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Book Review: We Were Promised Spotlights by Lindsay Sproul

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

Gr 9 Up–A reluctant queen bee stumbles toward discovering her true self as she contends with expectations and her sexuality in a small town at the end of the 1990s. With high school almost over, Taylor Garland only wants two things: for her best friend Susan to reciprocate her (hidden) romantic feelings and to leave tiny Hopuonk, MA, where she’s bored by everything. Her future feels predictable and depressing, but pursuing a different path seems impossible. At one point, Taylor says that she “keeps meaning to be a different person” but doesn’t know how to become one. Revealing her real self—whoever that is—may bring satisfaction but may potentially throw her whole life in disarray. Much of the story hinges on Taylor accepting that she’s a lesbian. She carries a wealth of internalized homophobia as well as cliched ideas about what it may mean to be gay. Taylor’s crowd is fickle and callous, casually bullying their peers, being cruel to each other, and incessantly tossing around offensive slurs. The writing is at times lovely, and the setting of a tiny, ramshackle town casts a fittingly depressing vibe over an already bleak story. Taylor is compellingly flawed and unpredictable, and her path to growth, while rocky and cringe-inducing, is frank and honest. A hopeful if out-of-nowhere ending allows readers to think that maybe Taylor can indeed become the different person she means to be.

VERDICT Hand this grim coming-of-age story to readers who don’t mind characters who can be difficult to like.

Putnam. Mar. 2020. 288p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524738532.

New Books Alert: A Mars mission, art school, a portal fantasy, and more!

Kind of a slow past few weeks for book mail here at the Minnesota branch of TLT. That’s actually a good thing. I will never complain about getting so many books to consider for review, but having things slow down a bit has given me a chance to weed through what I have, do a bunch of giveaways, flip through things to consider, and start to plan spring reviews.

As always, reminder that 100% of what I get in book mail goes back out the door to find new homes with teachers, librarians, and young readers. Keep at eye on my Twitter (@CiteSomething) and maybe you’ll see some of these books ready for new homes soon!


All descriptions from the publishers.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper (ISBN-13: 9781547600144 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 02/04/2020 Ages 13-17)

In this smart, heart-warming YA debut perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, two teens find love when their lives are uprooted for their parents’ involvement in a NASA mission to Mars.

Cal wants to be a journalist, and he’s already well underway with almost half a million followers on his FlashFame app and an upcoming internship at Buzzfeed. But his plans are derailed when his pilot father is selected for a highly-publicized NASA mission to Mars. Within days, Cal and his parents leave Brooklyn for hot and humid Houston.

With the entire nation desperate for any new information about the astronauts, Cal finds himself thrust in the middle of a media circus. Suddenly his life is more like a reality TV show, with his constantly bickering parents struggling with their roles as the “perfect American family.”

And then Cal meets Leon, whose mother is another astronaut on the mission, and he finds himself falling head over heels—and fast. They become an oasis for each other amid the craziness of this whole experience. As their relationship grows, so does the frenzy surrounding the Mars mission, and when secrets are revealed about ulterior motives of the program, Cal must find a way to get to the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Malice by Pintip Dunn (ISBN-13: 9781640634121 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 02/04/2020)

What I know: a boy in my school will one day wipe out two-thirds of the population with a virus.

What I don’t know: who he is.

In a race against the clock, I not only have to figure out his identity, but I’ll have to outwit a voice from the future telling me to kill him. Because I’m starting to realize no one is telling the truth. But how can I play chess with someone who already knows the outcome of my every move? Someone so filled with malice they’ve lost all hope in humanity? Well, I’ll just have to find a way—because now they’ve drawn a target on the only boy I’ve ever loved…

What I Want You to See by Catherine Linka (ISBN-13: 9781368027557 Publisher: Freeform Publication date: 02/04/2020 Ages 14-17)

Winning a scholarship to California’s most prestigious art school seems like a fairy tale ending to Sabine Reye’s awful senior year. After losing both her mother and her home, Sabine longs for a place where she belongs.

But the cutthroat world of visual arts is nothing like what Sabine had imagined. Colin Krell, the renowned faculty member whom she had hoped would mentor her, seems to take merciless delight in tearing down her best work-and warns her that she’ll lose the merit-based award if she doesn’t improve.

Desperate and humiliated, Sabine doesn’t know where to turn. Then she meets Adam, a grad student who understands better than anyone the pressures of art school. He even helps Sabine get insight on Krell by showing her the modern master’s work in progress, a portrait that’s sold for a million dollars sight unseen.

Sabine is enthralled by the portrait; within those swirling, colorful layers of paint is the key to winning her inscrutable teacher’s approval. Krell did advise her to improve her craft by copying a painting she connects with . . . but what would he think of Sabine secretly painting her own version of his masterpiece? And what should she do when she accidentally becomes party to a crime so well -plotted that no one knows about it but her?

Complex and utterly original, What I Want You to See is a gripping tale of deception, attraction, and moral ambiguity.

Parked by Danielle Svetcov (ISBN-13: 9780399539039 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/04/2020 Ages 10-14)

For fans of Rebecca Stead and Joan Bauer comes a scrappy, poignant, uplifting debut about family, friendship, and the importance of learning both how to offer help and how to accept it.

“A big-hearted novel with characters I wish were my friends in real life.” —Gennifer Choldenko, author of the Al Capone at Alcatraz series

Jeanne Ann is smart, stubborn, living in an orange van, and determined to find a permanent address before the start of seventh grade.

Cal is tall, sensitive, living in a humongous house across the street, and determined to save her.

Jeanne Ann is roughly as enthusiastic about his help as she is about living in a van.

As the two form a tentative friendship that grows deeper over alternating chapters, they’re buoyed by a cast of complex, oddball characters, who let them down, lift them up, and leave you cheering. Debut novelist Danielle Svetcov shines a light on a big problem without a ready answer, nailing heartbreak and hope, and pulling it off with a humor and warmth that make the funny parts of Jeanne Ann and Cal’s story cathartic and the difficult parts all the more moving.

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (ISBN-13: 9781335911551 Publisher: Inkyard Press Publication date: 02/25/2020 Ages 13+)

Don’t miss this spectacular debut novel… Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity? This road trip is truly out of this world! A beautiful and thrilling read for fans of Marie Lu and Veronica Roth.

Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.

Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. With humans deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, emotional expression can be grounds for execution. Music, art and books are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.

Born in a lab, M0Rr1S was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for the love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.

Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while creating a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.

The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read, Laura Trinder (ISBN-13: 9781338569094 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 8-12)

For fans of portal fantasies like Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor, Colin Meloy’s Wildwood, and The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, and unlike so many other fantasies that introduce readers to a world of enchantment and wonder, The Midnight Hour is one filled with beasts and monsters for readers looking to shine their flashlights under the covers.

When strange late-night letters start arriving at home, Emily’s parents set off to investigate. But when her parents disappear completely and Emily is left home alone to face the weird strangers that begin to appear at her door, she takes all of the clues at her disposal and makes for the place where the letters came from — the mysterious Night Post. What she’ll discover is the secret world of the Midnight Hour — a Victorian London frozen in time, full of magic and monsters.

Kept safe by an age-old agreement, the Night Folk have been exiled to a parallel world that can only be accessed by a selected few, including the mail carriers of the infamous Night Post that operate between the two worlds. Emily’s parents are key players in keeping the Night Folk safe, but when the division of the two worlds is threatened, Emily must search for her parents while navigating this dark and unknown version of London.

Armed only with a packed lunch, her very sleepy pocket hedgehog, and her infamously big argumentative mouth, she must escape bloodthirsty creatures of the night, figure out her own family secrets, and maybe just save the world. This is a frightening and enchanting story, a world built out of creatures from our worst fears who become relatable, fully formed characters unlike any we’ve seen as these strangers of parallel worlds band together to save the day.

The Vanishing Girl (Daphne and Velma YA Novel #1) by Josephine Ruby (ISBN-13: 9781338592726 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 12+)

It’s the classic girl detectives like you’ve never seen them before! Daphne Blake and Velma Dinkley have a terrifying new mystery to solve — and this time, the culprit is far more frightening than any man in a mask…

Popular Daphne Blake and über-nerd Velma Dinkley are not friends. They aren’t enemies either, but they don’t have any reason to speak to each other, and that’s how they prefer it. The two girls grew up together – they’d been best friends since pre-K – but when they hit middle school, Daphne dropped Velma and never looked back.

These days, Daphne’s deep in the popular crowd, daughter of the richest family in town, while Velma’s an outsider, hiding from the world behind her thick glasses. When they run into each other in the halls of Crystal Cove High, they look the other way.


But then Daphne’s best friend, Marcy — who happens to be Velma’s cousin – goes missing. A century ago, there was a wave of disappearances in Crystal Cove, and many local people believe that supernatural forces were behind it. Now the whole town believes those same forces are back . . . and up to no good.

Daphne and Velma may be the only ones who can solve the mystery and save Marcy-if they can trust each other enough to try. Especially since the truth might be stranger-and scarier-than either girl can imagine . . .

The First 7 (Last 8 Series #2) by Laura Pohl (ISBN-13: 9781492673460 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 14-17)

The thrilling conclusion to The Last 8 duology that follows the Last Teenagers on Earth as they head home to a now-hostile planet.

Clover Martinez and The Last Teenagers on Earth are busy exploring the galaxy after leaving earth behind…even if they can’t help but be a little homesick.

So when their ship receives a distress signal from their former planet, they hope against hope that it means other survivors. But as soon as they arrive, they realize something’s deeply wrong: strange crystal formations have popped up everywhere and there’s some sort of barrier keeping them from leaving.

Seeking the origin of the formations and the reason for the barrier, the group discovers a colony of survivors hidden in the mountains. But the survivors aren’t who they seem…

The Burning by Laura Bates (ISBN-13: 9781728206738 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 04/07/2020 Ages 14-18)

A rumor is like fire. You might think you’ve extinguished it, but one creeping, red tendril, one single wisp of smoke is enough to let it leap back to life again. Especially if someone is watching, waiting to fan the flames.

New school. Check.
New town. Check.
New last name. Check.
Social media profiles? Deleted.

Anna and her mother have moved hundreds of miles to put the past behind them. Anna hopes to make a fresh start and escape the harassment she’s been subjected to. But then rumors and whispers start, and Anna tries to ignore what is happening by immersing herself in a history project about Maggie, a local woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.

In her newfound friendships with Alisha, Cat, and Robin, as well as her connection with Maggie, Anna finds a voice to face her tormentors.


“We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn. And we’re not putting up with it anymore.”

From Laura Bates, internationally renowned feminist and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, comes a debut novel that is a harrowing look at misogyny through the centuries. It’s a powerful call to action, reminding all readers of the implications of sexism and the role we can each play in ending it.

The Bone Thief by Breeana Shields (ISBN-13: 9781624149306 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 05/26/2020 Series: Bone Charmer #2 Ages 14+)

A deft exploration of the weight of grief and cost of revenge, Breeana Shields’s Bone Charmer duology reaches its spine-tingling conclusion in this high-octane fantasy-thriller.

Saskia returns to Ivory Hall to train in bone magic, determined to stop Latham from gaining the power of all three Sights—past, present, and future. But danger lurks within the fortress’s marrow. Trials are underway for the apprentices, and the tasks feel specifically engineered to torment Saskia, which is exactly what Latham wants.

As she grows increasingly more suspicious, her thirst for revenge becomes all-consuming. Together with the friends she can trust and the boy she loved in another lifetime, Saskia traces clues from Latham’s past to determine what he’ll do next. Their search leads them across Kastelia and brings them to a workshop housing a vast collection of horrors, including the bones Latham stole from Gran, and the knowledge that the future isn’t all that’s in jeopardy—but the past as well.

Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593094655 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us.

In Beyond the Gender Binary, poet, artist, and LGBTQIA+ rights advocate Alok Vaid-Menon deconstructs, demystifies, and reimagines the gender binary.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Beyond the Gender Binary, Alok Vaid-Menon challenges the world to see gender not in black and white, but in full color. Taking from their own experiences as a gender-nonconforming artist, they show us that gender is a malleable and creative form of expression. The only limit is your imagination.

This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593095188 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us.

In this powerful and hopeful account, arts writer, curator, and activist Kimberly Drew reminds us that the art world has space not just for the elite, but for everyone.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, arts writer and co-editor of Black Futures Kimberly Drew shows us that art and protest are inextricably linked. Drawing on her personal experience through art toward activism, Drew challenges us to create space for the change that we want to see in the world. Because there really is so much more space than we think.

The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593093689 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us.

In The New Queer Conscience, LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli argues the urgent need for queer responsibility — that queers anywhere are responsible for queers everywhere.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, The New Queer Conscience, Voices4 Founder and LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli offers a candid and compassionate introduction to queer responsibility. Eli calls on his Jewish faith to underline how kindness and support within the queer community can lead to a stronger global consciousness. More importantly, he reassures us that we’re not alone. In fact, we never were. Because if you mess with one queer, you mess with us all.

Imaginary Borders by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593094136 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us.

In this personal, moving essay, environmental activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez uses his art and his activism to show that climate change is a human issue that can’t be ignored.

“It won’t take you long to read this book, but it will linger in your heart and head for quite a while, and perhaps inspire you to join in the creative, blossoming movement to make this world work.” — Bill McKibben

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Earth Guardians Youth Director and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez shows us how his music feeds his environmental activism and vice versa. Martinez visualizes a future that allows us to direct our anger, fear, and passion toward creating change. Because, at the end of the day, we all have a part to play.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson (ISBN-13: 9781338503265 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 06/02/2020)

Becky Albertalli meets Jenny Han in a smart, hilarious, black girl magic, own voices rom-com by a staggeringly talented new writer.

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Book Review: Layoverland by Gabby Noone

Publisher’s description

Beatrice Fox deserves to go straight to hell.

At least, that’s what she believes. Her last day on Earth, she ruined the life of the person she loves most—her little sister, Emmy. So when Bea awakens from a fatal car accident to find herself on an airplane headed who knows where, she’s confused, to say the least.

Once on the ground, Bea receives some truly harrowing news: she’s in purgatory. If she ever wants to catch a flight to heaven, she’ll have to help five thousand souls figure out what’s keeping them from moving on.

But one of Bea’s first assignments is Caleb, the boy who caused her accident, and the last person Bea would ever want to send to the pearly gates. And as much as Bea would love to see Caleb suffer for dooming her to a seemingly endless future of eating bad airport food and listening to other people’s problems, she can’t help but notice that he’s kind of cute, and sort of sweet, and that maybe, despite her best efforts, she’s totally falling for him.

From debut author Gabby Noone comes a darkly hilarious and heartfelt twist on the afterlife about finding second chances, first loves, and new friendships in the most unlikely places.

Amanda’s thoughts

This is such an easy book to recommend to anyone who likes THE GOOD PLACE or just likes contemporary stories with redemption arcs. Bea is like a less dirtbag-y Eleanor Shellstrop—she’s a complicated and flawed character who is torn between acts of revenge and actually wanting to help and protect people. Now dead, she’s part of the Memory Experience Department, which is not in heaven or hell, but in an airport, which is a layover spot for mostly good people who need to process some stuff before they can move on. Bea will assist people and help them move on. Her passport tells her she needs to help 5,000 people, which she estimates will take her at least 15 years. And while that’s hardly an appealing notion, it becomes all the worse when Bea realizes she is not only in the airport with Caleb, who was driving the car that smashed into hers and killed her, but she has to help him process and move on. Caleb doesn’t know who Bea is or about their shared history, and Bea desperately wants to exact some revenge upon him. After all, he killed her.

But, as you may guess, nothing in Layoverland is simple. There’s the complication of having feelings, of understanding what really happened in their accident, of accepting their current reality.

This book was a great read. I was a little wary about it, because I tend to entirely skip books that center around car accidents or describe them in detail, but I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me here. Noone’s book is truly funny, with memorable and clever characters. Yes, it’s about death and the idea of an afterlife, but it’s a pretty quick, light read. No one is too bothered by any of their new revelations (they’re dead! and in a weird limbo! and then will be in heaven! and still dead!) or was too awful of a human while still alive. It’s the perfect teenage take on THE GOOD PLACE, but with less frozen yogurt and more Jello. This book will fly off shelves. Good fun.

ISBN-13: 9781984836120
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/21/2020

Book Review: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Publisher’s description

A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming — mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese — that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life — on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate — people on the internet are shipping them?? — their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes the thing that I just really want to say about a book is “this was really enjoyable and cute.” Guess what? This book was really enjoyable and cute. The summary up there covers all the highlights and plot twists, but does nothing to capture just how much FUN this story was. The layers of their relationship really made the story—their Twitter battle, their chatting on the Weazel app, their real-life interactions, and the many little twists and turns that happen in all of those ways of communicating. Pretty much my favorite form of people falling for one another is via sarcastic banter. Pepper and Jack nail this—and they also do honesty and vulnerability pretty well, too.

That’s it. That’s the review. This was a really fun, cute, sweet story that was exactly what I was looking to read in one afternoon while curled up on the couch with the dogs. I tend to gravitate toward more serious YA, or YA featuring underrepresented identities and voices. But sometimes, I just want something light, and this rom-com totally hit the mark. It’s not often I keep my reviews this short, but honestly, the plot is totally summarized in the publisher’s description and I just wanted to share that this book was enjoyable and just what I needed. Good fun.

ISBN-13: 9781250237323
Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/21/2020

Book Review: Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author Tonya Bolden comes the story of a teen girl becoming a woman on her own terms against the backdrop of widespread social change in the early 1900s.

Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper class African American family in Washington D.C., she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation—black or white—and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society—the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men, and shallow young women—has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah starts attending suffragist lectures and socialist meetings, finding herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

Set against the backdrop of the press for women’s rights, the Red Summer, and anarchist bombings, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl and the risks she must take to be the change in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

Amanda’s thoughts

17-year-old Savannah is hearing a lot of messages in 1919 Washington D.C. In the wake of WWI and the Spanish Flu, “onward and upward” is the motto of the times. She also hears a lot about being “a credit to the race” and “lifting as we climb.” Politically, there is a lot going on, particularly around the issue of women’s suffrage and the role that black women are allowed to play in that (and the issue of whether white women are considering them at all). Savannah feels a bit frustrated and disenchanted, embarrassed by the excess of the social circles her family is part of and curious about the wider world. Her uncle, a photographer, encourages her to find a challenge, a passion, a purpose. He urges her to stop just being an observer. When Savannah learns about a local school for girls, she begins to get involved helping there and, through her new contacts (many of whom are considered to be a “more radical element”), has her eyes opened to not just what is happening around the country but to what is happening in her very own city.

This book is a mix of a very character-driven story for about 50% or more of the book, then a very action-driven story for the remainder. I really loved this book. In fact, I’ve been in a horrible reading slump for most of the past few weeks (thanks, depression!) and have started and abandoned a giant stack of books as I try to decide what to read and review here for TLT. I got lost in Savannah’s world and loved watching her awakening. Her best friend Yolande is always there, being horrified at Savannah’s choice of company, admonishing her for being around “common” people who are not their kind of people. Savannah’s own parents are less than pleased with her choices, so it takes real strength for Savannah to strike out on her own and make real strides to educate herself and expand her views. As D.C. and other major cities erupt in riots, bombings, lynchings, and fires, Savannah finds herself more involved in the action than she ever could have dreamed.

This complex story will put readers right in the middle of all the action and introduces a wide swath of ideas and perspectives. Set just over 100 years ago, the quest for social justice and real change makes for a powerful and still (always) relevant topic. An author’s note, historical photographs, notes, and sources all provide further context for Savannah’s story and her awakening in this engaging and unique read.

ISBN-13: 9781681198040
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 01/14/2020

Book Review: Revenge of the Red Club by Kim Harrington

Publisher’s description

A tween reporter discovers an important and beloved club at school is being shut down—and uses the power of the pen to try and activate some much-needed social change in this period-positive and empowering middle grade novel about the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

Riley Dunne loves being a member of the Red Club. It’s more than a group of girls supporting each other through Aunt Flo’s ups and downs; it’s a Hawking Middle School tradition. The club’s secret locker has an emergency stash of supplies, and the girls are always willing to lend an ear, a shoulder, or an old pair of sweatpants.

But when the school administration shuts the Red Club down because of complaints, the girls are stunned. Who would do that to them? The girls’ shock quickly turns into anger, and then they decide to get even.

But wallpapering the gym with maxi pads and making tampon crafts in art class won’t bring their club back. Only Riley can do that. Using the skills she has cultivated as her school paper’s top investigative reporter (okay, only investigative reporter), she digs for the truth about who shut the club down and why. All the while dealing with friendship drama, a new and ridiculous dress code, and a support group that is now more focused on fighting with each other than fighting back.

Can she save the Red Club before this rebellion turns into a full-scale war?

Amanda’s thoughts

My friends. MY FRIENDS. This book came out in October. I read it over the winter break after picking it up at my public library. I didn’t even take notes as I read. I figured I’d write a Post-It Note Review about it and be good. BUT. This book is SO good and SO important that I needed to give it its own space. I know we all have towering TBR stacks and endless scrolls of lists, but you really do need to find a few hours to sneak this book in. If you work in a middle school/middle school library/serve young teens, you especially need to familiarize yourself with this book. I was going to say, when I was growing up, all we had was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for books that talked at all about periods, but guess what? Periods are STILL so often completely ignored in books for young readers and teens. So here you go. A whole book about breaking the stigma that comes with having/acknowledging periods.

The Red Club is amazing. They support each other, provide each other with supplies and information, and work hard to normalize periods. There’s a lot more that goes on in this story—the dress code rears its ugly head, the principal demands prior review of newspaper articles (hey, I wrote my entire senior year project/paper about that very issue way back when I was a teen!), and The Red Club gets shut down. Riley and friends organize, protest, and speak up about all of these injustices and ways of shaming girls. I love the club and want it to exist in all schools. ALL schools need a locker that students can access for supplies and extra clothes. ALL schools should have this book.

ISBN-13: 9781534435728
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/22/2019

Book Review: Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K. R. Gaddy

Publisher’s description

The true story of the Edelweiss Pirates, working-class teenagers who fought the Nazis by whatever means they could.

Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean were classic outsiders: their clothes were different, their music was rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to fight. But they were also Germans living under Hitler, and any nonconformity could get them arrested or worse. As children in 1933, they saw their world change. Their earliest memories were of the Nazi rise to power and of their parents fighting Brownshirts in the streets, being sent to prison, or just disappearing.

As Hitler’s grip tightened, these three found themselves trapped in a nation whose government contradicted everything they believed in. And by the time they were teenagers, the Nazis expected them to be part of the war machine. Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean and hundreds like them said no. They grew bolder, painting anti-Nazi graffiti, distributing anti-war leaflets, and helping those persecuted by the Nazis. Their actions were always dangerous. The Gestapo pursued and arrested hundreds of Edelweiss Pirates. In World War II’s desperate final year, some Pirates joined in sabotage and armed resistance, risking the Third Reich’s ultimate punishment. This is their story.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: I knew absolutely nothing about the Edelweiss Pirates beyond at some point having heard that name and knowing that they were an anti-Nazi resistance group. I absolutely devoured this book. Get this one up on your displays about youth activism and youth movements.

Told through the actions of many youth involved in the Edelweiss Pirates, we learn about their backgrounds, the political climate of the 1930s and 1940s, the expectations for young people (like joining the Hitler Youth or the League of German Girls), and how they came to form these resistance groups. Photographs, historical reports and documents, and song lyrics help fill in what was happening at the time and set the scene. Despite it being illegal, these young people came together to spend time in nature, sing songs, plan political activities, and, as time went on, take increasingly risky actions against the Nazis. The members of these subversive groups were repeatedly interrogated, arrested, imprisoned, and, for some, even executed.

The action, rebellion, resistance, sabotage, and survival of these young people is extraordinary. Some of them were as young as 13, which, as the parent of a 13-year-old, was mind-blowing. For me, though, the most interesting part of all of this is how little I know or have ever read about these groups, yet have read so many things over the years about the White Rose group, which was made up of older, upper-middle class young people. The Edelweiss Pirates were leftist, young, working class kids. In fact, they weren’t even officially recognized as a resistance movement until 2005. The stories of these brave children need to be more well-known and further underscore just how much children and young adults have always led the way in political activism and resistance against evils. A deeply affecting book.

ISBN-13: 9780525555414
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/07/2020

Four Little Words – Changing the Narrative, a guest post by Abigail Hing Wen

As a student rising through elementary and middle school in Ohio, I’d always wanted to join one of the amazing productions put on every year by the high school theater group. A part of me worried that my Asian Americanness would get in the way. After all, there were no Asian Americans in Oklahoma! or Guys and Dolls. Would casting me detract from authenticity? Could the directors overlook my Asian Americanness so that in spite of my face, I could join the chorus?

Abigail in dance squad.

My freshman year, I auditioned for the fall play. When the cast list posted, I wasn’t on it. But freshman were rarely cast for any roles but the chorus, and with the winter came a special class of one-act plays, directed by seniors. They were smaller and less prestigious; an opportunity for freshman, though still difficult to land.

During auditions, the seniors sat in the front row of the auditorium while we hopefuls huddled on the floor before them. They challenged us: how far would you go? would you run naked across the stage?

I can’t remember my answer, but I remember the attitude that dominated that room: whatever they threw at us—a crazy dance routine, a passionate stage kiss—we were game.

I auditioned along with dozens of other hopefuls.

When the cast list posted, I pressed forward with the mob, anxiously scanned the list, read deeper and deeper—and there I was!

In a one-act play called “Four Little Words,” I had been cast as the Sixth Actress of seven actresses.

When I arrived for rehearsal, I could scarcely contain my excitement. Two senior guys were directing. There were about a dozen of us actors—I had joined an exclusive little club.

Eagerly, I flipped through the thin blue booklet we were given, searching for my role. It was a story of a director trying to cast for the role of a maid who only had four words in the whole play: “Your taxicab is waiting.”

He proceeded to audition one egotistical actress after another. Each prima donna embellished on the four little words, refusing to stay in character, while he grew more and more despairing, exhausted by these women who wouldn’t shut up.

Meanwhile, the sixth actress—me—sat at the end of the line without speaking. The seventh actress burst onto the scene, large than life.

And then when the director was about to tear out his hair, my character finally spoke.

“Vosh naya. Skoogoo. Urr-urr. Saltzey. Kcki-icki skaya. Woozey.”[1]

The office boy turned to the director and said, “Gee, boss! She can’t talk English!”

The poor exhausted director came to life.

“She’s hired!” he cried. “I never want to hear English again!”

I was suddenly, intensely aware I was the only minority in that auditorium. The words weren’t even a real foreign language. They were a made up language, the kind of talk random people occasionally babbled at me when they passed me on the street.

I had been cast not despite my Asian Americanness, not even for it, but because of the perception of it.

Abigail in show choir.

In the weeks that followed, I never breathed a word about the play’s contents to my parents or my friends. I told my parents they didn’t need to attend, though, since I missed the bus for practices, my mom dutifully picked me up late after school every day.

We actresses sat in a row each rehearsal. I sat in silence, my head bowed, as my role called for, until the cue for my four little words. Each time I spoke those lines, I died a little with the shame of it. But I’d been cast. I got a role when so many others didn’t. I’d agreed with all the other hopefuls that I was game for anything. How could I rock the boat now and appear ungrateful?

“Is that Chinese?” the fifth actress asked me one afternoon.

I was born in the United States. English was the only language I spoke at home. I had studied French for two years and that was my second language. When people complemented me on my excellent English skills, it had been a point of soreness, but also irrational pride.

I don’t remember what I answered. But I remember the feeling.

I started leaving rehearsals early. One time, I skipped, making some excuse. The next day, after I recited my lines, the fifth actress said to me, “You know, Bob (not his real name, but the one-act’s real-life director) played your role yesterday and he was hilarious. Why don’t you ham it up more?”

Until I wrote this piece and my critique partner pointed it out, I didn’t recognize that the hamming up of the role was probably a racist caricature, as much as the role itself was. Instead, I felt like a failure. Of course Bob was hilarious. And I couldn’t be. For so many reasons I couldn’t in that role.

A good friend, one of three other Chinese Americans in the grades above me, came to the one-acts. I didn’t know he was in the audience until he came up afterwards and congratulated me with a huge grin.

Not until three years later, when he and I were both students at Harvard, that I confessed how ashamed I’d felt to play it.

“I was actually really mad when I saw the show,” he admitted.

Why had we never talked about it? Why didn’t I have more self-confidence to refuse the role? I doubt it even went on my college application. It was something I endured and buried away. I simply didn’t know better. Those student directors and the supervising theater directors and faculty may not have realized what they were doing, although I think they did in hindsight—I walked in on an argument in which the director was trying to convince the play’s leading man to take his bow with me on his arms and he was refusing. Not wanting to be the cause of a fuss, I quickly offered to take my bow with the other actresses.

As I’ve explored film options for Loveboat, Taipei, I’ve had the opportunity to meet Asian American producers who have struggled to get their work made in the United States or to gain traction in Hollywood. They have been told there are not enough qualified Asian American actors.

“That’s because they don’t have a chance to practice,” one discouraged director told me. “They’re not cast as leads in high school plays or musicals.” And in an already fiercely competitive market, with so few roles for Asian Americans, what actor could go into it with any real hope?

But I am also told there is incredible talent out there. I’m running into it. My hope for a Loveboat, Taipei film someday is that its cast of over 30 Asian American characters will open up opportunities for this talent to come forward and shine on the screen. I want to see new stars discovered, and to see them move into other lead roles in Hollywood in which race doesn’t matter.

With Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Farewell and Ghost Bride, we are starting to see changes. We still have a ways to go, but I am honored and grateful to be playing a part in this new world.

Meet Abigail Hing Wen

Photo credit: Olga Pichkova

Abigail Hing Wen holds a BA from Harvard and a JD from Columbia. She also earned her Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like Ever, she is obsessed with musicals. When she’s not writing stories or listening to her favorite score, she is busy working in venture capital and artificial intelligence in Silicon Valley, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Loveboat, Taipei is her first novel. Visit AbigailHingWen.com.

About Loveboat, Taipei

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen, and praised as “an intense rush of rebellion and romance” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Garber, this romantic and layered Own Voices debut from Abigail Hing Wen is a dazzling, fun-filled romp.

“Our cousins have done this program,” Sophie whispers. “Best kept secret. Zerosupervision.

And just like that, Ever Wong’s summer takes an unexpected turnGone is Chien Tan, the strict educational program in Taiwan that Ever was expecting. In its place, she finds Loveboat: a summer-long free-for-all where hookups abound, adults turn a blind eye, snake-blood sake flows abundantly, and the nightlife runs nonstop.

But not every student is quite what they seem:

Ever is working toward becoming a doctor but nurses a secret passion for dance.

Rick Woo is the Yale-bound child prodigy bane of Ever’s existence whose perfection hides a secret.

Boy-crazy, fashion-obsessed Sophie Ha turns out to have more to her than meets the eye.

And under sexy Xavier Yeh’s shell is buried a shameful truth he’ll never admit.

When these students’ lives collide, it’s guaranteed to be a summer Ever will never forget.

ISBN-13: 9780062957276
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/07/2020


New Books Alert: Mind-readers, hackers, influencers, a middle school drag queen, and more!

Welcome to the last day of 2019! How can tomorrow be 2020? Doesn’t that still sound like the future to you? I’d say I feel like The Jetsons lied to me about what the future would look like, but we as a people still have 42 years to figure out how to live like the Jetsons did in 2062, so let’s get on that. I need more things to be automated and I also need George Jetson’s super short work day/week; both developments would give me more time to read all the books on my TBR, which is really the only kind of future I’m truly invested in—one that gives me more time to read.

Here’s a rundown of what has arrived here at the Minnesota branch of Teen Librarian Toolbox in the past few weeks. I expect book mail to slow down for a while as our driveway becomes a skating rink that you can get down (or, in my case, multiple times, fall down) but not up. Even the intrepid UPS human who visits my house almost daily may decide to just keep driving when he sees the sheen of ice leading up to our house. Minnesota’s so fun!

All descriptions from the publishers.

The Princess Who Flew with Dragons by Stephanie Burgis (ISBN-13: 9781547602070 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 11/05/2019 Ages 8-12)

Perfect for fans of Shannon Hale, this girl-powered fantasy follows a smart young princess determined to save her kingdom.

Princess Sofia of Drachenburg is sick of being used for her older sister’s political gains. At twelve years old, she’s already been a hostage to invading dragons and promised to marry a wicked fairy. Now she’s being sent to far-off Villene to play the part of a charming, diplomatic princess. Her only comfort lies in writing letters to her pen pal and best friend—Jasper, a young dragon she’s never even met.

But when an accident leads to her exile from Villene, Sofia is free to wander as she pleases for the first time in her life. And when Jasper’s magical sister Aventurine turns him into a human boy, Sofia thinks life can’t get any better. Until . . . the legendary ice giants of the north attack, trying to reclaim the territory that was theirs centuries ago. With the dragons and royals frozen in ice, can Sofia and Jasper save their families and kingdom?

With another strong heroine and plenty of action, this is an enchanting and strong-hearted fantasy set in the same world as The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and The Girl with the Dragon Heart.

Jane Anonymous: A Novel by Laurie Faria Stolarz (ISBN-13: 9781250303707 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 01/07/2020 Ages 13-18)

Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz’s thrilling novel Jane Anonymous is a revelatory confessional of a seventeen-year-old girl’s fight to escape a kidnapper—and her struggles to connect with loved ones and a life that no longer exists.

Seven months.

That’s how long I was kept captive.

Locked in a room with a bed, refrigerator, and adjoining bathroom, I was instructed to eat, bathe, and behave. I received meals, laundered clothes, and toiletries through a cat door, never knowing if it was day or night. The last time I saw the face of my abductor was when he dragged me fighting from the trunk of his car. And when I finally escaped, I prayed I’d never see him again.

Now that I’m home, my parents and friends want everything to be like it was before I left. But they don’t understand that dining out and shopping trips can’t heal what’s broken inside me. I barely leave my bedroom. Therapists are clueless and condescending. So I start my own form of therapy—but writing about my experience awakens uncomfortable memories, ones that should’ve stayed buried. How far will I have to go to uncover the truth of what happened—and will it break me forever?

Keystone by Katie Delahanty (ISBN-13: 9781640638242 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 01/07/2020 Ages 14-18)

When Ella Karman debuts on the Social Stock Exchange, she finds out life as a high-profile “Influencer” isn’t what she expected. Everyone around her is consumed by their rankings, in creating the smoke and mirrors that make them the envy of the world.

But then Ella’s best friend betrays her, her rankings tank, and she loses—everything.

Leaving her old life behind, she joins Keystone, a secret school for thieves, where students are being trained to steal everything analog and original because something—or someone—is changing history to suit their needs.

Partnered with the annoyingly hot—and utterly impossible—Garrett Alexander, who has plenty of his own secrets, Ella is forced to return to the Influencer world, while unraveling a conspiracy that began decades ago.

One wrong move and she could lose everything—again.

Hollow Dolls (Hollow Dolls Series #1) by MarcyKate Connolly (ISBN-13: 9781492688198 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 01/07/2020 Ages 8-14)

From the author of the Shadow Weaver duology comes a tale of secrets, power, magic, and the long path to home.

Simone is a mind-reader. She knows a great many things, but she can’t seem to remember anything about her past. So when she gets the chance to search for her family, she sets off to finally find her home.

When she stumbles across a man with two minds inside him—the real one, shoved deep down, and one of a body walker, someone who can take over a person’s body against their will—Simone is even more eager to leave her old life behind.

As Simone dives deeper into her history, she learns truths she never could have imagined. But as those she loves start disappearing around her, Simone knows only she can stop the evil, before it’s too late.

It’s My Life by Stacie Ramey (ISBN-13: 9781492694526 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 01/07/2020 Ages 14-17)

If she wants a future with him, she’ll have to make peace with her past.

Jenna’s never let her cerebral palsy get her down. But when she discovers that her condition was actually caused by an injury at birth, she’s furious with her parents, who withheld the truth. And as they push her to get yet another difficult procedure, Jenna feels her control over her life starting to slip.

Enter Julian, Jenna’s childhood crush. He’s just moved back to town, and he’s struggling in school, so Jenna reaches out to him—anonymously—to help. Soon, their conversations are about so much more than class. She’s falling for him all over again, hard and fast. But would Julian still be interested in her if he knew who she really was? And can she find a way to take back her own narrative before she pushes away everyone she loves?

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (ISBN-13: 9780062957276 Publisher: HarperCollins US Publication date: 01/07/2020 Ages 13-17)

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen, and praised as “an intense rush of rebellion and romance” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Garber, this romantic and layered Own Voices debut from Abigail Hing Wen is a dazzling, fun-filled romp.

“Our cousins have done this program,” Sophie whispers. “Best kept secret. Zero supervision.

And just like that, Ever Wong’s summer takes an unexpected turnGone is Chien Tan, the strict educational program in Taiwan that Ever was expecting. In its place, she finds Loveboat: a summer-long free-for-all where hookups abound, adults turn a blind eye, snake-blood sake flows abundantly, and the nightlife runs nonstop.

But not every student is quite what they seem:

Ever is working toward becoming a doctor but nurses a secret passion for dance.

Rick Woo is the Yale-bound child prodigy bane of Ever’s existence whose perfection hides a secret.

Boy-crazy, fashion-obsessed Sophie Ha turns out to have more to her than meets the eye.

And under sexy Xavier Yeh’s shell is buried a shameful truth he’ll never admit.

When these students’ lives collide, it’s guaranteed to be a summer Ever will never forget.

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories by Amanda Li, Amy Blackwell (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781524855291 Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing Publication date: 01/14/2020 Ages 8-12)

From surviving a plane crash in the jungle to striking against climate change, you won’t believe the incredible stories of the challenges these brave kids from around the world have overcome! 

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids in Extraordinary Stories features 29 tales of amazing young girls and boys who have achieved the unimaginable. The stories range from triumphing over illness and injury to overcoming bullying. Entries include New Zealands’ Laura Dekker, one of the youngest people to circumnavigate the world solo by boat, and Pakistan’s Ayesha Farooq, who became Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot at age 25.

Each incredible story is narrated in an exciting and engaging style, and is combined with visually stunning illustrations by Amy Blackwell. Children can lose themselves in the remarkable true-life tales of ingenuity, courage, and commitment. Practical tips and skills accompany each story, from how to tie useful knots to send coded messages, and how to be more environmentally green to how to survive a shark attack. This useful information provides a springboard for children to apply this knowledge in their own lives. These empowering stories show that no matter who you are, how old you are, and what you do, you can rise to the challenge.

The Will and the Wilds by Charlie N. Holmberg (ISBN-13: 9781542005005 Publisher: Amazon Publishing Publication date: 01/21/2020 Ages 12-17)

A spellbinding story of truce and trickery from the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician series.

Enna knows to fear the mystings that roam the wildwood near her home. When one tries to kill her to obtain an enchanted stone, Enna takes a huge risk: fighting back with a mysting of her own.

Maekallus’s help isn’t free. His price? A kiss. One with the power to steal her soul. But their deal leaves Maekallus bound to the mortal realm, which begins eating him alive. Only Enna’s kiss, given willingly, can save him from immediate destruction. It’s a temporary salvation for Maekallus and a lingering doom for Enna. Part of her soul now burns bright inside Maekallus, making him feel for the first time.

Enna shares Maekallus’s suffering, but her small sacrifice won’t last long. If she and Maekallus can’t break the spell binding him to the mortal realm, Maekallus will be consumed completely—and Enna’s soul with him.

Buzz Kill: A Novel by David Sosnowski (ISBN-13: 9781542005043 Publisher: Amazon Publishing Publication date: 01/28/2020)

Two young hackers with the brains to save the world. Or at least change it. What can go wrong?

Pandora Lynch lives in Alaska with her single dad, an online therapist for Silicon Valley’s brightest and squirreliest. Homeschooled by computer and a self-taught hacker, Pandora is about to enter high school to learn how to be normal. That’s the plan at least.

NorCal runaway George Jedson is a hacker too—one who leaves the systems he attacks working better than before. After being scooped up by a social media giant, will George go legit—or pull off the biggest hack ever? Not even his therapist knows for sure, but maybe the headshrinker’s daughter…

After meeting in cyberspace, the two young hackers combine their passions to conceive a brainchild named BUZZ. Can this baby AI learn to behave, or will it be like its parents and think outside the box?

With a hilarious and deeply empathetic narrative voice, this elegiac and unapologetically irreverent novel is both humorous and tragic without ever taking itself too seriously.

Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk! by Greg Howard (ISBN-13: 9780525517528 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/11/2020 Ages 10-13)

In this heartfelt and hilarious new novel from Greg Howard, an enterprising boy starts his own junior talent agency and signs a thirteen-year-old aspiring drag queen as his first client.

Twelve-year-old Mikey Pruitt—president, founder, and CEO of Anything, Inc.—has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Inspired by his grandfather Pap Pruitt, who successfully ran all sorts of businesses from a car wash to a roadside peanut stand, Mikey is still looking for his million-dollar idea. Unfortunately, most of his ideas so far have failed. A baby tornado ran off with his general store, and the kids in his neighborhood never did come back for their second croquet lesson. But Mikey is determined to keep at it.

It isn’t until kid drag queen Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem (aka eighth grader Julian Vasquez) walks into his office (aka his family’s storage/laundry room) looking for an agent that Mikey thinks he’s finally found his million-dollar idea, and the Anything Talent and Pizzazz Agency is born!

Soon, Mikey has a whole roster of kid clients looking to hit it big or at least win the middle school talent show’s hundred-dollar prize. As newly out Mikey prepares Julian for the gig of a lifetime, he realizes there’s no rulebook for being gay—and if Julian can be openly gay at school, maybe Mikey can, too, and tell his crush, dreamy Colton Sanford, how he feels.

Full of laughs, sass, and hijinks, this hilarious, heartfelt story shows that with a little effort and a lot of love, anything is possible.

The Life Below by Alexandra Monir (ISBN-13: 9780062658975 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/18/2020 Ages 14-17)

Perfect for fans of The Illuminae Files and The 100, in this heart-racing sequel to The Final Six the teen astronauts must figure out the truth about Europa before it’s too late.

It was hard enough for Naomi to leave Leo, a fellow Final Six contestant, behind on a dying Earth. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.

The International Space Training Camp continues to dodge every question about its past failed mission, and Naomi is suspicious that not everything is as it seems on her own mission to Europa. With just one shot at Jupiter’s moon, Naomi is determined to find out if there is dangerous alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there. 

Leo, back on Earth, has been working with renegade scientist Dr. Greta Wagner, who promises to fly him to space where he can dock with Naomi’s ship. And if Wagner’s hypothesis is right, it isn’t a possibility of coming in contact with extraterrestrial life on Europa—it’s a definite, and it’s up to Leo to find and warn Naomi and the crew.

With questions piling up, everything gets more dangerous the closer that the mission gets to Europa. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and all questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous mission get answered in a terrifying way.

If the dream was to establish a new world for humans on Europa…the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.

The Night of Your Life by Lydia Sharp (ISBN-13: 9781338317275 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 12-18)

He’s having the worst prom ever… over and over again.

Does a perfect prom night exist? JJ’s about to find out.

All year, JJ’s been looking forward to going to prom with his best friend, Lucy. It will be their last hurrah before graduation — a perfect night where all their friends will relax, have fun together, and celebrate making it through high school.

But nothing goes according to plan. When a near car crash derails JJ before he even gets to prom, a potential new romance surfaces, and Lucy can’t figure out what happened to him, things spiral out of control. The best night of their lives quickly turns into the worst.

That is… until JJ wakes up the next day only to find that it’s prom night all over again. At first, JJ thinks he’s lucky to have the chance to get innumerable chances at perfecting the night of his life. But each day ends badly for him and Lucy, no matter what he does. Can he find a way to escape the time loop and move into the future with the girl he loves?

In the end, JJ might not get the prom he wanted, but he may well get the prom he needed…

Havenfall by Sara Holland (ISBN-13: 9781547603794 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 14-18)

A safe haven between four realms. The girl sworn to protect it–at any cost. New York Times bestselling author Sara Holland crafts a breathtaking new contemporary fantasy perfect for fans of Melissa Albert and Holly Black.

Hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall, a sanctuary that connects ancient worlds–each with their own magic–together. For generations, the inn has protected all who seek refuge within its walls, and any who disrupt the peace can never return.

For Maddie Morrow, summers at the inn are more than a chance to experience this magic first-hand. Havenfall is an escape from reality, where her mother sits on death row accused of murdering Maddie’s brother. It’s where Maddie fell in love with handsome Fiorden soldier Brekken. And it’s where one day she hopes to inherit the role of Innkeeper from her beloved uncle.

But this summer, the impossible happens–a dead body is found, shattering everything the inn stands for. With Brekken missing, her uncle gravely injured, and a dangerous creature on the loose, Maddie suddenly finds herself responsible for the safety of everyone in Havenfall. She’ll do anything to uncover the truth, even if it means working together with an alluring new staffer Taya, who seems to know more than she’s letting on. As dark secrets are revealed about the inn itself, one thing becomes clear to Maddie–no one can be trusted, and no one is safe . . .

Sara Holland takes the lush fantasy that captured readers in Everless and Evermore and weaves it into the real world to create a wholly captivating new series where power and peril lurk behind every door.

Mermaid Moon by Susann Cokal (ISBN-13: 9781536209594 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 14-17)

An award-winning author tells of a mermaid who leaves the sea in search of her landish mother in a captivating tale spun with beautiful prose, lush descriptions, empathy, and keen wit.

Blood calls to blood; charm calls to charm.
It is the way of the world.
Come close and tell us your dreams.
Sanna is a mermaid — but she is only half seavish. The night of her birth, a sea-witch cast a spell that made Sanna’s people, including her landish mother, forget how and where she was born. Now Sanna is sixteen and an outsider in the seavish matriarchy, and she is determined to find her mother and learn who she is. She apprentices herself to the witch to learn the magic of making and unmaking, and with a new pair of legs and a quest to complete for her teacher, she follows a clue that leads her ashore on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands. There, as her fellow mermaids wait in the sea, Sanna stumbles into a wall of white roses thirsty for blood, a hardscrabble people hungry for miracles, and a baroness who will do anything to live forever.

From the author of the Michael L. Printz Honor Book The Kingdom of Little Wounds comes a gorgeously told tale of belonging, sacrifice, fear, hope, and mortality.

The Electric Heir (Feverwake Series #2) by Victoria Lee (ISBN-13: 9781542005074 Publisher: Amazon Publishing Publication date: 03/17/2020 Ages 14-17)

In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (ISBN-13: 9781616208967 Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers Publication date: 03/24/2020 Ages 14-18)

The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.

In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

The Eye of Zeus: Legends Of Olympus, Book One by Alane Adams (ISBN-13: 9781684630288 Publisher: SparkPress Publication date: 04/07/2020 Ages 8-12)

Meet Phoebe Katz, a twelve-year-old foster kid from New York City who’s been bounced around the system her entire life. Things happen around Phoebe, but it’s not like they’re her fault! But when a statue of Athena comes to life, Phoebe gets the stunning news she’s the daughter of Zeus, has a twin brother named Perseus—and was sent away from ancient Greece as a baby to stop a terrible prophecy that predicted she would one day destroy Olympus.

Athena warns Phoebe to stay in hiding, but when the vengeful god Ares kidnaps her beloved social worker, Phoebe has no choice—she has to travel back to ancient Greece and rescue him! There, Phoebe and her friends Angie and Damian discover a new prophecy, one that may fix everything. The catch: Phoebe has to collect talismans from six Greek monsters, including the fang from a nine-headed hydra, a talon from the Nemean lion, and a feather from the sphinx. No problem for a girl with the power to call up lightning bolts and change the weather! But can Phoebe collect them all and stop the prophecy before she destroys Olympus?

Long Story Short: 100 Classic Books in Three Panels by Lisa Brown (ISBN-13: 9781616205034 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 04/07/2020)

Literature is long. Comics are short.

Does Proust get you down? Do you find The Unbearable Lightness of Being simply unbearable? Is The Inferno your own private hell? Do you long to be conversant about classics like Moby Dick, the Bhagavad Gita, Madame Bovary, and, um, Twilight?

Bestselling illustrator Lisa Brown (The Airport Book; Baby, Mix Me a Drink) did her homework. Long Story Short offers 100 pithy and skewering three-panel literary summaries, from curriculum classics like Don Quixote, Lord of the Flies, and Jane Eyre to modern favorites like Beloved, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Atonement, conveniently organized by subjects including “Love,” “Sex,” “Death,” and “Female Trouble.” Lisa Brown’s Long Story Short is the perfect way to turn a traipse through what your English teacher called “the canon” into a frolic—or to happily cram for the next occasion that requires you to appear bookish and well-read.

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel (Marvel) by Nic Stone (ISBN-13: 9781338585476 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 05/05/2020 Ages 9-12)

From New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone comes an all-new upper middle grade series based on one of the Marvel Universe’s break-out characters— Shuri, from Black Panther!

An original, upper-middle-grade series starring the break-out character from the Black Panther comics and films: T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri! Crafted by New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone. Shuri is a skilled martial artist, a genius, and a master of science and technology. But, she’s also a teenager. And a princess. This story follows Shuri as she sets out on a quest to save her homeland of Wakanda.

For centuries, the Chieftain of Wakanda (the Black Panther) has gained his powers through the juices of the Heart-Shaped Herb. Much like Vibranium, the Heart-Shaped Herb is essential to the survival and prosperity of Wakanda. But something is wrong. The plants are dying. No matter what the people of Wakanda do, they can’t save them. And their supply is running short. It’s up to Shuri to travel from Wakanda in order to discover what is killing the Herb, and how she can save it, in the first volume of this all-new, original adventure.

The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton (ISBN-13: 9781624149528 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 05/05/2020 Ages 14+)

Moxie meets A Knight’s Tale as Kit Sweetly slays sexism, bad bosses, and bad luck to become a knight at a medieval-themed restaurant.

Working as a wench—i.e. waitress—at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But the Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other wenches join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval—if they don’t get fired first.

Forged in Fire and Stars by Andrea Robertson (ISBN-13: 9780525954125 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 05/12/2020 ages 12+)

Games of Thrones meets An Ember in the Ashes in this action-packed fantasy from the internationally bestselling author of the Nightshade series.

Ara has always known about the legend of the Loresmith: the blacksmith who served alongside the kings and queens of every generation to protect the kingdom. It was her fate to inherit the title—though she never truly believed it would come to pass since the monarchy’s downfall years before.

But when the lost Princess Nimhea and Prince Eamon steal Ara from her quiet life with a mission to retake the throne—and take her place as the Loresmith—her whole world turns upside down. Their journey will take Ara on a dangerous adventure to discover new truths about her family’s legacy, and even to face the gods themselves. And with a mysterious thief as an unexpected companion, Ara must use all her skills to figure out just who she can trust, and forge the right path forward—for herself, her kingdom, and her heart.

From internationally bestselling author Andrea Roberston comes a gorgeously written new fantasy series perfect for readers of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse or Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (ISBN-13: 9781624149689 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 05/12/2020 Ages 14+)

Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.

As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.

In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees by Susan Kuklin (ISBN-13: 9780763679606 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 05/12/2020 Ages 14-17)

Five refugees recount their courageous journeys to America — and the unimaginable struggles that led them to flee their homelands — in a powerful work from the author of Beyond Magenta and We Are Here to Stay.

“From 1984, when I was born, until July 16, 2017, when I arrived in the United States, I never lived in a place where there was no war.” — Fraidoon

An Iraqi woman who survived capture by ISIS. A Sudanese teen growing up in civil war and famine. An Afghan interpreter for the U.S. Army living under threat of a fatwa. They are among the five refugees who share their stories in award-winning author and photographer Susan Kuklin’s latest masterfully crafted narrative. The five, originally from Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Iraq, and Burundi, give gripping first-person testimonies about what it is like to flee war, face violent threats, grow up in a refugee camp, be sold into slavery, and resettle in America. Illustrated with full-color photographs of the refugees’ new lives in Nebraska, this work is essential reading for understanding the devastating impact of war and persecution — and the power of resilience, optimism, and the will to survive. Included in the end matter are chapter notes, information on resettlement and U.S. citizenship, historical time lines of war and political strife in the refugees’ countries of origin, resources for further reading, and an index.

Think for Yourself: The Ultimate Guide to Critical Thinking in an Age of Information Overload by Andrea Debbink, Aaron Meshon (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781950500048 Publisher: duopress Publication date: 05/12/2020 Ages 11-14)

Middle school is a time of change, when things begin to look different and assumptions start to be questioned, and today more than ever it’s tough to know what to believe. This unique and timely book won’t tell you what to think—that’s up to you!—but it will show you how to think more deeply about your own life and current events. Covering a wide range of subjects affecting the world today, including human and animal rights, social media, cyber bullying, the refugee crisis, and more, THINK FOR YOURSELF will help you to learn how to ask questions, analyze evidence, and use logic to draw conclusions, so you can solve problems and make smart decisions.

Each chapter of the book covers one key step in the critical thinking process, and includes a real-world example to help convey the importance and relevance of every step:

Ask Questions: If you want to be a critical thinker, it helps to be curious. It’s normal to wonder about the world around us. Some questions are big, and some are small. Sometimes questions can spark debate and argument. All critical thinking starts with at least one question. 
Gather Evidence: First, find information—from making observations to interviewing experts to researching a topic online or in books. Then make connections and draw conclusions.
Evaluating Evidence: Smart thinkers evaluate the importance, accuracy and relevancy of the information they gather.
Getting Curious: Consider other points of view, examine your own point of view, understand the power of emotion, and practice empathy.
Draw Conclusions: The final step in the critical thinking process, this is based on reason and evidence. Revisit your original question, review the evidence and what you’ve learned, and consider your values. And remember: critical thinking doesn’t stop when you’ve reached a decision. Learn how to discuss and debate other points of view. Then keep growing. Sometimes you might change your mind—that’s OK, too!

Featuring profiles of real-life inspiring young critical thinkers from around the world, checklists, quizzes, and activities, THINK FOR YOURSELF is a clever and fun illustrated guide that teaches middle schoolers that even young people can make a difference in the world just by thinking smart and understanding. 

INCLUDES:

  • Your Turn: activities to help connect ideas to readers’ lives
  • Quizzes
  • Profiles of inspiring young critical thinkers
  • A Reading List for Young Thinkers
  • Teacher’s guides
  • Plus a table of contents, index, and glossary for easy searching

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez (ISBN-13: 9781984812261 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 05/19/2020 Ages 14+)

A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pulga has his dreams.
Chico has his grief.
Pequeña has her pride.

And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their beloved home.
Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life—if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.
In this powerful story inspired by current events, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to painful, poignant, vivid life. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.

The Jewel Thief by Jeannie Mobley (ISBN-13: 9781984837417 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 05/26/2020 Ages 12+)

A lush, slow-burn romance set in 17th century France, and based on the history of the Hope Diamond—The Glittering Court meets Alex and Eliza.

Her story begins . . . in Paris. The only daughter of the King’s crown jeweler, Juliette marvels at the large, deep-blue diamond Louis XIV has commanded her father to make shine like the sun. But Jean Pitau has never cut a diamond quite like this, and shaping it is a risky endeavor. As Jean spirals into depression, Juliette takes it upon herself to cut the stone, and with every misstep, brings her family closer to ruin.

Her story resumes . . . in a cold, dark cell of the Bastille prison. Charged with stealing the King’s diamond, Juliette has but one chance to convince him that her motives were pure. If she fails, this night may very well be her last. Though, death wouldn’t be her worst fate. Because recording Juliette’s confession is René, a court-appointed scribe, and the man she loves. But René holds his own grudge against Juliette, and this is her one and only chance to win back his heart.

Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster (ISBN-13: 9781492697206 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 06/02/2020 Ages 8-12)

A fast-paced series starter perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time and filled with adventure, mythology, and an unforgettable trio of friends.

On Emblem Island all are born knowing their fate. Their lifelines show the course of their life and an emblem dictates how they will spend it.

Twelve-year-old Tor Luna was born with a leadership emblem, just like his mother. But he hates his mark and is determined to choose a different path for himself. So, on the annual New Year’s Eve celebration, where Emblemites throw their wishes into a bonfire in the hopes of having them granted, Tor wishes for a different power.

The next morning Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin…the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. There is only one way to break the curse, and it requires a trip to the notorious Night Witch.

With only his village’s terrifying, ancient stories as a guide, and his two friends Engle and Melda by his side, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only knows through myths, in a race against his dwindling lifeline.

Smooth by Matt Burns (ISBN-13: 9781536204384 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 06/16/2020 Ages 14+)

Kevin’s acne is horribly, hideously bad. Can a risky treatment fix his face — and his entire life? A witty and sharply observed debut.

Fifteen-year-old Kevin has acne, and not just any acne. Stinging red welts, painful pustules, and massive whiteheads are ruining his life. In an act of desperation, he asks his dermatologist to prescribe him a drug with a dizzying list of possible side effects — including depression — and an obligatory monthly blood test. But when he meets Alex, a girl in the lab waiting room, blood test day quickly becomes his safe haven — something he sorely needs, since everyone, including his two best friends, is trying his last nerve. But as Kevin’s friendships slip further away and he discovers who Alex is outside of the lab, he realizes he’s not sure about anything anymore. Are loneliness and self-doubt the side effects of his new acne meds? Or are they the side effects of being fifteen?

Told in a bitingly funny first-person narration, this debut novel crackles with wry and wistful insights about the absurdities of high school, longing and heartbreak, and a body out of control. A surefire hit for teen boys and reluctant readers, Smooth gets under the skin of a tenth-grader who is changing — inside and out.

Looking back: TLT, connection, and a life spent reading

And so ends another decade. My teenager is fond of pointing out how MANY of these I have now seen. He also looooves to tell me that now 1990 is 30 years ago, and not, like, ten, which is what it is in my head. Rude.

Many of these past few years (what do we call these? the 2010s? 20-teens?) have been filled with TLT goodness. I sat down to think about what I wanted to write and started to think of how I’d summarize the highlights of various decades. A theme becomes quite obvious:

The 1970s were my toddler years and so many of the pictures from then were either of me sleeping on reading parents or being read to.

1978. With the first dachshund in my life, Ludwig.

The 1980s saw my absolute love of reading grow. For a while, we lived in a teeny tiny town (like 300 people) in very rural southern Minnesota. There was a one-room library (with a great Care Bear mural on the side) that I was allowed to bike to. I read every single children’s book they had (in order of how they were shelved), so it’s a good thing we upgraded and then moved to a town of 9,000.

My mom saved this little packet from elementary school. It’s many pages long and reading shows up as answers about a dozen times.

The 90s brought a continued obsession with reading and writing, making my own zine, and getting degrees in English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies—both reading-heavy fields.

1998. My brother’s polka dot hair was pretty great. My hair color changed weekly.

The zines I wrote in the 90s. Long live teen angst!

Some of my 1990s journals. I wrote in them almost every single day for the whole decade.

The 2000s saw me work in three bookstores, get a master’s degree in Children’s Literature, start reviewing books professionally, marry a bookstore manager, and also become a mother (having a child was a great reason to constantly buy more books).

Callum at age 3.

The 2010s (again, the whats? tens? teens?) brought working in three libraries, presenting about YA lit in various capacities, and working for Teen Librarian Toolbox. Through all of those decades, through the various ways I consumed and produced work about books, it was the connections I made that meant as much to me as all the reading did.

2014.

We’ve reflected on what TLT means to us before. You can read what I said here at year seven and here at year six. I’m not going to repeat what I wrote. I am going to say, though, that I can’t imagine having not been blogging for TLT the past five and a half years. It’s brought so many great people into life, and those connections have made me a better parent, librarian, writer, advocate, and person. Though my Twitter is often just a dachshund account, I started it around the same time I started blogging here and think of the two as totally tied together. I feel lucky to always be learning from teachers, librarians, writers, and other readers. For me, TLT is a chance to share, yes, but it’s also a chance to connect, to learn. How lucky to feel that I get this great outlet and I get to always be learning.

I look forward to seeing what book-related joys the 2020s bring into my life.

Happy new year and happy reading!