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!
The Boy and the Giant
By David Litchfield
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Size, height, the whole beanstalk thing: a giant is pretty hard to miss. But in the town of Gableview (not more specifically than “faraway”) lives a boy named Billy who has never seen the Giant he’s heard so much about, in particular from his grandfather. Holding fast to the stubborn habit of only believing what he sees, Billy wants proof beyond the hoary hearsay of Grandad’s storytelling that the Giant exists. Besides, the impressively tall “Welcome to Gableview” mural the whole town has been painting could really use the help of the Giant’s mighty reach as they near the top.
But tip-top storytelling, as Grandad well knows, is more than telling stories. The Boy and the Giant doesn’t let Billy off the hook for dismissing as patent fable the tales he’s been told, but neither does the Giant appear at the drop of a yardstick. In a beguiling turn of events, Grandad leapfrogs Billy past what’s familiar in the disputed folklore to scrutinize revealing instances of the remarkable in his own experiences. A powerful new spin is put on such small delights in his life so far as a bee-free camping trip, and such major scares as the town’s fishing fleet almost lost to a storm. Better equipped to catch sight of the Giant with eyes that have glimpsed the towering figure’s meaning, Billy drops his resistance to giving the visual a last try. The hour of day Grandad recommends—the fuzzy time between wakefulness and sleep—casts a telling light over the outcome. Illuminated together, Billy and the Giant seem just the right size for a beautiful friendship.
The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA
By Brenda Woods
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers Group
Reality comes to town in The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA. A likably teachable moment of a novel, it turns up the blues on the official notion that, in 1946 South Carolina, nothing could be finer than to live there. Certainly not for Gabriel Haberlin, a Birdsong booster. Despite parents on the liberal end of local white folk—Northern-educated at Oberlin, they’ve raised him to distinguish right from wrong in that vein—it takes his crashing his Schwinn Autocycle Deluxe birthday bike into an oncoming Buick Roadmaster to steer the 12-year-old toward what nowadays would be called truly woke.
He’s snatched from certain disaster by a black bystander wearing a “Need Work” sign around his neck where medals for valor should be. In Meriweather Hunter, Woods locates the story of African-Americans who served in the segregated military of both World Wars, only to have recognition for their service and heroism denied them, their job prospects a mockery, a better life for their families a deferred dream. Gabriel aims to right the situation in Birdsong, and his father obliges by hiring Hunter to work in his car dealership (Woods awards it an imaginary listing in The Green Book). As thanks, a suspicious series of mishaps and threats befall his new employee.
However gung-ho Gabriel is about detective work, the ugly predicament isn’t a case that The Unsung Hero lets him solve. The sad truth of homecomings like Hunter’s remained long entrenched throughout the country, longest and most appallingly in the South that Gabriel assigns himself to witness, where white veterans resentful of having been made to fight alongside “coloreds” did their best to wipe that from the record. The lengths they went to add a sense of deadly menace to the novel. It comes armed with sawed-off shotguns, conversant in nighttime violence, and stocked up on white sheets.2 .
By Tonya Bolden
Published by Bloomsbury
History stacked a particularly large number of cards against black Americans with the end of Reconstruction in 1877, a reinvigorated racism happily in cahoots with a politics of corruption. Popular for her nonfiction, inInventing Victoria Tonya Bolden quizzes those times through studiously detailed fiction, gauging their losses and gains for the hand they might deal a young girl coming of age in 1880s Savannah and Washington, D.C. and what this Essie makes of it.
Essie’s laudanum-addicted mother, a beautiful former slave who kept company with soldiers on Sherman’s March, expects her daughter to follow in her professional footsteps. The book-loving girl instead has teaching in mind. Hounded out of school by taunts about her parentage, she’s forced to scrounge for reading matter in the streets, and look no higher than employment as a boarding house maid, not the most promising prospect for beating post-Reconstruction at its deceitful game.
But Bolden also knows the era for the determined rise of a black upper class, and its still relatively under-recognized place in history. For Essie, the necessary culture and refinement, along with a little cloak-and-dagger, arrive with a new boarder who takes her under her wing. Essie suffers the punishingly rigorous education and grueling etiquette regimen Miss Doris Vashon imposes to emerge the dazzling Victoria, willing to make the most of her fair skin, her sites set on Washington, D.C., and African-American society’s highest reaches.
Because Inventing Victoria is historical fiction to its Gilded Age hilt, Frederick Douglass—dispensing the hopes and apprehensions of a pivotal historical moment—is just the most famous of real-life figures crowding its pages. The rarefied social circles that vie for the pleasure of Victoria’s company are in attendance at the likes of soirées that actually took place, and romance strides in bedizened in all the right connections. But a smitten Victoria is nonetheless also Essie, and has near enough had her fill of the philistine snobbery, empty socializing, and pernicious shadism corroding the capital’s elite. Marriage on the table, Victoria wants Essie and everything about her to be part of a truer self. A test of the man she loves, it’s Bolden leveling with history.
What We Buried
By Kate A. Boorman
Published by Henry Holt and Company Books for Young Readers
Age 14 and up
The GPS of normality goes seriously haywire in Kate Boorman’s What We Buried. Nevada born and bred, siblings Jory and Liv Brewer still don’t impress as the greatest road-trip pair. With a face congenitally distorted by Moebius syndrome, the Eastern-college bound Jory’s default is contempt for his sister, a recovering pageant teen battling their parents for legal emancipation and a good chunk of change. Brought up in dysfunction to play obedient beauty and shameful beast, they’re nothing but reluctant to switch into teamed-up P.I. mode to go in search of their parents, sudden no-shows the morning of Liv’s final court date.
One lure is curiousity about their father’s shady business dealings, coiled nastier than a rattlesnake around collateral damage. Another is the justice in bringing their mother back to watch the media that once lavished lucrative attention on her broadcast her legal and financial downfall. Logic seems to dictate following a dust cloud of hints to a high-desert property looming large in reawakened childhood recollections. Her natural landscape buffeted by blinding winds, Boorman releases trouble in bursts of the surreal and inexplicable, constantly shifting the terrain Liv and Jory depend on for their grasp on reality. The seen, unseen and hallucinatory blur certainty into confusion, and time keeps looping into a déjà vu of the same creepy drifter, abandoned gas station, and inconvenient emotions. A disintegrating distinction between life and death is a known marker of mental meltdown, but also of spirits haunting the scene of a crime. What We Buried skillfully alternates the two sides every story has, unafraid of clarity with one foot in bafflement.4 .