June: for most librarians serving teens, it’s either the start of summer reading or the end of a school year. It’s also the reminder that the year’s nearly half over, and for avid readers, it’s time to reflect on the first six months of reading and consider potential award-worthy books. So take a few minutes at the end of this month and think about those books written by debut authors that might be worthy of being nominated for the William C Morris Award and submit your own nomination. But before diving in, check out these debut titles making their way to shelves this month.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young (Margaret McElderry/Simon and Schuster, 9781442429984) is another worthy entry into the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre. Twin brother and sister Lugh and Saba live with their father and younger sister Emmi in a desolate world that’s frequently ravaged by dust stories. From the beginning of the book, readers are thrown into this storm that kills their father and brings with it a band of men who steal Lugh to places unknown. Unwilling to sit back and let her life be ruined before her life, Saba takes Emmi and herself on a quest through their world to find Lugh. Little did she anticipate that Lugh would be used as a pawn in a vicious world of drug cartels, and Saba now must fight for her life and the lives of those she loves. Fans of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth will no doubt love the high stakes action in this fast-paced novel. The book’s written in a dialect that gives real place to the world and real voice to Saba, who might be even more of a hard-fisted girl than Katniss.
Perhaps one of my favorite debuts this year, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach (Sourcebooks, 9781402256302) follows small-town Wisconsin native Felton Reinstein over the course of one summer that changes his life. Felton, once the geeky, scrawny guy who earned the nickname of “Squirrel Nuts,” has a sudden growth spurt and is now one the most talented football players on his high school’s team. But his life is anything but easy — there’s a lot of family challenges for him to unpack, which is why he tells the story through a series of journal entries late one night. And then, there’s Aleah, the girl who moved into his best friend’s house. She’s a piano prodigy and he is head over heels in love. But will she ever reciprocate, especially since she’s only going to be around for one summer? This story has a little bit of everything: the challenges of growing up, the issues surrounding interracial romance, navigating tough class issues, and a narrator who is one of the most real, honest, and still funny male voices to come around in a while.
Although she’s had her artwork appear in anthologies such as Flight, Vera Brosgol offers up her debut graphic novel Anya’s Ghost (First Second/Macmillan, 9781596435526) this month. Anya feels friendless at school, and she feels like an outcast because of her Russian heritage — her mom’s being a little oblivious of what it’s like to be a teen in America doesn’t help, either. After a bad day at school, Anya falls down a well (which is never good) but it’s only made worse when she meets a ghost. And this ghost won’t be leaving her alone any time soon. When she is able to get out of the well, Anya can’t get rid of this ghost and this ghost won’t let her go until she tells her story. But is this ghost telling the truth or is she really just making Anya’s life worse? Fans of graphic novels will welcome this mysterious and strange tale, which garnered a front-cover blurb from none other than Neil Gaiman himself. Because Brosgol has been published before, this title is ineligible for Morris nomination, but the title is one worth having on your radar.
Imagine if you woke up every morning at 4:33 a.m. and couldn’t remember a thing from your past but you could see visions of your future? That’s the reality for London, the main character in Cat Patrick’s debut Forgotten (Little, Brown, 9780316094617). London is able to make it through her school days thanks to a good friend and obsessive note-taking, but it might be the new boy at school who causes her to really delve into the past she can’t remember in order to make sense of why she can’t remember anything but the future.
Sirenz by best friend writing duo Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman (Flux, 9780738723193) explores the mythological world of Hades, but in a slightly different manner than the traditional tale. Meg and Shay are frenemies and they fight — a lot. After doing a lot of damage at a midnight shoe sale, they’re sent to the Underworld to do the bidding of the Hades. Together, they must lure someone into the underworld until their contract with hell is up…if it’s ever actually going to terminate because of their bickering or obsession for fashion. This clean read will work for both younger and older teens.
Ever heard of a time-slip novel? That’s the tool at use in Maya McEntire’s Hourglass (EgmontUSA, 9781606841440). Emerson’s life has been plagued by ghosts ever since the death of her parents. She wants it to end, but she’s tried everything — at least she thought she did. Her brother offers a solution that involves meeting with the Hourglass, a secret organization that specializes in finding solutions to these phantoms. But the guy who is consulting Emerson’s a little sketchy to her, as he brings a strange electromagnetic charge with him whenever he arrives. Can he really solve her problem, or is he making it worse? The bloggers at Novel Novice made McEntire’s Hourglass their “book of the month,” offering reading guides, FAQs, an author interview, and more about the book, and it is worth checking out.
There are a handful of other debut novels coming out this month, including Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan’s Spoiled (reviewed right here on The Hub), Randy Russell’s Dead Rules, Jenny Hubbard’s Paper Covers Rock, and Crickett Rumley’s Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell. And don’t forget — now’s the time to reflect on these first six months of debuts and nominate a title or two you find worthy of the William C Morris Award.
– Kelly Jensen, who is currently reading Moonglass by Jessi Kirby and Strings Attached by Judy Blundell