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Book Review: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

Publisher’s description

the unwantedIn the tradition of Don Brown’s critically acclaimed, full-color nonfiction graphic novels The Great American Dust Bowl and Sibert Honor winning Drowned CityThe Unwanted is an important, timely, and eye-opening exploration of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, exposing the harsh realities of living in, and trying to escape, a war zone. 

 

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

 

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of all of Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction. If you are unfamiliar with them, I hope you will check into them and add them to your collections, particularly his stunningly moving book on Hurricane Katrina, Drowned City. This slim volume packs a real punch, filled with information and first-person accounts of Syria’s refugee crisis.

 

Brown provides a very brief overview of the Arab Spring, starting this story with teenage boys writing graffiti (“Down with the regime”) on a wall in Dara’a, in southern Syria, then the arrest and torture of those boys, which sparks a protest for their freedom. Of course, this is just one of many inciting incidents, as the anger is far deeper and more widespread, with Syrians unhappy with Assad’s rule and the corrupt government. The government retaliates against the protesters, with the growth of the protest and violence leading to civil war. Syrians flee to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, living in tent cities, with friends and family, or in communities in the hills. Violence intensifies when jihadists, including ISIS, join the fight. Brown followers various refugees’ journeys as they escape any way they can. We see people fleeing on foot, on boats, with smugglers, some of them successfully escaping, but many thousands and thousands dying in the process.

 

Brown gives readers a closer look at life both inside and outside of refugee camps. He also shares statistics that help inform the stories he is telling, such as numbers of registered refugees, applications for asylum, and numbers of the dead and missing. He goes on to show the tolls on the countries accepting refugees and the lengths many countries went to to keep refugees out. As sympathies wane, many begin to fear and hate the influx of refugees, whom they see as a threat and drain on resources. As more borders close, more and more people find themselves stranded. One refugees asks the heartbreaking question, “Who cares about us?” Brown takes readers back to Syria, looking at the continued war there, with the eventual exodus of so many who had hoped to be able to wait out the violence and unrest. Brown ends with a family making it to California and speaking about the future. He then includes extensive back matter explaining why he focused this story so closely on the refugee experience without going into the complicated roles that religion, politics, and cultured played in the story. Included are journal summaries from his May 2017 visit to a refugee camp in Greece, lengthy source notes, and a bibliography.

 

It was no surprise to me that Brown so adeptly captures the emotions and weight of this experience. Though, as noted, this book is slight, it is a thorough and affecting look at the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly for younger readers who may just be looking for a quick and basic understanding of what has been going on. The full-color illustrations are dynamic and powerful, whether showing crowded boats, near-empty deserts, or the anguish on the refugees’ faces. This somber, poignant, and deeply sympathetic look at Syrian refugees is as moving as it is informative. A solid addition for all collections. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
ISBN-13: 9781328810151
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/18/2018

Review from This Month’s School Library Journal: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of School Library Journal.

 

drowned cityBROWN, Don. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. illus. by Don Brown. 96p. bibliog. ebook available. notes. HMH. Aug. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544157774.
Gr 7 Up–A murky watercolor storm spreads across pages, darkening and becoming more ominous as it builds in Brown’s deeply affecting look at Hurricane Katrina. Dynamic sketches capture shocking scenes, such as residents fleeing down claustrophobic highways as the 400-mile-wide storm looms in a nearly completely dark spread. Brown depicts broken levees, flooded homes, and inhabitants scrabbling to not drown in their attics. A stunningly powerful spread shows water everywhere and two lone people trapped on a roof. The images demonstrate the utter devastation and despair while the at times spare text powerfully reveals the voices of the victims. The many failures of President Bush, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mayor Ray Nagin, and others are repeatedly noted, as is the heroism of various organizations and ordinary people. Brown walks readers through the ghastly conditions at the Superdome, the horrors of hospitals with no electricity, and the nightmarish reality of dead bodies everywhere. The story becomes grimmer at every turn: ineffectual police and rescue efforts, looting, the lack of housing for rescued victims, and 5,000 missing children. The muted watercolors effectively capture the squalid and treacherous conditions of every inch of New Orleans. The final pages show the rebuilding efforts but note the lasting effects of vastly decreased populations.

VERDICT This astonishingly powerful look at one of America’s worst disasters is a masterful blend of story and art and a required purchase for all libraries.–Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

 

#FSYALIT Girls Like Me Don’t: Thoughts on Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally, a guest post by Katelyn Browne

I moved a lot growing up. “A different school every other grade” kind of a lot. It’s usually the first thing I tell people when I’m trying to explain why I am the way I am, or why I can’t just tell you where I’m from.

That’s one thing that makes me very different from Kate Kelly, the narrator of Miranda Kenneally’s Things I Can’t Forget. Kate has lived in Tennessee her whole life, in a close-knit Christian community. (Because this is the third book in a loosely connected series, Kenneally is able to make the community feel smotheringly small—everywhere we turn, there’s a character or a plot point from a past or future Hundred Oaks book.) She doesn’t know anyone who’s not Christian. Kate herself is deeply, devoutly, intensely Christian.

And that’s where we’re the same, Kate and I. (Kate and Kate—we share a name, too.) Because right after I’ve explained that I’m not from anywhere, my next go-to explanation is “Oh, and I was intensely religious as a teen.”

“Learning is never a bad thing. And neither is changing your mind about things…It’s always good to reevaluate. To think and consider all sides.”
Miranda Kenneally, Things I Can’t Forget

Intense is the only right word for it. During middle school and high school, I was always at church: Sunday school, Sunday services, church band practice, Bible study, youth group, leadership training. I went to all the extra holy days, fasted for 40 Hour Famine, served a silent shift in the dark for an Easter prayer vigil. I ran my own peer Bible study for a year and made all my friends come and listen to canned presentations about abortion and smoking and homosexuality. I went on retreats, swimming trips, and mall scavenger hunts.  And I went to church camp.

My church camp didn’t look like the one where Kate spends her summers. Cumberland Creek is a true summer camp, where children come and stay in cabins and our teen heroes serve as their counselors. My youth group did the conference-style camps, where we would spend a week on a college campus somewhere, getting saved and playing Ultimate Frisbee. In alternate years, we went on mission trips instead. But the wild mishmash of emotional, hormonal teen summers and the distinctive structures of camp that dominate this book feel so familiar to me.

When I offered to write a post for #FSYALit, I mentioned off-hand that this was the only YA book I’ve ever read that really felt like the religion I’d lived. At the time, I thought it was mostly because of the camp aspect, because of those summer evenings feeling close-but-not-close-enough to Jesus while sitting close-but-not-too-close to your friends. (I was always intellectually engaged with religion, but camp was where I prayed the sobbing, convulsing, born-again prayers that mark evangelical youth.)

“Free will comes with sacrifice. And sometimes with heartache.”
Miranda Kenneally, Things I Can’t Forget

Upon reread, I realized that this book had stuck to my bones because of the pervasive sense of shame. There’s a special breed of shame, mixed with guilt, rolled up with judgment and righteousness that haunted me as a teenager—and that haunts me still—that I’d never seen anyone talk about in quite the right way.

Those feelings are stamped all over this book. In Kate’s world, religious truth and cultural standards are very closely intertwined. The first sentence of the book is “Girls like me do not buy pregnancy tests,” and it quickly becomes clear that Kate knows a lot of things that girls like her—like us—don’t do. She’s dismayed when she learns of Christian peers who belong to fraternities and sororities; who are gay; who go to parties; who have sex. Later on, she encapsulates what the teen experience looked like for those of us who were fully in the thrall of self-righteousness mixed with total fear: “I missed out on a lot because I was scared other kids would be drinking or doing drugs or having sex, and I didn’t want to be around that. And because no boys ever invited me.”

Before the book begins, Kate has helped her best friend, Emily, get an abortion. Now, in hindsight, she’s sure that she’s sinned in an almost unforgivable way, and a significant amount of the text is devoted to constantly wondering about her standing with God.

Kate’s shame deepens as she develops romantic—and sexual—feelings for her co-counselor and old friend Matt. She has the usual modesty culture guilt about feeling any kind of want and desire. (Julie Stivers read a draft of this post for me and wondered where the moral line was, in dating relationships, when I was a teen. I went to a church that was okay with dating other like-minded Protestants as long as you were just kissing—but even then, it felt like you could cross a line as soon as you started to like it too much.) Kate’s uncertainty about enjoying her make-out sessions with Matt is summed up in a such a succinct, pointed, perfect way: “I felt so good inside it felt wrong.”

The shadow of Emily’s abortion complicates these shameful feelings. Kate certainly judges Emily for getting an abortion, and she hates herself for helping her. But even more than that, Kate judges Emily because she had sex with her boyfriend, Jacob, in flagrant defiance of everything they knew to be morally correct. Kate takes assurance from the knowledge that she wasn’t at all complicit in that sin, and that she would never fall the way Emily has. Her belief in her own moral superiority (and her disdain and pity for Emily) nearly destroys their friendship in a way that demonstrates the utter failure of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

“I have a billion what-ifs and no way forward.”
Miranda Kenneally, Things I Can’t Forget

As an adult, as a secular person, as a reader, I want to sit Kate down and say, look. You did the best thing; you loved your friend; you helped her when she was afraid. Your God should love that. You don’t need to be forgiven, and you need to stop punishing Emily.

But I know that it’s not that easy. And if you work with evangelical teens, or other teens whose worlds are defined by rules, by right and wrong and very few shades of grey, I hope you know that, too. Like Kate, I said and thought and did immensely hurtful things to my friends and acquaintances in the name of the truth. Sometimes, I got a chance to make amends; other times, I didn’t.

Kate ends the book with an intact, but changed, relationship with God and with her own ideas about faith. A concerned friend says, “I feel like you’re getting to know yourself better, and that’s a good thing.”

Because I spent so much of my adolescence squashing parts of myself that were sinful or worldly or otherwise not of God, that’s something I’m still working on. I’ve gotten to know myself better every time I’ve read Things I Can’t Forget, and I hope some evangelical teens will find themselves in it, too.

I know that this book would have made me deeply uncomfortable as a teen—I learned about God (and chaste romance between married people) from church-library books from Christian publishers. When I met characters who had had abortions, or who were gay, or who gave in to their carnal desires, they were always in secular books and they were never evangelical.

Kenneally’s book is a bit of each; it very much exists in the tradition of secular YA fiction, and it comes from a secular publisher. It’s also a book that takes teenage faith very seriously and recognizes that Kate’s faith in God, even when shaky, is central to her life.

Depending on your community, it could make for a difficult handsell. But I think it’s such an important book for evangelical teens who also like romance stories, as well as for teens who live in places where evangelical morality seems distant and cartoonish. As in many Christian romances, Kate’s relationship with a boy is compared and contrasted with her relationship with God—but here, both relationships and the questions they evoke are treated as valid. Near the end of the book, Kate is still trying to decide what to do about Matt. She wonders, “Is it healthy to have a love like that anyway? A love where you throw aside all caution and dive right in?”

It’s an important question, particularly if you’re coming into adulthood and trying on relationships. And I don’t think it’s a question that only pertains to boyfriends.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Katelyn Browne (or @brownekr, to the Twitter world) works as a school librarian in Washington, DC. These days, she hangs out with Quakers, but she still knows all the words to an awful lot of Christian rock songs.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Kate has always been the good girl. Too good, according to some people at school—although they have no idea the guilty secret she carries. But this summer, everything is different…

This summer she’s a counselor at Cumberland Creek summer camp, and she wants to put the past behind her. This summer Matt is back as a counselor too. He’s the first guy she ever kissed, and he’s gone from a geeky songwriter who loved The Hardy Boys to a buff lifeguard who loves to flirt – with her.

Kate used to think the world was black and white, right and wrong. Turns out, life isn’t that easy.

Published by Sourcefire Books in 2013

For more discussions of Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit, check out our Hub

MakerSpace: Get Teens Involved Making Cards by Kate-Lynn Brown

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If you’re looking for a quick, easy, and relatively cheap way to give back this holiday season–and also plan a program with your teens–I’d suggest making holiday cards to donate! This time of year gives everyone the jitters, and channeling that extra excitement and energy into creativity is a great way to unwind.

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I ran a drop-in card program this December where I asked the teens to make and decorate holiday cards. What’s great about this program is that it works this time of year, but it can be done any time! Most organizations will accept year-round cards for birthdays, other holidays, or just to say hello and share messages of encouragement.

Some general tips: Most organizations want you to send multiple cards, pictures, and letters in one large envelope. Individually wrapping each card creates a hassle for screeners and distributors. In general, the consensus for organizations sending to sick people is to avoid “Get well soon.” There is no way to know if the person receiving your card is terminal, so they might not be able to get well soon. My director had only one request about this project: NO GLITTER. Save your library floor and the organization you’re sending to, and leave the glitter and confetti out. This would also be a great program to run library-wide. Although I’m just doing this with my teens, adult and children’s services could easily get involved to send an even bigger collection of cards!

Cards for Hospitalized Kids

www.cardsforhosptializedkids.com/about-the-founder.html

Cards for Hospitalized Kids is a great option if you want to make cards now that can reach their destination by the holidays. CFHK sends cards to hospitals all around the country,  The group, started by Jen Rubio and run out of Chicago, asks for all cards to be sent two weeks before the holiday, but can accept them up until 7 days before. If you want to get cards to hospitals before the end of Hanukkah, you have until December 14th to send them. Be sure to include Rubio started the group after 20+ hospital stays for connective tissue and bone disease; so she’s experienced firsthand how a handmade card can make someone’s day! This is the organization my teens made cards for during our drop-in.

Send to:

Cards for Hospitalized Kids

7290 W. Devon Ave

Chicago, IL 60631

holidaycards3

Operation Gratitude

www.operationgratitude.com

Operation Gratitude sends cards and care packages to deployed troops, veterans, new recruits, and first responders. The site’s “Guide to Letter Writing” helps contributors decide what to say, from the generic salutation to the closing remarks. Children are asked to use their first name only and provide an adult’s contact information if they’d like to receive a response.

Send to:

Operation Gratitude

ATTN: Letter Writing Program

21100 Lassen Street

Chatsworth, CA 91311-4278

 

holidaycards4

Card Care Connection

cardcareconnection.com/news.aspx

This nonprofit organization is perfect for year-round donations. Card Care Connection accepts cards all year and asks for them to blank on the inside. Sentiments such as, “you’re special,” “hello!” are encouraged, but the group asks that contributors refrain from religious messages, “get well soon,” or cards for specific holidays. Card Care Connection asks the contributors use cardstock and other high-quality materials, so this organization is best for older teens and adult programs.

Send to:

Card Care Connection

112 Saddlehorn Court

Fenton, MO 63026

 

holidaycards5Caitlin’s Smiles

https://twitter.com/caitlinssmiles

Caitlin’s Smiles mission is a great one: “Giving sick children laughs, hopes, and smiles.” Caitlin Hornung was only four years old when she was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away before her eighth birthday. This organization continues Caitlyn’s love of art and making people happy by providing creative care packages to kids undergoing long treatments in hospitals. Each “Bag of Smile” is sent with a homemade card. The group asks for cards to not contain any religious messages, and do not say get well soon. Since most of the patients are terminal, this isn’t the best sentiment to send. Include fun drawings, silly jokes, and bright colors!

Send to:

Caitlin’s Smiles

3303 N. 6th Street

Harrisburg, PA 17110

 

holidaycards6 Cardz for Kidz

https://twitter.com/cardzforkidz

 

Each hospital that partners with Cardz for Kidz promises to deliver each card room to room, which makes the kids even more excited about your message to them! Contributors are encouraged to include popular characters, like the ninja turtles and minions, although generic animals and jokes are great too! The organization also needs cards in Spanish, French, Creole, and Vietnamese. The group asks for cards to be signed with a first name, which makes the experience more personal for the child receiving.

Send to:

Cardz for Kidz

323 East Wacker Drive #11

Chicago, IL 60601

The Importance of School Visits, by Kate-Lynn Brown

As a teen librarian, I’ve done three school visits for two different libraries. The first was while I was still in college. I spoke to the sixth graders about volunteering for the Summer Reading Club during their lunch.

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A middle school cafeteria at lunchtime. I was thrown to the wolves. Even the most seasoned veteran would be scared by the gossip, the hormones, the frenzied atmosphere created during the teens’ social hour. It was a moment that made me realize I was cut out to work with teenagers: yes, my palms were clammy. No, I was not afraid to stand in front of this group and convince them volunteering at the library would be the best part of their summer. I got on the microphone and scanned the tables for familiar faces. I caught a few and smiled. The speech I had rehearsed all week came out naturally. Students waited for me to finish (and were relatively attentive while I spoke), then swarmed me for fliers. I stopped by each section of tables to make sure they didn’t have any questions. I nailed it.

whatsyourmessage

My subsequent school visits have been in more official capacities: with a full-time teen librarian, I spend all day in a classroom or media lab performing book talks. We each pick three or four books to present to the teens, offering variety with at least one nonfiction title, one graphic novel, and one fiction book. To prep we read the books, pick passages to read aloud, and create and practice a presentation to get the teens interested in each selection. My coworkers who have been doing this for a while have impressive Google Doc archives of their go-to book talks.

The day is exhausting–and I don’t know how teachers run through a lesson multiple times in a day or week!  Bright and early, we run through our library spiel: Who has a library card? Here’s how you get one! Who comes to the library? Here’s why you should! We let the students pick the order we’ll talk about the books in, taking questions and initiating conversations about each title throughout the class period. The bell rings, and we start over again.

So why are school visits so important?

  1. We get out into the community! I have been thinking a lot about outreach lately, and it’s something that successful public libraries all seem to do and do well. That being said…
  2. The library is much more than its building! Someone said this to me at a graduate school event recently, and it resonated. You might know that the library is more than a building with books in it, but you should remind the members of the community you serve of this, too. So, as a teen librarian, going to the schools serves that purpose. I directly serve the teenage population, so they should see me in spaces important to them.
  3. We reach students who we might not have otherwise! Some kids might never come into the library–and if they do, might not approach the librarian and ask for a recommendation. This ensures we’re reaching a much wider audience and getting more teens excited about different things the library has to offer. If they recognize us, they might even feel more comfortable coming up to ask a question.
  4. We are given a captive audience. Teens hear about titles we have, events we’re running, and programs we’re starting. It’s one of the few times we’re guaranteed a captive audience! What we have to say isn’t lost in their social media feeds or irrelevant when compared to their after school chatter. Whether they doze off at their desks or hold on to every word we say, for that class period the teens are ours. Of course, in a classroom we’re not going to see every teen patron that visits the library; but over the course of a semester worth of visits we hope to reach a good percentage of them.
  5. We get so much out of it.  I see the teens in a new environment where they’re more comfortable. I’m going into their workspace instead of having them come into mine. I see kids get excited about reading who might not be big readers! That’s the point of book talks for me: how can I sell this book so even a reluctant reader might be drawn in enough to pick it up? What can I tell an avid reader to make him go for this title over any other other? It’s one of the challenges of this job that I love.
  6. We get to read outloud- and the teens get to listen! I love reading to them. One of my favorite parts of creating a book talk is picking out what passages to read aloud.Teens love being read to. Even the teachers love being read to! I’ve gotten to the end of a passage only to look up and see every eye in the room is on me, at full attention. While younger kids are read to all the time, it really doesn’t happen often for teens. I think being read to is a totally underappreciated art, and a great way for people to experience a story in a different way.

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One of the times I feel most important as a librarian is when I leave the physical space of the library and go out into my community.  As a teen librarian, going on school visits is a huge part of that. I love any chance to interact with my teens and try to create a meaningful experience for them, especially when a book or another resource we have is a part of that experience!

Meet Kate-Lynn Brown

katelynnbrown

Kate-Lynn is a teen services information assistant in New Jersey. She is currently a student in the Rutgers Master of Information program, which she will complete in May 2018. She loves reading thrillers and creative nonfiction. You can find her digital portfolio here and follow her on Twitter, @katelynnbrown95.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Showcase and Giveaway

Beyond the people I work with and the people this blog has led me to get to know, by far the best aspect of blogging for TLT is the constant influx of books. All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to teen readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, or in giveaways. I can’t read/review every book I get, but it’s fun to be able to sift through boxes and see what grabs my attention, and to see what books will find loving new homes with the right reader.

 

Today I’m sharing with you a few titles from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’ Fall 2016 and Winter 2017 list. All annotations are from the publisher. They have kindly offered to do a giveaway with us. They are offering 5 copies of Dreamland Burning to our readers. Enter via the Rafflecopter between now and September 26th. Winners will be notified via email. US entries only, please.

 

 

treesAnd the Trees Crept in by Dawn Kurtagich (ISBN-13: 9780316298704 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 09/06/2016)

A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich
When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.

 

 

cloudwishCloudwish by Fiona Wood (ISBN-13: 9780316242127 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 10/18/2016)

Award-winning author Fiona Wood delivers a thought-provoking story of self-discovery and first love-one that will resonate with anyone who has ever realized that the things that make you different are the things that make you…you.

For Vân Uoc, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing or pointless. Daydreaming about attending her own art opening? Nourishing. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, star of the rowing team who doesn’t even know she’s alive? Pointless.

So Vân Uoc tries to stick to her reality-keeping a low profile as a scholarship student at her prestigious Melbourne private school, managing her mother’s PTSD from a traumatic emigration from Vietnam, and admiring Billy from afar. Until she makes a wish that inexplicably (possibly magically) comes true. Billy actually notices her. In fact, he seems to genuinely like her. But as they try to fit each other into their very different lives, confounding parents and confusing friends, Vân Uoc can’t help but wonder why Billy has suddenly fallen for her. Is it the magic of first love, or is it magic from a well-timed wish that will eventually, inevitably, come to an end?

 

blood for bloodBlood for Blood by Ryan Graudin (ISBN-13: 9780316405157 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 11/01/2016 Series: Wolf by Wolf Series)

The action-packed, thrilling sequel to Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf.

There would be blood.
Blood for blood.
Blood to pay.
An entire world of it.

For the resistance in 1950s Germany, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun.

Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against the New Order, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But dark secrets reveal dark truths, and one question hangs over them all: how far can you go for the ones you love?

This gripping, thought-provoking sequel to Wolf by Wolf will grab readers by the throat with its cinematic writing, fast-paced action, and relentless twists.

 


love andLove and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
(ISBN-13: 9780316305358 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/03/2017)

In his debut novel, YouTube personality and author of We Should Hang Out Sometime Josh Sundquist explores the nature of love, trust, and romantic attraction.
On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty—in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

Told with humor and breathtaking poignancy, Love and First Sight is a story about how we related to each other and the world around us.

 

 

frostbloodFrostblood by Elly Blake (ISBN-13: 9780316273251 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/17/2017)

The first in a page-turning young adult series about a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies—but together create a power that could change everything.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable, and she’s not sure she’s willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon. All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to fight for her life in tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.

 

 

tragicA Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom (ISBN-13: 9780316260060 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 02/07/2017)

In the vein of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.
For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to conceal her diagnosis by keeping everyone at arm’s length. But when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst-that no one will accept her if they discover what she’s been hiding. But would her friends really abandon her if they learned the truth? More importantly, can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

 

 

dreamlandDreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (ISBN-13: 9780316384933 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 02/21/2017)

Some bodies won’t stay buried.
Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.

 

seven daysSeven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse (ISBN-13: 9780316391115 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/07/2017)

Anna and the French Kiss meets Before Sunrise in this smart and swoony debut.

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven Days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days….Until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

Book Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

Publisher’s description

georgiaJoanna meets the perfect girl for her and must decide whether to break a promise that could change everything for her and her family or lose out on love in this charming young adult romance that’s perfect for fans of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.

Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It’s not perfect—sometimes the plot felt convoluted, sometimes characters acted in ways that felt inconsistent—but this is a great story that feels really fresh and, super bonus, is a f/f romance with a happy ending. I find it easy to forgive minor flaws when the other many positives far outweigh things I found lacking.

 

The plot is pretty well summarized in that description up there, but it’s all of the nuance that makes it worth reading. The fact that the story is so much about faith and identity was really interesting and, again, feels like something we don’t see a whole lot of. Joanna moves to small Rome, Georgia for her senior year. She thinks of it as “where queer girls go to die.” For a lot of reasons (none of them particularly great), her reverend dad would like Joanna to go back in the closet, or “lie low” as he calls it. Tied to this is the fact that Joanna intends to start her own radio ministry, like her dad, to help support kids like her—gay kids of faith and teens in general. If Joanna “lies low” for the year, she can eventually share her true self again with people and come out on her radio show.

 

The whole deal seems kind of bonkers, but she goes along with it. She gets a makeover to appear more “normal,” in a kind of “why not go for broke?” move. Joanna starts attending the youth group at her new stepmother’s church, quickly becomes friends with a close-knit group of girls, and suddenly is doing things like going to football games, parties, and sleepovers. The story could stop there—could just be about a girl who was out but now isn’t, and how faith ties in with all of it—but it takes the much more interesting step of having Joanna fall for Mary Carlson, a seemingly straight girl and the sister of Joanna’s one other real friend, B.T.B. She keeps getting signals that maybe Mary Carlson could be into her—something she finds almost impossible to believe but readers sure won’t—and before long finds herself in a super weird position: dating a girl who wants to come out, but pretending her (Joanna’s) attraction to girls is also a new revelation, and really needing to not be out herself, to keep up her part of her agreement with her dad.

 

For the most part, the story follows a predictable path, but it’s completely fun, cute, and satisfying the whole way through. Despite Joanna’s dad’s desire for her to hide her sexuality for a while, he is supportive and loving (which is part of what makes his request seem so weird and inconsistent with who he actually is), as is her stepmother, other family members, and nearly all of her friends old and new. Me telling you the girls get their happily ever after isn’t meant to spoil anything, but is meant to reinforce how important this book, and the girls’ relationship, is. Funny, thoughtful, sweet, and complicated, this book is a necessary addition to all YA collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062270986

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/30/2016

#MHYALit: The Fantasy of Being Thin and YA Lit, a guest post by Katelyn Browne

Last week, we had several conversations about the book Kill the Boy Band and body shaming. You can read post 1 and post 2 for background. In the midst of all these online conversations, Katelyn Browne contacted me and said I want to write a post about “the fantasy of being thin”. Today, we are honored to present that post to you.

MHYALitlogoofficfial

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that Kate Harding changed my life. She continues to do good work as a feminist writer–I was on the Amelia Bloomer List committee that recognized her book about rape culture, Asking for It–but for me, it was Shapely Prose (RIP) that forever altered my understanding of myself and my ability to exist in the world.

In 2007, a post called The Fantasy of Being Thin (aka TFoBT) spelled out a cultural mythology I’d never been able to name or claim. In short, it describes the magical thinking that associates weight loss and/or thinness with character development. The list of examples ranges from “When I’m thin, I’ll be really extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with” to “When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.”

Kate’s initial post about TFoBT served to explain why, in part, it’s so hard for many people to fully convert to fat acceptance for themselves, even after they’ve come around theoretically on fat acceptance for others. But today, I want to talk about the ways in which TFoBT is such a perfect, pernicious trope to hang a YA novel on.

TFoBT squares so completely with dominant American cultural values that it’s almost invisible. Of course weight is an issue of character and morality. Of course thin people take better care of their bodies than fat people, so of course they’re more morally sound. Of course anyone could be thin if they had enough self-discipline, and of course all fat people are binge eaters who don’t understand nutrition. Of course fat bodies are hilarious and desexualized, and no worthy partner would be attracted to a fat person.

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YA fiction is, by its nature, about the adolescent development process of taking ownership for your own life, taking responsibility for your own decisions, and building the relationships that will carry you into adulthood. Because we’re conditioned to view thinness as a visible indicator of invisible virtue (self-discipline, self-esteem, self-care, a right relationship with food and exercise, and enough class markers to fill their own essay), it makes “sense” that weight loss is an appropriate outward journey to signify that internal character development.

Recently, we saw this in Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything: Mac’s secret backstory is a weight-loss plotline that signifies his journey to seeing value in his own life, while simultaneously making him worthy of romantic love. (Sarah Dessen has a long and complicated track record with weight-loss tropes; Keeping the Moon, which has long been my favourite of her books, has a more complicated version of this same ideal going on as Colie struggles to inhabit her post-weight-loss body.)

For girls, it so often dovetails with the other obvious moral “truth” of YA media: that girls who care too much about their looks are vain, but girls who are good are naturally beautiful. We see this intersection in books like Fat Cat by Robin Brande, where Cat’s paleo-esque diet is motivated by science and vague notions of health; becoming thin and popular and loved happens as a side effect.

We see it in middle-grade books like Shelley Sackier’s Dear Opl, where weight is an indicator of mental health, and both are throughly rolled in with physical health.

We see it in Jen Larsen’s Future Perfect. Ashley gets non-specified weight-loss surgery because her grandmother bribes her to–she’s too good to care about her appearance, but the pursuit of her education comes with a magical opportunity to stop being fat.

And speaking of magical opportunities, my thirteen-year-old self read a paperback series book called Stranger in the Mirror about a gajillion times; its main character wishes on a magical meteorite that she can be as thin and beautiful as her sister, whose boyfriend she’s in love with. Instead of magical insta-weight loss, she wakes up with a sudden love of running, and the sense of self-discipline she gains from running wins her a romantic interest. (Stranger in the Mirror was co-written by Cherie Bennett; you may remember Bennett’s Life in the Fat Lane, about a beauty queen who has a metabolic disorder that causes her to gain weight for exactly as long as it takes to learn a Serious Moral Lesson about appearance, at which point she’s able to start losing it all again.)

Maybe it’s just a little thing. Maybe you feel like this book that uses a character’s weight to mirror their moral development is different, or is a subversion, or really deserves it. And this is somewhere that I think deeply about Karen’s recent post about the way trope-weary adults read books, versus teens who don’t have decades of mimetic knowledge piled on their shoulders. When I was thirteen, these books didn’t make me angry. They filled me with hope, with the false knowledge that once I grew up and learned to love myself and so forth, my body would change into something worthwhile.

(There’s a whole ‘nother essay here about how deeply Protestant-work-ethic-y this all is, but I’ll save it.)

For today, all I want you to come away with is this: the Fantasy of Being Thin is not neutral, even though it feels as natural as breathing to everyone who’s known since preschool that fat = bad. We need other narratives around fat bodies. (Yes, I love Gabi: A Girl in Pieces and This One Summer and that other book that’s on the tip of your tongue, but we need more.)

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Katelyn Browne is the Youth Services Librarian at the University of Northern Iowa. She is also currently a member of the Amelia Bloomer Project and curates the Feminist Task Force’s Women of Library History project. You can find Katelyn on Twitter at @brownekr.

Middle Grade Monday – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I’m finally going to weigh in with my thoughts on the lyrical, breathtaking work of art that is Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. Not that you really need my opinion. It has received, at last count, six starred reviews from major review publications, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (I hope I didn’t miss one.) And, oh, it so deserves those stars.

Let me be all hipster for a moment and talk about my love for Jacqueline Woodson’s writing. My first year as a middle school librarian was a difficult one, due in large part to my co-librarian, who was a nightmare. But I will be forever grateful to her for introducing me to Jacqueline Woodson’s books. The first one I read was If You Come Softly, and I was immediately captivated. I read everything she had written to that point. Obviously, I was delighted when I found that she would be at my state’s school library association meeting. I got to her session early enough to get a seat on the front row! And then…I was dismayed to find that only half the seats were filled for the session. How could people skip it? Didn’t they know what they were missing? If I’m calculating correctly, this was fifteen years ago. So yes, I liked her books before she was ‘famous.’ I’m such a hipster.


Over the years I’ve kept up with her books. I was so pleased when she began to write picture books. They are as lovely, if not more so, than her novels. And then I caught word of Brown Girl Dreaming. Someone I knew had an ARC. I haunted NetGalley and Edelweiss until it became available as an electronic ARC, and then I gleefully pounced with my request. I was delighted when I was granted access, and my hopes were not disappointed. This memoir in verse is everything I could have hoped for from Woodson. In it she tells the story of growing up as an African American during the 60s and 70s, spending time both in New York and South Carolina. She addresses topics that are at once universal and intimately personal. Her writing (which has consistently improved with each publication) is breathtaking. I want this book to win ALL THE AWARDS – NBA, Newbery, Coretta Scott King – all of them!

We finally got our copies in last week, and I rushed to get them ready for my sixth grade classes. This was the test, I knew. I normally don’t have any trouble getting the sixth graders to engage with the novels I book talk, but this one was different. I wanted to make sure they understood just how amazing it is, so I read them one of my favorite passages. From page 61, the passage is titled “the reader”

When we can’t find my sister, we know
she is under the kitchen table, a book in her hand,
a glass of milk and a small bowl of peanuts beside her.

We know we can call Odella’s name out loud,
slap the table hard with our hands,
dance around it singing
“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”
so many times the song makes us sick
and the circling makes us dizzy
and still
my sister will do nothing more
than slowly turn the page. 

When I finished, there were gasps of appreciation from the students. Their eyes were universally fixed on me. The looks on their faces were all I needed to see. And that, my friends, is the true test. 

Sunday Reflections: Shelter from the Storm, a reflection on Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Last night it stormed.

The real thunder and lightning kind of storm you don’t often get here in Texas. I knew it was coming because all of the sudden my dog had to come and sleep right on top of my head. That apparently is his safe place during a storm.

I forget what those storms can be like after just a couple of years here in Texas, but we had them all the time of course in Ohio. And since the flood of 2011, they still freak me out.

Even here in Texas. I keep waiting for the floods to come again, even though this dry, cracked land thirsts for the water something fierce.

In Ohio, after the flood, we all suffered a kind of post traumatic stress. Every storm that came we would brace ourselves: Will we flood again? I see it all the time on my Facebook feed when it starts to really rain in Ohio, my friends who remain start to post those worrying posts. My feed starts to fill up with reports of rain, the agitation begins as they wait to see if once again the rains will fill the streets and they’ll have to find a way to save themselves from those freezing, rushing waters. The memories haunt us.

In Torn Away by Jennifer Brown (which I recommend), a young girl – Jersey – loses her mother and sister in a tornado. She loses her home. She loses everything. And she is forced to go live with people she doesn’t know while she struggles to grieve losses that most of us as adults can’t even comprehend.

There are two compelling scenes where we realize just how traumatized Jersey has been by this storm. In one, she is shut in a dark basement by a couple of spoiled, bratty sisters and Jersey freaks out. The basement is where she hid when the sirens went off and she lost everything. It is not a safe space for her, it is a reminder. It is where she was when everything in her life changed.

Later in the story, a storm approaches again. The sirens go off. And Jersey is almost crippled by her fear. Long after the sirens go off she is still crouching in a sort of fetal position with her ears covered, screaming at the top of her lungs.

I understood all too well the fear that can grip you as you remember what has happened. I understood Jersey, and because I understood I can’t think of a book that has made me madder than this one in a long time. The way the adults acted in this book made me want to hurl the book across the room. I wanted them to give her the space and time to heal, to acknowledge her loss, to acknowledge her fear. I wanted them to be her shelter from the storm, but they didn’t always understand how to do that for her. And some of them were suffering their own very real losses. Finding emotional shelter can be just as harrowing a journey as Jersey’s attempt to find physical shelter after her town was demolished.

When the rains come, I can still feel that fear gripping me as I wonder how I’m going to get my kids out of a flooding house only to open my front door and see the waters raging by my front porch. They were 8 and 2. It was February 28th. The water was freezing. It was fast. It was a force of nature. And a good storm can put me right back into that moment. My girls, they mean everything to me and that moment when I did not know how I was going to get them to safety was the single most terrifying moment of my life. It haunts me. It will probably always haunt me.

No one died that day the flood came. But in our story, Jersey lost the only mother she’ll ever get. She lost a sister that loved the East Coast swing. And she lost that sense of safety that many kids get to keep for just a little bit longer, well the lucky ones do. Some of our teens are born into this life, into circumstances, that never let them develop that sense of safety and well being to lose. Some of them will spend their whole lives trying to find a shelter from the storm because of the situations they are born into.

In the years following the flooding of my town, there have been a lot of other storms. There was Superstorm Sandy. Far too many tornadoes. And just the other month there was flooding in Detroit. In the afterward author Jennifer Brown mentions that it was the tornadoes in Joplin that inspired Torn Away. I can’t help thinking, sometimes, that is seems like there are so many more severe, life taking storms lately. Or maybe I’m just more aware of them now because I look for them. Or maybe it’s both. But in that moment, I learned just how unsafe this world can be. Again. But as the community came together to clean up, I also learned that sometimes the darkest of moments can bring out the very best in us.

That night as I closed my front door and told my girls to get dressed a knock came. And there stood two men, asking if I needed help. Those men, a true miracle to me, carried my daughters through the cold, rushing waters to the top of a hill where we found safety. A friend from another town came and picked us up. Another friend let us stay with them for a week while our house was repaired. Other friends took up a donation to replace the food in our refrigerator. Small acts of kindness became our shelter from the storm.

The truth is, there are a lot of Jersey’s around us – haunted by a storm, a moment that changed everything. A moment that reminded us that mother nature is a force to be reckoned with and that you can lose everything in a moment. A moment that turns on our fear switch that we can never really ever find a way to turn back off so that with every drop of rain, we look in true awe inspiring fear wondering what the storm will take from us this time. Teens learn that the world is not a safe place in many ways and in their own time, but we also have to make sure that we are teaching them that there can be shelter from the storm in the people you love and the power of community. Because that’s what we all need, a little shelter from the storm and a little hope for the future.