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February Debuts

Two months into 2012, and it’s still proving to be a strong year for debut YA novels. There’s a big batch of them this February, just as there was in January. And now that the field nomination period for next year’s YALSA awards is open, make sure you take the time to suggest favorite debut novels for the William C Morris award.

Erin Saldin’s The Girls of No Return (Scholastic/Arthur Levine Books, 9780545310260) follows Lida as she moves to the Alice Marshall School, in the remote Idaho wilderness. The school is a place for girls who are troubled, and Lida’s been sent there as sort of a last resort to overcome some challenge’s she’s had. But what the brochures didn’t tell her or her family was that the social dynamics of a school of troubled girls is not good. Not good at all. What seems like innocent pranking is something much darker and sinister. All of the girls in this story have secrets and even though Alice Marshall is supposed to be a safe space, it ends up being anything but. Saldin’s debut is a sort of mean girls story, but it’s subtle and, in a way, much darker than a typical story of bullying. Setting plays a major role in the story, and the novel’s set up of being told through multiple time frames–the story starts with the epilogue–builds the suspense and the darkness. The flap copy suggests this one for fans of Cut or Speak and I think that’d be a pretty fair assessment. I think it’d also be a good book for fans of Jo Knowles (a 2010 Best Books for Young Adults listee) or Nina de Gramont (a 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults listee).

Sara Wilson Etienne’s Harbinger (Penguin/Putnam, 9780399256684) is described as Girl, Interrupted meets Beautiful Creatures and is billed as a psychological thriller. Faye, who is 16, has always had strange nightmares and visions, but when she’s shipped to Holbrook Academy, she feels oddly like she’s finally in the right place for her. Faye’s even finally made friends here, which is something she’d never been able to do before. The only problem is that her friends keep waking up on their dorm room floors with their hands stained red–and Faye knows she’s responsible for this somehow. Oh, and there’s a boy, too, and he isn’t all that he seems. Much as he’s trying to be kind to her, Faye’s convinced he’s trying to kill her.

Love Maia offers up DJ Rising (Little, Brown, 9780316121873) looks like a book that’ll have some great guy appeal. This book follows Marley, a high school junior with kind of a rough home life, as he pursues his biggest passion: music. But because of situations at home with his drug-addict mother and the pressure to keep the scholarship he has to his prestigious high school, following his dream of being a DJ isn’t easy … until he has his break. He takes on the name of “DJ Ice” and his fame makes him a big deal in the DJ world in a way he couldn’t have imagined. But it all crashes down when things take a turn for the worse at home, and Marley has to decide whether to continue pursuing the DJ dream or if he has to give it up to pick up the pieces at home. Looks like a book for those who love music in their stories.

A few of the reviews I read about Jessica Spotswood’s Born Wicked (Penguin/Putname, 9780399257452) have compared it favorably to books like Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe series, in that it weaves a historical moment with drama and intrigue. Cate Cahill and her sisters are rumored to be eccentric and the truth is, they are. They’re witches. It’s a secret, though, because if the priests of the Brotherhood find out, it means no good for them. When Cate finds her deceased mother’s diary, things take a turn for the worse when she discovers that the fate of her and her sisters may already be sealed. Born Wicked is complete with secrets, society soirees, and potentially forbidden romance. This is the first book in a series.

This is only a sample of the debut novels coming out in February. A couple others to keep on your radar include Scarlet by AC Gaughen (Bloomsbury/Walker, 9780802723462), an updated version of the classic Robin Hood tale and Cat Hellison’s When the Sea is Rising Red (Macmillan/FSG, 9780374364755), about what happens in a society built upon a caste system, where dark powers can emerge when that system is undermined.

Remember: if you read a debut novel this year–defined as a first book by an author (not simply the author’s first YA novel)–take the time to suggest it for the William C Morris award.

— Kelly Jensen, who is currently reading Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield and Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick

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Kelly Jensen

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