Books

Teenagers in Turmoil

MIDNIGHT SUN
By Stephenie Meyer
672 pp. Little, Brown. $27.99.

Fifteen years after the publication of “Twilight,” the supernatural romance that launched a thousand copycats returns with “Midnight Sun.”

In this latest installment in the saga of Bella Swan and her undead paramour, Edward Cullen, Meyer goes back to where it all started, retelling the story of the series’s first book, this time from Edward’s perspective. The novel’s plot, many of the chapter titles and much of the dialogue are transplanted from the original, but the vampire’s brooding silences and mysterious absences are now filled in, with Bella no longer our narrator but a human Rubik’s cube Edward is trying to puzzle out.

This book delves deeper into Edward’s back story — and, thanks to his telepathic powers, into the inner workings of many of the other characters as well. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade and a half, you know that Bella and Edward do eventually overcome their communication issues — not to mention her mortality and his bloodthirst — to live (or rather, not live) happily ever after, and the vampire’s ad nauseam angst over whether such a girl could ever care for a killer like him can grow a bit tiresome, especially at this length.

But for ardent fans of the star-crossed couple, the book offers a more richly detailed view of Forks, Wash., and its inhabitants, undead and otherwise. (Alas, those hoping for even more will be disappointed: Meyer, who described the experience of writing the book as “not a super pleasant one,” says she has no plans to give the rest of the series the same treatment.)

WE ARE NOT FREE
By Traci Chee
400 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $17.99.

In her moving new novel, Chee (“The Reader” trilogy) turns an unflinching spotlight on a dark chapter in history: the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The story is a personal one for Chee, whose grandparents were forced into camps during the war.

“This history is my history. This community is my community,” she writes in the author’s note. “It happened; it happened to my family; and it has impacted so much about who we are and how we exist in this country.”

The book follows a group of 14 California teenagers, most of them Nisei — the first-generation children of Japanese immigrants who were suddenly rejected by the only country they’d ever known. It moves between their perspectives in one- to seven-month chunks — from March 1942, just before they are evicted from their homes, to March 1945 — as they navigate both the dehumanizing horrors of internment and the hormonal roller coaster of adolescence.

One particularly moving chapter uses the voice of Tommy Harano, the poet of the cohort, to illustrate, in verse, the whiplash the characters experience grappling with their suddenly splintered identities: Japanese, American and Japanese-American.

The chapters are interspersed with illustrations — ostensibly drawn by Minoru “Minnow” Ito, the young artist who opens and closes the book — and historical photos and artifacts, which serve as stark reminders that, while these young people may be fictional, the trauma they experienced is very real.

WATCH OVER ME
By Nina LaCour
272 pp. Dutton. $17.99.

When we first encounter 18-year-old Mila, the narrator of “Watch Over Me,” it seems as if she’s walking straight into a horror movie.

She’s alone in the world, having recently aged out of the foster system, with no friends or connections other than her social worker. A man offers her an internship teaching at a remote farm on the California coast, home to an enigmatic couple and their ever-growing brood of adopted children.

And when she embarks on this new chapter, she doesn’t even bring her cellphone.

“Had we been telling the truth, he would have said, The place where I’m sending you — it looks beautiful, but it’s haunted,” Mila recalls. “It will bring everything back. All that you tried to bury.It’s going to make you want to do bad things.”

But in LaCour’s gripping novel, as in Mila’s world, things are rarely what they seem.

At the farm, Mila finds ghosts and guilt and long-repressed memories that threaten to drown her. She also finds purpose and connection — particularly with her student, 9-year-old Lee, a child with visible and invisible scars of his own.

From the outset, LaCour makes it clear some secret looms over her protagonist, but she is patient about doling out the pieces of that puzzle.

Try as Mila might, she can only run from her past for so long: In the end, everyone must reckon with his or her ghosts.

PUNCHING THE AIR
By Ibi Zoboi with Yusef Salaam
Illustrations by Omar T. Pasha

400 pp. Balzer + Bray. $19.99.

The Haitian-American novelist Zoboi first met Salaam, one of the five Black teenagers wrongfully convicted of assaulting a white jogger in Central Park in 1989, at Hunter College, after he had served nearly seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. When they reconnected years later, after his 2002 exoneration, they decided to collaborate on a work of fiction about a character named Amal Shahid — a young, Black, Muslim poet also facing a wrongful incarceration. The result, “Punching the Air,” is a wrenching novel whose story, told in verse, is both urgent and heartbreakingly familiar.

We meet 16-year-old Amal in a courtroom, as the details of his alleged crime slowly surface: a melee, a skateboard, a comatose white boy who “can’t wake up / to tell the truth.” The prosecution fills his silence with inventions and assumptions, painting Amal as violent, unstable, angry — and guilty.

“Their words and what they thought / to be their truth / were like a scalpel,” Amal says, “shaping me into / the monster / they want me to be.”

His tenderness, his deep bond with his mother, his love of Picasso and Maya Angelou all fade into background static as he goes from kid to convicted criminal. In a moment, Amal’s fine arts summer program and his list of colleges are replaced with a sentence and a cell number.

But even as his body is imprisoned, his mind ranges free, swelling with a tsunami of words that demand to be heard.

Amal’s name is the Arabic word for “hope.” That is what this book ultimately offers, too. Everyone should read it.

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