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September 19, 2021

3 New Young Adult Novels to Read

by MK French

Whether you are looking for something new to keep your teens reading or you are an adult that enjoys young adult, you are going to want to check out these three new novels.

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Generation Manifestation by Steven Berenzai

Generation Manifestation
September 2021; Jambor; 978-1989055045
ebook, print (248 pages); dystopian

Following the Genetic Wars, the DNA regulars called "dregs" live separately from the superpowered Supergenics. Because dregs can sometimes produce Supergenic children, testing is done to find them and send them to live with their own kind. Caitlin Feral is socially isolated and determined to manifest powers like the propaganda comic heroes she reads about. Just how far is she willing to go?

When Caitlin fails to Manifest powers at the brutal testing that nearly kills her, she is expected to no longer have "childish" interests. Everything is monitored and sanitized for the public so that she can't even look at comic books now that she's sixteen and didn't have powers. Instead, she is expected to train in one of the areas she has tested aptitude for so she can be funneled into a profession she will work in until she dies. During this training she realizes that the propaganda isn't the truth; the normal dregs get the worst materials, the protectors that can abuse their authority actually do face potential dangers, and the Supergenics aren't the heroes she thought they were.

Generation Manifestation is a YA dystopia novel and the first of a series. I was drawn into Caitlin's story and the little details that fleshed out her world. When Caitlin is drawn into the Protectors against her mother's wishes, she fights hard to be part of them and stay with her newfound friends. But even that is full of dangers she couldn't anticipate. Much of the middle third of the book is spent on Caitlin's training and laying down the clues that something is off about the world. It isn't until the final third when we get a better idea of what's going on, and what a revolution would entail. She doesn't want to lose who she was before, but there's no way to undo an entire way of life without sacrifices. While there is a battle, of course, the war is far from over. 

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow
September 2021; Penguin Teen; 978-0735269934
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); science fiction

Chrysalises are transforming mechs usually piloted by a pair of boys and girls from Huaxia to fight the aliens beyond the wall. The girls usually die from the mental strain of it, but those in charge don't care. Zetian plans to assassinate the pilot that killed her sister but manages to kill him through the psychic link instead. This makes her an Iron Widow, a woman of formidable willpower that can sacrifice men to pilot the mech. She's ultimately paired with Li Shimin, the best and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. Zetian has to survive the attempts on her life and discover the reason why girls are being sacrificed.

The pages of Iron Widow burn with the fierceness of Zetian's willpower. From the beginning, she chafed against the restrictions of her gender, the anguish and pain of foot binding, and contortions she had to do to make herself seem palatable to the men in her life. It's a sad reality that it isn't just a historical footnote, and her character zings from the start. The transformation from concubine to Iron Widow is fantastic in its immediacy and emotional energy; we're right with her when she sees the proof of her sister's death in the pilot's memories and pushes past the mental restrictions he places on her, intending to kill her, too. She fights triumphantly against the alien enemy, realizing for the first time how powerful she can be. I love the entire sequence, and how it closes out the first quarter of the novel as well as an early segment of her life.

The troubles don't end there, and there are moments where Zetian is meant to be shamed, belittled, and beaten down because she isn't who the men in charge want her to be. Pairing her off with a known killer is meant to break her further, but instead, they find a connection and camaraderie. Adding in her close friend as further support gives her the strength she needs to continue and the reason to keep going. It's not enough merely to survive, to reach the pinnacle of what women are expected to have, but to reshape the system into something equitable not just for women, but for the poor and unable to see past the propaganda that is given to the public.

This novel is amazing, tautly written, and emotionally intense. I was drawn into Zetian's story from the first pages, and the plot seized me by the throat and refused to let go. I was glad to be drawn along for the ride, and couldn't put the book down even when I had other plans. This novel is sure to be on the bestseller list, and it deserves to be.

Buy Iron Widow at Amazon

As If on Cue by Marisa Kanter

As If on Cue
September 2021; Simon & Schuster; 978-1534445802
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); romance

With their school's art budget cut, rivals Natalie and Reid have to compete for limited funding. Their all-out prank war results in the two having to compromise and work together on a school musical. If they produce a sold-out show, next year could have a full band and theater budget. But the rivals have never been able to work together before, and now there's a weird draw between them.

Natalie and Reid have grown up together, as their fathers are best friends, and there has been an incredible rivalry since early childhood. Natalie always felt like it was a competition, especially for her father's attention. She felt like playing the clarinet was her way to connect with her music teacher father, but then Reid started to play. The prank wars started early and had hurt others throughout the years so that they actually have rules to follow. Natalie attributes the worst possible motives to Reid and has trouble seeing anything good in him. This is intensified when she has to turn the play she co-wrote with her best friend into a musical, and he is roped in to compose the music for it. She's so focused on her own vision that she shoots down everything, and she's so intense that she scares others and can't see the truth. Reid doesn't help his own cause when he riles her up and doesn't give her much opportunity to see anything good in him right away.

This rivals to friends to lovers kind of romance still has its snags. They're high school juniors, after all, and the emotional growth is not that deep. When there's the first serious challenge to a burgeoning relationship between Natalie and Reid, she still assumes the worst. He has gone out of his way to deal with her suspicions regarding the musical and has even thrown out one of the actors making anti-Semitic comments even though it adds to the overall stress of the show. When she realizes her mistake, she does go out of her way to correct it, which makes me admire her. She doesn't take the easy path and works hard as an apology not just to Reid, but to her best friend and to other students that she was too hard on. While there likely will be a lot of stress in the future, I do think they'll be able to work through it. Artsy drama kids are full of drama and angst, after all. It's a realistic ending, and one I enjoyed a lot.

Buy As If on Cue 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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