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Pete Hautman’s The Klaatu Terminus completes a trilogy that dares to make a number of narrative and temporal shifts, each of which challenges readers to hold tight—or possibly let go?—of the sensical reins. The forefather of such mind-bending sleight of hand is Kurt Vonnegut, whose Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) has inspired generations of rule breakers. Such experimental works are rare in YA, but recent years have provided a number of worthy heirs.
Chopsticks. By Jessica Anthony. Illus. by Rodrigo Corral. 2012. Penguin/Razorbill, paper, $19.99 (9781595144355). Gr. 10–12.
This singular testament to delicious ambiguity is a novel in coffee-table-book form—an oversize scrapbook that includes photographs, sketches, wine labels, CD playlists, and IM sessions, all overlaid by blasts of text. Anthony does what Vonnegut could only dream, lashing to the story non-diegetic media: apps, YouTube videos, an interactive e-book, etc. It’s the story of a teen love affair where one of the teens, a concert pianist, is going mad. But what’s really going on here?
Fade to Blue. By Sean Beaudoin. Illus. by the author. 2009. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316014175). Gr. 8–11.
Prose tap dancer Beaudoin’s story of goth girl Sophie Blue and dreamy jock Kenny Fade is a baffling head trip that is either an Infinite Jest for the zit-cream crowd or a big old pile of gobbledygook. Even if the latter is the case, wow, is it engrossing, as the two protagonists deal with an ice-cream truck that keeps killing Sophie, various levels of real and unreal worlds, and a detour into a graphic novel that just might explain everything. A bible just waiting for a cult.
Grasshopper Jungle. By Andrew Smith. 2014. Dutton, $18.99 (9780525426035). Gr. 9–12.
There’s no time-travel per se in this novel, but there are plenty of “connections that spiderweb through time and space,” as Austin and his best bud, Robby, accidentally unleash a plague of six-foot-tall flesh-eating praying mantises upon the world. Provocateur hero Smith also delves into Austin’s sexual confusion, the story of his great-great-great-grandfather in Poland, and, probably, the end of the planet. Vonnegut’s poignancy and humor are alive and well here—and he would’ve dug those killer insects, too.
The Klaatu Terminus. By Pete Hautman. 2014. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763654054). Gr. 9-12.
Tucker is trapped atop a Romulan pyramid in the year 3,000 CE with no interdimensional disko. What, you’re lost already? In this final book of the Klaatu Diskos trilogy, the multitalented Hautman—a paragon of prose clarity—concludes this most unclear of literary experiments. Though not always fully cooked, this is one hell of a stew.
Midwinterblood. By Marcus Sedgwick. 2013. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (9781596438002). Gr. 9–12.
Though almost classical in tone, Sedgwick’s novel is one of the most ambitiously structured YA novels ever published. It begins in 2073 in an eerie place called Blessed Island, and then, through a suite of short stories with two constantly regenerating characters, works backward to trace the island’s history, from WWII to the turn of the millennium to “Time Unknown.” A chancy gambit that effortlessly melds the intimate with the epic.
My Favorite Band Does Not Exist. By Robert T. Jeschonek. 2011. Clarion, $16.99 (9780547370279). Gr. 9–12.
Metafiction goes meta-nuts in the tale of Idea Deity, leader of the band Youforia, who is convinced he’s a character in a novel who will die in chapter 64. (Just wait until chapter 64.) Too bad, because the band’s all the rage, even if the fans have never heard a single song and are waiting for the big concert on July 32. Add to that a cheesy novel-within-a-novel that characters jump in and out of, and you’ve got a rabbit hole—hell, a whole warren—of spectacular weirdness. Which way is up? By the smashing conclusion, readers might not even care.
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