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Sur-reality

From kidnapped young women in bizarre landscapes to invisible helicopters; trippy, graffiti-like illustrations to tantalizing chapter openers that tell a whole other story, these novels use distinctive narrative structures to describe teens in…unusual…circumstances.

ness_restofusPatrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a fantasy novel — and simultaneously a fantasy-novel send-up — whose true focus is on its cast of innocent bystanders. Mikey’s town is “just like your town,” except that every once in a while impossible things (the undead, vampires, soul-eating ghosts) invade it. These creatures are driven out not by our protagonist and friends, but by their high school classmates, the heroic “indie kids with unusual names and capital-D Destinies.” Brief chapter openings encapsulate these adventures, but the rest of each chapter tells what’s happening to ordinary Mikey. In this often-hilarious (and just as often poignant) parody of fantasy stories from Harry’s to Buffy’s, not everyone is a Chosen One, but everybody matters. (HarperTeen, 14 years and up)

I-Crawl-Through-ItGustav is building an invisible red helicopter that Stanzi can see only on Tuesdays; China swallowed herself and is now inside-out; Lansdale’s hair grows when she lies. As their high school prepares its students for standardized testing, a string of bomb threats seems timed to ensure that Stanzi and her friends will never sit for these exams. Meanwhile, Stanzi and Gustav prepare to leave on his helicopter, possibly to The Place of Arrivals (“there are no departures”). Told primarily from the perspectives of Stanzi, China, and Lansdale, A. S. King’s ambitious and affecting I Crawl Through It blends the magical and the mundane in a deadpan delivery that makes it difficult to tell one from the other. (Little, Brown, 14 years and up)

chibbaro_IntoTheDangerousWorld_CoverIn Julie Chibbaro’s Into the Dangerous World, Aurora’s father gives her a roll of drawing paper and a cryptic message — “I’m going to save you, girl” — before burning their Staten Island commune home to the ground with himself inside. Ror, her mother, and her sister escape the blaze and move to unwelcoming Manhattan, where Ror is forced to attend public high school for the first time. She’s an outsider but always an artist, finding comfort in Mr. Garci’s art class. It’s here that she meets Trey, an African American street artist in a graffiti crew that welcomes Ror into its ranks. Ror’s narration has a subtle poignancy that will resonate with the right reader, while JM Superville Sovak’s interspersed illustrations — from trippy drawings of skulls and eyeballs to graffiti-like words and images — fit Ror’s multifaceted artistic identity. (Viking, 14 years and up)

ruby_bone gapFinn, protagonist of Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, has always been considered a little strange, and now that mysterious newcomer Roza (friend to Finn and his older brother) has disappeared, their small town of Bone Gap holds Finn responsible. Finn alleges that she was kidnapped, but he cannot offer up a useful description of the abductor. It turns out that Roza has been taken by a dangerous stranger and imprisoned in a series of bizarre supernatural dwellings from which she cannot escape — unless she agrees to marry the kidnapper. Kidnapped young women are not a new trope in YA fiction, but such books often read like mysteries or thrillers while this one reads more like a fable, with the matter-of-fact inclusion of magical realism. (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 14 years and up)

From the September 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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