Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
This one could easily be added to our magical realism genre guide. Jam’s boyfriend Reeve died, and she’s been sent to a boarding school for “fragile and intelligent” teenagers because she’s having trouble dealing with the trauma. (Essentially, she’s depressed.) She’s assigned to a Special Topics in English class where the students read Sylvia Plath exclusively, including her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar. Twice a week, they’re required to write in a journal about anything they like. When they do, they discover the journal takes them to a place in their lives prior to the trauma they’ve experienced. This is Wolitzer’s first YA novel, and it’s smoothly written, mostly avoiding the writing-down-to-its-audience plague that afflicts a lot of adult writers. It’s not my usual cup of tea, but I liked it a lot. I’ll have a fuller review closer to the publication date.
Conversion by Katherine Howe
This is a stunner. I’m only halfway through and I’m pretty impressed by almost everything about this book. Howe has taken the case of the high school girls and one boy in Le Roy, NY, who were diagnosed with conversion disorder in 2011-2012 and set it in a private girls’ school in Massachusetts. She has then drawn a parallel between this case and that of the Salem witch hysteria in the 17th century, coincidentally set in the same physical location. The book alternates between Colleen Rowley’s story in 2012 and Ann Putnam’s confession in the early 1700s (the only participant to confess, incidentally), though the bulk of the book focuses on Colleen. Interwoven through both stories are themes of academic and societal pressure on teen girls, the close policing of teen girls’ sexuality, and what it takes for teen girls to be seen for their authentic selves and heard in their own voices. This is the second novel (that I know of) to use the Le Roy case as inspiration – Kelly wrote about the other, Megan Abbott’s The Fever, on Tuesday – though Howe’s book is marketed specifically for teens. This is a well-crafted novel that juggles many different parts successfully.
Sunrise by Mike Mullin
I started this a few weeks ago and it’s been a bit of a struggle for me. It’s the conclusion to a trilogy that began with Ashfall and continued with Ashen Winter. This volume focuses, at least initially, on a war of sorts between two communities post-supervolcano. One of them is the community Alex lives in, and the other is a community that attacked them and stole most of their food and supplies. Alex grows into his role as a leader by organizing a raid/attack on the town to regain their food, essential to their continued survival. I think I’m having a hard time getting into it because it’s so bleak. Right off the bat, there’s a large amount of violence and loss, and I’m in the mood for something a little lighter, perhaps.
Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
I loved For Darkness Shows the Stars, the first book set in this universe, so this was a natural pick for me. Where the first was a re-telling of Persuasion, this one is a re-telling of the Scarlet Pimpernel, set on two islands in the Pacific Ocean post-Reduction. I’m not as familiar with the Scarlet Pimpernel as I am with Persuasion, but so far it hasn’t infringed upon my enjoyment. These books aren’t fast reads for me; they’re books to fall into and savor slowly. Part of what I loved so much about FDStS was the yearning between the two leads. In Across a Star-Swept Sea, we trade in the intense romance for espionage and derring-do. Not a bad trade, but it does mean the book doesn’t feel as emotionally resonant (at least so far).