Buddha Boy (2003)
Kathe Koja’s book about observed bullying and high school’s damaging oppression has an unusually bright approach based in one student’s life philosophy. Justin senses something is wrong with the culture of high school, but it takes his growing appreciation of someone new and truly different to finally see the injustice. As Justin defies unspoken rules and befriends a boy who shows both artistic talent and a unique sense of respect for what is truly important, he comes to his own experience of enlightenment. [Quick read at 112 pages]
Love in the Time of Global Warming (2014)
Following in the magical realism tradition of Marqueze and the mythical path of Odysseus, Francesca Lia Block’s novel traces seventeen year old Pen as she tries to survive the results of an apocalypse that just might have roots in her family’s past. As she travels the surviving roads of coastal California, Pen experiences encounters with Cyclops, sirens, and witches that would challenge any hero. With themes like drugs and physical violence, this story is gritty and, oddly, hopeful. [230 pages & JLG selection]
Stuck in Neutral (2001)
As the narrator, Shawn shares his witty observations about life with the reader, and the reader is the only one who can appreciate how much Shawn thinks about his life. That is because Shawn, as a young man with severe cerebral palsy cannot otherwise speak or communicate. The tragedy of his story deepens when he begins to suspect that his famous poet and television personality father may be contemplating Shawn’s murder. The novel is a popular choice for special education classrooms and has caused controversy for its portrayal of a family’s honesty about life with a severely disabled person. [Quick read at 112 pages; in case of reverse white-washing, choice of black cover model striking since protagonist is a red head; received the Michael L. Prinz Honor recognition.]
Red Queen (2015)
Mare lives in a world rife with apartheid and prejudice, but the color of a citizen’s skin isn’t the issue; rather, the color of her blood determines her lot in life. Reds serve and suffer conscription; silvers possess special powers and live like gentry upon the backs of the suffering reds. Seventeen-year-old Mare is suddenly swept into the political intrigues of the ruling families, unsure of whom to trust and how to survive.
Mare’s courtly education includes graphic, bloody scenes of combat and torture. As a strong heroine determined to contribute to her cause, Mare reflects many of the attributes common to female protagonists in recent YA novels cast for an older crowd. The novel deals with themes like terrorism and racial conflict, and fans seem greedy for more. Aveyard has speedily produced three books in this New York Times Best Selling series.
The novel opens with Jonah explaining that he is adopted, and the plot entirely depends on this aspect of his identity. He and his friend Chip begin receiving mysterious letters related to their adoption, and Jonah’s twelve-year-old sister joins the boys in trying to resolve the mystery. Their sleuthing leads them to the FBI, a former airline stewardess, and to a highly technological child trafficking ring.
This novel is only the first in the series, but it is the link between the normal world and the one of science fiction into which the trio is swept as they seek to resolve the time issues that may, eventually, lead them home.
Ann Aguirre’s Enclave (2011) is part of a post-apocalyptic series focusing on a fifteen-year-old girl, a newly consecrated Huntress and her struggles to survive in her new adult role. Starting out in her underground enclave, Deuce and her hunting partner travel further afield to discover the depravity of the decaying, diseased remnant of a city’s population and the mutant packs that hunt them.
Deuce fights well, and her fight scenes are bloody and graphically described. This novel certainly entertains an older teen audience since it has references to gang rape, child culling, and gory slashing. Love is a subplot, but a refreshingly low-priority one amidst all of the running. In Deuce we see another strong-willed, capable, athletic heroine learning to distrust the society that raised her.
The Dark Unwinding (2012)
Sharon Cameron combines steam punk, a strong and mathematically-inclined heroine, and the threat of the Victorian madhouse in this bildungsroman. Katharine Tulman must decide how she should handle the pressure of a weighty decision: she’s being asked to condemn her kind by mentally different uncle to the madhouse and bring about the homelessness of a small community, thereby securing her own future but also a lifetime of guilt.
Katharine and her uncle’s caretakers agree to a month-long trial, and she comes to discover the wonders of the community’s lively gasworks and her uncle’s workshop of wonders. Over time, Katharine rejects her corset and begins to wonder at her own mental health.