Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is the YA you need to read this Fall

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, by Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite, (Sept. 2019, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335777096

Ages 13+

Alaine is a smart, witty, outspoken 17-year-old Haitian-American teen living in Miami with her father. Her mother, a high-profile cable news journalist, has an on-air meltdown that puts Alaine in the crosshairs of the mean girls at school; she retaliates with a school project that goes sideways. Her psychiatrist father intervenes and comes up with an appropriate “punishment” for Alaine: she must spend two months volunteering with her Tati Estelle’s startup fundraising app in Haiti. Alaine’s mother is already there, spending time pulling herself together after events leading up to the on-air breakdown. As Alaine spends more time in Haiti, the burgeoning journalism student discovers her love for Haiti and its history, and stumbles onto family secrets and a situation with her aunt’s organization that’s sending up red flags.

Told through e-mails, postcards, journal entries, and in Alaine’s voice, Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is an unputdownable look at Haiti, its history, and its people, all wreathed in magical realism tied into the heart of the country. Alaine’s voice is strong and clear; she’s dealing with a seemingly nonstop onslaught of feelings and stressors and works through them all as they come. She desperately wants to improve the relationship between herself and her high-powered, emotionally distant mother, but sometimes, she isn’t even sure where to begin. She’s as confused by her aunt as she adores her. And does she dare explore a relationship with the fellow intern in her aunt’s Patron Pal startup? (Hint: Uh, YEAH.) There’s never a lull in the storytelling here, which will endear readers to Alaine and her family, and inspire an interest in learning more about Haiti’s rich, yet troubled, history.

If this is the debut for sisters Maika Moulike and Maritza Moulike, I can’t wait to see what’s next. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist. The book is out today – check out an excerpt on Bustle.com, and then hit your library or local bookstore to pick up a copy.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

When Elephants Fly digs deeply into trauma and healing

When Elephants Fly, by Nancy Richardson Fischer, (Sept. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335012364

Ages 14+

Lily is a high school senior with a plan: she’s going to avoid stress, drugs, booze, and romantic entanglements; anything that can trigger a stressful episode. She’s in a race against time, because the odds are against her: her mother, and women in her family, have all developed schizophrenia. Schizophrenia most commonly manifests between the ages of 18 and 30, so for the next 12 years, Lily’s on guard. She even has her best friend, Sawyer, give her psych quizzes to catch any developing symptoms. Lily’s mother stopped taking her meds when Lily was a child, and during one episode, tried to kill Lily; she later committed suicide in prison, and Lily, who’s still dealing with the trauma, is getting no help from her father, who won’t discuss Lily’s mother or the incident.

Lily’s on a journalism internship when she witnesses the birth of a new elephant calf at the local zoo. When the calf’s mother tries to kill her calf, and a story goes out with Lily’s byline, she’s stuck with the story – and the fallout. A traveling circus enacts a claim on the calf, and the zoo director is furious with Lily’s betrayal. Swifty bonds with Lily, but the calf’s grief puts her health at risk. Lily’s determination to save Swifty is at odds with her resolve to stay away from stressful situations, but she’s committed to the calf.

Nancy Richardson Fischer brings together a fantastic amount of elements to create When Elephants Fly: trauma; mental illness; the animal captivity debate, and journalistic integrity, for starters. Lily is a fascinating and complex character; she may not always be sympathetic, but she is empathetic. She’s not always likable – she’ll admit it – but readers will always feel for her, because she’s facing down a very real monster and fighting it every step of the way. Swifty is as a strong supporting character in the book, too; she brings out the vulnerable, human side of Lily that she tries to push down. Before Swifty, Lily seems determined to barrel through the next 12 years as mildly and quietly as possible: Swifty makes her engage with her surroundings and with people other than Sawyer.

When Elephants Fly is a strong, moving story that allows for big discussions. A must-add to YA collections; a must-read for caregivers and educators that know tweens and teens dealing with trauma.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Toil and Trouble… Tales of witchcraft for YA and beyond

Toil and Trouble, edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood, (Aug. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335016270

Ages 13+

Did you love Radical Element, with its historical fiction tales of young women breaking conventions and being amazing? Then you’ll love Toil & Trouble, an anthology loaded with tales of women and witchcraft. And not the Hocus Pocus, “I Put a Spell on You” type of witchcraft, either: these witches are in touch with nature and themselves; they’re multicultural, they’re queer, they’re angry, and they’re very, very human. Wild Beauty‘s Anna-Marie McLemore weaves a story about faith in “Love Spells”; Brooklyn Brujahs author Zoraida Cordova writes about the wisdom of age and the passing of generations in “Divine Are the Stars”. Robin Talley’s “The Legend of Stone Mary” goes the historic route, with the legend of a dead witch haunting a local community. Elizabeth May’s “Why They Watch Us Burn” is a chilling companion story to readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, simmering with rage and rebellion. The women in these stories are never victims, even while others may try to victimize them: they own their power, no matter what the circumstances may hold.

Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe have curated a strong collection of short stories written by strong authors here. There’s something for everyone in this volume, with strong, solitary characters who defend their homes to women who form a collective to survive. There are non-binary, LGBT, and cis characters, and there are characters from world cultures throughout. Characters confront big issues including sexual assault and emotional abuse. As Kirkus writes in its starred review, “No damsels in distress to be found here”. Toil and Trouble has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Find more books about witches in this great BookRiot feature.

(Note: I watch Hocus Pocus every Halloween; nothing but love for my Sanderson Sisters!)

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

Fat Girl on a Plane is fab!

Fat Girl on a Plane, by Kelly DeVos, (June 2018, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 978-0373212538

Ages 14+

Cookie Vonn is an aspiring clothing designer who knows a heck of a lot about fashion and textiles. She also wants fashion that makes everyone feel good, including the plus-size curvy girls and women that seem to be left out of major clothing designers’ lines. You see, Cookie used to be one of those girls, until one slight too many – the title should give you the clue – sends her to NutriNation, a Weight Watchers-type program where she loses the weight, but gains even more baggage. Her parents – a renowned supermodel and a surgeon – leave a lot to be desired. Her supermodel mother left her to be raised by her grandmother, and if you think she’s throwing cash her way to give her daughter and mother a lavish lifestyle, you’d be wrong. Her heartbroken father ran away to Africa once her mother dumped him, and he’s nothing more than an occasional phone call to Cookie. Needless to say, Cookie knows she’s got one person to rely on: herself.

When things start happening for Cookie, including a relationship and internship with an older famous designer, she wonders whether she’s becoming just like her mother: Gareth Miller seems to want to run their relationship and her life. She struggles with staying true to herself while becoming part of the New York fashion set, and discovers that her bright future has attracted her mother’s – and sleazy stepfather’s – attentions.

This book just draws you right in. Written in Cookie’s voice, the story takes place in two alternating timelines: right before and through her NutriNation journey, and the “present”, some two years into her weight loss. Pre-NutriNation, we see how 300-lb-plus Cookie’s treated; obviously a radical difference from how size 6 Cookie moves through life. She strives to make accessible fashion for everyone, no matter what size, and discovers the fashion industry’s dirty little secrets on the way. In the end, she almost loses herself, but is grounded by her friends and family back home in Arizona. There were some high points: I loved that she could move on without caving in and embracing the people who treated her so awfully. (It’s a relief to not scream at a book when a protagonist kisses and makes up with her or his tormentors!) It’s a very smooth read that held my interest all the way through, with characters that are realistic: not all wonderful and light, not all mustache-twirling villain. Pair this with Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ for two great books about curvy heroines this summer.

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

Four Weeks, Five People: Troubled teens learn about themselves

Four Weeks, Five People, by Jennifer Yu, (May 2017, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780373212309

Recommended for readers 14+

Five teens meet at a wilderness camp to work on the challenges in their lives. Clarissa suffers from OCD and anxiety; Ben disassociates from reality, preferring to live through movies or television shows; Andrew is the singer of a band, suffering from the anorexia he believes will make him look like the type of rock star fans want to see; Stella suffers from depression, and Mason’s narcissistic personality disorder shows through as an overconfidence and arrogance that puts other people far below his estimation.

Told in separate, first-person narratives, each teen tells a bit of their story – what brought them to wilderness camp – and their point of view experience of the four week program. We read about their daily struggles, clashes with other campers, and staff. The five come together, but don’t really accomplish much over the course of the novel. Most of the time, the characters bicker with the counselors or among themselves, but there is time for a brief romance and the beginnings of some friendships. As in real life, four weeks is not a realistic amount of time to expect the characters to be cured; this is a snapshot of a moment in their therapies.

Four Weeks, Five People is a read that draws you in and progresses quickly. It’s an interesting way to start a dialogue about mental illness, but if you’re looking for a deeper read, I suggest Christina Kilbourne’s Detached, Jo Knowles’ Still a Work in Progress, or J.J. Johnson’s Believarexic.

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

Skin crawling YA horror: The Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics

women-in-the-wallsThe Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics (Sept. 2016, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780373211944

Recommended for ages 13+

Lucy Acosta lives with her cousin, Margaret, her aunt, Penelope, and her father, Felix, in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods. Her mother died when she was three, leaving her to be raised by her loving aunt and distant father. When Lucy is 17, Penelope takes a walk into the woods and disappears, throwing the household into chaos. Margaret, Penelope’s daughter, is becoming unhinged, telling Lucy that she hears her dead mother talking to her through the walls, telling her to join her. Her father, obsessed with throwing dinner parties for the exclusive club he belongs to, ignores Lucy’s pleas for help; he won’t accept any sign of weakness. As Lucy tries to get to the bottom of the voices in the walls, she starts hearing them too; and when she begins digging into her family’s legacy, the things she find may doom her.

This was a gloriously creepy novel with just enough gore to move it from haunted house novel to horror. Think Wicker Man meets The Legacy (wow, did I just date myself with that reference), with wonderful madness tossed in, to make things interesting. Be warned, delicate sensibilities and stomachs may find some of the language and violence too much. This is not a book for your conservative readers.

Lucy and Margaret are fairy skin-deep characters with the potential for deeper storytelling, but it’s not really their story, as you’ll discover. The real development is going on around them. Think of Lucy as the narrator – which she is – and the host of the story. She’s the central character, but she’s in the dark almost as much as we readers are. The supporting characters are where the story lies, and when the elements all come together, this is a page-turning read. Horror and suspense fans will enjoy this one.