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The Dead House

Dawn Kurtagich. Little, Brown, $18 (432p) ISBN 978-0-316-29868-1

Told through a retrospective collection of found evidence surrounding the deaths of several students in a boarding school fire, Kurtagich’s debut novel is deeply disturbing and fraught with emotion. Carly and Kaitlyn Johnson are two separate personalities sharing the same body and have done so for as long as either can remember. After the death of their parents, Carly and Kaitlyn’s time is split between treatment in a psychiatric hospital and studying at a British boarding school; it’s at school where their comfortable dissociative routine begins to unravel under mysterious and arcane circumstances. Their slowly expanding group of friends houses a traitor, and Kaitlyn is left to search for Carly after her alter ego’s persona disappears. Psychological self-indulgence wars with fascinating introspection as diary entries and transcripts of video footage and therapy sessions chronicle a teenager’s descent into and out of madness. Contrived tension and a haphazard time line ring a few discordant notes, but are balanced by insightful characterization and a detailed exploration of the importance of the emergent identity to the teenage self. Ages 15–up. Agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lizard Radio

Pat Schmatz. Candlewick, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7635-3

Schmatz (Bluefish) explores gender and identity in this dreamlike coming-of-age story, set in a future society where one’s gender is identified and reinforced as early as possible. Fifteen-year-old Kivali is one of the rare “benders,” those who score right in the middle and who could go either way; she refuses to choose and is thus marked as noncompliant. She’s sent to CropCamp, an agricultural labor institution for teens being prepped for adulthood, where she makes new friends and develops a crush on the beautiful Sully, whose capricious charms spark something deep within. But as the camp director pressures Kivali to pick a gender, a role, and a direction, Kivali continues to resist, certain that something weird is going on at CropCamp. Schmatz conjures up sympathetic characters and an intriguing premise, but her jargon-heavy world can be difficult to get into, and some explanations never present themselves. While the story’s stylistic quirks may alienate some readers, it’s still a thoughtful and intriguing look at the teenage search for identity. Ages 14–up. Agent: David Bennett, Transatlantic Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Jillian Cade: (Fake) Paranormal Investigator

Jen Klein. Soho Teen, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61695-434-5

What do you get when a cynical high school junior meets a super-cute new student who believes in everything she doesn’t? An almost romance, it turns out, as Jillian Cade—whose business card says paranormal investigator, but who always adds the “fake” under her breath—meets Sky Ramsey, a fan of Jillian’s absentee father, a paranormal expert. When ever-skeptical Jillian looks into a missing-person case that she thinks is about infidelity and Sky believes is a classic case of a succubus creating a new love slave, the trail leads her into a hidden world of prophecy, superpowers, succubi, ancient traditions, and information about her family that upends everything she knows about the world and herself. Debut author Klein’s writing and characters have attitude to spare, but there’s a lot going on—serious danger, new familial and romantic relationships, and life-changing revelations—not all of which is given time to resonate. Klein seems to be paving the way for a sequel, but it comes at the cost of rushing through this story’s events and emotions. Ages 14–up. Agent: Lisa Gallagher, DeFiore and Company. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Edgewater

Courtney Sheinmel. Abrams/Amulet, $17.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1641-6

What initially presents itself as a poor-little-rich-girl pastiche and Grey Gardens homage undergoes a rapid metamorphosis into the elegantly tangled tapestry of Lorrie Hollander’s unusual existence. Lorrie is used to the finest things in life, thanks to a trust fund set up by a mother who left Lorrie and her sister with their aunt Gigi more than a decade ago. Accustomed to being the caretaker of the family, 17-year-old Lorrie returns home from her summer riding camp when the money apparently runs out. Faced with Gigi’s evasiveness and increasing demonstration of mental illness, a sister who cares more about animals than herself, and a huge family home lying in ruins, Lorrie tries to save them all while hiding the depth of the problem from the exclusive enclave of Idlewild. Meanwhile, the son of a powerful political family has taken an interest in her, and the feeling is mutual. With powerful messages of family and self-reliance, Sheinmel’s (Sincerely) coming-of-age tale captivates with its masterful storytelling style and intricate detail. Ages 14–up. Agent: Laura Dail, Laura Dail Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Shimmer

Donna Jo Napoli. Random/Lamb, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-74655-7

A comparative giant on an island of dwarves, Dolce has grown up isolated and reviled. She learns the valuable work of making mirrors, but when tragedy claims her mother Dolce flees to Venice, taking refuge with a widowed noble; his daughter, Bianca; and sister, Agnola. Napoli (Hidden) crafts a gorgeous puzzle drawn from fairy tale and medieval history: when the bones of the story piece themselves together, a stunning, beautiful, and tragic reflection of Snow White emerges, with Dolce as a Wicked Queen whose evil begins in the absolute, sincere desire to do good. Using liquid mercury to make mirrors to exchange for the freedom of the dwarves the Venice nobility keep as slaves, Dolce dooms herself to sickness and madness, seeing her once-beloved stepdaughter as a threat. The initial narrative focus on Dolce gives way to include the entwined perspectives of Agnola and her dwarf-lover, Pietro, as they cope with Dolce’s madness, and Bianca’s growth as she takes refuge with seven dwarves. An achingly lovely, sometimes frightening reimagining. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Truest

Jackie Lea Sommers. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-234825-8

Sommers debuts with a summer romance that gives questions of faith a complex, satisfying treatment. Seventeen-year-old West Beck is a pastor’s daughter in small-town Minnesota, and she has been dating the school football star for years. Then the beautiful Hart twins, Silas and Laurel, enter West’s life. Suddenly, she is pulled into a flirtatious relationship with Silas and a friendship with Laurel, who has a rare psychological condition, solipsism syndrome, which causes her to doubt reality entirely. As the romantic connection between West and Silas becomes clearer to them both, they puzzle through their relationships with God, the meaning of life, and the complicated role West’s father plays as a town pastor who is rarely there for his own family. For these two thoughtful teens, faith isn’t an obstacle for their explorations of love (and sex), and although the events of the last third of this novel verge on overdramatic, in contrast to the deep philosophical conversations and carefully constructed relationships that precede them, Sommers’s prose and her instincts for character shine. Ages 13–up. Agent: Steven Chudney, Chudney Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Tonight the Streets Are Ours

Leila Sales. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-37665-9

As a child, Arden gave away a Disney World trip to Lindsey, a friend whose family was down on its luck, leading an American Girl–esque company to make Arden its Girl of the Year and launch a lookalike doll it described as “recklessly loyal.” Now in high school, Arden is getting tired of writing “blank check[s]” of support to loved ones and not getting the same in return. After Arden discovers a blog written by a 17-year-old romantic named Peter, she quickly grows immersed in Peter’s world, eventually driving to New York City with Lindsey to find him. Peter’s blog entries are intermixed with Arden’s story, making it easy to understand why she is drawn to him; from there, Sales (This Song Will Save Your Life) takes her story on surprising turns as Arden learns what it really means to love someone. Not all of the interactions feel realistic (Arden’s heart-to-heart with Peter’s on-again, off-again love, Bianca, seems unlikely for teens who just met), but it’s easy to get caught up in Arden’s exhilaration as she starts living life on her own terms. Ages 12–up. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pieces of Why

K.L. Going. Penguin/Dawson, $16.99 (218p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3474-6

When Tia was four years old, her father robbed a house and was sentenced to life in prison. It’s not until a baby dies in a neighborhood carjacking eight years later that Tia learns the whole truth: he killed a 12-year-old girl during the robbery. The baby’s murder stirs bad memories in Tia’s working-class New Orleans community, and she unjustly bears the brunt of this ill will. Tia’s reclusive mother avoids talking about the past, while her own shame and questions so overwhelm her that she loses the ability to do her favorite thing: sing. Her voice teacher, Ms. Marion, wisely tells her, “Sometimes if you’re having trouble creating something beautiful, you’ve got to find the joy in your life.” Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, Tia is a sympathetic protagonist searching for that joy, and the answers she needs to rediscover her voice come from some unexpected sources. Going (Fat Kid Rules the World) skillfully tackles topics of race, class, and violence in a moving testament to family and friendship, love and loss, and the power of forgiveness. Ages 10–up. Agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Flinkwater Factor

Pete Hautman. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4814-3251-1

Thirteen-year-old Ginger Crump lives in the town of Flinkwater, Iowa, along with a concentration of “Very Smart, Very Geeky people”: Flinkwater is the headquarters of an Apple-esque tech company, ACPOD. Most of the town’s residents, including Ginger’s parents, work for ACPOD, which has several dark secrets that Ginger and her friends unintentionally uncover. Hautman’s story unfolds in five sections, starting when a computer screen saver puts townsfolk into a coma-like state that Ginger calls “getting bonked.” Ginger’s friend and crush, super-genius Billy, figures out how to awaken people from the trance, and the pair’s work continues in episodes involving talking animals, the mysterious Flinkwater Sasquatch, Ginger’s hopes for a first kiss, and a Homeland Security agent with shady motives. Hautman (Eden West) weaves the plot threads together cleverly, but it’s Ginger’s dry humor (“A plague of mysterious comas is one thing. And having my dad bonked was even scarier. But losing net access was like taking away the air”), an equally colorful supporting cast, and the lore (and tech) of Flinkwater that make the story so enjoyable. Ages 9–13. Agent: Jennifer Flannery, Flannery Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars

Constance Lombardo. HarperCollins/Tegen, $12.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-232065-0

Mr. Puffball, a determined and optimistic cat from New Jersey, has his eyes set on stardom in this quirky, humorous debut. Although Mr. Puffball doesn’t know much about showbiz, he is certain that his theatrical talent will land him a dream job in Hollywood. He journeys across the country, sending postcards to his mother and eventually settling in with a crew of friendly feline has-beens, whose coaching helps him land his first role (“I play a character named Extra,” he explains excitedly). When Mr. Puffball meets his movie-star hero, El Gato, his life really begins to change. Cat-themed pop culture puns (The Sound of Meowsic, The Great Catsby, Catsablanca) permeate—or is that purrmeate?—the story, as do Lombardo’s scraggly b&w cartoons, which are a big part of its unflagging energy and humor (Mr. Puffball looks a bit like a fame-seeking cousin to Nicole Rubel’s Rotten Ralph). Emotions run high and dramatic moments are many, but Mr. Puffball’s positive attitude and growing understanding that good friends are what matter most light up the pages. Ages 8–12. Agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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