Paper Towns by John Green
How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier
Soulless by Christopher Golden
My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel
This piece was a feature article for SparkNotes Literature online. For additional information on the books I've featured in this article, click each title for a full-length review!
The members of My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel are Leah, her mother, her stepfather, and her half-brother, then expand to include Leah's other half-siblings. Leah's father was a donor from Lyons Reproductive Services, a fact her mother shared with her when she was little. Years later, her mom got married, then had a little boy, and the four settled into a happy home life. Though content with her family, Leah can't help but wonder if her donor parent had other kids. Without telling her mom, Leah uses an online match system and locates four more children, all around her age, fathered by Donor 730. Leah contacts one of them, a girl named Samantha, and the sisters secretly keep in touch. Samantha says it best: "No family is 'normal.'" This book celebrates the modern family without shame, without dysfunction or exaggerated angst. Sheinmel's characters are vibrant and good-natured, exchanging dialogue which rings true and is suitable to their ages. The book is narrated in an almost stream-of-consciousness style by Leah, and many scenes are stolen by her younger brother Charlie, an inquisitive little guy who is both smart and silly.
John Green's highly anticipated third release, Paper Towns, delivers on its promise. Quentin, commonly called Q, lives next door to a girl who stole his heart at a very young age. As little kids, they painted the town red on their bicycles, but now they are in high school and no longer close. Then Margo shows up unexpectedly at Q's window one night, just weeks before graduation, and asks him to help her with a few things. He goes with her almost without question, not knowing she'll soon leave him with nothing but questions. That night, the two once again paint the town red, exacting fairly harmless revenge on Margo's unfaithful boyfriend and others. Their night of pranks fill Q with happiness. The next day, Margo disappears. Her parents are unconcerned, more exasperated than worried, as Margo's gone on flights of fancy before. Now that she's eighteen, legally an adult, they wash their hands of her. Q, unable to discount her so easily, thinks she wants to be found. He seeks meaning in items she left behind. Woody Gunthrie, Walt Whitman, and maps all come into play. Q's friends, irrepressible and goofy, try to distract him, but eventually aid his search. Inhabitants and supporters of Paper Towns are encouraged to read As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway, another haunting story about the disappearance of a defiant young woman, likewise narrated by the boy who adored her. Also try Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, in which two incoming college freshmen set out on a cross-country bike trip, but only one arrives at school.
For something a little lighter, learn How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier. In her first comedic fantasy, Larbalestier has created a fun world that's an amalgamation of America and Australia, a place that's a lot like our world except for the fact that many people are believed to have fairies that grant them unusual bits of luck. Teenaged Charlotte (Charlie) feels cursed by her gift: the ability to always get a good parking spot. She's not even old enough to drive! What she wouldn't give for a clothes shopping fairy, or, better still, an all-the-boys-like-you-fairy. Wouldn't you know it? The most popular girl in school has that one. When she and Charlie team up, crazy things happen. Humor comes not only from their attempts to ditch or swap their fairies, but also from Charlie's notes at the start of the chapters (hours spent in detention, demerits earned) and the general lighthearted tone of the book.
Zombies are turning up on the shelves in high numbers right now, and Soulless by Christopher Golden is the best of the batch. While most of the recent living dead stories are satires or dark comedies, Soulless is an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish. A televised séance with three world-renown mediums was supposed to allow people one last moment with their dearly departed loved ones. Instead of merely contacting the dead, the mediums somehow unwillingly cause them to rise. The dead crawl out of their graves, fearless, heartless, and soulless. They head home and destroy anyone who comes in their way. The book's unlikely heroes include a pop star, two college students, a gang member, and the daughter of one of the famed mediums, with stories told in turn as their paths cross and uncross on this disastrous day. The stakes are raised with every turn of the page. Tense, nail-biting, and well-executed, Soulless is a blockbuster film packed in between two covers.
So there you have it. Families, missing girls, zombies, and fairies, all waiting to find a new home on your bookshelf. Check 'em out!