Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler

Sea ChangeBook – For the past several years I’ve been attending the awards ceremony for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, “an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” Sometimes I’m already familiar with the winner, but usually I get a list of great new books to read. This year the only one of the nominees I’ve already read is Sea Change, a fairytale by S.M. Wheeler about a girl and her octopus.
Lilly lives a sad and miserable life as the only child of parents who hate each other, perched in their castle by the sea. Her best friend is Octavius, a kraken; the two of them talk about friendship and morality. Then one day Octavius is captured and sold to a circus, and Lilly sets out on a quest to rescue him.
This is an incredibly poetic book, written more for the beautiful language and the sense of a fairy-tale than for ease of reading. Lilly’s story is a hard one, but the way she perseveres and changes is inspiring. I’d recommend it for fans of Caitlín R. Kiernan and Catherynne M. Valente.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

orphan traBook – Orphan trains ran from the East Coast to the Midwest from 1854 to 1929. They carried orphan children who needed homes and were available for adoption. The children aboard the trains had few options and could easily be exploited in their new homes. Orphan Train tells two parallel stories: the current plight of foster child Molly Ayer and the life story of Vivian Daly, an elderly woman who once rode the Orphan Train. Their lives intersect when teenage Molly is assigned a community service project to help Vivian sort through the boxes stored in her attic. Molly has not known much unconditional love in her years in foster care, and as a friendship begins to blossom between the two woman, Molly is able to confront her current demons. In turn, Vivian is able to come to peace with her past and her secrets. This book illustrates and contrasts the situations and emotions that children without loving caretakers face, both in the past and the present. However, it also depicts the positive impact of people in the community who reach out with love and care in a troubled situation and, in doing so, can provide a bright and hopeful future.

Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

age of mBookThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a hauntingly beautiful story set in an extraordinary time.  The rotation of the Earth is gradually slowing which affects the length of days and nights, gravity, tides, the food supply, and human and animal behavior.

Told from the perspective of Julia, a sensitive bright 11 year old, this is more of a coming of age tale than science fiction. Julia narrates her life as an adolescent bringing to light typical experiences of popularity, bullying, friendships, cliques, and crushes.  But if life weren’t complicated enough, Julia now must face the reality of what the future holds for her and if she has a future at all. Not only are there blatant environmental changes, but normal daily activities are increasingly difficult to hold onto. The Earth’s inhabitants are divided on whether to live by the clock or let the sun and darkness, which are both slowly increasing as the Earth’s rotation continuously is slowing, dictate their sleeping and waking patterns.

Walker consulted scientists in her research and while reading the book I questioned how I would react and what would I do under similar circumstances. This is a great book for both teens and adults.  It was named one of the “Best Books of the Year” by O: The Oprah Magazine, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and others. A movie based on the book is currently in production.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

replacementBook – Mackie Doyle is different. Then again, so is Gentry, the decaying steel town he lives in. Things are pretty good there, except when they aren’t, but mostly it’s a town where people have an unnatural ability to pretend that everything is OK. People pretend they don’t notice that Mackie is weird, and they pretend not to care when their children go missing on a startlingly regular schedule. Things start to change when Tate, a girl at Mackie’s school, loses her little sister, and refuses to pretend that it’s all OK.

I really enjoyed this dark and creepy YA interpretation of the myth of the changeling, babies stolen away by the faeries with alien children left in their place. Mackie is a wonderfully relatable character, a boy who knows he’s strange but doesn’t know how normal he is at the same time, and Tate is a fierce companion. Recommended for fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Holly Black.

The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein

Book – This Fallback Plan creatively depicts the relatable growing pains and ennui of a recent Northwestern graduate living with her parents during a hot summer month in Lombard, Illinois. This novel, published in 2012, possesses the current voice of youth that is reminiscent of the writing in the television series Girls. The main character is struggling after a difficult final semester at school, yet her tone is light and her glib descriptions of her daily undertakings are fresh and amusing. Because the setting of the book is mainly within Lombard, I found the character’s humorous viewpoint on local area events and establishments to be especially enjoyable. The text contains discerning descriptions of the rituals of family life from the perspective of a twenty year old. More than that, the novel addresses the challenges impacting new as well as established families. Stein realistically captures the trials an individual faces with each identity adopted during the stages of life. I first became aware of this book upon viewing a telecast of a reading by the author at the College of DuPage. Here is a link to a video of Leigh Stein reading selections from her work at the college.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

tell the wolvesBook – I truly enjoyed revisiting numerous forgotten details about the 1980’s with the teenage protagonist of this novel. It begins as fourteen-year-old June is losing her only friend,  her uncle Finn, to the then little-known illness AIDS. While it begins with a story of loss it transforms into a narrative about a quirky and intriguing friendship when June meets someone else Finn has left behind. This novel also paints a sensitive and believable picture of the complexity of family relationships, especially the relationships between siblings. The story kept me interested as secrets that were withheld from June, as well as the knowledge that comes with aging, transformed her perception of the world and of her understanding of the lives of those around her. The audiobook is read by Amy Rubinate. Her calm, youthful, but never saccharine, tone is pleasant and appropriate for the main character. Print and digital copies of this title are also available from the library.

Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine

fin-ladyBook - Fin & Lady is a story about love and finding your family. When young Fin is orphaned, his free-spirited half-sister Lady becomes his legal guardian. Practical Fin and glamorous Lady have only spent a brief time together previously, but Fin adores her. They move to New York City and become part of the counter-culture of the sixties. Fin struggles to understand Lady’s turbulent relationships with several admirers and the new world around him. A cast of entertaining characters including the admirers, a spunky housemaid and a gentle dog move the story through many humorous situations. Lady is obsessed with being “free,” and this book explores what being “free” and loving someone really means. If you enjoy books by Elinor Lipman, you may enjoy this book centered on a family dealing with unconventional situations. I found this book to be a delightful read, with interesting dilemmas and some laugh-out-loud moments. Cathleen Schine also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

arcadiaBook – Bit was born in a commune in the 1970’s. Arcadia traces his coming-of-age in this idealistic setting. While his parents have big dreams, the reality of living in a communal setting is much harsher than they anticipated. Projects are delayed due to lack of participation or follow-through, drug use is rampant and the commune’s residents are often hungry and cold. However, the bucolic setting and the genuine love of his extended family hold Bit and his family to Arcadia House and the rise and fall of its fortunes. Bit falls in love with Astrid, the daughter of the charismatic leader of the commune, and as they grow up, he is forced to confront the truths about his beliefs, himself and those he loves. This book made me think about human nature and how things might play out in a communal setting. Through Groff’s writing, I could vividly picture the place and the characters.