YA Sci-Fi – Burning Midnight; On the Edge…; We Are the Ants

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McIntosh, Will. Burning Midnight. New York: Delacorte Press, 2016. 978-0553534108. $17.99. 320 pp. Gr. 7 and up.

People all over the world are captivated by mysterious spheres that have suddenly appeared  on Earth. The colorful orbs are rated by their rarity and effects.  Those that are very rare with the most valuable effects are worth thousands, if not millions of dollars. If a person has two of the same kind, the spheres can be “burned”,  which will allow the owner to acquire the spheres’  special properties. In the years since they first appeared, people have been on a mad dash to find or purchase and burn the spheres in order  to enhance their personal abilities. Now the possibility of finding new ones is diminishing.  Sully, who  struggles to help his single mom pay the bills, and Hunter, an orphan trying to make it on her own, team up to search for any valuable spheres still at large. Before long they discover the rarest one yet. Next thing they know, billionaire businessman Alex Holliday and his ruthless team of professional collectors are on their trail and will stop at nothing to get their treasure. The story brings in some interesting themes: the division between rich and poor; the possibility that a rare find could completely change a person’s life, and the unknown long-term effects of the miracle spheres.  THOUGHTS:  Overall, Burning Midnight is a page turner, a sci-fi adventure that would have special appeal for gamers, reluctant readers, and Pokémon Go aficionados.

Science Fiction    Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS

 

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Duyvis, Corinne. On the Edge of Gone. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. 978-1-41971-903-3. $17.95. 456pp. Gr. 9 and up.

In 2043, a comet is hurtling towards Earth, and it’s impact is expected to be devastating. Hours before it hits, sixteen year old Denise is anxiously trying to get her drug-addled mother out of their apartment and into an underground shelter. Although her family has been assigned a shelter on the outskirts of their hometown, Amsterdam, Denise’s’ sister Iris is missing. A random encounter outside their apartment leads Denise and her mother to a generation ship; one of a few left on Earth, grounded due to mechanical issues. The ship will leave in search of new planets to settle on after the comet hits. While Denise worries her mother will not stay clean or follow the rules to keep them on board while the comet hits; she is also determined to become useful enough to convince the crew to allow her and her mother a lifetime spot on the ship. While the crew works to repair the ship, Denise works on and off board to prove her worth, all while searching for her missing sister. Since Denise is autistic, she must break out of her comfort zone in order for her family to survive. THOUGHTS: A good story with a lot going on, readers may be overwhelmed at first by the many overlapping themes, but those who stick with it will find a satisfyingly heartfelt story in the so often bleak and depressing universe of dystopian/sci-fi.

Science Fiction          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

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Hutchinson, Shaun David. We Are the Ants. New York: Simon Pulse, 2016. 978-1481-449632. 451 pp. $17.99 Gr. 9 and up.

Henry is a lonely teen struggling to deal with the recent suicide of his boyfriend. Henry is bullied at school and bullied at home by his older brother, a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend.  His mom is a harried single mom and his grandmother is slowly fading away from Alzheimer’s.  He’s fallen out with his best friend and his secret school boyfriend is toxic. He has a lot on his plate, without counting the periodic alien abductions he has endured since he was thirteen. The aliens have now given him the choice to save the world with the push a button, and Henry is trying to figure out if it is worth it. When a new student with a troubled past joins his class, Henry finds a supportive friend and potential romance which helps him to see his life in a more positive light. We Are the Ants is a strong portrayal of a character going through the grief process and working his way through his difficult family and school situations. Virtually all of the characters are well drawn and genuine; each flawed, and there are a couple who not that likeable. But, even the negative characters, Henry’s brother and Marcus, the sometime bully, sometime friend and romantic partner are shown to have more depth than many story villains.  Henry’s wry, introspective and frequently hilarious voice are central to this tale. The alien abductions and Henry’s ruminations provide some much needed levity to the serious subject matter.  THOUGHTS: A strange story that blends together the sci-fi fantasy with a very raw and real coming of age tale. Rough language, explicit scenes and mature themes make this a choice for older teen readers.

Science Fiction   Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS

New Fantasy, Dystopian, and Sci-Fi…The Awesome; Prairie Fire; We All Looked Up; 5 to 1

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Darrows, Eva. The Awesome. Oxford, UK: Ravenstone, 2015. 978-1-78108-324-6. 246 p. $9.99. Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Maggie Cunningham is not your typical teenager, but that’s to be expected considering she is an apprentice monster hunter. Maggie wants one thing: to become federally registered so she can track and hunt vampires, but in order to do so, she has to lose her virginity. She has to lose the “Big V” to kill the “Big V”. Her mother, Janice, tells her it is in order to protect her since most vampires, especially newbies, go wild for virgin blood. However, losing her virginity is easier said than done. Maggie is home schooled, lacks fashion sense, and well, she hunts monsters. It doesn’t help that her mother swears like a sailor and tends to embarrass Maggie. For Maggie, getting The Sex seems almost impossible. She even fails in a hysterical attempt to have sex with a drunk guy at a party which leaves her vulnerable to a virgin blood crazed newbie vampire who tries to kill her, but is unsuccessful because her mother just happens to be a total badass. The killing of the young vampire leads Maggie and her mother to a vampire prince, which is definitely going to make getting deflowered more complicated. THOUGHTS: Filled with inappropriate language, a little bit of sex, violence, and an incredibly likeable heroine, The Awesome is a terrific supernatural comedy that is just plain fun. The Awesome is awesome. Be warned though, it’s definitely only appropriate for upper grades.

Fantasy, Paranormal   Graig Henshaw, Littlestown HS/ Maple Avenue MS

 

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Johnston, E.K. Prairie Fire. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Lab, 2015. 978-1-46773-909-2. 298 p. $18.99. Gr. 7-12

Prairie Fire is the sequel to The Story of Owen and continues the story of Siobhan McQuaid, bard and genius, Owen, and their friends. Prairie Fire is a story of friendship, music, alternative history (Canadian and U.S.), fantasy, fable, ecology, and epic heroism. Every dragon slayer must serve time with the Oil Watch which is basically the military for dragon slayers. Owen, Siobhan, and Sadie join the Oil Watch together. While Siobhan overcomes some setbacks, Owen continues to develop into a dragon slayer capable of any task. Due to their growing popularity, Siobhan and Owen are deployed to one of the coldest, dreariest, and most desolate places, Fort Calgary. It is here that Siobhan, Owen, Sadie, and their friends must band together to face off against one of the rarest and most terrifying dragon species, the Chinook. THOUGHTS: Siobhan McQuaid is responsible for “Uptown Funk” because Owen Thorskard is “too hot, hot damn, make a dragon wanna retire man” and is the hero Bonnie Tyler has been holding out for all these years. Prairie Fire is a story that defines friendship and reminds us why we allow Canada to remain a country. It is superbly written, heart wrenching, and heroic.

Fantasy  Graig Henshaw, Littlestown HS/ Maple Avenue MS

 

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Wallach, Tommy. We All Looked Up. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2015. 978-1-48141-877-5. 370 p. $16.99.  Gr. 9-12.

If we learned anything from The Breakfast Club and about a dozen other eighties movies, it is that high school is supposedly all about labels and cliques. The impending possibility of the end of the world provides an athlete, a slut, a slacker, and an overachiever with the opportunity to make changes. Peter, the athlete, must decide whether it is better to fail at something worthwhile or succeed at something meaningless, and whether or not he should pursue true love even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. Eliza, the artsy and misunderstood slut, must deal with her father’s cancer, chronicling the end of the world (leading to unexpected fame), and her feelings for Peter. Anita, the overachiever, needs to decide if she should follow her parents’ strict rules as always, or if she should pursue her dream of becoming a musician. Lastly, Andy, the slacker, must choose between his new safe friends or his old seedy, dangerous friends. They only have two months until the end of the world. During the next two months, the world becomes far more dangerous as people often give in to their malicious intents. THOUGHTS: Although well-written, Tommy Wallach is pessimistic in his view of mankind since most of humanity turns into complete jerks with drug addicts and criminals ruling the day. Maybe I am naïve, but I like to think that if mankind were to find out that the world were about to end, we would band together rather than give into criminal instincts. In We All Looked Up, society falls apart based on whether an asteroid will hit and wipe out two-thirds of the population. The characters, with the exception of Eliza and Peter, are unlikeable. We All Looked Up had me desperately looking for another book to read and longing to watch The Breakfast Club.

Science Fiction  Graig Henshaw, Littlestown HS/ Maple Avenue MS

 

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Bodger, Holly. 5 to 1. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 978-0-385-39153-5. 244 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Set in a futuristic Indian society run by women, this Dystopian fantasy focuses on a contest where the women get to select their husbands from a group of able suitors. The title refers to the ratio of boys to girls after years of gender selection. Sudasa is the lucky young lady who gets to choose her husband, but she doesn’t even know if she wants to get married yet. Kiran is the young man who’s family wants him to lose in order to escape India altogether. Her grandmother has thrown her cousin into the mix of suitors, so that Sudasa can save him from what her grandmother sees as certain death. Her cousin knows all the right answers; yet Sudasa is drawn to Kiran. Her father offers Sudasa support and a way out if she needs it. What will she choose? Will she pick the cousin and keep the family intact? Will she choose Kiran though she knows he is throwing all of the challenges in order to be discarded? This story told in alternating voices identified by verse and prose proves to be very different from the norm. THOUGHTS: This is a thought-provoking read because of some real world circumstances (India and China). The premise for the society doesn’t seem that far-fetched. A great addition for HS collections as it offers something very fresh and new.

Dystopian    Kathryn Gilbride, North Pocono Middle School