In the history of star-crossed loves, the story of Miranda and Zachary ranks right up there with Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, or perhaps more appropriately, Buffy and Angel, with a bit of role reversal. Miranda is a vampire and Zachary is an angel, but their story doesn’t start out that way. Miranda was a human girl, with the human desire to win a role in her high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Zachary was her guardian angel. When Miranda bombs her audition she meets up with her best friend Lucy for a pity party that goes horribly wrong. They meet video store employee Kurt while browsing the horror aisle, and he convinces them to meet him in the cemetery at midnight. When is that ever a good idea? Upon reaching the cemetery, Miranda and Lucy are inevitably attacked by a vampire and Zachary, in his role as Miranda’s angel, does his best to protect her. Unfortunately, in his fervor Zachary reveals his true form, which Lucy sees, and as punishment he loses his powers and is cast out of Heaven. Zachary’s attention is diverted for mere seconds, and yet the vampire has escaped and Miranda is nowhere to be found.
Then the real story begins. In order to regain his powers, Zachary is given one final mission, a mission which leads him to Miranda, who has not only become a vampire, but is the vampire daughter of the King of the Mantle of Dracul. Zachary again undertakes the task of keeping Miranda on the straight and narrow, which is not a path typically walked by a vampire. Miranda, who never knew Zachary existed before her death, much less that he was her guardian angel, finds herself strangely wanting to live up to his expectations of her. What would her father think? It’s hardly the behavior of vampire royalty.
Check the WRL catalog for Eternal.
This alternate World War I adventure kicks off with a middle-of-the-night escapade in an AT-ST walker a two-legged stalking tank, followed by aerial acrobatics aboard a living hydrogen balloon. If you enjoyed the mid-air hoverboard chases that are half the fun of Westerfeld’s Uglies series, this first installment in a trilogy should be an easy sell.
The point-of-view alternates between teenagers on opposite sides of the impending war. Fifteen-year-old Alek is a disinherited Hapsburg princeling who might yet prove himself heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Deryn Sharp, also 15, has just disguised herself as a boy to take the entrance exams for the British Air Service, which, for reasons that will be explained in the next paragraph, is largely composed of jellyfish hydrogen-breathing living airships.
Scientists in this version of England have taken Darwin’s theory of evolution and run with it, creating genetically-engineered animal hybrids like lupine tigeresques for industrial and military use. The Leviathan of the title is both a warship and a floating ecosystem—a whale-based zeppelin powered by bacteria and armed with strafing hawks and fléchette bats, the completely, disgustingly organic Gatling guns of the skies. Germany and Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, reject meddling with DNA in favor of good old-fashioned mechanical engineering, although their fleet of multilegged armored vehicles has its own stalking and clanking charm.
As usual, Westerfeld delivers a fast-moving story in which the characters are constantly imperiled. The fun, novel setting plays to Westerfeld’s strengths: his powers of invention and a fantastic ear for slang. So far this is a Great War scenario with a very light touch.
Check the WRL catalog for Leviathan.
Nightshade, California, the setting of Dead is the New Black, shares quite a bit in common with another strange California town. No, I don’t mean L.A. I’m referring to Sunnydale, CA. For those who don’t get the reference, Sunnydale is a fictional town, and the home of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like Sunnydale, Nightshade has its share of, well, shady characters. There are vampires, werewolves, psychics, and cheerleaders. And as Sunnydale has Buffy, so Nightshade has Daisy. Only Daisy doesn’t have any superpowers. In fact, she’s the only one in her family without them. Daisy’s mother and oldest sister are psychic, her other sister is telekinetic, and her father doesn’t count, since he disappeared years ago (not magically – popular opinion is that he ran off with another woman).
Daisy’s trouble begins not with the vampires, werewolves, or psychics, but the shady cheerleaders. One in particular. Samantha Devereaux, the school’s most popular girl, head cheerleader, and Daisy’s former best friend, shows up on the first day of school looking dead on her feet. Literally. She’s pale, she only wears black, and she wheels a coffin around with her wherever she goes. Daisy’s conclusion? Samantha has become a vampire, and to prove it she goes as far as joining the cheerleading squad. There’s an opening for a replacement, as one of the cheerleaders has fallen mysteriously ill. Could she have been bitten by Samantha? And what about the corpse Daisy saw move in the morgue. Could it have been one of Samantha’s minions? Daisy may not have superpowers, but she’ll use the power of deduction to solve this mystery.
This is a quick, fun read, and a lighthearted alternative to the darker supernatural fiction that has gained popularity in YA lately. This book is followed up by Dead is a State of Mind.
Check the WRL catalog for Dead is the New Black.
It’s only his first day of high school, but Arnold “Junior” Spirit has had enough.
His underfunded school is on the Spokane Indian reservation, where Junior’s whole family lives within five miles of where they were born. His mother would have been a teacher, his father would have been a musician, and his sister would have been a romance novelist… if they’d gone to college, if they hadn’t been alcoholics, if they hadn’t been depressed, if they’d had any hope left.
Junior doesn’t have much going for him: a skinny, poor kid with a big head, allergies, bad eyes, a stutter, and a lisp. But he’s the most hopeful person in his family, maybe the most hopeful kid on his reservation, and he doesn’t want to stay on the reservation for the rest of his life. He asks his parents for a transfer to all-white Reardan High, where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Now his best friend thinks he’s a traitor, and the kids at Reardon think he’s a freak. It’s going to be one of the roughest years of his life.
It’s also very funny. Junior’s narration is conversational, ironic, blunt and hilarious, even and maybe especially when his life is the pits. This is such a guy book, complete with hormones, uncouth language and fart noises, and guys attempting to negotiate complicated emotions via fistfights and basketball games. But they are EPIC basketball games, man; they are Shakespearean conflicts on the court.
Book versus audiobook? Here’s the dilemma: the book is illustrated with Junior’s cartoons, but the audiobook is read by Sherman Alexie. Sure, the cartoons add something personal to Junior’s story, but so does hearing it read by the author with gung-ho enthusiasm. Sherman Alexie owns this story. You can’t lose either way.
Check the WRL catalog for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Or check out the audiobook
People often wish they could know what others are thinking, but what if you could see the dreams of others? How would you cope with seeing the subconscious of your best friend, worst enemy, or crush acted out in front of your eyes?
Janie has been able to see dreams since December 23, 1996. She was eight years old, riding the bus with her mother, when she entered the dream of another bus passenger. It was a classic bad dream: the dreamer is unprepared for a presentation and discovers that they are standing in front of a group of people wearing only their underwear. This is only the first of many times that she is drawn into the dream of another.
Janie can become a part of any dreamer’s dream, but while inside, she can only act as a spectator, and cannot manipulate what she experiences. She becomes trapped in the dream until it reaches a conclusion or the sleeper wakes. In the physical world, she is paralyzed, unable to control herself or her ability. She learns to keep a distance from sleepers, as proximity will affect her connection to their dreams.
All of this changes when Janie shares the dream of Cabel, a boy from school. Cabel dreams about a monster, a man with knives for fingers lurking in his backyard. Janie experiences his dream as she usually does, but in this dream a second version of her is present. Cabel is dreaming about her. She watches as Cabel asks the dream-Janie for help. Janie has feelings for Cabel, and wants to help him overcome whatever real-life fear his subconscious is interpreting as a monster, but she cannot risk anyone finding out about her secret.
All of this fantasy is mixed seamlessly with a story about teenagers in high school, including the usual: parties, after school jobs, class trips, first loves, and rivalries. Throw in a twist at the end, and you get quite an intriguing story.
Check the WRL catalog for Wake.
In a history resembling but several degrees removed from our own, somewhere in the Greater Pelagic Ocean, young Mau has spent a month living alone on the “boy’s island,” building the canoe he’ll need to sail home. Having proved himself worthy, he’s supposed to be welcomed by family and friends ready to celebrate his transition to manhood. Only, before Mau’s homecoming, a tsunami devastates the islands. Everyone he knew and loved has perished. Even the stone “god anchors” where his people used to leave offerings have washed away.
Marooned by the same tsunami, Ermintrude Fanshaw takes advantage of being the sole survivor of a shipwreck to change her name to Daphne. Then, being a well-bred and uncommonly resourceful young Englishwoman (and only 139th in line for the crown!), she dries out her gold-edged visiting cards and invites Mau to tea.
Mau and Daphne are courageous and well-matched partners in rebuilding society from scratch. Other refugees wash ashore in the storm’s aftermath, and the necessity of feeding children and caring for elders tempers Mau’s grief even as he worries how their fledgling community can defend itself from cannibal raiders and other pirates of the sea.
All the while, in his head, Mau hears the Grandfathers, his ancestors, chastising him from beyond their watery graves, demanding that he replace the god anchors and respect the gods that he simply cannot forgive. Daphne, who came to the island carrying her own grief, gets lectures from her inner Grandmothers.
Mau’s anger and grief are the heart of the novel, along with all the big questions: how we come to believe in higher powers and whether, after great loss, we can continue in those beliefs. It’s alternately a heartbreaking and a heartwarming story, often quite funny, and as a standalone book, a great place to start reading Pratchett if you’ve never done so.
You may also want to check out the audiobook. Reader Stephen Briggs does such a fantastic job on the audio version, and sometimes British humour just sounds better read by Brits.
Check the WRL catalog for Nation
Or check out the audiobook
In The Patron Saint of Butterflies, Cecilia Galante paints a realistic picture of Agnes and Honey, two fourteen-year-old girls who have grown up together in a secluded commune in Connecticut called Mount Blessing. The leader, Emmanuel, deals out harsh punishment to those who don’t follow his strict rules. Agnes, from a powerful family in the commune structure, is a strong Believer and has decided to devote her life to becoming a saint. Honey, her orphaned best friend, lives with a handyman and helps him tend a butterfly garden. She secretly breaks the commune’s rules and wants more than anything to leave the compound and live a normal life.
Agnes’ grandmother unexpectedly visits the girls at the commune. After learning one of the darkest secrets the commune has been keeping, she kidnaps Honey, Agnes and Agnes’ little brother Benny who has been seriously injured. Their escape to a hospital and then to Agnes’ aunt’s house in Savannah, Georgia is a believable trip of fear, love and hope for these two teenagers.
According to her website, Galante herself grew up in a religious commune in upstate New York until she was about fourteen years old. It’s clear that her experiences, while different from those of Agnes and Honey, helped her develop the characters for this novel.
Check the WRL Catalog for Patron Saint of Butterflies
It would be difficult to make the residents of a small German town near the infamous Dachau concentration camp sympathetic, given their enthusiastic support of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, but author Markus Zusak succeeds brilliantly. By focusing on the children, especially the orphaned Liesel Meminger and her desire to rescue and read books, Zusak makes readers see the devastating result of followers blind to their leaders’ excesses.
At nine, Liesel has not learned to read, having been excluded from school presumably by her parents’ identification as Communists. Over the course of the book, Liesel learns to read from the first book she takes (The Gravediggers Handbook). She steals books from a bonfire and from the library of the local mayor, and she comes to cherish the words and stories they bring her.
Liesel is surrounded by unforgettable characters, including her loving and wise foster father Hans Hubermann; her irascible foster mother Rosa; Max, the Jewish boxer hiding in the Hubermanns’ basement; Jesse Owens fan Rudy; and the silent wife of the mayor, who opens her library to Liesel.
These characters are made unforgettable by the narrator, the incarnation of Death. The Grim Reaper (who laughs at the image of himself carrying a scythe) comes into Liesel’s life as her brother dies in the opening scene, and is drawn to her. Death is overwhelmed by the incomprehensible number of deaths caused by the war, but finds Liesel on his periodic journeys to her hometown. An outsider to human society, his otherness is emphasized by his use of oddly beautiful language, and by pronouncements that illuminate human fascination with causing destruction. Even in his entirely unsentimental and completely democratic execution of his duties, Death takes time to appreciate the beauty of each soul he collects, describing them in colors and terms that make them individual even as they die in masses.
While I wouldn’t characterize it, as the New York Times did, as “life-changing”, it is an astonishing book and one well worth putting on your list.
Check the WRL catalog for The Book Thief