Contagion – Erin Bowman

This is one of the best YA books I’ve ever read! It’s heart pounding action from beginning to end and not the mindless kind with no character development. Althea Sadik is working as an intern for renowned microbiologist Dr. Lisbeth Tarlow when circumstances force them to answer a distress call from a drill operation on a distant planet which never rotates to face the sun. On dark Achlys, they discover a missing crew with only the body of an engineer and a cryptic message scrawled in blood. Desperate to find her father stationed on the planet, the captain orders a search despite the crew’s reluctance. What they find are corpses and a lone minor whose survival is too good to be true. This is a two book series and I can’t wait for the sequel as I haven’t read as exciting a last fifty pages since Michael Crichton’s The Lost World. Equal parts Aliens and Resident Evil, the intricate plot, spare yet effective character development, world building and escalating pace make for a truly exceptional novel. 

Orphan Monster Spy – Matt Killeen

This is a sensational young adult book; a unique take on an old theme. Stories about WWII aren’t my favorite, maybe because Nazi behavior is so extreme, but enter a new heroine named Sarah-a smart, sassy, blue-eyed blonde Jew struggling to survive in 1939 Germany. The action starts right away when Nazi’s shoot Sarah’s mom at a checkpoint. Fifteen-year-old Sarah escapes, meeting a mysterious yet kind man with a luxurious Berlin apartment. Using her ingenuity, she quickly learns he’s part of the Resistance. Rage at what’s happening in Germany prompts her to accept his assignment to befriend the daughter of a top Nazi scientist at an elite boarding school to discover what’s going on behind the well-guarded walls of their estate. Sarah’s classmates prove vicious, trained to prop up Third Reich ideology. She’s soon in yet another battle to survive, but woe to anyone who underestimates this cherubic looking girl. The book’s premise is farfetched but there were teenage spies during WWII, and the pacing’s so smart it’s never a problem. You’ll quickly find yourself rooting for Sarah to beat the Nazis at their own game. My highest recommendation.

 

Sold – Patricia McCormick

It’s awful to say this is one of the best YA books I’ve ever read, given the topic, but I went through it in one sitting unable to put it down. At 13, Lakshmi lives a hand-to-mouth existence in a small village in Nepal. She’s smart and enjoys simple pleasures courtesy of a hard-working mom. Unfortunately, she also has a step dad who drinks and gambles away what little they have. When a monsoon destroys their crops, he gets Lakshmi a job which she thinks involves working as a city maid. Upon reaching India, however, she learns she’s been sold into prostitution instead. A cruel woman named Mumtaz runs the brothel, trapping young girls with babies and unfair debts. Lakshmi’s intelligence helps her survive even in this harsh new world and is a factor when she must make a decision which is essentially a death trap or a life line. The writing in this novel is superb, bolstered by research the author did in India and Nepal. It’s short and terse but packs a powerful punch enabling readers to realize how difficult life remains for many millions of women worldwide.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Starr Carter, 16, has one persona in her poor black neighborhood and another in the predominantly white prep school she attends. But the uneasy balance is upset when she sees her best friend, Khalil, shot to death by police while unarmed. It’s complicated. Khalil is a drug dealer albeit an unwilling one. Her uncle is a cop and her boyfriend white. When the shooting makes national headlines, as the only witness, Starr is caught between a friend at school who thinks Khalil might have had it coming and her neighborhood which has seen one too many young black men killed. The dialogue in this well-written YA novel feels totally authentic. The writer manages to convey the complexity of the issue of racism and police violence through the protagonist’s life circumstance. Starr isn’t perhaps the typical victim, and her school friends at times seem somewhat two-dimensional in their political correctness, yet the book is still a compelling read lending insight into one of the most disturbing facets of modern American life.

Carve The Mark – Veronica Roth

If you like YA Dystopian, this book’s for you. Written by the author of Divergent, it’s more sci-fi than what we’ve come to expect, but there are plenty of fantasy elements to placate the faithful. Cyra is Shotet; sister of the violent brutal leader. Akos is from a prominent family of the opposing Thuvhe tribe. Akos is kidnapped as a child to prevent Cyra’s brother from meeting a dismal fate predicted by planetary oracles. In this universe, people are gifted with various powers. Cyra’s gift, killing by touch, causes her a great deal of pain. Akos is given to Cyra because his gift is able to counteract hers. Cyra has spent her life trying to survive her sadistic brother. Akos’s only goal is to escape. As their relationship flourishes, Cyra joins forces with rebels attempting to overthrow her brother to help him get away. Although the plot in this book seems unnecessarily complex, Roth has not lost the ability to pen a page-turning story with compelling lead characters, romance and adventure aplenty.

A Taste For Monsters – Matthew J. Kirby

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-9-27-16-pmThe premise of this well researched, Young Adult historical novel sounds bizarre, but the unique elements of magical realism provide for a very interesting read. Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by factory work, manages to avoid life on the streets when hired to care for England’s infamous Elephant Man in London Hospital. Like Joseph Merrick, Evelyn wants to hide from the world and seeks sanctuary from the dangers lurking outside. Merrick is a gentle soul who does not recoil from her, or she from him. But danger, it seems, exists within the walls of the hospital, too. It’s 1888 and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the city. When the ghosts of the women the Ripper has killed begin to haunt Merrick and Evelyn, she must go beyond the gates to save the Elephant Man’s life, and to bring closure to the Ripper’s victims. Outside, Evelyn is once again confronted with the hatred directed at anyone different, which hampers her struggle for self acceptance. A timely read which fosters compassion and understanding in the current political climate.

I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl – Gretchen McNeil

manic-pixieBea and her best buds, Spencer and Gabe, are at the bottom of the high school food chain, but Bea plans to change all that. An academic whiz kid, she uses her math skills to concoct a popularity formula so the guys will stop being bullied. Soon, Gabe is best friends with the “It” girls, and Spencer’s flair for art is getting him noticed. When Bea’s boyfriend dumps for her a quirky new girl, she decides to use the formula on herself-morphing into a manic pixie dream girl in the best tradition of Audrey Hepburn, Reese Witherspoon and Alicia Silverstone. But being popular brings with it new problems, especially for her friends. Can Bea fix things and reclaim her true identity, or will she succumb to the lure of the popular crowd? Based on a novel idea, this well-written YA book held my interest from beginning to end. Kudos to the author for originality and for making Bea good at math! #weneedmoregirlsinstem

Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

everything-everything

Maddie is allergic to everything in this complex Young Adult Novel – a bubble girl so sick she can’t leave the sterile environment her mother has created at home. The only other person allowed inside is Carla, the nurse. At seventeen, Maggie has accepted her fate, until a moving van pulls into the driveway next door. From her window, she sees a guy her age dressed all in black. Maddie knows she’s going to find a way to meet him, just as she knows it isn’t going to end well. Soon enough, she’s furtively messaging Olly. Then she convinces Carla to let him in the house. When her mom finds out, she brings the hammer down firing Carla and putting Maddie on restriction. Maddie has to decide if living is worthwhile given her condition, or if she’d rather throw her life away for a brief taste of normal with Olly on the outside. This is an excellent, well-written book, good enough to get a major push from Random House Teens.

Twisted – Laurie Halse Anderson

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-9-40-48-amHigh school senior Tyler Miller was a nerd until he got busted for graffiti and given outdoor community service. Now 6’3 and built, he attracts the interest of the girl he’s always crushed on, queen bee Bethany Milbury. She’s also the daughter of his father’s boss and the sister of a bully. Tyler is dazzled until Bethany proves less than loyal and their relationship ends. When her nude picture shows up on the internet, Tyler is the obvious suspect because of their fight and his criminal background. The fall out has him questioning his newfound popularity (now on the skids), school in general and the dynamics in his dysfunctional family.  An interesting read by a terrific YA author who writes imperfect yet relatable characters.