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Review: New YA books from Kenneth Oppel, Mindy McGinnis and J.M. Kelly

Speed of Life

By J.M. Kelly

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 288 pages, $24.99

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B.C. author J.M. Kelly (who also writes YA under Joëlle Anthony) writes about the aftermath of teen pregnancy in a surprising, innovative way. Crystal and Amber are twins who focus all their attention on baby Natalie, the daughter they've committed to raising together. We don't know which twin is Natalie's mother, and while it sounds like a soap opera, the plot is grounded firmly and successfully in everyday life. It all happens from Crystal's perspective and she's a girl who accepts circumstances with an inspiring (though never saccharine) "chin-up" mentality. She's tough in the quiet way lots of girls have to be – though totally overwhelmed with work, school and attending teen parenting classes with her sister, she remains responsible and resilient as the plot winds and weaves to a rewarding, clarifying and positive conclusion.

The Female of the Species

By Mindy McGinnis

Katherine Tegen Books, 352 pages, $21.99

"This is how I kill someone." That is the first line of Edgar award-winning author Mindy McGinnis's latest book. And it's raw. Not "raw for YA." Real-deal raw. And violent. And unforgettable. Alex's sister was murdered three years ago. Now a senior in high school, Alex is all simmering, dangerous rage. Told from three different perspectives, the mystery is not just around who Alex murdered, but whether or not readers have wrongfully sympathized with a psychopathic narrator. So many novels talk about the violence that women and girls experience, but far fewer explore the white-hot violence and thoughts of violence that can live inside us. McGinnis explores both and she goes there in a way no one really has before in YA. This is Kill Bill in high school, but with more nuance, bolder choices and a true female perspective.

Every Hidden Thing

By Kenneth Oppel

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HarperCollins, 368 pages, $19.99

Is there a 13-year-old in the past two decades who hasn't read a Kenneth Oppel book? Our national kidlit king takes on the unlikely combo of pubescent lust and dinosaur bones in his latest book. It's the late 19th century and Samuel and Rachel are the teen offspring of duelling paleontologists looking for some big bones. Despite their feuding parents, Samuel and Rachel fall in love. This is billed as a Romeo and Juliet story and, while romance (and sex) happens, this is a dinosaur book. And a great dinosaur book. Oppel's plot pulls readers along breathlessly and his style perfectly straddles readable and literary. There are parts involving indigenous peoples that seem well intentioned (and the acknowledgments mention a Lakota sensitivity reader), but some scenes seem needlessly inflammatory. Still, it's a solid, original adventure. Reign on, King Ken.

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