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 Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Dust Bowl Post-Cataclysm! Elysium Girls ride to battle

When you have a cover this amazing, you need to go full size.

Elysium Girls, by Kate Pentecost, (Apr. 2020, Little Brown),
$17.99, ISBN: 9781368041867
Ages 12+

When I was at a Book Buzz where this book came up, the publisher rep said, “I love this book! It’s hard to describe, but it’s so good! It’s so weird!” And really, that was all I needed to hear: I wanted to read a book with a big steampunk horse on the cover. I was not disappointed.

Elysium Girls is Dust Bowl-era dystopian fiction. In 1935, while America is in the grips of the Great Depression, a giant dust cloud rolls over Oklahoma. The goddesses of Life and Death have taken this little chunk of America and placed it in its own space and time, a chessboard for their own game. The survivors of the storm have 10 years to maintain order and set aside a third of their crops as a sacrifice for a chance to survive. Mother Morevna, an ailing witch in charge of a settlement called Elysium, takes on Sal, a teenaged apprentice, when a stranger calling himself Asa Skander arrives with supplies and a knack for magic himself. Sal and Asa are exiled from Elysium following a duel, where they meet a group of young women who have their own histories with Elysium and beyond. Facing the final days of the contest, a rising death toll, and plummeting spirits, Elysium and the group of women – and Asa – join forces once more to face the coming Dust Soldiers and attempt to break the game in order to win it.

This book is AMAZING. A dystopian historical fiction piece placing readers in Depression-Era Dust Bowl America? It’s a great concept, and Kate Pentecost touches on the endemic racism that endures even among the survivors; her description of the Dust Sickness that eats away at the populace is so gritty and raw that you’ll want a sip of water and to clear your throat as you read. Sal emerges as a smart heroine that comes into her confidence as a magic user, and Asa, who could easily have been sidelined as a cardboard supporting character, has a good backstory and has a character arc that really develops him nicely. Supporting characters all get fleshed out nicely, and should easily get reader investment.

The shifting perspective, from Sal’s first-person narration to third-person narration, takes a little getting used to, but I feel into the rhythm pretty quickly. The action is fast-paced, and dialogue will keep readers turning pages as different plots and subplots become revealed. I loved this one, and really, REALLY, want my own metal horse now.

Give this one to your new generation of post-cataclysm readers. (I can’t believe there’s a new generation of them, but wow: Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent are all a decade old, and then some. Wow.)


Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rebellion as Fantasy: Curio, by Evangeline Denmark

curioCurio, by Evangeline Denmark (Jan. 2016, ZonderKidz), $17.99, ISBN: 9780310729662

Recommended for ages 13+

In a post-cataclysm Mercury City, Colorado, a group of alchemists, called Chemists, are the ruling body, controlling the populace through draconian laws, torture, and distribution of a daily potion that helps citizens survive after a plague ravaged society a century before. Physical contact between males and females comes with a price; a price her best friend, Whit, learns after trying to help Grey home in time for curfew. After Whit’s brutal punishment, Grey takes a risk she’s been thinking about for too long – she gives him her ration of potion. She knows she and her family are different – her father and grandfather don’t take it, and she suspects she doesn’t need it, either. This provides the Chemists with the chance they’ve been waiting for: the chance to get hold of Grey and attack her family. She seeks refuge at her grandfather’s repair shop, where her only chance at escape is to enter the world of the curio cabinet in the back of the shop: there, she finds herself in a world of living porcelain and clockwork figures, swept up in a class struggle of their own, and a mysterious figure known as the Mad Tock. Could he be the mysterious person she was told to seek out?

Curio is a curious mix of post-apocalyptic and steampunk genres. Grey is a standard YA post-apocalyptic heroine, spunky and strong-willed, ready to take on the system. She’s got a special secret to be revealed and a family history that she only knows the surface of. The world inside the curio cabinet is a steampunk society, with “tocks” – clockwork figures that make up the working class – and “porcies”, the beautiful upper class. It’s a skin-deep society; the fragile porcies are terrified of cracks or breaks, because they’ll be banished to “Lower”, with the rest of the lower class and broken, to eke out an existence. We spend a lot of time in Curio, but a lot of it is laborious. There is a lot of concentration on the porcies’ fascination with Grey and where she could be from, and the villain of the story is enticing but not as fully realized as he could be. The Mad Tock storyline could also benefit from more emphasis on his story earlier on, and less on his gadgetry.

There’s some strong world-building on both sides of the curio cabinet, but the overall storytelling lags. The one plot that doesn’t lag at all is the love story, and that happens so quickly that it is difficult to believe (but that could just be my personal taste).

Curio is an interesting mashup of two genres I never pictured working well together, but they do. There’s potential for a series here, and indeed, there is a prequel, Mark of Blood and Alchemy, available as a free download for Kindle and Nook.


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

The Scorpion Rules: War Becomes Personal

cover70208-mediumThe Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow (Sept. 2015, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481442718

Recommended for ages 13+

It’s a new world and it comes with a new age of warfare. When environmental cataclysm led to widespread war, an AI gained sentience and decided to end things his way: start bombing until everyone quieted down. Years later, under the Talis – the ruling AI – war is decidedly more personal: the children of the ruling parties are all held hostage, in a location called the Precepture, until the age of 18. If nations decide to go to war, the children of those nation’s leaders, known as the Children of Peace, are killed.

Greta is a Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, the superpower formed from the ashes of what we currently know as Canada. She and her co-hostages witness the arrival of a new hostage, Elian, who rebels with everything he has and endures painful punishments because of it. Elian’s parents are farmers, not diplomats, but his grandmother is a different story. Through Elian’s eyes, Greta begins seeing things very differently. Elian’s and Greta’s countries stand on the brink of war and the very real consequences stare them in the face, but things really swing into action when Elian’s grandmother takes things a step further and invades the Precepture, igniting Talis’ fury. A lot of people stand to die unless Greta can think of a solution that will save everyone.

This is an interesting concept – avoid war by making it more personal. Sadly, the AI seems to forget that world leaders want what they want, and sometimes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Children die in this story, don’t think for a moment that this is a benevolent dictatorship to keep the peace. Talis is an AI that’s got way too much emotion, and while parents feel really bad about being responsible for killing off their kids via third person, it happens.

Greta is an interesting character, taking in everything she sees. She’s not a victim and she’s not a martyr, but she’s not entirely a hero, either. She’s flawed, Elian’s is obnoxiously valiant, and the co-hostages are all doing what they can to survive. While Elian is tortured because he tries to rebel and refuses to accept his circumstances, comparing himself to Spartacus, Greta endures the brunt of the brutality to come with resignation.

The story is a near-unputdownable read, with solid character development and world-building, layered with plot twists and some truly cringe-worthy characters you’ll love to hate. You’ll rage inwardly at the world these children exist in, and I know I’ll never look at HAL from 2001 in the same way again (that’s the voice I ascribed to Talis). There’s a brilliantly diverse cast, and the real jewel in the novel is the relationship that develops between Greta and fellow hostage, Xie. The awakening and confirmation of their feelings for one another is portrayed beautifully and with tremendous respect, and it was a bright spot among the dark places in the story.

The Scorpion Rules should be a popular Fall read, and would be a great enhancement to a social studies class on world relations. I’m going to see if I can foist it upon my own 16 year-old, as well as the teens at my library. Off to create discussion questions!


Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Post-Apocalypse New York, run by teens- Chris Weitz’s The Young World

youngworldThe Young World, by Chris Weitz (2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $19.00, ISBN: 9780316226295

Recommended for ages 14+

The Young World takes place in a post-apocalyptic New York City. A sickness has wiped out young children and adults, leaving only teenagers to fend for themselves in this new world. When you turn 18, you develop the sickness and die, too. Jefferson, left in charge of the Washington Square tribe once his brother dies, sets out with key members of his group to find information on what caused the sickness, hoping to find a cure. The trip will take them throughout New York City – and other tribes that are dangerous in their own right – and beyond, as they discover secrets and experiments that lead to the rise of the Young World.

It’s an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Author Chris Weitz knows how to stage a teen story: he’s directed films like Twilight: New Moon, American Pie, and About a Boy. He has a good grasp on the teen voice, and the novel itself is told effectively in alternating first-person narratives between Jefferson and his childhood friend and would-be love interest, Donna. In a world where kids and adults are dead, teens – at a tumultuous time of life to begin with – are left to forge ahead on their own. We see different social classes and races handle things very differently, and the factioning of Manhattan, particularly Grand Central, is fascinating. The characters are well-developed, each with his or her own distinct voice. Secondary characters, particularly Brainbox – the brains of the Washington Square tribe – are nicely fleshed-out through Jefferson’s and Donna’s eyes. I felt that Donna struggled a bit to find her own voice, but hits her stride mid-novel.

The story reminds me of 12 Monkeys meets The Warriors. (This is a good thing; I love both of those movies.) I’m interested in seeing where the next book – The New Order, publishing this July – takes things.

Check out more about The Young World at Little Brown’s page.

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.

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Contaminated 2: Mercy Mode keeps the pressure on!

contaminated2Contaminated 2: Mercy Mode, by Em Garner (Egmont, Sept. 2014), $17.99, ISBN: 9781606843567

Recommended for ages 14+

Contaminated 2 picks up right where Contaminated left off – the government is closing in on all the Connies, taking them – and sometimes, their families – away to testing facilities. Horror stories abound. Soldiers routinely test citizens for any sign of contamination, whisking them away if even the propensity for contamination shows up.

Velvet, her sister Opal, her boyfriend, Dillon, her mom, and an elderly neighbor are living in Velvet and Opal’s home, scavenging supplies from nearby homes and trying to live on the quiet and stay off the government’s radar. Her mother is showing huge improvements, including conversation, cleaning, even cooking and knitting. Life is still hard, but Velvet knows they have more than so many.

It can’t last, though – soldiers come and burn down the house to smoke Velvet and her family out. She finds herself a test subject in one of the labs she’s heard horror stories about, where a doctor puts her through test after test. As Velvet – and readers – figure things out, the book becomes all-consuming. Will Velvet escape? What secret are the doctors hiding? Will anything ever be the same again?

The fantastic character development we got in Contamination continues here in Mercy Mode. Velvet grows as a character, but we start getting more information about her parents, which really fills in some gaps. I would like to have learned a little more about what caused her mom’s improvement, which tends to be explained away as “remarkable”, but that’s not an issue that will affect your enjoyment of the book; rather, it’s fodder for book discussions that SHOULD take place after reading this series.

Is there going to be a third in this series? The way the second book leaves off, it could go either way. But man, do I have a wish list of things that I want to see if there is.

Em Garner’s author page has links to social media and information about her books and appearances.

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Uncategorized

Contaminated: A YA tale of horror and infection

contaminatedContaminated, by Em Garner (Egmont USA, 2013). $9.99, ISBN: 9781606843543

Recommended for ages 14+

If losing weight was easy, everyone would be thin – or so the saying goes. But when the diet drink ThinPro hits the market, no one can argue with the results – it tastes pretty good, too, so people are drinking the stuff like it’s Gatorade. One huge problem, though – to keep up with demand, the manufacturers start messing around with the formula, and it becomes tainted with something like Mad Cow Disease. And that something makes holes in people’s brains, contaminating them and turning them into rage-fueled maniacs.

Contaminated begins in the aftermath of this outbreak that left most of the US decimated. The Contaminated – called “Connies” – have largely been put under control by the government; first, through forced lobotomies, now, through the use of collars controlled by electrodes put into captured Connie’s brains. Velvet, a 17 year-old who lost her father and mother to the Contamination, has been struggling to take care of herself and her 10 year-old sister ever since the outbreak. She constantly checks the neighborhood kennel, where Connies have been released to be claimed by family members, for her mom. One day, she finds her and brings her home.

The thing is, the government is keeping a lot of secrets now, and there are whispers that the Contamination isn’t under control. Connies are being taken into custody again, whether or not they’ve been claimed by family, whether or not they’re contained by their collars. Velvet struggles to keep her family together and her mother hidden, especially when Velvet realizes that her mother is improving. As her Pennsylvania neighborhood becomes more and more of a police state, how will she keep her family safe?

This isn’t a zombie tale, the walkers aren’t back from the dead. It’s an infection tale, rooted in a concern over what we’re putting in our bodies and what this stuff really does to us. The infected are rage-zombies, if anything; they lose the ability to connect with society and just want to inflict violence. We get the story through Velvet’s eyes as she lives through the fallout of the infection. She’s a teenager forced into adulthood too fast, with a 10 year-old sister who frustrates the hell out of her, but whom she loves and clings to for a sense of normalcy in the middle of insanity. She fights to keep her sister in school, even though she questions what the heck school is going to do for anyone now, in this new era humanity is in. She works awful jobs to keep her family afloat. She has the added burden of caring for her mother, a shell of a woman retrieved, like a stray animal, from a shelter. It’s a tense story, it’s a story of survival, and finally, it’s a story about family.

Short story: I LOVED this book. While Velvet is the only character that is really developed, she’s all we really need, because it’s HER story. The situation? Frighteningly plausible and will make you look at that weight-loss drink a lot more differently. If you’re into post-apocalypse stuff, grab this book, but don’t expect Walking Dead scenarios with walkers taking bites out of people in the streets. Like the best zombie stories, this is a story about how humans cope with the end of their world.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Horror, Science Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

The Wrenchies – adolescence is terrifying.

wrenchiesThe Wrenchies, by Farel Dalrymple (:01 First Second, Sept. 2014). $19.99, ISBN: 9781596434219

Recommended for ages 14+

In a dystopian future, adolescence is terrifying. Only the kids are safe – adults live in fear of the Shadowsmen, a group of mindless monsters who hunt down teenagers and attack them with horrifying, tentacular fingers that penetrate their minds and leave them changed – walking nightmares. The Wrenchies, a gang of kids who band together against the Shadowmen, meet Hollis, a sad, lonely boy who has a charm of sorts that allows him access to the Wrenchies’ world, a parallel universe from his. The story also includes a subplot with a man named Sherwood, who is somehow tied to both of these universes and to the Shadowmen.

I didn’t love the Wrenchies – more often than not, I was lost as to what was going on. It took me a good part of the book to realize that there was a parallel universe, and I never really felt that I “got” the entire story. I just didn’t connect with it, nor did I connect with Dalrymple’s style of art. This would be a great read for a teen/YA post-apocalyptic fan who prefers a less linear storyline. There’s violence and language aplenty, which may give some parents pause – it wasn’t an issue for me, but my younger ones don’t usually seek these types of books out.


Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Quarantine 3: The Burnouts brings the post-apocalyptic trilogy to a tense end

quarantineQuarantine 3: The Burnouts, by Lex Thomas, Egmont USA (2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781606843383

Recommended for ages 14+

The third book in Lex Thomas’ post-apocalyptic series continues the story of Will and David, the brothers from McKinley High, where the kids are quarantined in the wake of a disastrous infection. Lucy, the last of the group from the previous book, is still inside – for now – trying to survive, and Hilary, who’s finally, completely, snapped, brings a reign of terror with her as she takes control of the school and all the gangs within it.

The publisher has called this series “Lord of the Flies in a 21st century high school setting”, which is spot-on. The kids inside the school have split into factions that fight to survive life inside the school. It’s a no-man’s land where children will do whatever they are forced to in order to make it to “graduation” – when the disease breaks and they can leave the building, assimilating into life on the outside.

I couldn’t put this book down. It’s got action, fantastic pacing, strong characters, and pulls no punches in its storytelling. There are references to sex, pregnancy, drug abuse, and violence throughout the book, so if any of these are issues for readers, this isn’t your book. It’s a powerful, gut-wrenching book that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you read.

The world in Quarantine isn’t safe inside or outside the McKinley walls – on the outside, there are those who want to destroy what the citizens have put together. They want to destroy the school and destroy the disease that rages on within its walls. The citizens on the outside – the families of the children inside – have to fight to stay alive and keep their kids alive.

The book hits shelves on August 22nd. In the meantime, check out the first two books: Quarantine: The Saints and Quarantine: The Loners and get ready.