Here are two series-starters by authors of previous hot, hot YA series, both of which my teen and I have enjoyed. Aurora Rising was on my #CybilsReadDown lists, while Call Down the Hawk was the last book I took notes on in February before taking a break from blogging for KidLitCon prep.
Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Read by Kim Mai Guest, Johnathan McClain, Candice Moll, and a full cast. Penguin Random House, 2019. 978-1524720964. Listened to audiobook on Libby.
The year is 2380. The Aurora Academy (in space!) is graduating a new class of cadets, who will form new squads to Defend the Galaxy. Our hero, Tyler Jones, is a blond pretty boy with killer dimples who’s worked hard to make it to the top of class to live up to the legacy of his famous father, who died in combat. But a last-minute practice space flight winds up with him rescuing a girl from a cryo-sleep in a colony ship lost 200 years previously.
The fallout from that means he misses the chance to pick his own team. His sister and his best friend have stuck with him, but the rest of the team is the bottom of the barrel, the ones no one else wanted. Our Breakfast Club in Space squad consists of Tyler’s twin Scarlett, the Face or diplomat for the squad; his best friend Cat, the Ace or pilot/weapons master; Zila the Brain, high on brilliance, low on social skills; Cal, the Tank or in-person combat specialist, an elf-like alien from a species at war with humans not that long ago and serious anger issues; and Finian, another non-human, wearing an exo-suit because of serious mobility issues. And of course, our mystery girl, Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. Each character has their own narrator on the audiobook, and they all do a good job.
All of the young people are beautiful. The plot is fast-paced with plenty of twists. The narrative rotates between all these characters, so though we do get to know some of them better, there’s a chance for each reader to get inside the head of the character they most identify with. There’s humor, and also a fair amount of using sexual attraction to accomplish their goals (fun, especially for teens, if unlikely to be effective as often as portrayed here), though no actual on-screen sex. There are interpersonal tensions and stumbling onto a galaxy-wide situation that only our crew can stop. Kaufman and Kristoff have figured out a formula here, and even though I could recognize the elements of it, it was still really, really effective. My son, who also loved The Illuminae Files, listened to over 3 hours the first day our hold came in.
Some things I enjoyed: the attempt at diversity (even if, with the team squad leaders and his two closest companions all white, it could be better), with Aurora and Zila as characters of color, two non-human members, and one with a disability. I appreciate that the elf-looking character is the one who has the most trouble not being violent, in opposition to the usual stereotypes about elves. There was even pushback against instalove – one character (avoiding spoilers here) is feeling it towards another, but is never going to push it, while the object of that character’s affection says they’re definitely not going for a life-long bond right away, but is open to trying a relationship. That’s both the right thing to say, and played well enough that it worked emotionally for me as well.
My son and I came to this a little late because of the craziness of last year, so the sequel, Aurora Burning, is already out. Now we have to decide if we’re willing to wait the six months or more that Libby says it will be before our hold comes in, or if we want to just buy it.
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater. Read by Will Patton. Scholastic Audio, 2019. Audio B07STXFCQM; print 978-1338188325. Purchased audiobook
We love Maggie Stiefvater here, so we just bought this audiobook, especially since my love and my son were just wrapping up listening to the Raven Boys cycle when this book came out in the fall. It’s the first in her new Dream Trilogy, and though it’s still in teen at my library, all the characters are now adults. This series focuses on Ronan, who’s trying to manage his dream powers and get the Barns back in shape, while desperately missing his boyfriend Adam, far away at college. We’re introduced to a new side effect of Ronan’s dream powers – if he doesn’t use them or let himself dream for more than a couple of days, he starts having a black liquid he calls nightwash come out of his various orifices. It is worse than that description sounds. Gansey and Blue are off on a road trip and only mentioned in passing in this book.
We meet lots of new characters here, too. Ronan’s brother Declan was always just Ronan’s jerky older brother before, but now we see the reasons behind his regimented retreat into conventional behavior and invisibility. As Melissa at the Book Nut says, maybe he was always sympathetic, and we just didn’t know because we were seeing him only from Ronan’s point of view.
We’re introduced to Jordan Henessey, a dreamer who only dreams copies of herself and has built a life as an art forger. There’s a mystery character named Bride, mostly just a voice in visions; and our representative from the other side, Carmen Farooq-Lane, a hunter of Zeds – their word for dreamers like Ronan – who truly believes that Zeds will cause the end of the world if they’re not stopped, and is led by a cranky teen visionary named Parsival Bauer. And those are just for starters.
It’s not really clear by the end of this where all of this is going, only that we’re a long way from done. I don’t know how Stiefvater combines misty magic with a fast-moving plot, but both my son, more interested in the “shooty-shooty” bits and myself, more interested in the relationships, romance, and character exploration, will both be on board for the next installment.