The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
Black French Canadian Norris Kaplan, who has lived in Montreal his whole life, has to adjust to high school in Austin, Texas after his mother gets a new job as a professor at the University of Texas.
Serving as both a coming-of-age story and a depiction of an immigrant experience, this is an appealing realistic fiction book with a funny, relatable, diverse protagonist and an interesting, dynamic set of secondary characters. Norris is a layered character. While on the surface he is sarcastic and stand-offish with plenty of witty jabs and one-liners, he is also shown to have a lot of insecurities that lead him to act that way or to lash out with funny, but sometimes cruel jokes or insults. The other characters are similarly diverse and well-rounded, proving they are more than the stereotypical jock, cheerleaders. or loners that Norris initially perceives them to be and Norris’s friendships and relationships with them evolve organically and feel authentic. Philippe’s writing style matches the tone and wit of Norris’s character so that, even though it’s written in the third person, it still has the voice of a sarcastic teenager. The ending doesn’t resolve things too neatly, but does show that Norris has found his place in Austin and grows a a character, maturing from a guarded teen always ready with a sarcastic joke or biting insult to one who, while still witty, is able to form friendships, be more honest and open, and is less insecure and therefore less judgmental of those around him.
Hand this to fans of humorous realistic fiction with sarcastic protagonists such as Nice Try, Jane Sinner and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.
–Laura Giunta and Molly Dettmann
Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer
Page Street Kids / Macmillan
Publication Date: January 15, 2019
A girl named Echo, disfigured from an accident in her childhood, rescues her father by making a deal with a mysterious wolf to live with him in an enchanted house for one year. As she begins to unravel the mystery of the house, she learns that the wolf will die after her one year is done and resolves to rescue him.
Although a retelling of the Norwegian fairytale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, this novel has elements of other fairy tales and myths, most notably Beauty and the Beast and the story of Cupid and Psyche. The world Meyer creates is intriguing, detailed, and layered. The way the house works, with its multiple rooms that have to be regularly bound shut or together by magical thread, is clever and imaginative, as is the magic library that contains different book worlds, a concept which ties to the main plot in surprising ways. Echo serves as a unique protagonist, with her facial scars inverting common Beauty and the Beast tropes, as Echo’s role as the “beauty” character is based on her inner beauty. Over time, Echo builds confidence and is no longer ashamed of her scars, finding bravery through her relationship with the Wolf, as their bond with one another steadily grows and strengthens. Her relationships with the characters she meets in the magical book worlds also feel authentic. Meyer’s prose is vivid and lyrical, mirroring the style of classic fairytales, and the book is thoughtfully plotted so that the ending, although seemingly fantastical, is still believable given previous foreshadowing.
Echo is a solid choice for fans of fairytale and folklore adaptations, such as the books Hunted by Meagan Spooner, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, and Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer, or Disney’s live action film version of Beauty and the Beast.
–Laura Giunta and Molly Dettmann