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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cover Reveals - XXIII

Don't Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche
What if the last hope to save your family is the person who broke it up to begin with?
Michelle and her little siblings Cass and Denny are African-American and living on the poverty line in urban Baltimore, struggling to keep it together with their mom in jail and only Michelle’s part-time job at the Taco Bell to sustain them.

Leah and her stepbrother Tim are white and middle class from suburban Maryland, with few worries beyond winning lacrosse games and getting college applications in on time.

Michelle and Leah only have one thing in common: Buck Devereaux, the biological father who abandoned them when they were little.

After news trickles back to them that Buck is dying, they make the uneasy decision to drive across country to his hospice in California. Leah hopes for closure; Michelle just wants to give him a piece of her mind.

Five people in a failing, old station wagon, living off free samples at food courts across America, and the most pressing question on Michelle’s mind is: Who will break down first--herself or the car? All the signs tell her they won’t make it. But Michelle has heard that her whole life, and it’s never stopped her before....

Una LaMarche triumphs once again with this rare and compassionate look at how racial and social privledge affects one family in crisis in both subtle and astonishing ways.
Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith

A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.

Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. But her partner, Brandt, has lately become distant, and when Marez comes to join their team from a neighborhing kingdom, he offers Livia the option of a life she had never dared to imagine. Livia knows of no other dreamstriders who have survived the pull of Nightmare. So only she understands the stakes when a plot against the Empire emerges that threatens to consume both the dreaming world and the waking one with misery and rage.

A richly conceived world full of political intrigue and fantastical dream sequences, at its heart Dreamstrider is about a girl who is struggling to live up to the potential before her.
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
LO-MELKHIIN KILLED THREE HUNDRED GIRLS before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.
Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner's family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly Ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.

When the Verners arrive at their new home, a large cabin abandoned by its previous owners, they discover the inside covered in blood. And as the days pass, it is obvious to Amanda that something isn't right on the prairie. She's heard stories of lands being tainted by evil, of men losing their minds and killing their families, and there is something strange about the doctor and his son who live in the woods on the edge of the prairie. But with the guilt and shame of her sins weighing on her, Amanda can't be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or deep within her soul.
Your Voice Is All I Hear by Leah Scheier
Everything about Jonah is unexpected. On the first day of school, he sits next to April, when he could have chosen to sit with the popular girl. He turns down an invitation to join the school team and declares he'd rather paint. He encourages April to develop her musical talent and shrugs off the bullies that torment them.
April isn't surprised to find herself falling for Jonah. The unexpected part is when he falls for her too.
But the giddy happiness of their first romance begins to fade when Jonah's unpredictability begins to take a darker turn. April understands that her boyfriend is haunted by a painful memory, but his sudden mood swings worry her. She can't explain his growing fear of cellphones, electric keyboards, and of sounds that no one else can hear.
Still, no matter what happens, April is sure that she'll always stand by him.
Until Jonah finally breaks and is committed to a psychiatric ward.
Until schizophrenia changes everything.
Though everyone urges her to let him go, April stays true to Jonah. But as the boy she adores begins to disappear in front of her, she has to face her worst fear: that her love may not be enough to save him.
Edgewater by Courtney Sheinmel
Billed as a “YA Grey Gardens,” about a teen who lives in squalor in a crumbling mansion on Long Island and subsists on a mysterious trust fund – but who stands to lose everything when the secrets, lies, and scandals of the people around her are revealed.

Which new covers are your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin

Title: Wish Girl
Author: Nikki Loftin
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: February 24, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 8-12
Pages: 256
More by this author: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, Nightingale's Nest

A dying girl gives a boy the strength to live in this lyrical novel that will break your heart and lift your spirit...

Peter Stone’s parents and siblings are extroverts, musicians, and yellers—and the louder they get, the less Peter talks, or even moves, until he practically fits his last name. When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a tranquil, natural valley where he can, at last, hear himself think.

There, he meets a girl his age: Annie Blythe. Annie tells Peter she’s a “wish girl.” But Annie isn’t just any wish girl; she’s a “Make-A-Wish Girl.” And in two weeks she will begin a dangerous treatment to try and stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her. But the treatment may cause serious, lasting damage to her brain.

Annie and Peter hatch a plan to escape into the valley, which they begin to think is magical. But the pair soon discovers that the valley—and life—may have other plans for them. And sometimes wishes come true in ways they would never expect.
Wish Girl is one of those special books that so clearly demonstrates the magic and agelessness of children's literature. This third novel from Nikki Loftin is an incredibly beautiful novel, filled with characters and prose that will undoubtedly wriggle deep into your heart.
“Turns out, it's not running away when no one notices you're gone.” 
Peter Stone is a quiet boy who feels perpetually adrift. Quiet and introspective, he struggles to make friends and bullies find him an easy target. Even at home Peter feels alienated; his family, loud and extroverted, struggle to understand and connect with him. After his mother discovers dark and hopeless entries in his journal, the family packs up and leaves the city behind, hoping that escaping the bullies and negativity will allow Peter to start over. Of course, Peter can't outrun what's in his head. The pressing need to be alone drives him out into the nearby tranquil valley, where he finally feels like he has escaped and can be himself. I love that it is through nature, this beautiful but sometimes dangerous valley, that Peter finally finds and accepts himself. 
“'It's part of the art,' she explained, motioning toward the stream. 'The bringing together of the pieces, then the way they disappear when it time - the wind, or water, or gravity, whatever - makes the art lose its hold. It's not meant to stay forever. Some people,' and she paused. 'Some people wouldn't get it. They'd do all sorts of unnatural things to make it stay just like it was. Glue it, staple it, cement it. Even though that would ruin it.'” 
When Peter first encounters Annie Blythe, he's angry. Finally, finally he has found a place that is his, where he can be alone, and there she is. But, despite his initial reaction, he finds he likes Annie. Instead of cutting conversations short, he can't help but ask her questions and, before he knows it, he's aiding in her crazy artistic pursuits. Much to Peter's surprise, with Annie he finds companionable silence and reflective conversation. She isn't like the people Peter wants to escape and she isn't quite like Peter either. Instead, she is just unapologetically herself. Artistic, opinionated, bossy, and devoted to living the fullest, most artistic life she can in the time she has left. The friendship between Peter and Annie is hands down one of my absolute favorites. It's honest and deep and powerful.

The valley where Peter and Annie meet begins as a way for each of them to escape the 'real' world, where they feel overwhelmed and unwelcome. Readers soon realize, however, that the valley is more than just a place, it's a character in its own right - a unique, stubborn, magical character, just like Peter and Annie.
"'No,' she said again, 'I don't want to die. Not at all! But don't you see, I'm going to anyway?' She pointed at her chest. 'What is death, Peter? It's when you stop being you, right? When that something, that spark or whatever, goes out. And that's what's coming for me.'”
Because Annie is terminally ill and Peter struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, conversations of death do play an important part in this novel. While Annie doesn't want to die, she thinks it preferable to the brain damage and loss of self and autonomy her impending treatment will likely cause. Peter's friendship with Annie, seeing her fear and lack of choice, forces him to confront his own depression and thoughts of self harm. I often hear adults protesting to the inclusion of these themes and discussion in MG literature because they feel their young readers need something lighter or cannot handle talk of illness, depression, and death, but I truly feel that younger readers need books like Wish Girl. As much as these difficult and often taboo topics are uncomfortable and scary to talk about, they are real and they affect people everyday. Hiding from them, choosing ignorance, benefits no one.
“'Sometimes,' she said, after a few more seconds of silence, 'sometimes you got to act. You can't wait. You got to do what needs doing, before the world makes the decision for you.'” 
I know it's early, but I feel this book is a likely 2015 Newbery contender... It's one I'll be recommending for years to come, award or no.
Highly recommended.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Giveaway: Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman

While attempting to organize my bookshelves today, I realized that I have two copies of Eleanor Herman's upcoming Legacy of Kings. This book, a YA debut from Herman, is the first in what promises to be an epic new series called Blood of Gods and Royals. Find out more about Legacy of Kings below, then enter to win my extra arc!

Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman
Available August 25, 2015 from HarlequinTEEN
Imagine a time when the gods turn a blind eye to the agony of men, when the last of the hellions roam the plains and evil stirs beyond the edges of the map. A time when cities burn, and in their ashes, empires rise.

Alexander, Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world but finds himself drawn to newcomer Katerina, who must navigate the dark secrets of court life while hiding her own mission: kill the Queen. But Kat’s first love, Jacob, will go to unthinkable lengths to win her, even if it means competing for her heart with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince. And far across the sea, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander’s unmet fiancée, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly Spirit Eaters.

Weaving fantasy with the salacious and fascinating details of real history, New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Herman reimagines the greatest emperor the world has ever known: Alexander the Great, in the first book of the Blood of Gods and Royals series.


 One winner. Open Internationally. Ends 4/15/15.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Henry Hubble's Book of Troubles by Andy Myer

Title: Henry Hubble's Book of Troubles
Author: Andy Myer
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: February 10, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 9-12
Pages: 160
More by this author: Delia's Dull Day & Pickles, Please

For middle-grade readers looking for a uniquely funny, illustrated exposé on one boy’s troubles in school and at home. Hand this to those searching for a book like Just Jake and Timmy Failure.

Meet Henry Hubble. He’s in a world of trouble. From class-trip bathroom breaks to Halloween-costume catastrophes to lunchroom-table love drama, Henry is always in the middle of a debacle. That is . . . until this journal (yes, the very journal you hold in your hands) makes Henry a media mogul and one of the most popular sixth graders in the world. But you’re just going to have to start reading to find out why.
Henry Harrison Hubble can't seem to catch a break. His schemes and ideas always seem to lead to trouble, even when he's trying to do the right thing. His journal is his outlet, where he records his thoughts, the events of the day, poems, and doodles. It's super private and totally off limits to anyone who isn't him, but when someone who isn't Henry's biggest fan gets his hands on it, things get even crazier than usual.

Henry has quite the personality. The entire novel is told through Henry's journal entries, so it's all Henry, all the time. I was left with the distinct impression Henry's journal was a pretty accurate representation of his general demeanor... That is, he's one of those kids that talks a mile a minute about everything - a trait that can be completely endearing and completely overwhelming. 

Henry's antics get him into all kinds of sticky situations, sometimes literally. One of the first situations Henry relates to readers is the time when he caught a squirrel using a large ball of marshmallow fluff he keeps in his backpack, then brought it to school. Of course, the squirrel escapes into the school and creates all sorts of havoc, landing Henry in - you guessed it - trouble. His stories and crazy ideas are entertaining, especially when paired with the thick-lined doodles throughout the text.

Henry Hubble's Book of Troubles is a great pick for readers who are advanced enough to move beyond early chapter books, but still a bit intimidated by books with no pictures. Readers who appreciate the humor and pacing of the Wimpy Kid, Timmy Failure, and Big Nate books will find much to like here as well.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder

Title: A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans
Author: Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: March 10, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 8-12
Pages: 160
More by this duo: n/a

Crusty dragon Miss Drake has a new pet human, precocious Winnie. Oddly enough, Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet—a ridiculous notion!

Unknown to most of its inhabitants, the City by the Bay is home to many mysterious and fantastic creatures, hidden beneath the parks, among the clouds, and even in plain sight. And Winnie wants to draw every new creature she encounters: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But Winnie’s sketchbook is not what it seems. Somehow, her sketchlings have been set loose on the city streets! It will take Winnie and Miss Drake’s combined efforts to put an end to the mayhem . . . before it’s too late.
Miss Drake is still mourning the loss of her pet, Fluffy, when a small girl named Winnie  shows up in her comfy lair. Miss Drake believes Winnie is entirely too curious to keep as a pet and, besides, she's not quite ready to replace Fluffy. Fluffy, we soon learn, was Miss Drake's nickname for Winnie's great aunt Amelia, who recounted her friendship with the dragon in letters to Winnie. But Winnie, in deference to her aunt, refuses to leave Miss Drake in peace and, before she knows it, the dragon has a new companion and a whole heap of trouble.

I loved that this novel is from the point-of-view of the dragon, Miss Drake, rather than Winnie. The dragon is centuries old and her view of Winnie and the contemporary world, juxtaposed with the magical places and stories she recounts are amusing. Winnie's Aunt Amelia was Miss Drake's most recent pet, but she has had many, many more and her tenderness when reminiscing about them will feel familiar to every pet owning reader.

Though humans are pets to dragons in this book, they are also individuals; they are not kept by dragons. Despite each chapter beginning with tips and tricks for the care of your human, they are more friends and companions than pets. Winnie is young, but she and Miss Drake are more equals than not. Like in a more traditional friendship. they compliment one another and the result is heartwarming. 

Of course, as one might assume when a dragon is present, there are some magical shenanigans afood. In the world of the novel, magic and magical creatures exist secretly beside humans. Miss Drake takes Winnie to a magical marketplace (think Diagon Alley) and gifts her with a sketchpad for her drawings. Neither realizes that the book will bring Winnie's drawings to life until they've leapt from the pages and out into the real world. Fearing discovery, the two must work together to return the sketchlings to their pages before their existence is discovered.

It is worth noting that the small illustrations throughout the book, including images of the sketchlings, as well as the cover art was done by Mary GrandPre. GrandPre was the original illustrator of the Harry Potter books, as well as the illustrator of the recent picture book The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock (one of my favorites!).

A Dragon's Guide for the Care and Feeding of Humans is a slim volume, but fans will be happy to learn there are more books planned featuring Miss Drake and Winnie.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cover Reveals - Young Adult - XXII

If You're Lucky by Yvonne Prinz
Is Georgia’s mind playing tricks on her, or is the entire town walking into the arms of a killer who has everyone but her fooled?

When seventeen-year-old Georgia’s brother drowns while surfing halfway around the world in Australia, she refuses to believe Lucky’s death was just bad luck. Lucky was smart. He wouldn’t have surfed in waters more dangerous than he could handle. Then a stranger named Fin arrives in False Bay, claiming to have been Lucky’s best friend. Soon Fin is working for Lucky’s father, charming Lucky’s mother, dating his girlfriend. Georgia begins to wonder: did Fin murder Lucky in order to take over his whole life?

Determined to clear the fog from her mind in order to uncover the truth about Lucky’s death, Georgia secretly stops taking the medication that keeps away the voices in her head. Georgia is certain she’s getting closer and closer to the truth about Fin, but as she does, her mental state becomes more and more precarious, and no one seems to trust what she’s saying.

As the chilling narrative unfolds, the reader must decide whether Georgia’s descent into madness is causing her to see things that don’t exist–or to see a deadly truth that no one else can.

“A remarkable page-turner . . . Keep[s] readers wondering, twist by twist, if Georgia’s universe will simply burst apart.” —Andrew Smith, author of Grasshopper Jungle
Beastly Bones by William Ritter

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer R. F. Jackaby are called upon to investigate the supernatural.

First, a vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered with a single mysterious puncture wound. Then in nearby Gad’s Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Charlie calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.
Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt
A modern-day Romeo and Juliet story in which a wealthy Southern boy falls in love with an undocumented Mexican girl and together they face perils in their hostile Georgia town.

Evan, a soccer star and the nephew of a conservative Southern Senator, has never wanted for much -- except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two-years-old, excels in school, and has a large, warm Mexican family. Never mind their differences, the two fall in love, and they fall hard. But when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) begins raids on their town, Alma knows that she needs to tell Evan her secret. There's too much at stake. But how to tell her country-club boyfriend that she’s an undocumented immigrant? That her whole family and most of her friends live in the country without permission. What follows is a beautiful, nuanced, well-paced exploration of the complications of immigration, young love, defying one’s family, and facing a tangled bureaucracy that threatens to completely upend two young lives.
First & Then by Emma Mills
First impressions can be deceiving . . .

Devon has life pretty much figured out: she’s got her best friend Cas, her secret crush (also Cas), and her comfortable routine (mostly spent with Cas). New experiences: not welcome here. But as she enters her senior year, her parents take in her cousin Foster, an undersized weirdo who shows an unexpected talent for football, and star running back Ezra takes Foster under his wing. Devon can't figure out how she feels about Ezra. He's obviously stuck-up, but Foster adores him. Ezra has nothing to say to her, but he keeps seeking her out. And... Devon might actually like him. If only she can admit it to herself.

Funny, fresh, and layered, First and Then proves that change doesn't always tear things apart—sometimes, it brings them together.
Blood Passage by Heather Demetrios
A jinni who's lost everything.

A master with nothing to lose.

A revolutionary with everything to gain.

When Nalia arrives in Morocco to fulfil Malek's third and final wish she's not expecting it to be easy. Though Nalia is free from the shackles that once bound her to Malek as his slave, she's in more danger than ever before.

Meanwhile, Malek's past returns with a vengeance as he confronts the darkness within himself, and Raif must decide what's more important: his love for Nalia, or his devotion to the cause of Arjinnan freedom.

Set upon by powerful forces that threaten to break her, Nalia encounters unexpected allies and discovers that her survival depends on the very things she thought made her weak. From the souks of Marrakech to the dunes of the Sahara, The Arabian Nights come to life in this dazzling second instalment of the Dark Passage Cycle.
Other Broken Things by C. Desir
Nat's not an alcoholic. She doesn't have a problem. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like get in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over.

Unfortunately her old friends want the party girl or nothing. Even her up-for-anything ex seems more interested in rehashing the past than actually helping Nat.

But then a recovering alcoholic named Joe inserts himself into Nat’s life and things start looking up. Joe is funny, smart, and calls her out in a way no one ever has.

He’s also older. A lot older.

Nat’s connection to Joe is overwhelming but so are her attempts to fit back into her old world, all while battling the constant urge to crack a bottle and blur that one thing she's been desperate to forget.

Now in order to make a different kind of life, Natalie must pull together her broken parts and learn to fight for herself.
Romancing the Dark in the City of Light by Ann Jacobus
A troubled teen, living in Paris, is torn between two boys, one of whom encourages her to embrace life, while the other—dark, dangerous, and attractive—urges her to embrace her fatal flaws.

Haunting and beautifully written, with a sharp and distinctive voice that could belong only to this character, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unforgettable young adult novel.

Summer Barnes just moved to Paris to repeat her senior year of high school. After being kicked out of four boarding schools, she has to get on track or she risks losing her hefty inheritance. Summer is convinced that meeting the right guy will solve everything. She meets two. Moony, a classmate, is recovering against all odds from a serious car accident, and he encourages Summer to embrace life despite how hard it can be to make it through even one day. But when Summer meets Kurt, a hot, mysterious older man who she just can't shake, he leads her through the creepy underbelly of the city-and way out of her depth.

When Summer's behavior manages to alienate everyone, even Moony, she's forced to decide if a life so difficult is worth living. With an ending that'll surprise even the most seasoned reader, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unputdownable and utterly compelling novel.

Which new covers are your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: Silent Alarm by Jennifer Banash

Goodreads / Buy It
Title: Silent Alarm
Author: Jennifer Banash
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: March 10, 2015
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 12+
Pages: 336
More by this author: White Lines, The Elite books

Alys’s whole world was comprised of the history project that was due, her upcoming violin audition, being held tightly in the arms of her boyfriend, Ben, and laughing with her best friend, Delilah. At least it was—until she found herself on the wrong end of a shotgun in the school library. Her suburban high school had become one of those places you hear about on the news—a place where some disaffected youth decided to end it all and take as many of his teachers and classmates with him as he could. Except, in this story, that youth was Alys’s own brother, Luke. He killed fifteen others and himself, but spared her—though she’ll never know why.

Alys’s downward spiral begins instantly, and there seems to be no bottom. A heartbreaking and beautifully told story.
In her newest novel, Silent Alarm, Jennifer Banash explores the emotional topic of school shootings and their aftermaths from the point-of-view of the shooter's sister. Alys is a daughter, a musician, a best friend, and a girlfriend, but, after her brother opens fire on their school campus and then kills himself, Alys is only the sister of a murderer. Her parents, incapacitated by grief and guilt, retreat within themselves, leaving Alys to work through her complicated feelings and confusion by herself. Because Luke took his own life as well, the entire community, including Alys's best friend and boyfriend, blame Alys for not noticing her brother's dangerous downward spiral and preventing its culmination. 
“'I'm sorry,' I say for what feels like the millionth time. I know, even as my mouth forms the words, that I will say them for the rest of my life. Forever. That there will never be a time when I am not, in some small way, apologizing for the damage my brother has wrought. Luke is dead too, like Katie, I know, but this makes no difference. My grief will always be less important.” 
A large part of Alys's inner struggle centers around her inability to completely hate and revile her brother like the rest of the community does following the shooting. She is angry, hurt, and shocked, but she still loves him. Her final images of him, pointing the shotgun at her face, then turning and killing a girl nearby, doesn't match the brother she grew up with. The brother she rode to school with every morning, bickered with, and loved, even after he seemed to withdraw from their family and succumb to his dark moods, turning inward. Her confusion is pervasive, jumping off the page in an affecting way, forcing the reader to confront the difficult truth that Luke, despite her actions, is neither wholly good nor bad.
“The choir box is empty this morning, and I long for some kind of melody, the crash of the organ, the flight of angelic voices. My fingers twitch against the fabric of my dress and I close my eyes, remembering the Debussy, the Brahms lullaby I played each night before bed, my face pressed to the pad beneath my chin, arms cutting the air around me. The fact that Luke doesn't deserve music, the blissful lilt and salvation of it, make me, for some reason, saddest of all.” 
Music is an important part of Alys's life, but, after the shooting, she separates herself from her violin and the solace it provides. Not only does Alys feel that she has lost that part of herself, she feels she no longer deserves to feel the joy it brings her. She questions whether she could have prevented her brother's actions - if only she had been less involved in her own life, if only she weren't so distracted by music while her brother suffered enough that he brought a gun to school and murdered their friends. She believes that, if her brother does not deserve music, she doesn't either. I especially loved Alys's conversations with her violin instructor, an older woman who has lived a long life filled with both love and loss. She is one of the very few characters in Silent Alarm who recognizes and acknowledges Alys's pain.
“It feels like I died with Luke, alongside all of those kids who looked up from gossiping in the quad, from the useless pages of their books in the library, to meet the barrel of my brother's gun, his face filled with hate. In a way, I died the moment Luke walked into that library, the moment we came face-to-face. Now I'm trapped in the land of the dead, a barren landscape, shards of bone cutting my feet, their voices a soft chatter, telling me to follow.”
Banash's decision to tell this story from Alys's point-of-view, rather than Luke's or a classmate's, was insightful. Alys provides the reader with a singular context through which to view the shooting because she is both a victim and a relative. It's unlikely that any other narrator would have the same struggle as Alys, whose two very different mental images of Luke - one as loving brother, one as murderer - are at war. Because of Alys's distinct voice and unique view of the situation and its aftermath, I was able to connect to Silent Alarm in a very real and powerful way.

Highly recommended.