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What We Saw

Aaron Hartzler. HarperTeen, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-233874-7

Hartzler (Rapture Practice) moves from memoir to fiction with a novel that strongly echoes the Steubenville High School rape case in 2012. Teens at an Iowa high school are left reeling after a photo surfaces online showing a classmate drunk and topless during a party; soon, four students are arrested for sexually assaulting her. If characterizations sometimes take a backseat to the headline-grabbing plot, Hartzler captures the small-town vibe of a place so insulated that residents know the jersey numbers of the varsity basketball team but not the names of their legislators. Narrator Kate Weston questions the knee-jerk reactions of many of her peers, who slut-shame the girl and side with the accused athletes, while negotiating a new romance with Ben, a longtime childhood friend and member of the school's basketball team. Hartzler offers a thought-provoking look at victim blaming, the pressures of a win-at-all-costs athletic program, and the tendencies of schools and teams to circle the wagons and protect their own while hammering at the obligation of bystanders to speak the truth. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ash & Bramble

Sarah Prineas. HarperTeen, $17.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-233794-8

A young woman awakens in the Godmother's fortress and, like her fellow slaves, remembers nothing about her life from "the Before." She befriends Shoe, a shoemaker who names her Pin, since she is forced to work as a seamstress. Pin knows she doesn't belong at the fortress, and a magic thimble gives her hope that she and Shoe can escape. When their plan goes awry, Pin winds up living in the Godmother's city with no memories of the fortress, Shoe, or her feelings for him. Now she is known as Lady Penelope, aka Pen, and she feels inexplicably drawn to Prince Cornelius. Shoe helps Pen and Cor realize that the narrative force of Story itself is trying to control their fates, and the three join a group of rebels trying to stop it. All of the characters exhibit real complexity, particularly Pen, whose magical abilities help empower her to become a leader. Prineas (the Magic Thief series) handily incorporates numerous twists on fairy-tale conventions, including a fairy godmother villainess and same-sex romances for Rapunzel and the frog prince, in this feminist reimagining of the Cinderella story. Ages 13–up. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Serpentine

Cindy Pon. Month9Books (SPU, dist.), $12.99 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-942664-33-8

Returning to the world of Silver Phoenix (2009), Pon adeptly weaves together fantasy elements and Chinese traditions and folklore in this coming-of-age fantasy. Growing up in Yuan Manor has been good for Skybright, a foundling orphan who was taken in by a wealthy family. Though her role is that of a handmaid to daughter Zhen Ni, the two girls have been best friends since birth. When a seer arrives from the capital, Skybright's future proves to be as murky as her past, with Madame Lo "unable to see her clearly." Soon after, Skybright is shocked one night when she transforms (temporarily) into a serpent demon, "a thick serpent coil snak[ing] behind her, where her legs should have been." With a war between the demons looming, Skybright learns to embrace her demon side, striking a balance between her newfound duties as leader and the normalcy of her previous life. Action, secrets, love, and a search for identity combine in a powerful tale about what ensues when the underworld and the real world collide. Ages 12–up. Agent: Bill Contardi, Brandt & Hochman. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Madly

Amy Alward. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6118-4

The gathering of potion ingredients is at the center of this fantasy romance from Alward (author of The Oathbreaker's Shadow, writing as Amy McCulloch). Samantha Kemi is part of a long line of alchemists, but her family's business is failing because of competitive synthetic potions. When Sam's country's princess, Evelyn, aims a love spell incorrectly (she falls in love with herself), a centuries-old tradition of alchemical competition is invoked, and Sam must travel around the world figuring out and collecting the ingredients for the antidote. Unfortunately, Evelyn's major suitor, Zain Aster, is also Sam's business rival, and he seems to be interested in more than just Sam's potions. Sadly, their romance is somewhat unconvincing, and the characters are entirely at the mercy of the plot. For instance, a scene in which Sam administers a truth serum to her grandfather over the breakfast table finishes not with recriminations, even though truth potions are illegal, but with everyone (including the grandfather) applauding Sam's gumption; the narrative supports whatever Sam does, however wrong, to keep events moving. Ages 12–up. Agent: Juliet Mushens, Agency Group. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All American Boys

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. S&S/Atheneum/Dlouhy, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6333-1

In this painful and all-too-timely book, two authors—one black, one white—present a story of police brutality. Reynolds (The Boy in the Black Suit) voices Rashad, the innocent victim of a police beating; Kiely (The Gospel of Winter) writes Quinn, a horrified witness. The book moves quickly, starting on a Friday night with the boys—classmates who don't know each other—preparing for a party, and ending with a social-media-inspired protest march one week later. For Rashad, the week means facing the physical and mental effects of what has happened, including a father who initially assumes that Rashad is guilty. For fatherless Quinn, the struggle comes from the fact that the cop is not only the older brother of a close friend, but also a father figure. The scenario that Reynolds and Kiely depict has become a recurrent feature of news reports, and a book that lets readers think it through outside of the roiling emotions of a real-life event is both welcome and necessary. Ages 12–up. Agent: (for Reynolds) Elena Giovinazzo, Pippin Properties; (for Kiely) Rob Weisbach, Rob Weisbach Creative Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Fall

James Preller. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-312-64301-0

Preller returns to themes addressed in his 2009 novel, Bystander, in an equally painful story about the aftermath of a teenager's suicide. After relentless bullying online, high school outcast Morgan Mallen throws herself off a water tower, leaving her tormentors to grapple with guilt over how they treated her. The narrative is composed of confessional journal entries written by one of Morgan's classmates, Sam Proctor. "I'm a follower, if you want to know the truth," he writes. "What can I say?" One year earlier, manipulative classmate Athena dragged Sam and others into a game of making mean, anonymous posts on Morgan's social media page. Simultaneously, Sam began an awkward friendship with Morgan, but she discovered his betrayal. Now, Sam views his writing, a mix of essays and poems, as a sort of solitary confinement, a space in which he can reflect on his behavior. The journal format closely chronicles Sam's transformation from follower to leader, yet Preller avoids sermonizing, instead focusing on one individual's complicated process of grieving, accepting responsibility, and moving forward. Ages 9–14. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Serafina and the Black Cloak

Robert Beatty. Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4847-0901-6

Beatty's suspenseful debut opens in 1899 in Ashville, N.C., at the historic Biltmore Estate. Twelve-year-old Serafina and her father secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore, where he keeps the mansion's many mechanisms in working order. He forbids Serafina—who was born with four toes on each foot, golden eyes, and other physical peculiarities—from wandering upstairs among the Vanderbilts or into the woods, where he found and rescued her as an infant. One night, Serafina sees a man capture a girl, who vanishes into his cloak. With more children disappearing, she teams up with fellow loner Braeden Vanderbilt, nephew of the estate's owner, to search for the so-called Man in the Black Cloak, leading them deep into the forest. Serafina's quest to understand herself and her unknown family history, along with some truly creepy moments and imagery (during one encounter, the Man in the Black Cloak "seemed to float on the violence of the battle, his decaying, blood-dripping hands reaching outward as he came upon Braeden"), makes for an eerie historical mystery. Ages 8–12. Agent: Bill Contardi, Brandt & Hochman. (July)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lilliput

Sam Gayton, illus. by Alice Ratterree. Peachtree, $16.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-56145-806-6

Cliffhanger chapter endings and vibrant language should quickly ensnare readers of this suspenseful takeoff from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, British author Gayton's U.S. debut. Snatched up from the beach when Gulliver returned to Lilliput, tiny Lily, "almost twelve moons old," is now trapped in an enormous world of adults. After enlisting assistance from nature's smaller creatures—a spider, a mouse—in her ingenious escape plans, Lily gradually learns to trust human help. Along the way, she meets captives of other sorts, confronts unimagined obstacles, and gains the satisfactions of friendship. Compressing the tale into a few days heightens the theme of time's preciousness, evoked too by Ratterree's pencil illustrations, which have a theatricality and precision reminiscent of Tony DiTerlizzi's work. Despite the occasional anachronism ("sleepover") or one-dimensional supporting character, Gayton's colorful prose depicts a true adolescent: moody, clever, and feisty—albeit with heightened sensory perception, a flair for languages, and fierce defenses coating a heart longing for affection. This literate romp through 18th-century London will have readers cheering Lily home. Ages 8–12. Author's agent: Becky Bagnell, Lindsay Literary Agency. Illustrator's agent: Marietta Zacker, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Sage and the Journey to Wishworld

Shana Muldoon Zappa and Ahmet Zappa with Catherine R. Daly. Disney Press, $6.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-4231-6643-6

The husband-and-wife Zappas launch their 12-book Star Darlings series, part of a multimedia property that will include animated shorts, dolls, apps, and music. The novels spotlight the dozen Starling Academy students who are tapped to grant the wishes of the inhabitants of Wishworld, which sounds quite a bit like Earth. Since the positive energy generated by young Wishers powers Starland, the Star Darlings' missions will save their own world's dire energy crisis. This first entry focuses on determined, adventurous Sage, who travels to Wishworld on a shooting star to identify her chosen Wisher and fulfill her wish within the allotted time. The authors ground their fantasy with such real-life tangles as feeling left out, coping with mean girls, and not judging others, while stuffing the pages with details about the girls' outfits and accouterments, as well as unoriginal thematic adjectives like "startacular" and "starmendous." Substantial exposition and backstory regarding the Star Darlings' world makes for slow-going reading, though the story picks up once Sage starts her mission. Available simultaneously: Libby and the Class Election. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Defiant

M. Quint, illus. by Lily Padula. McSweeney's, $22 (256p) ISBN 978-1-936365-54-8

In an unsettling, fablelike debut, six schoolmates, who have little reason to like one another, must work together to survive after they are stranded aboard a centuries-old sailing ship as it drifts aimlessly at sea. Their journey takes a surreal turn when each island they encounter turns out to be populated by other groups of castaway children, each community pursuing a particular obsession. Whether the society is overly focused on democracy, dedicated to technology, or consumed by paranoia, each suffers from an imbalance of priorities that makes it unviable, even dangerous. But as the makeshift crew of the Defiant valiantly searches for safe harbor, they discover much about their own talents and strengths. Quint creates an intriguing satire on the excesses of civilization, as well as a tense adventure in its own right, but the underlying message is hard to glean. The lack of answers regarding the instigating disaster and other paranormal happenings further muddy the narrative. Padula's stylized illustrations portray the characters as almost deformed exaggerations, an unflattering aesthetic, yet one suited to the haunting, puzzling story surrounding them. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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