By: Ruta Sepetys
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Philomel Books
Audience: Teens - Grades 8 & Up
*AUTHOR WE LOVE!*
I am convinced that Ruta Sepetys is the master of all things historical fiction. I mean, this book was . . . wow . . . just . . . WOW! Everything from the spareness, to the multiple viewpoints, to the heartbreak, to the history just worked on a level that goes above and beyond. As a reader you cannot help but feel every single emotion that radiates from every single character. This includes moments of complete gladness to utter sadness. I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride of emotion and found myself in various states of emotional upheaval [I'm talking a small smile at something sweet Klaus did, to ugly crying at moments of tragedy, to burning anger at various atrocities]. There are some books that just make you feel and this is certainly one of them. Additionally, I loved that Sepetys brought this particular moment of history to light. I can honestly say that I was unfamiliar with the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff and probably would have continued to be had it not been for this book. While this still remains an utterly tragic period, it was fascinating to read about and I applaud Sepetys for making this history not only accessible but also meaningful to the YA audience [the Author's Note had me in tears too!]. Overall, it is rare to find a book that is perfect, this, however, is a perfect book. A necessity for every collection, I am thrilled to not only share this with my teen readers but with everyone I know. Bravo and thank your, Ruta Sepetys, for writing such a powerful book that will stay with me forever.
By: Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zenkas
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Publisher: Swoon Books
Audience: Teens - Grades 9 & Up
What a fantastic ride! I had so much fun reading this debut from authors Tarun Shankur and Kelly Zekas. It was everything that a thrilling supernatural romance should be. Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive at its description of “Jane Austen meets X-Men.” It always makes me happy when I’m wrong and not only was this description apt but it totally worked in all of the best possible ways. Additionally, the storytelling itself was on point and I couldn’t put it down. The mystery was mysterious, the action thrilling, the romance swoony, the supernatural elements were interesting and well developed, essentially everything worked just right in terms of pacing and the overall development of a fantastic story. I also loved the ending. Sometimes you can kind of see where a novel is going, but I was pleasantly shocked by this novel’s conclusion and while it’s a bit of a cliffhanger, it’s also satisfying should the authors decide not to continue on. That being said, I certainly wouldn’t complain if there was a sequel. In addition to Shankur and Zekas amazing storytelling, the characters were absolutely wonderful. Well developed, vivid, interesting, and most importantly, unique, the voices of all the characters were distinct and compelling. Evelyn is an excellent heroine and her fierceness is something that all readers can get behind. I also loved her relationship with her sister, Rose, and while typically I’m not a huge fan of the love triangle, both love interests were absolutely delightful and Evelyn’s interactions with them wildly entertaining. In fact, all of Evelyn’s interactions are wildly entertaining. There are so many more wonderful things to say about this truly impressive debut. This certainly deserves a place in YA collections and I cannot wait to share it with my teen readers!
By: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Audience: Teens - Grades 10 & Up
Admittedly, I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this novel, but I found myself intrigued by the title, cover, and description. All I can say is . . . WOW! What an absolutely brilliant surprise. There are so many wonderful things to say about this new novel from Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. First and foremost, the Alaskan setting was not only fascinating and unique but also perfectly rendered, allowing readers to feel as though they’ve been transported right into this small Alaskan town, or onto a salmon fishing boat, or a convent that crosses into Canadian territory. The characters are also so well drawn, well developed, and distinct that you can't help but feel just how much their stories matter. Additionally, this book isn't particularly long, but it certainly packs a punch and while there is a lot going on, Hitchcock does an exceptional job of interweaving and connecting the stories of these extraordinary characters without anything ever feeling lost or overwhelming. Overall, this is truly an impressive debut and it is wonderful to see authors thinking outside the box and giving readers stories they won't soon forget. I can't wait to see what the future holds for this promising author and I can’t wait to share this new title with both my teen readers and my friends. A definite must for every YA collection!
By: Susan Moger
Release Date: February 1, 2016
Publisher: Aw Teen
Audience: Teens - Grades 8 & Up
*AUTHOR TO LOOK OUT FOR!*
The topic of this book is equal parts fascinating and utterly horrifying. While many books have danced around the topic of Eugenics, I was so pleased that an author took this subject matter head on. Moger did an excellent job of mixing fact with fiction, providing readers with a vivid portrait of the “Betterment” movement during the 1920s and, ultimately, into World War II. Moger’s “Author’s Note” was also captivating as she provided not only additional information but an important reminder to all readers. In terms of the story itself, Moger did an excellent job in terms of developing her main characters. It was a pleasure to watch Rowan grow into such a fierce heroine and her friendship with Dorchy was both wildly entertaining and endearing. Speaking of Dorchy, I think she may be one of my all-time favorite characters in literature. A true spitfire if there ever was one and a friend that everyone would want by their side, she has a magnetism that is impossible to hide. I was also pleased that this novel didn’t fall into the romance trap. While initially there was a small part of me that was hoping for something between Tom and Rowan, in retrospect, I’m glad there wasn’t and the focus was placed squarely on the drama and the conflicting events happening on the island.
My only complaint lies in the storytelling itself and the development of secondary characters. This book started out so strong but for some reason it started to peter off towards the end coming across as choppy and disjointed and the flashbacks in the very beginning seemed oddly placed, particularly when they just stopped. I understand they were used as a mechanism to explain how Rowan ended up where she did, but I also wish that Moger would have kept them going in order to provide a better contrast between her life with Dr. Friedlander and Dr. Pynchon as well as her strained relationship with her estranged father and sister. They ended so abruptly that I felt I was losing something in Rowan’s history. Additionally, the ending also seemed to come out of nowhere and felt rather anticlimactic. While tragedy does strike, the method of getting there seemed oddly placed and the resolution felt almost unsatisfying because I couldn't comprehend how exactly they got there. In terms of secondary characters, Moger did an exceptional job at the beginning. The Ogilvies were awful human beings but also thoroughly developed and as a reader I felt their impact on the story. Towards the end of the book, it felt as though Moger was losing steam. I recognized all the adults on the island as villains, but I felt their impact less when it should have been much, much more. Despite these criticisms, I still enjoyed the book and I’m thrilled that Moger took on this topic and handled it well through her thoughtful characters like Rowan and Dorchy. It’s definitely a worthwhile read and I think an excellent source for anyone that may be unaware of the Eugenics movement and the injustices that fed into World War II.