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By Leslye Walton

ava_lavenderTo many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth—deep down, I always did. I was just a girl.”

Given such a well-written and tantalizing beginning, one naturally expects much from the story to come. Perhaps a literary masterpiece like “To Kill a Mockingbird” is about to be revealed or, at the very least, an angst-driven teen novel on the level of “The Outsiders” but with a modern fantasy backdrop. Unfortunately, while “The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” by Leslye Walton exhibits many of the hallmarks of an emerging classic, its true power remains muted by the politically correct immorality of our times.
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By Diana Peterfreund

seaAcross a Star-Swept Sea” is a reimagining of the classic French Revolution tale “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” set in a distant but recognizable dystopian future. After a devastating event called the Reduction, a brain disorder that sparked wars between the two imagined countries of Albion and Galatea, revolution reigns supreme, and aristos are tried and tortured under the auspices of the regs.

There is one saving grace in the guise of the Wild Poppy, who twists the breathtaking technology of the spheres and saves the innocent. The Wild Poppy and her elaborate spy ring are the brainchild of the gorgeous aristo Persis Blake, modeled after the Pimpernel. Persis constructs a narrative full of elaborate hairstyles and a passion for luxurious silks and careful tailoring to distract from her real work. The legendary Persis Flake narratives are genius-level satires of tabloid journalism, and recall the “They Seek Him Here” poetry of the original Pimpernel.

“Star-Swept Sea” is the second in a series known as For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund. (The first was a reimagining of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion.”) What Peterfreund does well in both books is to honor the classic stories she’s retelling, even while transposing them to the dystopian world so popular with teenagers. Read More >
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By Katherine Howe

Conversion(Note: This review contains some spoilers.)

Salem Village, Massachusetts, 1706. Ann Putnam has come to Reverend Green's house to make a confession. Many years before, Ann played a part in a major deception with terrible consequences, and now her conscience will not let her rest. "I am so alone," she tells us in her narration. "Even God has turned His face from me."

Danvers, Massachusetts, 2012. Colleen Rowley is a student at St. Joan's, a prestigious and highly competitive prep school for girls. She's so focused on getting into Harvard that she can hardly think about anything else. But even Colleen can't help but notice when a classmate suffers a bizarre seizure one morning -- and then when more and more students start to fall prey to a mysterious, debilitating illness.

In Katherine Howe's novel "Conversion," Ann and Colleen take turns telling their stories, and we soon begin to see just how they closely they parallel each other. Not only do both girls live in the same place -- Danvers was once known as Salem Village -- but both of them are caught up in an odd, widespread phenomenon that no one can fully understand. Read More >
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By Daphne du Maurier

rebecca“What’s in a name?” William Shakespeare famously queried—a pertinent question when dealing with a book bearing a single name as its title. In the case of the name “Rebecca,” the meaning has to do with tying and binding, even captivating. This etymology was doubtless known to Daphne du Maurier when she used it as the title of her bestselling 1938 novel.

The story is told in flashback, narrated by a shy, insignificant young woman of uncertain origins. Her name, in stark contrast to Rebecca’s, is never even mentioned. When the tale begins, she is employed as a companion to a wealthy lady on vacation in Europe. In the course of their travels they cross paths with Maxim de Winter, a widower who owns a famous English estate called Manderly.
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By Amy Clipston

9780310736691Destination Unknown by Christian writer Amy Clipston is a contemporary teen novel about Whitney Richards, who is in her final year of high school and struggling to figure out who she is and what she wants to do with her life.

After her callous boyfriend, Brent, breaks up with her on Valentine’s Day, Whitney is surprised that she is more angry at his insensitivity than upset about the breakup. On the same day, she finds out she got a D on her last calculus test, which causes her mother to panic about Whitney’s grade point average and losing her acceptance to Kentwood University, the prestigious school her mother attended. Whitney is forced to take tutoring sessions from Taylor Martinez, a boy from the wrong side of town who rides a motorcycle and has never run in the same social circles—the best social circles—as Whitney.
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By James Dashner

91h7wNd9PSL(Note: This review contains major spoilers.)

A teenage boy wakes up in an elevator, surrounded by darkness. He remembers nothing except that his name is Thomas. The elevator carries him up to a group of boys who live in a huge courtyard called the Glade, surrounded by a maze with giant stone walls that move at night.

So begins “The Maze Runner,” James Dashner’s 2009 Young Adult bestseller. The book was the first in a highly successful trilogy that also included “The Scorch Trials” and “The Death Cure,” and was followed by a prequel, “The Kill Order.” Now it’s become the basis for a new movie from 20th Century Fox, starring Dylan O’Brien.
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It's now much easier to search for a particular book review on Youth Reads! The menu bar at the top of this page now has tabs for "Genres," "Reviewers," and "Authors"; click on the tab you want to find direct links arranged accordingly. Additionally, each review now has genre tags (they're the ones starting with "Literature," i.e., "Literature -- Sci-fi/fantasy," or "Literature -- Classic"). If you're reading a book review, you can click on these tags to find more books in the same genres.

Many thanks to Valen Caldwell and Shane Morris for doing the hard work to make this happen!
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By Caragh M. O'Brien

VaultRosie Sinclair, the heroine of Caragh M. O'Brien's "The Vault of Dreamers," knows she's fortunate to be at the Forge School, which offers unparalled opportunities for aspiring young artists. More than anything, Rosie wants to break away from her family's "dead-end" life in an old boxcar in Doli, Arizona, and become a filmmaker. Being a student at Forge is the only way she can see to reach that goal.

But there's a catch. Forge is part of a popular reality show, known simply as "The Forge Show," and first-year students get to stay there only if they can manage to be among the 50 who are most popular with the viewers. All over the school, boards are posted showing the students' "blip ranks." These are continually updated, letting the students know how popular they are at any given moment. Rosie has had trouble getting her ratings up, but just as she's certain she's about to be cut, a mysterious young man named Linus offers her some help.

What Rosie doesn't know is that the struggle to stay at Forge is just the beginning of her troubles. Something much darker and more dangerous is going on, something that's out of range of the cameras but is nonetheless frighteningly real. Read More >
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By L. M. Montgomery

61vIusxuQVLThe Blue Castle,” recently re-released in a new American edition, was one of two novels specifically written by L. M. Montgomery for an adult audience. Montgomery, a popular Canadian author whose “Anne of Green Gables” and “Emily of New Moon” had been appropriated widely by children despite her initial intention to write for the general market, wanted to feature a love story with a more mature heroine. In 1926, the publication year of the novel, Valancy Stirling—“29 on the morrow in a community and connection where the unmarried were simply those who had failed to get a man”—was very much “on the shelf.”

Though not explicitly written for teenagers, “The Blue Castle” speaks to several universal themes that young adults will relate to, despite the book's age. Montgomery’s depth of characterization and her humor lend the story a timeless appeal. For high school students preparing to embrace an uncertain future, the book can help direct them to questions about their belief systems that will ground them as they prepare for the days ahead.
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By Arthur Miller

crucible-picDrama can be a powerful tool in the right hands. For proof of this, one need look no further than Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” a play that still provokes controversy more than 60 years after it was written. Premiering on Broadway in 1953, “The Crucible” met with mixed reviews, but after a Tony Award for Best Play and revisions to the production, it became a staple of the dramatic canon. Today, it’s frequently taught in high schools.

A crucible is a vessel in which elements may be melted or otherwise tried by extremely high temperatures, and the term is often used as a metaphorical representation of any place of testing or trial. Miller’s play is set in colonial Massachusetts in the context of the infamous Salem witch trials. When the curtain opens, the town is in a state of disturbance due to mysterious illnesses suffered by children of the region. Among those afflicted is the daughter of Reverend Parris, Salem’s minister. Parris’s glimpse of his slave girl Tituba, his niece Abigail, and some other young women dancing in the forest leads the deeply religious townspeople to fear witchcraft.

Abigail binds her cohorts to secrecy but points her finger at Tituba, who under interrogation not only confesses to witchcraft but also incriminates several other women from the village. Hysteria grows among the townspeople, leading quite literally to an all-out witch-hunt in Salem.
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By Donita K. Paul

9780310735809(Disclaimer: The reviewer has a professional relationship with the author.)

In her new Realm Walkers series, Donita K. Paul is building an interesting new fantasy world in which realms are stacked on top of one another like pancakes. They’re not different dimensions nor different planets, but each realm has its own government, people, and character, and the only way to travel from realm to realm is through portals.

Which is where the realm walkers come in. Only a few people are able to see the portals, some of which seem to be permanent, some of which come and go as they please, and some of which can be summoned when you need them. These few people with the ability to see—and call—portals are trained as realm walkers and are guided by the realm walker guild, the only governing body with authority in all realms. But in recent years the guild has become more and more evil and corrupt, and only a few noble realm walkers remain.

Fortunately, two of these noble realm walkers have raised our hero, Cantor. As “One Realm Beyond opens, Cantor has finally reached his initiation and sets off to find his “constant,” the shape-shifting dragon companion who will accompany him on all his adventures as they travel from realm to realm and right wrongs.

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Click here to hear Valen Caldwell discuss these two books with Hayley Schoeppler, Amos Peck, and Grace Olson of Redeemed Reader. And if you and your family did the Summer Reading Challenge, go here to read about how you can enter your child in the drawing for an Amazon gift card!
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