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10 Little Ninjas

Miranda Paul, illus. by Nate Wragg. Knopf, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-553-53497-9

In Paul’s (Water Is Water) boisterous story set to the tune of “Ten Little Monkeys,” 10 ethnically diverse children avoid bedtime by adopting new personas, including ninjas, “prowling tigers,” and “rowdy cowboys.” Replacing the “doctor” in the original rhyme is the children’s mother, who also changes roles for each scenario: “Daddy called the lifeguard/ and the lifeguard yapped,/ ‘No more reef sharks/ swimming lazy laps!’ ” Eventually, there are “No little ninjas sneaking out of bed./ None jumped off and bumped their heads.” Wragg (Elwood Bigfoot) captures the push and pull of bedtime rituals in his energetic digitally assembled cartoons. Ages 2–5. Author’s agent: Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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First Light, First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story

Paul Fleischman, illus. by Julie Paschkis. Holt, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-62779-101-4

Fleischman and Paschkis return to the approach they used in 2007’s Cinderella-themed Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, expertly weaving together elements from global creation myths to highlight their surprisingly similar story lines. A boxed passage from a myth appears on each page, attributed to the place it’s told or the people who tell it. Paschkis’s earth-and-sky-toned gouaches draw on appropriate indigenous elements while keeping the imagery smooth and visually harmonious. The universe starts from some fundamental substance (“In the beginning, there was fire and ice. In the beginning, there was a single drop of milk”), and sacred beings create earth and humans (“All was water. Then Obatala climbed down from the sky with a snail shell filled with earth, the first dry land”). After humans learn, grow, and cause trouble, the gods destroy the Earth with water or fire, and a small number of good humans are saved. The stories’ references to weather and environment are specific, yet they share an essential understanding of humans as made by gods and at the mercy of events they can’t control. Humankind really is one family, Fleischman suggests. Ages 6–9. Illustrator’s agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Creation

Cynthia Rylant. Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4814-7039-1

Rylant’s illustrations for a simplified version of the Genesis creation story, adapted from the King James Bible, recall those from her Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven—wet, thickly painted acrylics in which childlike forms appear against milky backgrounds. A featureless expanse of gray becomes yellow with the turn of a page as God says, “Let there be light.” God creates pale green grass and fruit trees daubed with bright color. When God makes man and woman, Rylant paints them as ash-gray figures standing apart from one another in a field, facing away from viewers and bathed in greenish light. In the penultimate spread, a friendly zebra gazes at a stand of trees bearing red and pink fruit. “He looked at everything he had created and made, and behold, it was very good.” It is the first image in which the created things are shown relating to one another, and the first in which warm feeling is expressed. The predominant impression is one of strange wondrousness as the world comes into being. All ages. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Ones

Daniel Sweren-Becker. Imprint, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-08314-2

In Sweren-Becker’s uneven debut, one percent of the population has benefited from genetic modification at birth, which endows the Ones, as they are called, with beauty, intelligence, and other heightened traits. Cody Bell, 16, and her 17-year-old boyfriend, James, are both Ones, and life is good in their California town until the Supreme Court declares genetic engineering illegal. In addition, a group called the Equality Movement is taking aim at the Ones, seeking to guarantee equal rights for all citizens. When Cody is approached by a mysterious boy named Kai, she’s drawn into the violent side of activism, and to Kai himself. Third-person narration switches between James and Cody, now at odds, as James discovers that his father hides a terrifying secret. Sweren-Becker’s near-future story is well-timed to tap into ongoing conversations about inequality, privilege, and extremism, but the book’s exploration of topics like discrimination, government oppression, and radicalization tends toward the superficial. Cody, meanwhile, turns on a dime, making decisions that may have readers scratching their heads—particularly her continuing fascination with Kai even after his group shows its ruthless side. Ages 15–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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And the Trees Crept In

Dawn Kurtagich. Little, Brown, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-29870-4

After Silla Daniels and her mute younger sister, Nori, escape their abusive father and a London on the brink of World War III, they make their way to the blood-red family manor where their estranged aunt Cath takes them in. When Cath’s grasp on reality falters and she retreats to the attic, the sisters are left with the sound of her constant pacing and a fear of the encroaching woods, home to the ever-hungry Creeper Man, whom Cath warned is coming for the sisters. Creaks, footsteps, and giggles echo through the decrepit manor while Nori, unbeknownst to Silla, spends her nights playing with an eyeless, long-limbed friend in the basement. Kurtagich follows The Dead House with a thought-provoking exploration of familial legacy and the sibling bond. The isolated and decaying manor setting creates an immediate sense of unease, and the villain is both physically and psychologically eerie; typographic manipulations and facsimiles of burned and torn notebook excerpts play into the psychologically unstable atmosphere. Readers will it hard to look away from this genuinely frightening story as the sisters’ sanctuary becomes a nightmare. Ages 15–up. Agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Radical

E.M. Kokie. Candlewick, $17.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6962-1

In this provocative novel, Kokie (Personal Effects) takes on the controversial subject of gun ownership in America. Sixteen-year-old Bex Mullin is obsessed with preparing for what she thinks is an inevitable catastrophe, spending as much time as possible honing her survival skills and marksmanship, despite her family’s open disapproval of her unfeminine appearance and hobbies. When Bex joins Clearview, a group of people with similar interests, she finds a measure of acceptance, but after she falls for Lucy, who wants nothing to do with guns or training, Bex struggles to reconcile the different aspects of her life. It all comes to a head when the government takes an interest in Bex and her family, and she has to decide what’s more important: protecting herself or relatives who have never supported her. Kokie writes with nuanced sympathy, condemning the government’s heavy-handed tactics and Bex’s tunnel vision, contrasting her need for self-sufficiency with her desire to belong, and examining gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s a complex recipe of volatile ingredients that Kokie uses to deliver an unsettling story that’s both timely and necessary. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Lost and the Found

Cat Clarke. Crown, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-93204-9

Clarke (Undone) explores how a family fractures when a child goes missing, as well as the emotional roller-coaster they undergo when that child returns home. Faith Logan was three years old when her older sister, Laurel, was abducted by a stranger. For the next 13 years, Faith cobbled together a mostly normal existence, though constantly under the shadow of her missing sister. When Laurel miraculously reappears, Faith’s carefully constructed life slowly begins to fall apart as she grapples with mixed emotions concerning Laurel’s return. Blending coming-of-age elements with psychological suspense, Clarke carefully weaves a story in which the unnerving truth is slowly unveiled. As with the best thrillers, the truth is far from a straight line, and what readers believe changes with every turn of the page. In this fast-paced and darkly entertaining novel, Clarke’s true success lies is in crafting a realistic and haunting story of two young women who redefine what it means to be sisters. Ages 14–up. Agent: Julia Churchill, A.M. Heath. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Graces

Laure Eve. Amulet, $18.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2123-6

In British author Eve’s U.S. debut, a teenage loner becomes fixated on the most powerful family in town, gradually insinuating herself into their inner circle in an attempt to gain popularity and acceptance. Like everyone else, 15-year-old River Page knows that the beautiful, enigmatic Graces are rumored to be witches; craving power, she works carefully to gain the friendship of Summer and her older sister, Thalia, even as she falls for their brother, Fenrin. River can’t figure out why the siblings are so insular and mercurial, even after joining them in several magical rituals. The mystery deepens after one of their close friends drowns, and River’s efforts to become part of the Graces’ world backfire. Eve conjures up an intriguing vision of small-town mystique, with the Grace family depicted as unknowable and otherworldly—the mystery of whether magic is at play hangs over much of the story—and self-involved, obsessive River’s less-than-trustworthy narration adds to the air of uncertainty. But while Eve keeps the story’s speculative elements satisfyingly ambiguous, last-minute revelations and developments feel ill-established, resulting in a dissonant conclusion. Ages 13–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Cat King of Havana

Tom Crosshill. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-242283-5

Cat video entrepreneur Rick Gutiérrez seeks change after his girlfriend dumps him on his 16th birthday. Rick joins a salsa band and meets dancer and filmmaker Ana, who is dealing with complicated family problems. Eager to spend more time with Ana and to explore his deceased mother’s Cuban heritage, Rick invites Ana for a summer of salsa lessons in Havana. Living with his aunt and two cousins, Rick and Ana learn that communism is not as equitable as Aunt Juanita believes. When cousin Yolanda asks the two to help a kidnapped blogger, they are threatened, endangering themselves and Rick’s family, even as Rick attempts to search for his mother’s first love and uncover the truth behind her defection during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Breaking the fourth wall, Rick speaks directly and engagingly to readers, infusing Crosshill’s first YA novel with wry, self-effacing humor. The breezy pace and descriptions of Cuban culture soften the serious issues at hand—supply shortages, imprisonment, and secret police. Despite an improbable ending worthy of a viral video itself, Crosshill’s big-hearted novel shines. Ages 13–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Taste for Monsters

Matthew J. Kirby. Scholastic Press, $18.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-545-81784-4

In this grisly fantasy from Kirby (the Dark Gravity Sequence), the year is 1888 and London’s slums are soon to be terrorized by Leather Apron (later known as Jack the Ripper), who murders prostitutes in the most gruesome manner possible. In a nearby East End hospital resides a monster of a gentler sort: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, who has a new maid, 17-year-old Evelyn Fallows. Some would label Evelyn a monster as well, her jaw destroyed by phosphorus necrosis from working in a match factory. Evelyn is initially repulsed by Merrick’s deformity, but she soon recognizes him as a gentle soul. After the murders commence, the ghosts of Leather Apron’s victims begin to appear in Merrick’s room. Concerned about the effect of these monstrous apparitions on Merrick’s health, Evelyn ventures into the slums in an attempt to put the suffering ghosts to rest. Evelyn—all grit, anger, and distrust—is a complex and engaging character, the slums and slang of Victorian-era London are carefully delineated, and the eventual revelation of Leather Apron’s identity and fate will leave readers gasping. Ages 12–up. Agent: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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