Book Reviews: Spring 2016 Releases

My reviewing efforts have been sporadic lately, so I’m trying to catch up and document my thoughts on several forthcoming titles. These four YA novels due out in March and early April that I highly recommend.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Goodreads | Amazon

Hermione Winters is the captain of her high school cheerleading squad in a town where the cheerleaders are the main event at athletic competitions, rather than the football or basketball team. She’s determined to break a curse where a cheerleader always becomes pregnant senior year—but in a terrible twist of fate, drugs are slipped in her drink and she is raped the last night of cheerleading camp, which results in pregnancy.

Though I always make note of young adult literature that explores themes of rape, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence, this isn’t the set up for a story I usually enjoy. Since it was written by E.K. Johnston, I knew it would be smart and thought-provoking, and it was. Rather than a typical story of victimhood, Hermione has positive interactions with law enforcement and a therapist.

What most struck me about this novel is the fierce protectiveness of Hermione’s best friend and the way that therapy was such an important part of the healing process.

This isn’t a book for every reader. It’s for readers who like a great voice in a narrator. I’d pair it with A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith. 

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Wink, Poppy, Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Goodreads | Amazon

I wasn’t much a fan of Tucholke’s first book, but when I read the first chapter of this, I was hooked. It had such amazing voice. It felt like a modern day fairy tale, which is how it is pitched:

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

The writing is lush. The turns of phrase and descriptions evoke feeling, and the imagery is rich and detailed. While the story is compelling, it is also frustrating. Frequent shifts in point of view keep the reader unsettled. A hint of the paranormal makes the reader question what is really happening—who is telling the truth?

At first glance, the characters are archetypes—the brooding, awkward boy, the popular mean girl, the quirky, naive girl. But a twisty plot reveals them to be multi-faceted, defying stereotypes.

Personally, I enjoyed the atmospheric prose but underwhelmed by the resolution of the plot. This felt like all concept without enough attention to the execution.

Give this to fans of unreliable narrators who want a love story rather than a romance and wants to spend the entire story guessing on who is the hero and and who is the villain.

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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Goodreads | Amazon

This story of three very different friends—the son of a snake-wielding minister currently in jail for child pornography, a quirky fashionable blogger longing to escape, and a boy immersed in the fantasy world of his favorite book series—made me sob uncontrollably. I read it in a single day on the way home from ALA Midwinter.

Zentner makes the small Tennessee town come alive. The setting was vivid and true. Without shying aways from accurate depictions of rural poverty, a suffocating sense of the inevitable, and complacency in the wake of obvious abuse, and hostility towards those who are different, Forrestville is shown to have merits of its own, despite being named for a founding member of the Klu Klux Klan.

I was really impressed with how deftly the issue of faith is handled. It would have been easier for Dill’s father to become a caricature and for those who subscribe to these beliefs to be demonized. Dill’s struggle with his sense of duty to the way he was raised and his family is balanced by his desire for escape and his devotion to his music.

The writing style is not typical of YA — at least not contemporary YA. The narration rotates between the third person perspective of all three characters. At first, I thought this an unusual choice, but the story demanded it. First person would have been too personal and immediate for a story that requires much more distance and reflection.

The themes of growing up, finding one’s own identity, the power of friendship, and following one’s dreams will resonate with many older teens. This novel also has great crossover appeal, and I’ve already put it on my list for potential selections for our YA for Grownups book club `at the library.

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Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
Goodreads | Amazon

More revolution than romance, this was an urban fantasy I thoroughly enjoyed. Sarah Rees Brennan can always be counted on for witty dialogue and plotlines that pull no punches, and this standalone was no exception.

Lucie is a lucky one, escaping the Dark City and enjoying her new life in the city of Light with a powerful boyfriend, Ethan. Even though she doesn’t relish life in the spotlight, she knows it’s what keeps her alive. She’s drawn into a political nightmare when its revealed that Ethan has an illegal doppelgänger and there’s rebellion brewing in the dark city, which leads her to question everything she knows about justice and love.

Though of course there is magic, this alternate world draws on modern political divisions based on inequality. Rather than a clear “good” and “bad” guy, the actors here are all depicted in refreshing shades of moral grey. The characters are complex, and Brennan doesn’t take the easy way out and fulfill the readers expectations, preferring to deliver a big dose of heartache. While an homage to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, readers need not have a familiarity with the original to enjoy this examination class warfare and personal drama.

This novel is perfect for fans of Holly Black, and I’d also suggest it readers who loved Rook by Sharon Cameron, one of my 2015 favorites.

Have you read any spring 2016 new releases in young adult that I should definitely check out? Let me know in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Book Reviews: Spring 2016 Releases

  1. Thanks again for passing Tell the Wind and Fire on to me! I really enjoyed it too. The cover and summary of Wink, Poppy, Midnight have me intrigued, but unreliable narrators can be hit or miss for me so I’m hesitant to pick it up. I think I’m going to wait until more reviews start going up before I decide if I’ll read it.

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