Reviews and summaries from Publisher's Weekly Magazine
By Lemony Snicket, illus. by Jon Klassen
Snicket and Klassen are an inspired pairing in this suspenseful take on childhood fear. Laszlo, a solemn boy in blue pajamas, is scared of the dark, and it’s easy to see why. He lives in a house with “a creaky roof, smooth, cold windows, and several sets of stairs.” The floors are bare, the halls are empty, and the windows are uncurtained. And the dark in his house is not just any dark—it has a will of its own. “Sometimes the dark hid in the closet. Sometimes it sat behind the shower curtain,” writes Snicket (13 Words). Klassen (This Is Not My Hat) constructs his spreads with quiet finesse, playing expanses of shadow and darkness off small, constricted areas of light, as the boy roams through the house. Still, Laszlo’s fear does not translate into a look of terror; his dot eyes and straight-line mouth signal calm. Sometimes, he even talks to the dark (“Hi, dark,” he says down the basement stairs). One fateful night, though, the dark talks back, surrounding Laszlo as he lies in bed. Only the boy’s face and hand, clutching his trusty flashlight, can be seen. The rest of the page is a sea of black. “Laszlo,” the dark says, “I want to show you something.” In the deliciously tense sequence that follows, the dark beckons Laszlo into the basement, pointing him toward a closed dresser drawer. Laszlo’s flashlight illuminates only a small wedge of the basement stairwell; beyond his beam of light, the black closes in. The darkness is not just a condition, readers understand; it’s an actual entity, palpable and breathing. At the moment Laszlo steps closest to the dresser, Snicket intervenes with a diabolically timed soliloquy on the philosophical need for creaky roofs, cold windows, and darkness, delivered at exactly the moment the fear of these things looms largest. “Without a closet, you would have nowhere to put your shoes,” he points out, as readers wait with bated breath to find out what lurks inside the dresser, “and without the dark, everything would be light.” In a final twist—and a moment of uncharacteristic gentleness from Snicket—the dark offers Laszlo a drawerful of light bulbs that are just the right size for his nightlight. “The dark kept on living with Laszlo, but it never bothered him again,” Snicket concludes. While it might not combat fear of the dark, it’s an ingenius introduction to horror movie–style catharsis, and a memorable ride on the emotional roller coaster that great storytelling creates. Ages 3–6. Author’s agent: Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Apr.)
After more than 50 years of writing and illustrating children’s books, two-time Greenaway Medal–winner Hughes delivers her first novel, a tense and emotional thriller set during the German occupation of Florence in 1944, near the end of WWII. With an absent father and a British mother, 13-year-old Paolo Crivelli and his 16-year-old sister, Constanza, suffer isolation and scrutiny under the tight security of the Nazis and their neighbors’ suspicion (their father is believed to be a Partisan, part of the pro-Allied resistance). Paolo secretly violates the city’s curfew each night to ride his bicycle across town, and Partisans approach him one evening, setting in motion their plan to have Paolo’s mother harbor escaped Allied prisoners of war. The third-person narration shifts smoothly among Paolo, Constanza, and their mother, giving readers profound insight and perspective on their individual worries and pressures, as their situation becomes all the more perilous. The Italian setting is vibrantly presented, and Hughes creates both a memorable cast and a palpable sense of danger at a critical juncture of the war. Ages 10–14. (Apr.)
Young Adult Titles
By Veronica Roth
Roth knows how to write. So even though this second book of the trilogy that began with Divergent feels like a necessary bridge between the haunting story she created in book one and the hinted-at chaos of book three, readers will be quick to forgive. Tris, reeling from the loss of her parents and guilt-ridden over having shot her best friend, must escape the Erudite faction’s horrific takeover by fleeing first to Amity and then Candor. Reluctantly, she joins forces with the “factionless” to defeat Erudite. As stubborn and self-destructive as ever, Tris butts heads with Tobias and tests everyone’s (perhaps even readers’) patience. Roth keeps every chapter action-packed, moving Tris tantalizingly close to learning the secret her parents were fighting to unleash. The author has a subtle way of pulling readers into a scene (“The outside air.... smells green, the way a leaf does when you tear it in half”), and the novel’s love story, intricate plot, and unforgettable setting work in concert to deliver a novel that will rivet fans of the first book. Ages 14–up. Agent: Joanna Volpe, Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation.
By Veronica Roth
In this edgy debut (definitely not for the fainthearted), first in a trilogy, promising author Roth tells the riveting and complex story of a teenage girl forced to choose, at age 16, between her routinized, selfless family and the adventurous, unrestrained future she longs for. Beatrice "Tris" Prior lives in crumbling dystopian Chicago, where citizens are divided into five factions—Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite—depending on their beliefs, passions, and loyalties. When Tris forsakes her Abnegation family to become one of the wild, fearless Dauntless, she must confront her deepest fears, learn to trust her fellow initiates, and guard the ominous secret that she is actually a Divergent, with the strengths of multiple factions, and is therefore a target of dangerously controlling leaders. Roth's descriptions of Tris's initiation process are as spellbinding as they are violent, while the tremulous romance between Tris and her protective and demanding instructor, Four, unfurls with heart-stopping tenderness. For those who loved The Hunger Games and are willing to brave the sometimes sadistic tests of strength and courage Tris must endure, the reward is a memorable, unpredictable journey from which it is nearly impossible to turn away. Ages 14–up.
The Fault in Our Stars
If there's a knock on John Green (and it's more of a light tap considering he's been recognized twice by the Printz committee) it's that he keeps writing the same book: nerdy guy in unrequited love with impossibly gorgeous girl, add road trip. His fourth novel departs from that successful formula to even greater success: this is his best work yet. Narrator Hazel Grace Lancaster, 16, is (miraculously) alive thanks to an experimental drug that is keeping her thyroid cancer in check. In an effort to get her to have a life (she withdrew from school at 13), her parents insist she attend a support group at a local church, which Hazel characterizes in an older-than-her-years voice as a "rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness." Despite Hazel's reluctant presence, it's at the support group that she meets Augustus Waters, a former basketball player who has lost a leg to cancer. The connection is instant, and a (doomed) romance blossoms. There is a road trip--Augustus, whose greatest fear is not of death but that his life won't amount to anything, uses his "Genie Foundation" wish to take Hazel to Amsterdam to meet the author of her favorite book. Come to think of it, Augustus is pretty damn hot. So maybe there's not a new formula at work so much as a gender swap. But this iteration is smart, witty, profoundly sad, and full of questions worth asking, even those like "Why me?" that have no answer. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House.