New children's books from Midwestern authors

  • Article by: ANN KLEFSTAD , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2014 - 3:37 PM

These middle-grade and young-adult novels by Midwestern authors range from the ancient worlds of kings to the world of today.

Illustration from “Still Life” by Jacqueline West.

Photo: POLY BERNATENE • Penguin,

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“Perfectly Good White Boy,” by Carrie Mesrobian. (Carolrhoda Lab, 304 pages, $17.95, grades 8-12, pub date Oct.)

Sean Norwhalt is looking at the end of his high school years and the prospect is underwhelming. Hallie, the hot girl who adopted him as a kind of plug-in boyfriend for her senior summer, has dumped him on her way to college. His after-school work at the Thrift Bin sorting old clothes feels like his own life. His alcoholic dad is finally in treatment, his overworked mom is divorcing his dad, and Sean is thinking about the Marines.

These threads, worn and vivid, weave themselves into a pattern around Neecie Albertson, genuinely odd and deeply lovable. The tale of Neecie and Sean doesn’t have the finality of a classic, but it’s charged with a truth and an ambiguity that makes hope and love believable.

Carrie Mesrobian’s first novel, “Sex and Violence,” won many awards, including a Minnesota Book Award. This second outing proves it was no fluke.

Mesrobian will speak at the St. Cloud public library at 2 p.m. Aug. 20, Addendum Books in St. Paul at 7 p.m. Oct. 3, and the Twin Cities Book Festival at the State Fairgrounds on Oct. 11.

 

“Still Life,” by Jacqueline West. (Dial Books, 330 pages, $16.99, ages 10 and up.)

Elsewhere has become darker throughout this five-volume series. Now, in the last of the series of the Books of Elsewhere, 11-year old Olive Dunwoody, once a shy girl often alone and bullied, is a resourceful heroine who convincingly stands at the center of the swirling plots of Elsewhere and pulls her friends through their dangers.

The books are set in an old house full of magical paintings. The McMartin family still “live” in the house, now occupied by Olive and her endearing, spacey mathematician parents. West is a fine plot-spinner and keeps readers of all ages turning pages long after they should have gone to bed. “Still Life” winds up the McMartin saga with emotional complexity and suspense, and the denouement of the tale is generous and joyful.

West will conduct a writing workshop at 10 a.m. Aug. 16 at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota, Minn. Register at http://tinyurl.com/kmk2s3b. She will speak at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 21 at the Spring Valley, Wis., public library.

 

“A Creature of Moonlight,” by Rebecca Hahn. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 314 pages, $17.99, ages 12 and up.)

Marni, 16 years old, is heir to the throne. But she’s living in a ramshackle hut at the edge of the forest, doing hard labor every day in the garden, at the side of her grandfather — the deposed king. Child of the dragon king, who lives deep in the forest that keeps threatening to engulf the kingdom, Marni is also the daughter of the princess who ran off into the woods — and returned.

The young girl must choose between two realms, both of which threaten her with annihilation. But she has power as well — the odd power of young girls, which is rooted in the ability to inspire desire. This is a fascinating and challenging take on the dynamic that has been playing out in YA novels for a decade now.

 

“The Witch’s Boy,” by Kelly Barnhill. (Algonquin, 384 pages, $16.95, grades 5 and up, pub date Sept. 16.)

Ned, the witch’s boy, is double in nature: He and his twin fall into a river; only Ned survives. His mother stitches the brother’s soul into Ned’s, but Ned grows up halting and slow.

Aine, daughter of the Bandit King, lives in the forest. She is everything Ned isn’t — resourceful, clever, able. Can competence be a limitation? That’s just one of the resonant questions this fine book entertains.

In gorgeously written and fast-paced adventure through forest and flood, bandits and courtiers, wolves and queens and witches, the boy and the girl must stop a war, restore magic to its rightful place, and find their own places in a world they’ve helped to make bigger. Barnhill is a fantasist on the order of Neil Gaiman, and this story feels fully inhabited.

Barnhill will be at Red Balloon in St. Paul 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16 and Wild Rumpus in Mpls. at 1 p.m. Sept. 27.

 

“The Scavengers,” by Michael Perry. (HarperCollins Children’s, 336 pages, $16.90, grades 3-7, pub date Sept. 2.)

Michael Perry is known for his stellar rural adult nonfiction, such as “Population: 485,” and “Truck: A Love Story.” A Wisconsin farm now becomes the beautifully evoked setting of the Dystopian tale of 12-year-old Ford Falcon (real name: Maggie). She takes her new name from the abandoned car she sleeps in, and supports its menace with homemade weapons and training in combat from the old farmer next door (and his high-strung rooster).

As the book opens, Maggie is just a part of a community that’s making a hardscrabble go of it in tough times. But then her father disappears, and she learns that her family is at the center of the plot that created the current corrupt government, which doses people with a substance that addicts them to the genetically engineered food that they must eat to survive.

Perry’s tough and tender story rings true to kids’ experiences of an adult world that sometimes betrays the young.

Perry will be at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 8, and at Monkey See, Monkey Read in Northfield on Sept. 9.

 

Ann Klefstad is an artist and writer in Duluth.





 

  • related content

  • "A Creature of the Night," by Rebecca Hahn

  • "Still Life: The Books of Elsewhere," by Jacqueline West

  • "The Witch's Boy," by Kelly Barnhill

  • "Perfectly Good White Boy," by Carrie Mesrobian

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