A lot of young adult literature is about dystopia, dysfunction and darkness. I'm not knocking dystopia, dysfunction and darkness — some of my favorite books are pretty grim.
But sometimes a funny, action-packed fantasy with just the right amount of romance thrown in, the kind of book that you devour with a silly grin on your face, is a very welcome breath of fresh air.
Let me introduce your next breath of fresh air: "Poison" (Hyperion, 2013), by Bridget Zinn. Sixteen-year-old Kyra is a highly skilled potion master. She is also a would-be assassin who tried — and failed — to kill her former best friend, the Princess Ariana. Kyra knows that someone is intent on destroying her kingdom and that somehow Ariana is involved.
But when Kyra, a master sharpshooter, somehow fails to kill Ariana with her poison dart, she goes on the lam. Now, with the princess in hiding and the king's soldiers and her former business partners on her trail, she sets off to find her former friend and finish the job.
A book about a girl who tries and fails to kill her best friend is not dark? Indeed not! In her quest to find her friend, she acquires an adorable little pig, Rosie, who can track like a bloodhound. She encounters a charming, funny, and outrageously handsome young man named Fred and his dog Langley as she is fording a river wearing only her embarrassingly frilly underclothes.
The two develop one of those classic, screwball romantic comedy relationships over the course of the book: they flirt, they quibble, they stomp off in anger, and yet they can't stay away from each other. She can't tell him her secret, but, as it turns out, Fred has a secret of his own.
Full of twists and turns, cliffhanger chapter endings, evil characters and people who are distinctly not what they appear to be, "Poison" is a rollicking adventure from start to finish. Kyra and the princess are strong female characters, and Fred is the kind of very cool guy who isn't threatened by independent chicks. The ending is happy but not in the least bit sappy. With minimal violence and an innocent romance, this light-hearted adventure is suitable for younger teens and many middle-grade readers.
Older teens (and adults, too) who enjoy books like "The Princess Bride" will find a lot to like in "Poison."
Sadly, readers who enjoyed "Poison" and look forward to this debut author's next book will be disappointed. Bridget Zinn died, far too young, before she got a chance to see her book published. So cherish "Poison" because it's all you're going to get from this talented young author.
Sara Latta is a science writer and author of 17 books for children and young adults. You can learn more about her work and link to past reviews athttp://www.saralatta.com.