Boy21 got game. And that game is basketball, as played diligently by narrator Finley, sublimely by his girlfriend Erin, and almost supernaturally by the titular Boy21, also known as Russell Allen. Boy21 also has heart, as it explores loyalty, friendship, class and racial differences, and the way the past impinges on the present. But most importantly, Boy21 has soul, as all three main characters work to free themselves from the constraints and grief that dominate their lives, threatening to prevent them from becoming who they truly are. So much more than a sports book, Boy21 speaks to our common humanity, and to the notion that we must not live our desires, nor our fears, in silence, lest we lose our humanity.
— William Polking, Guys
A harrowing and riveting tale of best friends who find themselves at the center of the British war effort in World War II, Code Name Verity defies simple categorization. Verity, a female spy for the British, makes a simple mistake while on assignment in German-occupied France and is captured by the Germans. While being tortured for information on the British war effort, she begins to write her confession. An unreliable narrator, the depiction of a strong female friendship, extraordinary prose, and allusions to Peter Pan make this novel a standout. A tour de force of a novel, Code Name Verity is multi-layered and heartbreaking. It’s a book that will leave you whispering “Kiss me hardy. Kiss me quick,” and turning back to page one to begin an immediate reread.
— Sarah Gross, The Reading Zone
Endangered follows a teen on her annual summer trip home to the Democratic Republic of Congo to visit her conservationist mother. When civil war erupts in the nation’s capital, Sophie finds herself on the run with a young bonobo ape named Otto. She navigates a war-torn country while struggling to protect her charge from a starving population. In a story that highlights inhumane behavior, we come to appreciate the communal problem-solving of the bonobos and the kindness of strangers along Sophie’s escape route. And at the end of this short novel, readers of all ages will find themselves speeding to the Internet and the library to learn more about these shy, matriarchal primates.
— Kirstin Fearnley, Sprite
A body shows up in a field outside of town, setting into motion a series of events all too familiar for Jasper “Jazz” Dent, son of murderer Billy Dent and the public’s favored heir to Billy’s legacy of ruthless horror. Jazz, concerned they may be right, starts to investigate the murder, using skills learned from his father. Jazz’s constant questioning about nature, nurture and, ultimately, destiny, combined with the hunt to stop a possible serial killer, make for a thrilling and deliciously scary read. Although the book contains a large amount of gore, the blood is never gratuitous and occasionally comes from Jazz’s hemophiliac best friend–and one of the panel’s favorite characters–Howie. Part true crime, horror and psychological thriller, the atmospheric and moody I Hunt Killers explores the dark, creepy corners of being raised by an infamous serial killer.
— Kellie Tilton, The Re-Shelf
This is not your average cancer book. Narrator Greg wants readers to believe that he’s totally unlikable, but it doesn’t take long to see that his almost violent self-hatred is a coping mechanism for his mess of a life. As Greg navigates his senior year of high school, he also deals with the fact that his mother guilt-trips him into hanging out with the very ill Rachel, the changing nature of his friendship with Earl–a very short, chain-smoking African-American classmate, and the fact that college (and real life) is waiting just around the corner. This frequently hilarious and absolutely heartfelt debut by Jesse Andrews provides incredibly snarky, completely self-aware narration (“This entire paragraph is a moron,” Greg states at one point), fully realized characters, and a great deal of depth.
— Clementine Bojangles, Early
On the continuum of dark to light, light to heavy, Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller definitely resides on the dark/heavy end. But it’s also found on the gorgeous end of the scale, as it’s one of the most beautiful books we read this year: structurally, lyrically and emotionally. Flawlessly translated from German, The Storyteller is about a sheltered girl falling in love with a boy who is not only damaged, but possibly irrevocably lost. Michaelis incorporates Leonard Cohen’s lyrics into an atmospheric mystery that is reminiscent of the Grimm brothers, David Almond and Kevin Books. It’s tragic from beginning to end, but it’s also a fairy tale about love, forgiveness, innocence lost and innocence preserved.
— Leila Roy, Bookshelves of Doom
by J.J. Johnson
Publisher/ Author Submission
Johnson deftly blends humor and grief in this story of a teenager’s struggles to make sense of her best friend’s death. The witty chapter drawings (designed by Johnson) and main character Sarah’s pitch-perfect voice make The Theory of Everything compulsively readable, but the underlying veins of emotions—confusion, grief and even hope—keep this from feeling like lighter fare. Teens will understand Sarah’s desire to keep the world at bay with her “snarkbox,” but it’s the moments when Sarah puts aside the snark to truly face life that will leave a lasting impression. With a cast of characters that includes a tame possum, a wonder dog, and a maybe-creepy-maybe-misunderstood Christmas tree farmer, The Theory of Everything keeps readers guessing—and laughing—and crying—to the last page.
— Kendall Kulper, Blogging