Black Ops and UFOs: These Aren’t Your Grandfather’s Boarding Schools

BookendsCindy: Boarding schools always make great settings for teen novels, and we’ve found two new ones that are very good. The cover art on the ARC of Sonja Stone’s Desert Dark (April 2016) caught my eye in the Holiday House booth at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, but it was the jacket blurb that convinced me to read this on the plane home from Boston:

“With a setting that is Hogwarts meets The Bourne Identity, this debut YA thriller will make readers mad with suspense.”

Desert Dark by Sonja StonePerhaps I was intrigued by the author blurb, too—who doesn’t want to read a suspense novel written by a woman trained in jujitsu, knife throwing, and shooting guns, who has also completed a solo course at a survival school? I knew it wouldn’t be hard to booktalk this one with my teens.

Nadia Riley gets an invitation to an elite boarding school with her expenses covered by the government. She’s thrilled to have an excuse to escape her high school, where she is still stinging from a breakup and the loss of her best friend. Before she knows it, she’s hiking in the Arizona mountains and training for a future in black ops with the CIA. There’s adventure, danger, and cryptography; a love interest and death threats; and very few people to trust as rumors of a double agent on campus have everyone viewing each other as a suspect, Nadia most of all. Readers who have grown out of Alex Rider are a natural audience, but the cover alone will sell this. Hands were reaching for this before I finished talking about it at our teen book club. I need more copies.

Seriously, is there workman’s compensation
for being trampled by eager readers?

Dark Energy by Robison WellsLynn: My entry for this post about not-so-ordinary boarding-school stories is Robison Wells’ sf thriller, Dark Energy (March 2016). As the story opens, teen Alice Goodwin and her father are racing north to the site of a crash landing by a huge spaceship just five days earlier. Mr. Goodwin is a special-projects director for NASA and plans to enroll Alice in a Minnetonka boarding school for gifted and talented students while he works.  There has been no sign of life from the ship and the world waits, breathlessly, until finally what looks like a cutting torch can be seen high on the ship, making an opening. What emerges changes everything!

I stopped my booktalk at this point, but there are several more startling twists and turns that keep the pace moving at light speed. Alice and her boarding-school classmates are in for the ride of their lives, with the future of the world resting on their shoulders. After sharing this with our recent teen book-club meeting, I nearly lost my fingers when Cindy insisted I write this post before turning the book over to the kids. Seriously, is there workman’s compensation for being trampled by eager readers?

Cindy: Thanks, Lynn, for getting this written so I can start filling orders on the long waiting list you created. Stone’s book elicited great excitement, too, and I handed it off right away. We play a lot of rock, paper, scissors at book club to settle disputes over who’s first. People who assume libraries are quiet places have not experienced teen book club! Danger doesn’t just lurk at strange boarding schools . . . .



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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