It’s January, and for many of us, it means we’re getting plenty of snow outside. Whether or not you’re building your snow day reading list, there is plenty of good debut reading to be had this month. If you start this year off reading something you love and think is worthy of being considered for the Morris Award, be sure you nominate it!
Alecia Whitaker’s Queen of Kentucky (Poppy/Little Brown, 9780316125062) takes readers into small-town Kentucky. Ricky Jo wants so much to shed her image as the farmer’s daughter as she begins high school. She changes her name to Erika, changes her appearance, and even changes her reading habits in order to fit into the popular crowd. Her neighbor Luke refuses to let her get her head too full of air, and he reminds her she’ll never be anyone but herself. Of course, “Erika” doesn’t want to believe this–and an incident with Luke will have her reexamining just why she wanted to change herself so much. This book about growing up looks like it’ll appeal especially to readers who worry they’ll never quite fit in.
Black Boy, White School by Brian Walker (HarperTeen, 9780061914836) also writes about the idea of staying true to yourself and also takes place in a rural setting, but it’s a whole different story. Anthony grew up in the rough east side of Cleveland amid drugs, gangs, and violence, but he’s been given a scholarship to attend Belton Academy, in the middle of nowhere, Maine. What he expects to be an interesting transition becomes a challenging one when he faces classmates who make gross assumptions about his upbringing, his intelligence, and even his sports skills.
Maybe one of the books I’m most looking forward to diving into soon is Marissa Meyer’s Cinder (Feiwel and Friends/MacMillan, 9780312641894). This is a sci-fi re-visioning of Cinderella. In New Beijing, there is a plague, and humans and cyborgs are trying to escape it. Little do they know that a class of lunar people watch from space. The fate of it all falls upon one girl: Cinder. Cinder’s a cyborg and a gifted mechanic, but the question for her is whether or not she can save society without damaging family, potential romance, or becoming the target of bigger problems herself. It is the first in a trilogy.
Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky (HarperCollins, 9780062072030) drops readers into a land where main character Aria has been exiled from her enclosed home in Reverie. She knows her chances of surviving on the outside are marginal, since she’s got not only cannibals and electrical storms to worry about, but she knows the air itself is poisonous enough to kill. Then Aria meets Perry, who is an outsider. They’re different in every way possible, but they may be the key to one another’s survival in the brutal and unforgiving world. Together, they might just save the world. Sounds like the kind of book fans of Veronica Roth’s Divergent would love.
The effect of bullying is the theme at hand in KM Walton’s Cracked (Simon Pulse, 9781442429161). Victor’s not only bullied at school, but his parents mistreat him at home. Bull–a kid at his school–is relentlessly torturing Victor. Things have gotten so overwhelming and out of control for him, that he believes the only way out is through suicide. He takes a bottle of pills, and when he wakes, he’s in a psych ward. … with none other than Bull, the kid who led him to trying to take his life. While it looks like this could become both of their worst nightmares, the truth is, they need each other to figure out how to appreciate their lives again.
Fans of more light-hearted reads will appreciate Robin Mellom’s take on a prom night gone array in Ditched (Disney Hyperion, 9781423143383). Justina never planned on doing the prom thing. Not really her scene. But then her best friend Ian asks her, and since he’s always been the type of guy to know exactly what she needs, she agrees. She looks forward to it, knowing it’ll be a fun time with no real pressure. But then, he ditches her. As she pieces together the events leading to Ian’s decision to leave her hanging, Justina realizes she needs to face him herself. Ditched sounds like a laugh-out-loud prom story.
I had the chance to read Julie Cross’s Tempest (St. Martin’s Griffin, 9780312568894) this summer, and it’s one that’s going to be a big hit with teen readers. Jackson Meyer is 19, and he’s about as average as they come. Except for the part where he can time travel. The time travel doesn’t change anything in the present at all, and up until now, he’s only used it for fun. Then one night, strangers break in and Jackson and girlfriend Holly find themselves in a situation they never prepared for. When Holly’s shot, Jackson suddenly travels back two years in time, and now he’s stuck. He wants to get back in time to save his girlfriend, but he can’t, but now that he’s stuck, he’s determined to figure out why it is they were burst in on in the first place. Tempest is fast paced, romantic, and is a unique take on the time travel trope. This novel was optioned by Summit, a name you’re probably familiar with if you’re familiar with the Twilight film empire. This is also the first in a trilogy.
This is just a handful of the titles debuting in January. A few others include Megan Miranda’s Fracture (Bloomsbury Walker, 9780802723093), a tale of magical realism involving a girl who awakes after an accident with senses she’d never had prior; Megan Bostic’s Never Eighteen (Houghton Mifflin/Graphia, 9780547550763), a contemporary story about a boy who knows he’s going to die and who wants to mend fences while he can; Beth Neff’s Getting Somewhere (Penguin/Viking, 9780670012558) about four delinquent teens sentenced to an experimental work program on a remote farm; Brodi Ashton’s Everneath (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 9780062071132), a re-visioning of the Persephone myth; Jay Clark’s The Edumacation of Jay Baker (Henry Holt, 9780805092561), a story about an awkward freshman boy, which sounds like it’ll appeal to fans of Carter Finally Gets It; and Jodi Meadows’s Incarnate
Don’t forget: if you read something that you think should be considered for next year’s Morris Award, you can nominate that title.
— Kelly Jensen, who is currently reading Ashley Hope Perez’s The Knife and the Butterfly