The Dogs, by Allan Stratton (Sept. 2015, SourcebooksFire), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492609384
Recommended for ages 12+
“Mom and I have been on the run for years. Every time he catches up with us, we move to a new place and start over. But this place is different. This place is full of secrets. And they won’t leave me alone.”
Cameron and his mother are on the run from his abusive father. They make their way to their latest home, a broken-down farm with a history that no one wants to talk about. Their next door neighbor/landlord has secrets of his own, and he’s bullied by the kids at school who taunt him about the dogs they say haunt the farm. Tired of pulling up stakes at a moment’s notice and living an invisible life, Cameron is drawn to Jacky, a young boy he sees on his property. The thing is, Jacky isn’t there – or is he? Is Cameron imagining things, or is he talking to a ghost? What are the mysteries surrounding the house and the dogs, and are Cameron’s memories about his own past able to be trusted?
I love a good thriller, and The Dogs is one of the best ones I’ve read this year. Cameron, as an unreliable narrator, keeps the readers on their toes as he shifts between memory, imagination, and reality. The plot and subplots are woven together beautifully to give readers a creepy, often chilling, adventure that left me with a clenched jaw and the cold sweats. Stratton takes the mental and emotional toll that domestic violence takes on a family; the constant fear that a mother on the run deals with, and weaves them into a murder mystery, adding a dash of ghost story to the mix. There’s something for everyone here, and I can’t wait to get this book into my teen patrons’ hands. There are so many great topics for discussion here; I’m thinking of featuring this as a kickoff selection to a Teen Reads book club I want to begin this Fall.
The Rise and Fall of the Gallivanters, by M.J. Beaufrand (May 2015, Abrams) $16.95, ISBN: ISBN9781419714955
Recommended for ages 14+
Set in the punk rock scene in 1980s Portland, Oregon, The Rise and Fall of the Gallivanters gives us a serial killer mystery with a supernatural touch, with a splash of David Bowie, for good measure.
You with me? Okay. Girls are going missing in Portland. One of them was found in the PfefferBrau Haus, a local brewery. Noah, a teen on the punk scene, swears the brothers running the brewery have something to do with it. A guy named Ziggy shows up – who just happens to bear a striking resemblance to David Bowie – and warns Noah about a creepy supernatural force called The Mar. Noah decides to resurrect his band, The Gallivanters, get into the battle of the bands at the PfefferBrau Haus, and bring the mystery of the missing girls to an end.
This book took a little bit to grow on me, but once it did, I committed to this story. We’ve got an unreliable narrator, which is always good for a page-turner. We’ve got a story of friendship, and a bit of a mystery that may involve the paranormal. And we have a story of loss that will sock you in the gut. Noah can be a frustrating narrator, but it’s in his character. The pacing can be a little bumpy, but overall, teens with an interest in the ’80s punk scene and whodunit fans will enjoy this one.
The Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O’Brien, (Roaring Brook Press, Sept. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439382
Recommended for ages 14+
In a not-too distant future, environmental upheaval and economic collapse have left many Americans in poverty. For creative teens who want a way out, the Forge School is the answer. A school for the most creative minds, and a reality show all at once, The Forge School/The Forge Show accepts students and keeps 50 out of 100 based on their “blip rate” – how many viewers watch their feed. After making it past the first cut, students’ popularity allows them banner ad income that they can receive, upon graduation, along with opportunities for success. Rosie Sinclair, aspiring filmmaker, is a student at the Forge School, and has discovered that the school has some big secrets. What is going on while the students sleep?
Vault of Dreamers is one of those books that takes a few chapters to build as O’Brien builds a solid story. We learn about Rosie’s background and the backgrounds of other students; we see family dynamics come into play, and we understand the motivation for many of these students to take part in a reality show that not only films you everywhere but the bathroom and shower, but a school that distributes sleeping pills to the student body on a nightly basis to assure that they will have a full 12 hours of sleep for maximum creativity. By the time the story kicks into high gear, we see what Rosie risks in order to learn Forge’s secrets: she’s putting her future and the future of her family on the line.
By the time we understand all of this, the story goes white-knuckle, non-stop. Is Rosie an unreliable narrator? Who can we trust? The reader is just as thrown off as Rosie is, and the need to know what was going on consumed me. The reality show setting will click with teens who have grown up with reality TV and popularity based on “likes” and approval ratings.
The ending nicely sets up a sequel, and even as a standalone work, offers a conclusion that will fuel some great discussions. You may howl in frustration, but you’ll be waiting for the next installment of this series.
The Vault of Dreamers will be published on September 16, but you can pre-order it from Amazon now.