When it comes to my TBR pile, the list of books that I want to read is never-ending. At times, the list seems like it might overwhelm me – and then I managed to carve out a reading day (bliss!) and to catch up somewhat.
However, with so many great books out there, it’s easy to miss some of the good ones. I’ve read some pretty great books lately, so I’m going to do a quick and dirty seven minute summary of some of my favourites that you may have missed recently.This will be a two-parter … the first part will focus on Middle Grade and Teen choices, while part two will focus on more adult reads. Here, then are a few recent books that may have slipped past your radar, but that you really need to read if you haven’t already done so.
Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.
Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa’s talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation called AMRF threatens his life in no uncertain terms.
But what Noa and Peter don’t realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who’d stop at nothing to silence her for good.
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
ISBN:9780062102904, 320 pages
This story starts off with a crazy twist and then just keeps on running. Noa is a young girl who wakes up, disoriented and hazy, to find that she is on a hospital gurney with no memory of how she ended up there. She quickly realizes that all is not as it seems, and manages to finagle her way out … only to find herself in the middle of a warehouse complex in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, Peter, a wealthy teen, is idly sneaking around his parents files when he comes across a mysterious file marked “Persephone”. He begins to do some research, and is intrigued by what he finds. Before he can dig too deep, however, his door is kicked in and his laptop taken from him by mysterious agents. From this point, both characters are off and running.
Noa has been compared to a Lisabeth Salander character; she’s a mix of tough and brilliant and scared, and it’s easy to fall into her rhythm. She doesn’t trust easily, and lives by her wits. Being held captive is her biggest nightmare, and she won’t stop to free herself in every way. It’s good to see an imperfect strong female protagonist, and Noa certainly fits the bill. Unlike Katniss, who wants to survive to help her family and to keep her life, Noa has no one to care for, and knows that she is the only one who will look out for herself. As a result, her crusty exterior masks a brilliant mind and even more incredible hacking skills.
Peter is her opposite in many ways, but also her equal. He may have been born into wealth and comfort but, like Noa ,he feels very much alone and without support. His virtual network has become his family, especially after the death of his brother, the withdrawal of his parents and the disintegrating relationship with his girlfriend. There’s a great relationship with Cody, his late brother’s best friend that shows some of Peter’s vulnerabilities, and gives you a glimpse of who he was before PEMA took his brother’s life, because – and I’m being honest here – he’s not particularly likeable for the first half of the book.
As with most dystopian novels, when the book opens the world as we know it has changed. PEMA, a mysterious disease that has come out of nowhere, is targeting teens and they are dying at an alarming rate. The concept of targeted illnesses as weapons is not new, but this is a refreshing take on the idea. I also enjoyed that the author wasn’t afraid to make some startling choices, keeping the action level high and the viewer engaged and absorbed in the story. This is an intriguing start to a new series (Persephone), and I’ll be following Gagnon with great interest to see where she takes the characters.
Days That End in Y by Vikki Vansickle
One summer. That’s all the time it takes to set your world spinning — or so Clarissa learns. Feeling abandoned by Mattie (camp), Benji (drama school), and even Michael (babysitting), Clarissa feels even more alone when her mother tells her she’s marrying Doug. This announcement gets Clarissa thinking about her father, and her search for answers leads to her stumbling upon information about the secret teenage life of her mother, and more importantly, about Bill, her absentee father.
Will Clarissa be able to move beyond the past and take part in Annie’s vision of the future? Happily ever after has never seemed so impossible.
Publisher: Scholastic Canada
ISBN: 9781443124324, 240 pages
First and foremost, if you have not yet picked up and read “Words that Start with B” and “Love is a Four-Letter Word”, then stop right now. Put down the laptop, head out and get them. Read them. When you’re finished, come back.
Alright? You covered? Good. It’s important that you read them because (a) they are awesome, and (b) this is the third and final book in the trilogy, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It’s summertime for Clarissa, but it’s not the summer she anticipated. Mattie is off to camp, and Benji is spending more and more time with his drama friends. To top it all off, her mom’s boyfriend Doug proposes, and Clarissa is left feeling a little out of the loop.
What I love about Vikki’s books is her ability to create characters who just leap off of the page as you read about them. It’s been fun to watch Clarissa grow and become more of the person she’s meant to be over the series, and her relationship with her mother is honest and believable, right down the arguments. I also like that she’s managed to develop Clarissa’s friendships in a natural way; no relationship stays stagnant, and it’s so refreshing to see honest conflict based on divergent interests, especially at Clarissa’s age. I still adore Benji – can’t say I’m surprised about what he finds out about himself, but so happy that he’s able to grow and develop as much as Clarissa.
Ultimately, though, this is a book about finding out who you really are, and where you are heading as you grow up. It’s that summer of change that we all remember just before high school, where Clarissa feels a little unsettled and more than a little unsure about what will happen in the future.We all remember that uncertainly as we started to leave childhood behind, and as we began to explore the new and exciting opportunities in front of us. Taking the leap and choosing to do – or be – something new is hard, but it’s a necessary step of life. That’s not to say that this instalment isn’t filled with Vikki’s trademarked humour – there’s still lots to laugh along with in this book, especially Clarissa’s thinly-disguised reactions to a tiny dog named Suzy.
To me, this series is comparable with those must-reads by Judy Blume or (my current favourite) Susin Nielsen. There’s enough humour to keep kids entertained, but also enough realism to make the books engaging.
The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne & Oliver Jeffers
There’s nothing unusual about the Brockets. Normal, respectable, and proud of it, they turn up their noses at anyone strange or different. But from the moment Barnaby Brocket comes into the world, it’s clear he’s anything but ordinary. To his parents’ horror, Barnaby defies the laws of gravity – and floats.
Desperate to please his parents, Barnaby does his best to keep both feet on the ground – but he just can’t do it. One fateful day, the Brockets decide enough is enough. They never asked for a weird, abnormal, and floating child. Barnaby has to go.
Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon – and so begins a magical journey around the world, with a cast of extraordinary new friends.
Publisher: Knopf/Random House Canada
ISBN: 9780857531469, 278 pages
I’m sure he doesn’t mean to do it, but opening a new book by John Boyne is always a little nerve-wracking. Why, you say? Because this is the man who brought us “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, the book that left me blue for days and led to numerous teary discussions between my students. However, there was no need to fear – this is wonderful and delightful read, filled with moments that break your heart and others that lift your spirits. This, then, is a story about finding out who you are, and being proud of your differences.
After meeting possibly the worst parents since Roald Dahl’s Matilda you will instantly fall for the sweetly charming Barnaby Brocket. Destined to spend his life on the ceilings of his world, Barnaby nevertheless has a cheerful attitude about his situation, and, when a fortuitous “accident” sets him free to float away from his home in Sydney, he travels the world, meeting interesting people and traveling around the world (he even manages to take in an Argos game at the Roger’s Centre!).
I loved the contrast of the caring siblings (and dog!) to the parents, and Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations bring each situation to life with just a few deft strokes. However, the true details lie in Boyne’s imaginative words, as he brings each of the unique characters to life with their interactions with our Barnaby. Each of the people Barnaby meets has something to teach him about being comfortable in your own skin, even as it may mean being what others dislike and finding a place for yourself in the world. From the kind coffee farming couple of Ethel and Marjorie (who left home to live in Brazil in order to be with each other), to the lonely New York artist, to the thin boy in a family of overindulgers, and even within a group who, by there very natures, are destined to be shunned, Barnaby slowly beings to realize that he is valuable and wonderful just the way he is.
There’s some lovely messages in this book, and what’s even better is that they don’t beat you over the head when they appear. Each person is allowed to be their own character, with their own back story, and it was fun to learn more about each of them (and to see the return of Liam, whom I adored in a very Tim Burton-ish way). I lent out my copy of the book to a friend’s daughter, who gave it back to me (reluctantly), saying, “I couldn’t understand why everyone was so horrible to the people Barnaby met. They seemed so much more fun to me.” While it’s never easy to be different to be ‘strange’ in a world filled with ‘normal’, Barnaby Brocket does a great job of figuring out that its more than worth the trouble.
“… Which was when he realized that he liked being different. It was the way he was born, after all. It was who he was supposed to be. He couldn’t allow them to change that.”
Don’t Turn Around, Days That End in Y and The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket are all available from Indigo, Amazon and your friendly independent bookstore. Be sure to pick up these gems you may have missed soon.