Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios
Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Grace’s life is already pretty difficult, honestly. Between her extremely controlling stepfather, her cleanliness-obsessed mother, caring for her young brother, school, work, and theater she barely has time to breathe. Grace has had a crush on a senior from her drama club named Gavin for a while, and when brooding, tortured Gavin seems interested in her, at first she thinks it may be a turning point. Finally – she’ll have someone other than her two best friends who support and encourages her, and she’ll be the girlfriend of THE Gavin Davis. From the very beginning, though, Grace lets the reader know that this fairy tale love does not have a happily-ever-after ending.
Not long into their relationship, Gavin becomes extremely controlling, mentally and emotionally abusive, and creepily obsessed with Grace. He follows her, watches her while she works and sleeps, freaks out if she speaks to anyone but him, demands all of her attention, and even threatens to repeat the suicide attempt from his last break-up. Grace loves Gavin, but she finds herself faced with a really difficult decision – take care of herself and force him to let her go, or stick around to try to keep him safe and happy even though it isn’t what she wants?
From the decaying flower cover art to the Spotify playlist curated by the author that includes all the songs referenced in the book (it’s called “Bad Romance,” and is highly recommended), this one is a well-rounded creation. It’s full of pop culture references (especially music), true friends, icky manipulation masquerading as love, and confusing emotional turmoil. Written almost as a letter to Gavin from Grace (Grace is “I”, and Gavin is “you” in the text), it feels utterly personal and believable. The dialogue is witty and humorous, and the situations Grace finds herself will be immensely relatable to many teenagers, girls and boys alike, who are trying to learn what is and isn’t acceptable to them in romantic relationships. The ending will leave readers satisfied and feeling empowered. Bad Romance read-alikes include Die for You by Amy Fellner Dominy, Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland, and Amanda Grace’s But I Love Him.
–– Allie Stevens
Just a Normal Tuesday by Kim Turrisi
KCP Loft/Kids Can Press
Publication Date: May 3, 2017
Quick: You receive a letter from your older sister telling you she is going to kill herself. What do you do? In the case of Kai, you race to your sister’s apartment only to discover you are too late. What follows is the story of Kai’s self-destruction interrupted by the intervention of her best friends. The implosion of their second daughter spurs Kai’s parents to enroll her in grief camp–whether Kai wants it or not. There, Kai discovers that she can find a life outside of her beloved older sister, and that she is even allowed to find love.
Just a Normal Tuesday is a book that grabs readers by the heart and shakes them. The author’s note following the story describes Turrisi’s own experience with the same situation faced by her main character sans the grief camp. It is that raw, personal connection that imbues Turrisi’s writing with credibility. It is that same authenticity that will allow readers to pardon her for the seemingly abrupt transition between Kai’s loss and her healing. From the description of Kai’s participation in planning her sister’s funeral to the gradual scabbing over of her heart through sharing the grief of her camp mates, reluctant readers will be irrevocably hooked into Kai’s journey. It’s a topic that is especially timely given the resurgence of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why via the Netflix series, but ends a little more hopefully than Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places.
— Jodi Kruse
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
When the book starts out with the line, “This is how I kill someone,” you know the full weight of violence is coming. Alex is no stranger to violence. Her older sister was murdered when Alex was pretty young. With a mother who has mentally checked out of life and into an alcoholic haze, Alex has honed herself to a killing machine who exacts vengeance on the predators who are tacitly accepted in her small town.
Jack is in love with Alex. He’s been Branley’s boyfriend for as long as anyone can remember, but the on again-off again relationship has him looking for something a little more substantial, and Alex is nothing if not substance.
Peekay has a hard time remembering that her name is Sara. She was given the PK moniker that all Preacher’s Kids seem to carry, and she is upholding the PK reputation. One of the hallmarks of this book, however, is the portrayal of Sara’s parents, not as religious wackos, but rather as grounded, loving people who are deeply concerned about their daughter and their community.
Like many of McGinnis’s stories, this one is not short on gore,violence, or profanity, but the honest exploration of alcohol, drugs, and partying and their implications on sexual behavior is a stark reality check for teen readers. While readers may cheer Alex’s violent response to being treated like a sex object, the end of the story provides a chilling cautionary tale about the fruits of vengeance. Each of the three characters provides a unique voice and perspective. Alex is a strong young woman. Sara grapples with the infidelity of her first love. Jack must navigate the minefield of lust versus intimacy. Chapters are short, staccato, and packed with content. Make no mistake, this is a mature story for mature readers, but it will generate opportunities for rich conversations about the choices we make. . .and their consequences.
— Jodi Kruse
Vigilante by Kady Cross
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
A Halloween party goes terribly wrong when Hadley’s best friend, Magda, is drugged and raped by four classmates. When graphic images from the rape appear on social media, the four boys are not held accountable, thanks to their affluent and powerful families. Magda is painted as a promiscuous girl who gave consent, and the fallout leads to her tragic suicide. Hadley sees the rapists in school daily, and is determined to obtain justice for her friend…her own way.
The harsh and gritty opening chapter grabs the reader with news of the rape and subsequent suicide. The issue-oriented storyline of rape culture intensifies as the book progresses. Hadley recruits female classmates to join her in martial arts training, and they become a support to each other as they discover other victims of rape by the same four boys. Although somewhat disturbing, readers may find themselves rooting for the courageous but misguided “Pink Vigilante”, who uses unconventional methods to make sure Jason, Brody, Adam, and Drew suffer the consequences of their actions. Female relationships are also highlighted as Diane, the detective who was not able to convict the boys, is also the instructor training the girls how to defend themselves and fight back using Krav Maga, which combines martial arts with street fighting techniques. Compelling writing engages readers as the vigilante fights for justice, while simultaneously falling in love with Magda’s brother, Gabriel, as they bond over their grief.
This thought-provoking look at rape culture is an important one for teens of both sexes. Additionally, hand this to readers of Asking for It by Louise O’Neill or What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler. All three books appear to have been inspired by the real life Steubenville, Ohio rape case of 2012.
— Lisa Krok
Grendel’s Guide to Love and War by A.E. Kaplan
Penguin Random House
Publication Date: April 18, 2017
Fierce old ladies, artisanal stoned pigs, and existential angst mix with a dash of romance and plenty of humor (see: hilarious hook) in this tale of rivalry and wacky hijinx loosely based on Beowulf.
Tom Grendel and his PTSD-stricken father live in a quiet retirement community surrounded by little old ladies; however, the predictability of their summer is disturbed with the sudden arrival of the Rothgars next door. Rex Rothgar makes life for Tom’s father a living hell when he starts throwing nightly ragers in the adjacent backyard, which prompts the elder Grendel to run off on assignment to Florida to escape the triggers of his PTSD. Consequently, Tom’s self-appointed mission becomes to rid his neighborhood of the scourge of Rex’s parties before his father returns home, and restore peace to his neighborhood.
What results is an escalating series of prank wars that become increasingly more daring and creative as the summer wears on. Tom counts on his best friend Ed and Rex’s younger sister Willow (whom he can’t help liking, despite the questionability of her loyalties) to help him wage war against Rex, a foe who refuses to back down at any costs. When the Rothgars’ cousin Wolf shows up on the scene and Tom’s hotheaded older sister Zip returns home, old tensions flare and the stakes become even higher and more outrageous.
Threaded amidst all the humor and absurdity of this story lies a fair dose of well-earned existential angst, not to mention a small army of fierce old ladies to lighten the tension. This amusing, heartfelt novel does a fine job balancing the absurd with the poignant as our heroes grapple with traumas from their pasts and their current predicaments. Clever, sympathetic characters combined with over-the-top comic situations make this book a winning Quick Pick. Readers interested in other fresh new (and funny) takes on ancient classics may also want to check out Bull by David Elliot, also a #QP2018 nominee.
— Jenny Zbrizher