35 Going on 13: Big Books

As it does in many things, size matters in the book world, and some books are just bigger than others. In this context, “big” can mean the book has a hefty page length, larger-than-life press, or sizable footsteps in which to follow.

Enjoy some of the biggest teen books of the year.

Bick, Ilsa J. Shadows. Egmont. 2012. 528p. ISBN 9781606841761. $17.99.
Last fall, Ilsa Bick’s Ashes delivered big adventure and big scares, as its heroine, Alex, fought to stay alive amid a world gone mad with flesh-eating monsters and power-hungry rulers. At the book’s close, Alex was running from a bad situation into a worse one—no longer able to tolerate the men of Rule, she escaped only to become easy prey to the roving packs of teenage cannibals surrounding the authoritarian town. Shadows picks up mere minutes later, and Alex’s fight for survival begins anew. Bick plumbs the depths of prisoner psychology as Alex ekes out days and hours held captive on a (human) food chain gang, getting a firsthand look at how quickly the monstrous “Changed” have evolved. Meanwhile, Rule’s darker secrets are exposed, and the two men in Alex’s life fight their own battles. Bick comfies into her grim world in a sequel that is even more gruesome than the first book (this reader may never look at steak again) and capitalizes on her military experience with its complex, tactical plotting. How big? At 50 pages longer than its predecessor, Shadows whets the appetite for the trilogy’s conclusion.

Bray, Libba. The Diviners. Little, Brown. 2012. 608p. ISBN 9780316126113. $19.99.
Any new book from this Printz Award–winning author is a big deal, even bigger when it is the start of a promised trilogy. Set in the Roaring Twenties in New York City, The Diviners delivers everything Bray’s (legion) fans have come to expect: a gutsy protagonist, sparkling dialog, and swoony romance. What they may not be expecting is the terrifying mystery (big scares!) that drives the story. Ohio-bred Evie is “banished” to the care of her distracted uncle. As the curator of the City’s museum of the occult, Uncle Will is occasionally called on by the police to share his particular expertise. Thus is the irrepressible Evie drawn into the investigation of a grisly series of murders committed by Naughty John—who just may be trying to bring on the end of the world. How big? It would be impossible to catalog the myriad delights contained in the book’s 600-plus pages in the space of one review. Follies dancers, numbers runners, Socialists, religious fanatics, and reporters all take the stage and at their center is a witty 17-year-old wielding slang authentic to the age (her trademark? “Everything’s jake!”). Bray immerses readers in their world, promising new delights to come.

Hartman, Rachel. Seraphina. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012. 480p. ISBN: 9780375866562. $17.99.
Torn between the dragon and human worlds, Seraphina has found it is best to lie low. Seraphina lives with a secret: beneath her layered robes is a body crusted with dragon scales, the result of a coupling that would land her father in prison even 40 years after the signing of a treaty making peace with dragon-kind. The newly minted assistant to the court music master is thrust into the spotlight when she plays at a royal funeral, baring the musical greatness contained within her petite frame. In the world of Hartman’s complex imaginings, dragons can take human form, and only at her death in childbirth was Seraphina’s mother’s secret exposed. Now, Seraphina’s closest ally is her maternal uncle (also a dragon passing as a human) and she will need him as the tensions between human and dragon-kind reach a breaking point. How big? No lesser lights than Tamora Pierce and Christopher Paolini offered advance praise for the big creation of this first-time author (never mind its six starred reviews). Seraphina sets the mark against which all future dragon stories will be measured.

Lanagan, Margo. The Brides of Rollrock Island. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780375869198. $17.99.
On tiny Rollrock Island, no one is more feared than the sea witch Misskaella, whose particular brand of magic shapes life on the island for generations. Only Misskaella can draw the woman from the seal, bringing forth beautiful creatures irresistible to the men of the island. They will pay anything to possess a sea bride, eventually forcing the natural women of the island (who once tormented the young Misskaella) into self-imposed exile. Lanagan specializes in stories that occupy the border between the real world and magic, grounded in gritty detail and complicated emotion; here exploring the anthropological implications and sexual realpolitik of the selkie myth. Her soaring prose bares the raw human pain and love contained within an otherwise inscrutable legend.  How big? With a story spanning three generations, the two-time Printz Honor winner—for Black Juice (2005) and Tender Morsels (2008)—may finally take home the Prize.

Levithan, David. Every Day. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780307931887. $16.99.
While many would argue that Levithan’s books (Boy Meets Boy, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) are pure magic, he has eschewed the realm of magical realism…until now. Meet A. Every day, A wakes up in the body of another teen A’s age: boys and girls from every race, creed, preference, and walk-of-life. Through their eyes, A enjoys the breadth of teen experience, without entanglement, until the day A meets Rhiannon and falls in love. Now A will do anything to spend time with her, an almost impossible goal for someone who could wake up 40 miles away and will always, always, be different every time Rhiannon experiences him or her. This intriguing premise is not the end of the story. In Levithan’s skilled hands, it is the launching point for larger ethical questions, and at its conclusion, a meditation on life’s purpose and love. How big? The book’s big premise is matched by its big press. Laudatory reviews in the Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly have made Every Day one of the most talked-about teen books of the fall.

Nix, Garth. A Confusion of Princes. HarperCollins, 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780060096946. $17.99.
Prince Khemri comes of age in an intergalactic empire in which a Prince is the thing to be—or so he thinks. After ascending into the full measure of his station, Khemri learns, to his rude surprise, that Princes may have the advantages of superhuman strength and the authority to command legions, but these trappings are necessary merely to survive in a winner-take-all world where only one Prince (of millions) can become the next Emperor. His newly acquired Master of Assassins informs him that some 30 percent of Princes do not make it through their first day. Luckily for Khemri, Haddad, his Master, has been around the Empire and knows how to shepherd the strong-willed newbie to his destiny. How big? With all outer space as his canvas, Nix has created a story for the ages. While paying homage to sf classics (Dune, Star Wars, Foundation), he amps up the adrenaline for a new generation of readers. Not surprising, an MMORPG, Imperial Galaxy, based on the story allows fans to enter Nix’s world under their own steam.

Wein, Elizabeth. Code Name Verity. Hyperion. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781423152194. $16.99.
Under any other circumstances, Julie and Maddie would never have met. But World War II was no ordinary time and the aristocratic blonde and spirited pilot become the best of friends, each contributing in her own way to the British war effort. Their relationship is the beating heart at the center of Wein’s double helix. At the book’s opening, a spy has been taken prisoner behind enemy lines. Her lengthy “confession” tells the story of the two friends and the events leading up to her capture. A second narrative exposes the truth and the lies contained therein and concludes the tragic tale of two forever-friends forced by war to make the most difficult of choices. Gutsy, smart, and believable, Code Name Verity celebrates the heroism of these likable young women during the most trying of historic times.  How big? After earning a galaxy of starred reviews, Verity won the Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Award, making this spring release the book to beat in the fall award season.


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