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Growing pains: four recent young adult novels

Love in the Time of Global Warming

By Francesca Lia Block

Henry Holt, 240 pages, $18.99

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Francesca Lia Block (Weetzie Bat) is back, and lo, here there be giants. This time, young Penelope (Pen), is living in a destroyed Los Angeles a couple of months after the big "earth shaker", the product of genetically engineered giants living under the earth. Gone are the times of eating carefully harvested foods under her parents' care, and sweet, book-filled teenage solitude: now, sometimes stoned, among newly formed gangs of mud-caked sirens, and lank, bleary-beautiful boys, Pen is a reluctant Odysseus navigating the landscape, searching for her family. Pen's circumstances are dire, but then again, so are everyone's, and as she dodges danger with her band of misfits, she grows brave and learns to trust herself. Block's familiar sun-bleached California of palm trees, punks and light-as-air heroines have gone through the grinder, and the storytelling is spot-on (fans of Block's earlier work, take note). Odd particulars are handed up without much explanation: a car that runs on regular vegetable oil, a beach made up of fish bones. The trick to reading the book is to surrender to its strange details, and to enter into Pen's confusion along with her. Characters from Homer's Odyssey turn up in fun ways – watch for the Cyclops, the Lotus Eaters and the Oracle. Though, it might even be more fun, and more moving, to take the long journey home with Pen through love and pain and monsters, trusting the story as completely her own.

From Norvelt to Nowhere

By Jack Gantos

Farrar, Straus Giroux, 288 pages, $18.99

A quick read, but with as much meat to it as a 400-pager, and full of beans, too. The sequel to Newbery Medal-winner Dead End in Norvelt opens on Halloween, during the early Cold War. The looming dread of the Cuban missile crisis sets the tone for a series of other calamitous events, sending young Jack Gantos out on a mission with wonderfully weird Miss Volker to track down a murderer who has been killing off old ladies in Norvelt. Early 1960s America feels fresh, and makes a good home to a host of wacky characters. An especially good choice for reluctant readers who are not partial to fantasy: it's hilarious and smart without feeling too bookish.

Momo: 40th Anniversary Edition

By Michael Ende, translated by Lucas Zwirner, illustrated by Marcel Dzama

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McSweeney's McMullens, 316 pages, $22

Widely read and beloved internationally since it's publication, Momo never really caught on in North America the way Ende's The Neverending Story did, perhaps because it was always so hard to find a copy. Easily one of the most beautiful novels for modern times, Momo's closest relative in print is The Little Prince. Momo is a young orphan who has incredible wisdom, and the gift of being a wonderful listener. When the Grey Men come to her town and begin stealing time, only Momo can save her friends from a life without joy. Enter a world of one-hour flowers, a turtle named Cassiopeia, and the very slow-moving Beppo Streetsweeper. A wonderful new translation with simple, gorgeous illustrations by Marcel Dzama. A masterpiece.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

By Holly Black

Little, Brown, 432 pages, $21

In a world where vampirism is an infectious disease, what to do after a party, waking up surrounded by corpses? For Tana, it means packing up with two vampires and heading to Coldtown for answers, a quarantined city where the infected go to die. However, entering Coldtown means she can never leave. The vampires range from dreamy to disgusting, and the love story – of course there's one! – is romantic without being cringesome. Dynamite.

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