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The Lie Tree

Frances Hardinge. Abrams/Amulet, $17.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1895-3

In Hardinge’s (Cuckoo Song) superb tale of overarching ambition and crypto-botany, which recently won the Costa Book Award in the U.K., the Reverend Erasmus Sunderly, an eminent if unpleasant Victorian, has suddenly moved his family to a remote island, ostensibly to participate in a paleontological dig, but actually to escape scandal. Noticing that he is acting strangely, his 14-year-old daughter, Faith, a budding scientist whose intellectual curiosities are dismissed and discouraged, offers her aid and soon finds herself party to a terrifying discovery, a mysterious tree that apparently feeds on lies, rewarding the liar with astonishing visions. This so-called “Mendacity Tree” gives the tale an oddly allegorical feel, like something out of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. When Sunderly is found dead, an apparent suicide, it is up to Faith to clear his name, expose the murderer, and perhaps endanger her very soul. Hardinge’s characteristically rich writing is on full display—alternately excoriating, haunting, and darkly funny—and the novel also features complex, many-sided characters and a clear-eyed examination of the deep sexism of the period, which trapped even the most intelligent women in roles as restrictive as their corsets. The Reverend’s murder is a compelling mystery, grounded not just in professional envy and greed, but in the theological high-stakes game of Darwinian evolution and its many discontents. It’s a ripping good yarn, one that should hold particular appeal for readers who are attracted to philosophically dense works like those of David Almond and Margo Lanagan. Ages 13–up. Agent: Nancy Miles, Miles Stott Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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That Selfie Girl

Linda Oatman High. Saddleback, $10.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-68021-060-6

High’s (Teeny Little Grief Machines) addition to the Gravel Road Verse series, written at a third-grade reading level, introduces 17-year-old Macy Rain, who died when she crashed her car while taking a selfie and now chronicles her experiences in heaven. There, Macy falls in love with a fellow teen angel in the “Died by Texting” section of heaven, prevents a student at her old high school from committing a violent act, and receives kudos from God himself. The action zips along in clipped, sometimes glib poems (“All because/ you wanted/ a picture/ of your face,/ to show off to/ the human race”), though the serious underlying themes may still resonate with readers. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Expecting

Shannon Freeman. Saddleback, $9.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-68021-063-7

In this addition to the Gravel Road Rural series, an alternative high school serves as a haven for pregnant teens in a small Texas town. In text written at a third-grade level, short chapters shift attention among three girls—Lyric, Kaelynn, and Yessenia—introducing their different family backgrounds, as well as their struggles with drug addiction, abuse, and bad decisions. The characters’ realistic dialogue, believable expressions of emotion, and complicated circumstances provide inviting entry points for readers, who will also glean information about teen pregnancy along the way. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Under Threat

Robin Stevenson. Orca, $9.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4598-1131-7

Written at a fourth-grade reading level, this addition to the Orca Soundings line offers an immersive blend of high-stakes mystery and frank discussions about reproductive rights. Seventeen-year-old Franny Green loves riding horses and is head over heels for her girlfriend, Leah, but someone is threatening violence against Franny’s parents, both doctors who perform abortions at the local hospital. Stevenson skillfully interweaves multiple viewpoints on the issues raised, true-to-life dialogue, and an escalating sense of tension as she explores the psychological stress Franny is under and the toll it takes on her romantic and familial relationships. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Stay in the Game

Megan Atwood. Lerner/Darby Creek, $7.99 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-4677-8101-5

In this first book in the Contest series, written at a fourth-grade reading level, African-American high school senior James Trudeleau receives a mysterious email from an anonymous “Benefactor,” who challenges him to compete in a contest with a $10 million prize—money that could pay for an experimental treatment for his dying grandfather. James reluctantly complies, struggling with his moral compass as he performs increasingly dangerous tasks. Breathless pacing and an exciting cliffhanger ending offer solid hooks for readers to seek out the subsequent volumes (Raise the Stakes, Break the Code, and Turn the Tables), all available simultaneously. Ages 11–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Iggy

M.G. Higgins. Saddleback, $8.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-68021-111-5

As one of six titles launching the White Lightning series, written at a second-grade reading level, this sweet-natured story introduces Ignacia “Iggy” Suarez, a girl coming to grips with a new family dynamic. After Iggy flies to Las Vegas to spend winter break with her father and new stepmother, the “vacation” proves uncomfortable and disappointing until she makes a new friend whose father is an Elvis impersonator. As the chapters breeze by, Iggy’s feelings of frustration and defiance, as well as her eventual positive recalibration, will ring familiar with readers adjusting to change. Available simultaneously: On the Run, Qwik Cutter, Rebel, Break and Enter, and Scratch n’ Snitch. Ages 11–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Heart or Mind

Patrick Jones. Lerner/Darby Creek, $7.99 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-5124-0091-5

Rodney falls for a Somali classmate, Jawahir, while protecting her during a riot between Somali and African-American students at their Minneapolis high school. Their tragic love affair echoes that of Romeo and Juliet in one of four titles kicking off the Unbarred series of modern-day Shakespeare adaptations, written at a fourth-grade reading level and featuring kids who have served time in juvenile detention systems. Jones effectively characterizes real-life tensions to ratchet up the drama and danger as battle lines between ethnic and religious groups are drawn, and hate and violence seethe. Available simultaneously: Duty or Desire, Fight or Flee, and Friend or Foe. Ages 11–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Little Honeybee

Katie Haworth, illus. by Jane Ormes. Candlewick/Big Picture, $14.99 (14p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8531-7

In this lovely board book with flaps, Haworth counts different types of flowers from one to 10, as a snowy winter scenes gives way to a field in bloom. Haworth’s couplets move forward with a steady, rhythmic cadence (“Three sunny daffodils/ on a bright spring day./ Four nodding tulips/ that gently bob and sway”), and readers can lift flaps shaped like petals, leaves, and clouds to uncover animals underneath (beyond the five cherry blossoms, there are five eggs in a nest, which lifts to show five baby birds underneath). Bursts of bright floral color pop against the pale backdrops of Ormes’s silk-screen prints, abuzz with springtime activity. Ages 3–7. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Look! Flowers!

Stephanie Calmenson, illus. by Puy Pinillos. Bonner/Little Bee, $7.99 (24p) ISBN 978-1-4998-0115-6

Calmenson offers a rhyming overview of 18 types of flowers, delineating the individual characteristics of common varieties (roses, sunflowers, daisies) and rarer examples (bleeding hearts, corpse flowers) that readers may be encountering for the first time. While the author packs a fair amount of information into the rhymes, they can feel somewhat convoluted (“How did the elephant’s head/ get its odd name?/ If you like from the side,/ you’ll see how that name came”), but Pinillos’s intricately detailed illustrations lovingly highlight the flowers’ botanical properties while introducing a secondary cast of ants, beetles, and other insects to catch readers’ eyes. Available simultaneously: Look! Birds! Ages 3–6. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Shhh! I’m Sleeping

Dorothée de Monfried. Gecko Press USA (Lerner, dist.), $12.99 (24p) ISBN 978-1-927271-95-7

If the Marx Brothers had been eight dogs instead of five men, they might’ve put together a skit like the one featured in this droll story from de Monfried (The Cake). Two four-story bunk beds flank each spread, with a dog in each bed; Popov is snoring up a storm, so Nono climbs into Misha’s bed for a story, waking the other dogs, who trade toys and glasses of water before all ending up piled up in a single bed together. The dogs’ prickly personalities, de Monfried’s enthusiastic cartooning, and an innately goofy premise deliver laughs with every page turn. Ages 2–5. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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