Dan Versus Nature
By Don Calame
Candlewick Press, 384 pages, $20
Young adult fiction shows us that teen boys are capable of a wide range of emotion. They can be perceptive, articulate, sensitive and even criers (see: The Outsiders). But they can also be disgusting. And this is what Don Calame is known for: unfiltered, unapologetic portrayals of teen boys at their most viscerally vulnerable and icky. Like an R-rated buddy movie, the plot is thin: Dan wants to drive away his new stepdad-to-be and plans to sabotage a bonding trip with the help of some gross-out pranks and his trusty best friend. But don't pick this up because of the plot. Pick this up to see how Calame writes male friendships and fights; it's uproariously graphic and ballsy and the only way to bear witness to this side of adolescent boys without actually getting farted on.
The Nameless City
By Faith Erin Hicks
First Second, 240 pages, $17.50
Canadian comics creator Faith Erin Hicks is at the top of her game with the first instalment in a new graphic novel series. The fictional Nameless City gets its handle from the fact that it is constantly being conquered: it changes hands too frequently to rename. Enter Kai, a country boy in the city for warrior training. He's soft and naive until he meets Rat, a spunky city native who toughens him up through parkour drills presented in panels full of movement and gorgeous perspectives. The appeal of this story is impressively wide, ranging from elementary schoolers to grandparents, but only older readers will pick up on the colonial motif. It's refreshing stuff: The adventure doesn't lie in winning or losing but, rather, the complexities of maintaining victory after it's been seemingly achieved.
By Lisa Moore
Groundwood Books, 268 pages, $18.95
The lines blur when adult fiction writers turn to YA. It's difficult to parse out the differences between a teen novel about teens and an adult novel about teens. And bestselling adult author Lisa Moore further muddies the waters (in a good way) with her first offering for the younger set. Flannery is 16, lives in Newfoundland and is deeply in love with her childhood best friend, Tyrone. Despite that description, this doesn't quite feel like young adult fare. It's not because it's too graphic or complex – YA can be both those things. Rather, it's about the depth of Flannery's perspective on her childhood and her tendency to reminisce so fiercely. It's a quiet, insightful, poignant read that, much like Miriam Toews's A Complicated Kindness, could easily fall into the teen or adult category.
Saving Montgomery Sole
By Mariko Tamaki
Razorbill, 228 pages, $22.99
Mariko Tamaki's books are intense. Those familiar with her work will likely open her latest novel in a state of cat-like readiness, poised for her signature stinging slaps of truth and illumination. Instead, a softer, quirkier and equally worthy story emerges. Montgomery survives high school with the help of her two best friends and their shared love of the paranormal and unexplainable. She buys a "magic" crystal, hoping it will help her navigate life's challenges which include living in a town full of bigoted morons, having a gay best friend, two moms, and a preoccupation with a strange new boy in town. It reads like a sitcom directed by Alexander Payne; while it's dark and hilarious, it's also true-to-life, honest and some genuine heart-warming "aww" moments sneak in along the way.
A Small Madness
By Dianne Touchell
Groundwood Books, 192 pages, $16.95
Most people who have given in to their pubescent desires know the icy terror and crushing anxiety that accompanies a teen pregnancy scare. But for Rose and Michael, it's the real thing. After falling in love and having sex without a condom, Rose is pregnant. What follows is a raw, unnerving look at how denial can be a both temporary anesthetic and a wave of real destruction. Rose insists she isn't pregnant and both she and Michael spiral deeper and deeper as she grows closer to term. Australian author Dianne Touchell captures all the feelings humans experience when they make irreversibly bad decisions and while the book's ending brings a release, it doesn't necessarily bring hope. You can finish this in a day, but take two: one to read and one to recover. It's all-consuming and remarkable.
By David Wright and Luc Bouchard
Orca Book Publishers, 312 pages, $14.95
There is a persistent and questionable assumption that books about sports are great for reluctant readers. But that is only true if the reluctant reader happens to like sports. This is a book about football with plenty of appeal for the unreluctant. Seventeen-year-olds, Matt and Freeman are playing American football in a poor Paris suburb where racial tensions are running high between residents and the police. It's based on the real-life Paris suburb, Clichy-sous-Bois, which Nicolas Sarkozy singled out in 2005 as being full of "racaille" (scum or riffraff). Co-written by two former football players who played on French teams, it's a fascinating look at a struggle that many might assume is limited to the southern United States. With short chapters, punchy dialogue and timely subject matter, this is one that even football neophytes will find captivating.