JUNIOR EDITION: New Fiction for Younger Readers searches recent releases to discover the best kids' fiction out there. Given that the line between what makes a novel perfect for a teenager and just as compelling for an adult is anyone’s guess, Celia will sometimes review an “adult” novel that crosses that divide, as well as books for everyone from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers. We hope Celia's terrific choices help get kids reading, and help create the next generation of readers and writers!
By Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by Matt Rockefeller
Published by First Second Books/Running Brook Press
Blowing bubbles is a nifty pastime, a popular game with liquid and air. Less common is a determination to pop the translucent little bits of physic’s magic, but Jason Carter Eaton and Matt Rockefeller’s young Dewey is a boy who loves doing both. In terms of personality, he’s also most inclined toward his own company, well aware that his signature activity doesn’t require even one friend to make him happy. He can always be in charge.
A headstrong bubble, though, doesn’t conform to the norm, and along comes one intent on thwarting Dewey’s go-to attempts to intervene in its tiny rebel life. Gravity affects a boy differently than a bubble. Jumping to reach the maverick doesn’t work. Teasing Dewey’s single-mindedness, the bubble makes a mockery of trampoline, jungle gym, rooftop, and skyscraper summit. It keeps popping Dewey’s bubble.
Dewey’s refusal to concede defeat is traced in an upward direction. With each new means of hurtling skyward that Eaton sends his way—from a hot air balloon on up through a helicopter, a bi-plane, a nastily bellicose F-16 fighter jet, and a moon rocket—his powers of persuasion gain him command. Still, the impression arises that the elusive bubble is faster than thought, swifter than striving. Dejected for once, Dewey has to shift gears into an alternate realm, making the leap into a new sphere. Somewhere the bubble is smiling, but kindly. Figuring out what this means holds the unforeseen in store, and an unconventional promise of companionship. Coated in the stuff of dreams, a sense of achievement leaves the straight and narrow for a more curious way of being.
Spell & Spindle
By Michelle Schusterman
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Trading places with another person is one thing, but flipping with a marionette is on a perilously different plane. Michelle Schusterman’s Spell & Spindle is a travel brochure for the fantastical reflected in the story of a downhearted 11-year-old boy and a beautiful, disheveled marionette of life-size proportions and indeterminate age.
Out-of-place in a squirmily upbeat family and dreading its impending move from a Gotham-like city to the suburbs—it’s 1952—Chance Bonvillain drops in whenever he can on The Museum of Peculiar Arts and a pretty, apparently inanimate figurine named Penny who stares fixedly down at him. As her luck would have it (and Chance’s is slow to catch up) a portentous touch to her strings works the ineffable, and switches each to the other’s body.
To Penny’s delight, she can now talk, move, and may soon be able to do more than just wonder about what it’s like to have feelings, her disposition towards honorable behavior contending with the enticements of a new identity. Chance, trapped into silence and immobility, is condemned to count only on their gender-jumping proximity and newfound capacity for wordless communication, which takes a nosedive when he’s marionette-napped into the Dreamland Traveling Carnival. Space slides into oddness—room keeps freakishly opening up for more and more marionettes in the fiendish caravan of a sinister puppet master with access to a suspect spinning wheel. Trotted out to perform in shows with the rest, Chance wrestles with the apprehension of hovering uncomfortably close to a disquieting old fairytale he’s grown up on. As spirits play among the marionette strings, the need to unlock Penny’s past takes on mounting urgency. A rollercoaster through time, temperament, and the surreal fine points of puppeteering, Spell & Spindle moves the needle in time-was charm.2 .
Scream All Night
By Derek Milman
Published by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Horror gets a makeover in Derek Milman’s Scream All Night, and family ties aren’t exempt. Legally emancipated since the age of 12, seventeen-year-old Dario Heyward is persuaded to return to the castle estate he once called home. Centered on Moldavia Studios, it’s the misfit brainchild of his tyrannical father, a cult lower-tier scare-movie director who laid on him a traumatic childhood culminating in an acting role that almost killed him. The occasion is his father’s funeral—lights up on a live burial crammed with ticketed fans. Its denouement sets the pace for a novel at once hilarious, wrenching, and marinated in inspired details.
Yet the ghostly, ghastly, diabolical, and monstrous remain a matter of what the brilliant and burdened people employed by Moldavia create for its films—any genuine savagery, destruction, haunting and harmful twists in the story are instead hyper-actively rampant in minds and hearts. His father’s will makes Dario studio head, to the outrage of Oren, his much older brother, who is seriously inept, self-deluded, and obsessed with filming a script he’s written about mutant cauliflowers on a killer rampage. One-sided sibling rivalry is on speaking terms with more sad memories. Its adequacy in working to save the stumbling studio from takeover by a billionaire competitor is problematic.
Ambivalence is Dario’s particular creature feature. He struggles against the hold that Moldavia reasserts over him, and doesn’t know how to reconcile his father’s past brutalization with a shared grief that pries him open one revelation at a time. A visit to his mother, institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia, is a fright night of an experience cushioned only by his love interest, Hayley, the heartthrob of his early years now skillfully focused on helping him heft the imperiled nightmare factory onto solid financial footing. She lights feminist fireworks. Scream All Night slashes through the expected, trouncing the predictable with eerie power.
By Riley Redgate
Published by Amulet Books/Abrams
Science fiction usually has its eye on the future. But for Brooklyn high-school senior Laila Piedra, sci-fi takes her backward—writing it is an excuse not to deal with the real world right in front of her. She lives inside a cocoon of her own making, the characters she champions as a writer, pod-captives to a virtual reality gone haywire. Contact with other people makes her self-conscious—about her looks, about her mixed Ecuadorian and white-Canadian parentage, about her shyness and sexual inexperience, about anything having to do with school except her three close (and only) friends and her creative writing teacher, Mr. Madison, who invariably praises the work she shows to nobody else. Then he’s sidelined in an accident, and Riley Redgate sharply injects a rather out-sized substitute into the Impact Future Charter School’s mix: Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer prize-winning novelist with very different standards and a harsh streak to her teaching. For Laila, Nazarenko’s brick-wall approach turns the class’s fellow sufferers, a motley bunch, into individuals. She has to learn how to move among them.
Laila’s adjustments to a severe taskmaster (her grade in the course could make or break where she goes to college) force her into an outside world that offers her everything she’s been avoiding, both exhilarating and disastrous. Redgate disburses a payload of predicaments and emotions. Piercing deeper than any clubbing, drinking, drugging, headway, or betrayal—try a freezing dawn on the beach with a stranger—is the sun-and-clouds quality of Laila’s bond with her friend Hannah, a Korean-American dazzler and “snare-hit” breaker of girls’ hearts. Love is on the table. So is uncertainty. Redgate is not one for easy conclusions, creating with her darkly alight Laila a hardcore fluorescence.4 .