Tag Archives: Alexandra Duncan

New Releases – September 2015

Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

“Aidan lives on a farm in Temperance, Ohio, that’s been in his family for generations. When Jarrod Doyle returns to finish his senior year after many years away, Aidan doesn’t recall him at all, let alone believe that they’d been best friends in elementary school. Jarrod reminds him that he used to tell stories of seeing strange things that no one else saw. … Telling the tale in Aidan’s deliberate, meticulous voice, Barzak strikes a nice balance between contemporary teen issues and paranormal adventure. Part ghost story, part love story, this page-turner is a captivating exploration of the power of place, family, memory, and time itself.” — Kirkus

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

“Once there was war, until an artificial intelligence named Talis took over the world. Four hundred years later, Talis still rules; he has made the world peaceful, but the price is the blood of children. Should a government declare war, its heir, raised in a U.N.- (and Talis-) controlled Precepture, a monasterylike enclave, dies. Greta, Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, is one of those Children of Peace. … This is no cookie-cutter dystopia. Talis (whose voice lends a sharp, outsize, and very dark humor to his every word and scene) may not be a bad supreme ruler. The boy (Elián) is not Greta’s love interest (Princess Xie is), and anyway the love story is only a piece of a much larger story about love and war, forms of power, and the question of what is right when there is no good answer, all played out on a small and personal stage.” — Kirkus, starred review

A Whole New World: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell (Disney Press)

“In a Disney-authorized riff on the animated film Aladdin, one crucial plot twist has horrifying results. The first quarter of the book serves up a straightforward novelization of the film, until evil vizier Jafar traps the roguish protagonist underground—in this version, without the magical lamp. Aladdin escapes to find that with the genie’s aid, Jafar has publicly murdered the feckless sultan, imprisoned the princess Jasmine, and terrorized the people of Agrabah into submission. Fortunately, Aladdin can call upon the Street Rats to spearhead a revolution, but can a gang of petty thieves prevail over Jafar’s black magic? Briskly paced, with nonstop action and clever allusions to classic horror tales …” — Kirkus

Trail of the Dead by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books)

“In Volume 2 of this post-apocalyptic series, Lozen leads survivors of the insurrection against Haven’s technically augmented human rulers through gemod-infested wilderness to the hidden valley her Apache family once called home—it doesn’t go as planned. As Lozen’s powers to read the now-unwired world around her have grown, so have the responsibilities and stresses of leadership. … To unravel and heal her PTSD requires confronting the toll that killing takes on warriors, however noble their motives or those of the leaders who’ve ordered it. … Bruchac’s focus on these consequences adds welcome emotional depth to Lozen and to the story itself, while her search for healing and wholeness highlights the strengths of a cultural heritage that is up to the challenge. This second act offering deeper characterization and resonant themes enriches an already compelling tale.” — Kirkus

The Suffering by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Seventeen-year-old Tark has adjusted pretty well to life with Okiku, the vengeful spirit that accompanies him wherever he goes. Tark is able to control Okiku’s blood lust, harnessing and aiming it at only those that truly deserve it. When an old friend, Kagura, goes missing, Tark and Okiku travel to the Aokigahara, a forest in Japan infamous for suicide, to search. As the location’s dark past is revealed, Okiku begins to lose sight of her moral compass, and Tark begins to feel that nothing will ever be the same again. The novel’s horror set pieces are the real highlight. Chupeco establishes a creepy, sinister tone early on but never veers into camp or overwrought darkness.” — Kirkus

One by Sarah Crossan (Greenwillow)

“Grace and Tippi are 16-year-old conjoined twins attending private school after only being homeschooled. With an alcoholic and unemployed father, an anorexic sister, and a mother frantically trying to hold her family together, the girls cling to new friends Yasmeen and Jon, two outcasts who defend the girls and treat them as equals. Just when Grace falls for Jon despite Tippi’s warning—“We can never ever fall in love”—the girls learn that an illness in one jeopardizes both. … In asking important questions about how bodies shape identity, Crossan’s novel achieves a striking balance between sentimentality and sisterly devotion.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Courage to Compete: Living with Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams by Abbey Curran with Elizabeth Kaye (HarperCollins)

“This uplifting memoir about a young woman living with cerebral palsy who competed in the Miss USA pageant is sure to inspire readers. … Abbey later went on to win Miss Iowa 2008 and to compete in Miss USA. She comes across as positive and hopeful, and her tone is breezy and enthusiastic (”I was just beside myself. I did it! I had made the Top Ten!!! Amazing!!!“). The teenager is honest about her struggles, from wearing leg braces to coping with her parents’ divorce. She exudes hope, confidence, determination, and bravery.” — School Library Journal

The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis (Disney-Hyperion)

Book Descriptioin: Maggie Sanders might be blind, but she won’t invite anyone to her pity party. Ever since losing her sight six months ago, Maggie’s rebellious streak has taken on a life of its own, culminating with an elaborate school prank. Maggie called it genius. The judge called it illegal.

Now Maggie has a probation officer. But she isn’t interested in rehabilitation, not when she’s still mourning the loss of her professional-soccer dreams, and furious at her so-called friends, who lost interest in her as soon as she could no longer lead the team to victory.

Then Maggie’s whole world is turned upside down. Somehow, incredibly, she can see again. But only one person: Ben, a precocious ten-year-old unlike anyone she’s ever met. Ben’s life isn’t easy, but he doesn’t see limits, only possibilities. After awhile, Maggie starts to realize that losing her sight doesn’t have to mean losing everything she dreamed of. Even if what she’s currently dreaming of is Mason Milton, the magnetic lead singer of Maggie’s new favorite band, who just happens to be Ben’s brother.

But when she learns the real reason she can see Ben, Maggie must find the courage to face a once-unimaginable future…before she loses everything she has grown to love.

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (Scholastic Press)

“Giselle, an art lover, and Isabelle, a budding composer, are 16-year-old Haitian-American twins living in Miami. After the SUV carrying the girls and their recently separated parents is hit, Giselle’s world unravels. Danticat (Krik? Krak!) vividly represents the path from shock to healing as Giselle and her parents grapple with Isabelle’s death. … Danticat’s gracious and poetic language haunts as Giselle moves through “star-blinding pain,” both physical and emotional, discovering the inner world of her sister and reconciling the guilt she feels at being the surviving twin.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Dagger by Steven dos Santos (Evernight Teen)

Book Description: When Ultimate Evil engulfs the entire world, only Dagger can pierce the Darkness—even if the Apocalypse falls on a school night! Dagger Beaumont is a High School senior who’s been recruited by D.U.S.T.—a covert governmental organization dedicated to battling supernatural terrorism all over the globe. However, Dagger’s unresolved conflict over his missing brother could be his undoing, as he races around the world battling the Dark Reich, a diabolical organization on a quest to possess an ancient artifact and unleash a mystical plague to enslave humanity. If that weren’t treacherous enough, Dagger must juggle his life as a secret agent with his social life, where he faces romantic rivalry for the guy of his dreams, a mysterious and handsome new student at his haunted boarding school. But in a high-stakes world where nothing is as it seems, and death lurks in every shadow, love rides shotgun with survival!

Sound by Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)

“Miyole forged her papers to work on the Ranganathan, a 128,000-acre research-and-development ship. She’s 16, not the required 18, but she’s always wanted to travel into space and was impatient to leave Mumbai, where she was taunted as ”the darkest“ and ”the exotic outlier“ because she’s Haitian, not Indian. Onboard, she bioengineers bees and butterflies to pollinate terraformed planets. Then life takes a sharp turn: pirates attack a nearby spacecraft, and Miyole meets a girl named Cassia. … Connections among her personal history, her ancestral history (the real-life Haitian Revolution; the science-fictional destruction, centuries ago, of Haiti by floods), and the atrocities she discovers in deep space are meaningful and well-wrought, as is the portrayal of Miyole’s tender and bumpy romance with Cassia. Unpredictable plot, vivid settings, and a queer, dark-skinned black girl as a protagonist in far-future science fiction: essential.” — Kirkus, starred review

Michael Vey 5: Storm of Lightning by Richard Paul Evans (Simon Pulse/Mercury Ink)

Book Description: Michael, Taylor, Ostin, and the rest of the Electroclan go on their most dangerous mission yet as the thrilling action continues in this electrifying fifth installment of the New York Times bestselling series!

The resistance movement has been compromised. The Voice is in hiding. Their families are missing. Can the Electroclan pull together to defeat the Elgen once and for all?

Either the Beginning or the End of the World by Terry Farish (Carolrhoda Lab)

“Almost 17-year-old Sofie lives with her fisherman father and dog on the rugged and unforgiving Pisqataqua River in New Hampshire. … An early closure of the shrimping season forces her father down south to the Chincoteague, but not before he unequivocally warns Sofie not to see Luke, a volatile deckhand returned from duty as a medic in Afghanistan. With her father gone, her long-absent mother and grandmother move in to take his place. She grudgingly begins to learn more about their life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge … Poetic, spare, and sometimes near stream of consciousness, Farish’s writing is haunting. She paints broad strokes and excels at setting a tone that pervades every word and action. The sexual tension between Sofie and Luke is palpable. Beautifully written and briskly paced, the sparse prose evokes the rugged, bleak landscape, the simplicity of Sofie’s former life with her Dad, and the immediate, unspoken union between her and Luke.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Brazen by Christina Farley (Skyscape)

Book Description:Jae Hwa Lee spent her sixteenth year in Seoul, trying to destroy the evil immortals who had been torturing her family for centuries. The last thing she expected was to be forced to become their assassin. Trapped in the darkest part of the Spirit World as a servant to the Korean god Kud, fighting to keep her humanity, and unable to contact her loved ones, Jae Hwa is slowly losing hope. Kud, god of darkness, will do anything to keep her as a pawn in his quest for power over all of Korea, her entire family thinks she’s dead, and Jae’s true love, Marc, believes she is lost to him forever.

When Kud sends Jae to find and steal the powerful Black Turtle orb, Jae sees an opportunity to break free and defeat Kud once and for all…but first she needs to regain Marc’s trust and work with him to vanquish the darkness that threatens to overwhelm Korea. There’s much to lose as Jae struggles to save the land she’s come to call home.

Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

“Moving to Hawaii and enrolling at prestigious Punahou midyear, Lea feels isolated and, despite her island roots, uncertain where she fits in the complex cultural mosaic; everything changes when her mother, Ali, accepts Eddie and Melanie West’s offer of their guesthouse in upscale Kahala. … As in The Descendants (2007), Hemmings turns her plot on intergenerational family complexities and contradictions, secrets and revelations. Appealing and volatile, Lea’s a quintessential teen, by turns hypersensitive and hypercritical, impulsive and cautious, insightful and clueless. Hawaii, Hemmings’ closely observed home turf, is more than interesting wallpaper; details of island life (including tensions among natives and newcomers, locals and vacationers) resonate with theme and plot. Wryly funny, generous-hearted, garnished with sun, surfing, and shave ice—a genuinely literary beach read.” — Kirkus, starred review

Edge: Collected Stories by M. E. Kerr (Open Road Media)

“Family, honesty, and status emerge as themes in a collection of prolific author Kerr’s short stories for teens. A girl’s ne’er-do-well adopted brother returns to her as a ghost. A Holocaust survivor understands her lesbian granddaughter better than the girl’s mother fears. A school outcast visits an inmate at the town prison, pretending to be his son, and thinks he’s lucked into a fortune. Most stories here were originally published in the 1990s, but despite occasional dated preoccupations, the subject matter still feels fresh and the telling, crisp. … Expertly crafted, with enduring relevance.” — Kirkus

Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche (Razorbill)

“After Michelle’s drug-addicted mother is arrested, 17-year-old Michelle is left to fend for her two younger siblings. Again. With virtually no one to help them, Michelle (who is half-black) feels lost until her previously unknown (and “the-color-of-tracing-paper white”) half-sister, Leah, shows up with her stepbrother, Tim. Buck Devereaux—the long-absent father that Michelle, her siblings, and Leah all share—is dying, and he wants to see them. After some persuasion, all five step-siblings pile into Michelle’s broken-down station wagon to travel from Baltimore to California. … [Michelle’s] budding relationship with Tim adds a sweet-natured romantic dimension to this sibling-centered story.” — Publishers Weekly

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt (St. Martin’s Griffin)

“Sixteen-year-old Alma Garcia-Menendez is a brilliant girl from a loving Mexican family living in Georgia, part of a community of undocumented immigrants. Evan Roland is the privileged son of a socialite, the nephew of a powerful senator, and a friend to boys who think sexual assault is a game. It’s love at first sight for Alma and Evan, but the threat of deportation looms for Alma and everyone in her life. … readers seeking a star-crossed love story with a twist won’t be disappointed.” — Publishers Weekly

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore (Thomas Dunne)

“Like all Paloma girls, Lace was born with small escalas decorating her body, “a sprinkling of scales off a pale fish, a gift from the river goddess Apanchanej.” Life revolves around performing as sirenas in her itinerant family’s popular mermaid show, a tourist attraction rivaled only by that of their nemesis family, the Corbeaus, who have feathers instead of scales, and dance high in the trees. … when Cluck, a Corbeau, saves Lace during a chemical rainstorm caused by a nearby adhesive manufacturing plant, he unwittingly dooms Lace’s future with her family. McLemore’s prose is ethereal and beguiling … The enchanting setup and the forbidden romance that blooms between these two outcasts will quickly draw readers in.” — Publishers Weekly

Breaking Up Point by Brian McNamara (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Brendan Madden is starting his freshman year of college and, although excited, he is sad to say good-bye to his high school boyfriend, Mark. After a rough transition, Brendan carves out a place for himself at school, where he has new friends and newfound independence. With the added strain of distance, however, he now finds it hard to maintain his relationship with Mark, especially due to the fact that Mark still must hide the relationship from most of his friends. Brendan’s college life allows him to be open and honest about who he is. He debates whether he is willing to compromise this for Mark, especially since staying in the relationship means forgoing the possibility of finding new romance at college.

Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian (HarperCollins)

“A high school senior struggles to understand himself after he falls for Brandy, a sophomore girl, while at the same time he and his friend Angus, who is openly gay, make out one night while stoned and drunk and then are continually drawn back to one another. … Intense, honestly described, and sometimes awkward sexual encounters will ring true for teen readers, and many will identify with the family strife, too. Pitch perfect, raw, and moving.” — Kirkus, starred review

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (Carolrhoda Lab)

“A Mexican-American girl and a black boy begin an ill-fated love in the months leading up to a catastrophic 1937 school explosion in East Texas. … Naomi has begrudgingly left behind her abuelitos in San Antonio for a new life with her younger half siblings, twins, and their long-absent white father, Henry. … Their one friend is Wash, a brilliant African-American senior from the black part of town. … the story ultimately belongs to Naomi and Wash. Their beautifully detailed love story blossoms in the relative seclusion of the woods, where even stepfathers can’t keep them apart. … A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism.” — Kirkus, starred review

Serpentine by Cindy Pon (Month9Books)

“Pon returns to Xia, a realm inspired by Chinese folklore and introduced in Silver Phoenix (2009), for the first in a duology. Abandoned at birth, Skybright feels lucky to be handmaid to the wealthy, vivacious Zhen Ni, who for 16 years has treated her more as beloved sister than servant. Yet Sky, already bitter with jealousy over her mistress’s new companion and passionately enamored of the charming monk-in-training Kai Sen, hides a dreadful secret: at night, she transforms into a demon, half human, half monstrous crimson serpent. … The economical narrative conjures an entire world, drenched in color and texture and scent, rich in evocative mythology and heady action, and filled with vivid characters. … A fast-paced and engrossing read for anyone weary of the same old hackneyed storylines.” — Kirkus

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

“In this painful and all-too-timely book, two authors—one black, one white—present a story of police brutality. Reynolds (The Boy in the Black Suit) voices Rashad, the innocent victim of a police beating; Kiely (The Gospel of Winter) writes Quinn, a horrified witness. … The scenario that Reynolds and Kiely depict has become a recurrent feature of news reports, and a book that lets readers think it through outside of the roiling emotions of a real-life event is both welcome and necessary.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Inker’s Shadow by Allen Say (Scholastic Press)

“In this continuation of Say’s graphic memoir, Drawing from Memory (2011), he travels to the United States and receives a decidedly mixed welcome. Arriving in southern California in 1953, 15-year-old Allen first settles in a military academy but is soon asked to leave because his sponsor comes to believe that he won’t be (as Say’s own openly hostile father puts it) ‘a wholesome American.’ … all along the way, his determination to become a cartoonist never fades, and at low moments Kyusuke, the free-spirited alter ego created for him back in Japan by his mentor and sensei, Noro Shinpei, pops into view to remind him that it’s all an adventure. This small but firm step on an artist’s journey is both inspiration to his fellows and an informative window into a particular slice of the nation’s history.” — Kirkus

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa (Balzer + Bray)

“Scelsa debuts with an evocative novel about finding friendship, love, and oneself, as well as the pain that often accompanies the journey. When Jeremy, a shy artist who has kept to himself after a humiliating incident at school left him scarred and vulnerable, meets Mira and Sebby, two sophomores with troubled pasts, the three form a strong bond. Mira, who is struggling to tame debilitating depression, makes Jeremy feel a profound sense of belonging, while his attraction to Sebby, an openly gay foster kid, ignites a passion he’s never known. … Themes of betrayal, forgiveness, and resilience resonate strongly, while the characters’ stories are so beautifully told and their struggles so hauntingly familiar that they will stay with readers long after they have finished the book. ” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick)

“In a dystopian future, Kivali Kerwin, nicknamed Lizard, is sent to prepare for adulthood at a government-run CropCamp. Lizard’s adoptive family has always resisted authority, but attending camp as a teen makes it easier to avoid being sent to the prisonlike Blight as an adult. As a midrange bender—roughly equivalent, in today’s terms, to having a nonbinary gender—Lizard is at risk of being sent to Blight. At camp, Lizard unexpectedly forms deep connections to other campers. At the same time, Lizard increasingly suspects something sinister behind the camp’s strong community spirit. … Sophisticated, character-driven science fiction, as notable for its genderqueer protagonist as for its intricate, suspenseful plot.” — Kirkus, starred review

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash (Candlewick)

“Thrash chronicles one monumental summer at an all-girls’ camp where she experienced her gut-wrenching first love. Every summer, Maggie, an Atlanta native, attends Camp Bellflower, an all-girls’ camp in Kentucky, complete with tents, shooting, and Civil War re-enactments that have been a camp tradition for nearly 100 years. The summer that she turns 15, however, she falls in love for the first time. She meets Erin, a 19-year-old counselor who studies astronomy and plays guitar. … Thrash’s remembrances are evinced with clear, wide-eyed illustrations colored with a dreamily vibrant palette. She has so carefully and skillfully captured a universal moment—the first time one realizes that things will never be the same—that readers will find her story captivating. A luminescent memoir not to be missed.” — Kirkus, starred review

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti (Simon Pulse)

“This may not be the first tale of a group of crime-fighting teenagers with supernatural powers, but its talented writing team get points for creating some fresh and original superpowerd abilities. Scam has a seemingly omniscient inner voice, which can speak for him and get him out of trouble or, all too often, into it. Flicker is blind but can perceive what others see. Crash can take down any computer and finds the experience embarrassingly—and dangerously—enjoyable. Bellwether can control the energies of the group and unite them in a common purpose. And Anonymous—well, never mind, no one seems to remember anything about that guy. These five, plus one unpredictable new addition, make up the Zeroes … For fans of superhero fiction looking for a character-driven tale and those who enjoy stellar writing.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte)

“Suffering from ”bubble baby disease,“ Madeline has lived for 18 years in a sterile, sealed house with her physician mother. … Her life is turned upside down when a troubled new family moves in next door and she sees Olly for the first time. Olly, a white boy ”with a pale honey tan“ and parcours moves, wants to meet her, but Madeline’s mother turns him away. With the help of an indestructible Bundt cake, Olly perseveres until he gets her email address. Madeline—half Japanese, half African-American—chronicles her efforts to get to know Olly as she considers risking everything to be with him. … This heartwarming story transcends the ordinary by exploring the hopes, dreams, and inherent risks of love in all of its forms.” — Kirkus, starred review

Writing as an Ally

In Alexandra Duncan’s Sound, 16 year-old Miyole risks everything to help the girl she loves rescue her brother from a band of pirates who attacked their spaceship.

By Alexandra Duncan

duncan-soundSometimes, like the adult that I am, I can be a little dense.

When I was fourteen, my dad and stepmother had a baby girl, my little sister M. When I visited them and wheeled her around the grocery store or carried her on my shoulders through the park, strangers often assumed I was her teenage mother and gave both of us the stinkeye. I adored her, but the gap in our ages and the fact that we lived in different states — her in Louisiana, me in North Carolina — meant that our relationship was more like that of an aunt and niece, rather than two sisters. At times, I envied her, growing up in a stable home with wealthy parents, a stay-at-home mom, and encouragement to develop her artistic skills. M has always been a remarkable visual artist.

I should have known that even with all of that going for her, things wouldn’t be as easy or perfect as they seemed.

M started dropping hints that she was unhappy a few years ago, when she entered high school. “I feel so different,” she told me over the phone. “I don’t fit in.” I sympathized, but I was sure it would pass. I had definitely felt like a dysfunctional weirdo in high school, stuck in a small, conservative community, and her high school was in an equally conservative, if larger, city obsessed with keeping up appearances. It was not her scene, but she would be away at college in a handful of years.

Then, last summer, my husband and I went to visit our Louisiana family. M had been having a particularly hard time that year, and I wanted to see her. I brought books for her and my other younger sister, like I always do, including Brandy Colbert’s exquisite and painful Pointe, about a young ballerina coming to understand and overcome her past sexual abuse by a pedophile. We had several wonderful days to hang out, share silly Youtube videos, play board games, make waffles out of cake mix, and catch up. One afternoon, M and I were sitting in the living room reading, like the introverts we are, when she let Pointe fall to her lap.

“Ugh. This is just like my life!” she said.

“What!?” I said, monumentally freaked out and ready to break kneecaps.

“This thing with Hosea,” she said. “It’s just like this girl at school.”

I calmed down marginally. Hosea is the sort-of love interest in Pointe who toys with the main character’s affections, not a creeper who preys on teenage girls. But in my momentary rage-cloud, I missed the really important part of what M said. There was a girl at school. Not a boy, a girl. It didn’t sink in until later. M was opening up to me about an important part of her life, and like an idiot, I’d missed the opportunity to talk to her about it.

M did end up dating the girl at school, and it wasn’t a Hosea situation at all. They really like each other, and as of this writing, have been together for a year. However, my desire to break kneecaps was back soon enough. While my father and stepmother supported M, the kids at school and her girlfriend’s parents reacted exactly the way you would expect in a conservative Bible Belt town. Bullying. Friends abandoning her. Lectures about Hell. Demands that the two of them break up. The whole nine yards.

Around the time all of this was coming out, I had been writing Sound. Miyole, the main character, is lesbian, but I wasn’t getting the chemistry between her and Cassia, the love interest, right. Their relationship was either moving too fast or not hitting the right notes. I knew love was love, but I hadn’t yet figured out that the power dynamic in a relationship between two women is very different than it is in a heterosexual relationship. I was getting it so wrong that my editor had suggested I pull back and make the two female characters friends. I was seriously considering her suggestion, though I felt like a massive failure.

Hearing about what M was going through strengthened my resolve to keep trying to make Cassia and Miyole’s relationship work on the page. I might have botched my chance to talk to M during our visit, but maybe this was a small way to make it up to her, to show her I supported her. Science fiction helped me escape a bad home situation as a teenager. I wanted to give M and other teens in her shoes a chance for escape, as well. I read more books with lesbian narrators, which are surprisingly harder to find in YA than those from the point of view of gay male narrators. I asked a friend and her partner to read my draft and give me feedback. I rewrote and rewrote, and with each draft, my book got a little closer to what I wanted.

Writing as an ally is tricky. Do you have the right to tell this person’s story? What if, despite all your research and your best intentions, you get it wrong? Are you helping or hurting the people you want to support? I’ve thought about this a lot while writing Sound (at least, when I wasn’t thinking about sci-fi pirates and sea monsters). What I’ve decided is that, even if I fail or only partially succeed, the only way to get better is to keep trying. If, along the way, one girl sees herself having fantastic adventures that she wouldn’t have seen otherwise, it’s all worth it. If M knows she’s not alone, it’s all worth it.


alexandraduncanAlexandra Duncan is an author and librarian. Her YA science fiction novels SALVAGE (2014) and SOUND (2015) are available from Greenwillow Books. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina with her husband and two monstrous, furry cats. You can find her online at www.alexandra-duncan.com.

Sound is now available.

Don’t forget! You can enter to win Sound and four other wonderful YA SFF novels at our Fantasy & Science Fiction Month giveaway (deadline Oct. 6)

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New Releases – April 2014

There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos (Simon Pulse)

Book Description: Mark knows grief. Ever since the accident that killed his twin sister, Grace, the only time he feels at peace is when he visits the bridge on which she died. Comfort is fleeting, but it’s almost within reach when he’s standing on the wrong side of the suicide bars. Almost.

Grace’s best friend, Hanna, says she understands what he’s going through. But she doesn’t. She can’t. It’s not just the enormity of his loss. As her twin, Mark should have known Grace as well as he knows himself. Yet when he reads her journal, it’s as if he didn’t know her at all.

As a way to remember Grace, Hanna convinces Mark to complete Grace’s bucket list from her journal. Mark’s sadness, anger, and his growing feelings for Hanna threaten to overwhelm him. But Mark can’t back out. He made a promise to honor Grace—and it’s his one chance to set things right.

Great by Sara Benincasa (HarperTeen)

“Adult author and comedian Benincasa (Agorafabulous!) gives The Great Gatsby a biting, genderbent twist in her first book for teens. … In many ways, this is a very faithful retelling, and any readers who have completed ninth-grade English (or caught the recent Baz Luhrmann film) will have as much fun picking out the parallels and allusions as Benincasa clearly did creating them. And, yes, there’s even a green light on a dock—the charging dock for Jacinta’s laptop.” — Publishers Weekly

Cold Calls by Charles Benoit (Clarion Books)

“Benoit’s handling of cultural diversity, adolescent religious awareness, and everyday technology in teen lives makes for satisfying, thought-provoking reading.” — Booklist

Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh (Poisoned Pencil)

“Chodosh’s debut kicks off the Faith Flores Science Mystery series, as well as the publisher’s new YA imprint. In it, she introduces Faith Flores, a Philadelphia teenager reeling from the recent death of her heroin-addicted mother. … Sharp characterization and deft descriptions make this a solid addition to the amateur detective shelf.” — Publishers Weekly

Pointe by Brandy Colbert (Penguin)

“Theo Cartwright, from one of the few black families in a predominantly white Chicago suburb, lives for ballet, and she’s destined for stardom on stage. When her childhood best friend Donovan—who disappeared four years earlier at age 13—resurfaces, Theo’s life is upended. Debut novelist Colbert has written an extraordinary book about dance, seamlessly intertwined with the chilling aftermath of a kidnapping.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)

“Haunting, colorful environments distinguish this debut novel about a girl fighting for survival in the far future. … From the strained peculiarity of the Parastrata to a sunbaked community afloat on the Pacific Ocean to the bustle of Mumbai, Duncan’s settings and diction are vivid. As brown-skinned people become Ava’s chosen family, she learns that her own medium-dark skin—mocked aboard the Parastrata—isn’t a religious stain, marking this a welcome browning of the science-fiction universe. Ava’s decisions sometimes serve plot more than characterization, but readers caught up in the story will forgive this. Memorable.” — Kirkus

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis (Pajama Press)

“Inspired by the life of an Iranian woman Ellis met (‘This story is essentially hers,’ she notes), the novel powerfully depicts lives pulled apart by outside forces and the warmth of falling in love. A firm grounding in Iranian history, along with the insight and empathy Ellis brings to the pain of those whose love is decreed to be immoral and unnatural, make this a smart, heartbreaking pairing with Sara Farizan’s recent If You Could Be Mine.” — Publishers Weekly

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (Simon & Schuster)

“Lara Jean Covey writes romantic goodbye letters to boys “when I don’t want to be in love anymore,” never intending for them to see the light of day. She understandably panics when the five letters are somehow mailed out, especially because she wrote one to Josh, her older sister Margot’s nice, nerdy ex. … Han creates a realistically flawed cast, especially half-Korean Lara Jean and her sisters, who work hard to be good to one another after their mother’s death (even when they’re at one another’s throats).” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Between Two Worlds by Katherine Kirkpatrick (Wendy Lamb Books)

“This strong historical novel portrays the impact of Robert E. Peary’s polar expeditions on the family and world of a young Inuit woman who joined them. … Stripped of airbrushed romanticism and Eurocentric gloss, a rare look at culture clash arising from polar exploration.” — Kirkus

The Art of Secrets by James Klise (Algonquin Young Readers)

“In his intriguing second book, Klise (Love Drugged) tells the story of a Pakistani family rebuilding their lives after their apartment is destroyed in a fire set by an arsonist. … Through emails, texts, journal entries, interview transcripts, newspaper clips, and official documents that pull in the perspectives of students, teachers, and others, Klise simultaneously reveals details about what might have transpired while allowing characters’ darker motives—prejudice, envy, greed—to emerge.” — Publishers Weekly

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Candlewick)

“This debut YA novel and series opener by indigenous Australian Kwaymullina is set in a postapocalyptic Australia where humanity’s abuse of the environment has caused a societal and environmental chaos called the Reckoning. … The world-building is particularly interesting, as the author incorporates elements of the aboriginal creation story of the Dreamtime and Grandfather Serpent into the protagonist’s visions. Give this one to dystopia fans who are looking for a unique perspective.” — School Library Journal

Dear Nobody by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Between the ages of 15 and 18, until her death in 1999 of cystic fibrosis, a Pennsylvania teenager named Mary Rose wrote unguardedly in her journals. McCain and McNeil (co-editors of Please Kill Me: An Oral History of Punk) offer a condensed but otherwise unaltered version of her diary entries and the occasional letter. … It’s a rare, no-holds-barred documentation of an American teenager’s life, written for no audience but herself.” — Publishers Weekly

Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley (Inhabit Media)

Book Description: In this adventurous novel—set in the ancient Arctic, but told by an inquisitive and entertaining contemporary narrator—a wandering Inuit hunter named Kannujaq happens upon a camp in grave peril. The inhabitants of the camp are Tuniit, a race of ancient Inuit ancestors known for their strength and shyness. The tranquility of this Tuniit camp has been shaken by a group of murderous, pale, bearded strangers who have arrived on a huge boat shaped like a loon. Unbeknownst to Kannujaq, he has stumbled upon a battle between the Tuniit and a group of Viking warriors, but as the camp prepares to defend itself against the approaching newcomers, Kannujaq discovers that the Vikings may have motivations other than murder and warfare at the heart of their quest. This lush historical fiction is steeped in Inuit traditional knowledge and concepts of ancient Inuit magic.

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook Press)

“A thriller that challenges readers’ understanding of the universe. Laureth’s best-selling novelist father, Jack Peak, left for Switzerland to research his latest book, so why did his notebook turn up in New York City? … Laureth books a flight to New York. She also takes her younger brother, Benjamin, not just because she’s in charge of him, but because she needs him: Laureth is blind. … In short, taut chapters, her first-person narration allows readers to experience the intrigue through her abilities and shows her tender relationship with Benjamin.” — Kirkus, starred review

Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion)

“This beautifully realized debut delves into the emotions of a girl recovering from drug addiction and grief, all wrapped up in a solid mystery. Sophie and Mina have been best friends since second grade. When they were 14, they were involved in a car accident that nearly killed Sophie, who became addicted to OxyContin during her recovery. Sophie has kicked her habit with the help of her bounty-hunter aunt and clings to each day that she stays clean. As the book opens, however, readers learn that Mina has been murdered. … An absorbing story full of depth and emotion.” — Kirkus, starred review

Zebra Crossing Meg Vandermerwe (Oneworld Publications)

Book Description: Ghost. Ape. Living dead. Young Chipo has been called many names, but to her mother — Zimbabwe ’s most loyal Manchester United supporter — she had always just been Chipo, meaning gift. On the eve of the World Cup, Chipo and her brother flee to Cape Town hoping for a better life and to share in the excitement of the greatest sporting event ever to take place in Africa. But the Mother City’s infamous Long Street is a dangerous place for an illegal immigrant and albino. Soon Chipo is caught up in a get-rich-quick scheme organized by her brother and the terrifying Dr Ongani. Exploiting gamblers’ superstitions about albinism, they plan to make money and get out before rumors of looming xenophobic attacks become reality. But their scheming has devastating consequences.

The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Lexi Hamilton feels her homosexuality is too much of a burden on her recently widowed mother, so she agrees to go away for the summer. At Camp Horizon, a Christian ‘un-gaying’ institution on the East Coast, each teen reveals his or her past trauma in group therapy sessions led by the evil Jeremiah Martin. What keeps campers cooperating is that, like Lexi, the reality they’ve gotten away from seems much worse. Only Matthew, in love with Justin at home, remains aloof, until Mr. Martin selects him for his personal brand of mistreatment, and a rebellion ensues.” — School Library Journal

Is it still a dystopia if it’s really happening?

By Alexandra Duncan

Recently, I was discussing the difference between dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptica with some friends and fellow writers. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which category a book maps most closely to because writers purposefully genre-bend or blur the boundaries. Sometimes a book ends up being labeled one thing or another for marketing purposes or we have to pick one thing to call a book for brevity’s sake. Sometimes a book is simply mislabeled.

The librarian in me is fascinated by this taxonomy and wants to spend her afternoon making Venn diagrams. What’s that? No Venn diagrams? Not even a small one? Ugh, okay.

So, what makes something dystopian rather than post-apocalyptic?  Usually in order for a society to become a dystopia, its creators have to have started out with the intention that it would be a utopia — a perfect world that circumvents the messy everyday problems we suffer from, like war, heartbreak, and the danger of free will. And then something has to go horribly, catastrophically wrong with that utopia. It has to fail and become a nightmare version of what its creators intended — a dystopia — usually through order being valued above all else. They’re often meant to be a warning about what we might become. Think George Orwell’s 1984 or Ally Condie’s Matched.

Sometimes, though, an aspect of a book will map so closely to reality that I find myself questioning whether the book should really be called dystopian, or if it’s something else altogether. For example, my own novel, Salvage, which occasionally ends up labeled as dystopian, includes both a polygamist society where teenage girls are married off to older men and a whole city of people who earn their livelihood by harvesting recyclable refuse from a floating trash dump in the Pacific Ocean. Both of these situations exist in the real world. Teenage girls are forced in polygamist marriages with older men. People really do live in trash dumps and try to make a living picking through garbage and recyclables.

Garbage dump outside Managua, Nicaragua – 1999. I was there with a group of other teenagers from the non-profit Witness for Peace.

These situations aren’t the result of a utopian experiment gone wrong, they’re part of the chaotic, ugly nature of the world. They’re not a nightmare scenario we’re being warned against, they’re the everyday reality for millions of people worldwide. They’re the result of entropy, not order.

That leads me down a frightening path, because entropy and chaos are the defining characteristics of the post-apocalyptic novel. In post-apocalyptica, people’s lives aren’t planned to a stifling degree, as they are in dystopias. They have to fight to survive from one moment to the next, with no sense of security, no plan for the future. And if those things are as true of the real world as they are of books like Mindy McGinnis’s Not a Drop to Drink or Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, does that make the real world post-apocalyptic?

I was reading a blog post by Victoria Law recently that posed an interesting question – Why would readers want to escape to a world that so closely mirrors the injustices and horrors they face in everyday life? If, for example, people live lives that resemble a dystopian novel (constantly being stopped and asked for identification by police) or a post-apocalyptic novel (living in constant deprivation of food, water, medical care, etc.), what purpose does reading about a similar world serve? It’s certainly not escape. It’s not a warning about what could be. It’s a reflection of reality.

I don’t believe there are easy answers to the problems most people in the world face on a daily basis. I spent a long time as a teenager and young adult wishing I could fix everything and stop all the world’s suffering, only to end up too emotionally exhausted to really be of help to anyone. What I’ve come to believe is that all of us can do small things in our everyday lives to make the world better. (See this page on my web site for ideas.) As for writers, if we remember that some people are actually living our worst nightmares, it gives us a chance not simply to provide the lucky among us with a metaphor and a warning, but to give voice to the people whose lives our stories reflect. It gives us the chance to let other people know they’re not alone. It allows us to mirror the problems of reality in a new way — a way that might just lead to people changing their minds and then changing the world.


Alexandra Duncan is a writer and librarian. Her first novel, Salvage, is due to be released by Greenwillow Books on April 1, 2014. Her short stories have been featured in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy. She loves anything that gets her hands dirty – pie-baking, leatherworking, gardening, drawing, and rolling sushi, to name a few. You can find her online at Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook and her web site.