Who says summer reads have to be all beaches and rainbows? Four emotionally resonant YA novels explore love and grief, families and friendships.
Cadence Sinclair Eastman, eldest grandchild of a wealthy but dysfunctional clan, tells readers about an accident that happened during her fifteenth summer on her family’s private island, leaving her with debilitating migraines and memory loss. As the story in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that the emotionally fragile Cady is also an unreliable narrator. The book’s ultimate reveal is shocking both for its tragedy and for the how-could-I-have-not-suspected-that? feeling it leaves readers experiencing. (Delacorte, 14–17 years)
The Last Forever begins six months after Tessa’s mother’s death from cancer. Still adrift in their loss, Tessa and her father take a road trip and end up in at the home of Tessa’s grandmother, who is a virtual stranger. Tessa is stunned when fly-by-night Dad gets back in the truck and leaves her there to sort out his grief. Luckily, first her grandmother, then new friends Sasha and Henry (especially Henry), and eventually the entire small town rally around Tessa to help save her mother’s rare and mysterious pixiebell plant. Author Deb Caletti’s deft hand with detail and emotionally true writing make for a wholly absorbing read. (Simon Pulse, 14–17 years)
Holly is devastated when her charismatic grandfather dies — and surprised to learn that he has bequeathed his financially insolvent Las Vegas wedding chapel to her. Grandpa Jim has also asked her to deliver a letter to Dax Cranston — equally surprising, since he is the grandson of Jim’s nemesis, owner of the competing wedding chapel next door. With its quirky setting and cast, Lindsey Leavitt’s The Chapel Wars could almost be a sitcom, but the hilarity is tempered by genuine feeling. (Bloomsbury, 14–17 years)
In The Geography of You and Me, lonely teens Owen and Lucy meet in the stalled elevator of their NYC apartment building during a citywide blackout and spend a memorable (but chaste) night together. But soon afterward, Lucy’s jet-setting parents whisk her off to Europe, and Owen and his widowed father move to San Francisco. Fans of Jennifer E. Smith’s previous novels will recognize the alternating narration; the reflective writing style; and the serendipitous coincidences that bring the characters back together: when you’re with the person you love, “the world shrank to just the right size. It molded itself to fit only the two of you, and nothing more.” (Little/Poppy, 14–17 years)
From the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.