Young adult novels about life on the fringes.

By Mary Quattlebaum
Sunday, July 27, 2008

IVY By Julie Hearn | Atheneum, $17.99; ages 12 and up

Rescued from a London slum, 17-year-old Ivy begins posing as an artist's model for her savior, a minor painter and neighbor to a Pre-Raphaelite master. Sound like a fairy tale? Julie Hearn topples every trope in her deliciously Dickensian novel. Both artists are self-involved and pretentious, and the only prince is, literally, a dog. As for having her image immortalized, Ivy humorously observes that posing for art is "incredibly tedious" and the river in which she floats like "Oh Feelier" (Ophelia) is "blinkin' freezin'."

A Sleeping Beauty addicted to laudanum, Ivy must deal with the scoundrels in her family, the artists who view her as a pretty piece of dispensable meat, and her drowse-inducing drug habit. The childhood scenes can be slow-moving, but overall this is a page-turner infused with Ivy's determination to fashion her own happily-ever-after.

INK EXCHANGE By Melissa Marr | HarperCollins, $16.99; ages 12 and up

To escape an abusive home, Leslie, a "bundle of terror and fury," yearns for a tattoo to mark her body as her own. But the eerie design she unsuspectingly chooses links her to Irial, ruler of the violent Dark Court fairies.

As the sequel to last year's popular Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange is even more compelling, thanks to Melissa Marr's more nuanced characterizations. Leslie is a vulnerable and angry high school senior eager to escape her human pain, and love interest Niall is a fairy haunted by past mistakes. Teenaged Aislinn, now the Summer Court queen, spices her previous sweetness with strength and guile. And Irial emerges as one of YA fiction's most enthralling bad guys. Ordering tea with a "kiss of honey," he flirts with fey waitresses and strolls city streets looking like "sin in a suit." But Irial is also a king who recognizes the codependence of light and darkness. For centuries, he has struggled to balance the two in the world. In this fairy tale, Leslie, Niall and Irial must come to terms with their Jungian shadow sides. Their fierce, sometimes despairing search for their true selves gives Ink Exchange its sinister power.

LITTLE BROTHER By Cory Doctorow | Tor, $17.95; ages 12 and up

In Little Brother, Marcus Yallow and three tech-savvy friends skip school to play an alternate reality game that requires finding clues around San Francisco. But "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" soon morphs into a 21st-century take on George Orwell's 1984 when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge. Because of the high-tech gear they're carrying, the four are picked up, brutally interrogated and detained for almost a week by the Department of Homeland Security. Released and intimidated into silence, Marcus decides to strike back. He launches a teen-based cyberspace movement to circumvent the post-attack police state created by DHS.

This novel brims with new and evolving technology, which may fascinate some readers and bog down others. But the well-integrated explanations, plot twists, humor and romance between Marcus and a "h4wt" (translation: "hot") geeky babe will keep this thriller humming along even for techno-duhs. Cory Doctorow tackles timely issues, including the erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security. Hopefully, teens will pass this cautionary tale on to parents, teachers and government officials.

THE UNDERNEATH By Kathi Appelt, Illustrated by David Small | Atheneum, $16.99; ages 10 and up

Known for charming picture books ( My Father's House, Piggies in a Polka), Kathi Appelt borrows from Native American lore and the East Texas bayou to create The Underneath, a uniquely American tale. Chained to a saggy shack, a lonely old hound, Ranger, finds comfort in caring for the abandoned mother cat and kittens that show up beneath the porch (the "Underneath" of the title). Meanwhile, Ranger's master, a violent and disfigured man known as Gar Face, pursues an ancient alligator with Ahab-like intensity. A seemingly separate story line revolves around the alligator's friend Grandmother Moccasin, who broods upon past wrongs in a prison jar made centuries ago by her shape-shifting daughter. The story lines start to converge when one of the kittens ventures from the Underneath and catches Gar Face's evil eye and the vengeful serpent escapes from her jar. Eschewing easy sentimentality, this lyrical allegory explores the nature of love and hate in short chapters graced by timeless trees and a mystical hummingbird.

Mary Quattlebaum's most recent children's book is "Sparks Fly High," a retelling of a colonial American folktale.

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