“Blind Spot” Laura Ellen

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). To be published October 23, 2012. Harcourt Children’s Books (Houghton Mifflin). 332 pp.

When sixteen-year-old Roz was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration, she felt like everything in her life was turned upside down. She was kicked off the softball team, lost her best friend and couldn’t even read the numbers on her locker without using a magnifying glass. Getting around school and finding people in crowds was difficult. In order to look someone in the eye, she had to focus on the edges of their face because the spots in her eyes got in the way of seeing them directly, leading some to think she was deliberately ignoring them when, in reality, she just couldn’t see them. Life was not looking up for Roz as she desperately tried to show everyone she was normal and didn’t have any problems.

When Jonathan, the handsome star hockey player started paying her attention, Roz ate it up and believed everything he had to say even though she suspected him of being involved with drugs. When she became friendly with Tricia, a recovering addict, she didn’t expect to find that Mr. Dellian, her special needs teacher, seemed to be awfully close with her. She became very suspicious when Tricia disappeared and turned up dead 6 months later.

Roz was sure Mr. Dellian had something to do with Tricia’s death and enlisted Jonathan’s help. Unfortunately, Roz couldn’t remember anything about what happened the night Tricia disappeared, except that they’d argued. Was she missing something important that had happened that night, or could her lack of memory be because she had something to do with Tricia’s death?

“Blind Spot” is not only a good murder mystery, but also does an excellent job educating teen readers 14 and older about Juvenile Macular Degeneration and how it affects eyesight.

“Betrayal” Gregg Olsen

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Empty Coffin series, Book #2. Splinter (Sterling Publishing). Published September 4, 2012. 267 pp.

Twins, Taylor and Hayley, have a special gift. They can see into the past and future, and can also sense each other’s thoughts. One night, they have a strange feeling something bad is going to happen. Soon, they find out their friend Olivia, a foreign exchange student from London, was brutally stabbed at a Halloween party. All the evidence leads to snarky rich girl Brittany and her boyfriend Drew, but it seems Olivia’s roommate Beth is also a suspect.

With cleverly concealed, then revealed, evidence Olsen keeps readers guessing as we join in the investigation and wonder whodunnit? I had my suspicions from the start, but Olsen did a good job of making me second guess myself. The mystery deepens when another girl is murdered, and it seems no one will be safe until the murderer is caught. The plot’s twists and turns, along with a surprise ending, made for a very satisfying read.

The book is good, but I was irked by the author constantly referring to some of the characters by their full names. Readers were already introduced to these characters earlier in the novel, so I didn’t feel it necessary to keep using their full names every time they were mentioned.

Olsen based “Betrayal” on Amanda Knox, who was convicted, along with her boyfriend, in the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007. “Empty Coffin” is an interesting series, with murder mysteries based on real life events. Book #1, “Envy” was based on the suicide of Megan Meier, due to cyberbullying.

It remains to be seen what Book #3, “Guilty,” will be based on when it’s released in the future but I’m sure it will be interesting. Readers get a sneak preview of it at the end of “Betrayal.”

“October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard” Lesléa Newman

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). To be published September 25, 2012. Candlewick Press. 111 pp. (includes Notes, Explanation of Poetic Forms and Resources).

On October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard was pistol whipped in the head with a .357 Magnum, beaten, tied to a fence, and left for dead in 30 degree weather by two men who hated gays. Police reports stated the only surface on his body not covered with blood were the tear tracks on his face.

The author had been invited to be the guest speaker at the University of Wyoming’s Gay Awareness Week, where Matthew had been a student. “October Mourning” is a collection of powerful poems recounting the events leading up to Matthew’s horrific murder, his last moments, as well as the trial and convictions of his assailants. Some poems are told from the point of view of inanimate objects, like the fence to which he had been tied, and all are full of emotion. Poetic styles from Haiku to Villanelles to Pantoum and many more are used to tell Matthew’s sad story.

Newman includes real life quotes from police officers, family members, the murderers and others to bring home her story and emphasize the importance of love versus hate. “October Mourning” is a strong, no holds barred look at ignorance and hate, along with mercy and love, for mature high schoolers.