By Justina Ireland
Balzar + Bray, 2018
Young Adult, Fantasy
Additional formats: ebook, audiobook
The Civil War is over, but not because the North won. Not because the South won. Because the zombies won.
The dead began to rise on the battlefields of the war, forcing both sides to lay down their arms and defend the nation against the new threat. Now, the zombie hoard is said to be mostly contained. Slavery has ended, and an unsteady peace has begun. New laws have been enacted requiring Native and black children to attend combat schools where they learn to fight the living dead, and many of those children go on to work for wealthy white families as their personal bodyguards.
And that’s the path Jane is on. The daughter of a white mother and plantation owner, Jane avoided going to the schools as long as she could, but it was unavoidable. She’s close to graduation, and her only goal is to return home to defend her family, from whom she hasn’t heard in months. She doesn’t get involved in political questions. Racism is what it is, and she’s just doing what she can to survive.
But then friendly families around the city of Baltimore where Jane attends school begin to disappear. Jane becomes involved in a deep conspiracy run by politicians hell bent on making America safe again, and she can’t remove herself from the situation before she finds herself on a train heading for a frontier town, being forced to defend it against zombies or be killed.
This novel has so many fun elements: teen girl zombie slayers! Reconstruction-era, post-Civil War alternative history! A main character who reminds me more of Huck Finn than anyone else, complete with a “well, let’s see what happens” sense of reckless adventure. But the book is also dealing with very important and urgent political questions about who built, and continues to build, this nation, and what price are we willing to pay to commit to security (especially when the threats are manufactured to keep people scared). – AN
by Grace Ellis and Nicole Stevenson, illustrated by Brooke Adams
Boom! Box, 2014
Middle grade, graphic novel
Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best New Series * Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Publication for Teens * Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Graphic Novels & Comics
Just like Girls of Summer is not your school’s summer reading list, Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s summer camp is not your mom’s summer camp. Unless, of course, your mom is a “hardcore lady type”!
According to the handbook, being a Lumberjane scout is all about the “joy of cutting wood with an axe, about the stars, the birds, the quadrupeds, the fish, the insects, the plants telling their names; their hidden power or curious ways, about the camper’s life, the language of signs and even some of the secrets on the trail.”
To be sure, like campers everywhere, Lumberjanes do need to be mindful of poison ivy. And, yet, like the handbook says, there are secrets out there. Holy Joan Jett, so many secrets! The nooks and crannies and towers and caverns at this camp are filled with holy kittens, talking statues, magic foxes, river monsters, and a clutch of boys at the camp next door who are both dainty and devilish.
If you can persuade your folks to sign you up for Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, you will definitely want to bunk with April, Mal, Ripley, Molly, and Jo. Beware, though, if you dare to break enough rules to earn your Up All Night Badge, you’ll have to clean out the moose stalls. But, holy kitten, it will be worth it!
In Prohibition-era Boston, speakeasies and underground clubs aren’t just places that serve black market liquor—they’re also places that house hemopaths and give them jobs as entertainers. Hemopaths carry an “affliction” that gives them the ability to control what others see and feel using art (spoken word poetry, music, etc.), and the two main characters, Ada and Corrine, use their powers in their acts at the Cast Iron Club, dousing the paying audience in warm fuzzy feelings. On the side, they perform low-level cons for the club’s owner; that is, until a job goes wrong and one of the girls ends up in a notorious “institution” for hemopaths, where they are experimented upon and killed.
On the surface, this book is a lot of fun (who doesn’t love a good fast-paced heist/flapper story/tale of solid girl friendships?), but it’s held together by the question of how society justifies its abuse and marginalization of people who are different. Hemopathy is outlawed, bringing up the question, how does a government outlaw a person? How do we, the people who live in a country, let that sort of thing happen?
The book is set in 1919, but what Ada and Corrine are dealing with will be familiar to any reader who is even remotely familiar with current events. Iron Cast is a fantastical way to consider the strength of female friendships, racial profiling, oppression, and human rights.
By David Baldacci
Scholastic Press, 2014
Middle grade fiction, Ages 10 and up
ISBN: 0545652200/ 978-0545652209
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Author David Baldacci has earned a rabidly loyal, worldwide fan base with his fast-paced, plot-driven thrillers. With The Finisher,he makes his middle grade fantasy debut in a novel featuring a wisecracking, clever, and brave young heroine named Vega Jane.
Vega and her brother, John, live in the village of Wormwood, which is surrounded by a dangerous, forbidden wilderness known as the Quag. When Vega witnesses a co-worker fleeing into the Quag, the Council becomes highly suspicious of Vega’s involvement. Members of the Council construct a benevolent façade to cover up the real reasons no one is allowed to leave Wormwood. Vega soon realizes everyone is being manipulated.
Vega Jane is my favorite kind of girl—a headstrong, quick study whose mouth gets ahead of her mind sometimes. She’s motivated by justice and fairness but has yet to learn to choose her battles. Vega is loyal to her family and friends—always ready to put up her dukes and fight on behalf of the underdog—behavior that often comes at a price in fiction as in life. And, oh so worth it!
Baldacci’s mastery of emotional tension and full-throttle action is on fine display. The quirky, lovable cast of characters will endear The Finisher to readers of all ages. – Gigi
By Malinda Lo
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
Awards/Recognitions: * ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Some books defy categorization; some books reject our need to make the world linear and instead turn our imaginations inside out for a nice cleaning out of cobwebs, a good letting in of sunshine. Open the pages of such a book and, somehow, labels and shelves and containment seem not only inappropriate but downright sinful. Such a book is Huntress.
Fantasy? Yes. Adventure? Certainly so. Love story? Oh yes, a love story of the truest, purest sort. Young Adult? OK, sure, technically, I guess that’s where Huntress rests when not in use. Spirituality? Deliciously so. Eco-fiction? Yep. GLBT? Sure!
The jacket flap summarizes the plot nicely: “Nature is out of balance in the human kingdom. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance. To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go forward on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fair Queen.”
O, Huntress, I love you at forty-six and would SO have loved you at fifteen. My daughter loves you at eighteen; my aunt at sixty.
And just what makes Huntress so lovable?
Well for starters, Huntress is a twofer – Kaede and Taisin, two strong girls in one book. Two strong girls saving the human and fay worlds, falling in love, and staying true to themselves. Author Malinda Lo has created a world so immediate and rich that readers can’t help but feel transported forward or backward into the journey with Kaede and Taisin. As their love grows, Lo’s narrative makes you giggle, makes you blush, and makes you remember. Aesthetically, this is one book you will want to hold in your hands and read in its paper version. Huntress is so lovingly designed with an old-school endpaper map, embellishments to open each chapter, and ornaments that delineate each of the book’s three parts. GA
Learn more about Malinda Lo.