With summer behind us and the school year back in full swing, what better time to check out the host of debut novels coming out this month? Here’s an opportunity to acquaint yourself and other readers of teen lit with a new voice. Don’t forget: if you read a debut novel that you think is really good this year, nominate it for the William C Morris Award. The nomination form is easy, and it’s a chance to have one of your favorite books considered for major recognition. This month there are a lot of debut novels, and there is something for every reader.
Jeff Hirsch’s Eleventh Plague (Scholastic, 9780545290147) is set in post-apocalyptic America, where citizens must decide whether they rebuild what had crumbled or develop something entirely new. 15-year-old Stephen travels with his grandfather and dad and keep to themselves until one fateful day when Stephen and his father choose to risk their own lives to save a pair of strangers. With his grandfather now dead and his father injured, Stephen will have to move on his own, and he stumbles upon Settler’s Landing, a small enclave that survived the apocalypse unscathed. It seems like the perfect world, until he falls in love with the wrong girl and causes this slice of utopia to become violent. As if the premise weren’t enough, Hirsch’s debut garnered a blurb from Suzanne Collins. Seems like an excellent choice to hand off to those who can’t get enough Hunger Games.
The last couple of years have brought a number of books that tackle the idea of having one’s future plotted by technology (think Ally Condie’s Matched, among others). Christine Siefert’s The Predicteds (Sourcebooks Fire, 9781402260490) is a science fiction book with a twist of the thriller that explores what happens when an experimental program called PROFILE debuts at the high school. PROFILE purports to predict future student behavior, but it’s causing a lot more of a challenge than intended.
A debut this month perfect for the middle grade reading crowd is Meg Haston’s How to Rock Braces and Glasses (Poppy/Little, Brown, 9780316068253). Usually it’s the ugly girl who is turned pretty that makes a story, but in Haston’s book, it’s the other way around. Popular girl Kacey rocks the top of the social hierarchy. That is, she did until she had to get braces. And glasses. Now, she’s fallen to the bottom rung of the school social ladder, and she feels completely alone. But then as she begins forging new friendships, Kacey discovers that maybe being a “loser” isn’t as bad as she once thought. This sounds like the kind of book that will hit all the right notes with so many teens who are afraid a change in their appearance means a change in who they are on the inside.
For your contemporary readers looking for a book to follow-up Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, hand over Jennifer Castle’s debut The Beginning of After (HarperTeen, 9780061985799). Laurel states from the beginning of her story that everything has a beginning and everything has an after, and it’s her time now to discover how to begin the after part of her life. Her family’s been killed in a tragic accident, as has the family of family friend David. Laurel and David have a complicated relationship, but over the course of learning to deal with their grief, they come to find a mutual understanding and come to develop a stronger relationship than they ever thought possible.
If you’re ready to shake up your paranormal world, check out Scott Tracey’s Witch Eyes (Flux, 9780738725956) which features a gay main character — something that is a minor part of the story line but which is worth noting because of the sometimes lack of diversity this particular subgenre of YA has. Braden has witch eyes. Through this rare gift, he can cause darkness, emotion, and magic, and while it sounds exciting, it is, of course, not an easy thing to live with. Determined to discover his family lineage and why he has such a gift, he travels to Belle Dam, where there is a war between two witch families. He’s caught in the middle, and he must use his powerful gift to change the course of the feud, as well as get to the bottom of his own life story.
Danny died on one of the most perfect days imaginable, leaving Wren alone and miserable. But she’s not going to let his death be the end — she’s determined to bring him back using her own powers. Amy Garvey’s Cold Kiss (HarperTeen, 9780061996221) doesn’t stop there though; when Wren is able to bring Danny back, he’s merely a shell of what he once was, and now, she knows she has to keep him a secret. But when Gabriel starts at Wren’s school, she knows that he suspects something strange is going on with her. He knows she’s resurrected the dead, and he wants to help, even if it means she might have to lose Danny one more time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Tyra Banks is also releasing her debut YA novel this month, Modelland (Random House, 9780385740593). Modelland is an exclusive place high atop the mountain, where only those who are invited are allowed to be. For Tookie de la Creme, she knows she has no shot. But as fate would have it, Tookie receives an invite, and now she has the opportunity to become one of the elite 7 Intoxibellas initiated each year. They have it all: fame, fortune, and the envy of every other girl. But Tookie must not only survive the initiation, she must also decide whether this world of sinister actions is really where she belongs. Is that sort of life worth everything she’d have to give up? Unfortunately, because Banks has published before, she is ineligible for the Morris Award, but her novel is worth knowing about this month.
This is a small sample of the debuts appearing in September. Other titles include Harlan Coben’s debut ya novel Shelter (ineligible for Morris consideration due to his prior publications), Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns (a fantasy fit for fans of Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore), Michelle Hodkins’s The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (one of the biggest buzz titles at this year’s Book Expo America, which I talked about here), Jocelyn Davies’s A Beautiful Dark (for paranormal fans), and Kiki Hamilton’s The Faerie Ring (a historical fantasy set in Victorian London), among others. Don’t forget that you have the power to nominate any favorite debut novels you read this year for the Morris Award.
— Kelly Jensen, who is currently reading The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall and The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas