Gah! The end of the year approaches, and we still have several 2013 titles to recommend, so forgive me if today’s novels are a bit less thematically similar than usual.
With that said, all three of today’s novels take us to some very dark corners of teen life. In Save Yourself, we are introduced to a nihilistic teen cult, led by a “Charlie-Manson-in-training” (as Booklist puts it). Crooked Numbers pulls together gangs, racism, murder, and (worst of all) Big Pharma into a suspenseful mystery featuring detective-turned-teacher Raymond Donne from O’Mara’s Sacrifice Fly. And The Whole Golden World features one of the biggest nightmares of many of us parents: a sexual relationship between a teacher and student.
If they aren’t exactly uplifting, all three of these novels feature top-notch writing and fully developed teen characters who should intrigue (if not always appeal to) a wide range of teen readers.
BRAFFET, Kelly. Save Yourself. 320p. Crown. 2013. Tr $25. ISBN 9780385347341; ebk. ISBN 9780385347358. LC 2012048148.
Adult/High School–Patrick is notorious in Ratchetsburg, the son who turned his father in after he killed a child while driving drunk. He and his brother are vilified not for sending their father to prison, but for waiting too long to call the police after seeing the blood and hair in the grille of his car. Patrick’s life becomes connected to teen goth girl Layla when she seeks him out as yet another way to anger her conservative preacher father. But Layla’s rebellions surpassed dating the town pariah long before meeting Patrick, as he quickly finds out. She is involved with a group led by magnetic Justinian. They use sex, cutting, drinking, and drugs to escape their lonely, stifling high school lives. But their goal isn’t to party; it is to turn the world upside down. These damaged young people are victimized, vulnerable, petty, impetuous, and living on the razor’s edge physically, emotionally, and financially, and Braffet sugarcoats nothing, tapping the same vein as Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places (2009) and Sharp Objects (2006, both Shaye Areheart Books). Scenes of Layla’s younger sister being bullied and assaulted in the high school bathroom are stomach-churning, and Justinian’s machinations will leave readers reeling at his depravity; and Braffet’s descriptions of sex, sexual violence, and cutting are disturbing to read. Nonetheless, Save Yourself provides twisted characters and situations with teen appeal. And Braffet’s writing is excellent, as she manages to weave in backstories effortlessly and pace revelations for maximum tension.–Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Queens Public Library, NY
O’MARA, Tim. Crooked Numbers. Bk. 2. 306p. (Raymond Donne Mystery Series). Minotaur. 2013. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781250009005. LC 2013024554.
Adult/High School–New York City cop turned middle-school teacher Raymond Donne is pulled into a criminal investigation when a former student, Douglas Lee, is murdered. Douglas was enrolled at a prestigious Upper West Side private school and Donne suspects a setup when he learns that the crime appears to be a gang-related drug deal gone wrong. Douglas’s mother feels the same way and, understanding that the police will not take the time to dig deeper, asks Donne to use his connections to keep the investigation going. When another student from the school, a friend of Douglas’s, is killed a few days later, and a third is hospitalized, Donne gets pulled in deeper, all the while protesting he’s no longer a cop, he’s a teacher–a teacher who can’t turn off his investigative instincts. This book rises above the standard inner-city-to-prep-school story by giving Douglas strong adults in his life; a stable home; and, despite his inner city roots, no trouble fitting in with his wealthier classmates. Most important, this well-written story manages to tie big pharma, gang activity, racism, and the struggles of the overprivileged into an intriguing crime story with surprising but credible twists. This mystery, featuring young people experiencing a variety of life circumstances and a teacher dealing with day-to-day school issues while trying to uncover the truth about a murder, will draw in and satisfy teen readers.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA
RIGGLE, Kristina. The Whole Golden World. 419p. Morrow. 2013. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780062206459; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062206466.
Adult/High School–A sexual relationship between a student and a teacher–sexual predator? passionate affair? This many-faceted story is told from the points of view of the four key players–the student (Morgan), her mother (Dinah), the teacher (TJ), and the teacher’s wife (Rain). From the start readers know that the novel ends with TJ on trial. Wondering how the story will get there lends it an element of suspense and a hook. TJ’s after-school meetings with Morgan begin innocently. One day, a kiss changes everything. Soon they are meeting whenever they can. Morgan is in love and frustrated that TJ can’t publicly demonstrate what she believes are his true feelings for her. TJ knows there can be no good ending to what has begun. The relationship between Morgan and Dinah is a large part of the story, too. Dinah is terrified of losing her daughter, who has announced that as soon as she is18 she will leave home. Morgan is furious that people keep calling her a “victim.” While teens will likely not relate much to Dinah’s struggles as a woman whose marriage has suffered under the strain of the past years, or to Rain, a young wife desperate for a baby, those aspects will probably not turn them away, either. More importantly, they may be able to relate to Morgan and, perhaps even better than an adult, understand both sides of this tale. Morgan wants to believe she is as fully capable as an adult, but she definitely straddles the area between childhood and adulthood.–Sarah Debraski, formerly at Somerset County Library System, NJ