Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Teens love fantasy. Teens love magic with a touch of the creepy. Readers love story. Readers love books about books. Debut author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood is all of these so I believe it will be one of the biggest Young Adult hits of 2018. The Hazel Wood feels timeless so one almost expects it to begin with the words “Long ago in a faraway land,” but it’s a contemporary novel so it begins with the thoughts of seventeen-year-old Alice, “My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.” Alice and her mother Ella “lived like vagrants, staying with friends till our welcome wore through at the elbows, perching in precarious places, then moving on. We didn’t have a chance to stand still. Until the year I turned seventeen, and Althea died in the Hazel Wood. . .

Until Althea Prosperine (born Anna Parks) died all alone on the grand estate she’d named the Hazel Wood, my mother and I had spent our lives as bad luck guests. We moved at least twice a year and sometimes more, but the bad luck always found us.”

Alice had spent much of her childhood trying to learn more about her grandmother Althea, the reclusive author of a famous, yet almost impossible to find book of eerie fairy tales. The book, Tales from the Hinterland, and the movie that earned it its fame made Althea wealthy and paid for the Hazel Wood estate that so intrigued Alice. When Ella disappears after leaving a message for Alice to “stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood,” Alice begins a terrifying trek to find the estate and her mother. Helped by Finch, a wealthy, biracial friend from school, whose fanatic devotion to the book means that he may know how to locate the mysterious Hazel Wood, Alice enters the foreboding world of the Hinterland where story is paramount, but it still may not save you.

Unlike most books for teens, this one is short on romance and absent the sex that seems to pepper so many popular novels for older YA readers. Instead, it features disturbingly realistic, yet fantastic scenes of the gritty, fearless Alice’s encounters with bloody and sometimes gruesome scenes. Much of the book is laced with references to children’s literature that geeky young readers will adore as much as I did.

Until Alice set off for the Hazel Wood, I was mesmerized, then I found myself wanting to skim some of the more sinister scenes to get to the climax. I stuck with it, read every word, and was rewarded by a less than happily-ever-after ending that fit the book perfectly.  I don’t think fantasy-loving teens will find the menacing atmosphere as off-putting as I did and I predict that they, like all the major critics, will give this one five stars. The writing is so atmospheric and haunting that even though the carnage was more than I wanted, I admire it immensely.

Summing it Up: Buy The Hazel Wood for fantasy-loving teens and young adults fourteen and older. Read it for a chilling glimpse into a fantasy world where story matters. Savor it for its exquisite evocation of mood and place. Illustrator Jim Tierney’s evocative cover deserves accolades for its beauty and its introduction to the novel.

Take your favorite young adult to Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL this Saturday, February 3 at 2 p.m. where the author will be in conversation with YA author Joelle Charbonneau. It’s a free event.

Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Fiction, Book Club
Publication date: January 30. 2018
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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Best Young Adult Books of 2017

There’s nothing better than a Young Adult title when you want a quick immersion into a book that makes you think. The novels on this list will appeal to adults as well as teens. Read any one of these books, give it to a teen you love, then talk (and listen). Almost everything that scares you about the state of the world, is covered in young adult literature. If you want to understand topics that frighten you, read young adult books.

The Best YA Novel of 2017 (It’s a three-way tie):

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is a riveting glimpse at today’s world where young African-Americans lose their lives in senseless police shootings. Sixteen-year-old Starr watches as a policeman shoots her friend. She can’t figure out how to survive in two separate worlds – the impoverished area where she lives and the elite suburban prep school she attends. If you want to understand the Black Lives Matter movement, read this. The novel’s title comes from a Tupac acronym for “thug life” meaning “The Hate U Give Little Infants, F---s Everybody.” This would be the perfect companion to All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely.  DC/SN, BC Ages 13 and up
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Long Way Down begins when fifteen-year-old Will‘s brother Shawn is killed and Will feels like “the ground opened up and ate him.” Most of the book takes place in the sixty-seven seconds after Will finds Shawn’s gun then rides the elevator downstairs while deciding whether to murder Shawn’s killer as he encounters ghosts from his life on each floor. Told in dazzling, staccato free verse, this book will help you comprehend teen gun violence. Listen to the author read it for even more of an impact. I listened to it and read it and gained from both experiences.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Turtles All the Way Down explores teen anxiety like nothing I’ve ever read. Thankfully, John Green has written a novel that teens will read just because he wrote it and that many teens, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals will find to be a lifesaver. Aza has thoughts that she can’t control. She knows that thoughts are not actions, but that doesn’t help on bad days. Aza’s friend Daisy loves Aza and her spirit. When a billionaire disappears, Aza and Daisy decide to seek the reward using Aza’s connection to the missing man’s son. Green’s explication of Aza makes us care enough to want to understand mental illness. G/DC/SN, BC

The Best YA Debut Novel of 2017:
A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of Cages is a gripping debut that will have you holding your breath as you fly through the pages. Adam is one of the most popular kids in school. Julian isn’t. But Adam, a senior, has a connection to weird freshman Julian. Julian lived with Adam and his mother in a foster care situation after Julian’s parents died, then Julian’s uncle showed up and took him away. What’s happening at Julian’s house? Why does he miss so much school? What’s happening with Adam’s friends? DC, Ages 13 and up

The Best YA Novel for Tweens
The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
The Warden’s Daughter is a spirited ode to grief as suffered by a twelve-year-old “tough” girl who lives in a large jail and who wishes Eloda, the trustee who cares for her, her father, and their apartment, could be her mother. It’s set in 1959 in Two Mills, PA, the setting of Spinelli’s Maniac Magee. Spinelli continues to capture the way kids act and thus he grabs and holds their attention. The twist at the end of this marvel is poignant and powerful. There are so few good books for this age group that don’t involve sex that it’s even more of a wonder. DC/PP Ages 10–14

The Best YA Book for “Girls:”
Girl Up by Laura Bates

Girl Up is brilliant, bold, profane, sarcastic, and just what teenage girls and young women deserve to have in their corner. If you’re a parent, teacher, counselor, or just someone who cares about the future of girls, read this book. The “f” word, slang words for genitalia, and some statements and drawings may bother some adults but it isn’t for them; it’s for teens. My full review is here. DC/SN/S Ages 13 and up

Top Photo Credit:  http://blogs.overdrive.com/library/2014/04/14/teenreads-presents-ultimate-reading-list/