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Book Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start—so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.


But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not often that I run across a book where I think, wow, this setting and some of these characters are not like anything I’ve ever read before in YA. That’s not to say they don’t exist anywhere—try as I may, I can’t read all the YA books ever published—but they were new and unique to me. Given that I read hundreds of books a year, many of the particulars eventually get lost as they get buried under new things I’ve read, but Siegert’s characters and setting will stick with me.

It’s the summer before senior year and queer, bigender Alexis/Aleks moves into a rectory with their aunt and uncle. They have decided they won’t present as male while there because it will avoid drama and negativity with/from their aunt and uncle. Readers don’t know for a while what exactly has caused Alexis/Aleks to flee home, where they have supportive and loving parents, to seek a safer place. A nasty, shame-filled voice in their head constantly berates them and accuses them of being a fraud, of not being good enough, of being worthless. Eventually readers come to know what caused Alexis/Aleks to stop going to cons, to give up cosplaying, and to leave their home, and this information will inform the rest of what goes on in the story.

While living with their aunt and uncle, Alexis/Aleks makes new friends: Dima, who wants to attend seminary, Deacon Jameson, and Sister Bernadette. All of these characters are within a few years of Alexis/Aleks’s age and provide not just friendship but also conflict and confusion. And once Alexis/Aleks overhears the horrifying confession (from an unknown confessor) about a priest sexually abusing young boys, those conflicts and confusions (and friendships) grow even more important and uncertain.

Much of this story has to do with when Alexis/Aleks cosplayed as a beautiful boy character and was endlessly objectified and exploited (and eventually assaulted). They is a lot of thoughtful rumination on not only cosplay and roles but gender and faith/religion too. The last many chapters of the book take a very dark turn as the characters (and readers) work out who the abuser is and what to do about it.

Addressing and grappling with secrets, identity, trauma, lies, and survival, this story is not a light read. There is misgendering, homophobia, transphobia, abuse and assault, murder, kidnapping, and other difficult to read and possibly triggering events and ideas. While it’s not possible to say I “enjoyed” this story (that’s too nice of a word for such a trauma-filled book), I did find it suspenseful, unexpected, thoughtful, and compelling.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541578197
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Book Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

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 9 Up–Black, queer, and trans Felix explores love, friendship, and possibly retribution in this powerful #OwnVoices story of identity and self-worth. Seventeen-year-old Felix Love hopes the summer art program he’s attending will help raise his grades and increase his chances of getting a full scholarship to attend Brown. Surrounded by a diverse and mostly queer group of artist friends, Felix navigates complicated relationships, including transphobia and harassment from his own friends, from his loving but still learning father, and from an anonymous bully. Bent on revenge, Felix begins catfishing his top suspect, only to encounter some uncomfortable and surprising revelations about not just his potential tormentor, but his own feelings. Coping with the abandonment of his mother and feeling like he isn’t worthy of love, Felix also grapples with the unsettling feeling that his identity still isn’t the best fit. It’s only after a lot of research that he discovers the label “demiboy” and begins to feel a sense of comfort that extends to how he works through and untangles his various complex relationships, both romantic and platonic. Immensely readable, the narration and the dialogue are honest, smart, and at times, bitingly vicious. Felix and friends are complicated characters, constantly fighting, messing up, and making up. Felix is achingly relatable, both vulnerable and guarded, often on the sidelines but wanting so much more. His explorations address privilege, marginalization, and intersectionality while he learns about what and who get to define a person.

VERDICT Full of warmth, love, and support, this is an important story and an essential purchase.

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2020. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062820259

Book Review: Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Publisher’s description

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

Only two months and a few dozen books into 2020 and I’m ready to call something one of my favorite books of the year? Yes, yes I am. This stunning book is easily the best thing I’ve read so far this year.

After their sister Ana falls to her death, the remaining Torres sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, survive only because they have to. Rosa looks for meaning with animals, particularly in an escaped hyena she feels certain has something to do with her dead sister’s spirit. Iridian hides out in books and writing, haunted by her final words to Ana. And Jessica spends her time with the worst possible boy to be with. They see snippets of things that point to Ana somehow being back, wanting something, needing something, though they’re not sure what her message is.

The power and beauty of this book is in the lovely writing and the magnificent, unforgettable characters. This is a story about what happens when girls become ghosts, when girls become animals. This is about what happens when girls embrace anger, when girls attack, when girls grow sick of the imprints men leave upon them. This is about aching, desperate, trapped, screaming girls. This is a warning and a celebration of what happens when girls become feral, become hunters, when girls decide they are not sorry. This haunting story is about sisterhood and death, about power and pain, and about confronting men and boys who are meddling cowards and abusers. A fierce story of heartbreak, grief, connection, and the complications of the human heart. Absolutely not to be missed.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616208967
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication date: 03/24/2020

Ages 14-18

Post-It Note Reviews: Graphic novels, road trips, repeat proms, guides to democracy, 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. 

Hex Vet: Witches in Training by Sam Davies

In a world where magic is an ordinary part of daily life, two young apprentice veterinarians pursue their dreams of caring for supernatural creatures.

Have you ever wondered where witches’ cats go when they pull a claw? Or what you do with a pygmy phoenix with a case of bird flu? Nan and Clarion have you covered. They’re the best veterinarian witches of all time—at least they’re trying to be. But when an injured rabbit with strange eyes stumbles into their lives, Nan and Clarion have to put down their enchanted potions and face the biggest test of their magical, medical careers…and possibly lose some dignity in the process.

Hex Vet: Witches in Training is the debut original graphic novel from acclaimed cartoonist Sam Davies (Stutterhug) and explores a truly spellbinding story about sticking together and helping animals at all costs.

(POST-IT SAYS: Large panels and minimal dialogue make this genuinely entertaining story fly by. Fans of magical creatures will love this action-filled story. Ages 8-11)

Sanity & Tallulah (Sanity & Tallulah Series #1) by Molly Brooks

Sanity Jones and Tallulah Vega are best friends on Wilnick, the dilapidated space station they call home at the end of the galaxy. So naturally, when gifted scientist Sanity uses her lab skills and energy allowance to create a definitely-illegal-but-impossibly-cute three-headed kitten, she has to show Tallulah. But Princess, Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds is a bit of a handful, and it isn’t long before the kitten escapes to wreak havoc on the space station. The girls will have to turn Wilnick upside down to find her, but not before causing the whole place to evacuate! Can they save their home before it’s too late?

Readers will be over the moon for this rollicking space adventure by debut author Molly Brooks.

(POST-IT SAYS: Smart girls in space! An adventurous 3-headed kitten and a space station possibly under threat mixes with humor and fun, diverse characters. Fans of sci-fi will adore this. Ages 8-12)

The Long Ride by Marina Budhos

In the tumult of 1970s New York City, seventh graders are bussed from their neighborhood in Queens to integrate a new school in South Jamaica.

Jamila Clarke. Josie Rivera. Francesca George. Three mixed-race girls, close friends whose immigrant parents worked hard to settle their families in a neighborhood with the best schools. The three girls are outsiders there, but they have each other.

Now, at the start seventh grade, they are told they will be part of an experiment, taking a long bus ride to a brand-new school built to “mix up the black and white kids.” Their parents don’t want them to be experiments. Francesca’s send her to a private school, leaving Jamila and Josie to take the bus ride without her.

While Francesca is testing her limits, Josie and Jamila find themselves outsiders again at the new school. As the year goes on, the Spanish girls welcome Josie, while Jamila develops a tender friendship with a boy—but it’s a relationship that can exist only at school.

(POST-IT SAYS: Solidly a middle grade novel. The struggles and challenges with race, class, gender, friendship, and adolescence are real and honest. A smart look at bussing, integration, and change. Ages 10-14)

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell, Aurelia Durand (Illustrator)

Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? Learn about social identities, the history of racism and resistance against it, and how you can use your anti-racist lens and voice to move the world toward equity and liberation.

“In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist—we must be ANTI-RACIST.” —Angela Davis

Gain a deeper understanding of your anti-racist self as you progress through 20 chapters that spark introspection, reveal the origins of racism that we are still experiencing, and give you the courage and power to undo it. Each chapter builds on the previous one as you learn more about yourself and racial oppression. Exercise prompts get you thinking and help you grow with the knowledge.

Author Tiffany Jewell, an anti-bias, anti-racist educator and activist, builds solidarity beginning with the language she chooses—using gender neutral words to honor everyone who reads the book. Illustrator Aurélia Durand brings the stories and characters to life with kaleidoscopic vibrancy.

After examining the concepts of social identity, race, ethnicity, and racism, learn about some of the ways people of different races have been oppressed, from indigenous Americans and Australians being sent to boarding school to be “civilized” to a generation of Caribbean immigrants once welcomed to the UK being threatened with deportation by strict immigration laws.

Find hope in stories of strength, love, joy, and revolution that are part of our history, too, with such figures as the former slave Toussaint Louverture, who led a rebellion against white planters that eventually led to Haiti’s independence, and Yuri Kochiyama, who, after spending time in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII, dedicated her life to supporting political prisoners and advocating reparations for those wrongfully interned.

This book is written for EVERYONE who lives in this racialized society—including the young person who doesn’t know how to speak up to the racist adults in their life, the kid who has lost themself at times trying to fit into the dominant culture, the children who have been harmed (physically and emotionally) because no one stood up for them or they couldn’t stand up for themselves, and also for their families, teachers, and administrators.

With this book, be empowered to actively defy racism to create a community (large and small) that truly honors everyone.

(POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal resource. I truly wish everyone would read this. Drives home the point that diversity and inclusion are not enough—you have to be actively anti-racist. Empowering and educational. Ages 12-18)

More to the Story by Hena Khan

From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.

When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.

Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…

(POST-IT SAYS: A sweet and quiet story of family, friendship, missteps, and identity. Really lovely with plenty of parallels to Little Women, but those unfamiliar with the source material will do just fine. Ages 9-12)

You Call This Democracy?: How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People by Elizabeth Rusch (3/31/2020)

All of the challenges facing our democracy today… problems with the electoral college, gerrymandering, voter suppression, lack of representation, voter disinterest, citizens who cannot vote, lobbying, money…lead to two questions: why doesn’t every vote really count? And what are we going to do about it?

Author Elizabeth Rusch examines some of the more problematic aspects of our government but, more importantly, offers ways for young people to fix them.

(POST-IT SAYS: Packed full of information, contemporary examples, and appealing visuals. Educates as well as inspires participation and action. For many, this comprehensive book will be an eye-opening look at the abuses and failures of government. Ages 13-18)

The Night of Your Life by Lydia Sharp (3/03/2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: I never get tired of stories with a Groundhog Day premise. this light, fun prom story is a quick read all about figuring things out, getting it right, and learning when to move on. Ages 13-18)

All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins (3/03/2020)

In this contemporary YA for fans of Becky Albertalli, one girl decides it’s time to be really be herself–but will that cost her the best friend who once meant everything to her?

Ever since her mom died and her family moved to a new town four years ago, sixteen-year-old Vetty Lake has hidden her heart. She’d rather keep secrets than risk getting hurt–even if that means not telling anyone that she’s pretty sure she’s bisexual.

But this summer, everything could change. Vetty and her family are moving back to her old neighborhood, right across the street from her childhood best friend Pez. Next to Pez, she always felt free and fearless. Reconnecting with him could be the link she needs to get back to her old self.

Vetty quickly discovers Pez isn’t exactly the boy she once knew. He has a new group of friends, a glamorous sort-of-girlfriend named March, and a laptop full of secrets. And things get even more complicated when she feels a sudden spark with March.

As Vetty navigates her relationship with Pez and her own shifting feelings, one question looms: Does becoming the girl she longs to be mean losing the friendship that once was everything to her?

(POST-IT SAYS: This exploration of sexuality and adolescence is quiet but powerful. Realistic, sensitive, and tender, full of really beautiful writing, this character-driven story will be relatable and affirming for many readers. Ages 14-18)

Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha

A powerful and moving teen graphic novel memoir about immigration, belonging, and how arts can save a life—perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Hey, Kiddo.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated.

Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends in Seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily, and worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.  

(POST-IT SAYS: An insightful look at the life of a young immigrant trying to find where she fits as she redefines home, culture, family, and friendship. Heartfelt and excellent. Ages 12-18)

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

From New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone comes a middle-grade road-trip story through American race relations past and present, perfect for Black History Month and for fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds.

How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma:

Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED.

Fasten Your Seatbelt: G’ma’s never conventional, so this trip won’t be either.

Use the Green Book: G’ma’s most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and most important, the way home.

What Not to Bring:

A Cell Phone: Avoid contact with Dad at all costs. Even when G’ma starts acting stranger than usual.

Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with New York Times bestselling Nic Stone and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem—his G’ma included. Real historical elements like the Green Book, the subject and namesake of the recent Oscar winning film, make this an educational and powerful read.

(POST-IT SAYS: An immensely readable inter-generational road trip that reveals secrets, history, and hard truths about race, civil rights, and family. I adore Scoob and G’ma. Ages 9-12)

Book Review: A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell

Publisher’s description

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

Amanda’s thoughts

The best thing, to me, about anthologies is that they introduce readers to a wide array of authors and then hopefully send them looking for more of their work. This collection includes so many wonderful writers and oooh will people be in for great treats if they’re just discovering some of these voices.

Standout stories include Amerie’s poignant tale of orcs landing in Central Park and a trip into space (and through a wormhole) revealing not only points of connection, but a paradox and a startling revelation. Alaya Dawn Johnson’s story about a fisherman and his sea maid wife is beautifully written. Justina Ireland’s piece features a girl hoping to be apprentice to a sorcerer, dragons, curses, and murderous unicorns. My favorite story is Dhonielle Clayton’s about a girl with a disintegrating heart and her decision to either grow it back or choose a new one. Danny Lore’s thoughtful story is about a witch who braids hair and “fixes your head” both literally and metaphorically. J. Marcelle Corrie’s piece lets characters use a program to predict how life events will play out. Other stories feature mermaids, vampires, fireball witches, vengeance, healing, uprisings, love, freedom, and so much magic.

Full of hope, strength, magic, and beauty, this anthology is an essential addition to all collections. Don’t miss this powerful look at creation, future, and resistance.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984835659
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/10/2020

Book Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Publisher’s description

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease.

Will Tavares is the dream summer fling—he’s fun, affectionate, kind—but just when Ollie thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After, summer vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back. Now Ollie is one prince short of his fairytale ending, and to complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country. Which he minds a little less when he realizes it’s the same school Will goes to…except Ollie finds that the sweet, comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship, especially since this new, bro-y jock version of Will seems to go from hot to cold every other week. But then Will starts “coincidentally” popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right? Right.

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s just start with this: Ollie deserves way better than Will. Sure, Will’s life is complicated because his summer fling with Ollie wasn’t meant to ever affect his “real life” at home once summer is over. He’s not out to anyone, so when Ollie shows up at his school as a new student, panic ensues. But Ollie spends the whole book pining for someone who so often treats him terribly. I don’t think literature should be handbooks for how to behave full of nothing but “good” choices and positive outcomes. Life is messy. Stories get to be full of messy people, too. But oooh did I want to holler at Ollie to move on with his life!

Ollie is immediately befriend by three girls at his new school, all of whom are interesting and complicated. He’s juggling trying to figure out what is going on with Will with finding his footing in this new school all while sometimes taking care of his aunt’s kids and dealing with the fact that she’s dying from cancer. Ollie’s cool and weird new girl friends inexplicably hang out with Will’s crew of basketball guys (inexplicably because, well, I’ve been in high school, and they hardly seem like a natural or even particularly friendly friend group). Summer Will was sweet and thoughtful. School Will is insufferable and smug. I guess those facts, combined with the whole summer fling who shows up at school aspect, are what make this story like Grease. If no one had planted this thought in mind, I never would seen it.

Of course, it’s not as straightforward as Will is a jerk to Ollie and that’s that. If it were, not only would there be no story—whatever story would be left would be boring. Again, life is messy, so while it’s sometimes infuriating to watch characters behave in really frustrating ways, they get to be inconsistent and complicated just we real humans are. Will still likes Ollie. Ollie still likes Will, despite the many crappy ways Will behaves toward him. Will starts be nicer to him, then freaks out, then is nicer, then freaks out, etc. until they finally (it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal this) figure out that they want to be together more than anything else.

Coming out often isn’t easy. It feels very real that Will would panic and behave differently toward Ollie in the setting of his school versus when it was just the two of them over the summer. Though Will is so often hurtful toward Ollie, I hope readers will remember that we need to see the whole spectrum of stories and experiences and representations. Confusion is okay. Being mildly terrible to people because of your own fears and insecurities is okay only in the sense that it’s very, very real. And while Will isn’t perfect, he’s VERY real. It was a real nice surprise to see everyone in Will’s life be supportive and loving when he does finally come out as bi.

In the end, sweet with a HEA, but the path there is rough and at times painful. Those who want swoon-worthy perfection in their relationships will be disappointed, but those who are deep in their own messy lives will totally get where both Will and Ollie are coming from.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250315892
Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/03/2020

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

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: 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