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 Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Truckus Maximus: Bread, Circuses, and Gladiator Monster Trucks!

Truckus Maximus, by Scott Peterson/Illustrated José Garcia, (Oct. 2019, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596438149

Ages 12+

In this dystopian YA graphic novel, the Roman Empire never fell and now, gladiators duke it out on the track: Truckus Maximum is a competition where combatants race monster trucks to the death (Gen Xers, think Rollerball meets Death Race 2000). Team Apollo leader Axl is the best driver who can pull a win out in the worst of circumstances and adheres to a strict moral code. If he wins his 1000th match, he’ll be free – but at what cost to his teammates? Piston is a racer that’s new to Team Apollo. She takes chances, she lives and drives recklessly, and Axl sees something in her that no one else does. Can he teach her to rein herself in before she gets herself traded off to a worse fate than the track?

If you have manga fans, give them this one! The artwork is very manga-inspired, and the storyline is fast-paced, with car aerodynamics and explosions aplenty. There’s good world-building – I like the idea of the Roman Empire’s enduring and not moving past this whole entertainment-or-death business. It’s a popular dystopian theme, from The Running Man to The Hunger Games, and fits where we are as a media-obsessed, “if it bleeds, it leads” society. Axl is an interesting character, with his stoicism and the big moral choice ahead of him. In a society where everyone is corrupt, the good guy becomes the outlaw – and the team owner and the emperor himself are all in, trying to sway Axl. Piston is Axl’s foil, made of passion where Axl represses everything. Her bad decisions get her tossed off one team, and leave her future with Team Apollo pretty tenuous until she starts to harness her own power and channel it in more positive ways. But having a bit of that wild streak also means pulling out some big risks, and that may be what Team Apollo needs.

Truckus Maximus is a fun read, and should be popular with tweens and young teens. I’d like to see this as an animation.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

October graphic novels have something for everyone!

There are some solid graphic novels hitting shelves in October: LGBTQ+ positive stories and a dystopian adventure for tweens and teens, and for tweens and teens, Art Baltazar’s adorable artwork for kids are just a few of the books you can look forward to. Let’s dive in!

 

Gillbert, Vol. 1: The Little Merman, by Art Baltazar, (Oct. 2018, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545801451

Ages 6-10

If you have readers who get a kick out of Joey Weiser’s Mermin books, they’ll love Art Baltazar’s Gillbert: The Little Merman! He’s the son of King Nauticus and the prince of Atlanticus, and he’s surrounded by cool friends, like his turtle buddy, Sherbert, and his starfish buddy, Albert. One day, he meets playful mermaid named Anne Phibian, who takes him to a rocking party at WeWillRockTropolis. Meanwhile, aliens invade Earth, but quick action by Queen Niadora and her alien friend, Teeq, save the day.

Art Baltazar creates art that kids love: Tiny Titans; Grimmiss Island; DC Super Pets, and countless more comics have his signature bold, bright artwork and zest for zany adventure. He’s got kid-friendly artwork, storylines, and humor that kids eat up. When my library kids are too young for the DC comics on “the other side of the library” (the teen collection), but still want superheroes, I give them Art Baltazar’s books, and they’re thrilled.

Gillbert’s first outing looks like it’s the start to a fun new under-the-sea series. Papercutz won’t steer you wrong; add this one to your graphic novel shelves.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace, by Maggie Thrash, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $18.99, ISBN: 9780763694197

Ages 13+

Acclaimed Honor Girl author Maggie Thrash’s latest book is a continuing memoir with a touch of fiction. A year and a half after the events of Honor Girl, Maggie is spiraling into a deep depression. She’s failing 11th grade; her stuffy, image-consumed mother is baffled, and her workaholic father, a federal judge, pays no attention to her. The only thing Maggie cares about is her cat, Tommi, who seemingly disappears in her rambling home. While searching for Tommi, Maggie discovers a ghost named Tommy, who leads her to peel back layers of her father’s life and see him through new eyes.

Maggie Thrash beautifully captures the tedium and angst of adolescence and the hopelessness of depression. The feeling of shouting into the void is poignantly captured when she opens up about coming out… and being ignored, regardless. She maintains a bitter sense of humor through her journey, making her likeable and relatable, and her watercolor artwork intensifies the feeling of being not-quite-there.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace is a beautifully thoughtful graphic memoir and a must-add to upper middle school and YA collections. Download an author note (also included in the back matter) and Maggie Thrash’s Top 10 Songs for Lost Souls playlist here; view a sample chapter here. Lost Soul, Be at Peace has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

 

Last Pick, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728912

Ages 10+

Last Pick is the first in a new dystopian trilogy. Three years ago, aliens invaded earth, taking everyone between the ages of 16 and 65: everyone they deemed “useful”. The survivors left behind live under cruel rule. Too young, too old, too disabled, they’re seen as worthless, receiving slim food rations and living under constant threat. But Sam and Wyatt, a twin brother and sister, are about to change all that. Sam’s the rebel, distributing food and fomenting revolution; Wyatt, her special needs brother, is the brains of the operation: he’s cataloging the aliens, and knows how to work with their technology. They start disrupting the aliens’ plans and making themselves a general nuisance until the aliens decide they’re too much of a threat, right on the eve of their 16th birthday.

Last Pick is SO GOOD. I tore through this one during a lunch hour; it’s compulsive reading with a tight storyline and characters you want to root for. Aliens appear to be enthralled with earth culture and are played in part as comic relief, from the overlord who seems to be influenced by American Westerns, affecting a cowboy-type flavor of speech, to the gooey creature that shares a love of Ultraman with Wyatt. There’s some intrigue going on among the aliens, too; I’m looking forward to learning more in the next installment. Sam and Wyatt are a solid sister-brother unit; Wyatt’s special needs appear to place him on the autism spectrum, and Sam acts as his partner and protector. An underground radio broadcaster, a Latinx who refers to herself as La Sonida, offers moments of retrospection and I hope we get more of her, too.

Adventure, science fiction, and dystopian fans are going to love this. If you have readers who love Spill Zone and Mighty Jack, hand them this one. Last Pick has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $21.99, ISBN: 9781250178138

Ages 14+

Eisner Award winner Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam collects all the installments of her webcomic. It’s a science fiction adventure in a universe that embraces all relationships. Mia is a young woman on a reconstruction crew that travels through space, restoring buildings and structures. The narrative shifts between the present and Mia’s past, where she fell in love at boarding school with a girl named Grace; a girl who was taken away by her family before Mia could say goodbye. Mia learns more about her crewmates and their own stories as they travel through space, ultimately creating a family of their own.

The cast is incredibly, wonderfully, diverse. There’s Char, the co-captain; she’s an African American woman who shares captain duties with her Caucasian wife, Alma: “Char may have the degrees, but Alma knows how to yell”, according to one character, Jules. Jules should know: she’s Alma’s niece, taken in when her mother – Alma’s sister – died. Jules seems to be the youngest member of the crew; she’s most likely a teen, loves playing games, and is the happy optimist of the crew. Ell/Elliot is a Caucasian nonbinary person who prefers they/them/their pronouns – and the crew vociferously defends their right to those pronouns, as Ell is nonverbal. Grace, Mia’s lost love, is African American.

As the narrative shifts between Mia’s past and present, we see Mia and Grace’s relationship develop, right up until Grace’s departure from the school. The color palette shifts with the narrative: cooler colors like blues and purples dominate the flashbacks, while warmer colors creep during the present day. Mia is the central character, but every character in this novel has a story to tell. This is a book I had to move back and forth with during the first few chapters; not having read the webcomic, I wasn’t altogether sure I was reading a connected story until I got the hang of the shifts, and of Mia’s place in them. Stick with the story: it’s an wonderful work of queer speculative fiction that deserves a spot on your shelves. On a Sunbeam is good for young adult/new adult readers.

Posted in Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Children of Exile series heats up with Children of Refuge

Children of Refuge (Children of Exile #2), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, (Sept. 2017, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1442450066

Recommended for readers 10-14

The second book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s new series, Children of Exile, is told from Edwy’s point of view. He’s Rosi’s friend and a fellow Fredtown refugee; brought home with the rest of the children and smuggled by his crime lord father into Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister while the violence in his hometown, the Cursed Town, settles down. His brother, Enu, and sister, Kiandra, have no interest in him: have no interest in anything other than the money their father keeps sending, so they can live as they please. Edwy tries to acclimate to life in Refuge City, but can’t get Rosi out of his mind. And when he discovers that Rosi – still stuck in Cursed Town – is in serious danger, he knows he has to act, and that he needs help from his siblings to save Rosi.

I loved Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series; Children of Exile is every bit as compelling. I was drawn to the series by one of my library kids, who asked for Children of Exile shortly after it arrived at my library, and proceeded to tell me how amazing he heard it was from a friend. Haddix does middle grade dystopia well. She makes her societies uncomfortably believable, taking a hard look at current events and applying them to a darker future. Here, she explores race and war; a society so war-torn that an alien society intervenes, and the consequences.

If you haven’t read Children of Exile, I highly recommend it, but you can step into the world with Children of Refuge; it’s a different character’s story, and there is enough exposition to fill you in. With the Shadow Children series still showing up on reading lists, this is a good time to booktalk a new series by the same author. Make a great dystopian middle grade display with The City of Ember series, Lois Lowry’s The Giver books, and Marcus Sedgwick’s Floodland.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

How many words will stay on The List?

The List, by Patricia Forde, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492647966

Recommended for readers 10-13

A post-cataclysmic society called Ark is led by a fanatic who believes words are at the heart of the problem. After all, words can stretch the truth, can bend, can lie, just like the politicians did before The Great Melting. Letta is apprenticed to Ark’s wordsmith, Benjamin; the community is allowed only 500 words, which Benjamin and Letta curate. Benjamin saves words for a time when man will be able to handle more – or so Letta believes. When Benjamin disappears on a word-finding mission, and Letta meets a boy from a neighboring community of free-thinkers and artists, she discovers that their leader, the leader she put her trust in, is working on a way to rob the people of Ark of language forever.

The List is similar on many levels to The Giver: an enclosed, guarded society, quiet removals of dissidents, and hidden truths waiting to be revealed. As an apprentice wordsmith, Letta sees more than the average Ark citizen; saving the life of a Desecrator – a member of a neighboring group of artists and musicians – opens her eyes to even more goings-on within Ark and its surroundings. It’s up to her to act on the information she receives, and she struggles with the burden of responsibility. There are strong themes for discussion here: the power of words, free thought and speech, and art as resistance. This is a great book to give readers who are ready for something beyond The Giver, but not yet ready for Fahrenheit 451. This novel can easily stand on its own, but readers may want to see what lies in Ark’s future.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Gifted versus Ashkind: Helena Coggan’s The Catalyst

catalystThe Catalyst, by Helena Coggan, (Oct. 2016, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763689728

Recommended for ages 12+

A dimensional cataclysm on our world turned the human race against one another: some are green-eyed Gifted, who wield magical powers; others are dark-eyed, non-magical Ashkind. A fragile peace is in place after a great war between Gifted and Ashkind, but there seems to be signs that something’s brewing again. Rose is a 15 year-old girl whose father, David, is in charge of the Department, a brutal law enforcement agency. David and Rose are gifted, and something… more. Something they must keep others from finding out. A mysterious murder suspect knows their secrets, though, and he’s blackmailing Rose into helping him – putting her loyalty to her father, and the Department, to test.

Helena Coggan was 15 years old when she wrote The Catalyst, and that alone makes it pretty darned impressive. She’s got some solid world-building in this first book (the second, The Reaction, has already been released in the UK), and I liked a lot of her character development. The action is well-paced, and the dystopian elements of the individual leading a group against the shadowy government is tweaked to include magic elements, a nice update to the genre. There was quite a bit to keep sorted for me at first, especially with the introduction of other groups like the Host; it took me a few re-reads of some pages to set them within the frame of the book. All in all, a good addition to dystopian/sci fi collections for those with strong readerships.

Helena Coggan’s got a WordPress site that has a nice photo and description of The Reaction, for anyone who wants to know more about the Angel Wars series.

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 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.