Tag Archives: Young Adult books

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert

Hazel WoodWhile Alice was growing up, her mother, Ella, moved them around every six months or so, trying to outrun the bad luck. Friends around them would get hurt, or strange people would approach Alice, and Ella would know that it was time to move on. In all those years, Alice never met her grandmother, a famous author, nor had she read her book, even though she loved to read. As a matter of fact, she had never even seen a copy. It was not for lack of trying. Alice had haunted used book stores, scoured online, and followed up every possible trail to obtain a copy of The Hinterlands, but they were always gone before she got there. Although she couldn’t read her grandmother’s dark fairy tales, their effects still seemed to follow them everywhere.

When she found out that her new school project partner, Ellery Finch, was a fan of her grandmother, Alice was disgusted. The internet was filled with Hinterland fan fiction, chat rooms, and entire blogs devoted to speculation on her grandmother’s dark world, all of which Alice thought was nuts. Besides which, Finch was crazy rich, with all the privileged blindness that entailed. Thing is, as she got to know him, he was just so darned nice that it was hard to push him away. The day that she came home to find her mother gone, the apartment filled with a green and rotting smell, and a chilling clue left on her pillow, Alice ran to Finch, knowing that he could somehow guide her to her grandmother’s home, the Hazel Wood, and from there into the heart of the Hinterlands.

Ripping back the Disney façade that fairy tales have assumed for the past few decades, debut author Melissa Albert weaves a creepy tale that teams the Grimm brothers with the Unseelie Court, together punching a hole in the twenty-first century space-time continuum. There are a few meta-fictive elements, giving the reader a complicit chuckle without distracting from the immersive experience. Dreams turn to nightmares, no one can be trusted, and reality is illusion.

Garnering six starred journal reviews, The Hazel Wood is poised to hit it big when it is released in January, 2018. Written for older teens and adults, there is some strong language throughout. This is one of the most engrossing and compelling books I’ve read in a long time, and if you like fantasy or fairy tales—as I surely do— you will not want to miss it. Read it with the fire going and the lights on.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Still Life with Tornado, by A.S. King

still-life-with-tornadoSarah has decided not to return to school late in her senior year of high school. Nothing new ever happens; nothing is original there. As an artist, Sarah craves originality. She begins to follow a homeless artist named Earl around town, where she is often joined by ten-year-old Sarah or twenty-three-year-old Sarah. This is no hallucination; other people can see the alternate Sarahs as well. Her father doesn’t recognize ten-year-old Sarah, but her mother nearly passes out.

Her parents try to gently steer Sarah back to school, but she very openly and stubbornly refuses to go. She is dealing with something that will not come out in the open, but she keeps thinking about a drawing that her classmate, Carmen, had made at school. It was a tornado, and it just looked like a gray funnel cloud, but as Carmen said, people only see the outside of a tornado, but it could be hiding all kinds of things inside. The last thing Sarah’s older brother, Bruce, had said to her before he left the family nine years ago was, “You can always come stay with me, no matter where I am.” Why did he say that?

A.S. King has triumphed again in writing a beautiful, heartbreaking, coming-of-age story with an element of magical realism that works seamlessly with her nitty-gritty, deeply flawed characters. The reader yearns for Sarah to unravel her past, to expose what happened to send her into her current spiral, and to value her own artistic genius again. King explores the different forms that abuse can take and the relationships between siblings who experience abuse differently, as well as the lasting love that cannot be destroyed by all the pain.

King is one of my “always” authors. I read everything she writes, and she never goes wrong. Another King favorite of mine from a male perspective is Everybody Sees the Ants. Still Life with Tornado is for older teens and adults, and has strong language throughout.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry

ImageTwo girls without fathers grow up as if they were sisters, even though their mothers are now estranged. Aurora is beautiful and popular, while the unnamed narrator is strong and mean, a typical punk rocker. Their love seems to be unbreakable until the night they hear Jack play his guitar. His music is almost magical, drawing his audience into his spell, leaving rooms full of people silent and rapt. The narrator falls deeply in love, and for the first time in her life, she is tortured by the fear that a man will choose Aurora’s beauty over her. At the same time, Aurora is following in her mother’s footsteps by spiraling downward into serious drug use, clinging to a hideous older man who provides her with the dangerous substances she believes will help her to find her dead father in some other realm.  The narrator is desperate to save her.

McCarry’s debut novel is lyrically written, her gorgeous words drawing pictures on the page. At times, it was difficult to know whether certain scenes were drug trips or magical realism, since she slid from descriptions of ordinary parties in apartment buildings to bacchanalia in mystical forests and back again. The narrator’s emotions are forceful, and for the most part, worthy, but her task is to learn to love other people enough to let go, even if that means being completely alone.

This book is supposed to be the first part of a trilogy, but it stands on its own perfectly well — although the ending is somewhat ambiguous. The frequency and descriptions of drug use are overwhelming, even sickening, at times. There are two body types: thin and emaciated. The darkness of the dreams and the evil characters are truly frightening. As far as Printz-worthiness is concerned, the writing is certainly excellent, but the story itself was sometimes confusing and perhaps not as fleshed-out as some of the other contenders. Ms. McCarry is definitely a writer to watch, although I think I’ll wait for something not quite so agonizing next time.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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