February 2020, Fiction

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah. October 29, 2019. Hyperion, 311 p. ISBN: 9781368036887.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the last days of the twenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trapped in the abyss, humankind wavers between fear and hope–fear of what lurks in the depths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to the surface.

When sixteen-year-old submersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. The Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. But the race takes an unexpected turn, forcing Leyla to make an impossible choice.

Now she must brave unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a guarded, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If Leyla fails to discover the truths at the heart of her world, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–or worse. And her father will be lost to her forever.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Grades 7-11. Sixty-five years ago, Leyla’s world was above the waterline. But in 2099, the earth has drowned and the people with it. Leyla lives alone with her father, an astronomer, and she makes ends meet by competing in sub races around famous London landmarks. Or she did until her papa was arrested for terrible crimes she’s certain he didn’t commit. Running out of time, running out of money, and coming up empty on answers, Leyla determines to find and rescue him herself. When she discovers a whole underwater world, her life gets much more interesting—and dangerous—than she ever imagined it could be. While the book seems to end on a firm note, there could easily be more stories in this undersea dystopian world. Shah’s prose sometimes turns melodramatic (“Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters”), but this is a fine postapocalyptic novel that hits a timely note with its climate-change narrative. A solid purchase for large collections.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
In 2099, London is underwater. Sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen, a Muslim submersible racer, will stop at nothing to find her father, Hashem, who has been arrested and charged with encouraging “seasickness sufferers to take their lives.” When she is picked as an entrant in the London Submersible Marathon, Leyla is determined to win and ask the prime minister for her father’s freedom. But things do not go as planned, and when Leyla learns that her father is not really being detained in London as she’d been told, she leaves, evading the Blackwatch security forces who are kept busy overseeing New Year’s celebrations. Leyla, along with unwanted partner Ari, the son of a family friend, must drive her submersible through waters she has never before navigated. Along the way, she learns that she must question the statements of a corrupt government, as themes in the story echo issues in the present day. Debut novelist Shah vividly describes a world below the ocean’s surface, evoking people’s nostalgia for the Old World, when Great Britain lay aboveground. Leyla’s character grows and changes over the course of her journey, her love and loyalty toward her family only growing stronger. Leyla is Pashtun and of Afghan heritage; diversity in the book reflects that of contemporary London. This thrilling journey packed with unexpected discoveries will leave readers eager for plot resolutions in the next installment. (Science fiction. 12-17)

About the Author

Author London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Pashtun ethnicity. She has lived in Britain’s capital city for most of her life via England’s beautiful North. When she’s not busy re-imagining the past, plotting an alternate present or dreaming up a surreal future, then she’s most likely drinking copious amounts of tea, eating all the sweets and cakes, strolling through Richmond Park or along the Thames, getting lost on an evening in the city’s older, darker alleyways—preferably just after it’s rained—listening to punk rock, or losing herself in a fab SFF book or film. If she could have only one super power, it would be to breathe underwater.

Her website is www.londonshah.com.

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Fiction, January 2020

Rogue Heart by Axie Oh

Rogue Heart by Axie Oh. October 8, 2019. Tu Books, 357 p. ISBN: 9781643790374.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 790.

NEO BEIJING, 2201. Two years after the Battle of Neo Seoul, eighteen-year-old telepath Ama works by day in a cafe and moonlights as a lounge singer in a smoky bar at night. She’s anonymous, she’s safe from the seemingly never-ending war, and that’s how she’d like to stay. But then PHNX, a resistance group specializing in espionage and covert missions, approaches her with an offer to expose a government experiment exactly like the one she fled. Soon, Ama is traveling with PHNX on a series of dangerous assignments, using her telepathic powers to aid the rebellion against the authoritarian Alliance.

As the war ramps up, PHNX is given its most dangerous mission yet: to infiltrate the base of the Alliance’s new war commander, a young man rumored to have no fear of death. But when Ama sees the commander for the first time, she discovers his identity: Alex Kim, the boy she once loved and who betrayed her.

Now, Ama must use her telepathic abilities to pose as an officer in Alex’s elite guard, manipulating Alex’s mind so that he doesn’t recognize her. As the final battle approaches, Ama struggles with her mission and her feelings for Alex. Will she be able to carry out her task? Or will she give up everything for Alex again–only to be betrayed once more?

Part heist novel, part love story, Rogue Heart is perfect for fans of Marie Lu’s Warcross and Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series.

Part of Series: Rebel Seoul (Book 2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Online))
Grades 8-12. In 2201, genetically engineered supersoldier Ama is in hiding, believed killed in a transport carrier crash during the battle of Neo Seoul two years ago. She’s tried to put her painful past behind her, but when a resistance group seeks her help exposing a government experiment like the one she was subjected to, she agrees to become a covert operative. With her telepathic (and light telekinetic) powers, she’s an important asset on dangerous assignments, but Ama’s biggest mission comes when she’s sent to spy on the boy, now a respected army commander, who broke her heart and still believes her dead. This companion novel to Oh’s debut Rebel Seoul (2017), pitched as Pacific Rim meets K-drama, follows a new set of characters, with some overlap. The plot is fast (sometimes too fast), and there’s a lot going on (sometimes too much), but Oh delivers in spades on rich East Asian representation and high-stakes forbidden romance in a story brimming with futuristic Asian metropolises, teens piloting mecha robots, and all the espionage your heart can handle.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
A telepathic 18-year-old in Neo Beijing in 2201 is haunted by troubling memories and assaulted by her exquisite sensitivity to others’ thoughts. All Ama has wanted since escaping the Alliance government lab that turned her and two other teen orphans into experimental supersoldiers is to lie low, enjoy her newly found freedom, and forget the boy who betrayed her. All of that changes, though, when, two years after her escape, the Alliance tries to assassinate her while its opposing faction, PHNX, attempts to convince her to join their rebellion. How will Ama sort out her complex feelings for those close to her who remain loyal to the Alliance, those loyal to PHNX, and those loyal only to themselves? The novel is narrated in the first person by Ama, allowing readers to become acquainted with her personal history through her inner monologue. Oh deftly and seamlessly weaves fast-paced action, futuristic technology, the East Asian cultures and languages of the Neo Council, inclusive relationships, and a new spin on K-drama romance into the Blade Runner–esque universe she first shared in her previous, companion novel Rebel Seoul (2017). However, Asian people, as well as their families, lovers, partners, friends, and cultural practices, are the main characters here instead of simply an exotic backdrop. A fantastic, fun, and fast read for fans of Stranger Things, The Hunger Games, Pacific Rim, and romantic Korean dramas. (Science fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American, born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California San Diego and holds an MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea, and she currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her puppy, Toro (named after Totoro).

Her website is www.axieoh.com

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December 2019, Fiction

Caster by Elsie Chapman

Caster by Elsie Chapman. September 3, 2019. Scholastic, 326 p. ISBN: 9781338332629.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 810.

Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Fight Club in this action-packed fantasy about a secret, underground magic fighting tournament.

If the magic doesn’t kill her, the truth just might.

Aza Wu knows that real magic is dangerous and illegal. After all, casting killed her sister, Shire. As with all magic, everything comes at a price. For Aza, it feels like everything in her life has some kind of cost attached to it. Her sister had been casting for money to pay off Saint Willow, the gang leader that oversees her sector of Lotusland. If you want to operate a business there, you have to pay your tribute. And now with Shire dead, Aza must step in to save the legacy of Wu Teas, the teahouse that has been in her family for centuries.

When Aza comes across a secret invitation, she decides she doesn’t have much else to lose. She quickly realizes that she’s entered herself into an underground casting tournament, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Real magic, real consequences. As she competes, Aza fights for her life against some very strong and devious competitors.

When the facts about Shire’s death don’t add up, the police start to investigate. When the tributes to Saint Willow aren’t paid, the gang comes to collect. When Aza is caught sneaking around with fresh casting wounds, her parents are alarmed. As Aza’s dangerous web of lies continues to grow, she is caught between trying to find a way out and trapping herself permanently.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. The world is falling apart. Real magic, rare and potent, drains energy from the earth every time a spell is cast, leaving behind charred land, frozen oceans, and smog heavy in the air. Aza is secretly a full caster, but she hides her powers, pretending to be someone who can only do small, leftover magic. She’s trying desperately to pay her family’s debt to sector boss Saint Willow before goons come to bust up her home and torture her family. Stuck in the shadow of her now-dead sister, Shire, Aza has one week left until Saint Willow’s people come for her parents. When a note left by an old tutor leads her to an underground magic-fighting ring, she realizes she has the chance, the power, and the skill to get out from under Saint Willow’s thumb—possibly for good. The fighting ring leads to more questions still, as well as more danger. Could learning the secrets of magic and the truth behind her sister’s death be worth it all? Chapman (Along the Indigo, 2018) has created compelling young adult novels before, but this is a cut above; the fully realized and atmospheric dystopia is crafted at a level not seen often. This stunning fantasy will fly off the shelves.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
In a dystopian world broken apart by magic, Aza Wu struggles to unravel the mystery of her sister’s death while fending off gangsters and dodging Scouts who hunt full-magic casters like herself. The rules of magic set up by Chapman (Hungry Hearts, 2019, etc.) come down to this: The more magic you use, the more magic you pull from the Earth, leaving behind a scar ranging from a buckled road to an earthquake that levels buildings. A full caster is limited by their level of control and the physical pain that follows a spell. Despite the dangers and the guilt she feels for damaging the world around her, Aza desperately casts magic for marks to pay off the family debt. This leads her to the underground Tournament of Casters, where she will risk her life for marks and answers. The main character identifies as Chinese, and though some racial and cultural discrimination is discussed, the story focuses more heavily on the haves and have-nots of magic and power. The pacing is fast and furious, upheld by the deadline Aza faces of a single week, which almost becomes a running joke. Some characters are ham-handed in their villainy, but most are genuine in their struggle to do what it takes to survive. A dark and, at times, vicious and violent story of will and questionable honor. (Dystopian fantasy. 13-17)

About the Author

Elsie Chapman grew up in Prince George, Canada, and has a degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. She is the author of the YA novels DualedDividedAlong the Indigo, and Caster as well as the MG novel All the Ways Home, and co-editor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.

Her website is elsiechapman.com

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Fiction, November 2019

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton. August 6, 2019. Grand Central Publishing, 320 p. ISBN: 9781538745823.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

One pet crow fights to save humanity from an apocalypse in this uniquely hilarious debut from a genre-bending literary author.

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle’s wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.

Then Big Jim’s eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn’t quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies–from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis–fail to cure Big Jim’s debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity’s extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.

Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (June 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 19))
When a wise-cracking, curse-spewing narrator identifies himself as a Seattle-born talking crow named S.T. who’s just witnessed an eyeball popping out of his “MoFo” owner’s head, readers willing to get on board this bizarrely captivating debut novel will know they’re in for a bumpy ride, seat belts not included. Unfortunately, the eyeball incident is just the beginning of S.T.’s troubles as Big Jim, his master and trainer, explodes into a zombie-like rage, forcing S.T. to flee the house on the hirsute back of Dennis, the floppy-eared family bloodhound, and into an unexpectedly frightening outside world. It seems every square mile of Seattle’s streets and parks is now teeming with frenzied undead MoFos, Big Jim’s contemptuous label for humankind, all of whom get especially crazed by beeping smartphones. Eager to find one or two disease-free humans to save the day, S.T. narrowly escapes gnashing zombie jaws and inexplicably uncaged zoo animals until he crosses paths with a wise fellow crow named Kraii, and realizes his true mission in life: to free other domesticated animals from their housebound prisons before it’s too late. While S.T.’s floridly descriptive, expletive-laden narration sometimes feels self-indulgent, Buxton’s quirky ideas and compelling nonhuman characters will satisfy literary fiction and zombie genre enthusiasts alike who are looking for something beguilingly different.

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2019)
When a deadly virus changes humankind forever, S.T., a domesticated crow with a mouth like a sailor, and his dog, Dennis, teach the animal kingdom how to survive the apocalypse. After their owner becomes a slobbering, zombielike creature with a deadly cellphone obsession, unflappable crow S.T. and loyal canine Dennis venture out into Seattle. They soon realize other domesticated animals aren’t as lucky and are trapped in their locked homes. With his innate knowledge of the MoFo (human) world, S.T. uses his corvid intelligence and Dennis’ high-powered sniffer to come to the rescue. When old and new predators emerge in a city quickly returning to nature, S.T. and Dennis join forces with wild crows and other animals to keep their territory safe. It’s an intriguing and fun premise that starts with a strong and saucy voice, but this debut novel gets very muddled very quickly. In lieu of giving her lively animal characters a rich narrative arc, the author focuses too heavily on not-so-subtle morality tales about every injustice and environmental crisis in the world today. The science is messy, wins feel too easy, and losses don’t cut as deeply as they’re meant to, though it’s possibly saved by witty one-liners and the author’s sharp take on a bird’s eye-view of Seattle. A heavy-handed zombie apocalypse-meets-nature documentary meant to inspire humans to do better, but it loses its way.

About the Author

Kira Jane Buxton’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, NewYorker.com, McSweeney’s, The RumpusHuffington Post, and more. She calls the tropical utopia of Seattle, Washington, home and spends her time with three cats, a dog, two crows, a charm of hummingbirds, and a husband.

Her website is www.kirajanebuxton.com

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Fiction, November 2019

Rated by Melissa Grey

Rated by Melissa Grey. September 3, 2019. Scholastic Press, 320 p. ISBN: 9781338283570.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The ratings are real. One number, 0 to 100, determines your place in society. Earn a high rating, and the world is yours for the taking. But fall to zero, and you may as well cease to exist.

Societies thrive on order, and the Rating System is the ultimate symbol of organized social mobility.

The higher it soars, the more valued you are. The lower it plummets, the harder you must work to improve yourself. For the students at the prestigious Maplethorpe Academy, every single thing they do is reflected in their ratings, updated daily and available for all to see.

But when an act of vandalism sullies the front doors of the school, it sets off a chain reaction that will shake the lives of six special students — and the world beyond.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
Six mismatched students fight against the societal rating system that rules every aspect of their lives. Grey (The Savage Dawn) provides a glimpse into the panoptic future of globalized and wearable technology where teachers, parents, and peers can influence someone’s future by docking points from personal ratings. Access to food, hospitals, and education are all regulated by a person’s rating. A motley crew of students at Maplethorpe Academy are urged into action when someone graffitis, “THE RATINGS ARE NOT REAL,” onto the front door of their school. Bex, the overachieving dark-skinned brain; Javi, the ambiguously Latin and bronze-skinned gay beauty; jocks Chase (coded white) and Hana (Japanese)—dealing with an alcoholic father and an unspecified eating disorder, respectively; Tamsin, the white tarot-reading, rating-defying rebel; and Noah, the photography enthusiast, bi-curious, white recluse are individually targeted as all six receive personal messages. Unsure of who is sending them, the sextet investigates, uniting to fight the tyranny of the school princess and destroy the oppressive rating system. Ever wondered what a dystopian John Hughes young adult novel would be like? Grey closely hits the mark in her departure from fantasy and incursion into science fiction: The novel unfortunately falls into predictability, and the dystopian world is riddled with teen character stereotypes. An unappealing plot peopled with two-dimensional characters. (Science fiction. 13-17)

Publishers Weekly (June 24, 2019)
At elite Maplethorpe Academy, six students receive riddles and clues suggesting that all is not right with their society’s universal rating system, which decides everything from education and healthcare to social standing. Each teen has a reason to challenge or distrust the system, but only by working together can they decipher the messages and discover the truth behind current events. After graffiti warns that “the ratings are not real,” academically struggling jock Chase becomes close to overachieving Bex; professional e-gamer Javi is drawn to photographer Noah; and driven figure skater Hana befriends goth outcast Tamsin, whose rating is plummeting due to a bullying campaign. The six separate narratives don’t intersect until near the end, at which point the teens join forces, leading up to an open-ended conclusion. Grey (the Girl at Midnight books) presents an intriguing premise, but the lack of detail behind the rating system creates uneven worldbuilding, and the story hits perhaps too many buttons, between Chase’s dyslexia and alcoholic father, Hana’s anorexia, Noah’s sister’s leukemia, Javi’s confusion over his attraction to Noah, and Bex’s domineering parents. Still, despite the somewhat cluttered narrative, this is a provocative dystopian offering. Ages 12-up

About the Author

Melissa Grey was born and raised in New York City. She wrote her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn’t stopped writing since. She is the author of The Girl at Midnight, The Shadow Hour, and The Savage Dawn. When she’s not penning novels, she’s writing video games for Voltage Entertainment, most recently Speakeasy Tonight and Starship Promise.

She can also ride a horse and shoot a bow and arrow at the same time, for what it’s worth, which is not much at all. Unless there’s some kind of zombie apocalypse. Then it’ll be worth a whole lot more.

Her website is www.melissa-grey.com.

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