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book review

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Munro vs. the Coyote

by Darren Groth

Orca Books, 288 pages, $19.95

Munro Maddux's little sister had Down syndrome and died in his arms from heart complications. Ever since, Munro has been plagued by a nasty internal voice he calls the Coyote. Drowning in self-doubt and self-destruction, Munro heads to Australia on a student exchange in hopes of recovery and escape. There he starts volunteering at Fair Go, a community residence for adults with developmental disabilities and challenges. It may seem too neat and tidy for Munro to deal with his demons by helping others like his sister, but author Darren Groth's experience as a special education teacher shows in his seventh novel. He portrays all his characters as multifaceted and flawed individuals, while still capturing the undeniable transformative power of helping others. And what about the Coyote? Closure comes swiftly, just not quite in the way you expect.

Recipe for Hate

by Warren Kinsella

Dundurn, 304 pages, $14.99

Warren Kinsella's many professions include author, political strategist and commentator. Is YA author now on the list? Yes and no. Kinsella's latest book is published for teens and, in many ways, shines as a book for mature younger readers. It focuses on two teenage best friends – Kurt Blank and X – leaders in Maine's burgeoning 1978 punk scene. When their friend is brutally murdered outside of a club, it's the beginning of a very dark, violent time for Kurt, X and their punk crew. Portrayals of rebellious and non-conforming teens can feel reductive or contrived but Kinsella nails it without any stereotyping or embellishment. Though this authenticity will have big teen appeal, the novel is also part police procedural, part detailed history on the emergence of punk and part gritty murder mystery, all elements that skew more adult. Classification aside, it's absorbing, jarring and raw.

The Librarian of Auschwitz

by Antonio Iturbe

Henry Holt and Company, 432 pages, $27.99

Spanish author Antonio Iturbe's novel centres on real life Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, a teenager who protected eight smuggled books that were secretly used to educate children in Auschwitz-Birkenau's family camp. It's an agonizing read. As the omniscient narrator says, "There's no other place in the world where the devil moves as freely as he does in Auschwitz." Iturbe recreates this unspeakable history with stunning precision and care, weaving in the stories of other real historical figures including Fredy Hirsch, the young man who committed himself to secretly educating children in the midst of hellish circumstances and Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor labelled the "Angel of Death" for his tortuous experiments. Iturbe shows that survival is more than physical; it depends on hope, inspiration and beauty which can burn brightly in books, even when reality is a nightmare.

Kat and Meg Conquer the World

by Anna Priemaza

HarperTeen, 368 pages, $21.99

Grade 9 students Kat and Meg are polar opposites. Kat is logical, methodical, anxious and is quietly fearful of parties, flying and academic failure. Meg is spontaneous, headstrong, passionate and openly talks about her ADHD. So how do Kat and Meg find enough common ground to conquer the world? Through fandom of a fictional video game and a nerdy/sexy YouTube celebrity who vlogs about the video game. Fandom can be one of the safest spaces in adolescence and Edmonton author Anna Priemaza's debut will appeal to gamers and cinephiles because it captures the warm, sparkling feeling of belonging. Reading about Kat and Meg's friendship is bubbly and effortless, like spending time with someone who not only gets you, but also gets the things that you love. It pops with sweetness and energy while still treating issues such as race and sex with realism and mindfulness. Joyful and real.

Dear Martin

by Nic Stone

Penguin Random House, 224 pages, $23.99

Nic Stone's first novel chronicles a year in the life of Justyce McAllister, an African American teen on scholarship at a prestigious Atlanta private school. Justyce is bright, introspective and striving for understanding after he is wrongfully arrested by two white police officers. He begins writing epistolary journal entries to Martin Luther King Jr. in an attempt to discover how he can live as a young black man in a world still entrenched in racism and violence. But this is not a "one issue" book about police brutality with a clean narrative arc to enlightenment. More tragedy ensues and Stone shows that often no amount of self-awareness, education or cautious behaviour can save a black teen from prejudice and ignorance. It's a crushing question, but one Justyce keeps trying answer: "If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?"


by Tillie Walden

First Second, 400 pages, $24.99

There has been an explosion of brilliance in graphic novel memoirs for young people since Raina Telgemeier's Smile in 2010. A focus on dialogue and imagery makes for an immersive, empathic reading experience and Tillie Walden's debut is no exception. Spinning will resonate deeply with anyone who has ever felt aimless and drained while pursuing the life they feel they are supposed to lead. Walden tells the story of how her own adolescence was dominated by feelings of being trapped – trapped in gruelling figure skating schedules, in her attraction to other girls and in the distance she felt from almost everyone around her. As a teen, Tillie knew what was wrong in her life but says, "Every time I thought about telling someone, anyone, how I was feeling, I felt like I was choking." A book for all the quiet girls who are screaming inside.

Michael Redhill has won the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel 'Bellevue Square,' about a woman on the hunt for her doppelganger. The Toronto author says it would have been foolish to imagine he could win the award.

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