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September 8, 2022

4 Must Read Books for Fans of Young Adult Fiction

by MK French

School is back in session and students are needing books for daily reading assignments and book reports or, you know, just enjoyment. If you have a teen looking for something new to read or you enjoy young adult fiction, you will want to add these to your fall reading list.

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Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade by Nancy Springer

book cover of young adult mystery Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade
September 2022; Wednesday Books; 978-1250822970
audio, ebook, print (240 pages); YA mystery

Enola Holmes lives in London and works as a scientific perditorian (a finder of persons and things). Her friend Lady Cecily Alastair lives under the rule of her father, Sir Eustace Alastair. Enola helps Lady Cecily escape, but the girl's mother hires Sherlock Holmes to find her. Lady Cecily escapes them both, which leaves her on her own in Victorian London. This is even more dangerous, as Lady Cecily has two personalities: the left-handed independent one and the right-handed meek one. Enola must race to find Lady Cecily before one of her personalities gets her into trouble or Sherlock finds her and returns her to her parents.

Enola Homles and the Elegant Escapade is the second book of the newly revamped Enola Holmes mysteries, right after Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche (my review here). Victorian England is a very stratified, patriarchal society. Enola is unusual in so many ways from the young ladies of her class, but this doesn't bother her in the slightest. Her friend Cecily, however, very much conforms to those strictures. This puts her under her father's control, and he kept her and her mother under lock and key, with little food or clothing. She escapes with Enola's help but then takes off on her own again. That forces Enola and Sherlock to work together to find her and to ensure her safety.

As much as Enola rails against Society, she's not above using those same expectations to her advantage. Sherlock does the same, of course, but she also has the conventions of gender to contend with. She has a room in a club with other liberal-minded women, some of whom were suffragettes, and talking with some of them helps her realize important things about Society to help her locate Cecily. I enjoyed seeing Enola use this network, as well as talk with Sherlock. In the prior book I read, the two seem so much at odds they might as well not be related. Here, it's clearer that the significant age gap makes it difficult for them to understand the perspective of the other, but it isn't a lack of caring. Sherlock isn't very demonstrative, but he cares about Enola and her safety and understands her need to know and find things. I look forward to the two working together more often in future novels.

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah

book cover of young adult fantasy Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah
September 2022; Sourcebooks Fire; 978-1728247625
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); YA fantasy

Emrik and his sixteen-year-old sister Koral risk life and limb to capture the maristags that live in the black seas around their island. These creatures are used by the ruling Landers in the Glory Race, a deadly chariot race that provides gold and glory for the winner. But when the last maristag of the year escapes, the family finances become even more precarious. Unable to afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister, Koral's only chance to save her family is to enter the Glory Race. Higher castes don't tolerate that, and it becomes more and more difficult for Koral. Ultimately, she must choose which life matters more, hers or her sister's.

Based on South Asian folklore, this book is billed as a combination of "The Hunger Games" and "Fable." Those were great books pitting a young woman against a cruel and corrupt elite determined to keep the status quo in place. Here, people landed on an archipelago within a massive sea populated with fierce creatures that tear humans apart in minutes. The maristags can't truly be tamed, so racing them is incredibly dangerous and deadly. At every turn, Koral's faced with trials: her brother's injury, in the beginning, showcases how little the Renters like her family, her father's quiet disdain and casual emotional abuse, poverty, the rebels, the black market trades, and the dangers of living aboveground with a blazing hot sun and swarming creatures that kill. One of Koral's competitors is a boy she knew when younger, a Lander's son she felt sorry for when his own father was emotionally abusive too. That tenuous connection tightens and frays off and on throughout the novel; he's attractive, privileged, warns her away from the dangers, and saves her life even so. Koral only wants the gold as a prize to help her family, but everyone else wants the prestige. 

I was drawn into Koral's life from the beginning. She's angry, with a lot to fight for and against. The world runs on trauma and abuse of power so everyone struggles and is caught up in the same cycle of trauma, revisiting it on the next generation. Even rebel forces find someone to look down on and ostracized the Hunter family just as they're ostracized by Landers. Despite that pain, Koral still has love and hope for the future, even if her hopes are just getting by. I love her determination, that she refuses to let others' views of her change how she sees herself or what she values. She values her family, her ingenuity, and the community that supports her. The rest is extra, and she's learned this at a very young age. I also really enjoy the monsters in the book and the details of each race of the tournament. The intensity of each one makes it so visceral as if we're right there with Koral.

Buy Monsters Born and Made at Amazon

Talli, Daughter of the Moon Volume 1 by Sourya Sihachakr

book cover of young adult comic Talli Daughter of the Moon vol 1 by Sourya Sihachakr
September 2022; Oni Press; 978-1637150825
print (168 pages); young adult comic

Summoners have been all wiped out by those who fear their powers. Talli was adopted by Lord Bourin and lived in safety until Lord Ulric attacked. Talli escaped with Sir Alan in the chaos, but Ulric's Captain Nina is tracking them. The two gather a group of companions on their journey, including the swordsman Lélo and former guild leader Pavel. 

Sourya is of French and Laotian descent and is a famous cartoonist blending aspects of classic anime styles with the bandes-dessinee of the French tradition. The blended style reminds me of the manga and anime of Berserk, as characters don't have the big eyes and small mouth of traditional anime and resemble more European comics.

We open with the siege on the castle, and Alan ardently taking on his responsibility to care for Lady Talli. This nearly gets them into trouble in the market, but luckily the old merchant and Lélo agree to help for a fee. Along the way, we discover that the heretics condemned by the king had worshipped the moon goddess Meness. In time, we discover why the Summoners are so special, how fear turned the populace against them, and what the Chimera War was. Talli is the last Summoner, and because Borin had thought to protect her from the king, she has little understanding as to how her powers work, other than it involved drawing her own blood to use them. It's out of her control and occurs every month. This is what brought Ulric to the castle and gives a timetable for when her escape to sanctuary must be accomplished. Of course, nothing goes smoothly, including her escape.

The art is smooth black and white, with plenty of action lines to give the effect of movement during the fights and battle scenes. There is definitely a lot of action as the group goes from one predicament to another. The summoning itself is not a simple or contained method as it might be in other anime or manga. This one requires Talli's blood to be shed, regardless of the reason for it, and then a massive creature manifests with lightning and crackles of power. Even if they look cute, the creature can still be vicious and bloodthirsty. For all that Talli is being hunted, she still refuses to harm defenseless enemies or allow others in her party to do so. Inevitably, this will lead to consequences for later volumes to pick up. I enjoyed the story in this volume, and I would love to see where it goes in future volumes.

Last of the Talons by Sophie Kim

book cover of young adult mythology novel Last of the Talons by Sophie Kim
September 2022; Entangled: Teen; 978-1649372802
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); YA mythology

Shin Lina is the last of the Talon gang and had to become a weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord to keep her little sister safe. When ordered to steal from a Dokkaebi temple, Lina begins a game against a legendary immortal. Within their realm, she can win her life if she kills Haneul Rui. Lina must be clever to outplay the king and save her sister before time runs out.

Last of the Talons is a novel that incorporates Korean mythology and stories about spirits, which Sophie Kim painstakingly researched before writing this book. She includes a great intro and where to find the originals so you can see the stories that she brought into this one; the Pied Piper name is obviously Western, but Haneul Rui is still a Korean figure and a bigger name within the fairy tales. We're still grounded in a Korean-inspired kingdom where Shin Lina is forced to work for a crime lord that managed to kill the Talons and force her to work for him. Her younger sister is that collateral and the only reason why she hasn't tried a fruitless revenge plot against them. It's also the reason why she's the one that stole a jeweled tapestry from a temple and cut it apart; for this trespass, the boss was kidnapped and essentially held for ransom. While she doesn't care about him, his second will kill Lina's sister if the boss isn't returned. This is a compelling start, and I loved seeing her mind work and how she interacted with the immortal beings of the underworld. They all have motives and emotions of their own, giving them a "human" sense as well as their otherworldly powers.

Buy Last of the Talons 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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