Requiem by Lauren Oliver; Harper, 400 pages ($18.99). Ages 14 and up.
The gifted author of Young Adult novel “Before I Fall” and middle-grade fantasy “Liesl & Po” wraps up her superb YA trilogy (“Delirium,” “Pandemonium”) with a heart-stopping finale that’s part gritty survival tale, part political statement and part romance. Oliver sets her trilogy in an alternative dystopian reality, where the ruling powers follow the “Book of Shhh” and have identified love or amor deliria nervosa, as a disease. Young people at 18 are required to have brain surgery to be “cured,” followed by a “pairing” with a marriage partner. This third installment is told by alternating narrators, Lena, who escaped the procedure with the help of a friend and has joined the rebellion, and Lena’s childhood friend Hana, who has been “paired” with power-hungry Fred Hargrove, a figure who becomes more sinister as the novel proceeds. As Lena and her fellow rebels fight for their lives against “the regulators,” Hana makes increasingly disturbing discoveries about her husband-to-be. Much of the power of Oliver’s work comes from its jarring, realistic setting in a specific place, the wilderness around Portland and Waterbury, Maine.
– Jean Westmoore
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell; Knopf, 256 pages ($24.95)
In “Reeling for the Empire,” one of the eight stories in Karen Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” a young woman pines for adventure in a rapidly changing 19th century Japan. Falling for the dubious charms of a “recruitment agent,” what she gets instead is a life-draining job in a silk factory. This being Russell – author of the wildly imaginative “Swamplandia!” as well as an equally inventive prior story collection – a potentially naturalistic tale lands instead in the twilight zone. In her workplace, Kitsune Tajima tells us, young women are themselves transformed, with each of them becoming a “secret, furred and fleshy silk factory” who eats mulberry leaves and attaches herself to a machine that gathers the silk she secretes. Without those machines, the silk women will die — or so it seems, until they concoct a satisfying revenge. “Reeling” is one of many stories in “Vampires” with protagonists who – like intrepid 13-year-old Ava in “Swamplandia!” – are simultaneously impatient to grow up and horrified by the consequent changes, to the body and the self. Desire never brings peace to Russell’s characters; no matter how exciting, it is always troubling. In “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979,” a restless 14-year-old boy has a crush on a classmate – only to see her take up instead with his older, promiscuous brother. He wants to be a good sport, but he can’t outrun the barely acknowledged hatred and lust roiling within him. In the title story, an always-thirsty vampire tries to curb a craving for blood that he never outgrows – leaving him unable to settle into the give-and-take of a normal marriage, in which desire and need are negotiated rather than imposed or repressed. Like the predatory drifter who stalks Ava in “Swamplandia!,” the vampire remains an undeveloped boy, even as he ages. The best story offers the least hope that we might ever overcome our crippling isolation. Set in rural Nebraska in 1877, “Proving Up” is narrated by 11-year-old Miles, who undertakes a perilous mission to a distant farm. As its title suggests, it too is a coming-of-age story, in which the journey is once again both liberating and a nightmare.
– McClatchy Newspaper
The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello; Bantam, 512 pages ($26)
Army epidemiologist Frank Slater does the right thing — and is court-martialed for his actions — in “The Romanov Cross.” Slater is stripped of his military credentials and pay but given no jail time. He soon learns why: His expertise is needed in Alaska, where a burial site for victims of the 1918 flu pandemic has begun to erode. The exposed bodies might contain the deadly virus, and Slater must make sure the contagion doesn’t start again. In that same year, the Romanov royal family was murdered. In a second narrative, Anastasia, daughter of Czar Nicholas II, miraculously survives and escapes with a soldier’s help. The mixture of their love story, the history of what happened to the Romanov family and the depth of Anastasia’s despair during her escape would make a terrific stand-alone novel. Add Slater’s story and a possible modern-day flu epidemic and the stories come together.
– Associated Press