The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

Michael can never forget that day, long ago, when everything changed. The thing that closed his throat for good, the event that stole his voice. But he isn't ready to tell us about it yet.

Fast forward to 1991: Michael lives with his uncle, who does his best, and they coexist pretty well. There is always that sense of being at a loss for what to do, how to help, that pity behind the eyes that everyone seems to have. "Miracle Boy survives," but his life isn't so special.

1996: Art is his escape, the place without words that he can retreat to, and Griffin is his only friend. His other solace comes from the lock that he has learned to pick, once a part of his uncle's door, now a kind of therapy for Michael. "When you finally open it...When you finally learn how to unlock the lock...Can you even imagine how that feels?" (Hamilton pg 37, 2009).

1999: It all comes to a head that day at the party. The school year is over, and social circles are forgotten for the moment. When a dumb jock asks Mike if he can help them out with a lock, he goes along with it. It's just a harmless prank, right? No one's going to get hurt. Just in, hang a banner, out, done. Sneaking into Amelia's room that first night, seeing her portfolio and knowing that this girl has real's intoxicating. Except that's the first time he's arrested.

He's as good as his nickname, the "Milford Mute," when it comes to giving up the other boys. He doesn't know how to do it without getting Griffin in trouble, so he just takes the wrap. His probation requires that he works for the victim all summer, and at first this seems like a death sentence. Mr. Marsh yells into his ear, trying to intimidate him into giving up his accomplices, sentencing him to dig a pool in their back yard in the staggering sun, Amelia and her friends ridiculing him.

After a week, Mr. Marsh comes around...and after a few midnight visits, so does Amelia. They begin drawing back and forth to each other. But there's a catch: Mr. Marsh is mixed up with some bad people, and they know he can pick a lock. Pretty soon Mike is caught up in a safe cracking scheme to save Amelia, and things start spiraling out of control.

Hamilton weaves a story of suspense and intrigue, never letting things slow down too much. The romance that blooms between Mike and Amelia is touching and sweet, not overly romantic. I enjoyed his narrative style, moving back and forth between different time periods, but not forgetting to remind me where we left off.
"I got that funny feeling again, at the thought of someone breaking into the house and standing there in her bedroom, watching her sleep. I mean, it's not like I didn't know it was wrong for me to be there, but somehow it was like that idea didn't really apply to me, because I knew I was there for the 'right' reasons, and that I'd never do anyuthing to hurt her. I was more upset that it was so easy to do, and that anyone who really wanted to could follow in my foootsteps tomorrow night and be standing here instead.
Nobody is safe. Ever. Anywhere," (Hamilton pg. 147, 2009).
*Library Link*
If you liked this, check out:
A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton
Jude by Kate Morganroth
Diamonds in the Shadows by Caroline B. Cooney

Hamilton, S. (2010). The Lock Artist. New York: Minotaur Books.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

"I'm dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me. I'm dumping this box on your porch, Ed, but it is you, Ed, who is getting dumped," (Handler pg. 4, 2012). Min and Ed are over. She's returning his stuff, and rehashing their short lived romance in a long (read: novel length) letter. Sure, there were good times, but even the good times had moments that almost predicted the outcome. At least it looks that way now.

Min remembers the night of the party when Ed showed up out of nowhere. What was a big basketball star like him doing at a drama kids party? Two fated orbits intersecting, they came crashing together. They are from different worlds, but that is part of the fun right? Ed always did say that she was "different," even if the word sounds bitter in her mouth now. It was fresh and new, and she took him to her favorite art film theater. They saw a woman who looked like she could be the actress in the movie, years later.

They hatch a plan to throw her a birthday party, two months from now. They start planning the menu, scheming about how to make it special. She introduces him to coffee, "the life-giving brew." He introduces her to basketball, and she gets a thrill when she finds a banner waiting in her locker on game day. 

When she tries to bring him into her circle of friends, there is tension...even dislike. She can tell that her best friend doesn't like him, even if he insists that he "has no opinion." But they don't see him like she does, Ed didn't mean to push all the wrong buttons. Meeting Ed's sister is a thrill. She offers Min an old Film Studies book from college, and turns her on to Hawk Davies. It seems obvious now, looking back.

Ed doesn't push her to have sex, well, not really...but Min feels the urging anyway. When she thinks now about how she gave that part of her to him, all the anger and hurt rises up. That's why they broke up, she thinks, because he never realized how big of a deal it was for her. And that day in the flower shop when it all fell apart, when he threw that word in her face that he had always used so kindly and excitedly, "different" just sounds hateful now. 

This box is full of all the things that represent their relationship, and she's giving it back. She's moving on to bigger and better things, and letting go of all the past hurts and triumphs. Handler (also known as Lemony Snicket in some circles) taps into that most fundamental ache of the end of a romance. Illustrated beautifully by Kalman, the two mediums combine to weave a story of looking back at how it all went wrong. It will dredge up moments from your past (or present) that have a similar feel, and remind you of how much such a short amount of time together can hurt when it's over. Highly recommended for anyone who has had their heart broken. 

If you liked this, check out:

Handler, Daniel, & Kalman, Maira. (2011). Why We Broke Up. New York: Little, Brown.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Le Cirque de Reve is not like any other circus you have ever known. It doesn't all take place under a big top, but rather in several tents throughout a pavillion. It is only open at night. The color palate is exclusively black and white, down to the performers costumes. Each act is singular in its originality, delighting audiences of all ages with feats of illusion, conjuration, skill and more. It is led, not in name, but in practice by Marco and Celia. Both are locked in a battle they didn't ask for, but in which they must continue to participate. This is no ordinary playing field. Rather, they are evenly matched in a competition to enhance the circus, to delight all who enter.

Five-year-old Celia is brought to her father, Hector Bowen (aka Prospero the Enchanter), after her mother's untimely death, and brought up for this competition. He teaches her true magic: how to manipulate perception, reality, and even objects. Year after year, she struggles under his tutelage, bound to a mysterious opponent she doesn't know. He teaches her to repair injury to both objects and herself. She watches him perform these feats for audiences unaware of the true nature of the events, and marvels at the audacity.

Marco is plucked from an orphanage, by the ever mysterious Mr. Alexander H, for the same purpose. He is brought up almost exclusively alone. Reading is his primary occupation as he learns to enchant, charm, and create glamours. His solitary life is lonely at times, but he wants for nothing in this new life...except friends. One day, he is moved into a new flat away from his absentee adoptive father. Apparently he is considered an adult, and expected to fend for his own. On the recommendation of his tutor, he secures a job with Chandresh Lefèvre as a personal assistant. It is through this association that the Circus is formed.

Recruiting brings in contortionists, fortune tellers, acrobats, animal trainers, and more. This is to be a circus unlike any other, a feat to delight all ages and backgrounds. Celia is brought on as the Illusionist, and while Marco learns of her identity and her role in their game...Celia is kept ignorant. The two hover around each other, creating ever more magical attractions: a room with scents that transports you to another place, an ice garden where even the trees and flowers are crafted from ice, a cloud tent, a maze of mirrors, and more. Always more.

Celia pesters her father for more information about the game, and is always met with the same answer: she needs to try harder, and everything else is unimportant. As the web around them grows tighter, Celia and Marco begin to gravitate toward each other. One fateful moment, she realizes that he is her opponent, and something starts to change between them. As if locked in prophetic orbit, the two begin to fall in love.

All around them, the circus flourishes. The Revers spring up; a group of Circus afficionados who build a community around this singular experience. The Murray twins, born on opening night of the Circus, begin to develop mysterious powers of prophecy and insight. Years pass, and the performers and administrators of the Circus do not age a day. The game is having a larger effect than anyone anticipated, and the outcome may not be a happy one. Can Celia and Marco reconcile their feelings with their duty?

Magical prose is artfully woven into a delight for the imagination. This book is heavy on description, so avoid it if that is not your style. However, I would say it is not overly so. This adult novel is highly recommended for teens and adults. Fun fact: this is her debut novel, and she wrote it during NaNoWriMo.
“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that... there are many kinds of magic, after all.” (Morganstern, 2011).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine
The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell

Morgenstern, Erin. (2011). The Night Circus: A novel. New York: Doubleday.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Hazel has cancer. It's in her lungs, and she has to take oxygen to breathe. It has affected her life immeasurably, from her social standing to her relationship with her parents. When she starts attending a Support Group in the Heart of Jesus, the last thing she expects to find is someone who is interested in her romantically. Augustus Waters is not your typical cancer patient. He actually looks healthy. He's one of the lucky ones, in that he lost his leg...but he also lost his cancer.

When he invites her over to his house to watch a movie with witty banter and a mischevious grin, she can't help herself. He calls her Hazel Grace, and it never sounded more beautiful. This is perhaps one of the worst ideas ever: two terminal teens starting a relationship, right? Hazel is protecting herself, why shouldn't she? When she learns that Gus is in remission, it just further reinforces the idea that she should keep her distance. She doesn't want to hold him back...but he won't give up.

He tells her of his deep desire to leave his mark on the world, about his family and their reliance on inspirational Encouragements. They talk about their mutual friend who is about to lose his eyes to cancer. She tells him about her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, by Peter Van Houten. It holds the truest account of suffering from a terminal illness that she has ever encountered, and she reads it again and again. The book ends with major open ended questions, and Hazel has tried to contact Mr. Van Houten to get her questions answered to no avail...until Gus. He finds an email address for Mr. Van Houten's personal assistant, and Hazel manages to get an infuriating reply. If she comes to Amsterdam, he would be happy to share his answers...but he's too paranoid to answer them any other way. Hazel used her Wish for (oh the shame) Disney World. Gus, however, still has his, and he wants to take her to Amsterdam.

It looks like it might not happen when Hazel has a medical set back, but she and her doctor are determined to let her live her life. The encounter itself proves most interesting (and I wouldn't want to give it away), but on their return home Gus must come clean. He has relapsed, and now she's the healthy one. After letting herself fall for him, can she handle this turn of the tides? Is their love strong enough to weather this storm?

Green's masterful prose both depresses and delights, never letting things get too heavy for too long. This is not a cancer book, this is a love story with cancer complications. Keep a tissue handy. Highly recommended for middle school and up. This is a great adult crossover title as well.
"'True," he said. "That's what we should do, Hazel Grace: We should team up and be this disabled vigilante duo roaring through the world, righting wrongs, defending the weak, protecting the endangered.'
Although it was his dream and not mine, I indulged it. He'd indulged mine, after all. 'Our fearlessness shall be our secret weapon,' I said.
'The tales of our exploits will survive as long as the human voice itself," he said.
'And even after that, when the robots recall the human absurdities of sacrifice and compassion, they will remember us.'
'They will robot-laugh at our courageous folly,' he said. 'But something in their iron robot hearts will yearn to have lived and died as we did: on the hero's errand.'
'Augustus Waters,' I said, looking up at him, thinking that you cannot kiss anyone in the Anne Frank House, and then thinking that Anne Frank, after all, kissed someone in the Anne Frank House, and that she would probably like nothing more than for her home to have become a place where the young and irreparably broken sink into love....
And then we were kissing. My hand let go of the oxygen cart and I reached up for his neck, and he pulled me up by my waist onto my tiptoes. As his parted lips met mine, I started to feel breathless in a new and fascinating way. The space around us evaporated, and for a weird moment I really liked my body; this cancer-ruined thing I'd spent years dragging around suddently seemed worth the struggle, worth the chest tubes and the PICC lines and the ceaseless bodily betrayal of the tumors," (Green pg. 202-203, 2012).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Looking for Alaska by John Green
It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Green, John. (2012). The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton Books.