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Mosquitoland

David Arnold. Viking, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-451-47077-5

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Newcomer Arnold’s protagonist, 16-year-old Mim Malone, is as hold-nothing-back honest as they come, which makes the narrative she provides about her outlandish trek from Mississippi to Cleveland wholly enjoyable. Mim, blind in one eye from a solar eclipse and suffering from a “misplaced epiglottis” that results in unpredictable spells of vomiting, is reeling from her parents’ divorce and an unclear psychiatric diagnosis when she is dragged to Mississippi by her father and new stepmother. Determined to get back to her mother, Mim hops a bus to Cleveland, beginning an Odysseus-like adventure that introduces a delightfully eclectic cast of characters, who are made all the more memorable by Mim’s descriptions (“I’ve only known two other Carls in my lifetime—an insurgent moonshiner and a record store owner—both of whom taught me important... life lessons. In my book, Carls are a top-notch species”). There is no shortage of humor in Mim’s musings, interspersed with tender scenes and a few heart-pounding surprises. Mim’s triumphant evolution is well worth the journey. Ages 12–up. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days

Lisa Yee. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-545-23094-0

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The downward spiral of popular high-school senior Higgs Boson Bing, named after the elusive “God particle,” begins when a classmate asks him a hypothetical question about his willingness to donate a kidney to his girlfriend, Roo. Higgs’s hesitant answer does not bode well for his relationship with Roo, resulting in their breakup and a full-blown hate campaign against him. Now all of Higgs’s accolades—debate team captain, prom king, co-valedictorian, etc.—carry little weight, with someone at school bent on ruining his life with pranks, brutal criticisms, and more. Suddenly friendless, Higgs feels hopeless until he meets Monarch, a girl who has taken up residence in an abandoned Airstream trailer. Monarch doesn’t offer Higgs pity but rather hard questions that force him to rethink himself and his future. Alternately heart-wrenching and hilarious (“The Asian Jewish English American thing was a real stumper when it came to filling out my college applications,” Higgs reflects), Yee’s (Absolutely Maybe) portrait of a flawed superstar introduces a cast of vibrant, memorable characters and an eloquent message about following one’s desires. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Haunting of Sunshine Girl

Paige McKenzie, with Alyssa Sheinmel. Weinstein, $16 (304p) ISBN 978-1-60286-272-2

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Upon turning 16, Sunshine Griffith suddenly develops the power to perceive paranormal activity and comes to the chilling realization that her new home in rainy Washington State is haunted by a girl who was brutally murdered and the demon responsible for her death. First in a series based on a popular YouTube series, this adaptation attempts to turn quick-cut video special effects into a gripping tale. On paper, the pace grows tedious as Sunshine’s internal monologue flits among concerns about her busy mother’s frequent absences, boys, and the increasingly creepy events taking place in her house. Coupled with contrived banter, confusingly interspersed musings of an omniscient narrator watching over Sunshine’s life, and a penchant for blatantly laying out what Sunshine is feeling (“I’m not sad anymore. I’m angry”), the novel’s attempt to build mystery and suspense around Sunshine’s newfound ability falls short. There are some harrowing scenes, as when the ghost destroys the family bathroom, but by and large the story’s chills are on the light side. Ages 12–up. Agent: Mollie Glick, Foundry Literary + Media. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dead to Me

Mary McCoy. Hyperion, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4231-8712-7

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McCoy debuts with a gritty, noir-style thriller about the Gates sisters, two teenagers coming of age in Los Angeles during Hollywood’s Golden Age. After four years apart, 16-year-old Alice finds her older sister, Annie, in a hospital bed after being beaten close to death. With the help of a private investigator, Alice works to untangle the events leading up to her sister’s attack, plunging into a seamy world of dangerous movie stars and the henchmen who will do anything to please them. Although McCoy keeps noir archetypes alive and well, from dirty cops engaged in cover-ups to ink-stained reporters hungry for their next scoop, she develops her characters well beyond facsimiles of black-and-white Rita Hayworth–esque figures on darkened street corners. Far from damsels in distress, McCoy’s heroines are fierce crusaders for justice despite their own fears or the dangers they face in protecting each other. The examination of the glamorous face of fame and what lurks behind the scenes is rife with twists to keep Alice and readers guessing. Ages 12–up. Agency: Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Black Dove, White Raven

Elizabeth Wein. Hyperion, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4231-8310-5

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Wein returns to Africa, the setting of her Lion Hunters series, with protagonists who share an avocation with those in her award-winning novels Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. Delia and Rhoda are stunt pilots, barnstorming the American countryside in the 1920s, each with a child in tow. When Delia is killed during an air show, Rhoda commits to fulfilling their dream of raising Teo, whose father was Ethiopian, in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of his skin color. Rhoda resettles Teo and her own daughter, Emilia, at an Ethiopian coffee plantation just as Haile Selassie takes power—and as Mussolini’s troops prepare for an invasion. The novel, which opens with the knowledge that Teo is missing, is constructed as a series of letters, school essays, flight logs, and excerpts of fantasy stories written by Teo and Emilia, all of which Emilia is sending to Selassie in a plea for help. While the conceit tests credulity, Wein brings this fascinating period in history to life with several well-engineered plot twists, lots of high-flying, nail-biting tension, and meticulous research. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ginger Clark, Curtis Brown. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Enchantment Lake: A Northwoods Mystery

Margi Preus. Univ. of Minnesota, $16.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-8166-8302-4

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As soon as 17-year-old Francie receives a distraught phone call from her great-aunts Astrid and Jeannette in the small town of Walpurgis, Minn., she hops on a plane from New York City to check on them. But when her aunts ask her to look into their neighbors’ possible murders (Francie, an actor, once played a kid detective on a children’s TV show, and the reputation has stuck) she wonders if their nuttiness has turned to paranoia. They are certain that a local real-estate broker, who is buying up cabins to replace with a road and condo developments, is somehow to blame. As Francie delves into investigative work, interviewing neighbors and potential suspects, she also collects clues about her father’s death and her mother’s disappearance and begins to question where she herself belongs. In a departure from her previous historical fiction, Preus (West of the Moon) delivers a quick-moving mystery whose lovely descriptions of the Minnesota landscape add a pleasing layer of smalltown Midwestern atmosphere. The slightly open-ended conclusion ending will leave readers ready for a sequel. Ages 10–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Flunked

Jen Calonita. Sourebooks Jabberwocky, $15.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0156-2

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Calonita (the Belles series) blithely samples from fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and folklore in this lighthearted first book in the Fairy Tale Reform School series. Gilly is the 12-year-old daughter of a poor cobbler who lives in a boot, and she has a habit of stealing to support her family. But Gilly’s petty thefts result in her being shipped off to the Fairy Tale Reform School, founded by Cinderella’s formerly wicked stepmother in an effort to eradicate evil from the kingdom of Enchantasia and “turn wicked delinquents and former villains into future heroes.” The stakes are already high for Gilly—while she’s trapped at the FTRS, she’s anxious about how her family will make ends meet—before she becomes embroiled in a plot within the school, which may affect several of the reformed fairy-tale instructors. Recognizable fairy-tale characters abound (profiles of the school’s instructors, like Xavier Wolfington, the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, appear throughout), and questions of whether goodness or badness run to the core of a person leave readers with plenty to consider. Ages 10–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Witherwood Reform School

Obert Skye, illus. by Keith Thompson. Holt/Ottaviano, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9879-2

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In this Snicketesque series opener, Skye (the Creature from My Closet series) crafts an imaginative, absorbing tale in which nothing is as it seems. As the story opens, Ralph Eggers drops off his “highly mischievous” children—Tobias, 12, and Charlotte, 11—in front of a deserted building in hopes of scaring them into better behavior. When the children’s father does not return, they seek refuge inside the forbidding structure, only to learn that this safe haven is anything but. The Witherwood Reform School, where they discover they’ve landed, is run by strange adults, haunted by terrifying creatures, populated with puppetlike children, and emblazoned with odd, depressing mottos like “Some things aren’t worth trying” and “Time is a trick of the mind.” Thompson’s illustrations, mostly character portraits, are appropriately grim, and there’s never a dull moment as the siblings grapple with abandonment, loss, fear, and the incredible power of the mind. Skye’s portrayal of their bravery and hope brings a ray of hope to the delightfully creepy story line. Ages 9–12. Author’s agent: Laurie Liss, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Thickety: The Whispering Trees

J.A. White, illus. by Andrea Offermann. HarperCollins/Tegen, $16.99 (528p) ISBN 978-0-06-225729-1

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Given the literal wild ride that ends The Thickety: A Path Begins, with nascent witch Kara Westfall and her brother escaping into the eponymous forest, it’s tempting to plunge into this sequel at full speed. But fans of the previous book will be rewarded by taking the time to savor the uncanny and blighted realm Kara and Taff must now cross, pursued by the demonic Sordyr and aided by legendary witch Mary Kettle. Among the perils they face are the Draye’varg (a plain of stone that creates murderous simulacra from those that cross it); darkeaters, which kill by consuming shadows; and Imogen, a tentacled creature that feeds on the emotions of false memories. Their one chance of defeating Sordyr may lie in allying themselves with the adversary who bound him to the Thickety in the first place. With a plot that coils like a tangle of brambles and an ending that, while more predicable, is no less twisty than that of its predecessor, this sequel will keep readers invested in Kara and Taff’s adventures in this dangerous and imaginative world. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Alexandra Machinist, Janklow & Nesbit. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Moon Bear

Gill Lewis, illus. by Alessandro Gottardo. S&S/Atheneum, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0094-7

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In northern Laos, 12-year-old Tam and his family endure one hardship after the next. His family is forced out of its mountain home to make way for a road, a hidden bomb kills his father, and Tam is sent away to work a dangerous job tending a handful of caged bears for a man known as the Doctor. Lewis’s (Wild Wings) simple word choice and sentence structure belie the rich atmosphere and symbolism that she deftly integrates into this tale, which is populated by relatable and fully realized characters. At the heart of the story is Sôok-dìi, a moon bear cub that Tam helps raise from infancy. Like Tam, the bear is a victim of circumstances—forced to live in a cage and endure experimentation, he is restless and yearns to be free. Through Tam’s selfless quest to get the bear back to the wild, and his protection of the cub at the expense of his own well-being, readers witness the depths of his bravery, compassion, and strong moral compass. Art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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