Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan, (July 2017, One World), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78607-210-8
Recommended for readers 12+
The novel of a boy and his dog is brutal and beautiful, all at once. JC is a Haitian child who’s already experienced a brutal life on the streets and orphanages of Haiti when the earthquake strikes. He’s adopted by a rescue worker and her husband and brought to America, but when his new mother is back in Haiti, his stepfather locks JC and his dog, Boy, in a kennel. The story, told in the form of conversations JC has with Boy, unfolds and we learn about JC’s life, and the terrible moment where he and Boy were banished to the kennel.
Goodnight, Boy goes to dark places, but JC’s voice is strong, clear, and stands as a beacon for Boy and for readers. He always holds out hope that things will get better, taking comfort in the smallest moments of light, like hearing children play or seeing balloons from the kennel. As he tells Boy – and us – his story, we learn about grief and loss, but we learn about perseverance and hope, all the same. An intense read, Goodnight Boy is a strong addition to YA bookshelves and can easily cross over to adult reading. It’s a great book for discussion.
The Cresswell Plot, by Eliza Wass (June 2016, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484730430
Recommended for ages 14+
Castella Cresswell is a 16 year-old living in rural upstate New York with her 5 siblings, her disabled mother, and her father, a religious zealot who believes that everyone except his family is evil and doomed to Hell. To keep the devil away from his family, he limits their interactions with other people; the kids go to public school, because they must, after a previous visit from Child Protective Services, and he insists that the siblings will marry one another in the afterlife. He’s even matched them up accordingly. I’ll let that sink in for a sec before I continue.
Castella is caught between loyalty to her family and the desire to be a normal teen, going to parties and having friends. She’s increasingly unsure about her father’s prophecies and revelations, and she just wants to save her siblings and break away from their controlling, abusive father. Her siblings have mixed emotions about Castella’s actions and ideas; whether they stem from truly being brainwashed by their father or being fearful of making waves, we never quite get: I expect it lies somewhere in between.
The Cresswell Plot is a book you sit down to read, and don’t move until you’re finished. It’s a fast read, it’s a disturbing read, but there were parts to the story that were missing; chunks that I feel could have made for an even more compelling read. I wanted more background on the Cresswell patriarch, and an entire suplot feels glanced over, really needing more development. The characters were all on the verge of being fully fleshed out, but missed nuances that really would create fully realized personalities. More conservative readers will find the subject matter – domestic violence, child abuse, references to incest – disturbing.
I enjoyed The Cresswell Plot, I just wanted more of it. I’ve heard this book compared to Flowers in the Attic, but I found more in common with Lisa Heathfield’s Seed.
The Dogs, by Allan Stratton (Sept. 2015, SourcebooksFire), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492609384
Recommended for ages 12+
“Mom and I have been on the run for years. Every time he catches up with us, we move to a new place and start over. But this place is different. This place is full of secrets. And they won’t leave me alone.”
Cameron and his mother are on the run from his abusive father. They make their way to their latest home, a broken-down farm with a history that no one wants to talk about. Their next door neighbor/landlord has secrets of his own, and he’s bullied by the kids at school who taunt him about the dogs they say haunt the farm. Tired of pulling up stakes at a moment’s notice and living an invisible life, Cameron is drawn to Jacky, a young boy he sees on his property. The thing is, Jacky isn’t there – or is he? Is Cameron imagining things, or is he talking to a ghost? What are the mysteries surrounding the house and the dogs, and are Cameron’s memories about his own past able to be trusted?
I love a good thriller, and The Dogs is one of the best ones I’ve read this year. Cameron, as an unreliable narrator, keeps the readers on their toes as he shifts between memory, imagination, and reality. The plot and subplots are woven together beautifully to give readers a creepy, often chilling, adventure that left me with a clenched jaw and the cold sweats. Stratton takes the mental and emotional toll that domestic violence takes on a family; the constant fear that a mother on the run deals with, and weaves them into a murder mystery, adding a dash of ghost story to the mix. There’s something for everyone here, and I can’t wait to get this book into my teen patrons’ hands. There are so many great topics for discussion here; I’m thinking of featuring this as a kickoff selection to a Teen Reads book club I want to begin this Fall.