneously captivating and claustrophobic, Wintergirls gives readers a haunting window into the disordered thinking behind eating disorders.

It’s been 10 years since Laurie Halse Anderson burst onto the literary scene with her powerful debut novel, Speak. Now Anderson is back with her fifth novel, one whose raw emotion, troubling subject matter and indelible images will further cement her reputation as one of the best young adult authors writing today. Although Anderson’s theme […]

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