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Book Reviews Review: New YA fiction from Moira Fowley-Doyle, Betsy Cornwell, Stephen Emond, Darren Groth, Stephanie Tromly, Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

The Accident Season
By Moira Fowley-Doyle, Kathy Dawson Books, 304 pages, $23.99

Every October, Cara's entire family becomes accident-prone. But it's much more than just a little clumsiness. Cara, her sister and former stepbrother have to be on constant alert lest a small injury mushroom into something deadly. Set during an Irish fall, This is magical realism at its most lush and sensual. Cara and her siblings fill their days with deep talks, tarot card readings, whisky and cigarettes. But it's not nicotine and alcohol that makes these characters attractive; the sardonic, quick-talking teen protagonists that define cool in so many North American novels are replaced here with an emotive, passionate gang possessing riverbed eyes and wide-open hearts. Yes, we do learn what's behind the Accident Season, but the revelation is enjoyably fuzzy and ghostly. Fall's arrival is inevitable so make this gorgeous, velvety read your first one of the new season.

Mechanica
By Betsy Cornwell, Clarion Books, 304 pages, $24.50

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Cinderella is recast as an inventive engineer named Nicolette living in a world where industry and magic are at loggerheads. Soon nicknamed "Mechanica" because of her machinist aptitude, Nicolette must use both technology and faerie to free herself from her stepfamily. Refreshingly, there are no didactically overt, "Women like science too!" messages here; Mechanica's industrious backbone gives her the ability to create machines that complete all her Cinderellian chores so she can spend more time on her inventions. And the details are very satisfying; readers of any gender who get a thrill from the floor-to-ceiling drawers of screws and nails at Home Depot will devour this book and its descriptions of miniature mechanized insects, the construction of a giant horse and carriage and glass slippers full of working gears.

Bright Lights, Dark Nights
By Stephen Emond, Roaring Brook Press, 384 pages, $20.50

Romeo and Juliet showed us what happens when two teenagers from drastically different worlds fall in deeply passionate love. But what if they just really liked each other and were sated with some kissing? Enter writer and illustrator Stephen Emond, who brings us the much more subtle, pragmatic story of a white boy (Walter) and a black girl (Naomi) who fall for each other. While racial tensions exist in the fictional city of East Bridge, especially around the actions of Walter's cop father, everything is a bit cloudy and clumsy; dramatic showdowns between polar opposite enemies are replaced with awkward conversations between half-friends and acquaintances. This is all much quieter than the Sharks and Jets, but the absence of clear-cut circumstances and teens falling in "forever love" like 28-year-olds is a realistic breath of fresh air.

Are You Seeing Me?
By Darren Groth, Orca Book Publishers, 288 pages, $19.95

Novels featuring characters with developmental challenges are always subject to an extra critical lens: is the portrayal of the person with the challenge honest? Accurate? Respectful? These questions are unavoidable when considering this story of twins Justine and Perry. After losing their father just before their 18th birthdays, they travel from Brisbane to the Pacific Northwest for one last adventure before Perry enters a live-in facility for his autism. Their adventures are distinctly Rain Man-esque as quiet humour bubbles up naturally from the honesty and poignancy of their relationship. The word autism is used in the jacket copy but never in the story – a potentially divisive choice, but one that keeps the focus on Perry's individuality rather than the specificity of his condition. Originally published in Australia last year, this is a sensitive import executed with compassion, care and wit.

Trollhunters
By Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus, Hyperion, 320 pages, $19.99

Daniel Kraus is the Stephen King of YA. Guillermo del Toro is the director of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy. So it's no surprise that this is a thrilling, bloody, twisted, weirdo blockbuster of a book. Fifteen-year-old Jim Sturges Jr.'s Uncle Jack was abducted, and seemingly eaten, by a troll when he was a teen. Jim gains firsthand knowledge of his uncle's experience when a portal to the troll underworld opens up underneath his bed. Those familiar with the disturbing and viscerally dark nature of Kraus's past books (Rotters, Scowler) should know that Trollhunters is much tamer, with all the entrails originating from monsters rather than humans. But the ending is still an action-packed knockout, making a Michael Bay movie feel like a quiet period piece.Those who are moving beyond middle-grade fare such as Rick Riordan will find this to be the perfect gory graduation.

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Trouble is a Friend of Mine
By Stephanie Tromly, Kathy Dawson Books, 352 pages, $20.99

The allure of the skinny, quirky, quippy, dark-haired, oddly dressed, borderline genius/delinquent teen boy character is enjoying a real zenith in YA right now and Philip Digby (he goes by the much hipper Digby) is right on trend. He welcomes newcomer Zoe Webster to town and quickly embroils her in his quest to solve the mystery of a missing teen girl, which he thinks may be linked to the childhood disappearance of his own sister. Their attempt to crack the case is smart, zany and madcap with all the dangerous moments steeped in slapstick. Zoe and Digby make a classic comedic duo, with her consistently playing the grumbling straight woman to his entertaining Sherlock/Inspector Clouseau/MacGyver hybrid. This is Winnipeg-based author Stephanie Tromly's debut and she's one to watch.

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