Boxers & Saints

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Title: Boxers & Saints

Author/Illustrator: Gene Luen Yang

Summary: In this stunning masterwork, Gene Luen Yang tells an epic story across two books about young people facing the devastating consequences of war in 18th century China. Little Bao and Vibiana both live in the idyllic but impoverished rural countryside with families that are facing challenges. Soon, inspired and driven by the hidden magic surrounding them (Bao by the god-kings of Chinese mythology and Vibiana by the legend of Joan of Arc), they each embark on a journey through the rapidly-changing world around them, finding themselves as they endure the upheaval, war and devastation that comes when people with different points of view cannot coexist peacefully. When their paths finally cross, neither will be the same.

It probably doesn’t matter in which order you read these dual narratives, but I’d suggest you start with Boxers. You might not learn too much about this famous colonial-era Rebellion in your history classes, but this story will immerse you in the violent and bloody struggle between those who wished to reject foreign influence in China and others who welcomed it. You will  be moved by both of these young people as they find themselves leading their people towards an unthinkable destiny, each believing they are right.

Who will like this book: Graphic n0vel readers. Fans of historical fiction and stories laced with magic and spirituality.

If you like this, try this: Yang’s Printz-winning work, American Born Chinese. Another fantastic graphic novel with a supernatural element, Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brogsol.For another era in Chinese history, take a look at Revolution is not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine. For more on the history of this era, read The Boxer Rebellion by Diana Preston.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Swagger

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Title: Swagger

Author: Carl Deuker

Summary: Jonas is nervous about moving to Seattle. He was an all-star with a shot at a college scholarship at his old school – will he be able to get on the team and garner the stats he needs to compete at his new one? Before school begins, he meets two important people who will change his life forever: His neighbor Levi, the son of a strict pastor with a simple manner and a good heart who is also a monster on the court and potential future teammate, and Ryan Hartwell, a local guy not much older than them who hangs out at the practice court with a lot of good advice on how to improve their game. Hartwell tells Jonas and Levi that they need to celebrate their swagger on the basketball court and in life – but the collision of these three people will lead to both incredible success and devastating, irreversible damage.

At first this book seems like a simple sports story about teammates and friends. As the pages turn, however, it becomes something deeper, more affecting and ultimately unforgettable. Jonas is a protagonist you will really root for, even as he makes questionable decisions in part of a chain of events that may leave you heartbroken. While it contains sensitive content, Deuker, a master of sports fiction, handles these serious situations without sensationalism and with careful grace. A challenging and rewarding tale that should be read by teens and parents/caregivers together.

Who will like this book?: People who like quick reads. Fans of sports stories that are about more than sports. Readers of intense books about friendship.

If you like this, try this: Boy21 by Matthew Quick. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. Crackback by John Coy.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

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Con Academy

Con-Academy-Joe-SchreiberTitle: Con Academy

Author: Joe Schreiber

Summary: Will Shea has a plan. He’s managed to hack the system and get himself into the prestigious Connaughton Academy for his senior year of high school. All he has to do is impress his absurdly wealthy classmates with his invented back story about being a scholarship student from a tiny island in the Pacific, enter their social circles and leverage those connections forge this path through those connections to a life of immeasurable influence, power and privilege. Will is determined to leave his rough and tumble life on the streets of Trenton, New Jersey, and his less-than-professional con artist father, behind. But things are not going to be as easy as that, once he collides with Andrea, another Connaughton student/scammer who herself is operating under a falsified identity, aiming at the same life path Will has his eyes set on. Suddenly, the long con is on: The first person to reel in the biggest, richest fish on campus gets to stay at the Academy while the other has to try their unlawful scheming elsewhere.

This is a fun and fast-paced story with plenty of twists, turns and fake-outs with elaborate swindles running through the entire story. You’ll be rooting for Will as he finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into his caper as unexpected challenges, including the appearance of his criminal family members and the possibility of a real connection to another Connaughton student, get in the way of his perfect score. Con Academy reads like your favorite school comedy movie and it deserves to find its way on to your list of must-read books.

Who will like this book?: Readers who have ever contemplated a life of (non-violent) crime. Anyone looking for a quick, light read with plenty of action and laughter.

If you like this, try this: How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller. Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick. Tracers by J.J. Howard. For mature readers, Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man in the History of Fun and Profit by Frank W. Abagnale and The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Nazi Hunters

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Title: The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi

Author: Neal Bascomb

Summary: Adolf Eichmann was a decorated Nazi officer and a key figure in the transport of Jews and other ‘undesirable’ populations from Hungary to overcrowded ghettos and eventually to the deadly concentration camps located throughout eastern Europe. He prided himself on his efficiency and the lengths he would go to in convincing that these moves were in the best interest of those who would eventually perish in the Holocaust. After the war was over and Nazi Germany had fallen in 1945, Eichmann disappeared. This is the story of how this wanted man was found, captured half a world away in Argentina and brought to Jerusalem to stand trial for his atrocities 15 years after the end of the war.

This gripping page turner delves into the espionage work done by several key players, from ordinary citizens whose lives had been shaped by the horrors of war, stake out artists and military men who could be compromised in an instant,  and up to the highest offices in the Israeli government. The seven-year operation had to be completed with absolute secrecy and precision and even though you know the outcome, it reads like the best kind of spy thriller and is a great choice even if you aren’t a fan of non-fiction reading.

The Nazi Hunters won the 2014 YALSA Award for Excellence in Non-Fiction for Young Adults.

Who will like this book: Anyone in interested in World War II or Israeli history. Readers who like learning about ‘secret’ or lesser-known stories in history.

If you like this, try this: Mature readers should check out Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt. Eichmann in My Hands by Peter Malkin, a key figure in The Nazi Hunters. 

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

My Friend Dahmer

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Title: My Friend Dahmer

Author/Illustrator: Derf Backderf

Summary: Jeffrey Dahmer was a notorious serial killer, responsible for the deaths of 17 men and boys. But before he became a monster, he was a kid growing up in the Midwest alongside author/illustrator Derf. This graphic memoir brings the reader into their world and shows how Dahmer’s crimes had as much to do with the people in his life who failed to see to the warning signs as his own troubled psyche. Beginning with their first acquaintance in middle school in the 1970s, the author tracks his evolving acquaintance with the weird, introverted boy who always seemed to be on the outside looking in.

Derf does not excuse Jeff’s horrifying crimes, but he asks the readers to look a little deeper at the circumstances that enabled Dahmer to become a killer. This book is more about how our actions can have consequences beyond our own understanding at the time. Derf also includes a terrific bibliography and information about his research for those interested in learning more about Dahmer and his crimes. This excellent graphic novel deserves to be read. It is not an easy book, but it is one that you will remember.

Who will like this book?: Older, mature readers interested in crime stories and psychology. This book is disturbing and intense – but it is very thought-provoking and memorable.

If you like this, read this: Stitches by David Small. The true crime graphic novels by Rick Geary, including Jack the Ripper, The Borden Tragedy and The Lindbergh Child. Columbine by Dave Cullen.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

I Hunt Killers

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Title: I Hunt Killers

Author: Barry Lyga

Summary: Most fathers share favorite pastimes with their sons. Using time on the ball field or fixing things around the house as a way to build a relationship and pass on important life skills. But when your Dad is one of the world’s most infamous serial killers, father-son bonding takes on a gruesome aspect. For Jasper (Jazz) Dent childhood was a time spent learning how to become the perfect serial killer. Ever since Jazz can remember, his father groomed him to take over the family business of killing. He has witnessed crimes that would turn the stomachs of experienced cops and understands a crime scene the way a cop never will- from the eyes of criminal.

When Jazz’s father is caught and put away for life, Jazz thinks that way of life is over. He wants nothing more than to sink into normalcy. But when a killer strikes in his sleepy hometown of Lobo’s Nod, Jazz realizes he may hold the key to ending the rampage. Who better to catch a killer than someone who has been trained to think like one? The only problem is Jazz is beginning to wonder if he may truly become his father’s son and take up where dear old dad left off.

Who will like this book?: Fans of horror and fast-paced thrillers will love seeing the world through the eye’s of a complex character like Jazz. Despite the creepy premise, this book is written with humor and overarching themes of friendship and even romance. Fans of the show Dexter will also enjoy the storyline of a young boy being taught how to get away with murder and the demons with which he wrestles to properly channel those urges.

If you like this, try this: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride or Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.  For a more serious, historical story about teens trained as assassins try Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin by Robin La Fevers.

Recommended by: Jen, Fairfield Woods Branch Teen Librarian

Variant

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Title: Variant

Author: Robison Wells

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Benson Fisher thinks his life is finally about to change.  The scholarship to Maxfield Academy is his ticket out of the foster care system he bounced around in since the age of five.  Maxfield was to be his means of escape, but now he would give anything to escape Maxfield.  Because Maxfield isn’t like the place he saw on the website or what he was promised by the director, Ms. Vaughn, in the three-hour drive from the Albuquerque airport to the school’s remote location.  Instead, Maxfield is a school surrounded by unclimbable fencing and video cameras that monitor your every more.  A place where no adults are seen, but rules are strictly enforced and breaking one can have deadly consequences.

In order to survive and maintain a certain level of peace, students have developed three groups: Society, Havoc, and Variant.  Each group has specific jobs around the campus and certain beliefs with respect to life at Maxfield.  Everyone must join a group, but does that mean Benson has to buy into the beliefs of his group?   Benson is desperate to escape the school and when he discovers the real secret behind Maxfield he thinks he may have found the means to accomplish it.  Now he just needs to figure out who he can trust because escaping this prision-like school is not going to be a one-man job.

Who will like this?:  Fans of fast-paced thrillers/adventures will be surprised and intrigued with sci-fi kick near the end.

If you like this, try this: The Maze Runner by James Dashner, The Compound by S.A. Bodeen, Lockdown: Escape from Furnance by Alexander Gordon Smith.

Recommended by: Jen, Fairfield Woods Branch Teen Librarian