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Book Review: Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Every Body Looking

Publisher’s description

“Candice Iloh’s beautifully crafted narrative about family, belonging, sexuality, and telling our deepest truths in order to be whole is at once immensely readable and ultimately healing.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York TimesBestselling Author of Brown Girl Dreaming

“An essential—and emotionally gripping and masterfully written and compulsively readable—addition to the coming-of-age canon.”—Nic Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author of Dear Martin

“This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set onthe backs of first-generation children, the pressures woven into the familydynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person.” —Jason Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Way Down

Candice Iloh weaves the key moments of Ada’s young life—her mother’s descent into addiction, her father’s attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria, her first year at a historically black college—into a luminous and inspiring verse novel.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s a thing that I say probably way too many times on this blog: I’m a character-driven reader who doesn’t need much more plot beyond “a person tries to figure out how to be a person in the world.” To me, there is no bigger, deeper, more compelling plot than that. And this book is such a wonderful exploration of how to be yourself. I read it in one sitting, which is a statement that probably makes authors die a little, given how long it takes to write a book.

While the current timeline of the story is during Ada’s first few weeks at a HBCU, we also see important moments from her life as a young child and again in middle school. Ada has always felt different and alone. Readers learn about her estrangement from her addict mother, her strict and religious Nigerian father, and the pressures Ada has always felt. College will finally allow her some freedom to find out who she really is, away from her family, but of course the idea of “finding yourself” sounds easier than it actually is.

Iloh writes, “when you start growing/further away from/what used to be home/you go looking for somewhere/that lets you be/what’s inside your head.”

I’m not sure I’ve read any better lines in any book this year. There is nothing Ada wants more than to be the person inside her head. She’s always been drawn to dance, but her practical father never saw the point in pursuing it. A chance encounter with Kendra, another dancer, provides connection and the encouragement to follow her desire.

It is both painful and joyful to watch Ada change, grow, learn, and become. At college, she has the freedom to explore her own mind, to find something that is hers, and to be seen. Ada discovers the power of seeing herself reflected, she learns what she wants and will tolerate in relationships, and she seeks to make her own path, uncertain how to do that and making mistakes along the way.

A hopeful, beautifully written, deeply affecting story of what we endure and overcome in the journey to become ourselves.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525556206
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis

Publisher’s Book Description:

One girl and her doppelgangers try to stop the end of the world in this YA sci-fi adventure

When Hazel Stanczak was born, an interdimensional rift tore open near her family’s home, which prompted immediate government attention. They soon learned that if Hazel strayed too far, the rift would become volatile and fling things from other dimensions onto their front lawn—or it could swallow up their whole town. As a result, Hazel has never left her small Pennsylvania town, and the government agents garrisoned on her lawn make sure it stays that way. On her sixteenth birthday, though, the rift spins completely out of control. Hazel comes face-to-face with a surprise: a second Hazel. Then another. And another. Three other Hazels from three different dimensions! Now, for the first time, Hazel has to step into the world to learn about her connection to the rift—and how to close it. But is Hazel—even more than one of her—really capable of saving the world? 

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was a fun read with touches of interesting real world insight. Hazel lives with a bizarre rift in her home that she is somehow attached to, and it seems like the government is keeping a ton of secrets. On her 16th birthday the rift breaks open and she finds herself face to face with several different dimensional versions of herself and a task to save the world. It’s a wild ride, without a doubt. And such a unique concept.

Corinne Duyvis is the creator of the #OwnVoices hashtag as well as a participant in the Disability in Kidlit website and she takes an opportunity to enrich this story with lots of depth, including introducing a character who identifies as asexaul, talking realistically about mental health, and providing the first character that I am aware of in YA lit that struggles with endometriosis and painful periods.

Also, there is a dragon. I feel like everyone should know there is a dragon. And the dragon is really cool.

This was a unique concept with strong characters and some insightful discussion. It’s interesting to see how different Hazel and her life is in different dimensions and yet how alike it is in many ways. Like most teens Hazel is trying to figure out who she is and what her place is in this world, she just has to do it with several different versions of herself while literally trying to save the world from a dimensional rift that somehow seems tied to her. It’s a wild ride that I really recommend.

This book releases on September 15 from Amulet books.

Book Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Publisher’s Book Description:

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Karen’s Thoughts:

When I read a book, I can’t help but read it with multiple hats. One hat is me, a person who reads for pleasure and enlightenment. The other hat is me, a librarian who serves teens. Although both recognize a good book, the reasons are often not the same. This is a great book, for all of the reasons.

Told in verse, this is a quick but moving read. Poetry was the exact perfect form for this novel. It captures the essence of this far too common tragedy and related it in stirring, beautiful verses that have perfectly chosen words, format and sometimes even visuals. As I read it I couldn’t help but think of what a perfect book this would be to help teach kids about poetry.

This is also a powerful story about the healing and expressive powers of art. That is one of my favorite topics.

This is also a story that has a Muslim main character and talks about things like prayer, belief and family. Although there is growing Muslim representation in YA lit, it is very few and far between and under-represented.

This is also an insightful look into juvenile incarceration. At one of my library jobs I used to visit a juvenile detention center and have always felt that there should be more YA that investigates the life of teens behind bars, wrongly convicted or not. Monster by Walter Dean Myers is another book on this topic that hopefully everyone has read. We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss is a recent book that looks at a teen who is not only incarcerated but on death row.

That is the librarian hat.

As a reader, this is a moving, powerful and important book. I’m actually old enough to remember the Central Park Jogger case and have been following the story of the Exonerated Five for some time. I recently saw Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam talk about this book as part of the SLJ Summer Teen virtual event. And as our nation, our world, continues to wrestle with topics of racism, policing and incarceration, this is a much needed entry into that discussion made all the more powerful because of the very true perspective that Yusef brings to the narrative.

This book is moving, powerful, thoughtful and important. It’s profoundly well written and emotionally impactful. It is without a doubt a must have for all and will be a classic. Highly recommended. You will be moved by the story of Amal and his efforts to keep hope in a system that is designed to steal it from you.

Releases tomorrow, September 1, 2020, by Balzer + Bray

Book Review: Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Publisher’s Book Description:

Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was an intense read. From the moment we meet Caroline we are drawn into her quest not just for her missing friend Madison, but for herself after her girlfriend Willa has left her. Caroline was already broken and barely hanging on, and then her world truly comes unraveling. I actually really hated Caroline, she’s jaded and angry and lost, but it’s all deserved and understandable and I felt compassion for her. I was invested in her story; she is truly a deeply moving and complicated main character.

Throwaway Girls uses some really great storytelling devices to keep you invested. There are chapters told by an unknown narrator that keep you wondering. There are twists and turns. And there is the truth about missing girls and powerful men and how our society treats both of them. This is the type of novel that entertains and enlightens, pulling back the curtain on serious issues and asking us as readers to think deeply about them. And think about them you will, for a very long time.

Although the title of this novel is Throwaway Girls and it is definitely about that, the thing that I am still left thinking about days later is what this book tells us about powerful men. This is a story full of powerful men who keep secrets, abuse their power, and feel like they are entitled to the world. And at the end of the day, when all the truths are finally revealed, the people in their lives are still more worried about protecting the image of these monsters disguised as men then they are protecting the “throwaway girls” who will now have to navigate life broken and struggling with lifelong trauma. I walked away from the pages of this powerful and moving novel shaking with rage at the truths revealed. You can jump on to Google right now and find thousands of real life stories that validate the underlying premise of Throwaway Girls, and that will never not make me angry.

The topic of Throwaway Girls is not new to YA, but it’s definitely dealt with in powerful and meaningful ways here. I would recommend adding Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson to a reading of this book. While Throwaway Girls talks very much about socio-economic disadvantage and how some girls have more worth then others when they go missing, and Monday’s Not Coming adds the reality of race and racism into this discussion. Both points of view are powerful.

In addition to the discussion of missing girls, Throwaway Girls deals a lot with Caroline and her sexual identity. Caroline is a lesbian growing up in a conservative family who has sent her to conversion therapy. She struggles with mental health issues – she takes medication for anxiety – and she has attempted suicide in the pass. She’s just hanging on until the age of 18 so that she can leave and start her real life where she can be her authentic self. My heart broke for her and this book really highlights how lack of support and acceptance can seriously harm our youth.

This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.

This book will be released September 1st by Kids Can Press

Book Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Publisher’s Book Description:

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

Published July 7 by Bloomsbury YA

Karen’s Thoughts: I spent most of The Teen’s toddler and early childhood years watching Cinderella over and over and over again. I know a few things about Cinderella, both in story form and in the Disneyfied version. I’m here to tell you, this is a wickedly cool twisted tale that will knock every readers socks off. Nothing was ever what I expected and it managed to surprise me at several turns.

This is both an amazing feminist and queer re-interpretation of Cinderella. Well, it’s not so much a re-interpretation as it is a look at what happens later after the story ended and how Cinderella’s legacy is used to manipulate and control women. It’s a dark dystopian in the tradition of The Handmaid’s Tale or newer feminist YA dystopians like The Grace Year. It’s poignant, chilling and powerful, and it puts a queer Black girl front and center, something that unfortunately doesn’t happen as often as it should in YA fantasy.

For every reader who wants to overthrow the patriarchy, this book is an entertaining read and a satisfyingly cathartic place holder and re-imagining of what that can look like. And it’s full of spooky twists along the way. Recommended.

Book Review: The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

Publisher’s Book Description: A sharp and romantic novel about two suburban teens who can’t sleep uncovering the secrets of their neighborhood by night. Think The Summer I Turned Pretty with flashes of Rear Window!

When seventeen-year-old competitive diver Ingrid freezes up and sustains a head injury at a routine meet, her orderly life is turned upside down. Now housebound and sedentary on doctor’s orders, Ingrid can’t sleep and is haunted by the question of what triggered her uncharacteristic stage fright.

The only thing she remembers about the moment before the dive is seeing Van, her neighbor, former best friend, and forever crush, on the sidelines. Then one sleepless night, she sees Van outside her window…looking right back at her. They tentatively begin “not sleeping” together every night but still living separate lives by day.

Ingrid tells herself this is just temporary, but soon, she and Van are up every night together, increasingly intertwined in helping each other put pieces of memory together. As Van works through his own reasons for not being able to sleep, both of them are pulled into a mystery that threatens to turn their quiet neighborhood into a darker place than they realized. 

Karen’s Thoughts:

I read this book yesterday and writing my review now while my thoughts are fresh. For the most part, I would highly recommend this book except an issue regarding consent and the power dynamics of age and position involved, which I will discuss in a moment.

The Insomniacs really grabbed me from the get go. Our main character, Ingrid, has suffered a major concussion in a diving accident and now she can’t sleep at night. She soon learn that estranged childhood friend and hot dude Van across the street also is having problems with insomnia. Van, having been through this issue before and having had counseling, knows a lot about the psychology of insomnia which leads to some interesting discussions about mental health and sleep tucked into this book.

The two soon realize that the reason they can’t sleep may be tied together by the same events and involve an abandoned house next door. So they spend their nights staring out Ingrid’s bedroom window which has the best view and bonding. Secrets are shared and old memories are dissected as they discuss why, exactly, Ingrid stopped hanging around with Van, Max and Wilson. The four of them used to be best friends but they day in which her father very publicly left was the day that changed everything.

On the surface, this book is a moody mystery about neighborhood secrets. But this book is really a deep exploration into emotions, identity, growing up and changing, and family dynamics. One of the things that I truly loved about this book was that it was raw, earnest and felt authentic. Some of the YA I read throws me right out of the narrative because the teens often seem like mini adults that have been arbitrarily and conveniently slapped with the YA label to make it marketable as YA; not so with The Insomniacs, these teens were realistically and messily plodding through complicated age appropriate feelings with the world awareness and experience of a 17-year-old. They were confused by the actions of others, they did things they knew were wrong and continued to do them because they didn’t have the tools to do them differently, and they made mistakes that negatively effected their relationships because, again, they didn’t have the emotional tools to do those things differently. In other words, they were authentic teens trying to figure out how to navigate a world of complex emotions and feelings.

The mystery element was intriguing from page one and it involves a lot of elements that are related for both Ingrid and Van. Every step of the way you want to keep reading to find out what, exactly, is happening in the house next door and why it’s keeping Ingrid and Van awake each night.

The book does involve a discussion about the age of consent and positions of power in an adult-teen relationship that I think could have been more fully addressed. Although a majority of the characters clearly condemn this relationship and parties are held accountable, the teen involved makes comments that seem to minimize or justify the relationship and that made me feel uncomfortable as someone who understands the power dynamics that are often at play here.

Most of the characters are presumed white and straight, though Van is a biracial teen with Japanese and white parents. Issues discussed include mental health, therapy, divorce and parental alienation, adultery, consent and abuse, drug use, and addiction. Family and friendship are big themes in this book as well. Bonus points because it involves a teen involved in a sport we don’t see mentioned much in YA – competitive diving – and it really looks deeply into the pressures that teens face academically and trying to get into college, including athletic scholarships. The Insomniacs really understands the complexity of teen life and the issues that they face.

At times this book reads like a long, languid dream, an apt mood for a book about teens who can’t sleep. It was different in pace and tone and incredibly intriguing. Plus, I liked the characters and wanted them to succeed on their own and as a couple who clearly should and wanted to be together. It’s definitely a deep and complex novel that takes on heavy teen issues with the gravitas I think that they deserve. Overall, I recommend this book, with the caveat that I would have liked to have seen the issues of consent more fully developed.

This book comes out September 1st from Flatiron Books

Book Reviews, Thrillers Edition: Little Creeping Things and Nobody Knows But You

Reading during the pandemic has been hard for me. Very, very hard. But I have managed to finally finish a few books lately and I thought I would take a moment to do a quick review here.

Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

Publisher’s Book Description and Reviews/Praise

“Chelsea Ichaso has without a doubt written the breakout thriller of the year.” —DANA MELE, author of People Like Us

A compulsively readable debut with a narrator who can’t be trusted, perfect for fans of Natasha Preston.

When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. She’s pretty sure she didn’t mean to do it, and she’d give anything to forget that awful day. But her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down. In Melody’s eyes, Cassidy is a murderer and always will be.

Then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information about what happened. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what’s really going on before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.

“Everyone’s a suspect, and no one is safe, in this twisty debut from a compelling new voice in YA, Chelsea Ichaso. Don’t miss it!” —KIT FRICK, author of See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us, and I Killed Zoe Spanos

“Little Creeping Things is a stunning debut in every sense of the word. From the chilling opening pages to the jaw-dropping final reveal, the pacing is relentless, the twists dizzying. Cass is the best kind of unreliable narrator, delightfully acerbic and hopelessly sincere even when she isn’t telling the truth. Chelsea Ichaso has without a doubt written the breakout thriller of the year.” —DANA MELE, author of People Like Us

“Ichaso’s debut is a riveting whodunnit… a psychological thriller worthy of mystery aficionados.”—SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Little Creeping Things, with its cast of creepy and untrustworthy characters, will satisfy the appetites of all manner of mystery fans.”—BOOKLIST

“The reveal…is both well earned and eerie.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS

Karen’s Thoughts:

I’ve been on a real run with thrillers for a while now and this one did not disappoint. There were a lot of twists and turns and every time I thought I knew what was going on, I was wrong. This is a compulsively readable book that keeps you invested. This will be a great addition to any teen collection. And for those of you who want a little bit of substance with your books, you will also find themes of childhood trauma, gaslighting, and abuse. It’s dark, but as I’ve told you before, dark is good. Put this in the hands of Karen McManus fans asap. Published in June by Sourcebooks.

Nobody Knows But You by Anica Mrose Rissi

Publisher’s Book Description:

Maybe a killer only looks like a killer in the moment just before, during, or after.

Maybe a liar, a good one, never shows it.

Kayla is still holding on to Lainie’s secrets.

After all, Lainie is Kayla’s best friend. And despite Lainie’s painful obsession with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, and the ways he has tried to come between them, friends don’t spill each other’s secrets. They don’t betray each other’s trust.

The murder at the end of the summer doesn’t change all that.

Besides—Kayla knows that the truth is not the whole story.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Yes, it’s another thriller. What can I say? Thrillers are my jam right now. Though the ending of this one was less surprising for me, it was still a pretty tight psychological thriller that teens will like. This book is about summer camp gone horribly wrong and for teens missing out on summer camp this year, it’s the perfect anecdote. Fans of Megan Miranda, Karen McManus and Lauren Oliver should be have there thirst for a good murder quenched by this summer read. Publishes September by HarperTeen.

What can I say? A good thriller or two is just what I needed to help me end my pandemic reading slump.

Book Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Publisher’s Book Description: It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them. 

Karen’s Thoughts: I do love a good twisted fairy tale. And in this case I do mean seriously twisted.*

Having recently read – AND LOVED – The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, I found this to be a great next read in the girl rebel against patriarchal towns genre. It’s by no means a new genre, but this was a really fascinating take on the concept with the way that the legend of Cinderella is woven into the storyline. It is also fiercely pro-LGBTQ in ways that many other smash the patriarchy books have failed to be. And it stars a main character of color, which again is often under represented. So this book definitely helps fill a lot of gaps that are vastly under-represented in YA literature. We need a lot more books like this, books that are intersectional in their feminism.**

Every twist in this tale will delight and astound readers. I had no idea where exactly it was going to go and was amazed at the ways that Bayron could take the tale of Cinderella and use it as the base for her story and then completely change it in such creative and twisted ways. This twisted tale will challenge, delight and thrill readers. Highly recommended.

Epic Reads Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

*When it comes to book reviews, twisted is a compliment. Less so when you are talking about horrific presidents and real life serial killers.

**For more YA with intersectional feminism check out Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang to get you started.

Riley’s Post It Note Reviews: Bent Heavens, Harrow Lake and Five Total Strangers

It’s time for another installment of Riley’s Post It Note Reviews where a teen tells us what she thinks about some of the recent Young Adult literature she has read.

Bent Heaven by Daniel Kraus

Publisher’s Book Description:

Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands. 

Post It Note Review: This book is so interesting. There was always a new surprise.

Editor’s Note: I was so excited that Riley wanted to read this book because I read it earlier and really liked it and wanted someone to talk about it with! This book is a stunning read and it’s out now.

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Publisher’s Book Description:

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her. But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot.

The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking Lola’s every move.

The more she discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her…

Post It Note Review: This book is very creepy. I wanted to keep reading it forever. The ending is now what I expected.

Editor’s Note: This book was a wild ride. Riley talked to me a lot about all the truly bizarre twists and turns in this book. It comes out in August 2020 from Kathy Dawson Books

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

Publisher’s Book Description:

A hitched ride home in a snow storm turns sinister when one of the passengers is plotting for the ride to end in disaster.

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

Post It Note Review: This was a very captivating read. The action never stopped.

Editor’s Note: Natalie D. Richards is a solid choice for teen thrillers, always. This book was especially fascinating because Riley’s father and I once rented a car with strangers during a blizzard while stranded at an airport. We were young college kids and I’m happy to report that no one in our journey was murderous. In hindsight, I of course do not recommend anyone do this. But the book was fascinating. This book comes out in October from Sourcebooks.

Three YA Titles That Talk About Black Lives Matters and Protests

For the past several weeks the United States – and the world, really – has been wrestling with our deep and unrelenting history of racism with a series of global protests. As a white woman, I have seen a lot of my teens and friends wrestling with what this moment means in history. I’ve also seen a lot of important conversations about what protests can and should look like, with some pretty profound discussion about things like tone policing. One of the comments I have seen over and over again is that white people like me don’t get to tell Black people how to feel or respond to the justified anger they have about history, policing and racism in general. Today I want to share with you some excellent books by Own Voices Black authors that tackle this topic that is relevant reading, especially for white readers who are looking to engage in anti-racist reading.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher’s Book Description:

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

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

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

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. 

Karen’s Thoughts: This book has been on the New York Time’s Besteseller List, usually in the #1 spot, for over 2 years now. It has also been made into a major motion picture which you should watch, but only after reading the book. I read this book with an adult book club I am in. The members of my book club are all white women in their 30s or higher and range from liberal to very conservative. This conversation was one of the ones I was most tense about having but it went surprisingly well. This book really focuses on its main character, Starr, trying to find her voice when her friend is killed by a police officer while she sits in the car next to him. It’s stark, haunting and should move everyone to anger. Part of Starr’s voice comes in choosing to participate in local protests.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Publisher’s Book Description:

Rashad is absent again today.

That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…

Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.

And that’s how it started.

And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.

Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.

Cuz that’s how it can end.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is such a great book and I highly recommend it. This book tells a compelling story which is told in alternating points of view, with both a Black and white main character. The internal dialogues of both characters and how they wrestle with the police shooting and whether or not they want to get involved in the protests is profound. Like The Hate U Give, this book is essential reading.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely on NPR

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Publisher’s Book Description:

“An absolute page turner, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight is a compelling and powerful novel that is sure to make an impact.” —Angie Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U Give

An NAACP Image Award Nominee, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight follows two teen girls—one black, one white—who have to confront their own assumptions about racial inequality as they rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has set their city on fire with civil unrest.

Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.

When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.

They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.

Karen’s Thoughts: I listened to this audio book just yesterday while shelving books in a new branch that my system is hoping to open soon. Like All American Boys, this book also is told with two alternating point of view with both a Black and a white main character. There is mention of Black Lives Matter and protests in this title, but this book also most explicitly talks about and uses the word riot. This is a town that has obviously been struggling with racial tension for quite some time. There is discussion about how when the police show up the situation escalates, there is very specific discussion about white privilege, and many other nuanced conversations about race take place within this story. I highly recommend this book for everyone.

Also, please check out author Kimberly Jones talking about the Black Lives Matter movement in the videos below.