Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Why I Wrote My Happiest Queer YA Yet, a guest post by Robin Talley

Amazon.com: The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre (9780062409263): Talley,  Robin: Books

I didn’t actually have happiness in mind when I started writing my new rom-com, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre. But now that I’m looking at that gorgeous candy-colored cover, bedecked with literal hearts and flowers, it’s hitting me that I’ve never written anything quite so cheerful before.

Someone asked me if I set out to write a happy book because I foresaw 2020 and the degree to which we’d need escapism. The answer’s a hard no. If I’d foreseen 2020, I probably would’ve put writing aside and invested all my time in researching bunker-building techniques.

The truth is, I didn’t even know this novel was a rom-com when I first started writing it. All I knew was that a character named Melody McIntyre had shown up in my head, and that she was the stage manager for her high school theater, and that she was very, very good at what she did.

Mel’s world, and the people in it, evolved from there. Before I fully understood what was happening, I was writing about a production of Les Misérables in a high school theater suffering under a decades-old curse. And because many theater people tend to be superstitious (just ask the theater person I’m married to, who grew increasingly impatient with the way I kept saying the real name of the Scottish Play out loud to her while I was writing As I Descended), that wound up being a big part of the story, too — but not because I planned it that way.

The same was true of the central conflict in the story — it just sort of happened. As stage manager, Mel is the leader of her school’s technical theater crew, and when her crew friends realize disaster always seems to strike during their shows when Mel is in a relationship, they ask her to swear off love, just for a couple of months, until they’re done with the spring production of Les Mis. Mel, who’s just suffered a painful breakup, readily agrees, and all is going according to plan — until Odile Rose comes along. Odile, an actor, is just as skilled onstage as Mel is off. She’s already well on her way to Hollywood stardom — and she’s also already fascinated by the efficient, no-nonsense girl who’s always running around backstage with a clipboard, dressed all in black.

It was only when I noticed how deep I was in rom-com tropes that I realized I was writing a rom-com.

Love Curse is my seventh novel, and my seventh to focus on queer characters. I’ve written historical and contemporary, realistic and speculative, retellings and wholly original stories, but until now, I’d never written anything this fun. I’ve never written a book where the characters’ queerness was as incidental to their lives as it is in this story, either.

My 5-year-old drew this photo of me standing next to a shelf full of books, all of which were apparently also written by me.

Don’t get me wrong — Mel’s bisexuality is a big part of who she is. It’s just that nothing about that aspect of her identity is a struggle. She’s part of a wholly accepting family, complete with two dads, and her mentor is a gay man, too. She also has plenty of queer friends — this is the theater crowd, after all — and she goes to school in a liberal suburb of a liberal city where she doesn’t think twice about holding hands with a girl on the street.

Mel’s world isn’t the world I grew up in, not by a long shot. But it was a huge relief to spend time there. To write about a character who’s facing plenty of challenges — but none that stem from her sexual orientation.

For some queer readers, this reflects their reality. For some, it’s escapism. For a lot, it’s somewhere in between.

And again, don’t get me wrong — there’s absolutely still a place on library shelves for books that center coming out, or bullying, or the isolation that comes with being closeted. Sadly, those still reflect the realities of far too many queer teen readers. And up until now, every book I’ve written has centered those things to one degree or another. (Even if, as in my dual-narrative historical/contemporary novel Pulp, they’re literally only half the story.)

Love Curse is different. It was a joy to write, partly because I got to research it by going to a ton of school musicals (I had no idea how much fun Legally Blonde: The Musical could be until I saw the full Wilson High drumline come onstage during the law-school-application-video-essay sequence), but also because of how breezily Mel and her friends treat their own queerness. For them, it’s just a fact of life.

I grew up in the 1990s. There were no out queer kids at my (quite large) high school. Queerness was never just a fact of life, not for anyone I knew.

But I’m writing for teens today. Teens who get to read books about characters like Mel — something it never occurred to me to even dream of doing.

So I guess I wrote my happiest book of all time because, even in the midst of the current state of the world around us, today’s teens and their world make me happy. And I feel so overwhelmingly lucky that I get to write for them.

Meet the author

Author photo credit: Courtney Rae Rawls

Robin Talley (she/her) is a queer author who grew up in southwest Virginia and now lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife and their rambunctious kiddos. She is the New York Times-bestselling author of seven novels for teen readers, including The Love Curse of Melody McIntyreMusic From Another WorldPulp, and As I Descended. You can find her at www.robintalley.com.

About The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre

Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour, this #ownvoices romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley has something for everyone: backstage rendezvous, deadly props, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to True Love.
Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.

What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.

Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.

Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.

ISBN-13: 9780062409263
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre

Publisher’s description

Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour, this #ownvoices romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley has something for everyone: backstage rendezvous, deadly props, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to True Love.

Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.

What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.

Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.

Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: there’s a lot going on in this great book, but ultimately, my review comes down to just simply saying THIS WAS ADORABLE. And while that statement may not have much depth, the book sure does. And I’ll talk about all that good stuff in a second, but for now, if this is all the further you read, know that the excellent romance as well as just the whole vibe of this book is ADORABLE. Goodness knows we could all use something this cute, sweet, real, and satisfying these days.

Mel, who is bi, LOVES theater. She takes her role as stage manager VERY seriously and hopes to go to college for stage management. I was never a theater person, but one of my high school BFFs was a stage manager and went to college for technical theater, and as a result so much of Melody’s taskmaster no-nonsense approach felt very real to me. Anyway. After Mel’s girlfriend, Rachel, breaks up with her at the worst possible moment, Mel’s crew team convinces her to maybe swear off relationships for the next play. They’re a very superstitious bunch and are worried that maybe Mel in a relationship is a curse (they are very big on curses and countercurses). Mel, who has dated a fair amount of people, agrees to this, figuring it can’t be that hard.

Obviously, enter someone she can’t help but fall for, right?

Suddenly, Mel is keeping secrets from her crew, hiding her relationship, not being totally honest with her new girlfriend, and wondering if the onslaught of accidents and mishaps are all because she’s in love.

Now, if you’re an adult reader, here’s what you need to do: remember being a teenager? Everything was always so intense, so significant, so meaningful. So you might read this and be like, wait, they’re really all taking this idea of a curse so seriously? Yes, they are. They’re teenagers. It makes sense. Everyone in this story really does get bent out of shape because of curses and their chaotic effects. Teen readers may just roll with this, but adults, we need to get past whatever issues we may have with that and remember wishing at 11:11, or pinning all your hopes on things like “if the next car that goes by is red, he totally likes me,” or feeling jinxed, etc.

I loved Melody’s dads and their support of her theater passion. I loved the relationship between Mel and Odile, her new girlfriend who is so much more than she seems (and is questioning what exactly her identity is–she knows she’s queer, but she’s figuring a lot out). And I loved the huge cast of diverse, interesting characters.

I read this book pretty quickly, as the countdown to the play format really keeps things moving. It was fun, cute, and completely satisfying. An excellent recommendation for all fans of contemporary fiction.

PS—Be ready to go down a Les Mis rabbit hole on YouTube once you finish the book. My poor family.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062409263
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Take 5: Resources You Should Know

Today I am sharing with you a list of 5 resources that I’m finding helpful, inspiring, or just plain fun. From book lists to science mavens, these are some great resources that you’ll want to consult if they are new to you. Share some of your favorite resources with us in the comments.

Afoma Umesi Blog

This blog is a treasure trove of booklists for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. If you find yourself doing collection development or reader’s advisory, you’ll want to check this website out regularly. The lists are divided into fun categories like siblings and has a solid focus on diversity and inclusion. Afoma Umesi is a Black woman who has dedicated her life to reading and has a medical degree. I have found these lists to be invaluable and I appreciate the work she does to create them.

Raven the Science Maven

“Raven Baxter, also known as Raven the Science Maven, is an internationally acclaimed science communicator and molecular biologist who works to progress the state of science culture by creating spaces that are inclusive, educational, and real.” Raven is fun and educational, combining science with music and cultural awareness and relevance to help bring more kids into STEM education. You’ll definitely want to check out her videos and share them.

2021 YA Releases at Bookshop

Rec it Rachel has been putting together yearly YA release databases for a couple of years now. Each year the format changes just a bit, but this is the second year at Tumblr. You can also buy the books through Bookshop, which supports Indie Bookstores, who definitely need our help during the pandemic.

the21ders.com

Here’s a website dedicated to highlighting middle grade and young adult authors that have debut novels in the year 2021. It can be hard for debut authors to get on the radar and this website will help you find them.

Goodreads list of YA Novels of 2021

I am not a personal user of Goodreads, but I do find their yearly roundup of new YA releases in list form to be quite helpful. They also provide a pretty comprehensive list broken down by each month. It’s a crowd sourced site so there are often errors, which people try to keep fixed, so it’s not a perfect resource but again, a useful one. The 2021 list already has more than 600 new YA books listed.

I hope that you find something new here, or a new way of looking at what we do. If you have a source to share, please drop us a comment.

Friday Finds: November 27, 2020

This Week at TLT

Around the Web

The 10 Best YA and Children’s Books of 2020

S&S to Launch Two Graphic Novel Lines for Young Readers

‘Cruella’ Prequel Novel ‘Hello Cruel Heart’ Debuting in 2021

Romance novelists raise $400,000 for Georgia Senate races – with help from Stacey Abrams

For Native Peoples, Thanksgiving Isn’t A Celebration. It’s A National Day Of Mourning

Best Young Adult Books 2020 | SLJ Best Books

Teaching RevolTeens How to Go Farther – Together , by Teen Librarian Christine Lively

From the time teens are born, their families and then their teachers celebrate, measure, and mark their lives based on what they can do “all by themselves.” Achievements are more important when they’re accomplished alone. The message is, “It’s only worth celebrating when you’ve done it without any help.”

We need to change the way we measure achievement. Finding and accepting help is something that RevolTeens do all the time in their quest to change the world. They don’t insist on doing it alone. Asking for help should be celebrated and lauded.

So many teens hit a brick wall at some point. Some of the crises they will face may center on academics, relationships, health, and opportunities. Tackling problems in any of these areas, and especially in a crisis, requires outside help. However, young people who have been conditioned to believe they should be able to tackle everything “all by themselves” often view asking for help as a sign of weakness and a cause for shame. Those teens suffer pain, and embarrassment that could largely be avoided. We need to start teaching kids, from a young age, to ask for help and that accomplishments achieved with outside help, are often life’s greatest wins. Building communities of support is often the difference between a teen thriving or struggling.


Mental health issues plague so many of us at some point in our lives. I am a young adult life coach and high school librarian. I’ve worked in middle and high schools for over a decade. I have three kids of my own who are 23, 20, and 17 years old, and one thing I know is that every kid I’ve worked with has needed to ask for help. Not all of them have asked and they suffer as a result. Kids are told that mental health problems can be life threatening and they’re instructed to keep an eye out for their own struggles and those of their friends. They’re given wonderful and well meaning information about the resources available – school counselors, therapists, and life coaches. They know all this, but they also have been told that they can do anything they set their minds to “all by themselves” dozens, if not hundreds of times since they were babies. As a result, asking for help sounds a lot like failure.

Teens who question the world around them and who challenge authority need allies and community around them. Those who recruit people to help them talk through ideas learn more about the world they’re questioning, and to help with their work will go farther and accomplish more together. Working together to achieve a goal is a critical skill that teens should be able to practice more often. This column has profiled dozens of RevolTeens who have been successful when they ask for help and work with their communities. Whether organizing marches to demand that Black Lives Matter, or working with friends to deliver groceries to elderly neighbors, or curating art exhibits to ensure greater diversity, the teens who successfully change the world do so with help from many others.

The COVID pandemic is making isolation a way of life for teens. According to the New York Times “Since the start of the pandemic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has heard from many young adults experiencing anxiety and depression, which the organization attributes partly to social isolation. The group has cautioned parents and teachers to look for warning signs, including severe risk-taking behavior, significant weight loss, excessive use of drugs or alcohol and drastic changes in mood.” Now, more than ever, teens need to know that the support and help they need is still out there for them, even though they don’t see the helpers in their isolation.

Any successful social movement, campaign, or revolutionary change happens when people work together to help each other. RevolTeens need to be reminded that they don’t have to change their world alone. There are people who are ready to help them achieve their dreams from school counselors, coaches, teachers, family, and even those people who read about their accomplishments or learn about them through social media.

Life after school as an adult requires constant asking for help. We have to find help to get jobs, to find a place to live, and to pay our taxes often. Knowing how to ask for help, to work with others, and to not take the world on alone are skills we need to teach the teens in our lives as we support their learning and growing.

Savanna Williams is a teen in Kansas City who has asked for help from many people which has enabled her to donate her gorgeous paintings to help children and adults who are struggling. Savanna has founded her own nonprofit organization called Angel Hands Art Foundation which has a team to help Savanna successfully raise money and make donations. This RevolTeen is making a difference, but not all by herself.

Divya K. Chhabra, MD, a psychiatrist, activist, and writer in New York City, gave excellent advice to young activists in Teen Vogue. She advises, rest, reflection, and leaning on support to get you through a long fight for justice. “This may mean different people for different kinds of support. If you have a friend who makes you laugh, find joy in that connection. Find the friend who reliably understands your truth so you can commiserate together. Find the therapist who understands that therapy doesn’t start with a blank slate. It’s OK to choose your battles and to decide when something isn’t working for you.” Teens will need different kinds of support fron different people. If we’re teaching then to ask for and seek out help when they need it, we’ll be helping them take on big challenges, and helping to preserve their mental health.   

Asking for help, and accomplishing things with help must be celebrated in our kids – from the youngest ages. Yes, individual accomplishments are worth celebrating, but relying on others and accomplishing tasks together should be lauded even more loudly. If asking for help when they’re stuck on homework, a project, or helping around the house is acknowledged as an act of strength, courage, and intelligence, our kids will gain more experience and pride in moments when they realize they can’t do something alone.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.

Holiday Romance Recommendations

Now that one of my absolute all time favorite holiday themed books – Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares has been made into a Netflix series, I can live safe in the knowledge that almost everyone is aware of its appeal. Another favorite of mine, Let it Snow, also received the Netflix treatment in 2019. But that has me thinking, what should be next?

Might I humbly suggest they adapt this?

As a more diverse title, it holds strong appeal. Twelve stories by some of the YA greats of our time, all edited by Stephanie Perkins? Yes, please.

That, however, has me at the end of my expertise on the subject, so I went looking for more. Here is what I found:

From the publisher:

Sophie wants one thing for Christmas—a little freedom from her overprotective parents. So when they decide to spend Christmas in South Louisiana with her very pregnant older sister, Sophie is looking forward to some much needed private (read: make-out) time with her long-term boyfriend, Griffin. Except it turns out that Griffin wants a little freedom from their relationship. Heartbroken, Sophie flees to her grandparents’ house, where the rest of her boisterous extended family is gathered for the holiday. That’s when her nonna devises a (not so) brilliant plan: Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates by different family members. Like her sweet cousin Sara, who sets her up with a hot guy at an exclusive underground party. Or her crazy aunt Patrice, who signs Sophie up for a lead role in a living nativity. With a boy who barely reaches her shoulder. And a screaming baby. When Griffin turns up unexpectedly and begs for a second chance, Sophie feels more confused than ever. Because maybe, just maybe, she’s started to have feelings for someone else . . . Someone who is definitely not available. This is going to be the worst Christmas break ever . . . or is it?

Sounds promising!

Or maybe this:

From the publisher:

Charlotte “Charlie” Donovan knows exactly what she wants for Christmas: Teo Ortiz. He’s a star athlete, a National Honor Society member, and the most popular guy in school. Plus he contributes to the school paper, where Charlie is a co-editor. Basically, he’s exactly the type of guy Charlie’s looking for. The only problem is—he barely knows she exists.

But Charlie has a plan: rig the paper’s Secret Santa and win his heart with the perfect gift. The catch? She has no idea what to get him. Enter J.D. Ortiz–Teo’s cousin, and possibly the most annoying person on the planet. He’s easy going, laid back, disorganized, and spontaneous—the exact opposite
of Charlie (and Teo). But he knows what Teo wants, so she’s stuck with him.

Yet, the more time Charlie spends with J.D., the more she starts to wonder: Does she really know what, or rather who, she wants for Christmas?

And for fans of the TV show Doctor Who, there is always this:

From the publisher:

Inside this festive book of Doctor Who stories, you’ll find timey-wimey mysteries, travels in the TARDIS, monster-chasing excitement and plenty of Christmas magic. Find out what happens when the Third Doctor meets Jackie Tyler, the Seventh Doctor and Ace encounter an alien at Macy’s department store, and the Ninth Doctor tries to get Rose a red bicycle for Christmas.

Do you have any favorite holiday romances you’d like to see get the Netflix treatment? Chime in below in the comments.

Book Mail: New and forthcoming titles for all ages

Book mail is still arriving here at the Minnesota branch of TLT, just not in the same quantity as it used to, pre-pandemic. One of my 2021 goals is to try to switch more of my reading to digital, which is not my preferred way but is clearly what needs to be done if I’m going to keep up with forthcoming books. As always, I’m grateful for all the publishers who send so much good book mail my way. Everything I get goes back out the door in some fashion. If you follow me on Twitter (@CiteSomething), you see all the giveaways I do there. Be on the lookout for more soon!

All descriptions from the publishers.

The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless

The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless by Charlotte Markey (ISBN-13: 9781108718776 Publisher: Cambridge University Press Publication date: 09/10/2020, Ages 12-17)

It is worrying to think that most girls feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and that this can lead to serious problems including depression and eating disorders. Can some of those body image worries be eased? Body image expert and psychology professor Dr. Charlotte Markey helps girls aged 9-15 to understand, accept, and appreciate their bodies. She provides all the facts on puberty, mental health, self-care, why diets are bad news, dealing with social media, and everything in-between. Girls will find answers to questions they always wanted to ask, the truth behind many body image myths, and real-life stories from girls who share their own experiences. Through this easy-to-read and beautifully illustrated guide, Dr. Markey teaches girls how to nurture both mental and physical heath to improve their own body image, shows the positive impact they can have on others, and enables them to go out into the world feeling fearless!

Lunch Will Never Be the Same! #1

Lunch Will Never Be the Same! #1 by Veera Hiranandani, Christine Almeda (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593096901 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 6-8)

Written by Newbery Honor-winner Veera Hiranandani, with all-new illustrations by Christine Almeda!

Phoebe G. Green has never given much thought to food, but when a new French classmate enters the cafeteria with a lunchbox full of unusual foods, a new love is born. Spunky and likable, Phoebe is a budding foodie who’s sure to win over your heart—and stomach!

Phoebe loves her pet fish, Betty #2 (named after Betty #1, may she rest in peace), making lists, and her best friend Sage. But when Camille, a tall French girl, arrives at school with unusual lunches, Phoebe can’t seem to think about anything else, including her friendship with Sage. Thanks to Camille, Phoebe discovers goat cheese, butter lettuce, and cilantro (although she’s convinced that’s not a real word). She’s determined to get invited to her new friend’s house for dinner to see what other mysterious food Camille eats. But what about Sage? Can Phoebe make a new friend and keep an old one?

Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf by Hayley Krischer (ISBN-13: 9780593114117 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 14-17)

Ali Greenleaf and Blythe Jensen couldn’t be more different.

Ali is sweet, bitingly funny, and just a little naive. Blythe is beautiful, terrifying, and the most popular girl in school. They’ve never even talked to each other, until a party when Ali decides she’ll finally make her move on Sean Nessel, her longtime crush and the soccer team’s superstar. But Sean pushes Ali farther than she wants to go. When she resists—he rapes her.

Blythe sees Ali when she runs from the party, everyone sees her. And Blythe knows something happened with Sean; she knows how he treats girls. Even so, she’s his best friend, his confidant. When he tells her it was a misunderstanding, she decides to help him make things right.

So Blythe befriends Ali, bringing her into a circle of ruthless popular girls, and sharing her own dark secrets. Despite the betrayal at the heart of their relationship, they see each other, in a way no one ever has before.

In her searing, empowering debut novel, Hayley Krischer tells the story of what happened that night, and how it shaped Ali and Blythe forever. Both girls are survivors in their own ways, and while their friendship might not be built to last, it’s one that empowers each of them to find justice on their own terms.

The Infamous Frankie Lorde 1: Stealing Greenwich

The Infamous Frankie Lorde 1: Stealing Greenwich by Brittany Geragotelis (ISBN-13: 9781645950264 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 10-14)

A pre-teen international thief turns over a new leaf (sort of) to right the societal wrongs in her snooty new town in this upper middle grade series starter for fans of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls and Heist Society, Stuart Gibb’s Spy School, and Ocean’s 8.

Being the protégé (and daughter) of the man responsible for some of the world’s biggest heists has given Frankie Lorde a unique perspective. And a special set of skills. She can spot an FBI agent in a second, pick a lock in two, and steal a Bugatti in three. (Even if she’s technically too young to drive it.) Frankie and her dad are a team, and their jobs are the stuff of international awe.

And then Dad is arrested.

Sent to live with her uncle, who she barely knows and who is, ironically, a cop, Frankie is forced to navigate an entirely foreign world: suburbia. She has to go to middle school, learn what kids her age wear and eat and do for fun—and, alas, it doesn’t involve lifting expensive watches. 

But life in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the richest towns in America, also opens her eyes to a startling reality, and seeing the stark contrast of the the super-rich and the super-not-rich who support the community living side-by-side gives Frankie an idea. What if she were to put her less-than-legal know-how to good use, turning the tables and evening the score . . .?

Fresh, fun, and timely, Stealing Greenwich introduces a smart, slick young criminal mastermind with a heart of gold who is sure to become a darling for middle grade set.

Closer to Nowhere

Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins (ISBN-13: 9780593108611 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 10-13)

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins’s poignant middle grade novel in verse about coming to terms with indelible truths of family and belonging.

For the most part, Hannah’s life is just how she wants it. She has two supportive parents, she’s popular at school, and she’s been killing it at gymnastics. But when her cousin Cal moves in with her family, everything changes. Cal tells half-truths and tall tales, pranks Hannah constantly, and seems to be the reason her parents are fighting more and more. Nothing is how it used to be. She knows that Cal went through a lot after his mom died and she is trying to be patient, but most days Hannah just wishes Cal never moved in.

For his part, Cal is trying his hardest to fit in, but not everyone is as appreciative of his unique sense of humor and storytelling gifts as he is. Humor and stories might be his defense mechanism, but if Cal doesn’t let his walls down soon, he might push away the very people who are trying their best to love him.

Told in verse from the alternating perspectives of Hannah and Cal, this is a story of two cousins who are more alike than they realize and the family they both want to save.

Concrete Kids by Amyra León: 9780593095195 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Concrete Kids by Amyra León, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593095195 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 10/13/2020 Series: Pocket Change Collective, Ages 12-17)

In Concrete Kids, playwright, musician, and educator Amyra León uses free verse to challenge us to dream beyond our circumstances — and sometimes even despite them.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. 

Concrete Kids is an exploration of love and loss, melody and bloodshed. Musician, playwright, and educator Amyra León takes us on a poetic journey through her childhood in Harlem, as she navigates the intricacies of foster care, mourning, self-love, and resilience. In her signature free-verse style, she invites us all to dream with abandon—and to recognize the privilege it is to dream at all.

Taking on the Plastics Crisis

Taking on the Plastics Crisis by Hannah Testa, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593223338 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 10/13/2020 Series: Pocket Change Collective, Ages 12-17)

In this personal, moving essay, youth activist Hannah Testa shares with readers how she led a grassroots political campaign to successfully pass state legislation limiting single-use plastics and how she influenced global businesses to adopt more sustainable practices. Through her personal journey, readers can learn how they, too, can follow in Hannah’s footsteps and lower their carbon footprint by simply refusing single-use plastics.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, youth activist Hannah Testa, the founder of Hannah4Change, chronicles both her personal and political mission to save the Earth’s oceans by limiting single-use plastic products.

Kwame Alexander's Free Write: A Poetry Notebook

Kwame Alexander’s Free Write: A Poetry Notebook by Kwame Alexander (ISBN-13: 9781728222189 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 11/03/2020, Ages 8-14)

From the Newbery-Medal winning author of The Crossover and The Undefeatedcomes an exciting , interactive, poetry notebook—empowering kids to express themselves in verse.

Have you ever written a poem? How about rap lyrics or a letter or even a list? ‘Cause those can all be poetry too. Wanna give it a try? Bestselling author and poet extraordinaire Kwame Alexander created this super-fly notebook just for YOU! It’s bursting with cool activities, sizzling poetry starters, inspirational quotes, and lots of space to create. So grab your pen or pencil ’cause it’s time to give your words FLOW and RHYTHM and RHYME.

Incredible stories. Award-winning storytellers. Epic adventure, mystery, and fun? We’ve got it all in Ghostwriter, the extraordinary new series from the Emmy-award winning hit Apple TV+ show, created by your friends at Sesame Workshop.

A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha (ISBN-13: 9781682815090 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 12/01/2020, Ages 14-18)

Based on Portuguese legend, this #OwnVoices historical fantasy is an epic tale of mystery, magic, and making the impossible choice between love and duty…

With just one touch, bread turns into roses. With just one bite, cheese turns into lilies.

There’s a famine plaguing the land, and Princess Yzabel is wasting food simply by trying to eat. Before she can even swallow, her magic—her curse—has turned her meal into a bouquet. She’s on the verge of starving, which only reminds her that the people of Portugal have been enduring the same pain for years.

If only it were possible to reverse her magic. Then she could turn flowers intofood.

Fatyan, a beautiful Enchanted Moura, is the only one who can help. But she is trapped by magical binds. She can teach Yzabel how to control her curse—if Yzabel sets her free with a kiss.

As the King of Portugal’s betrothed, Yzabel would be committing treason, but what good is a king if his country has starved to death?

With just one kiss, Fatyan is set free. And with just one kiss, Yzabel is yearning for more.

She’d sought out Fatyan to help her save the people. Now, loving her could mean Yzabel’s destruction.

A Curse of Roses includes themes, imagery, and content that might be triggering for some readers. Discussions of religious-based self harm, religious-based eating disorders, and religious-based internalized homophobia appear throughout the novel.

Heiress Apparently (Daughters of the Dynasty)

Heiress Apparently (Daughters of the Dynasty) by Diana Ma (ISBN-13: 9781419749964 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 12/01/2020, ages 13-18)

The first book in an epic and romantic YA series following the fictionalized descendants of the only officially recognized empress regent of China

Gemma Huang is a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Illinois, having abandoned plans for college to pursue a career in acting, much to the dismay of her parents. Now she’s living with three roommates in a two-bedroom hovel, auditioning for bit roles that hardly cover rent. Gemma’s big break comes when she’s asked to play a lead role in an update of M. Butterfly filming for the summer in Beijing. When she arrives, she’s stopped by paparazzi at the airport. She quickly realizes she may as well be the twin of one of the most notorious young socialites in Beijing. Thus kicks off a summer of revelations, in which Gemma uncovers a legacy her parents have spent their lives protecting her from—one her mother would conceal from her daughter at any cost.

Be Dazzled

Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala (ISBN-13: 9781492682691 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 01/05/2021, Ages 14-18)

Project Runway goes to Comic Con in an epic queer love story about creativity, passion, and finding the courage to be your most authentic self.

Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making—for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything—and everyone—else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.

Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store—or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.

But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.

Crown of Bones

Crown of Bones by A. K. Wilder (ISBN-13: 9781640634145 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 01/05/2021, Ages 14-17)

Raise. Your. Phantom.

In a world on the brink of the next Great Dying, no amount of training can prepare us for what is to come…

A young heir will raise the most powerful phantom in all of Baiseen.
A dangerous High Savant will do anything to control the nine realms.
A mysterious and deadly Mar race will steal children into the sea.
And a handsome guide with far too many secrets will make me fall in love.

My name is Ash. A lowly scribe meant to observe and record. And yet I think I’m destined to surprise us all.

Clues to the Universe

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li (ISBN-13: 9780063008885 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 8-12)

This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

Amari and the Night Brothers

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston (ISBN-13: 9780062975164 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/19/2021, Ages 8-12)

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Unchosen

Unchosen by Katharyn Blair (ISBN-13: 9780062657640 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/26/2021, Ages 14-17)

Katharyn Blair crafts a fiercely feminist fantasy with a horrifying curse, swoon-worthy sea captains, and the power of one girl to choose her own fate in this contemporary standalone adventure that’s perfect for fans of The Fifth Wave and Seafire, and for anyone who has ever felt unchosen.

For Charlotte Holloway, the world ended twice.

The first was when her childhood crush, Dean, fell in love—with her older sister.

The second was when the Crimson, a curse spread through eye contact, turned the majority of humanity into flesh-eating monsters.

Neither end of the world changed Charlotte. She’s still in the shadows of her siblings. Her popular older sister, Harlow, now commands forces of survivors. And her talented younger sister, Vanessa, is the Chosen One—who, legend has it, can end the curse.

When their settlement is raided by those seeking the Chosen One, Charlotte makes a reckless decision to save Vanessa: she takes her place as prisoner.

The word spreads across the seven seas—the Chosen One has been found.

But when Dean’s life is threatened and a resistance looms on the horizon, the lie keeping Charlotte alive begins to unravel. She’ll have to break free, forge new bonds, and choose her own destiny if she has any hope of saving her sisters, her love, and maybe even the world.

Because sometimes the end is just a new beginning.

Bump

Bump by Matt Wallace (ISBN-13: 9780063007987 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/26/2021, Ages 8-12)

A moving and triumphant middle grade contemporary debut from award-winning author Matt Wallace about a heroic young girl—who dreams of becoming a pro wrestler—learning to find courage and fight for what she loves. Perfect for fans of Kelly Yang, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds’ Track series!

MJ knows what it means to hurt. Bruises from gymnastics heal, but big hurts—like her dad not being around anymore—don’t go away. Now her mom needs to work two jobs, and MJ doesn’t have friends at school to lean on.

There is only one thing MJ loves: the world of professional wrestling. She especially idolizes the luchadores and the stories they tell in the ring. When MJ learns that her neighbor, Mr. Arellano, runs a wrestling school, she has a new mission in life: join the school, train hard, and become a wrestler.

But trouble lies ahead. After wrestling in a showcase event, MJ attracts the attention of Mr. Arellano’s enemy at the State Athletic Commission. There are threats to shut the school down, putting MJ’s new home—and the community that welcomed her—at risk. What can MJ do to save her new family?

Can't Take That Away

Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore (ISBN-13: 9781547605309 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 03/09/2021, Ages 12-17)

An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice. 

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights—and they refuse to be silenced. 

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s Can’t Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.

The Prison Healer

The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni (ISBN-13: 9780358434559 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 04/13/2021, Ages 12-16)

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.
 
When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.
 
Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.
 
But no one has ever survived.
 
With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.
 
From bestselling author Lynette Noni comes a dark, thrilling YA fantasy perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, and Sabaa Tahir.
 

ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse: Cooke, Stephanie, Costa,  Mari: 9780358168997: Amazon.com: Books

ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse by Stephanie Cooke, Mari Costa (ISBN-13: 9780358164586 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 07/06/2021, Ages 8-12)

A witch named Abby and her three friends—a wolf-girl, a ghost, and a pumpkinhead—band together to try and save their supernatural town from an invasion of rabid (but adorable!) chaos bunnies in this enchanting middle-grade graphic novel for fans of Making Friends, The Okay Witch, and Lumberjanes.

It’s fall break in the supernatural town of North Haven, and young witch Abby’s plans include pitching in at her mom’s magical coffee shop, practicing her potion making, and playing board games with her best friends—a pumpkinhead, a wolf-girl, and a ghost. But when Abby finds her younger sister being picked on by some speed demons, she lets out a burst of magic so strong, it opens a portal to a realm of chaos bunnies. And while these bunnies may look cute, they’re about to bring the a-hop-ocalypse (and get Abby in a cauldronful of trouble) unless she figures out a way to reverse the powerful magic she unwittingly released. What’s a witch to do?

In this deliciously humorous, cozy, and bewitching graphic novel, sometimes the most of powerful magic comes from our connections to family and friends (but kicking bunny butt is great, too).

Have Even More Books, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Love in English by Maria E. Andreu

A fresh, compulsively readable novel about finding your voice—and your heart—in any language.

Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.

All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school.

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

A gorgeously gothic, deeply romantic YA debut fantasy about two enemies trapped inside a crumbling mansion, with no escape from the monsters within.

Honor your oath, destroy your country.

Wren Southerland is the most talented healer in the Queen’s Guard, but her reckless actions have repeatedly put her on thin ice with her superiors. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate to cure his servant from a mysterious disease, she seizes the chance to prove herself.

When she arrives at Colwick Hall, Wren realizes that nothing is what it seems. Particularly when she discovers her patient is actually Hal Cavendish, the sworn enemy of her kingdom.

As the snowy mountains make it impossible to leave the estate, Wren and Hal grow closer as they uncover a sinister plot that could destroy everything they hold dear. But choosing love could doom both their kingdoms.

Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched, gothic, romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night

Yolk by Mary E.K. Choi

Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.

On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying.

When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a powerful, achingly romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

All Beth wants is for her tight-knit circle of friends—Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, Sunny Chen, and Jason Tsou—to stay together. With her family splintered and her future a question mark, these friends are all she has—even if she sometimes wonders if she truly fits in with them. Besides, she’s certain she’ll never be able to tell Jason how she really feels about him, so friendship will have to be enough.

Then Beth witnesses a private act of violence in Jason’s home, and the whole group is shaken. Beth and her friends make a pact to do whatever it takes to protect Jason, no matter the sacrifice. But when even their fierce loyalty isn’t enough to stop Jason from making a life-altering choice, Beth must decide how far she’s willing to go for him—and how much of herself she’s willing to give up.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Debut author Angeline Boulley crafts a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.

As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home.

Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

Debut author Angeline Boulley is a Member of Chippewa Tribe

All descriptions come from the publisher

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so I just put that hobby to good use for my mom.

The Death Penalty in YA Lit

I recently listened to the outstanding debut titled This is My America by Kim Johnson on audio. In this moving YA novel, a young girl writes to a local organization every week asking them to help her father who sits on death row knowing that he is innocent. It’s a moving testament to a daughter’s love in a racist system that convicts Black men at rates far more frequently and in ways far more severe then it does white men. It’s moving, timely, relevant and startling real. You will be moved as you read this compelling debut.

As I listened to this book it was announced that Attorney General Bill Barr had ordered the execution of three federal inmates in the coming days. It was a stark juxtaposition and reminder that real life issues often present themselves in timely ways in the literature our young people are reading. But it also got me thinking, what other YA books address the topic of the death penalty? Not just incarceration, but the death penalty.

Told in letters, Bryan Bliss tackled this topic in the 2018 YA book titled We’ll Fly Away. In this moving piece, an inmate on death row tells the story of how exactly it is he landed there. Bliss has a heart for teens and writes from a place of compassion.

In 2017, Lamar Giles tackled the topic in his Las Vegas set YA novel Overturned. In Overturned, teen Nicki Tate’s dad is suddenly freed from death row when new evidence comes to light, but the man who comes back to her is not the same man that went into the prison. What follows is a type of noir mystery that tackled the seedy underbelly of corruption in Las Vegas and explores the lengths that people will go through to keep their darkest secrets.

And I would be remiss to talk about this topic in YA lit without mentioning the masterpiece that is Monster by Walter Dean Myers. Here we meet Steve, an aspiring filmmaker, still a teen, who becomes the main suspect in a robbery gone bad that results in death. Because of the crime, capital punishment is on the table. In a court room drama presented as a movie script, we see the trial through Steve’s eyes as he comes to realize that the world seems him as a monster, and not the boy that he is. This book is being adapted to film and will soon be available on Netflix I believe.

And that’s about it. If you go beyond fiction, you’ll find some startling nonfiction on the topic. Among them is No Choirboy: Murder, Violence and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin. I had no idea that just as recently as 2005 the United States was 1 of 8 countries that punished youth under the age of 18 to execution.

There are of course a wide variety of nonfiction titles on this topic for your teen nonfiction collection as it’s a topic covered in a lot of those current controversy series books that kids use for school reports. And it is still a very relevant and timely topic, as the news keeps reminding us. I recommend all of the fiction books recommended in this post to round out your collection and be thoughtful, moving, compassionate companions to those thinking about this topic.

Publisher’s Book Description for This is My America by Kim Johnson

ear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Publisher’s Description for We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love. For fans of NPR’s Serial podcast, Jason Reynolds, and Matt de la Peña.

Overturned by Lamar Giles

Nikki Tate is infamous, even by Las Vegas standards. Her dad is sitting on death row, convicted of killing his best friend in a gambling dispute turned ugly. And for five years, he’s maintained his innocence. But Nikki wants no part of that. She’s been working on Operation Escape Vegas: playing in illegal card games so she can save up enough money to get out come graduation day.

Then her dad’s murder conviction is overturned. The new evidence seems to come out of nowhere and Nikki’s life becomes a mess when he’s released from prison. Because the dad who comes home is not the dad she remembers. And he’s desperately obsessed with finding out who framed him—and why.

As her dad digs into the seedy underbelly of Vegas, the past threatens everything and Nikki is drawn into his deadly hunt for the truth. But in the city of sin, some sinners will do anything to keep their secrets, and Nikki soon finds herself playing for the biggest gamble ever—her life.

Publisher’s Description of Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. Monster.

Fade In: Interior Court. A guard sits at a desk behind Steve. Kathy O’Brien, Steve’s lawyer, is all business as she talks to Steve.

O’Brien
Let me make sure you understand what’s going on. Both you and this king character are on trial for felony murder. Felony Murder is as serious as it gets. . . . When you’re in court, you sit there and pay attetion. You let the jury know that you think the case is a serious as they do. . . .

Steve
You think we’re going to win ?

O’Brien (seriously)
It probably depends on what you mean by “win.”


Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout.

Guilty or innocent, Steve becomes a pawn in the hands of “the system,” cluttered with cynical authority figures and unscrupulous inmates, who will turn in anyone to shorten their own sentences. For the first time, Steve is forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.

As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. But despite his efforts, reality is blurred and his vision obscured until he can no longer tell who he is or what is the truth. This compelling novel is Walter Dean Myers’s writing at its best.

Sunday Reflections: We Promised Them Democracy

It is now 19 days since the 2020 presidential election here in the United States of America. For many teens, this was their first chance to vote, and vote they did. By November 1st, more than 10 million youth in Gen Z and Millenials had already voted. And those youth voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden (with a few exceptions among key demographic groups like white men and women).

And although there is a lot to be discussed about this data, it’s what happens next that I want to talk about. You see, I am a person who told teens everywhere that they should vote and that their vote was their voice and it mattered because we are a democracy and that is part of what makes America, well, America. But there are a lot of people working hard to discount their votes and make people like me into liars.

Here we are 19 days later and there have been 33 court cases attempting to throw out a lot of people’s votes. In particular, the incumbent president and his party seem to be attempting to throw out the vote in areas that voted specifically in high numbers for Joe Biden. He is trying to nullify the votes of over 10 million young voters because they weren’t for him.

But it’s not just our youth, our Black citizens are having their votes challenged and cast aside as well. In Michigan, the incumbent president is seeking to throw out the vote because of the city of Detroit, which has an overwhelmingly Black population. He is also challenging specifically two counties in Wisconsin and those counties are, as you probably can figure, overwhelmingly Black as well. Racism is alive and well in America, as we have seen in the rising rates of violent hate crimes in the United States over the last four years. Racism and white nationalism have gotten so bad that the American Medical Association has declared it a public health crisis.

It’s 19 days later and we’ve seen the incumbent president call up representatives in Michigan and invite them to the White House to discuss the Michigan vote. Pictures circulated online of these representatives downing expensive champagne at the Trump Hotel. Michigan is now requesting to delay certifying their vote by 2 weeks. It turns out that the will of the Michigan voters, especially the Black voters, may be thrown out and the Michigan GOP is willing to let democracy burn while they hold the match in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other.

Meanwhile over in Georgia the hard work of grassroots organizers like Stacey Abrahms meant that Georgia voted Blue for the first time in decades. Republican leaders in Georgia accused Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of trying to ask them to throw out votes. It’s important to note that these are Republicans, strongly in favor of Trump, who appear to be standing up for democracy. But as I write this protests are happening and a third recount has been asked for. This recount will come, once, again, at the expense of Georgia tax payers who like the rest of America are struggling financially in the midst of a deadly global pandemic. As I write this, more than 250,000 Americans have died and others will face life long health complications we are just starting to learn about.

In Pennsylvania, there is an attempt to throw out ballots and challenge them there as well. The case was dismissed by the judge as having no evidence. As I write this there is discussion that the incumbent president and his team will take this challenge all the way to the Supreme Court. So if this happens then the fate of democracy will be left in the hands of 9 people, 3 of whom were appointed by the incumbent president in the past 4 years. One of whom was appointed just weeks before the presidential election despite the fact that the Senate wouldn’t even consider a Supreme Court judge 8 months before the 2016 election because it was “improper”. So the fate of democracy rests in the hands of 9 people.

9 people may ultimately get to decide who will be the president of the united states moving forward in 2021. There are 331 million people living in the United States.

All of this is playing out very publicly. The incumbent president keeps tweeting about it. New media and social media platforms have risen up to share these claims of rampant voter fraud that have not been proved by any evidence whatsoever. And a generation of teens born and raised with devices in their hands can see it all happening in real time.

And our teens can see it all happening. And they are dismayed. They feel betrayed by people like you and I who told them that democracy mattered. And they are struggling mental health wise with the dual issues of living in a deadly global pandemic and being a part of one of the most contentious elections in my lifetime. They look at us and think, you sold me a bill of goods and it has broken me. And I’m not sure they are going to trust us, the adults in the room, for a very long time.

I’ve been carrying around my own anxiety about this election and what looks like the demise of democracy and an overthrow of the will of the people. But what really haunts me late at night is the look of betrayal and terror I see in the teens that I told to go out and vote because their vote was their voice and that their voice mattered. Whichever candidate those teens voted for, the adults in the room are making it hard for them to trust the process with the way they are handling the outcome. And if no one trusts the process, in which members of both parties and outside observers have called one of the most secure elections in our country’s history, then how does democracy continue.

I’m especially angry and heartbroken to see our country and those in charge of it sending yet another message to our teens of color, our Black teens in particular, that their voice doesn’t matter and their votes shouldn’t count. Racism is alive and well in America and it is indeed a public health crisis.

We promised each generation of kids a democracy, I hope we will honor our promise. I can’t imagine what will happen if we don’t to entire generations of our youngest and most vulnerable youth. We shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice our democracy or our youth so that a few key players can maintain wealth and power. In the end, nobody will win.