The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken; Hyperion, 488 pages, $17.99 Ages 12 and up.
The terrific recent novels for Young Adults with dystopian themes and ultra-tough female protagonists include Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy, Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” and Marie Lu’s “Legend.” Count with that number now Alexandra Bracken’s “The Darkest Minds,” first of a trilogy. In this terrifying future world, children are dying at age 10 of Everhart’s Disease, proper name: Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. Those who survive have powers so frightening they are locked away in detention camps, where White Noise only they can hear is used for calm control. The action centers around Ruby Daly, who on her 10th birthday awoke so changed her parents locked her in the garage and called the police. Now 16, and classified as a Green (when she actually has the mind control powers of a dangerous Orange), she is broken out of her camp by a doctor and on her way to an uncertain fate when she escapes and joins three other survivors, Liam, Chubs and a mute girl Suzume who are trying to find their way to a supposedly safe encampment called East River. When they finally find the camp, run by the legendary Skip Kid, certain events make them wonder if they have just traded one horrible camp for more of the same. Bracken, a debut novelist, has crafted a terrifying universe, nonstop action, wonderful characters and a doomed romance, as Ruby must sacrifice her own desires to keep people she loves safe, even as she knows powerful forces want to use her talents for their own dark purposes. The cliffhanger ending will keep readers anxiously awaiting the next installment.
– Jean Westmoore
Two Graves by Preston & Child; Grand Central, 480 pages ($26.99)
The names Preston & Child on the cover of a book promise a unique reading experience, and “Two Graves” delivers the thrills one expects from the two masters. The novel is the conclusion of a trilogy that started with “Fever Dream” and last year’s “Cold Vengeance,” though one could easily pick up this book and not feel lost. FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast has none of the usual qualities that make a hero. He’s addicted to drugs, socially inept and has the appearance of a living ghost. But his keen insight and ability to think outside the box are desperately needed to solve a bizarre string of murders in New York City hotels. He’s just learned that his wife, long presumed dead, is alive. The hunt for answers to the murders and what happened to his wife take Pendergast to the edge of his sanity — and career.
Pendergast is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, who would live more comfortably in the past but must suffer through the inconveniences that living in the 21st century brings. The mystery tantalizes, and the shocks throughout the narrative are like bolts of lightning.
– Associated Press
Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards Into Battlegrounds by Jim Sterba; Crown, 368 pages ($26)
“Nature Wars” is best read as a history of Americans’ widespread and enduring ignorance of the natural world and how that ignorance has created new and strange ecosystems — especially in our sprawling suburbs and exurbs.
Consider, for example, the weird, epic saga of the North American beaver. Beavers were wiped out in Massachusetts by frontiersmen and Indian trappers and traders in the early 18th century. But in 1928 they returned to western Massachusetts as the descendants of 34 beavers from Canada released in the Adirondacks a few decades earlier. Sterba shows how beavers soon thrived in resurgent forests now largely free of their old predators. By 1996, the state’s beaver population was estimated at 24,000.
Sterba relates the story of the beaver and other troublesome wild creatures with wit and impressive reportorial diligence. He shows us how new suburban residents plant trees in their yards, only to see the beavers chew them down to build dams that flood those yards.
The recent natural history of North America is filled with such stories. In Sterba’s often amusing narrative, species such as the wild turkey are cast in the role of victims in one era, only to reappear as pests in another.
Canada geese disappear across the U.S. as their habitat perishes thanks to human development. But they come back thanks to human restoration efforts and to hunters who breed them as live decoys to shoot other birds. Soon much of America is filled with geese.
– Los Angeles Times