Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell
High School St. Martin’s Griffin 328 pp.
2/13 978-1-250-01257-9 $18.99
e-book ed. 978-1-250-03121-1 $9.99
It’s the start of a new school year in 1986 Omaha when sophomores Eleanor and Park meet for the first time on the bus. They are an unusual pair: she’s the new girl in town, an ostracized, bullied “big girl” with bright red curly hair, freckles, and an odd wardrobe; he’s a skinny half-Korean townie who mostly wears black and tries to stay out of the spotlight. But as they sit together on the school bus every day, an intimacy gradually develops between them. At first they don’t talk; then she reads his comics with him; he makes her mixtapes of his favorite rock bands; they hold hands; and eventually they are looking for ways to spend every waking hour together. Their slowly evolving but intense relationship is chaste first love, authentic in its awkwardness — full of insecurities, miscommunications, and sexual awakenings — and life-changing for them both. When Eleanor’s unstable home life (replete with abusive stepfather) ultimately tears the young lovers apart, the novel ends realistically: uncertain, yet still hopeful. Rowell presents her teen protagonists’ intelligent observations, extreme inner desires, and irrational feelings through compelling alternating narrations. She imbues the novel with rich character development, a spot-on depiction of the 1980s, and powerful descriptive passages (“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive”). It’s an honest, heart-wrenching portrayal of imperfect but unforgettable love. CYNTHIA K. RITTER
by Rachel Hartman
Middle School, High School Random 467 pp.
7/12 978-0-375-86656-2 $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-96656-9 $20.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-375-89658-3 $10.99
The royal court of Goredd is celebrating forty years of peace with dragonkind, but the festivities are cut short when Prince Rufus is murdered. Assistant music mistress Seraphina tries to uncover the killer (aided by Prince Kiggs, Rufus’s nephew), all the while concealing her own relationship with dragons, a secret stretching far up her own family tree. Hartman’s depiction of these powerful dragons — capable of assuming human form, the dragons are nonetheless awkward with human customs and vulnerable to human emotion — is unique in fantasy literature, and used to good effect in the character of Seraphina’s teacher Orma, a dragon in human form constantly being tested by his people lest he betray an unseemly connection to his student, for which he could have his memory cut out. To the innovative concept and high action add a tentative romance with Kiggs (himself betrothed to another), rich language lively with humor and sprinkled with an entire psaltery of saints and an orchestra’s worth of medieval instruments, and a political conspiracy aimed at breaking the dragon-human truce, and what you have is an outstanding debut novel from author-to-watch Hartman. ANITA L. BURKAM
A Corner of White [The Colors of Madeleine]
by Jaclyn Moriarty
Middle School, High School Levine/Scholastic 376 pp.
4/13 978-0-545-39736-0 $17.99
Australian author Moriarty, best known for her Ashbury-Brookfield series (including The Year of Secret Assignments, rev. 3/04, and The Ghosts of Ashbury High, rev. 7/10), here embarks on a new series and a new genre. Fourteen-year-old Madeleine has moved to Cambridge, England, with her mother; they’ve run away (somewhat mysteriously) from Madeleine’s father and a life of extreme wealth. Fifteen-year-old Elliot Baranski lives in the Kingdom of Cello, where Colors are living organisms that can kill people, where seasons change at the drop of a hat, and where “Wandering Hostiles” want to overthrow the royal family. People stopped moving between Cello and Madeleine’s world hundreds of years ago, but Elliot has found a tiny “crack” between the two places and has begun a correspondence with Madeleine. While Elliot learned about Madeleine’s world in school, she thinks Cello is an imaginary land he’s invented. Moriarty is the queen of epistolary stories, and her fans will find the teens’ letters a familiar entrée into this highly unusual fantasy. Like Madeleine, readers will be initially baffled by, but will ultimately believe in, Elliot’s world. Moriarty’s story comes across as matter-of-fact yet curious, topped off with a strong dose of humor (think Margaret Mahy). As always, her irresistible characters help readers navigate a tantalizingly complex plot that will leave them eagerly awaiting the next book. JENNIFER M. BRABANDER