When August rolls around, I always feel a pressure to cram things into the last days of summer. Though this summer has been unlike any I’ve ever experienced, August is here, school will soon start for my children, and I am feeling that same pressure to squeeze in what I can. I always start the summer with an optimistically huge TBR (to be read) pile of books, and August is the point when I eye it and think, “Okay, I’m down to the wire, what do I really want to get through in the next month?” For teens, this can also be a “last gasp” opportunity to squeeze in one last fun book that allows them to completely escape the real world before they start their school year. Here are a few teen titles that provide a literary escape to fantasy worlds.
Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir
What happened to Wendy from Peter Pan, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland after their stories ended and they returned home? In the graphic novel Cheshire Crossing, these three girls meet up as teenagers, when their history of being taken to fantasy worlds pulls them together at a special boarding school. Their life experiences have led them to grow tough, resilient, wary, and determined to never be victims again. When they are sucked through a portal and find that Neverland, Oz, and Wonderland have somehow collided, they fight to save each other and the fantasy worlds, leading to a rollicking world-jumping adventure. Though we know these characters from beloved children’s books, Cheshire Crossing is truly for teens, with snarky characters, saucy language, and snappy discussions of teen-centered topics.
Don't Call the Wolf by Aleksandra Ross
Part human and part animal, Ren is a shape-shifting lynx trying to survive in an enchanted forest where inhabitants are dominated by fear of attacks by the Golden Dragon and the deadly demons that are taking over the forest. Most humans have left or been killed. Ren has brought many of the forest's animals into an abandoned castle for protection. But what she really wants is the freedom to roam her forest in peace, without the threat of evil. To free the forest, the dragon must be killed.
Lukasz is the youngest of the Wolf Lords, a family of dragon-slayers who have come down from the mountains to rid the cities of dragons. When Lukasz's brother disappears, his search takes him into Ren's enchanted, deadly forest. A chance meeting leads to an agreement: Lukasz will kill Ren's dragon if she will guide him through the forest to help him find his brother.
Ren and Lukasz make their way through the forest fighting gruesome battles with demons as they try to stay alive long enough to reach the Golden Dragon. Good guys who turn out to be bad guys, bad guys who turn out to be good guys, not knowing who is going to live or die, and the constant threat of demons born from the dead make this a creepy page-turner.
The Spinner of Dreams by K.A. Reynolds
Annalise is cursed. When she was born, the sky above her home cracked open, showering the surrounding area with darkness and tragedy. Annalise also has a physical manifestation of her curse: one hand larger than the other, with a black heart-shaped mark that burns. Though Annalise does her best to control it, smoke and fire sometimes erupt from that hand, causing pain and destruction. The townspeople hate Annalise and her family for the horror she’s brought to their town, and the family have become prisoners in their own home, fearful of how they will be treated if they go out in public. When Annalise decides she can’t bear to cause others any more pain, she sets out to free herself from her curse. The challenges she faces along the way are deadly, and ultimately she must be true to who she is to free herself from her fate.
Truckus Maximus by Scott Peterson
In a future world where the Roman Empire never ended, gladiators compete for their lives in Truckus Maximus, a monster car and truck race broadcast across the Empire. Those who stay alive achieve great honor for themselves, their team, and the individuals who own both the vehicles and drivers alike. The best driver is Axl, and his skills draw the eyes of the other racers, the spectators, and the empire’s leaders. Axl is on the verge of winning 100 races, an achievement no driver has ever reached. Winning 100 races will make him the first Centurion, and he will win his freedom. But the closer he comes to becoming Centurion, the more uncertain and treacherous the road becomes. He must navigate around the machinations of his team's owner, the ego of the Caesar, and the sadistic meddling of the Dominus who runs and manipulates every Truckus Maximus race. The illustrations in this graphic novel convey the action and danger of these high-speed, tragedy-clogged races and bring the reader fully into this futuristic and fraught world.
Darcie Caswell is the Youth Services Coordinator at CRRL. This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.