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

Community meets Big Brother: Nice Try, Jane Sinner!

Nice Try, Jane Sinner, by Lianne Oelke, (Jan. 2018, Clarion Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544867857

Good for readers 13+

Seventeen-year-old Jane Sinner has been trying to reinvent herself after an incident that resulted in her being expelled from high school. She enrolls in Elbow River Community College to finish her high school credits, and while there, discovers what could be her chance: a reality show. A student-led production, House of Orange is basically Big Brother, starring Elbow River students, produced and directed by Elbow River students, and streamed online. Jane sees this as a twofold opportunity: to reinvent herself and to move out of her home, away from her overbearing Christian family. She applies for the show, makes it in, and moves out. The show starts ramping up, gaining popularity and sponsors, and Jane loves the chance to be her competitive and snarky self. She’s determined to win, but things don’t always go as planned…

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is alternately hilarious and unexpectedly deep. Jane, who narrates the novel, is deliciously snarky while deeply conflicted. Her incident – no spoilers – brings up plenty of discussion opportunities, one of the biggest being: can we reinvent ourselves? Do we need to, at 17? Jane and her fellow competitors form cautious friendships, but it’s tempered with the knowledge that, as the group shrinks and the stakes get higher, people are going to be backstabbed: something that will fuel Jane’s fire even more.

Lianne Oelke writes reality TV well. Her characters have the omnipresent camera and learn to work it to their advantages. She also creates smart, believable characters that you may like, you may loathe, but you’ll recognize; whether from your own reality TV viewing or real life. This one will be a hit with teens, who don’t remember life before reality, and readers will love Jane’s snark.

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rollin’ with the Royces: YA’s answer to the K… well, you know…

Royce Rolls, by Margaret Stohl, (Apr. 2016, Freeform), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484732335

Recommended for readers 12+

Sixteen year-old Bentley Royce is the “bad girl” member of the Royces, reality TV’s family du jour. Her family: Mercedes, her narcissistic, media-obsessed mother; Porsche, her self-absorbed sister, and her brother, Maybach, who may or may not be nurturing a gambling addiction, live the high life in the spotlight – or is that the camera glare? The thing is, it’s all an act. Bentley is the classic middle child, overlooked and unheard; the one who takes one for the team when the family needs her, whether it’s pretending to be drunk and staggering out of a nightclub or sticking her tongue out for the cameras in true “Bad Bentley” character mode. But things aren’t looking so good for the Royces as of late: the show’s sixth season is up in the air, and Mercedes is desperate to keep her family’s business on the air, no matter how outrageous the shenanigans have to be to stay there. Looks like it’s up to Bentley to pull the family out of the fire one more time.

Royce Rolls is a biting send-up of all things reality TV, taking gleeful aim at shows like that show where everyone’s name starts with a K because the matriarK Klearly needs all the attention the world Kan give. Loaded with “footnotes” from various show insiders and taking a seemingly vapid character and giving readers an inside view of the “reality” machine, we get satire, a whodunit, and a brilliant reference to Stohl’s Black Widow novels (my favorite part of the book).

The novel is narrated through press releases, news clips, and a third-party narrator. There are plenty of pop culture and reality TV references for readers to spot and laugh at; the emphasis here is on the fact that reality TV is NOT real – they have writers and character treatments, just like any fictional show. It’s about the breakdown and redemption of a family, with a mother who would sell her daughter’s first period on television to get viewers and a Hollywood machine that treats people as disposable. And it’s about how one person can decide to finally say, “Enough”.

I didn’t love Royce Rolls, in part because I found most of the characters exasperating and in part because I’m sick of 99% of reality TV. (I have my vices, I am human.) But I did enjoy it; teens will get a kick out of the references, the unexpected romance, and the satisfying ending.

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

Return to the Dark House… If you DARE.

Return-to-the-Dark-House-Laurie-Faria-StolarzReturn to the Dark House, by Laurie Faria Stolarz (July 2015, Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 978-142318173-6

Recommended for ages 12+

There’s always a sequel. Survivor Girl has to come back.

In last year’s Welcome to the Dark House, we met a group of contestants that agreed to appear on a reality show in the hopes of getting their big break in horror. Well, they did… sort of.  In Return to the Dark House, we meet Ivy – the Survivor Girl – who’s still tormented by the events that took place at the Dark House, Parker, who she left behind, and more importantly, what the killer knew about her life.

But the killer’s not done with Ivy yet. He wants his sequel.

Ivy’s frustrated with what she sees as a lack of interest in her case by the police and even her guardian parents, Apple and Core. When messages and texts start showing up, Ivy decides to take matters into her own hands, joining forces with Taylor: the girl who ran away from the Dark House before it all began. But can she trust Taylor? Can she trust anyone?

I LOVED Welcome to the Dark House. It blended the ’80s slasher flicks that I grew up with into a reality TV environment that kids today have grown up with. Return to the Dark House reminds me a bit of the Scream movie series, with its meta-references to horror tropes and scream queens, and I LOVED EVERY SECOND OF IT. Never humorous like Scream, Return to the Dark House is straight-up skin-crawling as we follow Ivy’s narrative and see her putting the pieces of her shattered life together. Taylor is one of those characters you kind of want to thump on the head, asking, “can someone be that vapid?” and then you remember from other books and movies that yes, yes someone can. Feelings for Taylor will start out sympathetic only to plummet into frustration and suspicion, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to play out.

If you love horror, and haven’t read this book already, make this part of your Halloween season reading. It’s a worthy sequel that makes you hope for the almighty horror trilogy.

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

Welcome to the Dark House: where reality turns deadly!

darkhouseWelcome to the Dark House, by Laurie Stolarz (Hyperion, July 2014). $16.99, ISBN: 9781423181729

Recommended for ages 14+

Imagine your favorite horror movie director emails you about a contest – where YOU can be in his next movie. All you have to do is tell him about your worst nightmare. For six winning contestants, it’s the chance of a lifetime. For the seventh – a girl named Ivy Parker – it’s the chance to finally rid herself of a real-life nightmare that’s haunted her since she was a child.

Seven fans of horror director Justin Blake find themselves part of his next movie, based on his Nightmare Elf series. They all have secrets – some darker than others. That’s the price of admission. But shortly after settling in and getting to know one another, the group starts experiencing strange things – one member has gone missing. There are strange messages and bloodstains showing up. This is all part of the movie, right?

I loved this book. It’s a great, old-school slasher movie brought to YA, updated with a splash of reality show drama. We get a good backstory for each of the characters (within reason – read the book to see what I mean) – their personalities, their motivations, their secrets – and their interactions with other characters. These folks don’t gel together and become instant BFFs; there are personality clashes and internal issues that affect their actions and interactions. Set within the larger-scale story of Justin Blake’s contest, it’s a great character-driven story. Not all the characters are likable or even sympathetic. I appreciated that.

The book is a horror novel, so expect violence and mind games. If you’re a horror fan, you’ll love this book. If you’re an old school slasher movie fan like I am, you’ll recognize a lot of the tropes that make those movies (and the experience of watching them) so much fun. The book’s ending will hopefully leave you like it did me – wondering when we’ll find out more.