The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.
Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.
“Just a Human Girl, Livin’ in a Dangerous Faerie World“
The book shines in its character-driven world, exploring relationships between siblings, stepparents, bullies, and figures of authority. Fantasy books are not without fun world-building and in this case we have castles, a hidden lair, faerie fruits that make humans pliable and under brain control, saddled-up giant frogs that are ridden like horses, and flowers that turn into flying horses. Jude, a human in a Faerie world, is a fighter and the reader will be rooting for her success, even in times when her actions are not exactly morally sound. Moments when Jude stands up for herself will have the reader cheering her on this journey in a foreign world.
I would hand this to a reader who I know has enjoyed strong fantasy series and is interested in finding a book that has a sequel. The ending leaves the reader hanging and eager to begin the next book (The Wicked King, out January 2019).
Some commitment to characters is required as there are many players in this game: princesses, princes, friends, knights, servants, and more, all with very unique names. Readers of this book must also be the type who do not mind blood and gore, and who enjoy a good swordfighting scene. There are some intense scenes of violence, including bullying violence. For the teens that ask for books with no sex, this fits the bill, though there is one kissing scene and off-scene references to heirs being sired. I would definitely classify this as a fantasy adventure book.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X R Pan
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.
Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.
Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.
“Chasing Ghost Birds in Taiwan”
This is truly a uniquely written story, with breathtaking descriptions of emotion as color. For example: brown muddy guilt, pleased as linden green, and shame like Velcro. Leigh’s best friend Axel often asks her “What color?” instead of “How do you feel?”.
This book boasts 108 chapters, but it doesn’t feel like a daunting read because the chapters are short and have marks midway through at the ends of scenes. Not to mention, Pan’s writing is lyrical and fast moving with easy to understand scenes.
Readers who enjoy art and music but feel family pressure to pursue more economical careers may connect with Leigh’s passion for art. A central theme of the book is Leigh’s shared interest in art with her best friend Axel; one of their favorite activities is hanging out with sketchbooks for hours.
Readers who have experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide will find this book profoundly moving. The author experienced this and provides suicide resources at the back along with a touching author’s note. This can be a very emotional read at times and may fit the bill for teens who ask “I want a book that will make me cry.”
Readers who enjoy learning about new cultures will love digging into a new culture. This story takes place in Taiwan and the reader will find vivid descriptions of life there through Leigh’s eyes. Visiting the Taiwanese Night Market, Leigh tries deep fried squid tentacles, fish bowls, and buns filled with sesame paste. Leigh has to communicate with her grandparents through broken Chinese and she struggles to relearn the phrases to help her connect with them.
The Winner: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Both stories are excellent for readers who cope with feeling out of place in a different world.
Though Pan’s “Color” has a lyrical and breathtaking writing style, a magical realism storyline featuring suicide may not be for every teen. Meanwhile, The Cruel Prince has high fantasy, adventure, friendship, and will find a larger readership. This was a very difficult decision to make, but The Cruel Prince could easily be put in the hands of any teen looking for a good, fast-paced story to connect with, making it the clear winner.
Genna Mickey is the Assistant Director at the Sugar Grove Public Library, running both the Adult & Teen Departments. Her favorite books include dystopian thrillers, funny memoirs, graphic novels, nonfiction dealing with social justice issues, and YA fantasy/sci-fi. When she’s not reading, you can find her binge-watching The Office or Parks and Recreation with her husband and their 5 fur-children (3 cats and 2 dogs). J