I’m at that odd moment when my TBR and my HBR (have been read) piles are toppling. Which is a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I’m constantly catching up to something, be it reading or reviews. Let’s take a look at some YA, including a book that’s being touted for middle grade, but I feel would work much better for older tweens/teens.
They Threw Us Away, by Daniel Kraus/Illustrated by Rovina Kai, (Sept. 2020, Henry Holt BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250224408
I’m going to kick things off with the book I feel is better for older tweens. They Threw Us Away is being billed as “Lord of the Flies meets Toy Story”, and it’s a pretty accurate description. A blue teddy bear wakes up in a garbage dump and frees himself; he notes his name tag, which says his name is Buddy, and he sees other boxes of teddies on the pile and works to free the others before rats, seagulls, or a terrifying machine gets to them. Together, Buddy and the other teddies – Sunny, Sugar, Horace, and Reginald – put their memories together: they were in the Store, waiting for children to take them home and love them. Once they are loved by a child, teddies fall into the Forever Sleep. So what happened? The group sets out to get some answers, but they learn that the world is a scary place; even scarier than the Dump, and that the answers they seek may not be the answers they want to hear.
The first in a planned trilogy, They Threw Us Away is bleak and often brutal. There are graphic depictions of teddy bear death, which, when I say it, may sound like something to laugh off, but reading it is pretty horrific. Younger readers and more sensitive readers may be upset by the unrelenting danger and horror. Black and white illustrations throughout reinforce the story. There are some loose ends that we can expect future books to pick up on. Each Teddy has a distinct personality and struggles with their circumstances accordingly: Buddy is kind and gentle; the peacemaker and ersatz leader; Sugar, whose damaged box meant she suffered some bumps, too, is flighty and quirky; Sunny is a conflicted character with flashes of rage and a desire to keep the group together; Reginald is a serious, sagelike teddy, and Horace is fearful. Give this to your dedicated horror fans, and save it for your higher elementary readers and middle schoolers.
The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party, by Allan Wolf, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick), $21.99, ISBN: 9780763663247
This novel in verse is the latest retelling of the Donner Party and their fate in the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-1847. Poet Allan Wolf gives voice to members of the ill-fated party in his book: James Reed and George Donner, leaders of the doomed caravan; Baptiste Trudeau, a 16-year-old orphan taken under George and Tamzene Donner’s wing; Salvador and Luis, two Miwok Indian guides; Ludwig Keseberg, a haunted man; Patty and Virginia Reed, two of James Reed’s children, and more are all here, telling their stories in haunted verse. Hunger narrates the story, giving readers familiar with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief a familiar touch. Hunger is dispassionate and yet evokes emotion in the narration. Beginning as the party begins experiencing misfortune, the voices grow more desperate and the verse, more haunting, as the snow falls; the party’s desperation is palpable. Moments dedicated to the snowfall include names of the fallen sprinkled in with the repeated word, “snow”. Comprehensive back matter includes an author’s note, biographies, statistics, a timeline of events, and resources for more reading and research. It’s an incredibly detailed work of historical fiction and nonfiction all at once.
The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep has starred reviews from Booklist and BookPage.
This is Not the Jess Show, by Anna Carey, (Nov. 2020, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683691976
I am DYING to talk about this book, but there’s so much I can’t say because I CAN’T SPOIL IT. So here are the main details: Jess Flynn is a 1990s high school junior wears babydoll dresses and watches Party of Five. She’s developing a crush on her childhood best friend, Tyler. Her sister, Sara, is suffering from a blood disease and has been getting worse. Things are in constant flux for Jess, and things have been getting weird in her home town of Swickley, too: half the population has been hit by a mysterious flu. Her dog goes from lavishing attention on her to growling and hiding from her. She hears strange chanting, and people either stop speaking when she enters a room, or she catches glances that people around her give one another. And what the heck is that black device with an apple on it that fell out of her friend’s backpack? Things are weird in Swickley, and Jess means to get to the bottom of it.
I LOVED this book! The ’90s vibe, the pacing, the overall story, everything is so well crafted and paced. Jess is a smart character who is sensitive enough to her surroundings to know something’s up: this is the constant in a plot that keeps trying to shift her world around. What I can say is that Jess gets a crash course in what people are willing to do for selfish reasons; what she does in response to that fact keeps the story in motion. ’90s pop culture references make this even more fun. Hand this to all your teens, and booktalk Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, for it’s awesome ’80s references, too. Tell ’em to read them with their parents.