Debut Novels | 35 Going On 13

This month, Library Journal is spotlighting debut novels, which are also a mainstay of teen literature. It may be hard to believe, but there once was a time when Stephenie Meyer and John Green were not household names. Green’s debut, Looking for Alaska (2005), won the coveted Printz Award and is not the only first book to do so; and, since 2009, YALSA’s William C. Morris YA Debut Award , has shined an even brighter spotlight on emerging talent.

Here are six debutantes just waiting for their chance at the ball.

Gewirtz, Adina Rishe. Zebra Forest. Candlewick. Apr. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9780763660413. $15.99.
Annie and her brother, Andrew (“Rew”), live a quiet life in the shelter of the Zebra Forest, an expanse of birch surrounding their Gran’s mean house. Their mother left Annie and Rew with Gran because they were “his idea,” and their father is presumed dead—a heroic figure in Annie’s imagination. Was he a pilot? A pirate? Or a special agent like the negotiators working to free the Americans in Iran, now almost a year in captivity? Then a prison break brings a desperate fugitive to their door, and Annie, Rew, and Gran begin living their own hostage crisis. This compelling debut bares the stark truth about four vulnerable people and at the same time offers them a more hopeful future. An unforgettable story of the ties that bind.

Howland, Leila. Nantucket Blue. Hyperion. May 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781423160519. $16.99.
To my mind, the perfect novel for spring break is the one that makes you eager for the summer, as this one does. Cricket has been offered a perfect summer in Nantucket, with the family of her best friend, Jules. When a family tragedy puts a halt to their plans, Cricket decides to go it alone, taking a job as a chambermaid in a quaint Nantucket bed-and-breakfast. There she makes friends with her fellow staff, begins an impromptu internship with a journalist/biographer, and fall into a romantic relationship with Jules’s younger brother, Zack, knowing that Jules will never forgive her if they are discovered. Fans of Sarah Dessen will find much to like here, as the charm of this summery yarn lies in Cricket’s open appeal. Readers will root for her as she falls down, takes her lumps, and moves forward to her final year in high school, always remembering what she learned under the Nantucket sun.

Laybourne, Emmy. Monument 14.  Feiwel & Friends. 2012. 296p. ISBN 9780312569037. $16.99.
I missed this debut until it made it onto my friend and colleague Jennifer Hubert’s annual Reading Rants ( “Best of” List. In Monument, CO, the day started just like any other for Dean and his younger brother Alex: on the school bus. Then, only minutes after boarding, a freak hail storm precipitated by a massive seismic event off of the East Coast heralds catastrophe. The brothers and 12 other kids seek shelter in a local superstore, waiting out the horror outside and battling their own demons within. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Mist (1980) and Under the Dome (2009), this chilling page-turner puts ordinary kids into an increasingly desperate situation, hinging their survival on ingenuity and minute-by-minute decision making. An altogether original twist on the zombie apocalypse story.

Rush, Jennifer. Altered. Little, Brown. 2013. 323p. ISBN 9780316197083. $17.99.
Anna might be the envy of other teen girls. Her father is a scientist for the Branch—a secret intergovernmental agency—and there are four attractive, genetically altered boys living caged in her basement. When the four—Sam, Nick, Trev, and Cas—escape, Anna, inexplicably connected to them, follows. Their journey to uncover the truth about the boys’ origins leads Anna to confront her own truth—that she is bonded heart and soul to Sam. Nonstop action, covert conspiracies, and large quantities of machismo start this sf series in the right direction. Judging from its critical praise and positive word-of-mouth, readers are already eagerly awaiting the next installment.

West, Kasie. Pivot Point. HarperTeen: HarperCollins. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780062117373. $17.99.
Have you ever made a decision you regretted? One where you wish you had seen the outcome before you made it? Addison has never had to wonder if she is making a wrong move. As a “Searcher” in her supernatural community, she can freely explore future possibilities and always ensure the right decision, and the decision before her is which parent to live with in a coming divorce. As adults, we know that some futures (and most decisions) are not so black and white, that potential outcomes each present own set of challenges. Nevertheless, the Sliding Doors–like format of this first-novel—tracking alternating parallel realities—is still altogether enjoyable and confirms that there are no easy answers, just as there are no futures free from suffering.

Winters, Cat. In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Amulet. Apr. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9781419705304. $16.95.
The 1918 flu outbreak and Spiritualist craze are the setting for this gorgeous production, which features photographs and ads from the era. When her Socialist father is arrested for treason, Mary Shelley Black goes to live with her aunt in San Diego, hoping the warmer clime will offer some immunity from the deadly flu that has its hold on the rest of the nation. No such luck, for even in sunny California, the hospitals and morgues are full of flu victims and inconsolable survivors seek solace from charlatans offering means to communicate with the dead. When Mary learns that her great love, Stephen, met his end on a Great War battlefield, she begins to feel his presence all around, leading her to believe that his soul is not at peace and that his brother (himself a “spirit photographer”) may not be telling the truth about his demise. The book’s historic setting is as much a star as the plucky Mary Shelley, bringing to life a time when the flu was far more deadly than a few days of congestion and imposed bedrest. Fans of Libba Bray’s The Diviners (2012) will particularly enjoy this one, while waiting for the next in that series.

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