What YA Fantasy Standalone Should You Read? (Flow Chart)

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A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there’s a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.”

A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness.

While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of a revolution looming, Thea is sent to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.

But there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die.

Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer

The forest is a dangerous place, where siren song lures men and women to their deaths. For centuries, a witch has harvested souls to feed the heartless tree, using its power to grow her domain.

When Owen Merrick is lured into the witch’s wood, one of her tree-siren daughters, Seren, saves his life instead of ending it. Every night, he climbs over the garden wall to see her, and every night her longing to become human deepens. But a shift in the stars foretells a dangerous curse, and Seren’s quest to become human will lead them into an ancient war raging between the witch and the king who is trying to stop her.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Hazel Evans and her brother Ben live in the town of Fairfold, where the locals know that Fae inhabit the forest and that if you are smart you leave out milk to appease them and go indoors after dark.  Tourists come each year to view the prince in the glass coffin, the boy with horns on his head.  And Hazel and Ben dream that he is their prince and they can set him free.  But when he finally awakes, he is  not the prince they were expecting.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Charlotte and Branwell Brontë possess the secret of literally jumping into their imaginary world of Verdopolis, and their sister Emily is tired of being left behind.  Once all three of them, along with Anne, travelled there together as the all-powerful Genii, but now the elder Brontës keep that power to themselves.  Charlotte and Branwell, however, pay a price the others do not see.  Will the four of them ever be able to escape the mysterious hold that Verdopolis has on them?

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councillors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown.

The Nightmare Thief by Nicole Lesperance

The Nightmare Thief

Information

Goodreads: The Nightmare Thief
Series: Nightmare Thief #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: January 2021

Official Summary

Maren Partridge loves working in her family’s dream shop where she can hand-craft any dream imaginable. The shop has only one rule. Dreams cannot be given to a person without their consent. Maren has no problem with this—until her sister, Hallie, has an accident that leaves her in a coma. Maren’s certain she can cure Hallie with a few well-chosen dreams. And when no one is watching, she slips her a flying dream.

But a strange new customer from the shop has been following Maren and knows what she did. Now she’s laid the perfect trap to blackmail Maren into creating custom nightmares for a dark and terrible purpose. As Maren gets drawn further into the sinister scheme, she must make a choice: to protect her family or to protect the town from her family’s magic.

Star Divider

Review

The Nightmare Thief seemed, on the surface, like just my kind of book. A girl with dream magic who ends up creating nightmares for a sinister woman out for revenge? Perfect. Unfortunately, however, I found the worldbuilding and the characterization to be lacking. And no book can rely solely on its premise. So while The Nightmare Thief lured me in with its summary, I ultimately found the experience lackluster.

The delight of many a fantasy is not only the plot, but also the world. I was excited to learn about what appears to be a contemporary American society, complete with regular shops and the internet, that coexists with small types of magic: the ability to send a letter to its recipient at once, a talent for gardening, the creation of singing and sparkling novelty toys. However, I quickly realized that my expectations would remain unfulfilled. The book has very little interest in exploring the different types of magic, how they work, how they interact, and how they are received. Rather, the book name drops a few types of magic, then quickly focuses on the major plot point: a suspicious-looking woman keen to purchase nightmares in bulk.

Sadly, however, the plot is not all that gripping. It is immediately obvious that this evil-looking woman is an old resident out for revenge, and that she is using dream magic to chase people out of town. Yet no one seems to be aware of her nefarious plot, or to care that all the charming magical shops are being transformed into wicked emporiums. Only Maren starts to grasp the overall plan, and she decides her best course of action is to do whatever the villain wants, in the name of protecting not her family (as the book summary states) but rather herself. Because the punishment for sneaking people dreams without consent is never to be allowed in her family’s dream shop again. And apparently sacrificing the whole town is worth being able to go into the shop.

One might hope that the characterization would save the book at this point. If Maren were really sympathetic and the characters all drawn compellingly, the reading experience might have been worth it. Alas, however, Maren is barely fleshed out. Readers basically know that that she loves her sister and she sometimes takes tap dance lessons, and those seem to be her major character traits. She is also having friendship troubles (because this is a middle grade book, after all) because her best friend is hanging out with another boy who is mean to her. But that is all glossed over quickly in the name of recruiting her friend to try to help her defeat the villain. Her friend pretty much has zero personality, though readers know his grandfather is ill and his parents are not together. Indeed, the attempts at creating characters in this book seems to boil down in most cases to associating each person with one or two random tidbits–she dances, he visits his ailing grandfather, and so on. I could not truly describe any of the characters’ personalities.

The Nightmare Thief has plenty of potential–magic shops! vengeful citizens! talking birds! Ultimately, however, the book seems to rely primarily on its premise to capture readers, and barely pays attention to worldbuilding or characterization. Though a sequel is promised, I simply do not care enough to read it.

3 Stars

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

This Poison Heart

Information

Goodreads: This Poison Heart
Series: The Poison Heart #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: June 29, 2021

Official Summary

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

Star Divider

Review

With a smart, determined protagonist, ties to Greek mythology, and magic that permeates our real world, This Poison Heart has a lot of potential, and I can see why Goodreads users are loving it. Personally, however, I was put off by poor pacing, clunky characterization, and general vagueness about the magic system, and the novel didn’t grip me the way I’d hoped.

The urban fantasy aspect is fun, and I love the idea that protagonist Briseis has plant magic she’s trying to hide in the heart of Brooklyn. Things get a bit more fantasy traditional when she takes her magic to a mysterious estate in upstate New York, but there’s still the cool feel that Bri is practicing magic in our real world, and her talents are rare if not necessarily unique.

I like Bri as the protagonist. She’s clever and persevering and seems to be a good friend. She’s not perfect, and she knows it, but she works on her strengths while acknowledging she’s not good at everything. However, I do think the book suffers from trying to make her (and the other characters) model “correct behavior” — which I think is a trend in YA in general and not something particular to this book. That is, the characters always talk out their feelings, always say the “right” thing, admit when they’re wrong, etc. Sometimes they do this in ways that seem as if they’re using a script someone would come up with for use in the “ideal” conversation, instead of saying things I imagine real people would ever say. I know a lot of readers actually like this, and I’ve seen books particularly praised for it, but it’s not my thing, and it’s one minor reason among many that I ultimately didn’t love the book.

Mostly I found the pacing off. The beginning is a little slow, but that’s not an issue for me. I’m fine with immersing myself in world building and learning things about the book. The main issues are that 1) so many hints are dropped about things that happen later in the story that none of them are really that surprising as reveals and 2) the pace moves from slow to rocket ship fast in the final chapters of the book, and I nearly found myself laughing at all the wild things that happened one after another. Bri’s relationships with new characters also progress strangely quickly. If the pace had been more even throughout the story, I would have liked it better.

This Poison Heart is fine. I understand why a lot of other readers love it. It’s not for me, though, and I have no plans to read the sequel.

Briana
2 star review

Other Books by Kalynn Baryon

10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in July 2021

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. The Orangutan Librarian lists books you’ll need a box of tissues for.
  2. Michael discusses Black Widow and the Face of Family in the MCU.
  3. Zezee shares 5 hyped books she won’t read.
  4. Aria discusses whether having a good messages makes a book good.
  5. Doing Dewey reviews Fulfillment, a book about Amazon.
  6. Cam lists 5 hyped books she didn’t like.
  7. Alison reflects on what she learned about herself from a Literati Book Subscription.
  8. Nehal posts 7 mistakes you might be making as a new blogger.
  9. A Book Owl’s Corner lists 10 things she wishes writers would stop doing.
  10. Shanayah talks about finding time to read at university.

Highlights at Pages Unbound

The Secret Garden: The Graphic Novel Adapted by Mariah Marsden, Illustrated by Hanna Luechtefeld

Secret Garden Graphic Novel

Information

Goodreads: The Secret Garden: The Graphic Novel
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

Green-growing secrets and magic await you at Misselthwaite Manor, now reimagined in this graphic novel adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale.

Ten-year-old Mary Lennox arrives at a secluded estate on the Yorkshire moors with a scowl and a chip on her shoulder. First, there’s Martha Sowerby: the too-cheery maid with bothersome questions who seems out of place in the dreary manor. Then there’s the elusive Uncle Craven, Mary’s only remaining family—whom she’s not permitted to see. And finally, there are the mysteries that seem to haunt the run-down place: rumors of a lost garden with a tragic past, and a midnight wail that echoes across the moors at night. 

As Mary begins to explore this new world alongside her ragtag companions—a cocky robin redbreast, a sour-faced gardener, and a boy who can talk to animals—she learns that even the loneliest of hearts can grow roots in rocky soil.

Star Divider

Review

The Secret Garden: The Graphic Novel is a cute retelling of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s original novel. After excising Mary’s time in India (alluded to only vaguely in flashbacks), the book presents a straightforward, if streamlined account of the events of the novel. Fans of the original will likely enjoy this adaptation for its sweet illustrations and clear love for the story, while readers new to the tale might just find themselves also falling for the story, as generations of readers have done before.

Adaptations of beloved works can be tricky. How can one stay true to the spirit of the source material, while also creating something new? The most obvious way in which this adaptation strays from its source material is the decision to exclude Mary’s time in India. The end notes explain that this is because the book does not have the space to deal with the complexities of British colonial rule. While this makes sense, it may also leave some readers disappointed. Deciding to essentially ignore the colonial aspects of the original book means readers lose out on an opportunity to put Burnett’s story in context. Simply deleting Mary’s time in India is probably the easiest way to deal with material readers now find offensive. But it may not be the most meaningful way to grapple with that material and its effects. The Secret Garden continues to be well-read and well-loved, and this is a missed opportunity to challenge readers to see beyond the perspective Burnett provides.

Though this is clearly a secondary issue, starting the story with Mary’s arrival at the manor also somewhat damages the narrative structure of the story. It leaves out much of the sadness of her simultaneously spoiled and neglected childhood, making her disagreeable nature less prevalent and her character arc less defined. Indeed, had Mary not told readers outright that people do not like her, they would probably never know it. She seems pretty much like any child would who arrived at a new place–slightly confused, but eager to explore. She does not put up much of a fuss about learning to do things for herself or having to go outside and get messy and entertain herself. Instead, the illustrations depict her often secretly smiling to herself. Honestly, the Mary of this book is quite nice, and only a few vague flashbacks alluding to her parents’ deaths even threaten to cast a shadow over this tale.

The story is relatively streamlined, with Mary almost immediately finding the key and the door to the garden. She befriends Colin with ease, and his struggle to learn to walk and to live forever and ever and ever are is only hastily covered. Actually, no one ever mentions that Colin cannot walk, or that he would like to. He is usually being wheeled about a chair, until, one day, he is not. The sadness of Colin’s life, as well as his and Mary’s struggle to free him from his confinement, are glossed over just like the sadness of Mary’s life. The book is far more interested in showing the magic of the garden to bring family together than it is in exploring the darkness in Burnett’s original story.

I suspect, however, that many readers will not mind the book bringing the happy moments to the forefront. Even without the sadness, the story in the graphic novel adaptation feels rewarding. It is nice to see Mary discover a garden and to want to make things grow. The magic of nature remains. And that, I suppose, may be enough to satisfy many a reader.

3 Stars

Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel by Jennifer L. Holm & Savanna Ganucheau

Turtle in  Paradise Graphic Novel

Information

Goodreads: Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

Life isn’t like the movies. But then again, 11-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple.

She’s smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it’s 1935 and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle’s mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn’t like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to live with relatives she’s never met. Florida’s like nothing Turtle’s ever seen before though. It’s hot and strange, full of ragtag boy cousins, family secrets, scams, and even buried pirate treasure! Before she knows what’s happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she’s spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways. Filled with adventure, humor and heart, Turtle in Paradise is an instant classic both boys and girls will love.

Star Divider

Review

I have not read the original novel on which this graphic novel is based, so I cannot compare the two or judge how well Turtle in Paradise succeeds as an adaptation. As a graphic novel for tweens, however, I expect it will succeed very well. The illustrations are colorful and appealing, while the unique historical setting will no doubt interest readers. I enjoyed Turtle in Paradise, and heartily wish there were a sequel!

Though I not read the original novel for this particular book, I have read a fair number of graphic novel adaptations and I can guess how this one might veer away from its source material. The chapters seem more like vignettes than like connected parts of a whole. And some of the darker matter–Turtle’s inability to stay with her dreamer mother, her mom’s estrangement from her own mother, an apparent lost love, the poverty of the inhabitants of Key West–are only hinted at, ever explored. I imagine that the original novel expands upon the ways in which Turtle’s mom fails to be a reliable parent due to her dreaminess and naivete, and that it explores Turtle’s family background more in-depth. However, the fact that book seems to gloss over a lot of the negative aspects does not have to be a negative for the book itself. Rather, it makes the graphic novel into an almost idyllic look at a lost way of life.

A great deal of the charm of this book comes from the clear love the creators have for Key West and the research they performed to depict a community from the 1930s. Turtle and her friends have fascinating adventures as they hunt for buried treasure, fish for sponges in the sea, and agree to babysit crying infants in exchange for candy (since no one has money with which to pay them). They meet characters such as an alleged rum runner, and a smooth-talking encyclopedia salesman. The book is a homage to a bygone era and, though some parts of life are clearly difficult, the characters never seem to dwell on things like their inability to buy shoes or the need for their relatives to find work far away from home. Instead, they go about their lives, finding fun and friendship where they can.

Turtle in Paradise is a charming read, the kind that draws readers into its world, making it feel real and immediate. I enjoyed reading about Turtle and her friends immensely, and I never wanted the story to end. I would love to return to Turtle’s Key West one day–and I only hope that Jennifer L. Holm decides to write more of her adventures!

4 stars

The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

Information

Goodreads: The Prison Healer
Series: The Prison Healer #1
Source: Library
Published: April 13, 2012

Official Summary

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.

Star Divider

Review

Possible minor spoilers!

The Prison Healer takes what readers think they know about how YA fantasies work and tries to twist some of the tropes into something new. A protagonist who finds strength in healing, hoping, and helping others, all while keeping her head down and doing what she’s told so she can survive her term in prison adds to the appeal of the story. Unfortunately, the world building, plot, and characterization are extremely illogical, and I couldn’t enjoy the book in the end. The more I thought about it all, the less sense it made. Logic, however, is not a core point most YA readers seem to look for in their books (The Prison Healer has a 4.31 average rating on Goodreads as I type this), so if you’re a YA fantasy fan, it’s likely you’ll love this book even though I didn’t.

The opening of the story has promise. I liked Kiva, a protagonist who freely admits her one talent is healing people. She can’t even claim any “mundane” skills like cooking or sewing, much archery or swordsmanship or whatever other elements of physical prowess one typically sees in a YA “strong female character.” She does what she’s told because it keeps her alive, and she does her job in the infirmary, and she stays out of people’s way. It’s refreshing, and reading about her daily life navigating the prison is interesting.

Then the main plot starts, and things go downhill. Characters are introduced, and Kiva becomes BFFs with them for no apparent reason, even though her “thing” is not being friends with anyone because it’s prison and half of them die anyway. Then there’s the Rebel Queen and Kiva’s decision to volunteer in her stead in the Trial by Ordeal (not a spoiler; this is in the plot summary!). This . . . just doesn’t work. The idea of the Trial by Ordeal doesn’t make sense in the first place; there seems to be no clear reason why it’s sporadically invoked, and it’s basically a show trial since the only way to survive is to have elemental magic, and only the royal family has elemental magic. (This also means the royal family is above the law, since they would all survive it?) And BECAUSE no one ever survives and there is literally no way to survive without magic, I simply could not understand why all Kiva’s friends were so optimistic about the whole thing, telling her she could do it and she just had to believe in herself and be confident and it would be find. There is no reason anyone would ever think she would be fine!

A lot of YA fantasies have the trial plot. Usually the idea is that the tasks are almost impossible but not entirely impossible and the protagonist has some cool skills they will use to triumph against the odds, and readers can cheer for them and their dramatic feats. This isn’t that. This is someone who (to make up an example not actually in the book) is going to jump off a skyscraper without any tools or magic or skills and hope she survives. And other characters are telling her she can do it. By the sheer power of her belief in herself??? It’s all too weird. I spent the whole book wondering if all the characters were out of their minds.

My only explanation for most of the book, and most of the decisions the characters made, was that they were all lying about everything. Some of them must have had different motivations for what they were doing than what they were saying, some of them must know things they weren’t letting on about, etc. I read hoping and praying this was the case and everything would come together in the end. And I think even the author knows logic is an issue because she spends so much time trying to explain things about the Rebel Queen and the world building and the royal family, etc. and make it fit, and yet it never fully does.

The book is fine, I guess. It’s interesting. People will probably like the hunky love interest. I liked Kiva myself, and her 11-year-old helper in the infirmary. I wanted to like the book, but I just couldn’t when so much of it doesn’t make sense. I know I’m in the minority on this point, however, because I always am.

Briana
2 star review

The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: The Wolf’s Curse
Series: None
Source: ARC for Review
Publication Date: September 21, 2021

Official Summary

Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death. 

Star Divider

Review

The Wolf’s Curse is a completely unique book, focused on grief but told with the feeling of a folk tale or fairy tale, softening some of the darkness. Readers will mourn with protagonist Gauge after the death of his grandfather while hoping he will find his way through the sadness — and through the cruelty of the villagers who believe Gauge is evil — and emerge stronger and ready to face on the world, even if his grandfather is no longer in it.

The treatment of death and grieving in The Wolf’s Curse is nuanced. Author Jessica Vitalis touches on the different ways people might react to death, the different ways they might grieve, and the different things they might believe happens to the soul. The book also engages with ritual, as Gauge and begins to notice that not all rituals are preformed for all people who die in the village and that different materials are used for their burial boats and must work through questions of whether the rituals are “real” and why they “matter.” It’s a complex journey of observation, questioning, and discovery, and I think it could help many young readers work through dealing with death or understanding what someone else who is grieving might be doing through.

The one thing that gives me pause is that the book is straightforward that what the villagers believe happens to the soul after death is not actually what happens to it. Souls still end up in a nice place, and there’s some discussion of the fact that what one calls the afterlife might not be the important part if it’s enjoyable place either way, but . . . I don’t know if this would be a sticking point for a young reader. The Wolf’s Curse is a good story on its own, but as it is so strongly an exploration of grief it also seems like the kind of book an adult would hand a child who is dealing with a recent death, and I question how the point of “What the characters believe about the afterlife is totally incorrect” would go over.

The plot, I think, is less complex than the themes explored, but it’s well-paced. Gauge travels a lot of the town and gets into and out of a few scrapes, and I believe the target audience will be charmed by him and the new friends he makes along the way. The slight simplicity of the plot also help the story feel more like an old folk tale we’re all comfortably familiar with, something that it is known and somehow true. The book could have felt preachy; instead, it feels as timeless as the Wolf that narrates it.

If you’re looking for something thoughtful and deep and different. The Wolf’s Curse is an excellent middle grade story that is sure to continue to win over reader after reader.

Briana
4 stars

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

The Girl from the Sea

Information

Goodreads: The Girl from the Sea
Series: None
Source:
Library
Published:
2021

Official Summary

Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.

Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn’t seem so stifling anymore.

But Keltie has some secrets of her own. And as the girls start to fall in love, everything they’re each trying to hide will find its way to the surface…whether Morgan is ready or not.

Star Divider

Review

The Girl from the Sea is a sweet summer romance centered around one girl’s search for her identity. Morgan has plans to leave her island home as soon as she can go to college. Only then does she plan to reveal to the world that she is gay. However, when a girl named Keltie appears from the ocean, Morgan finds herself trying to balance her attraction to Keltie with her desire to blend in with her friend group. When hiding her budding relationship becomes unsustainable, Morgan will have to decide what she values more: the life she has crafted on the island or the life she could have. Fans of Molly Knox Ostertag will enjoy this new graphic novel.

The Girl from the Sea is one of those books that shows the power of literature to help readers see things from new perspectives and empathize with others. Were the story told from another point of view, Morgan could easily look like the villain. She brushes off her brother, who is obviously trying to get her attention and connect with her, in favor of hanging out with her new girlfriend Keltie. She lies to her friend group about where she is and what she is doing–again, to hang out with her girlfriend. She then publicly rejects her girlfriend and makes fun of Keltie behind her back in order to keep fitting in with her friends from school. Morgan is not particularly kind to anyone in this story, but, because it is told from her perspective and not from her brother’s or her friends’, readers feel sorry for her. She wants to be able to be with Keltie, but she is also not ready to tell the world that she is gay. If keeping her secret means hurting others, she is willing to do it.

This all creates a lot of drama and suspense, and readers will find themselves eagerly turning the pages in hopes that things will get better. Only by being true to herself can Morgan repair her relationships and save the local wildlife in the process. The narrative is relatively fast-paced while still providing enough detail to flesh out most of the characters. The only really rushed bit is the insta-love; Morgan and Keltie see each other once, kiss immediately, and are a couple forevermore. The book does at least try to explain this away by saying Keltie is a selkie and it is destined. Readers may just have to try to accept that and move on.

The Girl from the Sea is an engrossing story that expertly blends a story of self-acceptance with a hint of romance and a dash of magic. The beautiful artwork only adds to the tale. Readers who enjoy graphic novels, especially ones that blend the fantastic with the everyday, will want to pick this one up.

4 stars

Miles Morales: Shock Waves by Justin A. Reynolds & Pablo Leon (Illustrator)

Miles Morales Shock Waves

Information

Goodreads: Miles Morales: Shock Waves
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Miles Morales is still trying to figure out his new life juggling school and protecting the neighborhood as Spider-Man. Then, a new classmate’s friend goes missing. Can Miles help his friend while still finding time to be there for his family?

Star Divider

Review

Miles: Morales Shock Waves is a graphic novel for the middle-age crowd that introduces Miles Morales as Spider-Man. While the story starts with an extremely brief overview of how Miles got his powers, Miles is still new to the superhero business and, like many other of his stories, this one focuses on the challenges of balancing school and family with his new vigilantism. Bold, bright colors along with a short narrative that packs a lot action into a short space make this an ideal comic for its tween target audience.

Readers may likely already by familiar with Miles Morales from Jason Reynolds’ 2017 novel, Miles’ previous comics, or the Into the Spider-Verse movie. This new interpretation of the character remains true to its predecessors by focusing more on Miles’ personal life than on his superhero adventures. Even as he tries to keep his neighborhood safe, Miles finds himself pulled in too many directions as he attempts to work on his school art project, assist with fund raising for the earthquake in Puerto Rick, make family dinners a priority, and be a friend to the new kid Kyle–whose father just so happens to be missing, apparently as the result of supervillain activity. Miles wants to be able to do it all, but he is not sure he can.

The narrative is pretty straightforward, and most readers will likely not be surprised by any twists or turns. It is Miles’ character that makes the story, rather than the plot. Justin A. Reynolds is noted for writing banter, and it works particularly well for Spider-Man. Readers will find themselves rooting for Miles to balance his workload while still managing to save the day.

Miles: Morales Shock Waves is a solid Spider-Man graphic novel, sure to appeal to tween readers. The focus on Miles’ life as a teenager makes it accessible even to readers who might not typically pick up a superhero comic.

4 stars