Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Books from Quarantine: Dogchild, by Kevin Brooks

Dogchild, by Kevin Brooks, (June 2020, Candlewick Press), $22.99, ISBN: 9781536209747

Ages 15+

This is a stark, often unsettling post-apocalyptic story. Jeet, a child raised by the wild dogs that killed his human family, lives in a settlement where there are few other “dogchildren” – most dogchildren don’t rehabilitate back to being human well; they run away, back to their dog families or die in the process of rehumanizing. Jeet lives with his uncle, Starry, after the settlement kills his pack of Deathland dogs on a raid, and eventually, becomes trusted enough that town head Marshal Gun Sur first asks him to write a history of their people, and then, to be part of a spying mission as the group gets ready to go to war against their enemy settlement, the Dau. Chola Se, another dogchild, and the closest thing Jeet has to a friend, has been kidnapped in a raid on the settlement; Jeet rescues her and learns that she has been sexually assaulted mutiple times – including by their own settlement’s second in command, Deputy Pilgrim. Jeet and Chola Se believe that Deputy is a traitor, but before they can enact their own plans, Pilgrim puts actions in motion that will turn the entire encampment against the two. While they want to flee, go back to their dog family and forget about the settlers entirely, but Chola also wants revenge against Pilgrim.

This is a gritty, rough story that includes sexual assault, graphic violence, and cannibalism. Definitely not for the younger set. The story is harrowing, with desperation that reaches out and grabs readers with every turn of the page. Kevin Brooks has created a stark, desolate landscape and characters that will stay with you after you finish the book. The love between Jeet and his dog mother makes for emotional, moving writing; Chola’s rage, always simmering, ready to explode, will leave readers gritting their teeth. He gets to readers on a visceral level. The book is written as if it were Jeet’s chronicle, so you won’t see punctuation; there aren’t traditional paragraphs, sentence structures, or spelling; there are no real chapter breaks, either; more like pauses between entries. If you have teen post-apocalypse fans that can handle rougher subject matter, give them this book.

Dogchild has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Dust Bowl Post-Cataclysm! Elysium Girls ride to battle

When you have a cover this amazing, you need to go full size.

Elysium Girls, by Kate Pentecost, (Apr. 2020, Little Brown),
$17.99, ISBN: 9781368041867
Ages 12+

When I was at a Book Buzz where this book came up, the publisher rep said, “I love this book! It’s hard to describe, but it’s so good! It’s so weird!” And really, that was all I needed to hear: I wanted to read a book with a big steampunk horse on the cover. I was not disappointed.

Elysium Girls is Dust Bowl-era dystopian fiction. In 1935, while America is in the grips of the Great Depression, a giant dust cloud rolls over Oklahoma. The goddesses of Life and Death have taken this little chunk of America and placed it in its own space and time, a chessboard for their own game. The survivors of the storm have 10 years to maintain order and set aside a third of their crops as a sacrifice for a chance to survive. Mother Morevna, an ailing witch in charge of a settlement called Elysium, takes on Sal, a teenaged apprentice, when a stranger calling himself Asa Skander arrives with supplies and a knack for magic himself. Sal and Asa are exiled from Elysium following a duel, where they meet a group of young women who have their own histories with Elysium and beyond. Facing the final days of the contest, a rising death toll, and plummeting spirits, Elysium and the group of women – and Asa – join forces once more to face the coming Dust Soldiers and attempt to break the game in order to win it.

This book is AMAZING. A dystopian historical fiction piece placing readers in Depression-Era Dust Bowl America? It’s a great concept, and Kate Pentecost touches on the endemic racism that endures even among the survivors; her description of the Dust Sickness that eats away at the populace is so gritty and raw that you’ll want a sip of water and to clear your throat as you read. Sal emerges as a smart heroine that comes into her confidence as a magic user, and Asa, who could easily have been sidelined as a cardboard supporting character, has a good backstory and has a character arc that really develops him nicely. Supporting characters all get fleshed out nicely, and should easily get reader investment.

The shifting perspective, from Sal’s first-person narration to third-person narration, takes a little getting used to, but I feel into the rhythm pretty quickly. The action is fast-paced, and dialogue will keep readers turning pages as different plots and subplots become revealed. I loved this one, and really, REALLY, want my own metal horse now.

Give this one to your new generation of post-cataclysm readers. (I can’t believe there’s a new generation of them, but wow: Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent are all a decade old, and then some. Wow.)


Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA sci-fi must-read: The Almost Girl (The Riven Chronicles #1)

AlmostGirl_coverThe Almost Girl (The Riven Chronicles #1), by Amalie Howard (May 2016, Sky Pony Press), $9.99 ISBN: 978-1510701717

Recommended for ages 13+

Seventeen-year-old Riven isn’t your run of the mill high school student. She’s not even from our world; she’s a soldier from Neospes, a world in a parallel universe, devastated by war and catastrophe. It’s a world where children learn to kill as soon as they can walk, and Riven is one of the best. She’s a Legion General, sent to Earth by her best friend, the Prince Cale, to find his long-lost brother and bring him back to Neospes. After a long time searching, Riven’s found Cale and is getting ready to move him out when Vectors – the undead soldiers created by her father – attack, forcing Riven into an uneasy alliance with her sister Shea, who she’s been at odds with. Riven will discover family secrets and lies that have been hidden from her for most of her life as she and Shea work together to bring Cale back to Neospes – and Riven begins to doubt everything she thought she stood for.

The Almost Girl is a fast-paced, well-developed sci-fi adventure for teens. It’s got a bit of a Terminator 2 vibe, but it’s entirely its own story. Riven is a complex, thoughtful character at odds with what she’s been raised to believe versus what’s truth. She’s the cold-hearted soldier who runs far deeper than an ice-cold killer, and her journey through the book keeps the pages turning. Cale finds himself in the damsel in distress characterization, but he’s not completely helpless, so it makes for a solid, interesting story. There’s solid sci-fi elements: gadgetry, android-human hybrids, space travel using technology rather than vehicles; there’s also space-opera factors that bring the drama and thus, the story: betrayal, family secrets, several missions intertwined.

Give this to your teens that like a good sci-fi adventure with a touch of romance. The sequel, The Fallen Prince, is newly released, so keep an eye on this blog – I’ll be getting to it shortly!

Amalie Howard has a fantastic author webpage with updates, contests, and an event calendar with appearances.


Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Tween Reads

The Big Dark will show you what you’re made of.

big darkThe Big Dark, by Rodman Philbrick (Jan. 2016, Blue Sky Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780545789752

Recommended for ages 9-14

On New Year’s Eve, the lights went out. Everything went out. Charlie, a tween living with his younger sister and widowed mom in the mountains of New Hampshire, sets off on a seemingly impossible mission when he discovers that his diabetic mother doesn’t have enough medication to sustain herself for more than three weeks.

Charlie’s small town shows us how we can turn on one another – or reach out and help one another – when the worst case scenario happens. When a solar event causes all technology to fail, the entire country – maybe even the world – is knocked back to Colonial days, relying on wood stoves and preserved food to survive. There’s a volunteer policeman/school janitor who takes charge of the situation, urging everyone to band together to muddle through, and there’s a ruthless survivalist who sees his chance to form his own free state. In the middle of this power struggle, Charlie has to find a way to sneak out and search for medicine in the nearest city, at least 50 miles away. With no power and after a blizzard.

Philbrick’s books always hit like a gut punch. Whether it’s the stark The Last Book in the Universe, the heart-wrenching Freak the Mighty, or the desperation in The Big Dark, he knows how to create a taut, white-knuckled narrative that will keep you reading until the very last words are digested. He finds the humanity in the worst possible situations, and pits it against the worst in humanity. There’s always hope in a Philbrick novel. His characters keep going, keep fighting. That’s what I love about his books.

This book is realistic fiction, with a touch of dystopia. This is a scary thought, because it makes the seemingly impossible very, very real. Give this to your middle grade dystopian fans and tell them that this is what happens before The Hunger Games. Give this to your Hatchet fans, and your survival fiction readers. Tell your readers to read this, and then read Michael Northrup’s Trapped, for an interesting discussion.

Rodman Philbrick is an award-winning author of middle grade and young adult fiction. Visit his author website for interviews, teaching guides, and more information on his books.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rebellion as Fantasy: Curio, by Evangeline Denmark

curioCurio, by Evangeline Denmark (Jan. 2016, ZonderKidz), $17.99, ISBN: 9780310729662

Recommended for ages 13+

In a post-cataclysm Mercury City, Colorado, a group of alchemists, called Chemists, are the ruling body, controlling the populace through draconian laws, torture, and distribution of a daily potion that helps citizens survive after a plague ravaged society a century before. Physical contact between males and females comes with a price; a price her best friend, Whit, learns after trying to help Grey home in time for curfew. After Whit’s brutal punishment, Grey takes a risk she’s been thinking about for too long – she gives him her ration of potion. She knows she and her family are different – her father and grandfather don’t take it, and she suspects she doesn’t need it, either. This provides the Chemists with the chance they’ve been waiting for: the chance to get hold of Grey and attack her family. She seeks refuge at her grandfather’s repair shop, where her only chance at escape is to enter the world of the curio cabinet in the back of the shop: there, she finds herself in a world of living porcelain and clockwork figures, swept up in a class struggle of their own, and a mysterious figure known as the Mad Tock. Could he be the mysterious person she was told to seek out?

Curio is a curious mix of post-apocalyptic and steampunk genres. Grey is a standard YA post-apocalyptic heroine, spunky and strong-willed, ready to take on the system. She’s got a special secret to be revealed and a family history that she only knows the surface of. The world inside the curio cabinet is a steampunk society, with “tocks” – clockwork figures that make up the working class – and “porcies”, the beautiful upper class. It’s a skin-deep society; the fragile porcies are terrified of cracks or breaks, because they’ll be banished to “Lower”, with the rest of the lower class and broken, to eke out an existence. We spend a lot of time in Curio, but a lot of it is laborious. There is a lot of concentration on the porcies’ fascination with Grey and where she could be from, and the villain of the story is enticing but not as fully realized as he could be. The Mad Tock storyline could also benefit from more emphasis on his story earlier on, and less on his gadgetry.

There’s some strong world-building on both sides of the curio cabinet, but the overall storytelling lags. The one plot that doesn’t lag at all is the love story, and that happens so quickly that it is difficult to believe (but that could just be my personal taste).

Curio is an interesting mashup of two genres I never pictured working well together, but they do. There’s potential for a series here, and indeed, there is a prequel, Mark of Blood and Alchemy, available as a free download for Kindle and Nook.


Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Scott Sigler’s Alive is a tense mix of speculative fiction, mystery, and horror. Read it!

cover61560-mediumAlive, by Scott Sigler (Jul 2015, Del Rey/Spectra), $18, ISBN: 9780553393101

Recommended for ages 13+

“I open my eyes to darkness. Total darkness. I hear my own breathing, but nothing else. I lift my head . . . it thumps against something solid and unmoving. There is a board right in front of my face. No, not a board . . . a lid.”

A teenage girl wakes up in what she perceives to be a coffin. She breaks out, and liberates the other kids from their coffins- but not everyone is alive. No one has any memory of who they are, where they come from, or how they got where they are. The only clue to anything about them lies in the engraved names at the end of each coffin: an initial and last name. M. Savage, the first girl to wake up, finds herself leading a group of teens through the unknown environment, in search of answers and freedom, but can they survive the horrors they witness… or one another?

If you’ve never read Scott Sigler before, you are in for a treat, my friends. I discovered his book, Infected, years ago thanks to a horror podcast I used to listen to. This is the first YA by Sigler I’ve read, and trust me – you’re going to need to grit your teeth and brace yourself for this ride.

What I love about Scott Sigler is his masterful way of taking a group of people and showing conflict. It’s set off by one thing, but it’s never really about that one thing, is it? You throw a group of hormonal teenagers into the insanity of waking up with no memory and no clue as to where they are, you’ve got some interesting issues on your hands. Sigler’s your man. I can’t go into too much of the story, because I really don’t want spoilers in any way, shape, or form to put you off of this book, but think about the kids in your life, and then imagine tossing them into the craziest situation you can imagine. You’ve got layers and layers of issues, personalities, and conflicts that will come to the fore. The best horror lies not with the monsters under your bed, but the horror we inflict on one another, and we all know and remember that children can be pretty cruel.

Alive needs to be on your teen space bookshelves, and MAN, the stories that can come out of a book talk featuring this book are legion. The book hits stores on July 14th, but there’s a serialized podcast to get you all riled up until then.

Check out Scott Sigler’s author website for more information about his books, including the Infected trilogy.

Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Post-Apocalypse New York, run by teens- Chris Weitz’s The Young World

youngworldThe Young World, by Chris Weitz (2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $19.00, ISBN: 9780316226295

Recommended for ages 14+

The Young World takes place in a post-apocalyptic New York City. A sickness has wiped out young children and adults, leaving only teenagers to fend for themselves in this new world. When you turn 18, you develop the sickness and die, too. Jefferson, left in charge of the Washington Square tribe once his brother dies, sets out with key members of his group to find information on what caused the sickness, hoping to find a cure. The trip will take them throughout New York City – and other tribes that are dangerous in their own right – and beyond, as they discover secrets and experiments that lead to the rise of the Young World.

It’s an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Author Chris Weitz knows how to stage a teen story: he’s directed films like Twilight: New Moon, American Pie, and About a Boy. He has a good grasp on the teen voice, and the novel itself is told effectively in alternating first-person narratives between Jefferson and his childhood friend and would-be love interest, Donna. In a world where kids and adults are dead, teens – at a tumultuous time of life to begin with – are left to forge ahead on their own. We see different social classes and races handle things very differently, and the factioning of Manhattan, particularly Grand Central, is fascinating. The characters are well-developed, each with his or her own distinct voice. Secondary characters, particularly Brainbox – the brains of the Washington Square tribe – are nicely fleshed-out through Jefferson’s and Donna’s eyes. I felt that Donna struggled a bit to find her own voice, but hits her stride mid-novel.

The story reminds me of 12 Monkeys meets The Warriors. (This is a good thing; I love both of those movies.) I’m interested in seeing where the next book – The New Order, publishing this July – takes things.

Check out more about The Young World at Little Brown’s page.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Meritropolis: Question the System.

meritropolisMeritropolis, by Joel Ohman, (2014), $9.99, ISBN: 9781500189600

Recommended for 14+

In a post-apocalyptic society, the community known as Meritropolis thrives, thanks to the System. Citizens, from infants to the elderly, are evaluated, their numbers marked on their forearms. Anyone below a 50 is sent out of the city gates to fend for themselves.

Time is measured post-event (AE3 for 3 years after The Event), which is never named, merely known as “The Event”; we can assume it had something to do with nuclear war or nature collapse. Animal hybrids, created in pre-Event labs, hunt outside the gates. No one is heard from after being put outside the city’s walls.

Charley, a high-score 17 year-old, hates The System. It took his beloved older brother away from him, and he wants revenge on the System and the man responsible for it. Charley questions the System, the existence of a God who support this way of life, and free will. As he moves within Meritropolis society and gets closer to the people responsible for the System, he plots his revenge, joining forces with other residents. Together, they discover that what they know about the city and the System is only the surface of a very deep well of secrets.

This is an independently published book that makes me wonder why a major house hasn’t snapped it up yet. It’s a fast-paced read with a male protagonist who questions everything and has tremendous anger issues, but at the same time, works to contain his outbursts with common sense and planning. He’s got a plan, and he’s not allowing himself to be swept along, as many dystopian protagonists tend to in YA lit. Charley’s motivation is brutal and heartbreaking, but things he discovers as he works to undo the system from the inside are downright terrifying.

Outside the city walls, we find more craziness. The animal hybrids, and what they’re capable of, are the stuff of nightmares. There are illustrations at the beginning of each chapter – feast on the bion, imaginations! – that help you comprehend exactly what the citizen of Meritropolis are surrounded by, and being left to, once they’re outside city gates.

The book should appeal to both teen boys and girls. In Charley, boys have their Katniss – a male role model they can look up to and relate to, who understands anger, aggression, and most importantly, self-control. Girls will appreciate Charley’s back story and they’ll love Sandy, Charley’s counterpart. There are additional male and female characters, all relatable, that will give kids a reason to keep turning pages.

I’m interested in reading more about the world Joel Ohman has created here. Maybe we’ll get another story about a different post-Event society if enough people read this book. So what are you waiting for? It’s available as an ebook or a paperback, so you have no reason for not checking it out.

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Contaminated 2: Mercy Mode keeps the pressure on!

contaminated2Contaminated 2: Mercy Mode, by Em Garner (Egmont, Sept. 2014), $17.99, ISBN: 9781606843567

Recommended for ages 14+

Contaminated 2 picks up right where Contaminated left off – the government is closing in on all the Connies, taking them – and sometimes, their families – away to testing facilities. Horror stories abound. Soldiers routinely test citizens for any sign of contamination, whisking them away if even the propensity for contamination shows up.

Velvet, her sister Opal, her boyfriend, Dillon, her mom, and an elderly neighbor are living in Velvet and Opal’s home, scavenging supplies from nearby homes and trying to live on the quiet and stay off the government’s radar. Her mother is showing huge improvements, including conversation, cleaning, even cooking and knitting. Life is still hard, but Velvet knows they have more than so many.

It can’t last, though – soldiers come and burn down the house to smoke Velvet and her family out. She finds herself a test subject in one of the labs she’s heard horror stories about, where a doctor puts her through test after test. As Velvet – and readers – figure things out, the book becomes all-consuming. Will Velvet escape? What secret are the doctors hiding? Will anything ever be the same again?

The fantastic character development we got in Contamination continues here in Mercy Mode. Velvet grows as a character, but we start getting more information about her parents, which really fills in some gaps. I would like to have learned a little more about what caused her mom’s improvement, which tends to be explained away as “remarkable”, but that’s not an issue that will affect your enjoyment of the book; rather, it’s fodder for book discussions that SHOULD take place after reading this series.

Is there going to be a third in this series? The way the second book leaves off, it could go either way. But man, do I have a wish list of things that I want to see if there is.

Em Garner’s author page has links to social media and information about her books and appearances.

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Uncategorized

Contaminated: A YA tale of horror and infection

contaminatedContaminated, by Em Garner (Egmont USA, 2013). $9.99, ISBN: 9781606843543

Recommended for ages 14+

If losing weight was easy, everyone would be thin – or so the saying goes. But when the diet drink ThinPro hits the market, no one can argue with the results – it tastes pretty good, too, so people are drinking the stuff like it’s Gatorade. One huge problem, though – to keep up with demand, the manufacturers start messing around with the formula, and it becomes tainted with something like Mad Cow Disease. And that something makes holes in people’s brains, contaminating them and turning them into rage-fueled maniacs.

Contaminated begins in the aftermath of this outbreak that left most of the US decimated. The Contaminated – called “Connies” – have largely been put under control by the government; first, through forced lobotomies, now, through the use of collars controlled by electrodes put into captured Connie’s brains. Velvet, a 17 year-old who lost her father and mother to the Contamination, has been struggling to take care of herself and her 10 year-old sister ever since the outbreak. She constantly checks the neighborhood kennel, where Connies have been released to be claimed by family members, for her mom. One day, she finds her and brings her home.

The thing is, the government is keeping a lot of secrets now, and there are whispers that the Contamination isn’t under control. Connies are being taken into custody again, whether or not they’ve been claimed by family, whether or not they’re contained by their collars. Velvet struggles to keep her family together and her mother hidden, especially when Velvet realizes that her mother is improving. As her Pennsylvania neighborhood becomes more and more of a police state, how will she keep her family safe?

This isn’t a zombie tale, the walkers aren’t back from the dead. It’s an infection tale, rooted in a concern over what we’re putting in our bodies and what this stuff really does to us. The infected are rage-zombies, if anything; they lose the ability to connect with society and just want to inflict violence. We get the story through Velvet’s eyes as she lives through the fallout of the infection. She’s a teenager forced into adulthood too fast, with a 10 year-old sister who frustrates the hell out of her, but whom she loves and clings to for a sense of normalcy in the middle of insanity. She fights to keep her sister in school, even though she questions what the heck school is going to do for anyone now, in this new era humanity is in. She works awful jobs to keep her family afloat. She has the added burden of caring for her mother, a shell of a woman retrieved, like a stray animal, from a shelter. It’s a tense story, it’s a story of survival, and finally, it’s a story about family.

Short story: I LOVED this book. While Velvet is the only character that is really developed, she’s all we really need, because it’s HER story. The situation? Frighteningly plausible and will make you look at that weight-loss drink a lot more differently. If you’re into post-apocalypse stuff, grab this book, but don’t expect Walking Dead scenarios with walkers taking bites out of people in the streets. Like the best zombie stories, this is a story about how humans cope with the end of their world.