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 Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Science Fiction

Books from Quarantine: Secret Explorers and the Comet Collision

The Secret Explorers and the Comet Collision, by SJ King, (July 2020, DK), $5.99, ISBN: 978-0744021066

Ages 7-10

This is the second book in an upcoming new series from DK; the first, The Secret Explorers and the Lost Whales, also publishes on July 7, 2020. Perfect reading for kids who loved Little Einsteins, Octonauts, or Wild Kratts when they were younger, these chapter books introduce a group of Secret Explorers – kids who specialize in different areas of the sciences – who go on secret missions to gather knowledge and solve a big problem. In Comet Collision, two explorers, Roshni and Ollie, have to work together when they’re sent into space to fix a broken space probe by the planet Jupiter. A comet is set to collide with the planet and will wipe out all the probe’s important data if they don’t fix it in time, so they have to work together and work fast!

Loaded with adventure, facts, and fast-paced reading, this is a fun new STEM-based series for readers. You don’t need to read the first book to enjoy this one (I picked this up at ALA Midwinter, and thought it was the first in the series until I finished it and saw the “2” on the spine). The kids play with cool technology, are specialists in different areas of science, and take readers to space and beyond. This will be a good series to fit with the Imagine Your Story Summer Reading theme this year, too – ask your readers to think of their favorite type of science (or give them one to explore) and ask them to imagine their story as a scientist in space, in a rain forest, in a lab, anywhere. Black and white cartoony artwork throughout helps place readers on a spacewalk and at the controls of a spaceship. The cast of characters is multicultural, from all over the world.

Invite kids to learn more about space probes from NASA, and about Jupiter and the other planets here.

Posted in Science Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Crossover: Followers, by Megan Angelo

Followers, by Megan Angelo, (Jan. 2020, Graydon House Books), $26.99, ISBN: 9781525836268

Ages 16+

This satire, thriller, quasi-dystopian story tells the tale of two women, Orla and Floss, who become friends through a mutual desire for fame. Starting in the 20-teens, Orla is a writer, slaving away at a pop culture news site and waiting for her big break. Floss is a Kardashian wannabe: she wants to be an influencer, she wants followers, she wants insta-fame. She and Orla, her roommate, hatch a plan where Orla creates the Floss persona, and it works, to dizzying success. The story shifts between 2015-2016 and 2041, where society lives in the aftermath of an event that leaves those of us glued to our screens shadows of our former selves. Reality stars are moved to a government-run, enclosed village where they live their whole lives on camera, with implants that buzz to let them know when they’ve gained or lost followers, or if they’ve been off screen too long. Here, we meet Marlow, a 30-something who lives in the village, and dreams of a life off-screen. Discovering a long-held family secret gives her the courage to go on the run, where she heads to New York to get answers.

Followers is a realistic sci-fi thriller that posits an entirely plausible future. Social media-obsessed characters and a screen-consumed society are instantly recognizable – it does take place in 2016, after all – and the tempting mystery that unfolds through two timelines is fascinating and kept me turning pages, wanting to know what happens next. It’s a good book to handsell/booktalk to teens, and let them work through the story by asking them what they think future social media and reality stars will look like. Put this on your “this could be our future” shelf with Vox by Christina Dalcher (another YA/Adult crossover), and Caragh O’Brien’s Vault of Dreamers trilogy.

Followers has four starred reviews, and author Megan Angelo has a free, downloadable book club kit available on her website (minus the cotton candy champagne recipe – mix some cotton candy with sparkling water for a similar treat).

Posted in Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

A Song for a New Day has an interesting take on post-cataclysm life

A Song for a New Day, by Sarah Pinsker, (Sept. 2019, Berkley Publishing Group), $16, ISBN: 9781984802583

Ages 16+

Before, people gathered in public spaces to watch sporting events and live music shows. Before, we shopped in malls, gathered in groups out in public, like it was No Big Deal. Before, Luce Cannon was a young musician on the verge of making it big, on tour with her band and promoting her big song, “Blood and Diamonds”. But mass shootings, terror attacks, and deadly viruses unleashed in public spaces have led to life in the After, where public gatherings are illegal and people live in their homes, getting everything they need droned in from the big Superwally box superstores. Rosemary is a twenty-something who barely remembers Before; she remembers her time in the hospital, recovering from the pox, and she remembers “Blood and Diamonds” helping give her the determination to heal. Now, Rosemary spends her days in Hoodspace – interactive hoodies that connect wearers to a virtual world – as a customer service representative for Superwally, until the chance to view a concert through provider StageHoloLive introduces her to a new career as a talent scout. Working for StageHoloLive, she gets the chance to travel the country in search of those little places where people still find ways to gather, listen to live music, and celebrate human connection, but if something is too good to be true, it probably is.

Told in two stories: in the first person, by Luce Cannon and in the third person, from Rosemary’s point of view, A Song for a New Day is about the human spirit and revolution through positive change. Luce’s story begins in the Before, and leads us through the series of attacks that bring us to life After. Rosemary’s story picks up in the aftermath and stands as a contrast between the desire to be safe and the desire to live authentically. There is strong world-building and character development, with LGBTQ+ characters and a character-building plot point about an inclusive religious community.

While not written for YA readers, this would absolutely work for high school readers who enjoy sci-fi and dystopian fic. Sarah Pinsker is a Nebula Award-winning author and a songwriter. You can find audio on her website.

Posted in Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Space Opera: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse, by K. Eason, (Oct. 2019, DAW), $26, ISBN: 978-0-7564-1529-7

Ages 14+

The first in a duology, How Rory Thorne Broke the Universe starts out with a hard fairy tale line: the new princess is born to the Thorne family line, and fairies come to bestow gifts on her. One fairy is pretty teed off that her invitation… got lost in the mail, let’s say, but there’s no spindle and no curse here. She bestows a dubious gift on the princess; the gift to see through lies of flattery and kiss-uppance. Rory is the first female baby to be born to the Thorne line for a while, so her birth throws things into a bit of a tizzy; it’s a tizzy that’s even more stirred up when a terrorist attack kills her father and the king of a neighboring planetary federation. Her mother gives birth to a male Thorne heir around the same time, which gives us an antagonist to watch out for in the next book.

Rory’s betrothed to the prince of the neighboring federation, and sent to live there while she waits to turn 18 and become his wife. Meanwhile, the Regent –  not her betrothed’s mother, since she also managed to get killed off – is a sleazy minister with his own power game at play. Rory, her body-maid (a badass half-cyborg named Grytt), her Vizier, Rupert, and two guards under Grytt, Thorsdottir and Zhang, keep an eye on things, because the Regent is up to no good. When the Vizier is arrested after trying to poke around and find out the Regent’s deal, Rory takes over and discovers a plot that will have major consequences for Rory, her family, and their corner of the universe. She enters her own Game of Thrones to outwit, outplay, and outlast the Regent.

Rory Thorne is a great character. She’s a smart, savvy teen princess who is ready to defend herself and throw down with anyone who gets in her way. But the book falls a little flat for me. There’s a great deal of worldbuilding, but tends to drone on at points and left me putting down the book to find something else to pique my interest between chapters. Is it YA? It’s definitely YA crossover material. Nothing too violent or overt for teen audiences, but it may not hold your usual readers’ attention. Talk this up with your space opera readers.

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Last Pick: Born to Run continues the alien invasion story

Last Pick: Born to Run, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728936

Ages 10+

In last year’s first volume of Last Pick, we encountered an earth under occupation by aliens who dragged anyone deemed “useful” away to an unknown fate, leaving the very young, very old, and disabled to endure the aliens’ cruel rule on earth. Sam and Wyatt, twin siblings, were separated when Sam was taken; Wyatt, her special needs brother, was left behind, and has since gone to work embedding himself with a resistance group of survivors: the very young, the very old, the disabled, the angry, the fed-up. Operating under moniker “Bird One” they find ways to throw casual little wrenches into the aliens’ day-to-day operations, and have something bigger in the works. Meanwhile, Sam is laboring offworld with the other imprisoned humans, forced into terrorizing other alien races in their overlords’ quest to rule. The only bright spot in her days is Mia, a fellow prisoner, whom Sam finds herself developing feelings for.

Most of this installment’s story works with Sam and his resistance group, including his own crush, a deaf girl named Harper, and a burgeoning alliance with one of the aliens. The aliens here are cruel, yet amusing because they’re so influenced by American pop culture, particularly Westerns. (Interesting: Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Osama bin Laden all loved American Westerns. Coincidence?) The resistance is ragtag, but never count anyone out: it’s the aliens’ overconfidence and belief that the survivors are “useless” that leaves them ripe for a butt-kicking by Bird One. Jason Walz is a solid storyteller, continuing to build on the world(s) he created in the Last Pick’s volume one. The storyline stays strong, developing characters introduced in the first book and bringing in new characters. There are unexpected alliances and underdog heroes, with something to appeal to everyone.

Both volumes in the Last Pick trilogy have starred reviews from Kirkus. Sci-fi fans, dystopian fans, and adventure fans will love this story.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Happy Book Birthday to Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi!

Weird Little Robots, by Carolyn Crimi/Illustrated by Corinna Luyken, (Oct. 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763694937

Ages 8-12

Two girls discover their mutual love of tinkering and science in this quirky, fun, illustrated novel. Eleven-year-old Penny Rose is new in town, and doesn’t really have any friends yet – unless you count the little robots she makes in her shed. She makes them out of found objects, and tinkers lovingly with them, giving them names and looking after them every day. Lark, her neighbor, is a quirky girl next door who loves birds and tinkers with found objects given to her by the crows; she makes birdhouses to keep her friends safe from the elements. The two girls become friends and create an entire town for the little robots… and when a mysterious wind sweeps through their town, it brings some surprises with it! But while Penny and Lark enjoy one another’s company, a secret science club at school offers Penny membership in their society. Penny feels the tug between her new best friend and a group of like-minded science friends, but making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons could cost Penny her best friend and the robots that she loves so much.

This is such an unconventional, enjoyable book! I love the idea of making creations out of found objects, and the touch of magical realism infused in this story makes it a joy to read. It’s a STEM story, a friendship story, and a comforting story about second chances. The little robots have their own personalities, each reflected in their names, bestowed on them by Penny. Penny is more tech-focused, while Lark prefers the world around her, showing that making and tinkering presents endless creations. The black and white illustrations throughout give life to the story and keep readers interested as they move through the book.

There’s a downloadable guide with discussion questions and activities, making this a good idea for an ELA/Science partnership or book club/Discovery Club program. I can’t wait until my library’s copy arrives, so I can start telling kids how much they need to read this book. Maybe it’s time for a secret science society at MY library… hmmmm…

 

“[A]uthor Crimi infuses this unassuming transitional novel with compassion, humor, and a refreshing storyline in which girls organically weave a love for science into their everyday lives. Illustrations by Luyken add to the guileless sensibility. A contemplation on the magic of friendship told with sweetness, simplicity, and science.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

Carolyn Crimi enjoys snacking, pugs, Halloween, and writing, although not necessarily in that order. Over the years she has published 15 funny books for children, including Don’t Need Friends, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, There Might Be Lobsters, and I Am The Boss of This Chair. Weird Little Robots is her first novel.

For more information, and to download a free classroom guide for Weird Little Robots, visit her website.

Twitter: @crims10

Corinna Luyken is the author-illustrator of The Book of Mistakes. She lives with her husband and daughter in Olympia, Washington.
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Happy Book Birthday to A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity – and an author tour calendar!

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, by Nicole Valentine, (Oct. 2019, Carolrhoda), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5415-5538-9

Ages 10+

Twelve-year-old Finn’s twin sister, Faith, drowned when they were three years old. His mother up and left Finn and his father a few months ago. As his father loses himself in his academic research, Finn clings to science for a concrete hold on life, and relies on his friend, Gabi, to be his steadying constant. But one night, his grandmother tells him a secret that throws everything he’s ever known – everything he’ll ever know – into chaos: the women in Finn’s family are Travelers; women who can travel through time, and each generation is more powerful than the last. Finn’s mother didn’t leave him. She’s traveling through time trying to put things right, and she needs Finn to find her and help her, leaving him a portal for him to Travel through. He has to be careful about who he can trust, though; there are people who don’t have his family’s best interests at heart, which could lead to disastrous consequences. Can Finn put his faith in something he’s never been able to believe in before, and embrace the unknown, the abstract, in order to save his family?

Theory is a story of grief and loss, with hope and the courage to believe in a bigger worldview. Filled with plot twists and shifts that make this a good read for science fiction and fantasy fans, and readers who are ready to take a step into a bigger world, we meet Finn, is a solidly constructed character with a tragic backstory. Finn can be the reader’s entry point into the story, giving us a character who’s haunted by loss and cleaving to science: dependable, real. But when you think about it, physics is a pretty abstract science; there’s an entire branch of physics dedicated to theoretical study, and time travel theories abound when discussing quantum physics. That Finn chooses physics as his scientific field of choice is an interesting one, and shows that he’s willing to reach beyond the concrete… maybe. Gabi, Finn’s best friend, is Puerto Rican and mentions that she and her mother have had friction in the past being “newcomers” to their town, and not only because they haven’t spend their entire lives there. She’s ready to face anything with Finn. Other characters – mostly Finn’s extended family – have bits and pieces of backstory that unfold throughout the story, making them interesting and slightly mysterious. A good read for book clubs, Theory comes with some discussion questions at the end; the questions are also available through the publisher’s website, as is a chapter-by-chapter educator guide.

Give Theory a shot, and hand it to your sci-fi and fantasy readers for sure. Give it to your realistic fiction readers that are ready for a good time-traveling mystery, too. Booktalk it with A Wrinkle in Time, which also touches on the mechanics of time travel and science, or Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me; a great example of using time travel within a compelling realistic fiction setting.  A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Want to meet author Nicole Valentine? She’s on tour!

Nicole Valentine (https://www.nicolevalentinebooks.com/) earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches writing workshops at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA. As the former chief technology officer at Figment.com and Space.com, Nicole loves science and as a writer enjoys pondering the times when science falls short of explanation and magic has room to sneak in. When not engaged in fictional world-building, Nicole can often be found with a hawk on her arm. A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is her debut novel. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family. Twitter: @nicoleva IG: @nicolevalentine

Blog: https://steamg.org/

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Unplugged and Unpopular: Civilization undone by cell phones!

Unplugged and Unpopular, by Mat Heagerty/Illustrated by Tintin Pantoja & Mike Amante, $12.99, ISBN: 9781620106693

Ages 10-13

Seventh grader Erin Song lands herself in hot water with her parents after trying to help one of the popular girls cheat on a test. Erin’s parents take the hyper-connected tween’s phone away and revoke technology privileges, which – naturally – brings the pain; slowly but surely, though, Erin’s unplugged life makes her aware that fuzzy little aliens are kidnapping humans, and transmitting fake news to keep the general populace blissfully unaware! Erin joins forces with her unexpectedly rebellious grandmother and her tech-averse group of resistors to fight off the aliens and save the planet.

Unplugged and Unpopular is a comedic commentary on how wrapped up we are in our phones and other screens these days, with a a wink to the whole “fake news” travesty. A middle grade take on They Live (1988) (remember that one? Go watch it!), we have a society under siege by aliens, right under our noses, but if the news tells us everything is okay, there’s nothing to worry about. Once Erin gets out from behind the screens and starts seeing the world with her own two eyes, that’s when she understands that things aren’t what they seem, and that something is very wrong in her community. It’s a wacky, out-there story, but kids will get a kick out of it, and who knows – maybe it’ll get them to look up from their screens once in a while. The artwork is colorful and bold, and Erin is a biracial main character living in a diverse community.

This one’s an additional add; if you have heavy graphic novel circ, put it in – kids will read it.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Crossover YA/Adult SFF: The Nobody People

The Nobody People, by Bob Proehl, (Sept. 2019, Del Rey), $27, ISBN: 978-1-5247-9895-6

Ages 16+

What starts with a horrifying killing spree turns into a story about specially powered teens and adults and their alienation from society in this hefty story by Bob Proehl. Avi is a reporter who’s always chasing the the big story, at the expense of his marriage and his faltering relationship with his young daughter, Emmeline. An assignment in Iraq cost him his leg, and while he recuperates at home, a phone call from a police contact starts Avi off on the hunt again: a teenage boy has seemingly disappeared a chunk of a shopping mall food court and a church. How? As Avi begins an investigation into the case, he discovers that superpowered people walk among us, and that his precocious Emmeline is one, too. From there, we get what reads like a dark X-Men alternate universe, complete with a school for Resonants (the name given to the special-powered) run by a benevolent gentleman named Bishop, and a rebellious group of by-any-means-necessary Resonants, with a shadowy player pulling strings behind the scenes. Avi becomes more of a backdrop character to history as the clash between Resonants and “Damps”, as non-powered folks are called, becomes more tense and leads to a violent conclusion.

There’s an incredible amount of character development and world-building in The Nobody People, and the cast is diverse, making characters of color and gender identity primary characters, rather than relegating them to background or “friends” parts. The first half of the book is by far the stronger half, as the second half of the book gets caught up in itself, changing up a strong subplot to rapidly switch gears and justify the inevitable conflict at the conclusion. Overall, I enjoyed The Nobody People and think dedicated SFF (Sci-Fi Fantasy) readers will like it.