Take 5: Quirky Towns in YA Lit
From a very young age, I was obsessed with The Twilight Zone. My very favorite episode is the episode Time Enough At Last where the banker survives the end of the world and finally has time to read all the books he wants and then he breaks his glasses and there is no one left to fix them for him. Noooo!! This dream come true episode becomes my worst nightmare.
My other favorites include those episodes where something seems just a little bit off about a town or a society. Like when we find out that the girl who just wants to be beautiful and fit in is an outcast does in fact meet conventional beauty standards, it’s just that the world around her is so very different. Or we find out that a town is really inhabited by aliens.
Which brings me to today’s book lists. You see, I like quirky towns. Not just Stars Hollow quirky, but town with mysteries or secrets. Think Twin Peaks or Wayward Pines. It’s one of the reasons why I love A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, about a town that once had magic but seems to have lost it (great book, please read it). So today’s list is all about town that have quirky characteristics, dark secrets, or some other thing that makes it not quite like a regular town.
Wax by Gina Damico
Publisher’s Book Description: Paraffin, Vermont, is known the world over as home to the Grosholtz Candle Factory. But behind the sunny retail space bursting with overwhelming scents and homemade fudge, seventeen-year-old Poppy Palladino discovers something dark and unsettling: a back room filled with dozens of startlingly life-like wax sculptures, crafted by one very strange old lady. Poppy hightails it home, only to be shocked when one of the figures—a teenage boy who doesn’t seem to know what he is—jumps naked and screaming out of the trunk of her car. She tries to return him to the candle factory, but before she can, a fire destroys the mysterious workshop—and the old woman is nowhere to be seen.
With the help of the wax boy, who answers to the name Dud, Poppy resolves to find out who was behind the fire. But in the course of her investigation, she discovers that things in Paraffin aren’t always as they seem, that the Grosholtz Candle Factory isn’t as pure as its reputation—and that some of the townspeople she’s known her entire life may not be as human as they once were. In fact, they’re starting to look a little . . . waxy. Can Poppy and Dud extinguish the evil that’s taking hold of their town before it’s too late? (Coming August 2nd, 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Karen’s Thoughts: This was a very fun read that I thought would make a classic TZ episode. And like Human.4 below, it works really well for all ages, including younger middle school students.
Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar
Publisher Book Description: Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow in this paranormal suspense novel about a boy who can reach inside people and steal their innermost things—fears, memories, scars, even love—and his family’s secret ritual that for centuries has kept the cliff above their small town from collapsing.
Aspen Quick has never really worried about how he’s affecting people when he steals from them. But this summer he’ll discover just how strong the Quick family magic is—and how far they’ll go to keep their secrets safe.
With a smart, arrogant protagonist, a sinister family tradition, and an ending you won’t see coming, this is a fast-paced, twisty story about power, addiction, and deciding what kind of person you want to be, in a family that has the ability to control everything you are. (Kathy Dawson Books June 2016)
Karen’s Thoughts: This is an utterly fascinating book about privilege, consent, power and morality. The basic premise – that people can steal a part of your mind and control you – is creepy as all get out, but it makes a good foundation from some serious reflection and discussion.
(Don’t You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn
There’s a price to pay for paradise. Every fourth year, the strange power that fuels the town exacts its payment by infecting teens with deadly urges. In a normal year in Gardnerville, teens might stop talking to their best friends. In a fourth year, they’d kill them.
Four years ago, Skylar’s sister, Piper, was locked away after leading sixteen of her classmates to a watery grave. Since then, Skylar has lived in a numb haze, struggling to forget her past and dull the pain of losing her sister. But the secrets and memories Piper left behind keep taunting Skylar—whispering that the only way to get her sister back is to stop Gardnerville’s murderous cycle once and for all. (Harper Teen 2014)
Karen’s Thoughts: I don’t remember a lot of the specifics of this book, but it’s been 2 years since I have read it and it still often comes to mind. It is truly eerie and haunting.
Human.4 by Mike Lancaster
Publisher’s Book Description: Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur acts. But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens. Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exit.
Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis? Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter? Or is this something much more sinister?
Narrated on a set of found cassette tapes at an unspecified point in the future, Human.4 is an absolutely chilling look at technology gone too far. (Egmont 2011)
Karen’s Thoughts: I read this book years ago. I bought this book. It’s very entertaining and interesting. And yes, it was the first book that made me go: this would make a great Twilight Zone episode!
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Publisher’s Book Description: Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?
Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.
As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are. (Balzer & Bray 2015)
Karen’s Thoughts: Naming this list quirky towns basically defies the exquisiteness of this title. This isn’t so much a “quirky” town as it is a haunting town that will stick to your bones. It’s now a Printz Award Winner, in part because of it’s haunting brilliance and storytelling. It most reminds me in style and tone of Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, which in my book is the highest compliment I can give it. But it is also truly unique, compelling and memorable. Also, it drops some important feminist truth bombs. I got a signed copy for The Teen at ALA because I hope this will be a book that she will read again and again and cherish forever.
What are your favorite books that take place in a quirky town? Please add to this list by sharing your recommendations in the comments.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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