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Best Young Adult Books (by Melissa Montovani)

By kileyturner
1 rating
If there's one genre that is indisputably hot and still ascending, it's YA fiction. Beloved across age groups, YA titles are being gobbled up by the film industry for adaptation as well as by readers across the world. Melissa Montovani has been a voracious reader for as long as she can remember, and her love of literature compelled her to complete an MA in English Literature from Concordia University. She’s the founder of and main contributor to and is the YA book reviewer for She lives and works in Montreal.
Pieces of Me
Why it's on the list ...
A very moving novel about a lonely 15-year-old girl named Mira. With a crazy and domineering mother and a father she sees infrequently, Mira is well acquainted with depression. However, when she meets beautiful and free-spirited Catherine, who is good at art and knows about boys, the darkness in her life starts fading. Written in a fragmented format that reflects Mira’s inner turmoil, this novel will make you believe that hope is possible even from the depths of betrayal and tragedy.
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Rhythm and Blues

You know when people say, “It was all worthwhile because I learned so much”?
I hate that.
Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. I wouldn’t change a thing. That kind of education is priceless.
Sure, that sounds mature, but really, who wouldn’t rather get it right in the first place?
I know what I’m talking about. I’m a dancer. Dancing takes practice, but no one ever thinks, Wow, I’m so grateful it took me eighty-four tries to get the timing right on that turn. No choreographer will ever chassé up to me and say, “Well, Alya, you’ve been here three hours, and you still don’t know the combo, but I can feel that you’re changed, so we’re going to keep you.” No one. Not even those touchy-feely lyrical-contemporary types.
“You have to be honest,” they’ll tell you.
“You have to pour yourself into the choreography.”
“Those may be my steps, but that’s your life story you’re dancing out there,” they’ll whisper, before wiping away a sweaty little choreographer tear.
You’re supposed to be backed by a lifetime of training. It supports you. And in that big moment— the time-stands-still nanosecond when the spotlight finally falls on you—you’re even supposed to be a credit to it.
But training can betray you, too. I had so much of it behind me, it was all my life amounted to: a training life. Like I honestly believed that if I practised enough, I’d get to have a real one someday— if I was ever ready to take off the extra wheels or pull out the padding.
When my moment came, my training was useless. Learning is nice and everything, but I want a redo.
I know exactly the day I’d use my time machine to revisit. I can practically see the Reset button. It was last April, a week after my sixteenth birthday.
I’m in this b-girl crew (“breakdance,” if you’re trapped in the Eighties, but don’t feel bad if you are) called the Hydra Force. It’s made up of me, Alya (aka Phat Al); my best friend from grade one, Madi (aka Slasher); this hardcore chick from the T-dot, Nadine (Lady Six Sky); and my immature older brother, Devin, who avoids giving out his b-boy name (Typ0) because he’s afraid someone (our mom) might notice all the walls he’s tagged it on around Rivercrest, where we all live (for now, anyway).
In case you haven’t guessed already, the Hydra Force is one of the best crews ever to come out of the Greater Toronto Area, or maybe even the entire East Coast, if not the World.
Because of our all-encompassing awesomeness (and practice, and Nadine yelling at us all the time), this other, more established (that means old) crew, Infinite Jest, invited us to practise with them and do shows. Someone has to carry the flame— the almost unbearable flame of undeniable freshness.
That’s how I came to be stretching in my best white track pants on the highly suspect floor of an iceless hockey arena, backstage at a festival who-knew-where in Montreal, with Madi pointing out theoretically hot guys and me pretending to care.
“What about him?” Madi said, pointing as she reached for her ankle, twisting at the waist so it wouldn’t look like she was staring.
“Where?” I pretended not to see. I mean, I didn’t see. But I could guess. Madi had her types. Indie Fanboy: lanky, unruly hair, puppy-dog eyes, underground band T-shirt. The Digital Camper: medium build, attempted goatee, laptop bag, hiking shoes. Base-Model B-boy: baggy pants, hat over eyes, mp3 phone in use at all times, tattoo in indecipherable script on left forearm. The Post-Reggae Hottie: tall, dark, big easy smile, dreadlocks.
The dude standing at ten o’clock over my left shoulder was a solid P-RH: Madi’s favourite type to push on me. I looked up just as he turned our way. He smiled. I thought I recognized him from the sound check. I nodded back.
Madi looked down, giggled, and blushed. “See? Am I right or am I right? He likes you. You should totally get his number,” she said, as if I should automatically have been into him because we might be cute together in a matchy-matchy way; as if I was supposed to want him because I was a girl and he was a guy. Memo to world: that’s not always how it works.
I’d have told her she should get his number, but I knew she wouldn’t. Madi only ever fell for orange-tanned Abercrombie alpha-jocks— the perma-sneering kind who never returned her calls because they were too busy polishing their own abs.
We both needed to broaden our horizons.
Dreadlocks turned back to the amp he was carrying. I looked back to the floor and deepened into my stretch, partly to avoid Madi’s eye, and partly to remind her that my hips were more flexible than hers. She yawned and manoeuvred into a gymnastic contortion I was too dignified to react to, much less attempt. She didn’t notice Dreadlocks watching her from across the room.
Dix minutes, Hydra Force! Scène A.
I was startled out of my stretch by the headset-wearing stage manager shouting our ten-minute call— ten minutes for Madi to puke her nerves out three times, ten minutes for Nadine to get herself wound up tight enough to explode, ten minutes for Devin to chatter incessantly, ten minutes for me to stay out of everyone’s way and find my happy, focused place.
Backstage was a circus. It had the clowns, the jugglers, and a freak show more entertaining than anything on the three stages that backed into it. Security was practically nonexistent, so every local group had an entourage of twelve friends hanging off them, eating the free food, playing hacky sack, and hitting on people from other acts. A gospel choir was spread out, practising in small groups, trying to harmonize over the speaker distortion spilling from the stage. There were instruments and band gear in every corner, a cluster of DJs who would talk only to each other, and a weird magician’s box that was roped off with yellow caution tape. All we were missing were the bears on unicycles and a trapeze artist or two.
On the far side of the tent, Devin recklessly tagged along after Nadine as she paced through her pre-show anger ritual.
“I hope we do a good show,” said Madi, starting to fidget beside me as the opening act came off stage. “Do you think we’ve rehearsed enough? I didn’t try my flares once in practice this week. I just hope they like us. Do you think they’ll like us?”
“Whatever. Good luck,” the exiting lead vocalist said to Madi. “It’s wall-to-wall lamewads out there. They’re dead. DEAD.”
The drummer rolled his eyes. “Don’t listen to him. He hates everybody.”
But one look at Madi told me that she was already about eight seconds from losing her Larabar lunch to the row of porta-potties to my left.
“C’mon.” I grabbed her by the elbow. “Let’s walk.”
Those last ten minutes before getting on stage are always the worst. Ten minutes is exactly the wrong amount of time—generally for anything, but especially for waiting your turn to astound an audience with the brilliance and sheer heat of your dancing fabulousness. Run back to the van to get your lucky bandana and you’ll miss your call. Eat and you’ll be either indigesting or covered in ketchup by the time you get on stage. Read and . . . nah, forget it. Your head’ll be in the wrong place. But just try to sit calmly and wait it out, and you’ll see: it feels like three hours. The only way to cope is to find your zone. Mine is in my headphones. Bershawn Sera. Whatever his most recent single is. I have adored him since I was thirteen. (Who cares what Nadine says? Music snob.) I want to be him when I grow up. (But with breasts, of course.) With Bershawn energy surrounding me, I can only do good things.
I steered Madi to a quieter-ish area not too far from the stage entrance, between a napping yoga priestess and a six-foot-tall cupcake set-piece. I handed her an earbud and began the futile quest to find a setting that would actually allow us to hear Bershawn over all the chaos.
Cinq minutes, Hydra Force,” called the SM, the stage manager. Five minutes.
Someone yelped across the room, and I spun around just in time to catch Nadine forcing Devin into a headlock. Madi and I exchanged a worried look, but I was secretly relieved. Tearing the two of them apart (again) would give her something to do. At times like these, it was best to keep her busy.
“Children! Please!” she yelled, running to separate them.
And miraculously, at T-minus-one-and-counting, we were all standing together beside the SM booth at stage right: one unified Force, done battling one another and ready to take the stage.
“Hydra Force en scène, maintenant, maintenant, NOW!” the SM yelled, practically chasing us up the short, shaky staircase to the hulking wood-and-pipe-and-lights-and-vinyl-signage stage. Huge but crappy, but huge, it rattled as we walked to our positions. Still, it was a step up from the crowded gyms and filthy clubs we were used to.
The crowd— about three hundred strong— sat on bleachers looking bored. “Give it up pour Le Hydra Fooooooorce,” bellowed the MC. I liked his style.
The audience clapped politely, and I made up my mind right there to do whatever it took to shake them to their feet. I don’t ever want polite. I want ovations and thunder. Preferably, people should weep, but cheering is okay too. No one sits on my shift.
A very long second went by as we waited for the music to start. That moment is pure torture— but in the best way possible. If you play it right, the anticipation makes you stronger.
My knees shook involuntarily as I took my spot. They always do that, no matter how prepared I feel, even if I don’t think I’m nervous. To my right, I could feel an almost deadly calm where Madi should have been. As soon as her nerves leave her, it’s like everything else does too, and she’s able to perform because she’s a zombie on stage. To my right, energy radiated off Nadine. On the other side of her, Devin was no doubt fighting to keep his hands still— his nervous habit of clenching and un-clenching amplifies the closer he gets to a stage. But we were there, and we were ready, and we had it under control. So many crews crack up and break up before they ever even get to that point. Not us. We were in it to win it.
At last, the speakers crackled to life and our music kicked in. It was an old-school medley, heavy on the funk— a bunch of James Brown and something called Scorpio and a little Vitamin C and some more of Nadine’s favourite old-school breaks. I would have preferred Timbaland or Kanye, but I couldn’t fight her on everything. She had the seniority in the b-girl department, and in her eyes, I was probably still just a lowly hip-hopper with light skillz and inferior taste.
I counted to four, waited for the snare hit, and then—bang!—exploded into action. I couldn’t really gauge the audience response over the music, but I told myself I heard a gasp as we launched into our perfectly synchronized top rock, then dropped down to the floor for a bit of coordinated monkey business. We polished it off with each of us hitting a unique freeze, twisted and upside down, and then we broke apart so we could do our solos.
My biggest challenge at this point was to act enthusiastic and interested for sixty-four counts during which I had nothing to do but clap and react as if I hadn’t seen the routine four hundred times already.
Nadine went first— she always has to— then Madi ramped up the crowd’s enthusiasm level with a handless flippy cartwheel thing, a throwback to her gymnastics days. I was up next. I jumped out of my spot and ran across the front of the stage, pumping my fist to keep the audience clapping.
I don’t have the same big moves that Nadine and Madi do, but I work with the music better. That’s why the coolest part of our music was right in the middle of my solo. The music was going through this happy-go-lucky breakbeat bit with lots of brass and cymbals, and I was going all boppy along with it like, Hi, I’m a cute hip-hop girl like in all the music videos, but with way more talent and slightly less ass-shaking. And then the sound of a needle scratching the record sliced clear through my routine, and whoa, hey, what? The bass kicked in, so deep that you felt it before you heard it, and then I changed personas, from cute Phat Al to phat Phat Al, and I got all serious— not serious like studying for biology, but serious like: You—opponent, hater, wannabe— you are about to get schooled.
Devin went last. He did okay. He gets by on stage because he’s funny, and the crowd can never get enough of funny, even if funny is the Funky Chicken. That wasn’t in his run last time . . . I could already hear the lecture Nadine would yell out in the van later about not changing our act to bring back moves her mother might have done in a velour catsuit at one horrifying time in her life.
We came back together for our grand finale, struck our final pose to the trumpeting close of our music, and . . . the crowd— while not exactly made up of losing-their-ish types of people— they cheered! They stood and they cheered. So much for “lamewads.” No one can stay lame for long in the presence of the Hydra Force.
Pumped up by the reaction, we bowed seven times each, and then leaped down the stairs to the backstage tent.
The guys from Infinite were waiting back there to high-five us like always.
“Thanks for warming up the stage for us,” said Ender, their de facto leader.
“Watch out— you’ll be warming our stage someday,” said Nadine, laughing and ducking as he moved to knock her hat off her head.
“KID-ding,” she said, but I didn’t see why it couldn’t be true. I’ll admit it— sometimes, in between biology exams, I had dreams about making it bigger than Infinite ever had, about taking the Hogtown Throwdown, about getting invited to the Battle of the Year and flown halfway across the world to compete, about shoe sponsorships and TV spots and danc ing in movies, the movie they would make about us: small suburban crew overcomes lack of cred with surplus of heart. I could see the trailers in my mind. I could see myself in them. I could imagine how smart I’d sound in interviews, and the outfits I’d wear to award shows, and even the airport, and how, if I were famous, I’d be one of those celebrities who always look spotless and sound mysterious, and whom everyone loves because they are so gracious to fans and co-stars alike.
It was a super-long shot, and I wasn’t crazy enough to actually put eggs in that basket, but was it really so far out to believe we could pick up where Infinite left off and do a little bit better? I didn’t think so.
“All right. Enough chit-chat,” said Ender. “You guys hit the change rooms. I want you ready to go as soon as our set is done.”
“Do we have to?” Madi asked.
“Now!” he answered.
“Sir, yes sir!”
Nadine saluted and ran off, with Madi close behind her. I slowly gathered my stuff and started to follow.
Never mind tour buses and hotels and seeing the world. I’d come to accept that we would never get to see the end of whatever show we were doing, let alone hang out in any of the cities we performed in. No matter how far we travelled, our world would never be any bigger than the inside of the Infinite van, which, I have to say, was a lot smaller than its name would suggest.
But I was not going to rush. Maybe we were nobodies. Maybe I wasn’t even getting paid as much as I would have made staying home and teaching a couple of dance classes at the Movement Spa, my part-time job. But a show well done was its own reward, and I wanted to savour it— at least until my heart rate returned to normal and I stopped sweating, so my track suit wouldn’t stick to my back all the way home.
“Al, I mean it—” said Ender. But he got pulled away before he could finish his sentence.
“Yeah, yeah, fine,” I said, picking up my bag. I spun around, irritated at being rushed, and—wham!—I practically knocked Tall Dreadlocks over with my bag.
“Urgh!” he said, crumpling in the middle. “Whoa, whoa, what’s the rush?”
My hand flew to my mouth. “I am so sorry!”
He smiled and bent to pick up the cable I’d made him drop. “I come over here to tell you how hype your show is, and this is the thanks I get?”
I laughed. “Uh, yeah. I mean, usually we like to greet fans with a punch in the face but . . .”
He laughed. “Seriously, you guys were wicked. All the tech guys were losing their minds.”
“Thanks,” I said.
He craned his neck to look past me, around the tent.
“So, where’s your friend? That blonde chick who did the flippy thing?”
“Madi? She’s changing.”
“Oh. That move was insane.
“Yup. She’s pretty strong,” I said.
And then Dreadlocks said nothing. The conversation had taken a turn for the awkward.
“Uhm . . .” he finally said. “Tell her congratulations for me?”
A slow grin spread across my face. He was totally into her. Not me. Her. This was good. He was—what?—maybe eighteen? Just older enough. And friendly. Cute. Responsible enough to hold down a real job. He gave off a good vibe.
“Here,” I said, taking out a pen and scribbling Madi’s number on the back of the show flyer. “Congratulate her yourself.”
I could worry later about whether she’d kill me when she found out.
Dreadlocks smiled, a little confused, like maybe he wasn’t used to strange girls handing out their friends’ numbers with no provocation. Then he looked at the number again.
“This is long distance?” His smile faded a little.
“Not that long.” I waved it off, feeling just a little sorry for him. “We’re here pretty often.”
“Thanks,” he finally said. “I’m Trevor, by the way.”
“Al. Later?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
And there was that smile again: broad, warm, friendly, somewhat shy-ish. Any feelings of potential remorse I was developing evaporated. There was something right about this guy. Just not right for me. As he walked away, I mentally patted myself on the back for a good deed well done.
Then, Madi came out of the tent.
“Hey, why aren’t you—?” She trailed off as she noticed Trevor walking away, slipping the flyer into his pocket. “You gave him your number?” she squealed. “You did, right? Do I have a good eye or what? Omigod. Alya gave out her number to a guy. On her own. An actual living, breathing guy!”
I smiled. “His name is Trevor,” I told her, and I ducked into the change room.

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Why it's on the list ...
Alya Merchant is a 16-year-old girl who has everything she ever wanted: a scholarship to private school and membership in the best breakdance crew in Toronto. When she gets “discovered” by a talent scout for the next girl group, her life gets even better. Or does it? Murray’s novel asks tough questions of its reader, like whether fame makes authentic life impossible, and it grapples with Alya’s emerging GLBTQ sexuality. With its infectious energy, Alya’s charming voice, and refreshingly written scenarios, this novel will affect readers of all ages.
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Girl on the Other Side
Why it's on the list ...
Told in alternating first-person narration over four months, Kerbel’s second novel will move anyone who has ever been a teen girl. Lora Froggett has always been the subject of bullying, and popular Tabby Freeman has never done anything to stop it. Both girls are trying to hide some painful secrets from everyone at school and judge one another without really understanding each other. Kerbel brilliantly demonstrates that appearances are deceiving and that sometimes the person who understands you best isn’t “like” you.
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The Uninvited

The Uninvited

also available: Hardcover

Now in paperback — Who IS the uninvited? This twisty page-turner from a master of suspense plumbs the unsettling goings-on at a picture-perfect woodland cottage. (Age 14 and up)

Mimi Shapiro had a disturbing freshman year at NYU, thanks to a foolish affair with a professor who still haunts her caller ID. So when her artist father, Marc, offers the use of his remote Canadian cottage, she’s glad to hop in her Mini Cooper and drive up north. The house is fairy-tale quaint, and the key is hidden …

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MIMI MISSED HER TURN and screeched to a stop.
She checked the map on the seat beside her, backed up, and squinted through her own dust at the signpost.
Uppe V lenti e Rd.
"Close enough."
A deep-throated bark seized her attention. A gargantuan dog was tearing toward her from the dilapidated house on the corner.
The animal bounced up and down at her door, brindle and with far too many yellow teeth. She threw the Mini Cooper into reverse again and slewed to the left, almost hitting the ugly mutt.
"Take that, Hellhound!"
Then she thrust the stick shift forward and left the paved road, sending out a rooster tail of gravel.
Undaunted, the dog stayed on her tail - stayed with her for a hundred yards or so - then finally fell behind, his territory no longer in danger.
Mimi took a deep breath and patted the leather-upholstered steering wheel. "Ms. Cooper, we are now officially not in Kansas," she said. And the Mini's horn beeped twice in reply.
The little car was red with a black top, and Mimi had red shades and black hair. She wore a red T-back sports bra and black low-rise capris, as if the car were an accessory. Well, it was small, after all. Like Mimi - small and powerful.
Gripping the wheel tightly in her left hand, she picked up her digital camcorder from the passenger seat and held it at arm's length, aimed at her face.
"News update," she said. "This is Mimi Shapiro reporting from Nowhere!" She swiveled the wine-red JVC HDD around to take in the countryside: the empty dirt road stretching out before her, the overgrown borders and broken-down fences, the unkempt and empty fields, the desolate forest beyond them.
"Not a Starbucks in sight," she said, returning the camcorder to her face. "What do you think, Chet? Have we actually entered the Land that Time Forgot?"
"Well, Mimi," she replied in a low and amiable TV sidekick kind of voice. "you'd think the officials at the border might have warned us about this, wouldn't you? 'Welcome to Canada. Sorry we're out right now.'"
She put the camcorder down in order to negotiate a long S turn, and there up ahead - just to prove her wrong - two huge mud-stained trucks were pulled over onto the shoulder, nose to nose. Farmer One leaned on the driver's side door of Farmer Two. With both hands on the wheel, Mimi swerved around them, glad to be driv ing such a small and responsive vehicle. Both men wore ball caps, which they tipped as she flew by. They took her all in with their shaded eyes, and she wished she hadn't taken her shirt off back at the rest stop on 401.
"Oh, Ms. Cooper," she muttered. "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
She had left New York City yesterday morning and stayed overnight just outside Albany. Then bright and early this morning - way earlier than she was used to - she had set her compass due north, and here she was, though with every passing mile she wondered if maybe Marc had been lying to her. He was hardly the world's most reliable father.
"Almost there," she told herself, to calm her misgivings.
She glanced into her rearview mirror, half expecting Clem and Jed to be on her tail. She imagined them hopping into their trucks to follow the half-naked girl in the toy car. Yee-haw! But the road was empty behind her. She crested a hill. There was a house ahead, though it was hard to tell if anyone still lived in it.
She whooshed by the driveway, where an old woman with an even older dog was collecting the mail from her mailbox. The woman glanced Mimi's way, clutching a letter to her flat chest, glaring at the girl as she flew by. She was wearing a ball cap, too.
"Got to get me one of those," said Mimi.
The road was climbing now. On her right she caught the odd glimpse through the trees of a river - the Eden, she hoped, though it wasn't as impressive as Marc had led her to believe. She wouldn't put it past him to turn a creek into a river. She wouldn't put anything past him.
Lost Creek. She had seen a piece in the Tate Modern by the American artist Kathy Prendergast. It was called Lost and it was a map of the United States, but the places marked were all lost places: Lost Valley, Lost Hills, Lost Swamp, Lost Creek. All these lost places. She wondered if Prendergast had done a map of the lost places of Canada. She could use it about now. Or GPS.
A magical place, Marc had said. It wasn't the kind of word he used very often. A place to get your thoughts together.
Just then her cell phone started playing "Bohemian Rhapsody." She found it under the map, looked at the number, and threw the cell phone down. It stopped after a while but then started up a few minutes later.
"Fuck off, Lazar Cosic!" she shouted. "What part of 'leave me alone' don't you understand?"
Then she pulled the map out from under the cell phone and laid it on top. Ontario was a big province - seven times bigger than the Empire State. Surely you could escape someone in a place this large? She pressed a little harder on the accelerator.
Now the road began a lazy decline, and soon she was in the bowl of a wooded valley. Towering maples made a tunnel of the road ahead, though she could see late-afternoon sunlight glinting through the canopy, tinting the leaves with gold as if she had traveled right through summer into fall. She shuddered at the thought. Shuddered at the coolness of this leafy tunnel. She tried to reach her shirt on the backseat but swerved dangerously and gave up. There wasn't a lot of road to work with. Then she was out in the open again, and there was a flurry of tilting and rusted-out mailboxes. And then nothing . . .
In all fairness, Marc had described much of this, but he had never really gotten across the isolation of the place. But that's...

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Ghost Ride
Why it's on the list ...
Inspired by ghost riding—where the driver puts the car in neutral so everyone can dance on the roof of the moving vehicle—Cohen’s novel is a satisfying Gothic narrative. When a stunt preformed by Sam, Cody, and Javon leaves one teen dead and brings about mysterious notes and website comments, Sam’s conscience begins haunting him as much as his thoughts that someone knows. Cohen illustrates her mastery of the Gothic genre and atmosphere by employing the idea that the sins of the father are revisited on the son and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in this Red Maple 2010 award-nominated book.
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Why it's on the list ...
In 1882, Esther, a young servant girl, goes missing from her small Hungarian village. When a search turns up no clues, the Hungarian members of the community begin to scapegoat several of the Jewish men in the community, citing the “blood libel” that Jews ritually kill Christian children for their blood. Although it is a work of fiction, Puppet is based on a real trial that rocked the world in 1883, in part because the star witness was the son of one of the accused. Told from the perspective of the missing girl’s friend, Julie, this novel examines the worst and best in human nature.
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The Night Wanderer

The Night Wanderer

A Native Gothic Novel
also available: eBook Paperback
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Why it's on the list ...
Many YA readers are sick of vampire novels, but this novel, which merges Native literature with vampire mythology, will be unlike any vampire story they’ve ever read. Tiffany is a 16-year-old Native girl has a lot on her mind, and Pierre is a 350-year-old vampire, who has returned to Otter Lake after years of wandering. An unusual encounter between these two characters demonstrates that this philosophical vampire story is about bridging the ties between community elders and young people, rather than their destruction. This unique approach to YA Gothic lit is worth checking out.
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A Handful of Time

A Handful of Time

also available: Paperback
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When Patricia's mother sends her to her cousins' cottage for the summer, Patricia doesn't want to go. She doesn't know her cousins at all, and she's never been good at camping or canoeing, let alone making new friends.

When she arrives at the cottage, her worst fears come true: her cousin Kelly teases her; Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Doug feel sorry for her. She doesn't fit in. Then Patricia discovers an old watch hidden under a floorboard. When she winds it, she finds herself taken back in time to th …

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