Even though the year is now more than half over, there’s no slowing in the number of debut YA novels coming out. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to July for a while now because it means two of my favorite debuts of the year are finally out and available. There’s a really nice mix of genres this month, too — there is most definitely a little bit of something for everyone. Don’t forget that if you read a novel written by a first-time author and think it’s noteworthy, take a few minutes to suggest it to the Morris Awards committee.
Should you stay where you’re comfortable or should you move somewhere new and experience a life totally foreign from everything you’ve known? That’s the dilemma explored in Kat Rosenfield’s Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone (Penguin/Dutton, 9780525423898). Becca’s ready to leave her small town behind, but she’s got a boyfriend. Except, on the night of her graduation, he mistreats her and now she’s not so sure what’s best for her future. That same night, the dead body of a girl shows up on the side of the road. No one knows who the girl is, what her history is, where she came from, or who could be cruel enough to kill her. Rosenfield’s debut alternates between Becca’s struggle to figure out what her next steps are and Amelia’s very same struggles — except, of course, for one of the girls, this is a beginning and for the other, it’s an ending. The writing is literary and eerily reminiscent of Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, and it will have great appeal to those who love Sara Zarr’s deliberate storytelling.
Lindsey Barraclough’s Long Lankin (Candlewick, 9780763658083) is the kind of book so rare to find now: a literary horror story. This isn’t your paranormal tale; it’s classic horror, with a rapid-fast pace, atmosphere by the buckets, and an ending that makes you question whether the story is truly over or it’s just the end of one chapter and the beginning of a whole new one. Set in the 1950s in England, Long Lankin opens as Cora and her sister Mimi are sent to live with their aunt at her remote home. Things at this home aren’t what you’d call normal, and Aunt Ida isn’t too straight herself. There are places the girls aren’t allowed to go in the home and the home itself is sealed up tight, making it a sweltering, miserable place to be. Cora and Mimi befriend locals, but the more they learn about the town and about their aunt from the townspeople, the more suspicious they become of their family’s past — and for good reason: the dead may not be entirely buried. Warning: this one is not for the faint of heart, and those last 100 pages will give readers chills.
How about some classic fantasy? Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina (Random House, 9780375866562) should deliver and has received acclaim not only through a number of starred reviews, including from Kirkus, but also from big name fantasy authors such as Tamora Pierce and Christopher Paolini. In Gorred, there is mistrust between the dragons and the humans, despite there being decades of peace in the land. The problem is that these dragons are able to shape shift and take on the appearance of humans, which gives them the unique opportunity to attend blend into everyday human activities, including attending school and becoming ambassadors to the court. When Seraphina — who has remarkable musical skills — joins the court, someone in the royal family is murdered. She’s immediately partnering to help solve the crime, but in doing so, she realizes she needs to be incredibly vigilant. Serafina harbors a secret about her own talents and she can’t let anyone else know. It’s a matter of keeping the peace.
SJ Kincaid’s Insignia (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, 9780062092991) has been described as the kind of book to pass off to readers who love Ender’s Game. Tom and his dad have spent their lives gambling for survival — literally. Tom’s life has been a series of casino games, of chance, of luck. He’s had to stay invisible because this sort of life isn’t one you can be proud of. Someone’s been watching, though, and Tom’s offered an opportunity to test his skills at combat at an elite military academy. If he passes, he could have a shot at leading the country to victory in World War III. It’s a position with incredible power and prestige. But will Tom be able to do it? And what happens if he does pass and finds his new life too distracting? Virtual reality, spies, gambling, and combat should be the hook for this one.
Two other debut titles worth noting out this month include Lisa Stasse’s The Foresaken (Simon and Schuster, 9781442432659), the first in a dystopia trilogy, and Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly (HarperTeen, 9780062083265), the first in a zombie-mayhem trilogy.
— Kelly Jensen, currently reading Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Sparkand Gretchen McNeil’s Ten