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Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Publisher’s description

underNorah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.
Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.
Readers themselves will fall in love with Norah in this poignant, humorous, and deeply engaging portrait of a teen struggling to find the strength to face her demons.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was really a mixed bag for me.

 

We really get to see Norah’s various mental illnesses and how they affect her and her life. We get great, intense descriptions of panic attacks and the urge to harm herself and what it can feel like to have agoraphobia. We see how small her world has become—she has hardly left the house in four years. We see her have multiple therapy sessions in various places. We are right there with Norah in her panic and fear and distress. Gornall’s writing, for the most part, is great. The writing is also funny. Though Norah’s a wreck who is often really caught up in fighting against her own brain, she’s also really self-aware and clever. She’s funny and gives good banter.

 

Norah’s mental illnesses are BAD. They are in no way under control. Yes, she’s in therapy, but often it has to be at her house or in her mom’s car because she can’t get as far as the clinic. Just stepping one toe past her front door is terrifying. She’s unmedicated. She’s hoping to keep depression at bay and often gives in to the urge to harm herself. All of this, and her mother leaves her alone while she travels for work. Really? Yes, she’s 17, but she’s NOT OKAY. She should not be alone. And her mom’s two day trip turns into a week or more when she gets in some mysterious car accident that requires multiple days in the hospital and feels completely unrealistic/never satisfactorily explained. All of this is to say, as a person who both battles mental illness and parents another human with mental illness, I wanted her to be taken better care of. Yelling at her mom for leaving her alone took me out of the book. But, seeing her alone is what makes us really understand how bad her panic attacks and agoraphobia are.

 

Then there’s Luke, the new neighbor boy. At first all Norah can really do is spy on him from the windows. Then they start talking through the door (closed and open). It’s pretty much insta-like. Norah is consumed with thinking about him, considering her appearance (after lots of time not really worrying about it). She forgets therapy appointments because her head is so in the clouds. She feels something small and awake inside of her thanks to him. He adorably slips notes through her front door when she can’t handle talking. She describes him as “10 percent human, 90 percent charisma” and she’s right. He feels too good to be true. It’s not that I don’t think there isn’t a chance that a charming and super understanding boy could fall for a girl who can hardly interact with other humans, but Luke just doesn’t feel real. He’s too good. And, while he doesn’t magically or instantly cure her, it very much does feel like Luke, and love, do save her and speed up her progress in ways that other things can’t. The hopeful ending is necessary, but also feels rather unbelievable.

 

So. Like I said, mixed bag. Here’s the thing: minus the “love will fix you” story line and the worrisome fact that I think Norah needs way more care than she’s getting, this is a good book. It’s well-written. It’s amusing. The clever banter between Norah and Luke and Norah and her mother is good. But I am a hard one to please when it comes to mental health plots. I want to see good work being done in multiple ways. And it IS being done here, but I really felt the story needed more. Norah is VERY UNWELL. You can tell, even without reading Gornall’s author’s note about her own mental health experiences, that she knows what she’s writing about. I really wanted to feel like there was more to Norah than just her mental illness. And, most importantly, I want her to get better because of what she’s doing and for her own sake, not because of a boy. I don’t know that any of these issues were a flaw in the story or writing, necessarily, so much as my own desire for more out of Norah, for more concern over her mental health.

 

All of that said, I hope this book finds an audience because of its vivid and powerful descriptions of what living with mental illness can be like. And while I wanted more out of this book than I got, I really did enjoy the writing and look forward to future books from Gornall. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544736511

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Book Review: The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum

Publisher’s description

march-againstJames Meredith’s 1966 march in Mississippi began as one man’s peaceful protest for voter registration and became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. It brought together leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, who formed an unlikely alliance that resulted in the Black Power movement, which ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

The retelling of Meredith’s story opens on the day of his assassination attempt and goes back in time to recount the moments leading up to that event and its aftermath. Readers learn about the powerful figures and emerging leaders who joined the over 200-mile walk that became known as the “March Against Fear.”

Thoughtfully presented by award-winning author Ann Bausum, this book helps readers understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change. It is a history lesson that’s as important and relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This powerful book examines one of the greatest civil rights protests and the last great march of that era—a march that is often forgotten, was fraught with complexity, and led to divisions in the civil rights groups and leaders of the time.

 

Bausum begins with the shooting of James Meredith, who was the first African American to earn a degree at Ole Miss, among the first to integrate the Air Force, and felt he had a “divine responsibility” to be a leader for his race. Meredith’s walk across Mississippi was for a simple reason: he was tired of being afraid of white people and he wanted black people to stop being afraid. He felt that if he could walk through his state like this, he might inspire people to be less afraid and get them out to vote. His plan was cut short when he was shot. However, his walk was then taken up by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists and groups. Their focus was on voter registration and civil rights bills. They created a document calling on President Johnson to enforce legal rights of African Americans, provide increased economic opportunities, improve voting access, and have great representation by black people on juries and police forces. Meredith’s Walk Against Fear morphs into the March Against Fear, an undertaking that lasts most of June 1966 and eventually involves thousands of people bringing attention to segregation and the legacy of slavery. It is at this march that Willie Ricks and Stokely Carmichael first use and encourage the phrase “black power,” changing the call and response from “What do you want?” “Freedom!” to “What do you want?” “Black power!” for many in the march. Bausum’s book looks at the role of the news media and of the governments and police forces of the areas during the march as well as the unity and divisions of the civil rights groups during the march and effects after.

 

With plenty of source material, including many pictures from the march, this book is both well-written and well-researched. A large appendix details Bausum’s source material, including personal conversations with Meredith. Civil rights and social justice will always be relevant topics, and contemporary readers will be struck by just how little has been done to really move our country forward and how the topics important to the leaders during the march remain just as significant today. An important look at racism, protest, and the slow move toward progress. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781426326653

Publisher: National Geographic Society

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Book Review: Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley

Publisher’s description

factoryIn order to save her family’s farm, Roshen, sixteen, must leave her rural home to work in a factory in the south of China. There she finds arduous and degrading conditions and contempt for her minority (Uyghur) background. Sustained by her bond with other Uyghur girls, Roshen is resolved to endure all to help her family and ultimately her people. A workplace survival story, this gritty, poignant account focuses on a courageous teen and illuminates the value—and cost—of freedom.

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Sixteen-year-old Roshen intends to continue her schooling to become a teacher. Her plans are changed for her when she is sent away to work in a factory in southern China. Roshen is devastated to have to leave her Muslim Uyghur family, who live near the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China. In addition to leaving behind her plans for school and her family, she leaves Ahmat, the boy she shares a special connection with and who it seems likely she will soon be engaged to. Roshen’s family isn’t told exactly where she will be taken, only that she will be gone for a year and is not allowed any devices or contact with her family. She and Ahmat set up a secret email address for her and devise a code, hoping she will be able to find internet stations and at least get a little information back to him. They expect that Roshen will be mistreated at the factory and discuss how she shouldn’t fight back. There may be spies and traitors among the girls, too.

 

Roshen and eleven other Uyghur girls are taken on the long journey to their factory. They’re led by Ushi, who is not only mean, but unfortunately also one of their bosses. They arrive to learn they will cut, sew, and finish work wear. It’s grueling work that’s hard on their bodies. The girls work very long hours, are hit with a rod if appearing unsatisfactory, are forced to speak Mandarin only (and penalized  if they speak Uyghur), aren’t allowed to wear their headscarves, and are often served meals with pork in them. They’re served tea with a drug in it to keep them awake so they can work longer hours. Many of the Chinese girls use clothespins to keep their eyes open. Additionally, the girls don’t even make money for many months as they are forced to pay for their trip from home to the factory, their meals, their uniforms, and the many unfair penalties they are assessed.

 

The twelve Uyghur girls are isolated from the rest of the workers and though they don’t all get along, and Roshen can’t stop wondering is someone is a spy, they bond together to help and protect one another. Roshen becomes a leader and learns how to work the system and avoid punishment as best she can. Roshen’s closest friend, Mikray, is defiant and determined to escape. Young Zuwida is in very poor health and only getting worse. Proud and haughty Hawa is selected to help the bosses by looking beautiful and being available to help placate clients. Eventually, Roshen, who speaks English in addition to Mandarin and Uyghur, is forced to go out with the boss and some clients. She is horrified by what is expected of her and receives some very unexpected (and heartbreaking) help. After returning to the factory, she is determined to allow herself to become gaunt, unwashed, and unappealing to avoid further assignments like this. Her decision has unintended consequences that leave her feeling incredibly guilty but also move her to further action.

 

Throughout all of her time at the factory, Roshen tries to remember the power of words. She clings to the songs and poems she has been taught and formulates her own. Her experience as a factory girl changes her forever. Roshen knows now that she will write, that she will tell the story of the factory girls. Generally well-written, the story’s one real downfall is the lack of development of many of the Uyghur girls, who don’t feel necessary beyond showing they are part of the block of girls isolated and most abused. At the same time, it’s the development of the girls who do carry pieces of the story, and their friendships and support, that make this story especially interesting and powerful. My ARC didn’t include the afterword, which apparently provides more context for the story and how La Valley came to tell it.  This harrowing story of exploitation, abuse, and forced labor is a compelling (and horrifying) look at a story (and a setting) not often seen in YA. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544699472

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/10/2017

Book Review: Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

Publisher’s description

love-and-firstIn 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.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

First things first: I really would like to see some reviews of this book from people who are blind. Because I don’t know just how “right” Sundquist gets the many feelings about and experiences of being blind. That is not to say that that there is any one universal way to feel or one universal experience, obviously. Or that I think Sundquist is getting it “wrong.” After I read/review a book, I look for other reviews, especially when the subject matter is far out of my realm of experience and I’d really like to see reviews by people who share an identity with the main characters in the book. So, own voices reviews. After I wrote up my thoughts on this book, I poked around online and didn’t see any reviews yet that are from people who are fully or partially blind. Hoping once the book officially is out and the ebook and audiobook are out, that will change.

 

Will, 16, has started at a traditional school (or been “mainstreamed”) for the first time in his life, after spending all of his years in school being surrounded by other blind and visually-impaired people. He doesn’t want an aide (nor does he need one); he just wants to be as independent as possible. He doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him or feel that his life is any less full because he is blind. He encounters various attitudes, from his overly “helpful” principal who clearly has no clue how to interact with him and makes sure to point out that he’s “special” and “different,” to his great English and journalism teacher who makes it clear that she will hold him to all of the same expectations as the rest of the class. After a few initial embarrassing moments, Will gets into the swing of things and adjusts well to the change. He makes friends quickly—Nick, Ion, Whitford, and Cecily, all members of the quiz team. He grows particularly close with Cecily, whom he has journalism class with and ends up auditioning for the schools news with. They work on assignments together and hang out and Will is pretty sure he’s falling for Cecily. We get little hints that something may be up with her. We find out she’s been bullied most of her life. What we don’t find out, until later, is that Cecily has a rather large birthmark covering the top half of her face—a purple kind of “mask” that leads her classmates to have called her “Batgirl” for years. No one tells Will about this, though.

 

Will undergoes an experimental operation (retinal stem cell transplant) in the hopes of gaining full eyesight. The surgery is very risky, and not just for the reasons you might think. If successful, Will will have eyesight for the first time in his life. The visual cortex of his brain has developed differently than that of someone with eyesight and the learning curve (and adjustment to the flood of new information) will be steep. Fewer than 20 people have gone from total blindness to sight (an actual statistic, which we see in the author’s extensive note on his research). Will’s dad, a doctor, warns Will against the surgery, worried what it will do to him, mentally, if he can suddenly see. But he goes ahead with the surgery, which is successful. Before long, Will can see that Cecily has a birthmark, but he doesn’t think anything of it, really, other than noting her face looks different from other faces he’s seeing. For Will, who has never seen anything before, he just kind of catalogs her face as unlike others, but doesn’t judge her. He still feels she’s beautiful, which was his impression of her before he could see her. He certainly doesn’t see it as a “disfigurement,” which is his mother’s word. He calls it her beauty mark. But, even though he doesn’t suddenly want nothing to do with Cecily because of how she looks, he does feel completely lied to by Cecily and all of their friends. He feels he can’t trust them now. As he notes, everyone is always anxious to describe every single detail of everything to him. So why did they leave out Cecily’s birthmark?

 

Here’s the obvious discussion about this part of the book: Does the author make it feel like Will the only one who can find Cecily beautiful because he can’t see her (or doesn’t see her until quite late in their relationship)? Or that Will is the only one who can like her because he doesn’t know to think of her birthmark as offputting? Or that Will is the only one who can like her because he can “see beyond” her birthmark? Etc etc. I think Sundquist does a pretty good job of not making this storyline feel cliched, but there’s definitely room for discussion. I did spend a fair amount of time feeling sad that Cecily has such low self-esteem and obviously sees very little value in herself (she doesn’t think she’ll ever have a relationship, she doesn’t like pictures of herself, she worries she’ll hold Will back from winning as news anchor because no one will want her on the TV screen). I also spent a fair amount of time being SUPER irritated at Will’s cheerfully (and naively) optimistic mother, who seems to have ZERO clue about the process of going from being blind to having eyesight. You would think she would have educated herself more (especially given he’s been blind his whole life–she seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how his brain works and what his frames of reference may or may not include) or listened for two seconds to her doctor-husband who understands, and explains, the very complicated process Will’s brain is now undergoing.

 

Though the writing can be a little heavy-handed at times, overall this is an engaging story that seemed to avoid the pitfalls I worried about just based on reading the flap copy. It’s not often a YA book features a blind main character, and Will’s unique story of going from being blind to having eyesight may make readers consider this idea from a new perspective (if they think, as many do, that a blind person would of course want to be able to see). A humorous and thought-provoking read. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316305358

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Book Review: The Truth of Right Now by Kara Lee Corthron

Publisher’s description

truthTwo isolated teens struggle against their complicated lives to find a true connection in this heartwrenching debut novel about first love and the wreckage of growing up.

Lily is returning to her privileged Manhattan high school after a harrowing end to her sophomore year and it’s not pretty. She hates chemistry and her spiteful lab partner, her friends are either not speaking to her or suffocating her with concerned glances, and nothing seems to give her joy anymore. Worst of all, she can’t escape her own thoughts about what drove her away from everyone in the first place.

Enter Dari (short for Dariomauritius), the artistic and mysterious transfer student, adept at cutting class. Not that he’d rather be at home with his domineering Trinidadian father. Dari is everything that Lily needs: bright, creative, honest, and unpredictable. And in a school where no one really stands out, Dari finds Lily’s sensitivity and openness magnetic. Their attraction ignites immediately, and for the first time in what feels like forever, Lily and Dari find happiness in each other.

In twenty-first-century New York City, the fact that Lily is white and Dari is black shouldn’t matter that much, but nothing’s as simple as it seems. When tragedy becomes reality, can friendship survive even if romance cannot?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This was my first 2017 read and it was a great one to kick off the new year. You know how last year I was in a horrible reading slump and kept saying that the only stories grabbing me were ones that felt fresh and new, stories that felt like ones we just weren’t seeing enough of? That’s still holding true. And this one roped me in right away because Dari and Lily’s stories are so important. Any story that addresses race as much as this one does is always going to be relevant, not to mention still relatively rare.

 

Lily is not excited for another school year to start. We know she tried to kill herself and we know stories are swirling about her that have made her an outcast/shamed, but the reader doesn’t know right away what happened. I’ll leave it up to you to read that part of her story, but suffice it to say it’s pretty horrific and infuriating. Other than being the object of her classmates’ derision, she’s basically invisible. Her few friends weren’t there for her when she needed them and now Lily can’t really see the point of pretending to get along with anyone–that is, until she meets Dari.

 

Dari generally has his head stuck in his sketchbook or is ditching what he feels are classes that don’t challenge him. Their friendship initially is very much that of two kids who don’t have anyone else but seem content to be kind of quiet and distantly friends in school. But that doesn’t last long, especially for Lily, who pretty quickly develops more intense feelings for Dari. Dari holds her at a bit of a distance. He’s recently broken up with his older girlfriend and spends most of his time at home trying not to piss off his abusive father. After his sister leaves home to move in with her girlfriend, Dari decides to start to push back against his father’s violence, and that’s when the story really takes off. Dari’s father changes the locks to their apartment and Dari temporarily moves in with Lily and her mother. Lily and Dari grow closer and slowly reveal more of their pasts to each other, though there is still much held back and that leads to confusion and hurt feelings.

 

Lily is still reeling over the incidents of the past year and not particularly addressing her mental health needs. She’s tried therapy before and has very negative feelings about therapy and being medicated for her depression. She agrees to see a new therapist for a month and, while still reluctant to talk or get help, has some success. It’s through therapy that we learn more of Lily’s past as her therapist has her keep a journal where she can tell her story. Lily’s mom desperately wants to be a “cool mom” and is part of the problem. She’s a self-help writer trying to work on her second book, after an extremely successful first book, but rather oblivious how to actually help her own kid (or herself, as we see later in the story when she makes a particularly bad choice). Things at school get worse for Lily when a lewd picture of her begins to circulate.

 

Dari is trying to figure out what he will do now that he left home. He figures he can’t crash at Lily’s forever. He’s into Lily, but things just feel too complicated to start dating her, especially now that he’s living with her and her mom. That doesn’t stop Dari and Lily from hooking up, but he’s upfront all the time about how he feels (much to Lily’s dismay). Both Lily and Dari reveal that they are quick to get upset over things and both have violent tendencies. Their lives get pretty tangled up, with Lily looking to Dari for some sense of belonging and happiness and Dari trying to be careful of her feelings as he tries to work out his own stuff. Despite often holding back (and in some cases lying) with each other, they have many honest conversations about their personal lives, particularly about race. Lily is white and Jewish and Dari is black. We see Dari get stopped and frisked at one point for no reason. There are just some things that Lily doesn’t understand about Dari’s life. This comes to a head when they have a public argument and police show up. A pissed off Lily walks away and makes a thoughtless remark to the cops—one that has enormous consequences for Dari.

 

This intense story does not shy away from looking hard at racism, mental illness, the thing from Lily’s past that I’m not spoiling, and people making really horrible choices. Alternating viewpoints give the reader more of a peek into Dari and Lily’s minds and help keep the emotional tension high. This was one of those books where I read it as a nearly 40-year-old adult and just keep thinking about how *young* these characters are. They go through so much–things no one should have to go through at any age.  I have already flipped back a couple of times to read the very end, where Corthron gives the reader one last harsh truth. This isn’t always an easy read, but it’s absolutely an important one. Read this one and be ready to talk about racism, violence, sexual choices, and the many ways adults in this story screw up and damage the children in this book. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781481459471

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 01/03/2017

Recently in Book Mail

The following are books that have arrived here recently. I’ll be reviewing many of them in the upcoming months.  

 

 

everydayBrief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner (ISBN-13: 9781250078650 Publisher: Picador Publication date: 10/04/2016)

Hilarious, entertaining, and illustrated histories behind some of life’s most common and underappreciated objects – from the paperclip and the toothbrush to the sports bra and roller skates.

In the tradition of A Cartoon History of the Universe and, most recent, Randall Munroe’s What If? comes Brief Histories of Everyday Objects, a graphic tour through the unusual creation of some of the mundane items that surround us in our daily lives. Chapters are peppered with ballpoint pen riots, cowboy wars, and really bad Victorian practical jokes. Structured around the different locations in our home and daily life—the kitchen, the bathroom, the office, and the grocery store—award-nominated illustrator Andy Warner traces the often surprising and sometimes complex histories behind the items we often take for granted. Readers learn how Velcro was created after a Swiss engineer took his dog for a walk; how a naval engineer invented the Slinky; a German housewife, the coffee filter; and a radical feminist and anti-capitalist, the game Monopoly. This is both a book of histories and a book about histories. It explores how lies become legends, trade routes spring up, and empires rise and fall—all from the perspective of your toothbrush or toilet.

 

terribleTerrible But True: Awful Events in American History by Dinah Williams (ISBN-13: 9780545909730 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 10/25/2016)

Think American history is all boring battles and snooze-worthy old dudes? Think again! Welcome to TERRIBLE BUT TRUE, where you’ll dig deep into America’s forgotten past to uncover some creepy, disgusting, and just plain bizarre stories. From America’s first serial killers and deadly vampire-like diseases to haunted ghost ships and vicious river pirates, our nation’s history is weirder than you could have ever imagined. So dive in and prepare to be shocked, because sometimes the truth is even stranger than fiction.

 

 

its-not-meIt’s Not Me, It’s YOU by Stephanie Kate Strohm (ISBN-13: 9780545952583 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 10/25/2016)

Avery Dennis is a high school senior and one of the most popular girls in her class. But a majorly public breakup with the guy she’s been dating causes some disastrous waves. It is right before prom and Avery no longer has the perfect date. She runs the prom committee, how could she not show up with somebody?

Post-breakup, Avery gets to thinking about all of the guys that she has ever dated. How come none of those relationships ever worked out? Could it be her fault? Avery decides to investigate. In history class she’s learning about this method of record-keeping called “oral history” and she has a report due. So Avery decides to go directly to the source. Avery tracks down all of the guys she’s ever dated, and uses that information along with her friends, family, and even teachers thoughts, to compile a total account of her dating history.

Avery discovers some surprises about herself and the guys she’s spent time with just in time for prom night!

 

truthThe Truth of Right Now by Kara Lee Corthron (ISBN-13: 9781481459471 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 01/03/2017)

Two isolated teens struggle against their complicated lives to find a true connection in this heartwrenching debut novel about first love and the wreckage of growing up.

Lily is returning to her privileged Manhattan high school after a harrowing end to her sophomore year and it’s not pretty. She hates chemistry and her spiteful lab partner, her friends are either not speaking to her or suffocating her with concerned glances, and nothing seems to give her joy anymore. Worst of all, she can’t escape her own thoughts about what drove her away from everyone in the first place.

Enter Dari (short for Dariomauritius), the artistic and mysterious transfer student, adept at cutting class. Not that he’d rather be at home with his domineering Trinidadian father. Dari is everything that Lily needs: bright, creative, honest, and unpredictable. And in a school where no one really stands out, Dari finds Lily’s sensitivity and openness magnetic. Their attraction ignites immediately, and for the first time in what feels like forever, Lily and Dari find happiness in each other.

In twenty-first-century New York City, the fact that Lily is white and Dari is black shouldn’t matter that much, but nothing’s as simple as it seems. When tragedy becomes reality, can friendship survive even if romance cannot?

 

 

great-greenIn the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary (ISBN-13: 9781250065360 Publisher: Flatiron Books Publication date: 01/10/2017)

For decades children and their parents around the world have cuddled together to read Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny. While the lulling words of these stories have formed nighttime rituals for millions, few know that these classic works were part of a publishing revolution led by Margaret Wise Brown, who was renowned not only for her prolific writing and creative genius, but also for her stunning beauty and thirst for adventure.

In 1990, author Amy Gary discovered unpublished manuscripts, songs, personal letters, and diaries from Margaret tucked away in a trunk in the attic of Margaret’s sister’s barn. Since then, Gary has pored over these works and with this unique insight in to Margaret’s world she chronicles her rise in the literary world. Clever, quirky, and wildly imaginative, Margaret embraced life with passion, threw wild parties, attended rabbit hunts, and lived extravagantly off of her royalties. She carried on long and troubled love affairs with both men and women, including the ex-wife of John Barrymore, and was engaged to a younger man (who was the son of a Carnegie and a Rockefeller) when she died unexpectedly at the age of 42.

In the Great Green Room captures the exceptional spirit of Margaret whose unrivaled talent breathed new life in to the literary world.

 

radiusThe Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt (ISBN-13: 9781250096890 Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Publication date: 01/17/2017)

What happens when you fall in love with someone everyone seems determined to fear?

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person — the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.

Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?

Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love.

 

the-youThe You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins (ISBN-13: 9781481442909 Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books Publication date: 01/24/2017)

How do you live your life if your past is based on a lie? A new novel in both verse and prose from #1 New York Times bestselling author, Ellen Hopkins.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been just Ariel and Dad. Ariel’s mom disappeared when she was a baby. Dad says home is wherever the two of them are, but Ariel is now seventeen and after years of new apartments, new schools, and new faces, all she wants is to put down some roots. Complicating things are Monica and Gabe, both of whom have stirred a different kind of desire.

Maya’s a teenager who’s run from an abusive mother right into the arms of an older man she thinks she can trust. But now she’s isolated with a baby on the way, and life’s getting more complicated than Maya ever could have imagined.

Ariel and Maya’s lives collide unexpectedly when Ariel’s mother shows up out of the blue with wild accusations: Ariel wasn’t abandoned. Her father kidnapped her fourteen years ago.

What is Ariel supposed to believe? Is it possible Dad’s woven her entire history into a tapestry of lies? How can she choose between the mother she’s been taught to mistrust and the father who has taken care of her all these years?

In bestselling author Ellen Hopkins’s deft hands, Ariel’s emotionally charged journey to find out the truth of who she really is balances beautifully with Maya’s story of loss and redemption. This is a memorable portrait of two young women trying to make sense of their lives and coming face to face with themselves—for both the last and the very first time.

 

 

exoExo by Fonda Lee (ISBN-13: 9780545933438 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 01/31/2017)

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose their rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip. But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one…

 

 

american-streetAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi (ISBN-13: 9780062473042 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/14/2017)

American Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Everything, Everything; Bone Gap; and All American Boys. In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodouculture.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

 

hate-uThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (ISBN-13: 9780062498533 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/28/2017)

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty. Soon to be a major motion picture from Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

 

here-we-areHere We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen (ISBN-13: 9781616205867 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 02/28/2017)

Let’s get the feminist party started!

Here We Are is a scrapbook-style teen guide to understanding what it means to be a twenty-first-century feminist. It’s packed with contributions from a diverse range of voices, including TV, film, and pop-culture celebrities and public figures such as ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her sister Mia and politician Wendy Davis, as well as popular authors like Nova Ren Suma, Malinda Lo, Brandy Colbert, Courtney Summers, and many more. All together, the book features more than forty-four pieces and illustrations.

Here We Are is a response to lively discussions about the true meaning of feminism on social media and across popular culture and is an invitation to one of the most important, life-changing, and exciting parties around.

 

 

campCamp So-and-So by Mary McCoy (ISBN-13: 9781512415971 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 03/01/2017)

The Cabin In The Woods meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a darkly whimsical adventure.

Twenty-five campers. Five cabins.

One very dangerous summer camp.

Cabin 1 must face off against their ultimate rivals, the posh campers across the lake — who may be more than they seem.

Cabin 2 is being stalked by a murderous former camper.

Cabin 3 sets off on a quest to break an age-old curse.

Cabin 4 will meet their soulmates — who also pose a deadly threat.

And Cabin 5…well, it might already be too late for Cabin 5.

This is no ordinary camp. Survival will require courage, cunning, and perhaps even magic.

And the hot dogs are terrible.

 

 

ultimatumUltimatum by KM Walton (ISBN-13: 9781492635079 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 03/07/2017)

From the author of Cracked and Empty comes a gripping, emotional story of two brothers who must make the ultimate decision about what’s more important: family or their differences.

It’s not Oscar’s fault he’s misunderstood. Ever since his mother died, he’s been disrespected by his father and bullied by his self-absorbed older brother, so he withdraws from his fractured family, seeking refuge in his art.

Vance wishes his younger brother would just loosen up and be cool. It was hard enough to deal with their mother’s death without Oscar getting all emotional. At least when Vance pushes himself in lacrosse and parties, he feels alive.

But when their father’s alcoholism sends him into liver failure, the two brothers must come face-to-face with their demons–and each other–if they are going to survive a very uncertain future.

 

 

fish-girlFish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli (ISBN-13: 9780547483931 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 03/07/2017)

The triple Caldecott winner David Wiesner brings his rich visual imagination and trademark artistry to the graphic novel format in a unique coming-of-age tale that begins underwater. A young mermaid, called Fish Girl, in a boardwalk aquarium has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl. Their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank. Sparkling with humor and brilliantly visualized, Fish Girl’s story will resonate with every young person facing the challenges and rewards of growing up.

 

 

 

just-flyJust Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy (ISBN-13: 9781616206291 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 03/28/2017)

A debut novel about one girl’s discovery of family secrets, first love, the limits of forgiveness, and finding one’s way in the world, written with wisdom and sympathy by the bestselling memoirist, actor, and director.

When fifteen-year-old Lucy Willows discovers that her father has a child from a brief affair, a eight-year-old boy named Thomas who lives in her own suburban New Jersey town, she begins to question everything she thinks she knows about her family and her life. Lucy can’t believe her father betrayed the whole family, or that her mother forgave him, or that her sister isn’t rocked by the news the way Lucy is. Worse, Lucy’s father’s secret is now her own, one that isolates her from her friends, family, and even her boyfriend, Simon, the one person she expected would truly understand. When Lucy escapes to Maine, the home of her mysteriously estranged grandfather, she finally begins to get to the bottom of her family’s secrets and lies.

Fans of the rebels and antiheroes in the novels of Rainbow Rowell, A. S. King, and Meg Wolitzer will welcome this sharp, observant new voice in young adult fiction.

 

 

gem-andGem & Dixie by Sara Zarr (ISBN-13: 9780062434593 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/04/2017)

From renowned author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr comes a deep, nuanced, and gorgeously written story about the complex relationship between two sisters from a broken home.

Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table, and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.

When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.

 

 

letters-to-the-lostLetters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer (ISBN-13: 9781681190082 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 04/04/2017)

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

 

 

but-thenBut Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure (ISBN-13: 9780544531260 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 04/04/2017)

From the author of This Raging Light comes the story of Eden Jones, a seventeen-year-old girl who feels lost after surviving a near fatal accident. Unable to connect with her family and friends, Eden forms an unlikely relationship with Joe, a boy who comes to the hospital to visit Jasmine, a friend who may soon be gone forever. Eden is the only person who can get through to Jasmine, but is she brave enough to face a world that’s bigger and more magical than she ever would have allowed? Lyrical, unexpected, and romantic, Estelle Laure’s new novel is about interwoven lives, long goodbyes, and the imperfect beauty of young love.

 

 

defyDefy the Stars by Claudia Gray (ISBN-13: 9780316394031 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 04/04/2017)

In her most epic and ambitious work to date, bestselling author Claudia Gray takes readers on an interstellar journey exploring what it means to be human.

Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

 

 

fireworksFireworks by Katie Cotugno (ISBN-13: 9780062418272 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/11/2017)

From the New York Times bestselling author of 99 Days and How to Love comes a stunning new contemporary novel—all about boy bands, girl bands, best friends, and first love—perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson.

It was always meant to be Olivia. She’s the talented one, the one who’s been training to be a star her whole life. Her best friend, Dana, is the levelheaded one, always on the sidelines, cheering Olivia on.

But everything changes when Dana tags along with Olivia to Orlando for the weekend, where superproducer Guy Monroe is holding auditions for a new singing group, and Dana is discovered too. Dana, who’s never sung more than Olivia’s backup. Dana, who wasn’t even looking for fame. Next thing she knows, she and Olivia are training to be pop stars, and Dana is falling for Alex, the earnest, endlessly talented boy who’s destined to be the next big thing.

It should be a dream come true, but as the days of grueling practice and constant competition take their toll, things between Olivia and Dana start to shift . . . and there’s only room at the top for one girl. For Olivia, it’s her chance at her dream. For Dana, it’s a chance to escape a future that seems to be closing in on her. And for these lifelong best friends, it’s the adventure of a lifetime—if they can make it through.

Set in evocative 1990s Orlando, Fireworks brings to life the complexity of friendship, the excitement of first love, and the feeling of being on the verge of greatness.

 

upsideThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (ISBN-13: 9780062348708 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/11/2017)

From the award-winning author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda comes a funny, authentic novel about sisterhood, love, and identity.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?

 

 

literallyLiterally by Lucy Keating (ISBN-13: 9780062380043 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/11/2017)

From the author of Dreamology comes a young adult love story that blurs the line between reality and fiction…

Annabelle’s life has always been Perfect with a capital P. Then bestselling young adult author Lucy Keating announces that she’s writing a new novel—and Annabelle is the heroine.

It turns out that Annabelle is a character that Lucy Keating created. And Lucy has a plan for her.

But Annabelle doesn’t want to live a life where everything she does is already plotted out. Will she find a way to write her own story—or will Lucy Keating have the last word?

The real Lucy Keating’s delightful contemporary romance is the perfect follow-up for readers who loved her debut novel, which School Library Journal called “a sweet, quirky romance with appealing characters.”

 

higherHigher, Steeper, Faster: The Daredevils Who Conquered the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone (ISBN-13: 9780316350235 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 04/18/2017)

Discover the daring aviation pioneers who made the dream of powered flight a reality, forever changing the course of history.

Aviator Lincoln Beachey broke countless records: he looped-the-loop, flew upside down and in corkscrews, and was the first to pull his aircraft out of what was a typically fatal tailspin. As Beachey and other aviators took to the skies in death-defying acts in the early twentieth century, these innovative daredevils not only wowed crowds, but also redefined the frontiers of powered flight.

Higher, Steeper, Faster takes readers inside the world of the brave men and women who popularized flying through their deadly stunts and paved the way for modern aviation. With heart-stopping accounts of the action-packed race to conquer the skies, plus photographs and fascinating archival documents, this book will exhilarate readers as they fly through the pages.

 

bangBang by Barry Lyga (ISBN-13: 9780316315500 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 04/18/2017)

A heartbreaking novel about living with your worst mistake, from New York Times bestselling author Barry Lyga.

A chunk of old memory, adrift in a pool of blood.

Sebastian Cody did something horrible, something no one–not even Sebastian himself–can forgive. At the age of four, he accidentally shot and killed his infant sister with his father’s gun.

Now, ten years later, Sebastian has lived with the guilt and horror for his entire life. With his best friend away for the summer, Sebastian has only a new friend–Aneesa–to distract him from his darkest thoughts. But even this relationship cannot blunt the pain of his past. Because Sebastian knows exactly how to rectify his childhood crime and sanctify his past. It took a gun to get him into this.

Now he needs a gun to get out.

Unflinching and honest, Bang is as true and as relevant as tomorrow’s headlines, the story of one boy and one moment in time that cannot be reclaimed.

 

 

luckyLucky Girl by Amanda Maciel (ISBN-13: 9780062305336 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/25/2017)

Lucky Girl is an unflinching exploration of beauty, self-worth, and sexual assault, from the author of the acclaimed Tease.

Rosie is a beautiful girl—and it’s always been enough. Boys crush on her, men stare at her, girls (begrudgingly) admire her. She’s lucky and she knows it. But it’s the start of a new school year and she begins to realize that she wants to be more. Namely, she’s determined to be better to her best friend, Maddie, who’s just back from a summer program abroad having totally blossomed into her own looks. Rosie isn’t thrilled when Maddie connects with a football player who Rosie was hooking up with—but if it makes her friend happy, she’s prepared to get over it. Plus, someone even more interesting has moved to town: Alex, who became semifamous after he stopped a classmate from carrying out a shooting rampage at his old high school. Rosie is drawn to Alex in a way she’s never experienced before—and she is surprised to discover that, unlike every other guy, he seems to see more to her than her beauty.

Then at a party one night, in the midst of a devastating storm, something happens that tears apart Rosie’s life and sets her on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to face uncomfortable truths about reputation, identity, and what it means to be a true friend.

 

tenTen: A Soccer Story by Shamini Flint (ISBN-13: 9780544850019 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 05/02/2017)

Maya is a passionate soccer fan eager to start playing soccer herself. This is extra challenging because soccer is considered a “boys’ game” in Malaysia in 1986. She teaches herself basic soccer skills with only her mother and a potted rosebush as training partners, then gradually persuades enough girls to join her to form a team, all the while trying to keep her unpredictable biracial family together. Reading Maya’s witty, observant first-person narrative will make readers want her on their team, and they’ll cheer her on as she discovers that winning is great—but losing doesn’t mean defeat.

 

 

 

say-noSay No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson (ISBN-13: 9781481471930 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date: 05/02/2017)

The hijinks of Miss Congeniality meet the high school gender politics of The List in Kat Helgeson’s timely contemporary novel about two teens who become entangled in a cut-throat prom date auction.

Ava’s plan for surviving senior year at her new school is simple: fly under the radar until graduation. No boys. No attachments. No drama. But all that goes out the window when she gets drafted into the Prom Bowl—a long-standing tradition where senior girls compete in challenges and are auctioned off as prom dates to the highest bidder.

Ava joins forces with star quarterback Mark Palmer to try and get herself out of the competition, but their best laid schemes lead to self-sabotage more than anything else. And to make matters worse, they both begin to realize that the Prom Bowl isn’t all fun and games. When one event spirals dangerously out of control, Ava and Mark must decide whether shutting down the Prom Bowl once and for all is worth the price of sacrificing their futures.

 

when-dimpleWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (ISBN-13: 9781481478687 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 05/30/2017)

A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

 

unlikeliesThe Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone (ISBN-13: 9780316382861 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 06/06/2017)

Five teens embark on a summer of vigilante good samaritanism in a novel that’s part The Breakfast Club, part The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and utterly captivating.

Rising high school senior Sadie is bracing herself for a long, lonely, and boring summer. But things take an unexpected turn when she steps in to help rescue a baby in distress and a video of her good deed goes viral.

Suddenly internet-famous, Sadie’s summer changes for the better when she’s introduced to other “hometown heroes.” These five very different teens form an unlikely alliance to secretly right local wrongs, but when they try to help a heroin-using friend, they get in over their heads and discover that there might be truth in the saying “no good deed goes unpunished.” Can Sadie and her new friends make it through the summer with their friendships–and anonymity–intact?

This rich and thought-provoking novel takes on timely issues and timeless experiences with a winning combination of romance, humor, and wisdom.

 

 

boynelsonBoy by Blake Nelson (ISBN-13: 9781481488136 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 06/06/2017)

In the style of Blake Nelson’s cult favorite, Girl comes a brand-new story about the moments in life that change how you see everything and everyone you always thought you knew—including yourself.

Every school has them: the cool kids. The insiders. Gavin Meeks is one of them. He lives an easy life of parties, girls, snowboarding adventures and whatever else comes his way.

But when dark, dramatic Antoinette crash-lands at Evergreen High, the entire school feels the impact. Antoinette has seen things, been places, experienced deep tragedy first-hand. She’s not just a rebel, she’s a force of nature. Gavin, for one, is captivated and is soon pursuing interests he never knew he had. With a camera in hand, he finds a way to express his own truth, including his feelings for his favorite subject: Antoinette. It all leads to one passionate, life-altering night in this achingly authentic story from bestselling author Blake Nelson.

 

not-yetEmily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens (ISBN-13: 9780544790865 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 06/13/17)

Emily picks up a stone that looks like a cell phone but has unexpected magical powers. It’s a Spellstone! Now that she has become an unwilling Stonemaster—one who wields the power of the Stone—she has to figure out Spellstone technology fast if she is to survive a hair-raising adventure among giant dogs, demons, clones, mean girls, and deeply wicked people who want the Stone. A witty tale of a quiet girl who discovers she’s a hero when she needs to be. Stonemasters rule!

 

 

lintboyLint Boy by Aileen Leijten  (ISBN-13: 9780544528604 Publisher: Clarion Books Publication date: 06/27/17)

Lint Boy and Lint Bear live in their cozy dryer home, carefree and happy—until the day Lint Bear is snatched away by a cruel woman with a vendetta against dolls! Can Lint Boy unite a group of lost dolls to vanquish the villain and save his brother?
This magical story is showcased in the stunning full-color art of this young graphic novel. A gently gothic, age-appropriate blend of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, Lint Boy is a compelling tale of good vs. evil that will leave readers spellbound.

 

 

survivorOverboard! (Survivor Diaries) by Terry Lynn Johnson (ISBN-13: 9780544970106 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers Publication date: 07/04/17)

Stay calm. Stay smart. Survive.

In this exciting episode of the high-stakes adventure series, eleven-year-old Travis and his family are on a whale watching tour off the coast of Washington when disaster strikes. The boat capsizes, throwing everyone into the ice-cold chaotic waves. Separated from their families and struggling to stay afloat, Travis and twelve-year-old Marina must survive the freezing ocean water. Battling hypothermia and using all their knowledge of cold-water safety and outdoor survival, Travis and Marina will have their grit and teamwork tested to the extreme.

With seventeen years of hands-on experience and training in remote areas, real-life survival expert Terry Lynn Johnson (Ice Dogs; Sled Dog School) creates on-the-edge-of-your-seat storytelling featuring the real skills that kids need to survive disaster. Perfect for fans of Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived series and Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, this books includes Coast Guard-approved cold-water survival tips.

 

disappearancesThe Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy (ISBN-13: 978-0544879362 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books For Young Readers Publication date: 07/04/17)

What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?

Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, has always been a mystery: vibrant yet guarded, she keeps her secrets beyond Aila’s reach. When Juliet dies, Aila and her younger brother Miles are sent to live in Sterling, a rural town far from home–and the place where Juliet grew up.

Sterling is a place with mysteries of its own. A place where the experiences that weave life together–scents of flowers and food, reflections from mirrors and lakes, even the ability to dream–vanish every seven years.

No one knows what caused these “Disappearances,” or what will slip away next. But Sterling always suspected that Juliet Quinn was somehow responsible–and Aila must bear the brunt of their blame while she follows the chain of literary clues her mother left behind.

As the next Disappearance nears, Aila begins to unravel the dual mystery of why the Disappearances happen and who her mother truly was. One thing is clear: Sterling isn’t going to hold on to anyone’s secrets for long before it starts giving them up.

 

sorrowOne for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn (ISBN-13: 9780544818095 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers Publication date: 07/18/17)

Against the ominous backdrop of the influenza epidemic of 1918, Annie, a new girl at school, is claimed as best friend by Elsie, a classmate who is a tattletale, a liar, and a thief. Soon Annie makes other friends and finds herself joining them in teasing and tormenting Elsie. Elsie dies from influenza, but then she returns to reclaim Annie’s friendship and punish all the girls who bullied her. Young readers who revel in spooky stories will relish this chilling tale of a girl haunted by a vengeful ghost.

 

 

 

specialThe Special Ones by Em Bailey (ISBN-13: 978-0544912298 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers Publication date: 07/18/17)

Esther is one of the Special Ones: four young spiritual guides who live in a remote farmhouse under the protection of a mysterious cult leader. He watches them around the clock, ready to punish them if they forget who they are—and all the while, broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside.

Esther knows that if she stops being Special, he will “renew” her. Nobody knows what happens to the Special Ones who are taken away from the farm for renewal, but Esther fears the worst. Like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape.

 

sparksSparks of Light by Janet B. Taylor (ISBN-13: 9780544609570 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers Publication date: 08/01/17)

For the first time in her life, Hope Walton has friends . . . and a (maybe) boyfriend. She’s a Viator, a member of a long line of time-traveling ancestors. When the Viators learn of a plan to steal a dangerous device from the inventor Nikola Tesla, only a race into the past can save the natural timeline from utter destruction. Navigating the glitterati of The Gilded Age in 1895 New York City, Hope and her crew will discover that high society can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

In this sequel to the dazzling time-travel romance Into the Dim, sacrifice takes on a whole new meaning as Hope and Bran struggle to determine where—or when–they truly belong.

 

 

little-and-lionLittle & Lion by Brandy Colbert (ISBN-13: 9780316349000 Publisher: Little, Brown Publication date: 08/08/2017)

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. Is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself—or worse.

 

 

heartsThe Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones (ISBN-13: 9780316314596 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 08/08/17)

When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldy ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?

17 2017 YA Books To Have On Your Radar

Like many of you (I’m guessing), I keep multiple reading-related lists. I keep track of what I read each year. I keep track of what ARCs I’ve gotten and hope to read. I keep track of what books I either want to get when they come out or hope to track down as ARCs but haven’t yet. There’s the list of 2017 LGBTQIA+ books. Look, I like lists. Even just listing my lists was fun for me. So anyway, I scanned through all my various relevant lists and pulled together this new list (yay!) of 17 YA books I can’t wait to read. In some cases, it’s because I liked the author’s previous work. In some cases, it’s a debut that’s caught my attention. In some cases, it’s just that I like reading my friends’ work. My list could have easily been “77 2017 YA Books To Have On Your Radar.” Hop in the comments or catch me on Twitter @CiteSomething and tell me what you are anxious to read in 2017!

All descriptions from the publishers.

 

flying-lessonsFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh 

Random House Children’s Books, 1/3/17

Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

 

 

history-is-allHistory Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Soho Press, Incorporated, 1/17/17

From the New York Times bestselling author of More Happy Than Not comes an explosive examination of grief, mental illness, and the devastating consequences of refusing to let go of the past.

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

 

 

lovingLoving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell and Shadra Strickland 

Chronicle Books LLC, 1/31/17

From acclaimed author Patricia Hruby Powell comes the story of a landmark civil rights case, told in spare and gorgeous verse. In 1955, in Caroline County, Virginia, amidst segregation and prejudice, injustice and cruelty, two teenagers fell in love. Their life together broke the law, but their determination would change it. Richard and Mildred Loving were at the heart of a Supreme Court case that legalized marriage between races, and a story of the devoted couple who faced discrimination, fought it, and won.

 

 

our-ownOur Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Harlequin, 1/31/17

Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it’s mostly about sex.

No, it isn’t that kind of theory. Aki already knows she’s bisexual—even if, until now, it’s mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki’s theory is that she’s got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she’s got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It’s time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you’re in love? It’s going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.

 

at-the-edgeAt the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

Simon Pulse, 2/7/17

From the author of We Are the Ants and The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes the heartbreaking story of a boy who believes the universe is slowly shrinking as things he remembers are being erased from others’ memories.

Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since the second grade, and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished.

More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.

Ozzie doesn’t know how to navigate life without Tommy, and soon he suspects that something else is going on: that the universe is shrinking.

When Ozzie is paired up with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. But the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings developing between them, even if he still loves Tommy.

But Ozzie knows there isn’t much time left to find Tommy—that once the door closes, it can’t be opened again. And he’s determined to keep it open as long as it takes to get his boyfriend back.

 

american-streetAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi

HarperCollins Publishers, 2/14/17

American Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Everything, Everything; Bone Gap; and All American Boys. In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

 

 

educationThe Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2/21/17

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

Things/People Margot Hates:
Mami, for destroying her social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
The supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

 

 

ronitRonit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin

HarperCollins Publishers, 2/21/17

Pamela L. Laskin’s beautiful and lyrical novel in verse delivers a fresh and captivating retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that transports the star-crossed lovers to the modern-day Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.

The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.

 

hate-uThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

HarperCollins Publishers, 2/28/17

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty. Soon to be a major motion picture from Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

 

inexplicableThe Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 3/7/17

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?
This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.

 

 

 

youre-welcomeYou’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

Random House Children’s Books, 3/7/17

A vibrant, edgy, fresh new YA voice for fans of More Happy Than Not and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, packed with interior graffiti.
 
When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.

 

just a girlJust a Girl Carrie Mesrobian

HarperCollins Publishers, 3/28/17

Taking a hard look at the societal constraints on teenage girls, Morris Award nominee Carrie Mesrobian tells one girl’s story with bracing honesty and refreshing authenticity.

By her senior year of high school, Rianne has exhausted all the fun there is to have in small-town Wereford, Minnesota. Volleyball season is winding down, the parties feel tired, and now that she’s in a serious relationship with reformed player Luke Pinsky, her wild streak has ended. Not that she ever did anything worse than most guys in her school…but she knows what everyone thinks of her.

Including her parents. Divorced but now inexplicably living together again, Rianne wonders why they’re so quick to point out every bad choice she’s making when they can’t even act like adults—or have the decency to tell Rianne whether or not they’re getting back together. With an uncomfortable home life and her once-solid group of friends now dissolving, the reasons for sticking around after high school are few. So why is Rianne locking step when it comes to figuring out her future?

That’s not the only question Rianne can’t answer. Lately she’s been wondering why, when she has a perfect-on-paper boyfriend, she wants anything but. Or how it is that Sergei, a broken-English-speaking Russian, understands her better than anyone who’s known her all her life? And—perhaps the most troubling question—why has Rianne gotten stuck with an “easy girl” reputation for doing the same exact things as guys without any judgment?

Carrie Mesrobian, acclaimed author of Sex & Violence and Cut Both Ways, sets fire to the unfair stereotypes and contradictions that persist even in the twenty-first century.

 

what-girlsWhat Girls Are Made Of by Elana Arnold

Lerner Publishing Group, 4/1/17

When Nina Faye was fourteen, her mother told her there was no such thing as unconditional love. Nina believed her. Now she’ll do anything for the boy she loves, to prove she’s worthy of him. But when he breaks up with her, Nina is lost. What is she if not a girlfriend? What is she made of? Broken-hearted, Nina tries to figure out what the conditions of love are.

 

 

 

upsideThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

HarperCollins Publishers, 4/11/17

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?

 

when-dimpleWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Simon Pulse. 5/30/17

A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

 

things-weThings We Haven’t Said: Stories of Abuse and Recovery edited by Erin E. Moulton

Zest Books, 6/27/17

Statistically, teens make up the demographic most affected by rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse, and yet the topic is shrouded by stigma and silence. Things We Haven’t Said seeks to make a change by providing teens with stories that engage, questions for further discussion, and resources that could save a life. These twenty stories – coming from a diverse but uniformly impressive group of women – open the door to new conversations on one of the hardest topics we will ever have to address. But it’s a conversation that we need to start having now.

 

 

little-and-lionLittle and Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little, Brown, 8/8/17

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. Is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself—or worse.

 

#MHYALit: What is Neurodiversity and How Did It Save My Life? a guest post by Olivia James

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen I was 18, I stopped eating. There are approximately a million different reasons that I made that choice, and there is no way to sum them all up, but at the heart of all the poor coping skills that came to a head at 18 was the simple reality that my brain is different from other brains.

 

It’s a fact that human brains contain variations: some people fall into anxiety more quickly, while others tend towards joy. Some people find solace in being around others, while for the introverts among us, socializing is exhausting. When I say that my brain is different from other brains, I don’t mean it as a judgment. It is simply true. Unfortunately, it’s a fact that for many, many years I believed was a problem. It makes sense that I believed that: mental illness and neurodiversity are generally seen as negatives in American society. They’re shameful, dangerous, and awful. We tell certain stories about mental illness that say it’s a nasty thing that happens to you, but if you’re lucky you can survive it and it won’t be part of you anymore.

 

The narrative goes like this: I was very unhappy. Something bad happened in my life, or I found myself struggling with school or bullies, or I hit puberty, and I just couldn’t deal anymore. I hurt myself/starved myself/wanted to die. Finally it got so bad that I knew something had to change, and I asked someone for help. I went to therapy/got medication/talked to a trusted adult, and learned that life was worth it/I could be happy/how to manage my emotions. Now I still struggle with my mental health during hard times, but I “beat” my mental illness, and I feel stronger than ever. I’m not depressed/anxious/starving anymore, and now I’m a better/different person.

 

That’s not my story. When I went to therapy, it was because my mother had threatened to withhold my college tuition money until I did. I lied and I evaded my therapist for years. I had no desire to “get better” or to change. As an aside, I do not recommend this method of therapy at all. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, it’s deeply unpleasant, and it does not actually provide positive results. Therapy works considerably better when you actually are willing to work with your therapist.

 

But I was unwilling, because the narrative that I had about mental illness was one in which my mental illness was an essential part of myself, and I had to give up that essential part of myself in order to get “better.” I had to behave or think or feel differently, and the therapist would make me do it. More than anything, I did not want to change. I did not want to give up my deeply held beliefs about meaning and purpose. My eating disorder made me feel safe. My depression seemed to be the most accurate response to a world that was really screwed up. My anxiety seemed like it was the only thing that kept me functional. If I wasn’t anxious, what motivation would I have to accomplish my goals? Who would I be if I wasn’t all these things that had been a part of my life for years?

 

Sometimes it is easier to die in the grip of something familiar than to live in the unknown. I felt safe. I was dying, but I felt safe. Maybe I wanted to die. I probably wanted to die. Maybe I should’ve gotten the hint when I chose “Wanting to Die” as the poem I performed in my senior year speech competitions.

 

It took years before I finally started to properly listen to some of the things that my endlessly patient therapist was saying to me. I don’t mean to be discouraging to those seeking treatment, but it’s also important to be realistic: therapy takes a lot of time and a lot of work before you see results. And here is where my story diverges most thoroughly from the normal stories that I hear: I did not learn that I needed to “fight back”, I did not “hit rock bottom”, I did not have a moment in which it all became clear. Rather, I slowly began to realize that there was nothing wrong with me except that nobody had given me any tools to deal with my life.

 

What was helpful to me (and be forewarned, that this is what worked for ME. Other people find completely different things helpful) was to embrace those parts of myself that were causing me all this anxiety and stress. This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually a pretty basic tenet of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is the idea that differences in brains aren’t just a fact, but that those differences are in fact an important part of how the human species thrives. Different brains bring different strengths and weaknesses. So embracing my brain meant recognizing that yes, there are some elements of my brain that are particularly challenging in unique ways, but there are also parts of my brain that (excuse my French) kick ass. What was causing me lots of problems was the fact that society is set up for brains that aren’t like mine. I had to readjust my life to work for MY brain. Some people think that this is sad, or that it means I “can’t” do a lot of things. I don’t see it that way. I prefer to see it as “not doing things that I hate doing.”

 

I don’t see anxiety as limiting me, I see a society that expects me to do things that are anxiety provoking as limiting. I’m really quite happy to socialize with games and in small groups, not go to parties, not go to large and crowded events, not talk to strangers, not talk on the phone. Sometimes I can’t do things that others consider “basic functioning”, like being able to cook and feed myself. That’s ok: I can always ask for help. Recognizing that I need these accommodations is what keeps me from overtaxing my abilities and falling apart.

 

Choosing to do things that work (and not to do things that don’t work for you) for you isn’t sad or wrong. It’s just different, and the realization that I could just stop doing things I hated and start doing things differently was pretty mind blowing to me. It also meant that I could tap into some of my talents: once I wrote a 50,000 word novel in two weeks. My focus is impeccable and my drive is pretty impressive as well. But instead of blowing all that focus getting through a two minute phone call that I hate, now I just text instead. By limiting the things that are uncomfortable and painful to me, I open up so many other possibilities.

 

I know that for many people (particularly artists, writers, and other creative types), talking positively about mental illness is dangerous territory. There’s a history of equating creativity with depression. Neurodiversity does not mean leaving people with mental illnesses to fend for themselves, nor does it mean ignoring the fact that some kinds of brains come with negatives that are serious and dangerous. I embrace my brain, which has depressive and anxious traits. I do not embrace the depression and the anxiety. I do my best to find the underlying traits (perfectionism, conscientiousness, thoughtfulness) that can be brought into balance and made useful. I think there’s a huge difference between saying that art, depth, or thoughtfulness come from mental illness and saying that mental illness is not ALL awful, or that my brain is unique and there are some elements of that uniqueness that I appreciate or that are positive.

 

You don’t have to keep hating yourself. There is nothing WRONG with you. You might have some work to do to understand your own tendencies, needs, and wants, and to create a life that relies on your strengths and compensates for your weaknesses. But it’s possible, and I really cannot articulate the relief that comes with realizing that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. You have all the pieces to build something glorious. You just have to figure out how they go together.

 

Meet Olivia James

11193332_10152762213502601_1744363452546004244_nOlivia is a marketer by day and a writer by basically every other time. If you met her you’d probably think “well there’s a big ol’ nerd” and you’d be right. You can often find her playing Dungeons and Dragons, cuddling with her cats, or ranting at anyone who will listen about social justice. Olivia has a weird obsession with octopuses and Latin, which is why it’s very important to her that it’s octopodes not octopi. In addition to blogging at “We Got So Far To Go” and doing actual work that she gets paid for, Olivia’s current projects are a young adult sci fi novel and her wedding to the coolest nerd partner anyone could ask for.

Favorite YA Books of 2016

Yes, it’s list time. What follows are 16 of my favorite 2016 books that I reviewed and excerpts of my reviews. Even though I’m a voracious reader, I’m sure I missed a lot of great titles this year. I always enjoy reading the many lists that crop up this time of the year, but I also always want more variety and to hear from more people. So here’s my list—will you share yours with us too? Leave us a comment or hit me up on Twitter where I’m @CiteSomething. 

 

meet me hereMeet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

Thomas and Mallory have barely spoken in years. They haven’t really been friends for 7 years. But when Mallory needs a ride home, after punching her boyfriend at a party, he’s there for her. Even though he’s not really sure what she needs or why she turned to him for help, he’s there. What could have been a simple ride home—drop her off and be done—turns into an all-night adventure. It’s hard to tell if the timing couldn’t be better or couldn’t be worse. Goodness knows they both need a distraction. Thomas is supposed to leave for the Army in the  morning, though he has no intention of actually going, a secret he reveals to Mallory and to a few others as the night wears on. And Mallory? She has her own reasons for freaking out and needing to focus on something else for a few hours. It’s graduation night. They should be elated. But both Thomas and Mallory are feeling the nearly unbearable weight of expectation and uncertainty as well as the desire to go away, do the unexpected, follow their own paths.

MEET ME HERE will inspire important conversations about post-traumatic stress disorder, expectations, friendship, and toxic masculinity. On the surface it could seem like Thomas and Mallory’s friendship just fizzled out, or like Jake just isn’t himself, or like our main characters are feeling an uncertainty about their futures that might come from it being graduation night— a time for endings, beginnings, and thoughts of the future. But Bliss infuses every one of those things with much deeper issues that get explored more thoroughly as the story goes on and as secrets are revealed. This well-written and affecting book is a must-have for every collection. Teen readers may not be in exactly the same situations as Thomas or Mallory but will recognize the feelings of uncertainty and the pressures of expectations as well as appreciate the quiet thread of hope woven throughout. (See the full review here.)

 

 

georgiaGeorgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

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. (See the full review here.)

 

 

original fakeOriginal Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

Frankie’s hero is Uncle Epic, a street artist from the Minneapolis area. He can’t believe the wild twists and turns his life takes on when he’s swept up in Uncle Epic’s world when he’s befriended by cousins Rory and David, whose actual uncle is Uncle Epic. “Cool stuff never happens to me,” Frankie thinks. Before long he’s part of Epic’s street team, helping prepare and install art pieces all around the city. That’s pretty cool, and just as cool is the fact that Frankie finally feels like he has friends. Rory is the prettiest girl in Frankie’s grade, with a reputation for using boys then breaking their hearts—naturally he has a crush on her. David is a skirt-wearing gay kid with a quick sense of humor and a creative streak a mile wide. Frankie’s experience with Epic’s art projects combine with his resentment of Lou to fuel his own public art projects—ones whose purpose is both humor and revenge—which end up giving him more attention than he could have expected. Suddenly, Frankie’s helping Rory yarn bomb, helping Epic with his art, drawing attention (under a pseudonym) for his own weird public art, and trying to stay off the police’s radar. Though he keeps landing in hot water with his parents, as he sneaks out night after night, it’s all worth it to Frankie, who finally feels like he has something that’s his.

 

I absolutely adored this book. As a character-driven reader, I was delighted by how fantastic and unique Frankie, David, Lou, their parents, and really everyone was. There is a lot to talk about here about art, gender, and families. And let’s talk about the illustrations for a minute. If you check out the cover reveal post we did, you can peek at more of the art than just what you see on the cover. Using oranges, black, and white, Johnson’s illustrations greatly add to the story and at times take over the telling of the story. It would have been a shame to have this brilliant book all about art not have illustrations showing us that art. Frankie, Lou, and David’s adventures really come to life thanks to the combined skills of the writer and the illustrator. ORIGINAL FAKE stands out in every way—great characters, great writing, great art. Give this to art-loving, oddball, slightly subversive readers who appreciate a good caper. (See the full review here.)

 

 

the-great-american-whatever-9781481404099_hrThe Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

In the six months since his sister was killed in a car accident, Quinn has hardly left his bedroom. He hasn’t gone to school or talked to his best friend and has barely interacted with his heartbroken mother. He hasn’t turned on his phone, either, knowing the last text his sister sent before running a red light was to him. Urged on by his best friend, Geoff, Quinn reluctantly emerges from his isolation just in time to meet a cute boy, turn 17, rediscover his passion for writing screenplays, and uncover some big secrets about the people he thought he knew best. He also gets some advice from a former idol, a neighbor turned Hollywood screenwriter: forget the rules of what’s expected in a script and just write the truth. For Quinn, who seeks solace in his daydreamy scripts with imagined conversations and outcomes that he can control, this is a hard pill to swallow, especially as he’s learning some truths he’s not really sure he likes. Even under the weight of grief, Quinn’s conversational and charming narrative voice effervesces, mixing humor and vulnerability in typical Federle style. Quinn’s story is at turns sad, funny, awkward, and endearing as he figures out friendship, romance, coming out, and moving on. VERDICT Federle’s YA debut about life’s unscripted moments has wide appeal and is an essential purchase for all collections. Readers will be instant fans of the funny and honest Quinn. (See the full review, which originally appeared in School Library Journal, here.)

 

 

girl mans upGirl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Sometimes I don’t think about what’s missing from YA until I read a book that includes whatever that thing is and think, Oh! Hello there! YA desperately needs you! In this case, the “you” is Pen, a butch Portuguese lesbian who’s committed to being herself even though most people around her don’t understand—and don’t want her to have—her identity. Pen has a small group of friends—though “friends” is not really the right word because 2/3 of her group are utter jerks. Her supposed best friend is Colby, a neighbor boy who accepts her for who she is and protects her… but who also is incredibly mean, abusive, manipulative, and threatening. Pen begins to pull away from him when she becomes friends with Blake (her soon-to-be girlfriend) and Olivia (one of Colby’s recently-cast-aside conquests). As far as Colby is concerned, Pen exists to help him get girls and to remain “loyal” to him. Her pursuit of other relationships, especially one of friendship with Colby’s ex, is a betrayal to him. I probably hate Colby more than I’ve hated any other character I’ve read this year. He’s an awful human being.

 

Thankfully, in addition to her new friends, Pen also has her brother in her corner. Johnny has always stood up for Pen, who has a long history of suffering slurs and being shamed for who she is. Her parents don’t understand her at all. They feel she isn’t respecting them, that she isn’t being a “good girl.” Her mother would like her to look like a “princess,” horrified at Pen dressing in Johnny’s old clothes and shaving her head. Pen talks about having always been a tomboy. She’s often mistaken for a boy. She repeatedly says she doesn’t want to be a boy—she’s not transgender—but she’s not entirely comfortable being thought of as a girl (or at least as a stereotypical girl). She never uses words like genderqueer or nonbinary, or butch, for that matter—that word is mine. Pen comments often on what words like “boy” or “girl” mean to her, in regards to how she thinks of herself. She also thinks, “But I don’t think of myself as being gay, because that word sounds like it belongs to some guy. Lesbian makes me think of some forty-year-old woman. And queer feels like it can mean anything, but like—am I queer because I like girls, or because I look the way I do? Maybe I don’t know enough words.” She also just really doesn’t get why people care so much and need to label her. As she tells Olivia, during a conversation about if Pen could be trans, “I don’t feel wrong inside myself. I don’t feel like I’m someone I shouldn’t be. Only other people make me feel like there’s something wrong with me.” (See the full review here.)

 

 

girl in piecesGirl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

We meet Charlie as she is just getting settled in a treatment facility. She’s a cutter who has done too thorough of a job and just spent a week in the hospital. At the facility, she’s silent—selective mutism. She’s been through a lot. Prior to landing in the facility, she was homeless for nearly a year. Now in treatment, she’s getting the help she so desperately needs, grateful to be indoors, warm, and fed. But money and/or insurance doesn’t last forever, and way too soon she’s being cut loose, released to her abusive mother. Instead of going home with her mother, she’s handed some money, her birth certificate, and a bus ticket to Arizona. Great parenting. Charlie heads out there alone. Her friend Mikey is there, but Mikey’s tied to a lot of her past. He’s also not around much, so when he leaves on tour with a band, Charlie is truly alone. She gets a job washing dishes at a cafe, where she meets Riley, a sometimes charming junkie ten years her senior who quickly gets into her head, heart, and pants. Riley is horrible for Charlie. She’s trying so hard to move on from her past, but that’s not easy. Every day is a struggle for her to not cut herself. She makes a lot of crappy choices around and because of Riley. There are small good things mixed in among all this bleakness. Charlie finds solace in drawing and is going to have some of her art in a show. She’s making… I wouldn’t say “friends” at work, but she’s interacting with her coworkers and coming out of her shell a little. And when things fall apart in a pretty epic way, Charlie learns she has more support, resources, and hope than she had imagined. (See the full review here.)

 

 

whateverWhatever.: Or How Junior Year Became Totally F$@cked by S.J. Goslee

I completely loved this book. It took me a little while to warm up to it (I think my problem is that I really wanted this to be written in first person, not third), but when I did, I couldn’t put it down. Many books are billed as being “hilarious” but totally miss the mark. This book is truly hilarious. As a person who enjoys sarcasm, trash-talking, swear words, and 90s music, this book spoke to me. Mike’s whole world gets rocked when Lisa, the girl he thought of as his girlfriend, tells him she wants to see other people. She points out to him that she’s not actually his girlfriend, but just a friend who he sometimes goes out with and makes out with. He’s not really broken up over her announcement. What does shock him, though, is her reasoning why he should be her student council running mate: they can sell him as gay—“it’ll be edgy.” Wait, Mike’s gay? This is news to him. Or is it? Turns out Lisa (and many others) were recently witness to him making out with a dude at a party, a fact that Mike himself doesn’t remember. Lisa tells him not to be so quick to dismiss the idea that he’s bi. Before long, Mike is accepting this (maybe) new truth about himself. He knows there’s nothing wrong with being bi, but he’s not so sure he’s ready for people to know yet when he’s just kind of figuring it all out for himself. It doesn’t talk long, though, for people in his life to start knowing—his mom, his grandma, his close group of friends, and Wallace, his sworn enemy.

 

Before long, Mike is doing all kinds of new things: serving as student council VP, organizing Homecoming, hanging out with cheerleaders, navigating uncomfortable silent periods with his lifelong friends, and making out with a hot (if completely surprisingly into him) guy. (See the full review here.)

 

 

ask meAsk Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann

[The summary] tells you both everything you need to know and nothing. It doesn’t really convey how absolutely stunning the writing is. Or how honest the story feels. Or how fantastic Addie’s own poems are. It doesn’t really hint that the story takes a rather unexpected turn. It doesn’t tell you how supportive and great her parents are, or how generally supportive and great her boyfriend is.

 

Can you tell I loved this story?

 

Sometimes I read a book and it’s so glaringly obvious that this is an adult writing a teenager—nothing feels natural or genuine or believable about the teen voice. That isn’t the case here. Addie shines as a “real” teenager. She’s secretive and touchy and honest and curious. She makes a choice that she isn’t willing to allow to define her, then learns that the things that define her are changing. A gorgeous, smart, achingly real look at the things that make us who we are and reminds us that who we are is always changing. (See the full review here.)

 

 

we are the antsWe Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

We first meet Henry when we read his words, the opening words of the novel:“Chemistry: Extra Credit Project. Life is bullshit.” Henry has spent the last year, if not the many years prior to it, too, honing his nihilism. Life is absurd and meaningless. We are insignificant and don’t matter. We’re just ants. So when he gets the chance to stop the world from ending, he really has to think it over. Why let the world go on? With all of the pain and misery and unfairness, why not let it all end? He’s looking at the big picture of things, sure, but this is also just about him. Is not wanting the world to go on the same thing as wanting to die? Is not believing the world–filled with so many mistakes and so much pain–deserves to go on the same thing as not believing that he deserves to go on? Is letting the world end just an extremely epic way to commit suicide? As we get to know Henry–grieving, lonely, guilt-ridden Henry–we see why he’s so conflicted over a question that might seem like it has an easy answer. Everything–the entire fate of the world–ultimately comes down to whether or not Henry wants to go on living. 

 

Hutchinson’s latest book is a powerful look at depression, grief, guilt, families, bullying, hope, and the power to change. He shows us an extremely broken character, one who’s not convinced it’s worth it to even try to put the pieces back together, and really makes us wonder not only what will ultimately happen to the universe, but what will happen to Henry as he falls deeper and deeper into despair. (See the full review here.)

 

 

when the moonWhen the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Pakistani Sam (or Samir) and Latinx Miel have been inseparable since Miel came pouring out of the collapsed water tower. Miel is taken in by Aracely, Sam’s neighbor. Now teenagers, Sam and Miel realize how they really feel about each other and what follows are many absolutely breathtakingly beautiful scenes of them kissing, and touching, and discovering each other. Discovery comes into play, too, with the four beguiling redheaded Bonner sisters, known locally as brujas and boyfriend-stealers. They’re convinced that getting some of the roses that grown from Miel’s wrist will help them regain their power over love. They threaten Miel, telling her if she doesn’t comply, they will spill the secrets about her mother. But it’s a second threat that holds even more power over Miel: if she doesn’t comply, they will show everyone Sam’s birth certificate, which shows that he was assigned the label of “girl” at birth. Miel would do anything to protect Sam, especially because she knows he needs the time right now to really be figuring out some big things. You see, Sam has always used the idea of bacha posh to explain himself. We learn that this practice exists in Pakistan and is something Sam learned about from his grandma when he was young. Bacha posh is a practice where girls dress as boys and live that way, to help out their family, be the man of the house, live with more freedoms, etc, eventually going back to dressing and living as girls when they get older. Sam grapples with this, wondering if that’s the most accurate way to think of himself—is there any possible world where he could imagine wanting to go back to who he was mistaken for in his youth? Other characters seem to know where Sam will eventually land on this, but he has to get there on his own. (See the full review here.)

 

 

wreckedWrecked by Maria Padian

By showing us not just the rape and presenting the story not just from the viewpoint of the victim, we are able to more fully see rape culture at work and understand all of the things that can come along with something like this. Jenny must deal with the reaction and desires of her parents and the advice from friends and advocates as well as the assumptions, lies, and harassment that come with the story getting out. We see what others are saying about her or about that night. We see misinterpretations and fuzzy memories and friends making bad choices and others trying to make good ones. We see the people who feel they share some of the blame and those who don’t feel at all responsible for what happened that night. We see the questions asked by people and the questions that get ignored. We see blame, guilt, and facts. And at the heart of everything is truth—something that can easily get buried under lies and blame and foggy memories. (See the full review here.)

 

 

raniRani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel

Overall, I found this to be a really interesting look at both a place and characters I haven’t seen in YA. Are we calling books set in the 90s historical fiction? The 1991 setting felt important because of the music that means so much to Rani. Will contemporary teen readers feel the impact of her references? Maybe not. A glossary in the back defines not just Gujarati words but also Hawaiian words, Hawaiian pidgin, and late 80s/early 90s slang. While it took me a little bit to get into the book, and the pacing toward the end felt rushed, once I got into the story, I couldn’t put it down. The author, a psychiatrist, includes a long note at the end saying that, like Rani, she is a Gujarati Indian who lived on Mokoka’i and loved hip hop. She also tells readers that she’s a psychiatrist and talks at length about sexual abuse and how it has affected Rani. She also offers resources. Rani’s story is one of growth and empowerment and is a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time. (See the full review here.)

 

 

underwaterUnderwater by Marisa Reichardt

Morgan has been home, isolated, for months, ever since the shooting at her high school. Her debilitating panic attacks mean she can’t even conceive of being able to cross the threshold of her front door and go out into the world ever again. She does online school, takes comfort in routine and predictability, and is visited twice a week by a psychologist. When Evan Kokua moves in next door, he seems determined to be friends with her. Not only that, he doesn’t really seem fazed by the fact that she’s essentially a shut-in. At first she’s defensive and skittish around him, but their connection is immediate, and cleverness and honesty starts to give peeks of both who she is now and who she was Before.

 

This doesn’t become a story about some boy swooping in and “fixing” a girl. They’re both broken. Maybe everyone is broken. Evan reminds her that she’s not the only one suffering, that everyone is just trying to survive–especially everyone who lived through the school shooting. Morgan’s road to recovery is long. She has intensive therapy. She has emergency pills. She has reminders to breathe, reminders that she’s not dying. She has the support of her mother. She has her own willpower. Her story is a testament to effectiveness of therapy. As the story goes on, we see her slowly (very slowly) change from the scared, isolated girl who can’t leave her house to something sort of like who she used to be. Flashbacks to her past show us how different she is now.

 

This novel is a powerful look at grief, mental illness, trust, forgiveness, letting go, and moving on. This should make your TBR list because of its strong writing, its examination of PTSD and panic disorders, and its hopeful approach toward therapy and recovery. (See the full review here.)

 

 

ifiwasyourgirlIf I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

YA novel about a trans main character, written by a trans writer, featuring a trans cover model? YES!

This book is about changes in Amanda’s life, and not just the changes that come from transitioning. She’s in a new town, at a new school, living with a father she hasn’t seen in six years, and making new friends (for the first time in forever). She gets her first kiss and starts her first relationship. We see enough snippets of her past to know some of the things she’s been through, from suicide attempts to brutal assaults. She’s had varying levels of support, from a dad who still hasn’t “come to terms” with everything to a mom who quickly realizes that she’d rather her kid be trans than be dead. We learn a little about Amanda’s journey—understanding from little on that she was a girl, therapy, hormones, surgery, etc.

 

Amanda’s new friends and new start at a new school give her the chance to just live her life, for once, without being in constant fear. It takes her a little while to feel at ease, and there is a degree of worry underlying all the time, but she finally gets a chance to do things lots of teens typically do—go to football games and dances, be in a relationship, share secrets, and be supported and included. There is still fear and some ugly incidents, but for the most part this is a very positive, hopeful look at the life of a trans teen (something Russo addresses in the author’s note). At the beginning of Amanda’s story she tells us her goals for living in her new town: “I would keep my head down and keep quiet. I would graduate. I would go to college as far from the South as I could. I would live.” She soon realizes she has more options than that, than just simply trying to survive. She gets a chance to really start to live her life—the life she’s wanted to live for so long. A VERY welcome addition to the growing selection of books about trans teens—not to be missed. (See full review here.)

 

 

the memoryThe Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

While the writing is outstanding and the characters well-drawn, it’s the real talk about mental illness that makes this novel stand out to me. Vicky often talks about the debilitating fog of depression, of the lies that depression makes a person believe. We learn that Mona is bipolar and see how that affects her, especially once she decides to give herself a little break from her medicine. Gabriel is possibly schizophrenic—he hears the voice of God telling him to give away his possessions and that he must die. The teens all talk about these very real illnesses and support each other when they each fall prey to believing in the lies, to feeling like they are to blame for their illnesses.

 

They struggle to accept their illnesses but are constantly reminded, by each other and their doctor, that what they have IS an illness and is real. The teens all come from different backgrounds and have varying levels of support or familial involvement in their treatment. They begin to really bond with each other, as the story goes on, and Vicky feels like in the hospital it’s five against one–her group and doctor against her depression. Each time we see her parents, we see so clearly how they just DO NOT get what is going on. Whether it’s ignorance—willful or otherwise–or denial, they don’t understand Vicky’s illness and make ridiculous demands on her once she leaves the hospital—get right back to school, get your grades back up, focus on getting into an Ivy League school (she’s a high school sophomore), get a job, BE FINE. Be better. Vicky, who is of course still struggling greatly with her depression, works hard to not be ashamed of what has happened and to be open with people about her needs right now. It is only after some very scary events go on with the friends in her treatment group that she can begin to make her family understand what mental illness really means and what they can do to support her. 

 

This important book is an honest and candid look at mental illness, treatment, and recovery. The focus on therapy, medication, and support shows readers the many different ways to get help. The mental illnesses are handled sensitively, and the teens’ conversations go a long way toward encouraging open dialogues about mental health, acceptance, and the removal of stigma. (See the full review here.)

 

 

as i descendedAs I Descended by Robin Talley

Something wicked comes to Virginia’s elite Acheron Academy in this modern retelling of one of Shakespeare’s darkest works. Overachiever and second-most-popular girl Maria, who is bisexual, and her scheming girlfriend, Lily, who is disabled and a lesbian, are determined to have Maria win the coveted Kingsley Prize, which guarantees entrance into any college and will enable the couple to stay together after high school. A séance reveals cryptic prophecies and opens the door to a plethora of spirits, leaving the girls unable to control their own action. Their cruel and manipulative plans to unseat the most popular girl are just the first of many schemes that go horribly wrong. Before long, Maria and Lily are not the only ones admitting to interacting with spirits. Students are having bad dreams, hearing phantom noises, and seeing ghosts. The couple’s desire for power grows, and what looked like ruthlessness now seems like madness. As the tragedy unfolds, no one at Acheron is safe—least of all Maria and Lily. Talley’s novel is ambitious but successfully so. The work address racism, classism, and homophobia, all couched in a horror retelling of Macbeth. Notably, all four of the main characters—Maria, Lily, Mateo, and Brandon—are not straight. Those familiar with the source material will not be surprised at how the story plays out, but knowing the eventual outcomes does not diminish Talley’s dark tale about fate and ambition. (See full review, which originally appeared in School Library Journal, here.)

 

BONUS: Books I didn’t review but absolutely LOVED

still-lifeStill Life with Tornado by A.S. King

Read Cover Reveal + Interview: STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King for more on this great title. Here’s an excerpt:

I think teens in the early 21st century are facing some interesting challenges and if I went into them all, we’d be here all week. But on a more internal level, I write pretty widely about the underestimation and disrespect of teenagers in our culture and how it’s hurting not just present teenagers, but future adults (who are actually now adults). I love exploring the double-standard psychology of it. The superiority. The lying-to-save-them-from-the-truth. The eye-rolling. The near-instant mistrust and the near-non-existent patience. As humans, our growth doesn’t stop when we fit into adult-sized clothing. Not one person I know would treat a toddler the way they treat a teenager when the child trips over his own shoe or accidentally spills her cup of juice. Or when they cry. There’s a sort of systemic psychological hazing teenagers undergo in our country and it’s not something that’s easy to call out. It’s in the groundwater. It’s in the mindset now—in our DNA. I see college students rolling their eyes at high school students, and graduates of both rolling their eyes at all beneath them. It’s a cycle of condescension and alienation. It didn’t always used to be like this. We’re eating ourselves.

 

exit-pursuedExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Read Karen’s review here. An excerpt:

Exit, Pursued by a Bear (from here on out referred to as EPB), is an intense emotional journey. There are rumors and there are whispers in the hallway, but Hermione is also fiercely supported by some key characters in the book, including her best friend Polly and her parents. Polly makes it very clear every step of the way that not only will she stand by Hermione through every step of this emotional journey with her best friend, but that she will not allow anyone to suggest that Hermione is in any way responsible for what happened to her. There is one scene where Hermione and Polly are being interviewed by the school paper and Polly says every thing we are thinking about rape culture and the way we talk to and about rape victims. Reading it was a sort of catharsis for me.

The friendship between Hermione and Polly is strong and fierce. It is hands down one of the best parts of the book and one of my new favorite friendships in YA lit.

#MHYALit: Unbearable: A Reflection on Hunger, a guest post by Lindsay Eagar

MHYALitlogoofficfialMy main memory of high school and the immediate years following is of hunger.

As the straight-A student, oldest daughter, star of the school plays, and overall golden child, I often carried the weight of others’ expectations on my shoulders, and I did so gladly. I knew I was capable. I wanted to please the adults around me. I had ambitions and I was a hard worker.

 

But all of that collapsed when I turned fifteen.

 

Let me paint you a picture.

 

It’s sophomore year of high school. I have been dating this boy for over a year. I am on one of our “dates”—all-day stretches in his basement where he plays video games and I watch. My stomach growls, because like many normal human teenagers, I require food and water every three or four hours. But the boy I am dating doesn’t notice. Of course he doesn’t—I’m sitting on the arm of his chair while he plays his game silently, and is it my fault for letting him treat me this way, or is it his fault for being a jackass, or is it the world’s collective fault for raising boys like this who fail to nurture, fail to care? When he finally does pause his game, it’s not a food break, it’s a fooling-around break.

 

Hours later, we are in the middle of a tear-soaked fight over the phone, a weekly occurrence for us. He says, with a sigh so loud it practically swallows me, “You’re saying you want commitment?” As if fidelity is a ridiculous thing to put on the table. “We’re in high school. You’re asking for too much.”

 

Too much.

 

The two moments are forever linked together. This is when it becomes clear to me—to desire anything at all is too much. Appetite is the enemy, and one of its main artilleries is food.

 

This is when I decide to bask in the feeling of hunger, and kill the thing inside me that wanted things.

 

I started with food.

 

lindsay1I’m not going to describe any of my specific eating disorder behaviors here, because I don’t want to risk triggering vulnerable readers who may be struggling themselves. But I will tell you this: I carefully conned my way into surviving on very little food. I lied to everyone—including myself—about how hungry I really was. I never whittled down to bones, but I was unhealthily skinny and undernourished. Later, after high school, I began writing down my daily calories in and calories out—my world became one of numbers, measuring and tracking and feeling disgusted if I didn’t hit my targets.

 

There were a lot of things I did in high school and the years after that I’m not proud of, and I’d like to share them with you now, because there may be others who have done similar things.

 

I suppressed my urge to make comments in class and stopped raising my hand. I stopped caring about my homework. I stopped going after academic achievements like National Honors’ Society and Sterling Scholars.

 

I suppressed my hunger for commitment or affection or even eye contact when the boy snubbed me at school, and I pretended none of it mattered, even though I died inside every time he kissed another girl, sometimes mere hours after he had been with me and told me he loved me.

 

I suppressed my hunger for real food when he asked me to the senior prom, pocketed the money his mother gave him for our reservation at P.F. Chang’s, and instilled a three dollar limit when he drove me through Del Taco on the way to the dance.

 

I suppressed my desires to travel when he asked me not to apply to any out-of-state colleges, and I threw away the pamphlets for Trinity College in Dublin I had taped up on my walls.

 

I suppressed my gag reflex when I let him take credit for my own accomplishments—from my essays to my ideas to a one-act play I wrote that was selected for a state-wide award to the song I composed and sang in front of the school in an assembly. “We wrote this together,” he said as he picked up my guitar and sang my part, and I quietly hummed the countermelody, relinquishing myself to the part of background singer in my own life.

 

I was hungry, and cold, and lonely, and sad, and full of profound self-loathing for myself. That was who I was in high school. My own parents barely recognized me.

 

lindsay2Our girls have a problem with wanting things, with being hungry. We’re not supposed to be hungry for good grades, or academic awards, or ambitions, or career goals—consider how Hillary Clinton was painted as “power-hungry,” as if that’s a bad thing, to want to be an influence on the world.

 

We’re also not supposed to be hungry for love, or affection, or marriage, or children. We’re definitely not supposed to be hungry for a good piece of chocolate cake. I remember feeling embarrassed whenever I needed something, terrified of being called “high maintenance,” worried that if I requested more than the emotional scraps I was given to survive on, I would be seen as unlovable or unsexy or “attention-seeking.” I put away things I had been dreaming of since I was five—finishing a novel, getting published, traveling the world.

 

I wish that I had listened to the adults in my life who saw me withering away and offered help. I wish I could have told them what was happening in my head.

 

I wish YA had been a thing. I would have loved to read a character like Celaena Sardothien in Sarah Maas’s THRONE OF GLASS, who delighted in her food and dresses and piano-playing with no regrets.

 

I would have loved to read Anna-Marie McLemore’s gorgeous YAs, THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS and WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, both about girls who make healthy relationships for themselves and don’t pretend that romance is a sinful dessert to be politely declined.

 

Maybe I would have read TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaipotra and found a kinship with other teenage girls who had ambitions, who busted their butts to get places, who felt pressure.

 

Maybe I would have read NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED by Hannah Moskowitz, and finally exhaled, knowing someone else understood.

 

It’s embarrassing to be an adult now and look back at all the stupid ways I starved myself.

 

It’s not embarrassing to be hungry.

 

It’s not wrong to want things.

 

It’s not annoying to be needy.

 

It’s normal to need to eat food, get thirsty, need hugs, need cuddles, need kisses, need passion, romance, to need trust.

 

It is not too much to want to be heard.

 

The body can only go so long without food. Same with the heart.

 

When I finally allowed myself to want things again—that’s when I started to heal.

 

Having a baby at 22 healed much of my relationship with my body. But it didn’t get rid of the voice in my head that still tells me, too much, too much. Too big, too loud, too talkative, too bold, too needy, too hungry, too much, too much. I do hear those voices sometimes, and when I do, I try my best to drown them out. I email writer friends who assure me I deserve my ambitions. I work on my projects, gleeful as I inch towards completed goals. I go for a walk or dance around my kitchen or kiss my husband or play with my babies, anything to remind myself that what my body is capable of doing is far greater than what it looks like. I take a selfie to remind myself that my body actually does look pretty good.

 

I did finally see a counselor at age 20, for my depression, and she suggested I had an ED-NOS, based on the behaviors I’d described. And I began a healing journey—not just with my hunger for food, but my acceptance of hunger as part of living, and fulfillment of hunger as the other part—the important part.

 

The best part.

 

Meet Lindsay Eagar

lindsay3Lindsay Eagar is the author of HOUR OF THE BEES (Candlewick Press, 2016) and the forthcoming RACE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (Candlewick Press, 2017). She lives in the mountains of Utah Valley with her husband and two daughters and a mountain of books. Follow her on Twitter here: Lindsay Eagar (@lindsaymccall) | Twitter