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Book Review: Quarantine, A Love Story by Katie Cicatelli-Kuc

quarantinePublisher’s Book Description: Oliver wants a girlfriend, and there’s a girl back home who might be interested in him. The problem is, he has to spend his spring break on a volunteer trip in the Dominican Republic. Flora, on the other hand, isn’t really looking for a boyfriend. She just wants to end a miserable spring break visiting her dad and her new stepmom in the D.R.

The solution to both their problems? Get back home to New York ASAP. Sadly, they won’t be getting there anytime soon.

Their hopes are dashed when Flora’s impulsiveness lands them in quarantine — just the two of them. Now, the two teens must come together in order to survive life in a bubble for 30 days. In that time, love will bloom. But is it the real thing, or just a placebo effect?

In her debut novel, Katie Cicatelli-Kuc delivers an introspective and witty story about finding love in the most unexpected place.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Please note, there are some very real spoilers in this review as I explain to you why I can not in good faith recommend this book as a person who campaigns against sexual violence and for the importance of consent in relationships.

As someone who spends a lot of time advocating for consent education, I can not in good faith recommend this book, even though I believe it will have a lot of teen appeal. This love story begins when two strangers meet on an airplane and are placed in a quarantine hold for a short period of time. The girl, not wanting to return home, fakes being sick so that she will have to stay in quarantine for an additional 30 days. Not wanting to stay in quarantine alone, however, she grabs and kisses the teen boy against his will and knowing full well that he wants to go home and that he has a budding relationship on the horizon, forcing him to stay in quarantine with her for that 30 days. He has, effectively, been denied his free will and freedom by the selfish impulses of this girl and over the course of time, they fall in love. It’s kind of a reverse Beauty and the Beast story, a story that I stopped liking a long time ago because I do not believe that true love can be found in relationships where one person is basically holding another person prisoner.

To be honest, none of the females presented in this book are presented in an overly positive or redeeming light. Flora is presented as an authority who guides Oliver, often sharing with him truth bombs about life and relationships, but she herself is lost and floundering. She does exhibit growth over the course of the novel as they are both given a lot of time for introspection, but I could never get past what she did to Oliver. Oliver’s other love interest, Kelsey, is a selfish, fame obsessed young woman who uses Oliver’s new found notoriety to try and propel herself to social media stardom, spurred on in part by Flora who thinks she is trying to help Oliver nab the girl of his dreams.

Oliver starts out as a more naive and floundering young man, but he also grows. Towards the end as he starts to stand up for himself and express himself more fully, readers seem him becoming a more competent and fully fleshed character.

The most realistic part about this novel is the social media component. Flora and Oliver start the hashtag #Quaranteens and milk (and try to manipulate) their quarantine status for social media likes and for the most part it works; but as always life, truth and social media are more complicated than anyone can predict and it gets messy. This in particular is the part that I find teens will be most drawn to. It truly captures the social media zeitgeist.

I would have felt much differently about this book if at the end of the 30 days the teens would have grown, realized that what Flora did to Oliver was completely unconscionable and gone their separate ways. Alas, this is a love story and that is not what happens. Because this is a relationship that is built upon the very clear violation of one person’s ability to consent about what happens to their life – keep in mind, he is now forced to spend 30 days in a quarantine away from his life, friends and family – I can not get behind it or recommend it. Once the impetus for how these two teens were forced to spend time together became clear, I wanted to tap out of this book. I read it until completion to see if or how the issue was dealt with, and although they do at times talk about consent, I personally could never get past the very clear violation of consent that brought the two teens together.

Out of curiosity to see what other reviewers were saying about this book, I did some research. Booklist says this about this novel: “And since Flora, for some reason, laid one on Oliver after they met on the plane (a dramatic first kiss for them both), he’s stuck right there in quarantine with her. ” They go on to recommend it as a “a sweet, simple romance with a fun concept.” (Booklist, 1/01/2019, Maggie Reagan. 336p. AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, c2019). Kirkus mentions the kiss but doesn’t even acknowledge any concern for an obvious lack of consent and the dramatic impact it has on Oliver’s life. I think it is unfortunate as book reviewers that we continue to fail to acknowledge problematic consent issues and recommend books that have them without any caveats.

I think the novel has a lot of teen appeal elements, but I personally don’t recommend it.

This book is slated to be published in March, 2019.

Post-It Note Reviews: Books for younger readers featuring a biracial protagonist, homeless kids in India, babysitters, and more

IMG_3631Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K-5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

Post-It Note reviews are 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.

 

 

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The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA by Brenda Woods

 

The Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author tells the moving story of the friendship between a young white boy and a Black WWII veteran who has recently returned to the unwelcoming Jim Crow South.

On Gabriel’s twelfth birthday, he gets a new bike–and is so excited that he accidentally rides it right into the path of a car. Fortunately, a Black man named Meriwether pushes him out of the way just in time, and fixes his damaged bike. As a thank you, Gabriel gets him a job at his dad’s auto shop. Gabriel’s dad hires him with some hesitation, however, anticipating trouble with the other mechanic, who makes no secret of his racist opinions.
Gabriel and Meriwether become friends, and Gabriel learns that Meriwether drove a tank in the Army’s all-Black 761st Tank Battalion in WWII. Meriwether is proud of his service, but has to keep it a secret because talking about it could be dangerous. Sadly, danger finds Meriwether, anyway, when his family receives a frightening threat. The South being the way it is, there’s no guarantee that the police will help–and Gabriel doesn’t know what will happen if Meriwether feels forced to take the law into his own hands.

(POST-IT SAYS: 12-year-old Gabriel’s eyes are opened to the racism in the South in 1946. Unique look at what it means to be black and a WWII vet. Gabriel’s voice is engaging, the setting is vibrant, and Woods’ storytelling is, as always, strong and affecting. Ages 9-12)

 

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Blended by Sharon M. Draper

 

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s blended family is more divided than ever in this thoughtful story about divorce and racial identity from the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper.

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: There’s a lot packed into this look at straddling multiple worlds and identities. An emotional look at being biracial (and all that goes with it) as well as at divorce and blended families. Ages 9-12)

 

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Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

 

On a winter’s day in a British town, twelve-year old Alex receives a package in the mail: an old tin robot from his grandfather. “This one is special,” says the enclosed note, and when strange events start occurring around him, Alex suspects this small toy is more than special; it might be deadly.

Right as things get out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, pulling him away from an attack—and his otherwise humdrum world of friends, bullies, and homework—and into the macabre magic of an ancient family feud. Together, the duo flees across snowy Europe, unraveling the riddle of the little robot while trying to outwit relentless assassins of the human and mechanical kind.

With an ever-present admiration for the hidden mysteries of our world, Monstrous Devices plunges readers into a gripping adventure that’s sure to surprise.

(POST-IT SAYS: Dark, creepy, weird, and full of twists! Fans of strange mysteries who don’t mind unresolved questions will like this adventure. Chases, fights, and lots of intrigue. Ages 10-14)

 

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The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

 

Four determined homeless children make a life for themselves in Padma Venkatraman’s stirring middle-grade debut.

Life is harsh in Chennai’s teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. Very quickly, eleven-year-old Viji discovers how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. Fortunately, the girls find shelter—and friendship—on an abandoned bridge. With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts. And while making a living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves and no longer dependent on untrustworthy adults. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

(POST-IT SAYS: A powerful and heartbreaking look at poverty, love, and grief. The sisters escape abuse but face very bleak situations on the street/on the run. Ultimately hopeful but very sad. Ages 10-14)

 

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Best Babysitters Ever by Caroline Cala

 

A funny new middle grade series about three 12-year-old best friends who start a babysitting club in their small California town. Perfect for fans of series like Whatever After and the Dork Diaries.

Once upon a time, a girl named Kristy Thomas had a great idea: to form The Baby-Sitters Club with her best friends. And now twelve-year-old Malia Twiggs has had a great idea too. Technically, she had Kristy’s idea(And technically, little kids seem gross and annoying, but a paycheck is a paycheck). After a little convincing, Malia and her friends Dot and Bree start a babysitting club to earn funds for an epic birthday bash. But babysitting definitely isn’t what they thought it would be.

Three friends. No parents. Unlimited snacks. And, okay, occasionally watching other people’s children. What could possibly go wrong?

(POST-IT SAYS: A modern Baby-Sitters Club! If the BSC girls were snarkier, less skilled, and more diverse, that is. A fun and entertaining start to a series with very wide appeal. Ages 10-12)

Book Review: Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan

Publisher’s description

watch us riseNewbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Renée Watson teams up with poet Ellen Hagan in this YA feminist anthem about raising your voice.

Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission–they’re sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post their work online–poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial microaggressions she experiences–and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by trolls. When things escalate in real life, the principal shuts the club down. Not willing to be silenced, Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices–and those of other young women–to be heard.
These two dynamic, creative young women stand up and speak out in a novel that features their compelling art and poetry along with powerful personal journeys that will inspire readers and budding poets, feminists, and activists.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This book is so good. Order it, read it, book talk it, display it, love it.

 

Jasmine, Chelsea, and their friends attend a high school all about social justice and equity (or, allegedly it is). All students are required to be in a social justice club. But, like everywhere, their school is not perfect, with racism, sexism, and more alive and well. Jasmine and Chelsea leave their clubs to form a women’s rights club, focusing their intersectional feminism and activism on and around their lives at school. Together with their best friends Nadine and Isaac, they create art and foster conversations about many important issues. Jasmine, who is black, is a writer and an actress. Isaac, who is Puerto Rican, is a visual artist. Japanese and Lebanese Nadine is a singer and  DJ. And Irish and Italian Chelsea is a talented poet. Together, they inspire each other and help each other learn, grown, discover, and act. This book covers a lot of ground, tackling so many subjects in honest, creative, and effective ways.

 

I’m going to leave this review short and simple, because the real joy will come from reading about these smart, passionate, and motivated young people for yourself. This book is immensely readable—I burned through it in a couple of hours. Great dialogue, great writing, great poetry, great characters, great everything. It’s not often that I find a book wholly satisfying. And, even more rare, this book made me feel nostalgic for my teen years, remembering back to when I was a zine-writing young feminist and Gender and Sexuality Studies student. Empowering and inspiring, this book demands a wide readership. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600083
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/12/2019

Book Review: LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel Madrone

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. I am SO EXCITED to now be able to rave to everyone about this book. 

 

 

LGBTQLGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel Madrone (ISBN-13: 9781631983023 Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc. Publication date: 09/17/2018 Edition description: Third Edition, Revised)

★ Winter 2018

Gr 6 Up—This affirming guide covers a wide range of topics, educating readers and helping them become better advocates for themselves. Using the acronym LGBTQ and the word queer, this updated and revised third edition includes updated data and emphasizes evolving concepts and understandings of gender and sexuality, advances in LGBTQ rights, cultural shifts and changing attitudes, and a look at a wider range of experience and identity. With information from experts, advice from advocacy groups, and stories from teenagers, chapters tackle accepting and questioning identity, trans and nonbinary teens, what to consider when coming out, harassment and bullying, finding community, dating (including a look at relationship violence), sex and sexually transmitted infections, mental health, and religious life. The part about work and college life contains details on rights and discrimination and tips on finding the right company or college. Pull quotes, text boxes, and subheadings break up the dense text. Some identities, such as intersex, asexual, aromantic, and others along those spectrums, receive less space than the LGBTQ identities of the title. This useful resource is aimed at queer teens, but those seeking to provide a welcoming, affirming environment for LGBTQ youth will also find this indispensable. VERDICT This sensitive, frank, and supportive volume belongs in every library.

Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews: Royals, Twisted Fairy Tales, a Rabbit, a Robot, and Pure Evil

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At TLT, we like to hear what teens have to say about YA Lit. The Teen has been doing a lot of reading lately, so it’s time for another round of Kicky’s Post It Reviews.

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Royals by Rachel Hawkins

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Publisher’s Book Description

Meet Daisy Winters. She’s an offbeat sixteen-year-old Floridian with mermaid-red hair; a part time job at a bootleg Walmart, and a perfect older sister who’s nearly engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland. Daisy has no desire to live in the spotlight, but relentless tabloid attention forces her to join Ellie at the relative seclusion of the castle across the pond.

While the dashing young Miles has been appointed to teach Daisy the ropes of being regal, the prince’s roguish younger brother kicks up scandal wherever he goes, and tries his best to take Daisy along for the ride. The crown–and the intriguing Miles–might be trying to make Daisy into a lady . . . but Daisy may just rewrite the royal rulebook to suit herself.

Post It Note Review

Cute, but I still don’t like Miles. (She liked the book, but she doesn’t like Miles AT ALL.)

Editor’s Note: This book came out in 2018

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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Publisher’s Book Description

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which the First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Post It Note Review

Absolutely fantastic, great representation

Editor’s Note: This book will be published in May of 2019

The Diviners by Libba Bray

We recently bought this book at a nearby book store because The Teen has read – twice now – Beauty Queens by Libba Bray and she is obviously a huge fan of that book, so she wanted to try reading something else by Libba Bray and she chose The Diviners.

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Publisher’s Book Description

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

Post It Note Review

Loved it so much and can’t wait to read the next one when I get the time. So many unexpected twists and a great ending.

Editor’s Note: This book is the first book in a series and it was released in 2012.

Tin Heart by Shivanun Plozza

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Publisher’s Book Description

When Marlowe gets a heart transplant and a second chance at life, all she wants to do is to thank her donor’s family. Maybe then she can move on. Maybe then she’ll discover who she is if she’s no longer The Dying Girl.

But with a little brother who dresses like every day is Halloween, a vegan warrior for a mother, and an all-out war with the hot butcher’s apprentice next door, Marlowe’s life is already pretty complicated. And her second chance is about to take an unexpected turn…

Post It Note Review

Not exactly my type of book but still good.

Editor’s Note: This book will be published in March of 2019.

Rabit & Robot by Andrew Smith

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Publisher’s Book Description

Cager has been transported to the Tennessee, a giant lunar-cruise ship orbiting the moon that his dad owns, by Billy and Rowan to help him shake his Woz addiction. Meanwhile, Earth, in the midst of thirty simultaneous wars, burns to ash beneath them. And as the robots on board become increasingly insane and cannibalistic, and the Earth becomes a toxic wasteland, the boys have to wonder if they’ll be stranded alone in space forever.

Post It Note Review

This book was completely absurd, but in a good way. Definitely the book to read if you want to laugh.

Editor’s Note: This book was published in 2018.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

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Publisher’s Book Description

In a lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Brigid Kemmerer gives readers another compulsively readable romance perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer.

Fall in love, break the curse. 

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom. 

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Post It Note Review

Not really for me but good for people who want fairytales.

Editor’s Note: This book publishes tomorrow, January 29, 2019.

 

 

 

Book Review: Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publisher’s description

our yearFrom the author of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone comes a stunning contemporary novel that examines the complicated aftermath of a kidney transplant between best friends.

Aspiring choreographer Sophie Orenstein would do anything for Peter Rosenthal-Porter, who’s been on the kidney transplant list as long as she’s known him. Peter, a gifted pianist, is everything to Sophie: best friend, musical collaborator, secret crush. When she learns she’s a match, donating a kidney is an easy, obvious choice. She can’t help wondering if after the transplant, he’ll love her back the way she’s always wanted.

But Peter’s life post-transplant isn’t what either of them expected. Though he once had feelings for Sophie, too, he’s now drawn to Chase, the guitarist in a band that happens to be looking for a keyboardist. And while neglected parts of Sophie’s world are calling to her—dance opportunities, new friends, a sister and niece she barely knows—she longs for a now-distant Peter more than ever, growing increasingly bitter he doesn’t seem to feel the same connection.

Peter fears he’ll forever be indebted to her. Sophie isn’t sure who she is without him. Then one heartbreaking night twists their relationship into something neither of them recognizes, leading them to question their past, their future, and whether their friendship is even worth fighting for.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I am a character-driven reader who honestly doesn’t care if there’s much plot beyond watching characters live out their daily lives and all of the complexities that come with that. Because that’s PLENTY of plot. Hinge the story on one thing, let them talk and feel and grow a lot, and I’m good. Much like with Solomon’s first book, I absolutely loved this book. Do yourself a favor and go read You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone if you haven’t already. Really great.

 

The summary up there does an adequate job of hitting all the major parts of the story, but does nothing to convey how deeply complicated Peter and Sophie’s relationship is. That’s what this story is about—a lifelong friendship, love (in its many forms), growth, pain, joy, and possibilities. Sophie has spent most of her life ignoring all other social interaction in favor of always being with Peter, her homeschooled neighbor with kidney disease. Now 18, she’s able to donate a kidney to Peter, which she of course does. He’s her best friend, she’s in love with him (a fact he doesn’t know), and she thinks that this will make them closer than ever. But, of course, life rarely goes as we wish it to. After the transplant and recovery time, Peter is able to go back to attending public school, where he has new experiences and meets new people, including intriguing musician Chase, who invites Peter to join his band. There’s a spark there between them; Peter is bisexual and out to his parents but no one else (including Sophie). Peter knows he really loves Sophie, but maybe not in that way. So much of his hesitation and thoughts revolve around wondering how their friendship would survive if they dated and then split up. Sophie confesses how she feels and suggests they just give it a try, but Peter can’t do that.

 

So maybe that’s it. They just stay friends, Peter starts to date Chase, that’s the journey. But it’s not that simple. Peter’s life becomes complicated by beginning to think about exploring religion, by his newfound freedom, and by his new friendships and having a boyfriend. Sophie makes friends with some of the girls on the dance team and begins to start to consider a life not entirely based around Peter and his plans. She grows closer with her younger sister, who lives at home with her toddler, and watches her parents reconnect with Peter’s parents after years of distance. And then, when Chase tells Peter he has got to figure out all his stuff with Sophie, things collapse after something that seems like it might finally solidify them as a couple helps drive them apart and make feelings clear.

 

Readers who like really complex relationships and lots of wonderful, well-developed secondary characters (and warm, supportive, interesting families) will love this book. It’s emotional and complicated and thoughtful. The characters grow and change in ways that are both realistic and unexpected. Great writing, unique characters, and a vivid Seattle setting all make this book one not to miss. With wide appeal, this is an easy one to recommend to teens who love realistic fiction. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781481497763
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 01/15/2019

Book Review: The Whispers by Greg Howard

Publisher’s description

whispersA middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

11-year-old Riley’s mother always told him a story about wish-granting Whispers that live in the woods behind their South Carolina home. Just leave them a tribute, tell them your heart’s desire, and the Whispers, who know all the secrets in the universe, will take care of you. When Riley’s mother disappears, he desperately hopes this story isn’t just fiction.

 

Riley’s mom has been missing for four months when we meet Riley. He’s repeatedly interrogated by a detective but can’t come up with any other details to help them find her—Riley was at home playing, his mother was napping, there was a mysterious car nearby, then she was gone. They keep going over the details, and Riley has no hope that the detective, who he thinks is incompetent, will ever find his mom. It’s up to him. It’s up to the Whispers in the woods behind his house. They must know where his mom is.

 

Riley, a self-professed mama’s boy, has been miserable since she disappeared. He’s started wetting the bed (which he refers to as “my condition”), his father hardly acknowledges him, and the bullying and teasing he’s always faced at school has gotten worse. He has one good friend, biracial Gary, and a protector in an older neighbor, Dylan, but beyond that, is alone. He’s carrying the heavy weight of guilt, worried that he somehow drove his mother away with his “other condition,” which is how he refers to the fact that he likes boys. He thinks that he’s being punished for this.

 

Deciding to take things into his own hands, Riley heads into the woods with Gary and Gary’s younger brother to camp, hoping to maybe hear more from the Whispers, who have been speaking to him lately. They tell him that “she’s here.” Believing them, believing that she’s in those woods, Riley heads deeper into the forest. He offers the ultimate tribute to the Whispers, but will it be enough for them to reveal where she is?

 

Readers will tear through this story, with many questions along the way. Is Riley hiding something from the detective? Or from the reader? What’s really going on with his neighbor, Dylan? Who is Kenny from Kentucky? What happened in the shed? Does the unlikely helper he encounters in the woods know something about his mother? Everything is eventually revealed and answered, and what readers learn will likely send them scrambling back to reread the story through new eyes. A moving, thoughtful examination of trauma, grief, and the power of imagination. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525517498
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/15/2019

Book Review: Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII by Mary Cronk Farrell

Publisher’s description

standingStanding Up Against Hate tells the stories of the African American women who enlisted in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in World War II. They quickly discovered that they faced as many obstacles in the armed forces as they did in everyday life. However, they refused to back down. They interrupted careers and left family, friends, and loved ones to venture into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory. They survived racial prejudice and discrimination with dignity, succeeded in jobs women had never worked before, and made crucial contributions to the military war effort. The book centers around Charity Adams, who commanded the only black WAAC battalion sent overseas and became the highest ranking African American woman in the military by the end of the war. Along with Adams’s story are those of other black women who played a crucial role in integrating the armed forces. Their tales are both inspiring and heart-wrenching. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

You know what I know literally nothing about? The role of black women in WWII. This book certainly changed that. Immensely readable and supported by a lot of photographs and newspaper clippings, this book will fill a gap in, I’m guessing, the knowledge of many. By the end of WWII, 6,520 black women served in the US Army. This book tells some of their stories.

 

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, an all-women and all-black group, was the only unit of black women allowed to serve overseas during WWII. These women sorted and redirected mail, an enormous undertaking given the amount of mail from home (often addressed with just the soldier’s first name, with no other identifying info) that had built up while soldiers were on the move. They know that no mail meant low morale for the soldiers, so their job was a vital one. Readers get some background on what the Jim Crow era was like in the South, with black people treated as second class citizens. When women began to be recruited for noncombat positions to free up men to fight, many thought there was no way they could handle it—many thought that women didn’t belong in the military and were really only fit to be housewives. This discrimination and doubt was doubly apparent when it came to accepting black women as part of the military. The women who enlisted, including Major Charity Adams, a former teacher (and one of only two black women to obtain the rank of Major in WWII), saw it as an opportunity. They went into the military expecting to face less segregation and discrimination, but found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that was not the case. Black women and white women were kept apart at the training center, a place where many of the black women expected to work as one corps, not two. Barriers did break down over time, in some ways, but the military was still a reflection of the world at large at the time. 

 

Though skilled, capable, and qualified, the black women found themselves being eliminated from certain opportunities and given the run around to keep them from applying. It was mainly white women who were allowed to go on for training for specialist positions while most black women were barred from any additional training. Often, black women were assigned menial labor tasks, especially in the South, where they were told that “Negroes know their place.” When some of the women refused, citing discrimination, they were threatened with court martial and jail time. In general, the black women throughout the various training camps and bases faced threats, verbal abuse, KKK intimidation, physical attacks, and police violence. In 1945, when they were overseas, they were welcomed in Birmingham and treated well. Free of the Jim Crow rules and racist attitudes of the US, they were treated with respect and welcomed into people’s homes. But, of course, attitudes within their own military didn’t magically transform, and the women of the 6888th continued to face scrutiny. In the fall of 1945, many black women reached the end of their tours of duty, returning home to the US to discrimination. Black soldiers weren’t given the hero’s welcome that white soldiers were. For the most part, they were just given their discharge papers and sent on their way. The final chapter reflects on what the women got out of their time in the military.

 

An author’s note looks at the continued racism and segregation in the US after WWII as well as military service by black men and women in the wars since then. A glossary, time line, notes on sources, and a select bibliography round out the text. Finished copies will include a forward by a black retired Major General.

 

This thorough look at the role black women played during WWII is an excellent addition to all collections. Well-written and incredibly engaging, with ample quotes from women involved in the 6888th and so many pictures, this book is highly recommended. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419731600
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 01/08/2019

Book Review: Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Publisher’s description

black enoughEdited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.

Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough.

Contributors:
Justina Ireland
Varian Johnson
Rita Williams-Garcia
Dhonielle Clayton
Kekla Magoon
Leah Henderson
Tochi Onyebuchi
Jason Reynolds
Nic Stone
Liara Tamani
Renée Watson
Tracey Baptiste
Coe Booth
Brandy Colbert
Jay Coles
Ibi Zoboi
Lamar Giles

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This is a truly excellent collection of contemporary short stories. There wasn’t a dud in this anthology, which is pretty impressive, because I usually feel like collections  are often so uneven, that they have a few strong stories and just as many forgettable, undeveloped stories. These stories all focus on being young and black in America. They look at identity, tradition, ideas of blackness, relationships, and experiences in various urban and rural areas across the country.

 

In Renée Watson’s piece, 17-year-old Raven, a counselor at a camp for young girls from the Portland, Oregon area, is surprised to find one of her campers is her father’s daughter from the family he had after he left when Raven was seven. Varian Johnson’s story is set in South Carolina and follows Cam, who is visiting his grandma, as he deals with code switching, being called an Oreo, and thinking he’s not black enough for the girl he likes. Leah Henderson sets her story at a prep school where art, futures, and authentic selves are all in question. Lamar Giles’s “Black. Nerd. Problems” entertainingly focuses on a group of mall employees at an after-hours mall party.

 

Kekela Magoon’s main character mourns the loss of a school friend who was maybe the only person to see her real self. Jason Reynolds shows us a group of boys walking home from the pool through Bed-Stuy dreaming of the perfect sandwich. Brandy Colbert’s “Oreo” deals with a potentially Spelman-bound senior, her parents’ complicated feelings about HBCUs, and how her cousin from Missouri thinks she “acts white.” Tochi Onyebuchi shows readers a Nigerian American debate superstar who unexpectedly finds a passion for metal music. Liara Tamani’s story is set at a church camp where there’s pressure to send naked selfies. Jay Coles brings readers to the tiny town of North Salem where two boys from feuding families reveal their feelings toward each other while getting ready to compete in the big horse race.

 

Rita Williams-Garcia’s story is the only one to veer into fantasy, with a gay male model encountering an 1840s slave (either in a wash basin or in a dream) who can’t understand his modern life and freedoms. Tracey Baptiste’s “Gravity” takes place in a brief time span on a dance floor when a Trinidadian girl is sexually assaulted by her dance partner. A real standout story is Dhonielle Clayton’s “The Trouble with Drowning,” in which twin sisters from a wealthy area of Washington, DC experience a growing distance and a family unwilling to address mental health issues.

 

Justina Ireland’s main character, Devon, is in “the backwoods of Maryland” for the summer while her mother gets help for her depression and begins dating a local girl, trying to learn to live in the moment even though their relationship seems sure to end when they both leave for college. Coe Booth’s is set at college, where computer science student Garry hopes to be reunited with Inaaya, a girl he knew (and fell for) from past summer hackathons. Nic Stone’s main characters come from very different upbringings, but learn to see each other beyond their stereotypes and bond over their love of Percy Jackson books. And finally, Ibi Zoboi looks at the one night of freedom of Nigeria (Geri), the daughter of black nationalist revolutionary freedom fighter caught for tax evasion who can’t wait to be eighteen and leave the confines of the movement.

 

The stories, settings, and writing styles are varied. While readers will never know what to expect when they flip to the next story, they will not be disappointed. Each story is thoughtful and engaging, with tones varying from serious to more lighthearted. One of the best things about anthologies is the potential to introduce readers to writers they are unfamiliar with. This collection features so many wonderful authors and I hope that, if readers don’t already know their work, these stories will encourage them to seek out their books. Teachers and librarians, put this book up on a display featuring books by the authors included here. A great exploration of identity and cultures—a necessary addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062698728
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/08/2019

Book Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

A recent article suggested that faith is one of the last remaining subjects that are taboo in YA literature, which reminded me that I had not yet written a review of one of the best books I have read in a long time that talked about faith and spirituality in the life of teens: Heretic’s Anonymous by Katie Henry.

hereticsanonymousPublisher’s Book Description:

Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

Karen’s Thoughts:

With my new commute to work, I have about an hours drive each way and I have been listening to a lot of audio books. I’m a pretty new audio book connoisseur and the person doing the reading can make or break a book (I’ve stopped several because they had a terrible reader). This was a good production that drew me into the story and kept me engaged. So as an audio book, I recommend it.

I was drawn to this book by both the cover and the title. I mean, there’s burnt toast on the cover, it’s intriguing. But I approached this book with personal caution because as a Christian, I’m always hesitant when a book starts out with “Michael is an atheist”, because I don’t want to have my personal faith choices outright attacked. This book does not do that in any way and I appreciated so much the way that it handles and introduces a wide variety of faith perspectives and discussions. In fact, here we find a thoughtful group of teens who are wrestling with personal identity and faith and none of them really attack or try and convert the other. It was a refreshing reminder that people can hold very different faith points of view and still care about and respect one another. The way Henry handles each characters faith is thoughtful and respectful. I can’t speak to whether or not the representations of each faith is authentic or accurate, but I felt like it was respectful.

I could personally really identify with Lucy who is both Christian and Feminist. Michael assumes that she can not truly be Catholic as a feminist and Lucy reminds him time and time again that she very much embraces her faith, she also questions and challenges some of the worldly structures of her faith that oppress and demean women. I’ve had some of the same conversations that Lucy has with my friends who are also both feminist and Christian. And I love that Katie Henry shows that yes teens are intelligent, deep, and wrestling with these issues. The depiction of teens Henry presents in Heretic’s Anonymous is very much on point with the teens I am raising and interacting with daily.

Heretic’s Anonymous isn’t just about faith, it’s about family, friendship, finding yourself and having the courage to stand up for what you believe and challenging the system. It’s also about finding that delicate balance between standing up and speaking out and knowing how to do so in ethical ways that respects others around you. In a time when #resistance is trending and young people are in fact speaking out about things like gun control, Heretic’s Anonymous is a reflective look at how you can stand up and challenge the system and what the consequences for one’s actions might be.

This book is entertaining and reflective and thoughtful; it’s fun and engaging while also looking into some serious issues. I appreciate that it represents such a wide variety of faith view points in the characters, the discussions that they have, and the ways in which they have them. None of these teens are perfect and there are some major falling outs, because faith is deep and personal. And I think that is one of the ways in which Heretic’s Anonymous excels, it really shines a light on exactly how deep and personal faith can be while sharing with us these lives that are wrestling with faith in a world in which they are trying to find themselves while the adults around them are telling them how to dress, act, think and be. Highly recommended.