EW is here to provide reviews and recommendations for the biggest new YA titles. This month, we’ve reviewed two spooky tales that are perfect pre-Halloween reading, jetting readers from New Orleans to Paris. Check out our roundup below, and in case you missed our column from last month, we’ve got you covered.
The Beautiful, by Renée Ahdieh
With cinematic visuals, The Beautiful celebrates New Orleans’ rich history and the diverse cultures that have contributed to the city’s vibrancy. It also bewitchingly depicts the lurid elements with which the place has become synonymous.
Set in 1872, the dark tale follows 17-year-old Celine Rousseau, who flees to the city after she’s forced to abandon her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Given shelter by the sisters of the Ursuline convent, along with six other distinct young women, Celine finds herself in awe of her surroundings. She enjoys the music, food, and soirées as much as she does the dangerous side of The City That Care Forgot and its underworld known as La Cour des Lions, run by the dashing Sébastien Saint Germain. Yet her affection for the enigmatic figure proves complicated when one of the girls from the convent is found dead and Sébastien is believed to be behind the crime.
Renée Ahdieh (Flame in the Mist, Wrath and the Dawn) paints a portrait of these costumes and movements that forms vibrant and enticing imagery, while richly layered and dynamic characters carry the novel’s alluring central mystery. It’s a sensory experience that isn’t for those who typically forgo a slow-burn read. Much time is spent crafting the world the story is built on with the premise moving forward at a languid pace.
In Celine, we are given a headstrong, yet artfully curious heroine who both embraces her femininity and sneers at the traditions that confine and oppress women. Her defiant nature proves cathartic as she appears to offer a critique on the current political climate and women’s often undervalued role in it. Through her, we are also given a rousing and important exploration of trauma.
The Beautiful, which kicks off a new series, returns the vampire novel to popular form, evoking the style of Anne Rice and breathing fresh life into the genre. —Justine Browning
Tunnel of Bones, by V.E. Schwab
Fantasy author extraordinaire Victoria Schwab returns to her City of Ghosts series with the delightful, Paris-set Tunnel of Bones. Schwab has an uncanny ability to adapt her distinct voice for any age group, whether she’s writing epic adult fantasy, a YA series, or as she does here, middle-grade fiction.
Tunnel of Bones picks up where the previous novel in the series left off, drawing readers back into the world of young Cassidy Blake and her ghost best friend Jacob. After a near-death incident, Cassidy can not only see and talk to ghosts but also pass through the Veil into their more temporary state to help ghosts move on. Her parents, conveniently, also have a supernatural tie, hosting a ghost-hunting TV series, which brings them to Paris. There, in the Catacombs (quite possibly the scariest place on the planet), Cassidy encounters a poltergeist determined to wreak havoc on her life and the City of Light as a whole.
Schwab is a superb world-builder, and she paints Paris — from its death-soaked tunnels of bones to its confectionary pastries — with aplomb, lending the city so often associated with romance a spooky je ne sais quoi. Cassidy’s story is also tinged with nightmares, perhaps a foreshadowing of threads of drama to come. But while there are genuine spooks, Schwab never loses sight of Cassidy’s earnest, slightly sarcastic voice and her uniquely charming friendship with Jacob (who can literally hear what she’s thinking — as all true best friends can, let’s be honest). Her pacing is zippy, almost intensely so, but it’s to be expected in a book of this length.
Schwab also continues to build long-term mysteries that will leave you dying for more (pun absolutely intended). Part paranormal travelogue, part BFF adventure, Tunnel of Bones dips and dives through the streets of Paris to deliver a middle-grade novel far darker and oh-so-French than it has any right to be. That’s Schwab’s ineffable gift — her ability to make any world, even the ones most familiar to us, seem strange and unusual. Tunnel of Bones flirts with the macabre in a way that thrills and chills in divine measure just in time for Halloween. Boo-la-la. —Maureen Lee Lenker