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The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise

Matthew Crow. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1873-7

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In a satisfying, if somewhat derivative romance, British author Crow chronicles the relationship between two cancer patients in northern England. When witty 15-year-old narrator Francis is diagnosed with leukemia, his tenacious, hard-drinking mother and gay older brother rally with humor as he enters a teen care facility for treatment. There he meets a sharp-tongued girl named Amber, whose glib sense of humor results in conflicts with some of the other patients. For a loner like Francis, however, Amber proves to be not only his first love, but also his first real friend. As Francis and Amber fall in love amid their cancer treatments, their narrative is infused with tenderness, pain, and many moments of levity (including an incident in which Francis vomits on a cop's shoes). Tragedy looms as—in a setup familiar to star-crossed YA romances built around illness—one of the characters enters remission, and the other does not. Nevertheless, Crow, in his first book for teens, creates vivid characters who fortify and uplift Francis, and serve as assets to the central love story. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Seed

Lisa Heathfield. Running Press Teens, $16.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7624-5634-5

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In Heathfield's debut novel, 15-year-old Pearl leads a contented life in Seed, a bucolic, nature-worshipping commune. Though Pearl's naïve first-person narrative shows her complete trust in the cult leader, there are signs that something is wrong—as the book opens, Pearl is terrified when she is forced to spend the night in a dark underground chamber after getting her first period. When a family of new converts arrives, including Ellis, a skeptical teenage boy, Pearl initially resists Ellis's contention that life at Seed "is based on lies. And power. And fear.” But as events escalate—Ellis suffers a mysterious accident, and one of Pearl's loved ones goes through a dangerous pregnancy without modern medicine—Pearl and the other teenagers at Seed start to question their leader. Though Pearl is more spectator than actor at the horrific climax, her internal journey and growth show her to be far from passive. Well-developed secondary characters and Heathfield's willingness to do serious damage to central ones make this novel a powerful read. Ages 13–up. Agent: Veronique Baxter, David Higham Associates. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ash

Shani Petroff and Darci Manley. Polis (PGW, dist.), $18.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-940610-32-0

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In a future world where people's lives are dictated by the destinies projected for them at birth, Madden Sumner is at the top: a member of the Purple ring and slated to become one of the ruling Minister of the Seven. Dax Harris is at the bottom, one of the Ash ring and a "Blank,” with no recorded destiny. Events conspire to bring these two heroines into conflict with the system that keeps their society running: Dax's brother is executed for failing to achieve his destiny, while Madden seeks long-hidden information about the past. Soon, these rivals-turned-allies join the renegade Revenants, an organization dedicated to opposing the destiny system. Petroff (the Bedeviled series) and first-time author Manley offer an entertaining story, but the dystopian elements are overfamiliar, and the system governing this society feels arbitrary, especially once it's revealed how easy it is to thwart destiny. First in a planned series, the novel alternates between Dax and Madden's perspectives; however, the voices blend together, making it hard to differentiate between them. A dystopian tale that doesn't find its own identity. Ages 13–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

Teresa Toten. Delacorte, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-553-50786-7

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When 14-year-old Adam Spencer Ross falls for a girl named Robyn Plummer, who attends his OCD support group, it provides him with an instant inspiration to try to become "normal.” Despite medicine and therapy, Adam struggles with compulsive rituals and anxieties, particularly concerning his mother, who is acting increasingly strange herself. Adam's internal monologues, which include interwoven lists of his beliefs and worries, are intense and realistic ("I believe that I am unclean and will harm those I care about the most and that there is too much noise in my head and that I am so goddamned tired”). While the book offers an unflinching look at mental illness, Toten's (The Onlyhouse) characters are also able to see humor in their darkest moments. Adam's path to accepting ownership over his health is filled with pain and false starts that are highly personal; as a result, Adam is a fresh and complex character, and far more than the sum of his symptoms. Winner of the 2013 Governor General's Award for children's text. Ages 12–up. Agent: Marie Campbell, Transatlantic Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Tagged

Diane C. Mullen. Charlesbridge, $16.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-58089-583-5

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In this sensitive portrayal of a budding artist from newcomer Mullen, 14-year-old Liam O'Malley is consumed by the idea of becoming a graffiti writer. After Liam gets embroiled in a rivalry between local gangs and his grades slip, his mother sends him away from their home in the projects of Minneapolis to spend the summer with her friend Kat in tiny Lakeshore, Mich. Kat, a sculptor, provides a calm and supportive temporary home for Liam, who becomes inspired by the tranquil landscape, researches a variety of artists including Basquiat and Picasso, and begins to let go of his resentment surrounding his upbringing. Soon Liam has to decide between returning home to serve as a role model for his siblings or pursuing his dreams independently. Short chapters and clipped phrases give Adam's narrative the punchy impact of graffiti: "No sirens in two weeks. No black-and-whites driving around, either. No cops standing in stores. None walking the streets. Nothing,” Ian reflects on his new environment. A powerful story about the positive effects of change. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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In the Time of Dragon Moon

Janet Lee Carey. Penguin/Dawson, $17.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3810-2

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Despite her half-English blood and the fact that she's a girl, Uma wants nothing more than to be accepted as the next Adan (healer) of her father's Euit tribe. But when the English queen, Adela Pendragon, learns that Uma's father has developed a viable fertility treatment, she kidnaps Uma and the current Adan, holding their tribe hostage until the two of them help her conceive. After Uma's father dies, Uma is left alone in the strange world of the English court, harassed by the tyrannical Prince Desmond and beholden to Queen Adela's often-violent fits of madness. The one bright spot in Uma's life is Jackrun, the prince's cousin, who fulfills a prophecy through his unique bloodline: fairy, dragon, and human combined. Despite the Pendragon name, this story, set in the world of Carey's Dragon's Keep and Dragonswood, calls back to Arthurian legend only obliquely, with the author continuing to develop her own rich traditions and political intrigue. Readers who come expecting a traditional fairytale will find their assumptions disproven by the unexpected obstacles in Uma's path. Carey steers these plot twists gracefully toward an unorthodox but satisfying conclusion. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ms. Rapscott's Girls

Elise Primavera. Dial, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3822-5

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In this breezy novel, Primavera (Libby of High Hopes) evokes the spirit of such larger-than-life characters as Willy Wonka and Mary Poppins with Ms. Rapscott, the mysterious, take-charge, and oddly nurturing headmistress of the Great Rapscott School for Girls of Busy Parents. In a sequence of wordless pencil illustrations à la The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Ms. Rapscott and her stalwart corgi assistants stand atop the school's lighthouse to greet a fleet of five large flying boxes containing their newest students. Four girls (one box arrived empty) comprise a motley class of ill-mannered and lonely children whose parents have no time for them, a circumstance the headmistress knows well. Starting with a daily breakfast of birthday cake and ice cream, Ms. Rapscott takes her charges on fantastical journeys that include riding on the backs of seal-like creatures called Seaskimmers, searching for their missing classmate, and flying in Amelia Earhart's plane. Primavera charmingly depicts the girls' activities in her soft pencil artwork, and a neat resolution and the suggestion of a new school term will leave readers eager for another outing. Ages 8–12. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Box and the Dragonfly

Ted Sanders, illus. by Iacopo Bruno. Harper, $16.99 (624p) ISBN 978-0-06-227582-0

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After stumbling into a mysterious building called the House of Answers, 12-year-old Horace F. Andrew's life becomes strange and wondrous. He leaves with a gleaming oval box, which he eventually discovers has the ability to send things forward in time, while letting him glimpse the future. At the same time, Horace meets Chloe, an enigmatic girl whose dragonfly talisman lets her walk through walls. Together, they learn that they have become Keepers of the Tan'ji, ancient artifacts as magical as they are scientific. As they attempt to keep the Tan'ji away from the malevolent Riven, Horace and Chloe are drawn into a perilous struggle of good versus evil. While Sanders (No Animals We Could Name) presents a gripping story full of neat ideas, and the chemistry between Horace and Chloe is sweet, some of the temporal hijinks overcomplicate an already convoluted plot (at one point, Horace has to fake a note from Chloe in order to satisfy a vision he's seen, for instance). Even so, this is an entertaining offering, and a fine start to the Keepers series. Ages 8–12. Author's agent: Miriam Altshuler, Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Tale of Two Beasts

Fiona Roberton. EDC/Kane Miller, $12.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-61067-361-7

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Roberton (Cuckoo!) spins a clever he-said/she-said story about a girl's rescue of a squirrel-like creature in the woods. At least, that's how she sees it. After she describes her oh-so-thoughtful adoption of the animal ("I wrapped him warmly up in my scarf, and carried him safely home”), the story restarts, now told from the animal's point of view ("I was ambushed by a terrible beast!” he cries. "She growled at me, and tied me up, and carried me off to her secret lair”). By flipping between the stories, readers can spot subtle but telling differences in the ways Roberton frames her tidily illustrated scenes. In the first account, when the girl makes a cardboard box home for the animal, the bird's-eye view includes the art supplies the girl has used to decorate it and the animal-care books she's been studying. In the second go-around, a ground-level view puts readers inside the box, making it feel like a claustrophobic jail (albeit one with adorable hand-drawn décor). It's a smart and not-too-serious introduction to the idea of empathy—and boundaries. Ages 5–9. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Dog Day

Emily Rand. Tate (Abrams, dist.), $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-84976-290-8

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In her first picture book, British artist Rand creates a sympathetic surrogate for impatient children in the form of a curly-haired terrier, out on a walk with his owner: "The park's just there, behind that wall./ I hope that he has brought my ball./ But hold on wait.../ there's the gate!” While these and other rhymes aren't particularly distinctive, it's easy to sink into the details and textures of Rand's handsome illustrations, drafted in blacks and grays on off-white stock. After they bypass the park, much to the dog's dismay, they travel through streets crowded with fashionably dressed men and women, friendly children, shops, and cafes. "He always has to stop and talk./ "I thought that we were on a walk,” moans the dog, facing away from readers as he stares out from inside a hardware store; the park across the street, where a black dog roams free, is tantalizingly, infuriatingly close. While it's clear that it's all about the destination for this dog (and, yes, he finally gets to enjoy the park), the quaint urban setting makes the journey worthwhile. For readers, anyhow. Ages 2–4. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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