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By Jennifer Niven

18460392(Note: This review contains major spoilers.)

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, high above the ground. When both of them eventually make it back down safely, everyone believes that Finch was feeling suicidal and Violet saved him. After all, Finch is the school weirdo, widely known as "Theodore Freak," the kid who gets in fights and throws desks and has hardly any friends. Besides, that's the story that Finch tells everyone -- that Violet saved him.

The truth is, it was Finch who saved Violet.

"All the Bright Places," the bestselling new novel (soon to be made into a movie) by Jennifer Niven, deals with two very troubled kids. Finch is trying to cope with mental illness, an estranged and abusive father, and a mother who mostly ignores him. It all causes him to feel unwanted and unsure of his own identity. Violet was once a good student and a budding writer, but her creativity has been paralyzed by her older sister's death in a car accident. She begs off most of her school assignments on the grounds that she's "not ready." But when Finch, emboldened by the bell tower incident, picks her as his partner for a class project on the "wonders of Indiana," she has to start touring the area with him. They begin to discover all the things they have in common, including a shared love for books (they sling Virginia Woolf quotes back and forth via Facebook message) and a sharp sense of humor.
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By Holly Black

61wyYeg0oLWe’ve come a long way since Tinkerbell. Back when J. M. Barrie first created the diminutive fairy for his classic story about Peter Pan, most of the evil had been leeched from the legendary creatures. Fairies, elves, and the like might have been slightly mischievous at times, but they were mostly cute and shy, hiding in gardens or under hedges and seemingly just waiting to be found and befriended by young children.

Holly Black, along with other writers for young adults such as Carrie Jones, has spurned these sugarcoated versions for the original, amoral fairies of European legend, depicting them as capricious and cruel instead of loyal and good-hearted. Unfortunately, often these modern retellings bring with them modern views of morality, or rather the lack of it, a shortcoming which fatally flaws Black’s newest novel.
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By S. E. Hinton

811tV0mhMPLOur teenage years are formative ones for all of us, but rarely is that so spectacularly obvious as in the case of Susan Eloise Hinton. Born in 1948, she was still in high school when she penned a novel that made her a household name. Perhaps it was precisely her youth that made her novel “The Outsiders” so relatable, an instant success among the young adult population in the Sixties and still popular in today's YA market. In fact, it's been said that her book created that market.

Based on the social segregation Hinton observed in her own high school, “The Outsiders” centers on the interaction of two classes: the Socs and the Greasers. The Socs are the rich kids with an over-inflated sense of entitlement; the Greasers are poorer, wilder, and always in trouble with the law.
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Here's a question for all our readers: Which book or series would you like us to review next?
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By Charlie N. Holmberg

9781477823835_p0_v3_s260x420Ceony Twill has spent five years training to be a magician. In her world -- an alternate version of Edwardian England -- each magician must bond to a particular material, such as metal, rubber, or glass. Ceony, who hoped to work with metal, is deeply disappointed when she is assigned as an apprentice to a paper magician. But she soon learns that paper magic can be more creative, interesting, and useful than she ever imagined. More than that, she discovers that her new teacher, Magician Emery Thane, is a kind and attractive man . . . who has some very dangerous secrets.

Before long, Ceony will have to draw on everything she's learned and every ounce of courage she has, to save Emery from a vindictive and powerful enemy from his past. She finds herself literally trapped inside Emery's heart, witnessing his memories, hopes, and regrets, as she struggles to find a way to save herself and him.
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By Joseph Conrad

9780486264646Joseph Conrad was a Polish-born sailor who became a British citizen in 1886 at the age of 29. In 1890 he served as commander on a ship bound for Congo, an experience that fulfilled a long-held dream of his but also wreaked havoc on his physical and mental health. It was this trip that eight years later provided the inspiration for his most famous work, a novella called “Heart of Darkness.”

“Heart of Darkness” is primarily the monologue of a sailor named Marlow, a battle-worn skeptic with a gift for storytelling. It is the tale of Marlow’s journey up the Congo River as the captain of a riverboat for a European trade company. In spite of his doctor’s mysterious references to the detrimental effects of Africa on a man’s sanity, Marlow forges on with his adventure.
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By Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate

Eve_and_AdamNobody’s perfect. Yet despite our own physical and social shortcomings, we often fantasize, especially when we are younger, of meeting the guy or girl of our dreams, someone that could almost be tailor-made to our specific tastes. But what if you could handpick your ideal soulmate? What if the technology existed that would enable you to design your perfect person? Would your choices ultimately satisfy you, or would you perhaps discover that who you thought you wanted wasn’t actually right for you after all?

Eve is really not actively looking for Mr. Right. She is too busy trying to keep her grades up and help her best friend, Aislin, maintain an even keel in her tumultuous romantic adventures. But an accident changes everything. Whisked away from the hospital, despite the objections of her doctor, to the private medical facilities within her mother’s company, Spiker Biopharmaceuticals, Eve is given the task during her recovery of designing the perfect boy.
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By Bonnie S. Calhoun

9780800723767Selah Rishon Chavez is nearly 18 and longing to prove herself to her family. Where she lives -- a dystopian future United States, sometime after a period referred to as "the Sorrows" -- many people survive by hunting . . . not just animals, but other people. Every now and then a stranger called a "Lander" shows up on the shore, and if these Landers can be captured and sold, they bring great profit. Selah is determined to bag one herself, and show her father and brothers that she's worthy to be a hunter.

But the Lander whom she finds turns out to be much more than she bargained for. The young man who stumbles ashore, Bodhi Locke, is quite capable of defending himself against her. More than that, he saves her from an attack by some local boys. Selah finds herself both intrigued by him and concerned for him -- and soon comes to identify with him much more closely than she ever wanted to. For when she wakes up the day after their meeting, the same mark that was on Bodhi's forehead -- the mark that all Landers bear -- has appeared below her own collarbone. Read More >
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E. Lockhart's novel won in the YA category with nearly 34,000 votes. In case you missed it, John Roper's review of the book for Youth Reads is here!

Also, in the YA Fantasy & Science Fiction category, Cassandra Clare's "City of Heavenly Fire" was the winner. I reviewed the first part of that series here.
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We're doing something a little different this year for our suggested list of Christmas books to buy for your kids:

You're going to make the list! Click below to find out how. Read More >
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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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