Teen Advisory Board Reviews
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These are reviews written by members of the Teen Advisory Board.
This story, based on the trope of twins who were separated at birth and raised in greatly differing circumstances, could have been done so badly. Instead, the author builds on the classic theme in an original and arresting way. In a fantasy version of India, Rani, one of the twin daughters of the ruler, has been raised to the privilege of her rank, but her twin Ria was stashed away in an orphanage, all memory of her existence wiped. A street urchin, she steals to survive. Rani, as the acknowledged princess, has always been able to access her magical birthright, an affinity with snakes. A few others have use of ancient memory magic and fire magic, and there's rumor of death magic, the secret of which has been lost. Rani is engaged to be married to a longtime friend and though she likes him, she's growing disenchanted with the prospect of marriage and her constricted life. She just wants freedom. Ria would be perfectly happy to continue on her carefree - and threadbare - existence with her street thief friend and mentor, until she finds her name on a list of conscripts into the army as the country faces imminent war. Seeking a big enough heist to allow her to escape this fate, Ria embarks on a bold mission to steal jewels at the palace and is caught by her twin. The two girls, who look just alike, switch places. Ria finds she can access the snake magic as well, and she uses it to survive and spy at the palace, while Rani sets off on a quest to find a mysterious jewel to restore her country and avert war. The twins find themselves working on different aspects of the same problem as it becomes apparent there's rot at the center of the kingdom that must be rooted out before it's too late.
Review by Rowan, age 16
This book was the ideal carefree, heartwarming pandemic read.
It's got everything I could want in a book: princes, pirates, mermen, magic. It plays off all of the fun, relaxing tropes in fantasy and romance. The story was full of high action, suspense, with fun, believable characters that the author doesn't torture too much. I also loved the cover design. The main character, Tal, is a prince, but not the heir, as he's the fourth child in his family. He has been hidden away for most of his life ever since his fire magic emerged - the same magic his great-grandpa used to kill and dominate. Finally, Tal is allowed to emerge from his seclusion to go on the obligatory coming-of-age sea voyage. He ends up running into a pirate ship that has been totally abandoned except for a prisoner chained in the told. Tal sets the prisoner free with his magic. Though thankful for his release, the prisoner, Athlen, remains mum about his history and the circumstances that led to his being imprisoned. Tal, who feels an immediate bond with the prisoner, gives in to Athlen's pleas to "Just let me see the sky," only to watch the mysterious youth jump overboard. Tal is torn up over his part in Athlen's apparent sucide - but on his next shore leave, he discovers Athlen, safe and well. The story only gets better from there. I would recommend this to fans of A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue. It's in the same vein,but a little more rose-tinted, with significantly fewer gritty relationship problems.
-Review by Rowan, age 16
This science fiction novel answers the question that has plagued readers for decades: why are sci-fi aliens always humanoid? The background to this story is that an ancient race, the Shapers, traveled the galaxy and beyond assisting all of the life forms that looked like them, providing advice and technology boosts, while putting obstacles, like acid volcanoes, in the way of races with different appearances. Centuries and millennia later, it's still hard for those races to get ahead. The main character in this book, Tina, is a fairly ordinary teen who learns that she's actually a clone of an alien space captain and her true appearance has been hidden to allow her to grow up. Now that she's mature, she inherits the former space captain's skills, if not her actual memories, and she's expected to step into the captain's shoes to step into an ongoing intergalactic war. She and her best friend assemble a diverse crew of young people with different backgrounds and skills as they try to figure out what's going on. This book was really great, with a fast-moving, compelling plot and featuring a diverse cast of characters that didn't just exist to fit a certain type but were full individuals in their own right. Their race/gender/sexuality was not their only character trait, but just a portion of what defined them. I'd recommend this book for sci fi and speculative fiction fans and queer readers of all kinds.
- Review by Rowan, age 16
Piper. Kat. Two characters that are so different, yet so alike. This funny and heartwarming story about two girls who are set up to be friends by a grandmother (Does that ever work), somehow are perfect for each other. Jaye Robin Brown will keep you on your toes until the plot turns a corner, and then you will be bouncing up and down with apprehension. This story is one that will remind you that sometimes you just have to be patient.
-Review by Krin
This Indian/Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy novel, with a compelling story that gets better the further you read, breaks the mold in several ways. It's refreshing to see the main character treated as a whole person apart separate from her abilities and disabilties. She doesn't fall into the usual fantasy tropes. She isn't beautiful, isn't royal, isn't the one with magic. Rather, she has a physical disability and comes from a humble background. She relies on her intelligence to navigate a world that's mysterious, dangerous and often hostile. The main character, Rae, starts out on her family horse farm. Her sister has "forbidden magic" which the family has had to hide. Then Rae's other sister disappears, assumed to be stolen away by the "Snatchers" who seem to operate with impunity. Given the opportunity to travel to the palace to become a handmaiden to the princess, Rae seizes on the chance to use whatever influence she may gain to find out about the Snatchers and rescue her sister. She knows she won't fit in due to her country background and her club foot, which makes dress shoes painful and causes her to limp even in accommodating footwear. There are certainly some who discriminate against the unsophisticated newcomer, but the princess, who spent a year as a goose girl herself, proves a true friend. The author gets the balance just right - acknowledging Rae's disability and people's reaction to it, but not making it central to the plot. Instead, it's Rae's boldness and wits that take center stage as she tries to uncover the plot behind the Snatchers and finds it goes way deeper than expected - right into the halls of government. Rae is joined in her efforts by several original, complex characters, including a street thief and a young pharmacist.
-Review by Rowan, age 16
This book was an engaging, insightful, inspiring, beautifully written story of pain and suffering but also love and hope. I have never read a verse novel like Your Heart My Sky by Margarita Engle. This book shares the stark realities of the starvation and oppression experienced by Cuban's in Cuba in the 1990s. The story was truly an eye opener for me and I would recommend this book for readers of all ages. The depth and meaning it portrays is unforgettable.
-Review by Emma, age 13
This story draws its inspiration from the familiar tale "Phantom of the Opera," but turns the story around in a refreshing way to give it more resonance in the modern era. Whereas the familiar tale tells of a young and beautiful (female) opera singer who falls under the sway of the disfigured (male) "phantom" who lives in the depths of the opera house, in this version the opera star is a (male) janitor with a beautiful voice - a young man with amazing natural skills but no training - and the "phantom" is a young woman whose face is disfigured in the way that reveals her fearsome magical talents. As a "gravoir," Isda is able to manipulate people's emotions, and even their memories. It is so refreshing to read a story in which the "monster" is the woman, rather than having her always be the beautiful victim/damsel in distress. This way, the love story is empowering rather than hackneyed - as Isda is seen as deserving of love for herself, not her appearance or even her voice. In the world Isda is born into, graviors are supposed to be killed at birth. This almost happened to Isda, but opera house owner, Cyril, rescued her. She has since grown up in secret, rich in material comforts but hidden from other people. As the story opens, Isda serves as Cyril's willing slave, manipulating the audience to maximize her foster father/owner's business. Then she hears a stunning voice and is drawn out of hiding, meeting the young janitor Emeric and offering to tutor him so he can gain a lead role - but she still has to hide her identity. Over the course of the book, the "phantom" discovers the full range of her talents and learns the disturbing truths behind her comfortable but limited existence, while blossoming in the light of her janitor love's unjudgemental regard. It's a story of imprisonment, sacrifice, love and regret. The end surprised me and yet seemed utterly organic. It was well done and I would read another book by this author.
-Review by Rowan, age 16
This novel is a follow-up to Havenfall, which I loved. Havenfall (legendary inn-at-the-center-of-the-worlds) connects to numerous otherwise inaccessible realms, although all but a few have been blocked off. The folks from the different realms can meet safely at Haven, but cannot survive far from the inn, thus keeping every realm separate and safe, though trade between the realms thrives. Each realm has its own magic, except Earth, which is the Earth we readers know. In the last book, main character Maddie is forced into the role as Keeper of the inn when her uncle is gravely injured. The only beings who can survive in all worlds are the Solarians, whose world has been closed off. Over the course of the first book, Maddie discovers that there are still Solarians on Earth, and in fact there's a thriving slave trade in Solarians, whose souls can actually be split to make magical artifacts. She also learns her brother (whom her mother allegedly murdered and who has vanished) is not only a Solarian but is still alive and was captured as a slave and possibly had his soul split. Now in the second book, Maddie learns that there's another way to travel the worlds, with a protective suit made of "phoenix flame." Using a portion of this suit she found in her mother's closed-off room, Maddie travels to another realm and finds her brother, but he seems to be unwilling to leave the service of the powerful Silver Prince, who possesses the rest of the suit. Back at home, Maddie visits with her mother in prison, where she's serving time for the murder which she didn't commit and which never actually happened. Then her mom "escapes" from prison in an explosion - actually taken prisoner by the Silver Prince and held for ransom. How can Maddie save her mother, her brother, the worlds, and abolish the slave trade, all while negotiating teenagehood and two possible love interests, the elite soldier Brekken (her apparent boyfriend) and a mysterious Solarian girl who she's irresistably drawn to?
-Review by Rowan, age 16
I really really really enjoyed reading this book. It was an incredibly engaging story with some topics that were in need of discussion in the current times, and where better than an excellent story? It has four main characters and alternates between perspectives in each chapter, and \all four of them are roped into a growing mystery that is wreaking havoc on the magical and non-magical worlds alike. I really hope we get a sequel in the near future!
~ Review by Elliana, 13
This was not at all what I expected, but it was still really good and I whipped through the story.
I thought it was going to be about the imagined science and ethics of bringing people back to life. Instead, it centered on an organized criminal group suggestive of the Russian Mafia. The main character, Kira, 17, is very poor and autistic-coded. Her mother is dying and they don't have enough money for the medical treatment she needs. Kira is not doing well in school but she's undeniably smart. She enters a scientific contest for people with Ph.D.s, submitting a research paper on the hunting habits of dragonflies, and wins. The contest coordinators only belatedly learn she's a minor. She makes a deal with another scientist to get the prize money, agreeing to work in his lab with other gifted teens. One of the kids there is obsessed with curing death. Kira sees his notes, figures out what he was doing wrong and brings a rat back from the dead. Then the Russian Mafia kidnaps her and things spiral out of control from there. She's imprisoned and has to perform experiments effectively weaponizing her knowledge. To motivate her, they kill her friend and make her bring him back. It's not a fun time. I find the character and her experience as an autistic person to be really realistic. Her experience resonates, and I appreciate the fact that she's portrayed like a human being, not just a "walking calculator." I would recommend this book for fans of speculative fiction.
-Review by Rowan, age 16
This book was a swift read, extremely funny and relatable. I got really invested in the story. The main character, Phoebe, who's almost 16, is preparing for the high-stakes exams they have in England. Her mom is crazy about volunteering and is hardly ever there for her - instead she's always off in some foreign country through Doctors without Borders. Meanwhile, Phoebe's best friend has abandoned her because all of a sudden the friend's whole life revolves around her new boyfriend. Phoebe doesn't like this guy. In fact, she's mystified by the boy-crazy behavior of everyone around her. She thinks she's never going to be in a relationship, equating the crushes everyone seems to be having to brain damage. Phoebe surprises herself when she ends up falling in love after all ... with a girl, Emma. At first she doesn't realize it as she starts engaging in all of these "dumb" behaviors she's seen the people around her exhibit. The rest of the book centers around how Phoebe balances her responsibilities and everyday stresses with all of these new emotions she never signed on for.
-Review by Rowan, age 15
This book is a powerful, heartfelt, coming-of-age-story about finding the people who make up your true family. The story explores the life of seventeen-year old LGTBQ+ member Marty who struggles with finding acceptance after growing up without it in his community. This book shares good, bad, and ugly moments in Marty’s life. The story touched upon important themes and I would recommend this book for readers 13 years and older. Marty’s perspectives are insightful and will stay with the reader long after the end of the book.
-Review by Emma, age 13
This book is a child of 2020. Futuristic, apocalyptic, disturbing and hopeful, it was clearly written during this pandemic year and strongly influenced by the feeling most people have had to one degree or another - that the world is falling apart. Except multiply our current experiences a hundred-fold. The main characters, among them 18-year-old Nico and 12-year-old Kit, are all young people who grew up in this apocalyptic world. The deadly "flies" (actually genetically manipulated bees) are still swarming the world, consuming people where they find them. Even those who survive can still be affected by the related "Fly Flu" which can lie latent in a person for years, only to kill them later. Thus the older generations, those who knew a pre-apocalyptic world of shopping, governments and electricity, are dying off, leaving children to fend for themselves in a wild, dangerous and depopulated world. There's no real science left, just personal experience, storytelling, an imperfect understanding of what went before ... and for some, a mysticism that seems to guide them. The question is whether the magic they feel is real or imagined. The characters - and the author, I feel - are trying to find meaning in a world turned upside down and full of devastation. Yet the tone is not desperate. Despite the obvious and ongoing horrors, it's even kind of peaceful. The book is funny, sad, complex, profound, confusing and ridiculous, and very, very weird. I don't know how to feel about this ... but it definitely makes the reader think.
-Review by Rowan, age 16
When Izzy walks into a stand-up comedy club, she knows she's being a little rebellious. She's 16 and it's for 18-and-up. She didn't even intend to walk in, and does not realize she has accidentally signed up for a turn on the stage. But she doesn't leave when her turn is announced, instead taking the stage and blathering the first thing that comes to mind – part awkward, part funny, part revealing. Somehow it's incredibly empowering to use her own voice, something she doesn't do at home where she's the quiet sibling, or in her relationship with a boyfriend readers can see is incredibly controlling. So what had been a fluke appearance becomes a habit for Izzy, who becomes friends with the college-age performers and finds herself living for the secret comedy performances. They think she's in college like she is, and she keeps quiet about her real age and school, while allowing other parts of her personality to shine. Meanwhile, at school and at home she tries to keep her nighttime escapades a secret. It's inevitable that eventually her two worlds will collide. I found the book hilarious in parts, all too real in others. The characters are true originals and their challenges will resonate with readers.
-Review by Rowan, age 16
The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre is an astounding romance novel about never judging someone the way based on stereotypes and superstition. Melody and Odile may break some of the High School beliefs, but that does not compare to the happiness that buds from their relationship. Funny, transforming, and heartwarming, this book will absolutely blow your mind away. Robin Talley crafted this story to a unique perfection that will transport you to the land of Melody McIntyre. It is a book that you will never forget and will stay with you for longer then you can imagine. Robin Talley adds details and emotion with every character and describes them with a passion that is is so deep, you feel like you are part of the story. Melody and the crew of this story are a never-ending bundle of fun.
-Review by Krin