Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the digital ARC of Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on August 10, 2021.
Like his earlier, brilliant The Serpent King (like this book, a five-star read for me!), Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light begins with a strong sense of place, set firmly in the Appalachian town of Sawyer, Tennessee. Cash Pruitt is sixteen and, above all else, loves his Mamaw and Papaw, who raised him after his mother’s death, and his best friend Delaney Doyle, a genius. Cash and Delaney were first drawn together as the children of addicts, and now each offers a safe place for the other.
Delaney has gained some moderate fame in the scientific community after discovering a mold that kills bacteria and that shows great promise for the healthcare industry. When she’s offered a full ride to a private boarding school, she’s desperate to escape her circumstances, but she doesn’t want to do so alone. So, she convinces the school to also provide a full scholarship for Cash.
Cash is torn between his friendship and his loyalty to his grandparents, particularly Papaw, who is dying slowly of emphysema. Ultimately, though, they convince him to grab this opportunity, and so he and Delaney move to Connecticut and become students at Middleford Academy.
Those are the bare outlines of the plot, but they don’t reveal what makes this book special.
First, Zentner is an absolutely beautiful writer, and the book is filled with gorgeous prose as Cash works through who he is and who he wants to be and how to stay true both to himself and to those whom he loves.
Beyond the writing are the characters. The tenderness between Cash and Papaw is one of my favorite things—they love each other so much, and that love is beautiful and heartbreaking and present on every page of the novel. Delaney is brilliant and strong and also fragile, someone who has survived abuse and neglect and is now ready to step into her full potential, but not alone. Watching the way the all support and challenge each other is a lovely, moving reading experience.
Cash is so smart and so sensitive, but he’s also a teenager, one who has left his family and his hometown to step into another world filled with rich people who’ve lived lives he can hardly imagine. He’s not naive, just inexperienced, and so he’s fully aware of the risks that he’s taking while also hoping to make those he loves proud.
I can’t recommend In the Wild Light enough. Just be sure to have a box of tissues by your side. This book earns every tear.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for the digital ARC of Julie C. Dao’s Broken Wish in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
Julie C. Dao’s Broken Wish is the first in a series of four YA novels spanning generations of a cursed family. (The authors are heavy hitters: Dhonielle Clayton, L. L. McKinney, and Jennifer Cervantes will round out the series.)
I requested this one because it has so many elements I love, including witches and magic and romance. The Grimms appear, and so do magic mirrors and wishing wells. It’s a beautiful tribute to folklore and fairy tales.
The book begins with a familiar story: a couple moves into a small cottage in 1840s Germany. The wife, Agnes, befriends a neighbor through baskets and gifts and written notes but hesitates to pursue the friendship because of rumors her husband Oskar has heard. Eventually, though, the two women meet and solidify their friendship, and the solitary woman, Mathilda, offers to help Agnes with her dearest wish, to have a child. She only asks in return that Agnes maintain their friendship.
Oskar, however, is opposed--he’s been an outcast before and wants to escape that fate. So Agnes lies to Mathilda and breaks her promise, despite the fact that Mathilda succeeds in helping her fiend. Agnes does indeed have a daughter. Agnes’s dishonesty and betrayal begins the curse.
The narrative picks up with the couple’s daughter, Elva, who has a strange magical ability and no knowledge of her parents’ history. Her parents have stayed true to their desperation not to be outcasts and have trained Elva to hide her magic from everyone, which she does . . . until she falls in love.
Broken Wish is a lovely novel, filled with all the magic a lover of fairy tales could want. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I think it’s perfect for YA readers (and some middle-graders!). I cannot wait to read the rest of the series.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Kristina Forest’s Now that I’ve Found You in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 25, 2020.
Evie Jones thinks she’s figured out her life. She has an amazing best friend; is launching her movie career with a much-praised director; has a sponsorship deal with a Black hair care company that she loves; and is following in the footsteps of her grandma, Gigi, the glamorous Evelyn Conaway, a Hollywood actress whose real life garnered her as much attention as her acting.
Then, Evie makes a mistake--a big mistake. She trusts the wrong person, and a viral social media post leaves her friendless and floundering. Only the hunger of the film industry--and the public--for an appearance by the reclusive Gigi gives Evie hope that she can save her dream.
Three months after Evie’s defeat, she’s in New York, banking on her grandmother to help her recover the potential that Evie had only begun to realize.
Kristina Forest’s YA novel Now that I’ve Found You is fast paced and engaging. I found Evie to be a flawed protagonist who earned my empathy from the beginning. At times, she acts in ways that are unappealing, but Forest makes sure that the reader always understands why she’s doing what she does: there are reasons that she has a hard time trusting people. Watching Evie’s coming of age arc, in which she’s trying to determine who she is, what she wants out of life, AND why she wants it, is compelling. I couldn’t put this book down until I knew what happened with Evie.
There’s romance here, too, with a young man named Milo who Gigi has befriended. Evie, counting on having Gigi all to herself, feels a lot of resentment toward Milo, but she’s also drawn to his passion for his art as she watches him try to move his band from hobby to career.
Forest uses multiple genres to weave in the story of Gigi’s lifelong love story with James Jenkins, her three-time-ex-husband, another actor. The parallels between Evelyn’s life and Evie’s story are beautiful, and the mystery of why Gigi ended her marriage with James and has refused to speak to him for 20 years is an intriguing thread woven through the book, another element that kept me reading. I love stories that feature Old Hollywood, and the beauty of Gigi and James’s first movie together being the first all-Black romantic film brings in a riveting touch of movie history.
Now that I’ve Found You is an excellent book for teenagers (and for adults!), one that balances the lightness of romance with the seriousness of determining one’s path in the world. I will absolutely be reading Forest’s debut, I Wanna Be Where You Are, and looking forward to her next book.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Adrienne Kisner’s Six Angry Girls in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
Adrienne Kisner’s Six Angry Girls contains multitudes: mock trial and anatomical knitting (yes, that’s a thing) and high-school Drama and high-school drama and love and FEMINISM. This YA novel alternates between two high school seniors’ perspectives. Raina is a dedicated actor and president of the Drama Club until her long-time boyfriend, Brandon, breaks up with her in an incredibly callous way. The dissolution of their relationship makes her realize that she was in drama for all of the wrong, Brandon-centered reasons. Millie, the other protagonist, has been a part of the mock trial team since her freshman year and has earned some time in the spotlight. And then, a coup (led by Brandon!) means that she can’t be a part of the competition team anymore.
Cast adrift, Raina and Millie find each other and begin their own, all-girls, mock trial team. They bring along with them a diverse group of others who have been cast out of the mainstream for a variety of reasons, some superficial and some related to their very identity.
They are, of course, also dealing with other problems: Millie faces increased responsibilities because her mom divorced her dad, and now Millie has picked up entirely the role her mom played around the house. Raina had banked all of her hopes for college on drama; now that she’s not in a play, what does that mean for her super-planned future? She’s also still recovering from the loss of her relationship and, in search of somewhere else to devote her energy, joins a politically-focused knitting group.
I liked so much about this novel. Raina and Millie are strong young women who are also believably flawed. Each is trying to figure out who she wants to be: Raina is moving on from a romantic relationship, and Millie--who identifies as homosexual and asexual--is moving into one . . . maybe. There is an important message of activism here and of when (and in what situations) it’s important to stand up for what you believe, even if it means giving up something that meant a great deal. Early on, I did think the pace dragged--I was interested but not compelled to read. But as the book continued, I was captured by the journeys of these characters as individuals and as part of a team that they are determined to make work. Six Angry Girls would be a great novel for teens--it’s an inspiring story of being cast aside and fighting for what’s right and for what matters on their own terms.
Thanks to partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of L. E. Flynn’s All Eyes on Her in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
L. E. Flynn's All Eyes on Her is a twisty thriller composed of a lush myriad of unreliable narrators, multiple genres (including journal entries, newspaper articles, text threads, and police interview transcripts . . . with a little bit of second person thrown in), and some thoughtful feminist declarations for good measure.
The publisher’s description lays it out: “You heard the story on the news. A girl and a boy went into the woods. The girl carried a picnic basket. The boy wore bright yellow running shoes. The girl found her way out, but the boy never did…. “ What ensues is a narrative that circles around these two central characters. We hear from everyone EXCEPT the girl (Tabby) and the boy (Mark): telling the tale are Tabby’s sister, her best friend, the girl who loves to hate Tabby, Mark’s best friend, Tabby’s ex . . . and so many people who have moved through their lives. Of course, everyone’s perspective is different, but they’re all speculating about Tabby and the nature of her relationship with Mark. Is she the angel? Or the slut? Is she good? Or bad? Was she in control? Or was she being controlled by him? It’s a series of dichotomies, of black or white with no shades of grey, that we know can’t possibly portray a person accurately. And yet, it’s so tempting to come up with the right label that will help to understand what happened on that hike.
I love a multi-genre book, and Flynn puts that variety to good use here. I also really appreciated the complexity with which Flynn takes on how the media shapes our view of people--and of women, in particular. The forward motion of the story sagged slightly in the middle, but since I had been hooked from page one and found the development of the conclusion to be satisfying--it had twists and turns without jumping the shark--I enjoyed the book as a whole. The thriller component itself didn’t feel super new to me (I’ve read books with plots and alternating points of view like this one before), but the deft use of unreliable narrators and the clever incorporation of questions driven by feminist concerns offers a unique angle.
Overall, as an adult reader, I thoroughly enjoyed All Eyes on Her, and I would absolutely recommend L. E. Flynn’s novels to teens as a great example of a thriller that will make them think.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.