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January 2, 2021

4 New & Notable Titles in Young Adult Fiction

by MK French

There are some really great young adult fiction coming out this month (I've also included one that came out last month in case you missed it). Whether you are a teen or an older adult, you will find these stories entertaining and often thought-provoking. 

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Court of Swans by Melanie Dickerson

Court of Swans
January 2021; Thomas Nelson; 978-0785234012
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); YA Romance
In 1381, Delia's life grinds to a halt when after her father's death, his wife accuses her seven brothers of treason. They're brought to the Tower of London, and the child King Richard II tends to execute those that pose a threat to his position. Sir Geoffrey, the guard that had retrieved the boys, feels that something was wrong with the charge, but must follow orders. Delia becomes a seamstress to the crown and tries her best to save her brothers.

Court of Swans is the first book in the Dericott Tales, and is a retelling of the Seven Swans. She uses her position as a seamstress in the castle to get her brothers provisions that the guards won't provide, and Geoffrey's sense of honor and righteousness won't let him ignore the children in the cell. He helps to bring food and messages to the brothers and provides yarn to Delia so she can knit sweaters for her brothers. This is an obvious nod to the fairy tale, as is Delia sighting seven swans in the river trying to swim after another one. In keeping with the times, Delia's thwarted by another knight interested in gaining her favor only to get into her bed, though he isn't terribly concerned about her consent. She stands up for herself and makes use of her surroundings as best as she can, and is certainly brave and loyal.

Also in keeping with the times, she and Geoffrey often rely on prayer and the hopes of divine intervention for justice. He had been dealt just as massive a wrong by his uncle taking his inheritance prior to becoming one of the King's advisors. There are several events that certainly seem like divine intervention that bring us to our happily ever after. Geoffrey is more than willing to abandon his post to help Delia, and she would sacrifice everything for her brothers. I liked Delia and felt sorry for her brothers, who were used as pawns in others' plans for wealth and power. Because this is the first in a series, I'm sure other books will focus on her seven brothers, giving each of them a happily ever after that they deserve.

Buy Court of Swans at Amazon

Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

Rise of the Red Hand
January 2021; Erewhon; 978-1645660101
ebook, print (384 pages); YA Dystopian
Following the near nuclear annihilation of the planet, the world divided into different provinces, and each one was left to manage its own population and divide resources. In the South Asian Province, the rich Uplanders live in a biodome with neural implants and technology to keep them young and healthy. The poor live in the Narrows, reliant on scavenged robotics to transform their bodies in order to survive. Ashiva is a smuggler working with the Red Hand, a loose network of cells trying to better the lives of those in the Narrows and expose the rich for their cruelties. Riza is one of the privileged, though he’s not content with the status quo in the city and will use his skills to hack into networks for underground notoriety. This brings him into the orbit of the Red Hand, and together they find a lot more wrong with their province than pollution and economic disparity.

Ashiva is a survivor, and not as hard-edged as she wants to think herself. She smuggles medicine and food for the young children of the Narrows and sees a number of Red Hand people as her family. She’s loyal to them and to the cause and wants to keep them all safe. Because of this, she lied to her “sister” to say that she has a bone disease making her fragile. That will keep Tana in the Narrows where Ashiva can better protect her than if she was sent away on dangerous missions. Riza has little rebellions, which his mother doesn’t appreciate; as the Minister of Communications, she’s highly placed and has considerable power within the SA government.

The world-building is amazing here. Nuclear fallout leading to acid raid, a hazy orange sky, unlivable areas, and a rising seafloor that affects the poor the most. This part of the globe has a lot of people in it, and the desperation in the poor can be felt through the page. The guards continually scan the people, and the threat of disease outside the city is a little too on the nose for COVID times. Still, the fear of illness and infirmity informs the upper echelons, and they will only accept the best, the prettiest, the most optimized. Uplanders have to be super productive to justify their continued use in the government and the resources spent on them. It’s still tense, but a different kind of tension than the Lowlanders have to deal with. Both sides of the economic/social divide work to make things better for their people, though they have wildly different definitions of “better,” and Uplanders at the very top of government have no difficulty sacrificing Lowlanders for their own benefit. It’s a closely guarded secret they keep from the world at large, and one that shows a glaring problem in relying on Solace, the computer algorithm that chooses who is “worthy” of being saved and who would be genetically appropriate for the city population.

Rise of the Red Hand is an amazing dystopian drama, and the book is the first of a duology. Without explicitly stating it, there is the question of how we would define humanity, charity, mercy, and dispensing resources that are rapidly depleted. How the characters deal with it reflects our world and values, and makes you question where we’re going now. All good sci-fi novels will do this, and this is a good sci-fi novel.

Buy Rise of the Red Hand at Amazon

Shadow City by Francesca Flores

Shadow City
January 2021; Wednesday Books; 978-1250220486
ebook, print (400 pages); YA fantasy
Aina Solís wrested control of Kosín's assassin empire from her old boss, Kohl, and no longer had to fear homelessness. She revealed the corruption of General Alsane Beautix, who now is trying to regain his former power within the city. Civil war erupted, and the only way to stop Beautix is to team up with Kohl. Once the two of them defeat Beautix, however, the two will have to face each other to determine the true leader of the assassins.

Francesca's anticipated sequel to the amazing Diamond City (read my review) wraps up the duology. Shadow City starts up soon after the end of Diamond City, so you really should read that one first. It's amazing, I promise, and this will make so much more sense even though there are some brief references to events in that book. Aina is trying to hold onto the Dom and her former colleagues, but can't admit to any of them that she's willing to work with Kohl to get to Beautix. Each step of the way, whether trying to find the weapons that he's importing into the city or trying to keep the Inosen safe, Aina is at a disadvantage. She has limited information and only a handful of allies; she doesn't really know how far ahead Beautix is, but he's there along the way and taunts her. This leads her to learn blood magic, but the spells she has the most affinity for are the most dangerous and harmful ones, which most Inosen frown upon. Magic of this type had generally been used to heal, and Aina really isn't a healer by any stretch of the imagination.

There is an utterly heartbreaking scene that made me want to yell in frustration right along with Aina. Well, actually, there are a lot of those, but one, in particular, is especially painful to read. Things hadn't turned out the way she had hoped they would, and the loss is devastating on so many levels. My heart broke right along with hers, but Aina is good at compartmentalizing. She can shove it aside for revenge, and there is a considerable amount of murder and mayhem along the way. The final sequences in the novel are amazing and cinematic, until we get to the culmination that they had all worked for. It's not a happily ever after for everyone, but there is such hope for the future. This book closes with a neat enough ending that I'm pleased with it and can't wait to reread the entire duology again.

Buy Shadow City at Amazon

Finding My Voice by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Finding My Voice
December 2020; Soho Teen; 978-1641291972
audio, ebook, print (192 pages); YA
Ellen Sung is part of the only Korean American family in a small Minnesota town and wants to fit in at school even when her peers won't let her. She falls for the very blond football player Tomper Sandel in her senior year, and he likes her back. Pursuing a romance leads to disappointment from her strict parents, dismay from her friends, and racism from others at school.

This coming of age story involves balancing the strict obedience of East Asian heritage with the freedoms of a "typical" American teenage life. I noticed that the lower-rated Amazon reviews of the book come from those that don't connect with the characters; I suspect they've never been subject to the racism and needling comments that can come from even well meaning people that have no idea how to approach those of different backgrounds. Other races and cultures are only too used to that kind of subtle racist remarks and microaggressions, and it's a reality that still exists no matter how much people want to deny it. The sense of shame that Ellen feels in response to those comments will feel familiar to anyone who had received such comments.

The audiobook is narrated by Jaine Ye, who sounds dead-on as a teenager worrying about fitting in. There are many small details about Ellen's day and life as a high schooler trying so hard to be "normal" yet still make her family happy with her. That should be a fairly universal feeling for any teenager, regardless of racial or ethnic background. The details in each chapter really brings back the feeling of high school, and being the younger sister of a prodigy adds to a lot of her stresses and feelings of inadequacy.

Buy Finding My Voice at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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  1. Thank you for highlighting these books. I'll add Finding My Own Voice to my TBR list.