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Book Review: The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

Publisher’s description

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, clobbers the Green Knight, 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 this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members 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.

Amanda’s thoughts

My reading taste really comes down to two things: show me people just talk, talk, talking OR show me something unique. A contemporary story about a girl who wants to become a knight? Now that’s unique!

There is so much to really love about this book. Kit (real name—brace yourselves—Courtney Love Sweetly) works at a medieval-themed restaurant that’s run by her uncle, but that doesn’t get her any preferential treatment. The place is not great, but Kit absolutely loves her workplace family and desperately needs the job there. She and her older brother (a knight at the restaurant) live with their mom—their dad took off a couple of years ago with all their college money to feed his heroin habit. Their family is constantly worried about money. Electricity gets shut off, there’s very little food, and everything is run-down. They all three work hard, but it’s just barely enough to keep them afloat.

Kit has very real worries about college. She has had a plan for years for herself, but now that the time for college acceptances is here, it looks like that plan isn’t doable. It’s hard to readjust your thoughts and grapple with a new reality. The money just isn’t there for her to follow the path she had long ago set for herself. I appreciate this depiction of teen life so much—a teenager with a job because it’s absolutely essential to the family’s budge, a teen making the very reasonable choice to follow a different college path due to financial reasons.

It’s not all just worries and disappointments for Kit, though. She has great support in Layla, her best friend, and Jett, her other best friend. Kit and Jett decided long ago to never date, for the sake of the friendship, but that doesn’t stop Kit from having a raging crush on him and wishing they could break that pact.

Then, of course, there’s the storyline of her wanting to become a knight. She knows she’s the right girl for the job, her corporate has made it very clear that only cis men can be knights at this restaurant. Outspoken feminist Kit is done tolerating that decree. When she fills in for her brother, Jett films it and the video begins to go viral online, giving Kit a platform to push her cause. She begins to train other friends from work (including trans and nonbinary characters), but with no corporate support and an uncle vehemently against helping her agenda, it’s uncertain whether they will even get a chance to showcase their talents even one time, much less overthrow the whole system.

I was into this story just from the very basic plot: teen girl wants to be a knight at the medieval-themed restaurant she works at. But the many layers of her life made this book so engrossing. And the wonderful (and very diverse) cast of supporting characters made this such a great workplace story, too. Kit is a badass, not just because she wants to smash the patriarchy, but because she’s juggling so much in just her day-to-day life. A great read that deserves lots of attention.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624149528
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

A Moment of Radical Honesty and Talking Frankly about Modern Poverty in THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY, a guest post by Jamie Pacton

I think every writer puts a bit of themselves into the stories we tell and the characters we create. When writing my debut YA novel, THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY, I put a whole lot of myself into Kit. Her humor, her outlook on life, her flaws— all of these are mine. I based her love interest on my husband, and I even included embarrassing moments from my own life in the book (like that time I ended up inside a dumpster I very nearly couldn’t get out of; or, that time I yelled “I know CPR” when a stranger collapsed in a locker room and my friends went running for help). But, even with the amount of Jamie inside Kit’s story, there’s one element of my own life in the book that I struggle to be honest about: Kit’s poverty.

Like Kit, I’ve lived through some very lean times. Growing up, I was the oldest of ten kids, and although my parents both worked white-collar jobs (at least until I was a teenager and my dad lost his job), I’m sure feeding all of us, clothing us, and keeping the lights on was a stretch. I remember visits to food banks and a pantry full of cans long past their expiration dates. (Expiration dates were more of whimsical suggestions in my parents’ house, rather than guidelines for food safety). I also remember visiting friends’ houses and marveling at the toys, clothes, and bedroom space they had. It was all so nice and not second-hand, and I desperately wanted the same things. Even as early as elementary school, I used to beg my parents for a pair of Keds or a Guess t-shirt or every other silly material thing that seemed like it was the thing that would make me feel like I was as good as my friends.

Poverty followed me to college. Yes, I had a full scholarship, but I promptly lost it after my freshman year because I was working two jobs in order to have enough money to stay alive. After college, when I had a BA in English but no real professional skills, I worked sixteen-hour days across four jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet. I’d waitress the lunch shift at one restaurant; then, go nanny for a few hours after school; then, work a dinner shift at a different restaurant; and, finish my day by working overnight at K-Mart. I was perpetually exhausted, smoking too many cigarettes to stay awake, and somehow still poor. Even when I finally decided to go back to grad school, I couldn’t escape the shadow of poverty. I’m always embarrassed to admit this, but my husband and I were on food stamps in grad school because—thanks to the ridiculous notion that grad students can’t work outside jobs— we were both only working as TAs while supporting small children.

These days, although I’ve had many economic ups and downs in the years since my children were born, things are mostly much better. But, I wrote everything I know about being poor into THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY.

Credit: Vicky Chen (@VickyCBooks on Twitter)

My intimate knowledge of food scarcity comes out in the “Cooler of Doom” Kit’s family keeps for storing food when their power is cut off; and, it’s there in the way Kit relies on the food she can get at work to keep herself fed. My awareness of my own economic disparity in relation to my friends is apparent as Kit tries to hide her poverty from her best friends. My struggle with balancing too many jobs and still just barely scraping by lurks in the way Kit and her entire family pool their tips to pay bills. My very real knowledge of the emotional toll that working too much and always being on edge about money takes is present in Kit’s brother Chris, who is just barely an adult, but already weary of working all the time. Even the way I used stimulants like cigarettes to stay awake or to trick my body into feeling full is present in the way Kit’s mom smokes. (I read about this same impulse in Stephanie Land’s MAID and viscerally understood so much she talked about in relation to being part of the working poor).

Some of the praise I’ve gotten for THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY calls it a “frank look at modern poverty,” and that’s thrills me because that’s exactly what I wanted to do in the book. I wanted to be honest about poverty and show a character who might look like she’s economically okay—after all, Kit has a house, a job, her brother has a car, and she’s planning on going to college— but just beneath the surface lies a slippery economic slope that threatens to send Kit and her family toppling.

Even with that intention in mind, however, this is the first time I’ve written about how Kit’s poverty mirrors my own experience. In interviews, I’ve happily talked about the feminism, the romance, the friendships, and even the absurd moments from my life that I wrote into the story. But, as I mentioned above, I’m embarrassed to tell people that I’ve been as poor as Kit (or poorer, in fact). For the longest time, I didn’t want people to know that I’ve lived on the edge and that I’ve fallen off it before. I never tell people that I’ve had government assistance or that I’m always comparing what I have materially (and finding myself lacking) based on my own childhood insecurities.

But why is poverty so hard to talk about? Why is there shame associated with it? Why would I feel embarrassed to say that there have been times in my life when I needed help? Why does saying I couldn’t make ends meet feel like a dirty secret?

I think the answers to these questions lie in the way poverty is talked about in modern America and the discourse of shame surrounding the notion of being poor. Too often, poor people are seen as lazy or they’re treated like their poverty is their fault. Or, even worse, they’re viewed as worth less than others because they don’t have money/stuff/privilege. (This is something I tackle head on in my next book, LUCKY GIRL, where the main character wins the lotto jackpot and grapples with the questions of can money really bring happiness or does too much of it just make people terrible?)

While these myths about poverty abound, most of the poor people I know are working too many jobs, trying to keep their kids alive, and striving to make their lives better. But, they’re laboring within an unfair system that keeps them impoverished (and, it must be noted, this unfair system is consistently kinder to white and/or able bodied people like Kit and myself than others, and that privilege is not negligible). Healthcare is expensive; food is expensive; if you don’t have a car, you can’t get to work reliably; and, the list of ways to stay poor when you’re already there goes on and on. Many excellent non-fiction books have been written about the nearly impossible-to-break generational cycle of poverty in America, and I think it’s important to talk about this in YA fiction as well.

The notion of radical honesty contains many elements, but a core one is that you can bring about change by being honest. I try to be honest in my life and in my fiction, so, I’ll just come out and say it: I have been very, very poor at certain times in my life. I’ve taken back $10 worth of groceries so I could put gas in my car. I’ve not known where my children’s next meal was coming from or how I was going to keep the lights on. It’s okay to admit those things, and stories of modern poverty need to be told so we can battle the stigma surrounding it. I hope THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY contributes in some small way to removing this stigma, and I hope it finds a kid who is as poor as Kit is (or I was) and helps them feel better about their own life, their circumstances, and their prospects for the future.

Meet Jamie Pacton

Photo credit: Greg Pacton

Jamie Pacton is a Young Adult and Middle Grade author who grew up minutes away from the National Storytelling Center in the mountains of East Tennessee. She has a BA and MA in English Literature, and currently teaches English at the college level. While pursuing her dream of being an author, she worked as a waitress, pen salesperson, lab assistant, art museum guard, bookseller, pool attendant, nanny, and lots of other weird jobs in between. Her writing has appeared in national and local magazines, and she spent many years blogging for Parents.com. Currently, Jamie lives in Wisconsin with her family and a dog named Lego. The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly is her debut novel. Find Jamie online at www.jamiepacton.com and on Instagram and Twitter @JamiePacton.

About The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly

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, clobbers the Green Knight, 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 this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members 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.

ISBN-13: 9781624149528
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

New Books Alert: Activism, summer camp, a school shooting, a supernatural feminist novel, and more

Weird times, my friends. Usually I write a little intro here about how I get a lot of book mail and can’t possibly read it all, but after seven weeks home from work, I am in the strange position of not only being home to grab the book mail as soon as it arrives, but also now to just be home and read much of the day. It’s pretty much as amazing as I thought it would be, but I would rather we were all healthy and schools were open.

Interested in what you see here? Be sure to order from your local indie store! Two of my favorite stores are The Red Balloon in St. Paul, MN and The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline Village, MA.

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.

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy (ISBN-13: 9781419741111 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 04/07/2020 Ages 10-14)

A stirring look at nonviolent activism, from American suffragists to Civil Rights to the Climate Change Movement

We Are Power brings to light the incredible individuals who have used nonviolent activism to change the world. The book explores questions such as what is nonviolent resistance and how does it work? In an age when armies are stronger than ever before, when guns seem to be everywhere, how can people confront their adversaries without resorting to violence themselves? Through key international movements as well as people such as Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel, this book discusses the components of nonviolent resistance. It answers the question “Why nonviolence?” by showing how nonviolent movements have succeeded again and again in a variety of ways, in all sorts of places, and always in the face of overwhelming odds. The book includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge (ISBN-13: 9781419743207 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/14/2020 Ages 12-18)

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea meets Frankenstein in Frances Hardinge’s latest fantasy adventure

The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster—and what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?

The Mystery of the Moon Tower by Francesco Sedita, Prescott Seraydarian, Steve Hamaker (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780425291870 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/21/2020 Ages 8-12)

Summer camp just became a whole lot more interesting when five curious kids accept a mysterious project: work together as a team to uncover a series of strange clues, reveal a secret path—and follow its twists and turns to a legendary treasure!

Join in the fun in this lively, clever debut graphic novel sure to appeal to fans of the Last Kids on Earth and Lumberjanes series.

Kyle is a new kid in town who likes to draw. Vic is a cool cheerleader who’s secretly a math whiz. Quiet Beth is a history buff, while goofball Harry likes performing magic tricks, with the help of his patient wingman, Nate. Five kids unlikely to form a team, for sure.

But then they’re thrown together at summer camp, where they watch a grainy old movie about the history of their town, Windrose, and one of its illustrious citizens of a bygone era: the intrepid explorer-inventor Henry Merriweather. He’s the one who established their camp. Merriweather’s Camp Pathfinders’ motto? Plus Ultra: more beyond!

The five kids soon find there is indeed “more beyond” in their pokey town with its weird weather and sudden geysers of smelly air. Deciphering a route of historical markers leads them to Merriweather’s old castle, which is lined with ornate, beautiful tiles in hallways that lead to secret rooms full of odd objects—and where time itself is warped!

Kyle, Vic, Beth, Harry, and Nate witness scenes from Merriweather’s past and realize his experiments and eccentricities are pointing toward a path—that could lead to the rumored lost treasure of Windrose.

This is the path our heroes are meant to follow, on a journey that will take them back and forth through time, through woods, and across waterways revealed by moonlight, right up to the looming Moon Tower itself—which holds Merriweather’s secret . . . and the treasure!

Out Now: Queer We Go Again! by Saundra Mitchell (ISBN-13: 9781335018267 Publisher: Inkyard Press Publication date: 05/26/2020 Ages 13-17)

QUEER WE GO AGAIN!

A follow-up to the critically acclaimed All Out anthology, Out Now features seventeen new short stories from amazing queer YA authors. Vampires crash prom…aliens run from the government…a president’s daughter comes into her own…a true romantic tries to soften the heart of a cynical social media influencer…a selkie and the sea call out to a lost soul. Teapots and barbershops…skateboards and VW vans…Street Fighter and Ares’s sword: Out Now has a story for every reader and surprises with each turn of the page!

This essential and beautifully written modern-day collection features an intersectional and inclusive slate of authors and stories.

Mayhem by Estelle Laure (ISBN-13: 9781250297938 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 07/14/2020 Ages 13-18)

The Lost Boys meets Wilder Girls in this supernatural feminist YA novel.

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.

The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg (ISBN-13: 9781250257352 Publisher: Flatiron Books Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 13-18)

Rear Window meets Emergency Contact in this sharp, unsettling novel about two teens who discover the secrets of their neighborhood after everyone else turns out the lights.

Ingrid can’t sleep.

She can’t remember, either.

A competitive diver, seventeen-year-old Ingrid is haunted by what she saw at the pool at a routine meet, before falling off the high dive and waking up concussed. The only thing she remembers about the moment before her dive is locking eyes with Van—her neighbor, former best friend, and forever crush—kissing his girlfriend on the sidelines. But that can’t be all.

Then one sleepless night, she sees Van out her window…looking right back at her. They begin not sleeping together by night, still ignoring each other at school by day.

Ingrid tells herself this is just temporary, but soon, she and Van are up every night piecing her memory back together. As Van works through his own reasons for not being able to sleep, they’re both pulled into a mystery that threatens to turn their quiet neighborhood into a darker place than they realized.

Fable: A Novel by Adrienne Young (ISBN-13: 9781250254368 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 12-18)

Filled with all of the action, emotion, and lyrical writing that brought readers to Sky in the DeepNew York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young returns with Fable, the first book in this new captivating duology.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Not Your #Lovestory by Sonia Hartl (ISBN-13: 9781645670544 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 14-17)

#PlaneBae meets Gilmore Girls in this hilarious and heartfelt story about the addictiveness of Internet fame and the harsh realities of going viral.

Macy Evans dreams of earning enough income from her YouTube channel, R3ntal Wor1d, to leave her small, Midwestern town. But when she meets a boy named Eric at a baseball game, and accidently dumps her hotdog in his lap, her disastrous “meet-cute” becomes the topic of a viral thread. Now it’s not loyal subscribers flocking to her channel, it’s Internet trolls. And they aren’t interested in her reviews of VHS tapes—they only care about her relationship with Eric.

Eric is overly eager to stretch out his fifteen minutes of fame, but Macy fears this unwanted attention could sabotage her “real-life” relationships—namely with the shy boy-next-door, Paxton, who she’s actually developing feelings for. Macy knows she should shut the lie down, though she can’t ignore the advertising money, or the spark she gets in her chest whenever someone clicks on her videos. Eric shouldn’t be the only one allowed to reap the viral benefits. But is faking a relationship for clicks and subscribers worth hurting actual people?

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi (ISBN-13: 9781250144577 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 09/22/2020 Ages 12-18)

Returning to the dark and glamorous 19th century world of her New York Times instant bestseller, The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi dazzles us with another riveting tale as full of mystery and danger as ever in The Silvered Serpents.

They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost — one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.

Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into the icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.

A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.

Thoughts and Prayers by Bryan Bliss (ISBN-13: 9780062962249 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/29/2020 Ages 14-17)

What does it mean to heal—to feel safe—in a world that constantly chooses violence?

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Except for the fact that a year ago, they all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher. Here is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy.

Told in three loosely connected by inextricably intertwined stories, this unflinching novel is for readers of Jason Reynolds, Marieke Nijkamp, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe (ISBN-13: 9781250220400 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 10/13/2020 Ages 14-18)

In her debut novel A Golden Fury, Samantha Cohoe weaves a story of magic and danger, where the streets of Oxford and London come to life, and the curse of the Philosopher’s Stone will haunt you long after the final page.

Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness.

While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of the French Revolution looming, Thea is sent to Oxford for her safety, to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.

But in Oxford, there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die.

Post-It Reviews: Some ghosts, a guide to critical thinking, folktales, Chernobyl, and more

I do my best to get a LOT of reading done, but can’t even begin to attempt to read all the books that show up here. My standard line here is, “Even if I quit my library job, I still couldn’t read them all.” Being home for like 7 weeks now has proven that even with more free time, I still barely make a dent in all the things I really want to read.

Back in the “before,” when I left my house, went to work each day, and circulated in the world, I read just about every free second I had—sitting in the car while waiting for my kid, on my lunch breaks at work, sometimes even while I was walking in the hall at work. A lot of that kind of reading isn’t super conducive to really deep reading or taking many notes. Or maybe I’m reading in my own house, but while covered in sleeping dachshunds, or while trying to block out the noise of kids playing.

I might not get around to being able to write a full review, but I still want to share these books with you, so here are my tiny Post-it Note reviews of a few titles. It’s a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All descriptions from the publishers. Post-it note review follows the description.

Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan

Making friends isn’t easy, but losing them is even harder!

Natalie has never felt that she’s enough — athletic enough, stylish enough, or talented enough. And on the first day of middle school, Natalie discovers that things are worse than she thought — now she’s not even cool enough for her best friend, Lily! As Natalie tries to get her best friend back, she learns more about her true self and natural talents. If Natalie can focus on who she is rather than who she isn’t, then she might realize she’s more than enough, just the way she is.

(POST-IT SAYS: Add this to your library or classroom—all who love Telgemeier, Jamieson, Hale, Liberson, etc will eat this up. There can never be too many graphic novels or books about friendship! A satisfying read. Ages 8-12)

The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

“This ghost story gave me chill after chill. It will haunt you.” — R.L. Stine, author of Goosebumps

“Do you know what it feels like to be forgotten?”

On a cold winter night, Iris and her best friend, Daniel, sneak into a clearing in the woods to play in the freshly fallen snow. There, Iris carefully makes a perfect snow angel — only to find the crumbling gravestone of a young girl, Avery Moore, right beneath her.

Immediately, strange things start to happen to Iris: She begins having vivid nightmares. She wakes up to find her bedroom window wide open, letting in the snow. She thinks she sees the shadow of a girl lurking in the woods. And she feels the pull of the abandoned grave, calling her back to the clearing…

Obsessed with figuring out what’s going on, Iris and Daniel start to research the area for a school project. They discover that Avery’s grave is actually part of a neglected and forgotten Black cemetery, dating back to a time when White and Black people were kept separate in life — and in death. As Iris and Daniel learn more about their town’s past, they become determined to restore Avery’s grave and finally have proper respect paid to Avery and the others buried there.

But they have awakened a jealous and demanding ghost, one that’s not satisfied with their plans for getting recognition. One that is searching for a best friend forever — no matter what the cost.

The Forgotten Girl is both a spooky original ghost story and a timely and important storyline about reclaiming an abandoned segregated cemetery.

“A harrowing yet empowering tale reminding us that the past is connected to the present, that every place and every person has a story, and that those stories deserve to be told.” — Renée Watson, New York Times bestselling author of Piecing Me Together

(POST-IT SAYS: While not the most well-written book, the scary/ghost element will draw kids in and they’ll learn about something many may not know about (segregation and abandoned graveyards). Ages 8-11)

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy.

For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business.

Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.

With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel.

(POST-IT SAYS: The kids at my school love “spooky” stories and will devour this. A great adventure full of magic, friendship, and family. The great writing and perfect pacing will make readers fly through this story of vengeance and heroics. Ages 8-12)

Think for Yourself: The Ultimate Guide to Critical Thinking in an Age of Information Overload by Andrea Debbink, Aaron Meshon (Illustrator) (MAY 12, 2020)

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

(POST-IT SAYS: Teaching how and why to think critically is especially vital these days. This book is short but very thorough with a format and content variety that will keep kids reading. Learn how to think, not what! Ages 10-14)

Folktales for Fearless Girls: The Stories We Were Never Told by Myriam Sayalero, Dani Torrent (Illustrator)

Heroines save the day in this empowering collection of folktales from around the world, perfect for fans of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Curses to be broken. Riddles to be solved. Kings’ favor to be won. These are the standard stories we’ve heard in folktales and fables for as long as we can remember—challenges faced and overcome by princes and knights in shining armor. In Folktales for Fearless Girls, though, we see a different set of heroes charge across the page. In fact, we see heroines.

Wily women and clever girls, valiant queens and brave villagers—these are the people to save the day in this collection of folktales from around the world and across the ages. Long before J.K. Rowling brought us Hermione Granger, well before Katniss Everdeen entered the arena, these fierce protagonists were the role models for strong girls through the ages. Here we read the story of Jimena, who dresses like a man to go fight in a war; of Min, whose cleverness leads her family to riches; and of Nabiha, who outsmarts thieves and wins the respect of the king. With stories from China, Russia, Persia, India, Armenia, the UK, Spain, France, Southern Africa, Egypt, and Germany, this is a collection of tales that showcases the original literary feminists.

With beautiful full-color art throughout to accompany these empowering tales, this an essential book for all girls!

(POST-IT SAYS: This book is gorgeous. Empowering feminist tales full of smart, outspoken, bold girls who are not waiting to be saved by anyone. An essential addition to collections and a great gift idea. Ages 9-14)

Taylor Before and After by Jennie Englund

In journal entries alternating between two timelines—before and after a tragic accident—Jennie Englund’s heartfelt coming-of-age story, Taylor Before and After follows the year that changes one girl’s life forever.

Before, Taylor Harper is finally popular, sitting with the cool kids at lunch, and maybe, just maybe, getting invited to the biggest, most exclusive party of the year.

After, no one talks to her.

Before, she’s friends with Brielle Branson, the coolest girl in school.

After, Brielle has become a bully, and Taylor’s her favorite target.

Before, home isn’t perfect, but at least her family is together.

After, Mom won’t get out of bed, Dad won’t stop yelling, and Eli…

Eli’s gone.

Through everything, Taylor has her notebook, a diary of the year that one fatal accident tears her life apart. In entries alternating between the first and second semester of her eighth-grade year, she navigates joy and grief, gain and loss, hope and depression.

How can Taylor pick up the pieces of what used to be her social life? How can her house ever feel like home again after everything that’s happened? And how can she move forward if she can’t stop looking back?

(POST-IT SAYS: The stream of consciousness narration may deter some readers, but I hope this poignant and complex look at mental health, friendship, and a life-changing catastrophe finds a large audience. Ages 10-13)

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura—and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

(POST-IT SAYS: Standing ovation! Fantastic read. Great hook, great voice, great look at learning how to be yourself, share your unique talents, and pursue your interests. Widely appealing. Ages 9-12)

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman

Like Ruta Sepetys for middle grade, Anne Blankman pens a poignant and timeless story of friendship that twines together moments in underexplored history.

On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work—Chernobyl—has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who’ve always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina’s estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother’s secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they’ve wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend’s life? Would you risk your own?

Told in alternating perspectives among three girls—Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka in 1941—this story shows that hatred, intolerance, and oppression are no match for the power of true friendship.

(POST-IT SAYS: An amazing read. This will be many young readers’ first exploration of life after Chernobyl. A profoundly powerful story of friendship, grief, and perseverance. Ages 10-13)

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Elana K. Arnold, author of the Printz Honor book Damsel, returns with a dark, engrossing, blood-drenched tale of the familiar threats to female power—and one girl’s journey to regain it.

You are alone in the woods, seen only by the unblinking yellow moon. Your hands are empty. You are nearly naked. And the wolf is angry.

Since her grandmother became her caretaker when she was four years old, Bisou Martel has lived a quiet life in a little house in Seattle. She’s kept mostly to herself. She’s been good.

But then comes the night of homecoming, when she finds herself running for her life over roots and between trees, a fury of claws and teeth behind her.

A wolf attacks. Bisou fights back. A new moon rises. And with it, questions.

About the blood in Bisou’s past, and on her hands as she stumbles home.

About broken boys and vicious wolves.

About girls lost in the woods—frightened, but not alone.

(POST-IT SAYS: This book tackles: the patriarchy; #MeToo; feminism; toxic masculinity; periods; incels; justice; empowerment. Dark, raw, gruesome, upsetting, and phenomenal. Ages 14-18)

The Power of Being Vulnerable, a guest post by Kate O’Shaughnessy

I was twenty-one years old the first time I had a panic attack.

Kate, age 21

It was the tail-end of a long weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, right after my junior year of college had wrapped up. I was exhausted and ready to go home, the straps of an overstuffed backpack chafing against my sunburned shoulders as I wandered through the airport with a friend.

It came completely out of nowhere. We were browsing in a bookstore when my chest grew unbearably tight, like someone was sitting right on my sternum. My heart began to race and my breathing became shallow. The pressure in my chest was intense, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by an almost-prophetic sense of doom.

Is this how it feels when you’re about to die? I thought wildly. Had I drank too much that weekend? Had I gotten sun poisoning? Had all of that, plus the combination of not sleeping and being stressed about exams, done something terrible to my heart?

Panicked, I left the bookstore. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I went and sat on the floor outside, my back against the wall, desperately trying to get a deep breath. At that point, my vision was starting to go speckled and black around the edges.

“Are you okay?” My friend asked, now kneeling next to me. I must have looked terrible, because I can still remember the worry on her face.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I think something’s wrong with my heart.”

Within minutes there were other people around me, too. Someone must have called a doctor, or whatever medical staff was on-site, because soon they were kneeling next to me, too, asking all kinds of questions.

My chest still felt scarily tight, but the “I’m about to die” feeling was fading. I’m okay, I said, I just want to go home. But given my symptoms, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed on the flight and that an ambulance had been called. 

And the ambulance did arrive. With a stretcher. I was horrified. I begged them to please let me walk, that I was starting to feel a little better, but I was told it was a matter of liability and I had to hop on up and let them strap me in.

For years, what I remembered most about this whole experience was the shame. That hot sluice of humiliation as I tried to hide my face from classmates who were watching me roll through the terminal.

At the hospital, the doctor gently suggested that it could be a mild inflammation of my heart’s lining, but that in all likelihood what I’d experienced was a panic attack.

Instead of listening, or asking more about panic attacks or what I could do to avoid them in the future, I clung to the first option, to the purely physical diagnosis, like it was a life raft. I told my worried friends that there was something up with my heart, that it wasn’t too serious, that a short course of anti-inflammatory pills should clear it up. I remember feeling like not all of them believed me. This made me sink deeper into that feeling of shame. I’d caused this whole big embarrassing scene, I told myself, for nothing.

I had more panic attacks after that. I white-knuckled through them. I didn’t talk about it. The embarrassment of that first panic attack had burrowed so deep that I was still ashamed. This went on for a long time.

During the course of all this, life went on. I graduated, traveled a ton, had a bunch of strange and interesting jobs, got married, and started writing.

I played around with a few different manuscripts before I started writing what turned into my middle grade debut, THE LONELY HEART OF MAYBELLE LANE. I started writing it because I’d just moved across the country, away from my family, and I was lonely. But then, I wrote more of myself into Maybelle. I gave her panic attacks, too. 

It wasn’t something I remember actively deciding to do. They were just…one part of her. For her, they started after she and her mom could no longer afford their home and had to move, an event for which Maybelle blamed herself.

Writing the book—no, writing this specific part of her—was deeply cathartic for me. Because no one else in the story judges Maybelle for her panic attacks. There is care, there is love, there is support, but there is no judgement. Because what kind of person would judge an eleven-year-old kid for their mental health struggles? Nobody decent, I realized. So maybe that meant I could stop judging myself.

And so in the process of writing about Maybelle’s panic attacks, I became more open about talking about my own. When a friend mentioned a panic attack she’d experienced, I told her that I got them, too. I started opening up about it; I let myself be vulnerable first in my writing, and then in my real life.

Funnily enough, my memory of that first panic attack started to change. I now remember it with tenderness toward myself instead of self-reproach, because I was essentially just a scared kid who had no idea what was happening to her.

Because here’s the secret: vulnerability can sometimes feel like the end of the world, but what it’s actually the end of is shame.

If you’re in a place of shame about anything, my advice is to open up. Shame dies in the light. Good people will want to support and love you. So rip the curtains aside. Talk about it. Be vulnerable. Be vulnerable in your writing, in your relationships, in your life. It can be scary, but I promise: it’s so worth it.

Meet Kate O’Shaughnessy

Kate O’Shaughnessy writes middle grade fiction. She has been a chef, earned a fellowship with the Yale Sustainable Food Program, and backpacked around the world. She and her husband live in Berkeley, CA. You can read more about her at kloshaughnessy.com and follow her on Twitter at @kloshaughnessy. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane is her debut novel.


Links:

www.kloshaughnessy.com

www.twitter.com/kloshaughnessy

www.instagram.com/kloshaughnessy

About The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane

This sparkling middle-grade debut is a classic-in-the-making!

Maybelle Lane is looking for her father, but on the road to Nashville she finds so much more: courage, brains, heart—and true friends.

Eleven-year-old Maybelle Lane collects sounds. She records the Louisiana crickets chirping, Momma strumming her guitar, their broken trailer door squeaking. But the crown jewel of her collection is a sound she didn’t collect herself: an old recording of her daddy’s warm-sunshine laugh, saved on an old phone’s voicemail. It’s the only thing she has of his, and the only thing she knows about him.

Until the day she hears that laugh—his laugh—pouring out of the car radio. Going against Momma’s wishes, Maybelle starts listening to her radio DJ daddy’s new show, drinking in every word like a plant leaning toward the sun. When he announces he’ll be the judge of a singing contest in Nashville, she signs up. What better way to meet than to stand before him and sing with all her heart?

But the road to Nashville is bumpy. Her starch-stiff neighbor Mrs. Boggs offers to drive her in her RV. And a bully of a boy from the trailer park hitches a ride, too. These are not the people May would have chosen to help her, but it turns out they’re searching for things as well. And the journey will mold them into the best kind of family—the kind you choose for yourself.

ISBN-13: 9781984893833
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The power of laughter in a time of crisis, a guest post by Nicole Kronzer

Senior year!

I had the most magnificent high school theater teacher. I was equal parts terrified and in awe of her because she treated teenagers like we mattered. Part of that meant being honest with us.

So when I went to her with my graduation speech, I got halfway through the delivery and she stopped me. “It’s so boring, Nicole. Don’t write what you think everyone wants to hear. What’s something you learned in high school that you think everyone should remember forever?”

I swallowed. “Uh…the power of laughter?”

“Then write that speech.”

So I did. I delivered that speech to a college basketball arena filled with my fellow graduates and the people who loved us. I pointed out fun facts about the number of calories burned while laughing and the endorphins it creates, interrupting the facts with impressions of our teachers and snippets from the song Make ‘em Laugh from Singin’ in the Rain. The crowd, as they say, went wild.

I look back on that speech now, twenty years later, and think: “Brave girl, Nicole.” And also, “You were right about the laughter.”

My very first book, a YA novel called Unscripted, came out April 21st. It takes place at an improv camp in the mountains of Colorado. I’ve been thinking about laughter and the power of laughter in all sorts of ways ever since high school.

This is such a weird time. My young daughters asked me, “What happened during pandemics when you were little, Mama?” and I tried not to scare them when I answered, “Nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime, sweet peas.” And then I tickled them. And showed them the “Horse with No Name” Rex Chapman tweet. When we were done, they still knew this was a singular time, but also that we could persevere.

Laughter does not distract us from the work we need to do, it fills our cups so we can do the work. So we can be strong for the kids who need us.

There’s all sorts of power in laughter. I knew it when I was eighteen and I wrote that graduation speech that brought the house down, I knew it at thirty-eight when I started writing Unscripted, and I know it today at forty, raising two little girls through a pandemic.

There is a lot that could overwhelm me, but I can handle it after watching Parks and Rec or Key and Peele. I can do hard things after giggling with my friend KC as she tries to tape ear buds into her weirdly shaped ears so we can take our separate runs together over the phone. I can read Crying Laughing by Lance Rubin and disappear for a while, rejuvenated when I close the book’s cover.

When times are difficult, we often deny ourselves the very things we need to survive those times: sleep, exercise, nutritious food, and togetherness. Our physical togetherness is limited right now, but laughter can bring us together, and give us the strength we need to keep going.

My eighteen-year-old self would urge you to take Donald O’Connor’s advice and Make ‘em Laugh. Or be the person who does the laughing. Or recommend books for students so they can laugh. No matter how you slice it, laughter will help us come out on the other side, ready for anything. 

Meet Nicole Kronzer

Photo credit: Dawn Busch

In addition to writing books for teenagers, her favorite people, Nicole Kronzer is a high school English teacher and former professional actor. She loves to knit and run (usually not at the same time), and has named all the plants in her classroom. She lives with her family in Minneapolis.


Socials: Instagram & Twitter: @nicolekronzer
Website: nicolekronzer.com

About Unscripted by Nicole Kronzer

A funny and timely debut YA about the toxic masculinity at a famous improv comedy camp

Seventeen-year-old Zelda Bailey-Cho has her future all planned out: improv camp, then Second City, and finally Saturday Night Live. She’s thrilled when she lands a spot on the coveted varsity team at a prestigious improv camp, which means she’ll get to perform for professional scouts—including her hero, Nina Knightley. But even though she’s hardworking and talented, Zelda’s also the only girl on Varsity, so she’s the target for humiliation from her teammates. And her 20-year-old coach, Ben, is cruel to her at practice and way too nice to her when they’re alone. Zelda wants to fight back, but is sacrificing her best shot at her dream too heavy a price to pay? Equal parts funny and righteous, Unscripted is a moving debut novel that Printz Award winner Nina LaCour calls “a truly special book, written at exactly the right time.”

ISBN-13: 9781419740848
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Local bookstores: Red Balloon, Wild Rumpus, Storied Owl, Magers & Quinn

Links to my book in each of these local bookstores: Red Balloon, Wild Rumpus, Storied Owl, Magers & Quinn

Buy link through my publisher

Book Review: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny queer YA contemporary novel about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Amanda’s thoughts

When I’m writing this review it’s March 20, 2020 and I’ve just been diagnosed as “COVID-19 concern,” which I guess is what they diagnose those of us who are sick with all the symptoms in this world of no available tests. I’m really into feeling sorry for myself today. But you know what helped? This book. I read it all today. And loved it. And thank goodness I’ve stumbled into a pile of books keeping my attention because wow have I been in a reading slump lately.

This book is my favorite kind of book: small plot, lots of talking. It also has delightfully convoluted communication mainly due to the fact that we first see our characters meet at a con and know each other as Peak and Bats. Peak (Jubilee) assumes Bats (Ridley) goes back home to Seattle, but really, he stays in Connecticut to live with his terrible father. Also, while they initially know nothing about one another, Ridley figures out who Peak is (Jubilee, daughter of a famous indie comic artist and his father’s main rival) while she knows nothing about him. Even for many, many chapters while they are hanging out in IRL. And Riley may be spying on her family’s store to get intel to help his dad (who, did I mention? is terrible). And when the reveal comes that not only is Ridley Jubilee’s con-crush Bats but is the son of her mom’s rival, things grow even MORE complicated, because how can Jubilee possibly still like him? But she does.

Whew. Get all that? You will when you read it.

There’s also a lot going on here regarding both mental health and sexuality. Ridley is bi. Jubilee calls herself “flexible” and isn’t comfortable with any one label yet, but knows she’s into certain people regardless of their gender. Ridley worries what Jubilee will think about him being bi, and Jubilee worries that repeatedly liking boys somehow makes her less queer. Then there’s Ridley’s mental health. At one point he tells Jubilee that he doesn’t have a diagnosis—he has a laundry list. His main issue is anxiety with panic attacks. Given the amount of lies and secrets he juggles for much of the book, it’s no surprise that his anxiety is always in high gear. Things start to become dangerous when he begins to feel like he’d just like to get lost in Jubilee and forget everything else. A common statement at our house is that people don’t fix people. So wanting to get lost in his girlfriend isn’t exactly a doctor-approved way to treat his worsening anxiety. Some bad choices and instability lead to everything coming to a head.

While this is certainly a romance, it’s also so much more. It really asks the question of how do you survive the dark times and doesn’t offer any easy answers. It’s also a great look at two people getting maybe too wrapped up in each other and not helping them be their best selves (does that sound like a mom lecture? I may or may not have given it recently). This is much heavier than it may appear based on the cover and the summary. That said, those looking for a contemporary that successfully mixes romance with some rather serious issues (and some concerning choices regarding lies, truth, and mental health) will enjoy this. A character-driven book with wide appeal.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516286
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Not Required Reading, Or How Changing What I Read Changed What I Wrote, a guest post by Polly Farquhar

A TBR stack of one of Polly’s kids!

Anyone who has kids or was once a kid themselves knows that a suggestion from a parent can be the kiss of death, particularly when it comes to reading material.  This was one hundred percent the dynamic between me and my own children.  Casual suggestions didn’t work.  Neither did subterfuge, otherwise known as putting a book I thought they might like in their bedroom and hoping they’ll think they discovered it all on their own.  If one of my kids tells me that a book doesn’t look good to them, they’re sticking with it, and probably more for parent/child reasons than book reasons. 

It took me a while to learn.  As a life-long reader and writer, it was one of my most difficult acts of self-control to not foist books upon my kids.  In the library or the bookstore, I had to restrain myself. Keep my hands in my pockets.  Don’t take a book off the shelf to look at.  It was like playing huckle buckle beanstalk when you don’t even dare to look in the direction of the object you’ve hidden—or, in this case, the book I wanted my child to pick up, check out, take home and read.  Sometimes I’d read the book myself, or read about it, or read other books by the author, and I just felt it in my bones.  My kids will love it!  Spoiler alert:  they won’t even crack it open. 

Another TBR stack from one of Polly’s kids!

I’m not sure at what point I surrendered.  And, honestly, they love to read, so I did not have the worry some parents might have when it comes to how and what their children are reading.  Set loose, my kids soared on without me dragging them in one direction or the other.

One would think I would have figured this out much sooner because of how I had struggled to do the same thing when it came to my own reading.  I always read what I was supposed to.  As an earnest high school writer who took herself very seriously, I read what I thought I was supposed to read—stuff like On the Road and The Catcher in the Rye—which, really, didn’t impress me (sorry not sorry).  But since that’s what I thought I should be reading, that’s what I read.  (Which itself is a whole other topic for discussion.) As a college English major, I read piles of books a week.  And while I did find new writers to admire (Virginia Woolf, Nella Larsen, Angela Carter), it was still required reading.  I headed off to graduate school and read Ulysses (twice!) and, as a student of creative writing, the works of visiting writers, editors of literary journals where I submitted short stories, and whatever books people were talking about on the rickety back porches of their graduate student apartments. 

It wasn’t until I had my first child and we headed off to baby storytime at the local public library that I gave myself the freedom to pick up any book I wanted for the first time since I was very young.  Nothing was assigned.  I wasn’t trying to impress anyone.  I chose anything from displays that caught my eye, or celebrity memoirs, or popular books that were going to be made into movies, or magazines.  I read anything I heard discussed on NPR that I thought sounded interesting, which was how I specifically got into middle grade, when Kate DiCamillo (before I even knew who Kate DiCamillo was) recommended Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Half  A Chance by Cynthia Lord, The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson, and Under the Egg Laura Marx Fitzgerald.  Books weren’t homework; they weren’t paper topics; they were new worlds and escape and wonder and the soft thunk of child’s head coming to rest on my shoulder as we settled in for our family read each night.  And at some point—whether it was from the joy of reading whatever I wanted, or just reaching a certain age—I decided I would never again feel guilty about not reading what anybody thought I ought to read.

Polly’s TBR pile!

I don’t know where I’d be as a writer if I’d not become a more open-minded and catholic reader.  Before, I judged my work by traditional and canonical standards I wasn’t even interested in but thought I should be, and it paralyzed me.  Before, I didn’t even know what middle grade was, or what great stories could be found there.  If I didn’t know what world my story could land in, how could I have written it?    

P.S.  Meanwhile…in the best example of turnabout is fair play, my kids have been stacking their favorite reads for me in my TBR pile.  (And of course I’ll read them all.)

P.P.S. I’d originally included how one of my kids had discovered all on their own and without my interference one of the middle grade books listed above and has now read it twice.  Hurrah!  But I was informed that she’d only checked it out from the library twice and hasn’t actually read it yet, and because parenting is a learning process, I forgot myself and said, “Read it! It’s great! I loved it!” and…it was a reminder to stay the course.

So much good reading going on at this house!

Polly’s favorite local indie bookstores in central Ohio are Cover to Cover and Gramercy Books.

Meet Polly Farquhar

Polly Farquhar grew up in a small town in upstate New York, graduated from the University at Albany, and then moved to Ohio, earning her MFA in Creative Writing from the Ohio State University.   If she’s not at the library with her kids or reading a book, you can find her baking (or eating) dairy-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, and sesame-free desserts.  Her debut novel, Itch, is available now.

You can find Polly at www.pollyfarquharauthor.com

Twitter: @PFKreader

About Itch by Polly Farquhar

When everything around you is going wrong, how far would you go to fit in?

Isaac’s sixth grade year gets off to a rough start.

For one thing, a tornado tears the roof off the school cafeteria. His mother leaves on a two month business trip to China. And as always. . . . there’s the itch. It comes out of nowhere. Idiopathic, which means no one knows what causes it. It starts small, but it spreads, and soon—it’s everywhere. It’s everything. It’s why everyone calls him Itch—everyone except his best friend Sydney, the only one in all of Ohio who’s always on his side, ever since he moved here.

He’s doing the best he can to get along—until everything goes wrong in the middle of a lunch swap. When Sydney collapses and an ambulance is called, Itch blames himself. And he’s not the only one. When you have no friends at all, wouldn’t you do anything—even something you know you shouldn’t—to get them back?

Drawing on her own experiences with idiopathic angioedema and food allergies, Polly Farquhar spins a tale of kids trying to balance the desire to be ordinary with the need to be authentic—allergies, itches, confusion and all.

For everyone who’s ever felt out of place, this debut novel set in the Ohio heartland is a warm, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking look at middle school misfits and misadventures. Whether you root for the Buckeyes or have no clue who they are, you’ll be drawn into Itch’s world immediately. This engaging debut is perfect for fans of See You in the Cosmos and Fish in a Tree.

A Junior Library Guild Selection

ISBN-13: 9780823445523
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Fiction Revelations: How Writing a Book about Witches and Murder Got Me My OCD diagnosis, a guest post by E. Latimer

The problems began in kindergarten.

Near the start of the year, I apparently got myself locked in the school bathroom, my five-year-old self fumbling with a sticky door that wouldn’t come unlatched. I don’t remember this event, but I do remember what came after. This experience seemed to break something in my brain. I spent the next year simultaneously terrified to go into those bathrooms, and totally convinced I had to go.

Over the following days and weeks, this fixation became absolute. No matter how much or how little water I would drink, it was a constant thought in the back of my mind. It became so bad that my parents took me in for “explorative surgery” to see if something was physically wrong with me.

There was nothing.

In my early teens, this strange, embarrassing obsession began to fade. But my relief was short-lived. Rather than disappearing altogether, the intense focus seemed to shift. Now, instead of constantly wondering if I really had to go, or it was just my imagination, I was suddenly fixated on my breathing instead.

Multiple times throughout the day I would notice it and begin to “accidentally” regulate my own breathing. I would worry I wasn’t breathing deeply enough, I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I was overcome by the idea that I kept noticing my breath, that I would never stop noticing.

Whenever I tried to tell my parents, none of my explanations made sense. No, I wasn’t worried I’d stop breathing, not exactly. Yes, I knew I was still actually breathing because I’d be passed out if I wasn’t. Yes, I knew it was all ridiculous.

The “breathing thing” as I called it, continued on into adulthood. Eventually I went to a doctor, who gave me nasal spray. Then another doctor, who told me it was GAD. Then a psychologist, and then another. More GAD diagnosis. Nothing really made sense, and finally, I simply gave up.

Sometimes the obsession would retreat for a while, and I’d feel almost normal. I’d go for months like that, thinking I was okay. And then something would trigger it, and it was back into another endless cycle of obsession. It ate up weeks of my life, including an entire vacation at a beautiful resort, where I spent seven full days trapped in my own head, wrestling with this obsession (I hardly remember anything about that trip).

Each time I’d think about trying to get help for it, I’d remember the doctors and psychologists I’d already seen, and how hard it was to explain this, and I’d give up all over again.

Then, a little over two years ago, I was talking to a good friend, L.D. Crichton, author of All Our Broken Pieces, and she mentioned that the book she was currently writing was something she was very emotionally attached to, that she was putting all her fear and worries and anxiety onto those pages, and it was an incredible feeling.

It felt like something in me woke up at that moment, a strange, intense kind of need, and all I could think was, I want that.

But I wasn’t sure how to do that. I’m a fantasy writer. I write about magic. Wizards and witches and portraits that come alive and try to murder people. Where in this type of work, did mental health fit?

The book I was working on in that moment was about rival covens in Ireland. It was about witches, yes, but it was set in contemporary times, which made me think, why not? Why couldn’t I put all my mental health struggles into my main character? The anxiety, the doctors, the psychologists, the frustrations of not feeling like your diagnosis matches.

And so I did.

The process was intense, to say the least. It was simultaneously relieving and triggering. I would write for long hours and then have to take breaks for a few days, just to pull myself out of my own head. But once it was all done and on the page, it felt like a triumph. Like I had overcome my anxiety and triggers and written this book, and that was truly a feat.

But as I finished, and began to read it over with revisions in mind, there was something else aside from my triumph I was feeling, a kind of growing certainty that I’d never had before. Rereading bits of the narrative, my character’s thoughts and feelings, made it clearer than it had ever been. The doctors had been wrong. The psychologists had been wrong. This was not panic disorder, or general anxiety disorder, or PPD, as one psychologist tried to diagnose me with after the birth of my child. None of those things fit. None of them made sense. I had been talking to one professional after another, but none of them had listened. Not really.

After this realization, I dove into research with a newly found fire. Article after article, online forums and facebook pages and twitter threads. I searched all the keywords I could possibly think of. And finally I hit on something that seemed to match. Something that described me with alarming accuracy.

Determined, I went hunting through psychologists, and found one who specialized in OCD. An expert in this specific area.

It took one session with him. A short initial interview, and an on paper test that I ticked off—yes, yes, yes, yes, all of the above—and that…was that.

Somatic OCD. A subtype of OCD focused on autonomic, or non-conscious body processes and functions.

I stumbled out into the bright sunshine after the session, a little stunned. It felt surreal, having lived with this since the age of five, and just now finally getting confirmation that yes, I was right. Yes, I wasn’t overreacting or imagining things. I felt complete and utter relief.

I would feel other things later. Anger, that I’d lost so much time to this obsession. Hurt, that I’d never been able to articulate myself properly to my family. Indignation, that our mental health system had allowed me and so many others to slip through the cracks…

But I think I’ve finally settled in a good place. Witches of Ash and Ruin not only helped me get my diagnosis, I can now use it to connect with readers like me. People who are struggling to understand what’s happening to them. People who aren’t aware that OCD can look radically different in different people. And people who are just hungry to see themselves in a fantasy novel, which many of us with mental illnesses never get to experience.

And  I will forever be grateful to the writing experience that led me here. I finally have help. Confidence. Clarity. It just took twenty-seven years and a book about murderous Irish Gods and sapphic witches in order to get here.

Meet E. Latimer

photo credit: Becky Forsayeth

E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, was released March 3rd from Little Brown.

Find out more at http://www.elatimer.com/

About Witches of Ash and Ruin

Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.

ISBN-13: 9781368052252
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

How to Succeed as a Teen Writer, a guest post by Olivia Smit

The gift of writing and sharing stories is such a valuable one, but it can be incredibly difficult … especially if you’re young! Although I’m not a teenager anymore (I’m only 23, though, so I’m still pretty close), I still remember trying to figure out my writing journey in my teens. What was my process going to look like? What kinds of stories did I want to tell?

I am FAR from a perfect author, but over the years I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice that I think are especially useful for teen writers, and it’s a joy to share some of them with you today.

A storyboard.

Read. Often.

Maybe this seems too obvious. Maybe it seems too simple! But the best advice I can possibly give you – or any author, of any age! – is to keep reading. A lot of the time, especially if your schedule is crazy (Assignments! Social life! Part-time jobs!) it can be easy to prioritize your writing time above your reading time. Some authors stop reading altogether! The problem with this is while it may initially give you more time to write, eventually, if you close yourself off to all other words except your own, the quality of your writing will suffer.

Think about it this way: if you stop reading and just write all the time, you’re kind of putting yourself in a closed loop. After a while, you’ll be so used to your own words, style, and quirks, your creativity and originality will suffer. You need to keep reading so that your brain is forced to encounter and process ideas and words that are different than your own! The creative side of your brain is a muscle … don’t let it atrophy! Keep feeding it with the words of others so that it will stay strong enough to fuel your own writing.

Understand the two types of writer’s block.

Sometimes, when I’m writing, I get stuck. Everyone does! Some people call this “writer’s block” … and others insist that it doesn’t exist. I’m not here to argue about terms, but I will admit that sometimes when I’m writing, I lose motivation. Things get slow. My ideas seem to dry up. And this seems to happen for one of two reasons:

1. I’m not writing enough.

If I’ve been putting my writing at the bottom of the priority list, opening my Word document once or twice a week and half-heartedly putting down a few sentences, my lack of enthusiasm just breeds MORE un-enthusiastic writing. The best way to fix this is to put your writing back at the top of the priority list, set aside some serious time, and GET WRITING. At first it will be hard. Your writing will feel terrible. You’ll wonder if your entire career is over forever. But if you keep throwing words onto the page, eventually, you’ll find your stride. You’ll type something good – and then, your passion will start to return again.

2. Sometimes, I get stuck because I’m writing TOO MUCH.

If I’ve been spending hours a day on a manuscript, pouring all of my free time into my gloriously exciting story idea, sometimes I hit a point where I can’t think any more because I’m so tired. When this happens, I need to listen to my brain and take a break. Sometimes all I need is a day or two, and sometimes I need a week where I put my project away and consume other people’s words and stories again. I read books. I watch TV. I go for walks. I talk to my friends. And then, when my tank is feeling filled up and I have words in my head again, I go back to writing.

Pinterest board for inspiration.

Take yourself seriously!

One of the most frustrating parts about being a teen writer (or a teen in general) is feeling like adults don’t really take you seriously. And there will be people who underestimate you just because of your age! This is why it’s so important to take YOURSELF seriously. If you can show people that you’re not messing around – you’re serious and passionate about writing amazing stories, no matter your age – most people will respect that.

Here’s the truth: you are just as good as many adult authors (and probably better than some of them) regardless of how old you are! Your age doesn’t determine the quality of your writing. Your hard work, talent, and perseverance does.

Don’t worry too much about your resume.

I started trying to find a publisher for “Seeing Voices” when I was around 20 years old, and when I started doing research into the publishing process I was immediately discouraged by my lack of qualifications. I didn’t belong to any writing guilds or societies. I hadn’t gone to any conferences. I didn’t have stories published in journals or magazines. I hadn’t won any awards. For a little while, I wondered if this would bar me from the publishing world forever! However, as I met other authors and continued to pursue agents and publishers, I heard a number of people say that the quality of the writing is the MOST important thing – more than your publishing qualifications or the number of followers you have.

Don’t be discouraged – and don’t waste too much time stressing about your lack of experience, education, or previously published pieces. Take all that energy and time and use it to keep working on your own writing skills, instead!

Another board for inspiration.

Do your research.

Don’t rush into the publishing process! A lot of teen writers are so eager to make a name for themselves that they rush through writing, editing, and even publishing their novel – and then look back and wish they’d taken a little more time to make sure it was perfect. It took me four or five years to write and edit “Seeing Voices,” and another ten months of querying before I signed my publishing contract! Take your time – and take advantage of the resources that are out there! The Go Teen Writers website (www.goteenwriters.com) helped me so much as a teen writer, and I still often look back at their posts when I need advice!

Wherever you are in your writing journey, I wish you all the luck in the world! Teenagers today are doing incredible things and writing amazing, beautiful stories: I believe in you as a young author, and I can’t wait to see your book on shelves soon.

Meet Oliva Smit

Olivia Smit loves baking, visiting small towns, and writing stories that face hard truth with hope and encouragement. Olivia has an Honours Specialization in Creative Writing, English Language, and Literature and lives in Canada with her family. Seeing Voices is her first novel. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter, and at her website, oliviasmit.ca.

Oliva’s local indie bookstore is Type Books in Toronto.

About Seeing Voices

Skylar Brady has a for her life—until a car accident changes everything.

Skylar knows exactly what she wants, and getting in a car accident the summer before twelfth grade isn’t supposed to be part of the plan. Although she escapes mostly unharmed, the accident has stolen more than just her hearing from her: she’s also lost the close bond she used to have with her brother.

When her parents decide to take a house-sitting job halfway across the province, it’s just one more thing that isn’t going according to plan. As the summer progresses, Skylar begins to gain confidence in herself, but as she tries to mend her relationship with her brother, she stumbles upon another hidden trauma. Suddenly, she’s keeping as many secrets as she’s struggling to uncover and creating more problems than she could ever hope to solve.

ISBN-13: 9781946531629
Publisher: WhiteFire Publishing
Publication date: 04/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years