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Book Review: The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer

Publisher’s description

A novel about friendship, feminism, and the knotty complications of tradition and privilege, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Stephanie Perkins.

Jemima Kincaid is a feminist, and she thinks you should be one, too. Her private school is laden with problematic traditions, but the worst of all is prom. The guys have all the agency; the girls have to wait around for “promposals” (she’s speaking heteronormatively because only the hetero kids even go). In Jemima’s (very opinionated) opinion, it’s positively medieval.

Then Jemima is named to Senior Triumvirate, alongside superstar athlete Andy and popular, manicured Gennifer, and the three must organize prom. Inspired by her feminist ideals and her desire to make a mark on the school, Jemima proposes a new structure. They’ll do a Last Chance Dance: every student privately submits a list of crushes to a website that pairs them with any mutual matches.

Meanwhile, Jemima finds herself embroiled in a secret romance that she craves and hates all at once. Her best friend, Jiyoon, has found romance of her own, but Jemima starts to suspect something else has caused the sudden rift between them. And is the new prom system really enough to extinguish the school’s raging dumpster fire of toxic masculinity?

Filled with Kate Hattemer’s signature banter, this is a fast-paced and thoughtful tale about the nostalgia of senior year, the muddle of modern relationships, and how to fight the patriarchy when you just might be part of the patriarchy yourself.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: as an adult, with lots of distance to reflect on my teenage self, there are times I see a lot of myself in a character (or a real teen, for that matter) and feel a sense of connection and nostalgia, but also feel embarrassment and frustration. Enter Jemima Kincaid, strident feminist who makes many missteps and has a lot to learn. Oh, hi there, teenager who is “different” from everyone and proudly so, who totally hates everything related to high school traditions and expectations. I see you. I feel you.

Jemima attends a private school in Virginia. She’s straight, wealthy, and a feminist. She hates the patriarchy (“chauvinistic asshattery”) but doesn’t yet think too hard about the ways she’s internalized things from it, the way she’s complicit in it. Her best friend is Jiyoon, but Jemima is not always a great friend to her, or to anyone. She’s part of the ruling body of the senior class but see’s herself as a total outsider disliked by everyone. Jemima is anti-Powederpuff, anti-prom, anti-dress code, anti-whatever-you’ve-got. She has good reasons to be against those ridiculous traditions and rules, but she’s also just against things, period. She challenges rules and traditions, looking to push boundaries and innovate wherever she can.

Jemima makes many missteps and realizes that, at times, she’s a “crappy feminist.” Jiyoon calls her out for her internalized misogyny. Jemima hooks up with a charismatic but problematic boy, someone she’s super physically into but is not the most enlightened or kind human around. Perhaps Jemima’s biggest revelation over the course of the story is her relationship to the statement “I’m not like the other girls.” What was once a badge of pride for her becomes more complicated as she begins to understand more about herself, her peers, and, yes, her internalized misogyny.

I really loved this very real and honest look at how complicated friendship, feminism, relationships, and high school can be. Full of jealousy, secrets, and conflicted feelings, this novel authentically explores the way we learn to do and be better while making many mistakes along the way. Smart and insightful.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984849120
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly by Meredith Tate

Publisher’s Book Description:

When band-geek Ivy and her friends get together, things start with a rousing board game and end with arguments about Star Wars.

Her older sister Autumn is a different story. Enigmatic, aloof, and tough as nails, Autumn hasn’t had real friends–or trusted anyone–in years. Even Ivy.

But Autumn might not be tough enough. After a drug deal gone wrong, Autumn is beaten, bound, and held hostage. Now, trapped between life and death, she leaves her body, seeking help. No one can sense her presence–except her sister.

When Autumn doesn’t come home, Ivy just knows she’s in trouble. Unable to escape the chilling feeling that something isn’t right, Ivy follows a string of clues that bring her closer to rescuing her sister… and closer to danger.

Autumn needs Ivy to find her before time runs out. But soon, both sisters realize that finding her also means untangling the secrets that lead to the truth–about where they’re hiding Autumn, and what Autumn has been hiding. 

Karen’s Thoughts:

I picked this book up thinking I was going to read an engaging psychological thriller with paranormal twinges, which I did. What I did not realize was that I was going to be reading a thoughtful commentary about sexual violence and the long term effects of trauma in the life of teens. I’ve been thinking a lot about this book after finishing it, which is always a positive sign. There are layers upon layers of social commentary that I was not expecting in this book.

At the end of the day, this is a rich, feminist novel that looks at the resiliency of sisterhood, the power of friendship, and the ways that we accept the abuse of our daughters as the collateral damage to live in the patriarchy and the long term harm that does. It’s also a book about healing in a wide variety of ways.

As someone who works with teens and has been reading some about trauma informed librarianship, it’s also a stark reminder that there is always a reason for a teen’s difficult behaviors and that before we dismiss our challenging teens out of hand, we should extend to them grace and help to connect them with the tools they need to unpack their trauma and find their pathway to thriving. The story of Autumn is a shameful reminder that we, as a society, are failing our youth every day in a wide variety of ways.

Although both main characters are white, Ivy is a fat girl who is mostly okay in her body, though she does wish others would stop commenting on her weight and diet. Ivy also has a wide variety of strong friendships and there is some rich LGBTQ representation here as well. I appreciated Ivy’s story in this just as much as I did Autumn’s. Ivy is strong, brave, and inspiring while still being very real and flawed. I thought the various issues she talked about, including her relationship to her body and her complex feelings of self worth in her home and friend relationships, were complex, authentic and relateable.

There’s a lot to unpack in this feminist novel disguised as a paranormal mystery. Strongly recommended for all readers. And then I hope we will all sit with it a while.

This book was released February 11, 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews: A Teen Reviews He Must Like You, My Eyes are Up Here and Four Days of You and Me

It’s time for another installment of Kicky’s Post It Reviews, in which The Teen reviews some of the recent YA lit she has been reading.

Publisher’s Book Description:

A new swoon-worthy romance following a couple’s love story on the same date over four years.

Every May 7, the students at Coffee County High School take a class trip. And every year, Lulu’s relationship with Alex Rouvelis gets a little more complicated. Freshman year, they went from sworn enemies to more than friends after a close encounter in an escape room. It’s been hard for Lulu to quit Alex ever since.

Through breakups, make ups, and dating other people, each year’s class trip brings the pair back together and forces them to confront their undeniable connection. From the science museum to an amusement park, from New York City to London, Lulu learns one thing is for sure: love is the biggest trip of all. 

Post It Note Review: Super cute and had a very optimistic perspective.

Some Added Info: As you may now, The Teen usually reads murder books. Lots and lots of murder books. So I was surprised when she picked this book out of the ARC pile and even more surprised that she liked it. But when I mentioned that it’s different than her typical read she very astutely replied, “sometimes you just need to read something fun.”

This book comes out May 5th from Sourcefire Books

Publisher’s Book Description:

Libby’s having a rough senior year. Her older brother absconded with his college money and is bartending on a Greek island. Her dad just told her she’s got to pay for college herself, and he’s evicting her when she graduates so he can Airbnb her room. A drunken hook-up with her coworker Kyle has left her upset and confused. So when Perry Ackerman, serial harasser and the most handsy customer at The Goat where she waitresses, pushes her over the edge, she can hardly be blamed for dumping a pitcher of sangria on his head. Unfortunately, Perry is a local industry hero, the restaurant’s most important customer, and Libby’s mom’s boss. Now Libby has to navigate the fallout of her outburst, find an apartment, and deal with her increasing rage at the guys who’ve screwed up her life–and her increasing crush on the one guy who truly gets her. As timely as it is timeless, He Must Like You is a story about consent, rage, and revenge, and the potential we all have to be better people.

Post It Note Review: Talks about a lot of important issues in a good way.

Additional Information: The Teen talked to me about this book and she’s not wrong, it talks about a lot of important issues including social media use and privacy, sexual harassment and what happens when a teen turns 18. We had a lot of conversations surrounding this book and we both highly recommend it.

This book doesn’t come out until July 14th from Viking Books, but you should definitely get it.

Publisher’s Book Description:

My Eyes Are Up Here is YA novel from debut author Laura Zimmerman about a teenage girl struggling to rediscover her balance—and her voice—in the year after a surprising growth spurt.

A “monomial” is a simple algebraic expression consisting of a single term. 30H, for example. 15-year-old Greer Walsh hasn’t been fazed by basic algebra since fifth grade, but for the last year, 30H has felt like an unsolvable equation–one that’s made her world a very small, very lonely place. 30H is her bra size–or it was the last time anyone checked. She stopped letting people get that close to her with a tape measure a while ago.

Ever since everything changed the summer before ninth grade, Greer has felt out of control. She can’t control her first impressions, the whispers that follow, or the stares that linger after. The best she can do is put on her faithful XXL sweatshirt and let her posture–and her expectations for other people–slump.

But people—strangers and friends—seem strangely determined to remind her that life is not supposed to be this way. Despite carefully avoiding physical contact and anything tighter than a puffy coat, Greer finds an unexpected community on the volleyball squad, the team that hugs between every point and wears a uniform “so tight it can squeeze out tears.” And then there’s Jackson Oates, newly arrived at her school and maybe actually more interested in her banter than her breasts.

Laura Zimmermann’s debut is both laugh-out-loud funny and beautifully blunt, vulnerable and witty, heartbreaking and hopeful. And it will invite readers to look carefully at a girl who just wants to be seen for all she is. 

Post It Note Review: Very body positive and shows girls supporting other girls in a great way.

Additional Information: This book moved The Teen to sobbing tears several times, in good ways. Many girls will resonate with this story of trying to learn to love your body and be comfortable with the skin you’re in. We are both so glad that this book exists and it brought about a lot of important, meaningful dialogue for us both. Highly recommended.

This book comes out June 24th from Dutton Books for Young Readers.

Book Review: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Publisher’s description

I’m so starry-eyed for this wise, romantic gem of a book.” – Becky Albertalli, bestselling author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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

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

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

“Between the boy in my bed and the peace in the house, maybe this astronaut thing was exactly what our family needed” (200).

Whenever I read, I like to look for the one line that will grab readers’ interest if you hold up the book and quote the line. The above line totally sums up the major plot points: love interest, family disharmony, and the “astronaut thing.” YEP.

Do you need to suspend your disbelief quite a bit to believe that the events of the book would actually play out how they do? Sure. But even realistic fiction is still fiction. Just go with it. So we’re supposed to believe that a mid-range teenage influencer can help snag his dad a job with NASA and possibly save the entire mission. Fine. I’ll buy it—because the rest of the story is fun, cute, charming, and all kinds of other seemingly empty descriptors that just add up to “GOOD.”

There’s a lot to like in this story. Leon, the love interest, and main character Cal’s mom deal with mental health issues (depression and anxiety, respectively). There’s repeated casual mention of this as well as how they cope with and treat it. The celeb news and gossip show that hounds the astronauts and their families and that Cal repeatedly goes up against is satisfyingly terrible and infuriating. They scheme, plot, manipulate, and use people all while accusing Cal of the same. Cal seemed to kind of understand the path his life was likely on—he knew what he wanted to do and where he wanted to do it. But moving to Texas for the space program changed all of that. Though Cal is relatively famous, he’s also just a regular kid making mistakes (he’s a self-centered and crappy friend at times), reevaluating his future, falling in love, screwing it up, and figuring it all out.

We can always use more ownvoices books featuring queer boys, so I’m glad this one exists. Readers looking for a BIG romance may be disappointed, but those looking for a unique story about the curveballs life can throw at you and the unexpected ways you may find love will enjoy this geeky story about dating, friendship, space, and politics.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600144
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle by Robin Stevenson

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

Gr 6-9–Stevenson’s joyful celebration of self, community, existence, and activism examines Pride parades, how they came to be, and what they celebrate. This updated edition contains an added focus on necessary and continuing activism as well as the role of young people in the movement. The text chronicles a brief history of LGBTQ+ advocacy, major issues, differing political goals, and inequality within the movement. Chapters explore the rise of Queer Nation (an activist group founded in NYC), marriage equality, PFLAG, community and subgroups, coming out, and definitions of various acronyms and identities. As the title promises, the main focus is Pride parades, the politics of Pride, intersectional activism and considerations, symbols commonly seen at Pride, and alternative Pride marches and demonstrations. While primarily focused on North America, there is a chapter on Pride as a symbol of freedom and hope around the world as well as the social climates, ongoing struggles, and laws of many countries. The eye-catching layout features large, vibrant pictures from celebrations, parades, and marches all over the world. Pull-out quotes, smaller pictures on the sides, and text boxes with “Queer Facts” adorn the pages and help break up longer sections.

VERDICT An indispensable and celebratory primer on the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights. An excellent resource that is as thorough as it is visually appealing.

ISBN-13: 9781459821248
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Edition description: 2nd Revised and Expanded ed.

Book Review: The Life Below by Alexandra Monir

As Naomi lifts off into space and away from a rapidly deteriorating Earth, she watches the world fade away, and along with it Leo, a Final Six contestant she grew close to during training. Leaving Earth behind is hard, but what’s ahead, on Europa, could be worse. The International Space Training Camp continues to hide the truth about what happened to the last group of astronauts who attempted a similar colonization but failed mysteriously. With one shot—at this mission and to Europa—Naomi is determined to find out if there is alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there.

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

With all the pieces of their journey finally clicking into place, everything else starts to fall apart. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and the questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous failed mission get answered in the worst way possible. If the dream was to establish a habitable domain on Europa… the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.

Karen’s Thoughts:

When we left our crew at the end of The Final Six, the teens had gone through an intense selection process and some teens were chosen to go to space to save the human race. We pick up at lift off and the action does not disappoint. There is sabotage, political intrigue, lies, and a group of desperate teens trying to survive in a situation that they are in no way truly equipped to survive. It’s edge of your seat on every page.

These teens are on a mission to save the entire human race, but what happens if the information they have is a lie? And how do they know who to trust? It’s an important question as the teens – and the reader – are racing to discover what their truth is and it’s one of the primary driving forces of this novel. This group of teens are hurtling through space and the only information they have are the voices of a select few adults in their comms and two A.I. They don’t even know if they can trust each other.

Down below, Leo is enlisted by a rogue scientist who claims that the information the teens in space possess is faulty and that their lives and the fate of the entire mission is at risk. He is quickly trained and launched into space – alone I might add – in a desperate mission to correct the faulty data and save the girl he loves, Naomi. That’s right, there’s a rewarding and moving love story the compels a lot of the action.

The adults in this series are truly the worst, but the action is non stop and it’s a fun read with environmental themes that are relevant to our times. Fans of Doctor Who, science fiction, and all things space will enjoy this duology.

Recommended. This book publishes on February 18, 2020 from HarperTeen. I read an digital advanced reader on Edelweiss.

Post-It Note Reviews: a girl with Sensory Processing Disorder, a gloomy seaside town, special ed kids, 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. Even if I quit my library job, I still couldn’t read them all.  I read just about every free second I have—sitting in the car while waiting for my kid, on my lunch breaks at work, sometimes even while I’m 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. I also do these posts focusing on books for younger readers. 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 summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary. 

Karen’s Witch (Baby-Sitters Little Sister Graphix Series #1) by Katy Farina (Illustrator), Ann M. Martin

A fresh and fun graphic novel series spin-off of The Baby-sitters Club, featuring Kristy’s little stepsister!

Karen Brewer lives next door to Mrs. Porter, who wears long robes and has wild gray hair. Mrs. Porter has a black cat named Midnight and always seems to be working in her garden. Karen isn’t supposed to spy on her neighbor, but she’s determined to prove that Mrs. Porter is a witch named Morbidda Destiny!

Mrs. Porter is getting ready to have a special meeting at her house, and Karen is sure the meeting is for witches. Are they going to cast a spell on Karen? Or will she be brave enough to send them away — once and for all?

(POST-IT SAYS: The BSC graphic novels fly off the shelves at my school and this spin-off will too. Spunky Karen really comes alive in illustrated form. The series can do no wrong. Ages 7-9)

Not If I Can Help It by Carolyn Mackler

From award-winning Carolyn Mackler, the story of Willa, who has been living with Sensory Processing Disorder but is thrown for a BIG loop when her dad announces he’s dating Willa’s best friend’s mom.

Willa likes certain things to be certain ways. Her socks have to be soft . . . and definitely can’t have irritating tags on the inside. She loves the crunch of popcorn and nachos . . . but is grossed out by the crunch of a baby carrot. And slimy foods? Those are the worst.

Willa can manage all these things — but there are some things she can’t deal with, like her father’s big news. He’s been keeping a big secret from her . . . that he’s been dating the mom of Willa’s best friend Ruby. Willa does NOT like the idea of them being together. And she does NOT like the idea of combining families. And she does NOT like the idea of her best friend becoming her sister overnight. Will she go along with all of these changes? NOT if she can help it!

(POST-IT SAYS: This is a very good book. Sensitively explores Sensory Processing Disorder, anxiety, divorce, and family. Willa is surrounded with so much love, support, and understanding. A superior story. Ages 8-12)

What I Want You to See by Catherine Linka (2/4/2020)

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: Sabine is so complicated–tough, vulnerable, smart, makes mistakes–and carries the generally fast-paced thrillerish mystery. A story of art school, crime, pressure, privilege, and homelessness. Ages 14+)

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith (2/11/2020)

A delightfully creepy novel from a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner imbued with magic and seafaring mythology. Lemony Snicket and Jessica Townsend meet Greenglass House, with a hint of Edward Gorey thrown in.

When twelve-year-old Rory applies for a job at a spooky old mansion in his gloomy seaside town, he finds the owner, Lord Foxglove, odd and unpleasant. But he and his mom need the money, so he takes the job anyway. Rory soon finds out that his new boss is not just strange, he’s not even human—and he’s trying to steal the townspeople’s shadows. Together, Rory and his friend Isabella set out to uncover exactly what Foxglove and his otherworldly accomplices are planning and devise a strategy to defeat them. But can two kids defeat a group of ancient evil beings who are determined to take over the world?

Another delightfully creepy tale from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award–winning author Ronald L. Smith.

(POST-IT SAYS: Weird and dark–excellent traits in a book. Genuinely creepy, great atmospheric setting, and oddball characters. Totally enjoyable read. Ages 10-12)

Chirp by Kate Messner (2/4/2020)

“[A] deftly layered mystery about family, friendship, and the struggle to speak up.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of Speak and Shout

From acclaimed author Kate Messner comes the powerful story of a young girl with the courage to make her voice heard, set against the backdrop of a summertime mystery.

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.

Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding—and find the courage she never knew she had?

In a compelling story rich with friendship, science, and summer fun, a girl finds her voice while navigating the joys and challenges of growing up.

(POST-IT SAYS: Solid writing and important story override characters that sometimes lack nuance. Supportive family, great women role models, and a message about finding your voice and speaking up. Empowering and inspiring, this will surely generate discussions. Ages 10-14)

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Funny, poignant, and deeply moving, The Line Tender is a story of nature’s enduring mystery and a girl determined to find meaning and connection within it.

Wherever the sharks led, Lucy Everhart’s marine-biologist mother was sure to follow. In fact, she was on a boat far off the coast of Massachusetts, collecting shark data when she died suddenly. Lucy was seven. Since then Lucy and her father have kept their heads above water—thanks in large part to a few close friends and neighbors. But June of her twelfth summer brings more than the end of school and a heat wave to sleepy Rockport. On one steamy day, the tide brings a great white—and then another tragedy, cutting short a friendship everyone insists was “meaningful” but no one can tell Lucy what it all meant. To survive the fresh wave of grief, Lucy must grab the line that connects her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother’s unfinished research on the Great White’s return to Cape Cod. If Lucy can find a way to help this unlikely quartet follow the sharks her mother loved, she’ll finally be able to look beyond what she’s lost and toward what’s left to be discovered.

(POST-IT SAYS: Beautiful and sad. Grief, science, sharks, healing, and coping all come together to make a powerful story populated by unique characters who help guide and shape Lucy. Thoughtful and heartbreaking. Ages 10-13)

The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus

Fans of Jason Reynolds and Sharon M. Draper will love this oh-so-honest middle grade novel from writer and educator Maurice Broaddus.

Thelonius Mitchell is tired of being labeled. He’s in special ed, separated from the “normal” kids at school who don’t have any “issues.” That’s enough to make all the teachers and students look at him and his friends with a constant side-eye. (Although his disruptive antics and pranks have given him a rep too.)

When a gun is found at a neighborhood hangout, Thelonius and his pals become instant suspects. Thelonius may be guilty of pulling crazy stunts at school, but a criminal? T isn’t about to let that label stick.

(POST-IT SAYS: A fantastic book centered on special ed kids, stereotypes, bullying, and the dynamics of middle school. “Education is a full-contact sport.” For all collections. Ages 9-13)

The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read, Laura Trinder (3/3/2020)

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: Fantasy fans will love this. The action-packed midnight world full of magical creatures and lots of detail will make readers fly through the story. Whimsical and funny with great characters. Ages 8-12)

Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland

A laugh-out-loud funny and empowering graphic memoir about growing up and finding your voice.

Twelve-year-old Cindy has just dipped a toe into seventh-grade drama—with its complicated friendships, bullies, and cute boys—when she earns an internship as a cub reporter at a local newspaper in the early 1970s. A (rare) young female reporter takes Cindy under her wing, and Cindy soon learns not only how to write a lede, but also how to respectfully question authority, how to assert herself in a world run by men, and—as the Watergate scandal unfolds—how brave reporting and writing can topple a corrupt world leader. Searching for her own scoops, Cindy doesn’t always get it right, on paper or in real life. But whether she’s writing features about ghost hunters, falling off her bicycle and into her first crush, or navigating shifting friendships, Cindy grows wiser and more confident through every awkward and hilarious mistake.

(POST-IT SAYS: Doesn’t have quite the appeal of the other children’s graphic memoirs out there, but a solid read about friendship, writing, politics, and popularity. An empowering look at the middle school years. Ages 8-12)

Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann, Lily Williams

High school students embark on a crash course of friendship, female empowerment, and women’s health issues in Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann’s graphic novel Go With the Flow.

Good friends help you go with the flow.

Best friends help you start a revolution.

Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are fed up. Hazelton High never has enough tampons. Or pads. Or adults who will listen.

Sick of an administration that puts football before female health, the girls confront a world that shrugs—or worse, squirms—at the thought of a menstruation revolution. They band together to make a change. It’s no easy task, especially while grappling with everything from crushes to trig to JV track but they have each other’s backs. That is, until one of the girls goes rogue, testing the limits of their friendship and pushing the friends to question the power of their own voices.

Now they must learn to work together to raise each other up. But how to you stand your ground while raising bloody hell?

(POST-IT SAYS: Woohoo for an increase in books about periods! Smart, feminist, activist teens represent diverse identities and experiences. A cute, funny, terrific, inspiring read! Ages 9-14)

Book Review: We Were Promised Spotlights by Lindsay Sproul

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

forest with reflection in lake and man silhouette; Shutterstock ID 418079275; Title: –

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.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Every once in a while, you read a book that leaves you stunned. This was one of those books for me. It is not an exaggeration when I tell you that there were a couple of moments while I was reading this book that I sat the book down and ran out to the garage where The Mr. was working and said, “Holy crud, you won’t believe what just happened.” It was mind-blowing, jaw dropping and stunningly fascinating, in truly dark and twisted ways. I’m still thinking about this book days later.

If you’re not familiar with Daniel Kraus, he writes super dark YA that is like Stephen King on steroids. Rotters is about a young boy who goes to live with his dad who is a grave robber. Scowler is about the very true terror of domestic violence. Kraus is also the man behind the middle grade Trollhunters series, which you can see on Netflix (Thing 2 has watched the entire series). So he’s not all dark all the time, but his YA is very dark. And glorious.

Liv is dealing with the loss of a father who has the distinguished honor of being the town laughingstock, having claimed to have been abducted by aliens. He’s now missing, but no one believes he has been abducted by aliens and Liv is learning to live with the truth that he is probably dead. Then she discovers a creature that may just prove her dad wasn’t crazy after all. Now in possession of this creature, Liv and her childhood friend Doug takes matters into their own hands to try and clear her father’s name and what happens next is truly stunning. And disturbing.

In Bent Heavens, Kraus explores the nature of violence and asks one of the age old questions that come up frequently in horror and science fiction: just who, exactly, are the monsters? The answer to that question involves some very truly unsettling scenes. And although the answer to that question will surprise no one, the path Kraus weaves to get us there is unlike anything I’ve read in YA for quite some time.

Like truly great literature, Kraus challenges his readers to step into the darkness and confront the bitter truths of human nature. Along the way, he weaves a visceral tale that pulls back the current on small town politics, mental health stigmas, violence, grief, and anger. It’s a wild, uncomfortable and challenging ride through the darkest parts of human nature, and it will punch you in the gut. It touches on some other important and timely topics that I can’t mention here because I don’t want to give too much away. But everything that happens does so for a reason and readers will not be disappointed. It’s some great craftsmanship and storytelling.

I need you to read it so we can talk about it. Highly recommended.

This book comes out February, 25, 2020. I read a digital arc for this review.

Book Review: Layoverland by Gabby Noone

Publisher’s description

Beatrice Fox deserves to go straight to hell.

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

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

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

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

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

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

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