Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry

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—Two lesbians in rural Texas suffer physical and psychological torture in this reimagining of the Orpheus legend. Raised in a conservative small town where gossip becomes myth, Raya has never felt like the other girls. She keeps her real self hidden, knowing that gay kids in her town disappear and become cautionary tales. When Raya and her best friend Sarah, a preacher’s daughter, are caught in bed together, they are sent to Friendly Saviors conversion camp to”get fixed.” Like Orpheus, Raya is determined to save the girl she loves, even if that means going through hell. But her resolve to escape quickly turns to resignation as she undergoes a brutal regime of labor, prayer, exercise, and, eventually, electric shock treatments. The so-called therapies at Friendly Saviors are staggeringly painful to endure and to read about. Horrific, graphic scenes of electroshock treatment as well as homophobic slurs, transphobia, suicide, and more may be triggering for some readers. Deeply emotional, this devastating story is lyrical and haunting, though repetition and heavy-handed reminders of the Orpheus story distract from the power and immediacy of Raya’s narrative. Underdeveloped secondary characters align with other mythological figures but do little to move the story along. This unremittingly bleak depiction of what it means to be anything other than cisgender and heterosexual is heartbreaking; isolated Raya has no examples of queer happiness or survival. 

VERDICT A secondary purchase for libraries with large LGBTQIA+ YA collections that also offer more nuanced and positive looks at what it means to be gay.

ISBN-13: 9781641290746
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/08/2019

Book Review: By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Publisher’s description

Heart-wrenchingly honest, fans of Brandy Colbert and Nicola Yoon will anticiapte this poignant reflection on what it means to choose yourself.

On the day Torrey moves and officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bank is foreclosing on the bee farm his Uncle Miles left him.

Torrey’s worked hard to become the first member of his family to go to college, but while the neighborhood held him back emotionally, Uncle Miles encouraged him to reach his full potential. For years, it was just the two of them tending the farm. So Torrey can’t let someone erase his uncle’s legacy without a fight.

He tries balancing his old life in L.A. with his new classes, new friends, and (sort of) new boyfriend in San Francisco, but as the farm heads for auction, the pressure of juggling everything threatens to tear him apart. Can he make a choice between his family and his future without sacrificing a part of himself?

Amanda’s thoughts

Hey, this was great. Here’s why: FANTASTIC voice. Set in the first weeks of college. It tackles gentrification. It revolves around an APIARY. And did I mention the FANTASTIC VOICE?

Torrey, who is Black and gay, is excited to finally get out of where he grew up. But as soon as he arrives as SFSU, he learns two things that throw him for a loop: One, unpaid taxes means he’s about to lose the bee farm he inherited from his uncle. Two, Gabe, a boy Torrey was really into in junior high (and who then moved to Ohio) is also at SFSU. Gabe is Afro-Latinx and bi and has a girlfriend, but it’s clear that Torrey and Gabe still have lots of intense feelings for each other. But instead of figuring out college classes, making new friends, and potentially getting together with Gabe, Torrey has this MUCH bigger thing looming over him. Losing the bee farm would be devastating. He feels so much guilt and obligation and also frustration over the entire situation. He contemplates what to do during the two weeks until the add/drop period ends, wondering if his choice has to be all or nothing—go home? Stay at college? Somehow save the farm? It’s a lot for an eighteen-year-old to deal with.

But he’s used to it.

His mom is in a medically-induced coma, his uncle was killed, and his only real family is his aunt and his homophobic grandpa. He’s been dealing with hard stuff for a long time. He’s also used to taking care of the adults in his life. Now, during a time that theoretically should be all about him finally, he’s still having to worry about taking care of people and doing the right thing. He’s also super used to people leaving, so to fall in with this great found family at school, and to start to see more community and connections, makes him want to figure out both parts of his life—continuing on at college and somehow keeping things going with the apiary.

This is an immensely readable look at gentrification, systemic oppression, protest, action, community, and having your voice heard. It’s also a very sweet love story as well as sort of a best case scenario college story (you like your roommate! you have instant friends! a cool prof immediately takes you under her wing!). And, I can’t stress this enough, the main thing that this book has going for it is its voice. Torrey’s narration just comes alive. A great suggestion for anyone looking to read at the upper edges of YA and a good addition to the growing number of books that tackle gentrification.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624147999
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 10/08/2019

Post-It Reviews: Graphic Novels Galore!

Here are some quick reviews of a few of the books I’ve read and enjoyed over the past few months. As I’ve been busy juggling library work, parenting, writing, blogging, and working on a secret project that has required a TON of reading (don’t worry, I’ll share eventually), I found myself reading a lot of graphic novels in what little free time I could find. I’m a huge fan of graphic novels and comic books.

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.

The Secret of Danger Point (Surfside Girls Series #1) by Kim Dwinell

Sun… sand… and spooky adventures!

Things are getting weird in Surfside. Lately, Samantha’s best friend Jade explodes into fits of giggles whenever she sees a boy, and it’s throwing a wrench into the kick-back summer of surfing and hanging out that Sam had planned. But after swimming through a secret underwater cave, Sam starts to… see things. Like ghosts. And pirates. And maybe something even scarier! Can she and Jade get to the bottom of this mystery in time to save their town?

(Post-it says: The writing and depth of the story is pretty meh, but the kids at my school devour graphic novels so this very tame mystery will circulate plenty. The art is fun and the surfing, skateboarding girls are adept, if kind of dull, sleuths. Ages 8-11)

Stranger Things: The Other Side (Graphic Novel, Volume 1) by Jody Houser, Stefano Martino (Illustrator), Keith Champagn (Illustrator)

The hit Netflix series from the Duffer Brothers is now a spine-tingling comic that recounts Will Beyers’ harrowing survival in the treacherous Upside Down!

When Will Byers finds himself in the Upside Down, an impossible dark parody of his own world, he’s understandably frightened. But that’s nothing compared with the fear that takes hold when he realizes what’s in that world with him! 

Follow Will’s struggle through the season one events of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things! Written by Jody Houser (Mother Panic, Faith) and illustrated by Stefano Martino (Doctor Who, Catwoman).

(POST-IT SAYS: If you’ve watched the show and wondered, “But what happened while Will was missing in the upside-down?” this book’s for you. Satisfyingly adds a lot to the story we get on the show. A must-read for fans. Ages 11+)

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board (Making Friends #2) by Kristen Gudsnuk

Dany, Madison, and…wait-another Dany?!-must navigate some very complicated friendships while trying to capture a magical dog that is turning their town upside-down!

Almost everything is going great for Dany. She and Madison are still best friends, she still has her magic sketchbook, and the new school year is looking up. But when Dany creates a duplicate of herself to secretly help with homework and raise her social status, the two of them accidentally unleash a magical dog that wreaks supernatural havoc on the town. Now, with the big school dance coming up, time is running short for Dany, Madison, and their friends to set things right before the night is completely ruined!

(POST-IT SAYS: Definitely read book #1 in this series or you’ll be so lost. Wacky scifi plot mixes with relatable middle school issues. Very busy illustrations and an overstuffed plot mean it may take readers a while to finish this. Ages 9+)

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Harmony Becker (Illustrator)

A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself — in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

(POST-IT SAYS: I hope this book is already on your library shelves or in your hold queue. This profoundly moving memoir of one of the US’s darkest periods brings history to life through deeply emotional personal reflections. One of the best books I’ve read this year. Ages 12+)

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream is at once a coming-of-age story and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.

Malaka Gharib’s triumphant graphic memoir brings to life her teenage antics and illuminates earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into the lives of modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children they raised. Malaka’s story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream.

(POST-IT SAYS: Follows Malaka from childhood to present adulthood. A funny and authentic look at being part of a multiple cultures. The ever-changing layout/format, self-deprecating tone and illustrations, and real exploration of family and culture makes this a hit. Ages 13+)

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.  

(POST-IT SAYS: An important, honest, and raw look at gender and identity. Affirming and educational, Kobabe doesn’t shy away from complicated or painful feelings or experiences. Ages 16+)

Best Friends by Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

Bestselling creators of Real Friends Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with a true story about popularity, first crushes, and finding your own path in the graphic novel, Best Friends.

Follow your heart. Find your people.

Sixth grade is supposed to be perfect. Shannon’s got a sure spot in the in-crowd called The Group, and her best friend is their leader, Jen, the most popular girl in school.

But the rules are always changing, and Shannon has to scramble to keep up. She never knows which TV shows are cool, what songs to listen to, and who she’s allowed to talk to. Who makes these rules, anyway? And does Shannon have to follow them?

(POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal! Should be required reading for all 5th-7th graders–so much insight into friendship, popularity, identity, and important looks at anxiety disorder. Love this even more than book 1. Ages 8-13)

Bloom by Kevin Panetta, Savanna Ganucheau (Illustrator)

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

(POST-IT SAYS: A sweet romance that gets to happen because charismatic Hector puts up with Ari, who still has a lot of growing up to do. I liked that both characters weren’t quite settled into what life after high school looks like. Ages 14+)

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Ryan Andrews’s This Was Our Pact is an astonishing, magical-realist adventure story for middle-grade readers.

It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they’ve made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben’s disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in.

Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.

*And a talking bear.

(POST-IT SAYS: A strange and fantastical story. Dreamlike adventure and fantasy mix with themes of friendship and astronomy. Gorgeous art. I loved the ending. Ages 9-13)

Boy-Crazy Stacey (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novel #7) by Ann M. Martin, Gale Galligan (Illustrator)

A brand-new graphic novel adapted by USA Today bestselling author Gale Galligan!

Stacey and Mary Anne are baby-sitting for the Pike family for two weeks at the New Jersey shore. Things are great in Sea City: There’s a gorgeous house right on the beach, a boardwalk, plenty of sun and sand… and the cutest boy Stacey has ever seen!

Mary Anne thinks that Stacey should leave Scott alone and focus on the Pike kids, but Stacey’s in love. Looking for reasons to hang around his lifeguard stand takes up all her time, which means Mary Anne has to do the job of two baby-sitters! How can she tell Stacey that Scott just isn’t interested without ruining their friendship and breaking Stacey’s heart?

(POST-IT SAYS: I’m always as excited for these as the students are! Just enough dating/liking someone and friend drama with plenty of the usual BSC excitement. They can’t crank these out fast enough. PS—Did you know Stacey moved from New York? 🙂 Ages 8-12)

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Roller Girl in this hilarious, one-of-a-kind graphic novel about a half-witch who has just discovered the truth about herself, her family, and her town and is doing her best to survive middle school now that she knows everything!

Magic is harder than it looks.

Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all! When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. Secrets surface from generations past as Moth unravels the complicated legacy at the heart of her town, her family, and herself.

In this spellbinding graphic novel debut, Emma Steinkellner spins a story packed with humor and heart about the weird and wonderful adventures of a witch-in-progress.

(POST-IT SAYS: So fun and cute. Tons of dialogue, fantastic characters, and vibrant art. This will be mega popular in elementary and middle school collections. A must-have book. Ages 9-13)

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing is a heartwarming middle-grade graphic novel in the spirit of Real Friends and El Deafo, from New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Jen Wang.

Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.

But after Moon moves in next door, these unlikely friends are soon best friends, sharing their favorite music videos and painting their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she has visions, sometimes, of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

Moon’s visions have an all-too-earthly root, however, and soon Christine’s best friend is in the hospital, fighting for her life. Can Christine be the friend Moon needs, now, when the sky is falling?

Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope.

(POST-IT SAYS: A great story about unlikely friends, expanding your horizons, and community and identity. Moon’s brain tumor late in the story adds a solemn layer to this story about middle grade friendships. Ages 8-12)


Book Review: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

Publisher’s description

Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this heart-wrenching—and ultimately uplifting—novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates. 

For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?

But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.

It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.

From the author of Everything I Know About YouHalfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.”

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s start with what I usually save for the end of reviews: Great, important, REAL book. Order this for your libraries, hand it to your middle schoolers, get it up on displays, use it for starting points for discussions. This is about consent and boundaries and respecting girls and not everyone is getting these messages at home.

My son Callum (yep, just like a main character here) is in 8th grade. We have been talking about consent forevvvver. You can hear us here, from some years back, talking about sex on The Longest Shortest Time podcast. My son is absolutely sick of me using every opportunity I can to talk about consent or respect or misogyny. Witness:

He has me listed in his phone not as “Amanda MacGregor, mom” but “Amanda MacGregor, feminist,” because he says I act like that’s my job. And you know what? It is. Because I am trying to offset all of the messages he receives elsewhere about what it means to be a white, cis boy and what he is allowed to do or should feel entitled to.

Which brings us to the book (finally!). Dee does so many really brilliant yet ordinary things with her story. Mila has friends tell her she’s overreacting, that she’s being a baby, that she shouldn’t tattle. She has friends blame her for their actions, tell her they wouldn’t “allow” such things. She has friends offer to go with her to tell someone about the harassment. She has an adult basically tell her that boys will be boys and that it’s her job to ignore their behavior. She has an adult take her seriously and offer up her own stories of harassment. The reactions all feel so genuine. I was brought back to middle school as I read this, thinking of my own experiences with this sort of garbage from boys. The things the boys do may not look like what many people think of as harassment, as troubling. But no one will walk away from this book thinking that. Readers see Mila become scared and uncertain. She doesn’t want to be on the bus with them, she doesn’t want to be alone with them at school. She wants to hide. When she speaks up for herself, the boys say they will stop, but of course they don’t.

I would really love to see this book used as a read aloud for 6th or 7th graders or used in reading circles. There is SO MUCH to talk about. Outside of the main issue, Mila is also dealing with her parents being split up, her mom working an unsatisfactory job and looking for a new job, and their family’s money struggles. She makes new friends throughout the course of the story and finds a new interest, karate, which helps empower her. Her tight friendships change as everyone makes new friends and finds new interests. And while Mila learns that she’s certainly not the only girl to go through this kind of bullying and harassment, the boys who perpetuate this behavior come to finally understand just what they are doing and how it’s making Mila (and other girls) feel.

This look at consent, guilt, blame, pressure, and obligation will inspire much needed conversations for middle grade readers and the adults in their lives. Mila learns to speak up and draw the line, but ultimately, it’s not up to girls to end this—it’s up to boys (and those of us raising them and teaching them) to learn how to not do these things in the first place. This important and well-written story will surely find many readers who will relate to both sides of this experience.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432376
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/01/2019

Book Review: Guts by Raina Telgemeier

TRIGGER WARNING: MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ARE DISCUSSED INCLUDING SUICIDAL IDEATION

Publisher’s Book Description

A true story from Raina Telgemeier, the #1 New York
Times
 bestselling, multiple Eisner Award-winning author of
SmileSistersDrama, and Ghosts!

Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?

Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face — and conquer — her fears.

Karen’s Thoughts

I’ll be honest with you, at this point new books by Raina Telgemeier don’t really need any promotion. I know so many tweens and teens who have been waiting with breathless anticipation for this book. In fact, when my library sent me to BEA earlier this year my one personal goal was to get a copy of this ARC for Thing 2, which I did. I didn’t really know what this book was about, I just knew that it was Raina Telgemeier and she’s a big fan and it would mean a lot to her.

It turns out, this book means a lot to us all. Several years ago, I decided that I was going to be very open and honest with myself, my kids, my family and I guess the entire Internet that I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I had my first full blown panic attack back on February 4th of the year 2006. I went to the ER because I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack. I was not having a heart attack, that’s just one of the fun ways that anxiety works for me. I get this intense burning sensation in my arms and chest, it literally feels like my heart is aching, and my whole body kind of shakes. I cry a lot. I can’t sleep. And I like to go hang out in my bedroom which I have made into a dark cave. I feel nauseous but I can’t eat. I have thrown up on occasion. I have, on occasion, had suicidal thoughts. All in all, it’s a truly horrible experience. I can not explain to you if you have not experienced it yourself how truly awful it can be. I don’t have word craft necessary to do the topic justice.

The Teen had her first panic attack in middle school. She is now a junior and it’s been a bit better for her, but the joy of anxiety is you just never know when it is going to bare its teeth and sink it into your soul. Watching my child struggle with this darkness that I know and probably shared with her is some of the heaviest burden I have to carry in this life.

So like I said, this book turned out to be really personal for my family. Thing 2 is 10 and she is aware that both her sister and I struggle with depression and anxiety. We talk about it in our home because every time things get bad for one of us, it effects the entire family. I want her to know that what’s happening to us is an illness just like any other illness and that it’s not her fault. I also want her to know about it in case it turns out she has it as well. Mental health can be genetic. Genetics are not always nice.

Because this is a book about a young girl with anxiety, it helped us have conversations about this very issue that effects our family. That’s the beauty of finding the right book at the right time. The power of story can help stir important conversations and it did in our house.

Thing 2 also has a friend who has anxiety and we let her borrow the ARC. I can not tell you what this book meant to her personally. Her mother texted me and let me know that she had read it multiple times in just a weekend and she felt safe and found and validated. That too is the power of story.

More and more children are struggling with anxiety these days. The numbers are growing and astounding.

Author Raina Telgemeier chose to bare her soul on the page and share her personal struggles with anxiety and I’m here to tell you, this is a powerful and important story. Every time we talk openly and honestly about mental health, it helps to erase the shame and stigma. More people ask for help.

So let me take a moment to tell you about the last two weeks in my house. I personally have been struggling once again with some severe anxiety. I could feel myself spiraling and I knew it was not good. Yesterday I had some real full on panic attacks and I had to leave work early. But this time was so very different from other times. I asked for help from the people I knew loved and supported me. I asked a friend to please pick up my children and bring them home because I couldn’t. My husband asked me very specifically, “what do you need from me?” I called and talked to a friend who talked to me the entire hour drive home to keep me calm and make sure I got home safely. A friend from work texted to make sure I got home safely. I felt loved and supported and validated because I chose to be honest about my mental health issues and had a support network in place that was more knowledgeable and understanding and supportive. It made a difference. I’m not sure how long this little jaunt into the mental health abyss will last. I know it won’t be the last time. I know there will be worse episodes. I know that there will be better days. I hope there will be. But man, talking about it and erasing the stigma in my home made some things better about this time.

That’s why books like Guts matter. For kids and grown ups like me who struggle with chronic health issues or mental health issues or anything outside the norm, sharing our stories helps to erase the stigma, helps to increase support and understanding, and I’m here to tell you, sometimes it literally saves lives. Far too many of our young people are wrestling with mental health issues and we need to do better for them. Guts is just one of the ways that we can help. And that’s the power of story.

Book Review: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Publisher’s description

Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.

Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels—about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner. 

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.

Amanda’s thoughts

That summary up there is thorough. I just read it again, when I pasted it in, to see if it’s too thorough—after all, it really hits every major plot point. But while it gives you the broad strokes of the plot, it doesn’t do much to capture how powerful the story is, how beautiful the writing is, or how achingly lovely and profound the connection is between Agnes and Mabel. To be entirely honest, the book started a little slow for me, but once Agnes and Mabel are put in the same space, the story really took off and I became completely immersed in their world, their families, their big thoughts and feelings, and their love.

There is so much to love about this story. Yes, Agnes is sent away when her mother catches her with her girlfriend. She’s shamed and told she’s “nasty” by her mother. But she finds love, support, and acceptance from everyone else in her life. Mabel finds kissing her boyfriend kind of boring, but even just being near her friend Jada makes her all tingly. She’s working out what all this means, but it’s not angst-filled or painful or met with any hate. In Minneapolis, they are surrounded by supportive family and friends, many of whom are queer. And for Agnes, she has Queenie, her grandma, back home in Trinidad, who has always been her closest and most loving person. Queenie fully accepts Agnes for who she is—she always has—and fills with her love, always reminding her of her self-worth and that she’s perfect as she is.

While the story alternates between Mabel and Agnes, we also get some unexpected perspectives. There are chapters about Queenie’s younger life as well as chapters from a memoir Mabel is reading. Written by Afua Mahmoud while incarcerated, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them (his memoir) provides surprising points of connection for Mabel, who feels less alone as she reads his thoughts on life while dealing with her new diagnosis of a terminal illness. All of these voices and experiences speak of hope, connection, loneliness, love, isolation, and freedom. After they become pen pals, Afua tells Mabel that, despite his circumstances, his life is still his own, and so is hers.

Through the lenses of freedom and love, the characters ruminate on the past, the present, and an eternal future found through cosmic connections. They learn to be uncontained, to love without fear or boundaries, to give themselves the space to figure out who they are. The voices from this stunning debut will stay with readers long after the unpredictable ending. Full of love, healing, strength, and spirituality, this is a story that hasn’t been told before—not like this. Be ready to lose a day once you start reading; Mabel and Agnes will draw you into their worlds and not release their grip on you even after the last page. A lovely story that is sad and hopeful all at once.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525555483
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/17/2019

Book Review: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Publisher’s description

Two friends. One fake dating scheme. What could possibly go wrong?

Frank Li has two names. There’s Frank Li, his American name. Then there’s Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California.

Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl—which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white.

As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he’s forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don’t leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he’s left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love—or himself—at all.

In this moving debut novel—featuring striking blue stained edges and beautiful original endpaper art by the author—David Yoon takes on the question of who am I? with a result that is humorous, heartfelt, and ultimately unforgettable.

Amanda’s thoughts

Easily one of my top ten reads this year. EASILY. You know how many books I read a year? A few hundred. Eventually, many of them blur into fuzziness—I can’t remember plots or characters or (gulp) sometimes even that I read them at all. A long time ago, working at The Children’s Book Shop while I was in graduate school, my boss scolded me. “Don’t bolt your food!” she told me, watching me devour book after book. I can’t help it—I hardly stop to actually enjoy the writing, so desperate to consume the story. I usually hardly take a breath in between finishing one book and starting the next. But with this book? I read slowly. I let myself NOT read anything the rest of the day after I finished it. And I definitely will not be forgetting plot details or characters. This book is GOOD.

Korean-American Frank isn’t sure where he’s supposed to fit in. The child of immigrants, he always feels like he’s not Korean enough, but he’s not fully American. He loves his parents, who are complicated people. He fully admits they’re racist (and have essentially let their daughter, whose husband is black, walk out of their lives because of this). His best friend, Q, is black, and while he feels totally at home at Q’s house, he rarely has him over. He knows when he eventually finds a girlfriend, she should probably be Korean-American, just to make everything easier. Falling for white Brit means lots of deception. When he begins fake dating his Korean-American friend Joy, as a cover, we can see what may happen, but we can’t predict all of the twists and turns that will come with both his real relationship and his fake one.

While this is a love story, it’s also about so much more. Frank spends an awful lot of time thinking about race and where he fits. He talks with his friends about this. He travels in various circles—the AP kids (the Apeys), the Gathering kids—and fits everywhere and nowhere. He is always learning, rethinking, growing. At one point he thinks, “People who let themselves learn new things are the best kind of people.” Mine, too, Frank. When he starts to date Brit, he eventually realizes that he will always be holding her at a distance because he isn’t being his real self with her (whoever his real self is). But dating Joy turns out to be just as complicated when he begins to see all the gaps in life–gaps in time, in generations, in class, in upbringing, in experience. He’s trying to figure out what labels are for him, or if labels are even helpful, which is not an easy task.

I absolutely loved this book. It’s smart, funny, sweet, sad, cute, and thoughtful in all the best ways. I totally admit that if I start a book that’s more than 250 pages or so, I think, ugh—I bet it won’t need to be so long, mostly just because I want to race through it and onto the next book on my list. At 432 pages, I was wary. But you know what? Every single page needs to exist. I wanted more. The ending is perfect and satisfying, but I wanted more. One last thing: I am an easy crier. I cry at books all the time. If we could play back a reel of my life so far, we could clip together like an entire hour of my son just looking at me in exasperation, saying, “Oh my god—are you crying? Are you crying again? Are you still crying? WHY ARE YOU CRYING SO MUCH?” I am not, however, an easy laugh. It’s the rare book that makes me literally laugh out loud or smile into its pages. This book managed that trick many times. I love how Frank and his friends talk, how they relate, how they support each other. I just love them. I hope you’ll go grab this book and love them too. An utter delight.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984812209
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/10/2019

Book Review: Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown

Publisher’s description

From the Sibert honor-winning creator behind The Unwanted and Drowned City comes a graphic novel of one of the darkest episodes in American history: the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.

New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.

When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.

What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.

Amanda’s thoughts

Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction books are always an auto-read for me. Usually, I find them incredibly moving and deeply interesting. I’m bummed to say that this one was just kind of meh for me, though a meh Don Brown book is still a pretty good book. For such a dramatic event, the storytelling was kind of dry, and I’m hoping some of the repetition and clunky sentences will be cleaned up by the final copy.

Graphic nonfiction is a great way to present information to readers who may struggle to maintain interest in this material presented in other formats. I will say that the story of the 1918 pandemic is a riveting and horrifying one. I read a fantastic book on it, Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin, last winter when my school was in the throes of an influenza outbreak. Everything I learned then about the flu made our 20% absence rate and my two weeks in bed seem like nothing. Readers of Brown’s book will probably find the statistics staggering—1 out of every 3 people on the planet were infected by this 1918 outbreak, 50 million died worldwide. The disease was not yet well understood during this pandemic. Vaccines were developed quickly but proved ineffective. Transmission seemed nonsensical and so rapid that it seemed impossible to contain. There was a shortage of doctors, nurses, gravediggers, and coffins. Entire cities essentially shut down. This may not be Brown’s strongest book, but it is a concise way to present information about an event that seems almost unfathomable. My ARC only had black and white illustrations with a sample of the full-color art, which I imagine will add some liveliness to the unfortunately lackluster presentation of information.

Though a bit of a disappointment, I still think this is worthwhile to have in collections just for the fact that it makes history accessible to readers who may otherwise give it a pass and because it does a worthy job of educating readers’ on this awful pandemic.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544837409
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/03/2019

Book Review: Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

Publisher’s description

“Saved!” meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this laugh-out-loud romantic comedy that takes a meaningful look at consent and what it means to give it.

When CeCe’s born-again ex-boyfriend dumps her after they have sex, she follows him to Jesus camp in order to win him back. Problem: She knows nothing about Jesus. But her best friend Paul does. He accompanies CeCe to camp, and the plan—God’s or CeCe’s—goes immediately awry when her ex shows up with a new girlfriend, a True Believer at that.

Scrambling to save face, CeCe ropes Paul into faking a relationship. But as deceptions stack up, she questions whether her ex is really the nice guy he seemed. And what about her strange new feelings for Paul—is this love, lust, or an illusion born of heartbreak? To figure it out, she’ll have to confront the reasons she chased her ex to camp in the first place, including the truth about the night she lost her virginity.

Amanda’s thoughts

I enjoyed this a ton for so many reasons, both personal and because of how great this book was. Once upon a time, I was a teenager, waaaay back in the 90s, and I loved a boy who became a born-again Christian. I related hardcore to a lot of what CeCe feels and experiences here. Maybe someday, if the publishing gods comply, you will be able to read my novel tackling similar ground.

The best part about this novel is how it manages to feel both predictable and unexpected at the same time. We can guess that chasing her ex to Jesus camp probably won’t result in them getting back together. And we can guess what may happen with CeCe and her best friend Paul fake dating, because when has fake dating ever led to anything but realizing actual feelings? That said, Hartl makes everything that happens along the way to these realizations take twists that are interesting, emotional, and unexpected to even CeCe. The writing is solid, the dynamic between Paul and CeCe is great (really amusing banter and fantastic emotional honesty), and the setting is unique. CeCe is totally out of her element at camp (Paul’s helpful advice to her: “Try not to talk.”) and while it’s at times awkward and cringe-worthy, something surprising happens: CeCe stands up for herself and really all other girls, finding her voice and friendship along the way.

This is a fun, standout story about self-examination, self-discovery, friendship, sex education, consent, and honesty. CeCe, who has been made to feel insecure, insignificant, and unworthy by her crappy ex-boyfriend, learns that her experiences and her voice matter, that she has nothing to feel ashamed of, and that she’s not less-than just because she’s not Christian. CeCe and her bunkmates learn that you’re more than what people say you are, and that you’re more than what your labels, your experiences, and your own notions about who you are and what you can do/think/like add up to. A great read.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624147975
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 09/03/2019

Post-It Note Reviews: YA books about toxic relationships, the history of AIDS, gun control, voting rights, 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. 

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (Illustrator)

Author Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Rosemary Valero-O’Connell bring to life a sweet and spirited tale of young love in Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, a graphic novel that asks us to consider what happens when we ditch the toxic relationships we crave to embrace the healthy ones we need.

Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley’s dream girl: charming, confident, and SO cute. There’s just one problem: Laura Dean is maybe not the greatest girlfriend.

Reeling from her latest break up, Freddy’s best friend, Doodle, introduces her to the Seek-Her, a mysterious medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. But Laura Dean keeps coming back, and as their relationship spirals further out of her control, Freddy has to wonder if it’s really Laura Dean that’s the problem. Maybe it’s Freddy, who is rapidly losing her friends, including Doodle, who needs her now more than ever.

Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnists like Anna Vice to help her through being a teenager in love.

(POST-IT SAYS: Just beautiful. Smart, sad, and tender, this book nails how complicated love can be. Fantastic art, a great diversity of characters, and the vivid setting and story details support and enhance Freddy’s quest to be able to be broken up with on her own terms. I loved this. Ages 14-18)

VIRAL: The Fight Against AIDS in America by Ann Bausum

Groundbreaking narrative nonfiction for teens that tells the story of the AIDS crisis in America.

Thirty-five years ago, it was a modern-day, mysterious plague. Its earliest victims were mostly gay men, some of the most marginalized people in the country; at its peak in America, it killed tens of thousands of people. The losses were staggering, the science frightening, and the government’s inaction unforgivable. The AIDS Crisis fundamentally changed the fabric of the United States.

Viral presents the history of the AIDS crisis through the lens of the brave victims and activists who demanded action and literally fought for their lives. This compassionate but unflinching text explores everything from the disease’s origins and how it spread to the activism it inspired and how the world confronts HIV and AIDS today.

(POST-IT SAYS: Essential reading. I was a teen at the height of the AIDS pandemic, but current teens may have little idea the history of this plague. A sympathetic and sensitive look at AIDS, filled with courage, hope, optimism, and outreach. Ages 14+)

Queer, 2nd Edition: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge, Marke Bieschke (ISBN-13: 9781942186489 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 10/01/2019)

Teen life is hard enough, but for teens who are LGBTQ, it can be even harder. When do you decide to come out? Will your friends accept you? And how do you meet people to date? Queer is a humorous, engaging, and honest guide that helps LGBTQ teens come out to friends and family, navigate their social life, figure out if a crush is also queer, and challenge bigotry and homophobia. Personal stories from the authors and sidebars on queer history provide relatable context. This completely revised and updated edition is a must-read for any teen who thinks they might be queer or knows someone who is.

(POST-IT SAYS: Updated, thorough, and useful, this guide’s only downfall is the design—the dense text doesn’t lend itself to easy browsing. Illustrations by Christian Robinson do add a whimsical liveliness. A solid resource that will educate and affirm.)

Enough Is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety by Michelle Roehm McCann, Shannon Watts (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9781582707013 Publisher: Simon Pulse/Beyond Words Publication date: 10/08/2019)

From award-winning author Michelle Roehm McCann comes a young activist’s handbook to joining the fight against gun violence—both in your community and on a national level—to make schools safer for everyone.

Young people are suffering the most from the epidemic of gun violence—as early as kindergarten students are crouching behind locked doors during active shooter drills. Teens are galvanizing to speak up and fight for their right to be safe. They don’t just want to get involved, they want to change the world. Enough Is Enough is a call to action for teens ready to lend their voices to the gun violence prevention movement. This handbook deftly explains America’s gun violence issues—myths and facts, causes and perpetrators, solutions and change-makers—and provides a road map for effective activism.

Told in three parts, Enough Is Enough also explores how America got to this point and the obstacles we must overcome, including historical information about the Second Amendment, the history of guns in America, and an overview of the NRA. Informative chapters include interviews with teens who have survived gun violence and student activists who are launching their own movements across the country. Additionally, the book includes a Q&A with gun owners who support increased gun safety laws.

(POST-IT SAYS: A powerful and exhaustive resource that would be especially useful for a research project or debate. Looks at the problems, solutions, history, and actions that can be taken. Lots of illustrations, graphics, and personal stories will help sustain readers’ interest.)

One Person, No Vote (YA edition): How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally by Carol Anderson, Tonya Bolden (ISBN-13: 9781547601073 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 09/17/2019)

From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of White Rage, a young readers’ edition of a startling—and timely—history of voter suppression in America.

In her New York Times bestseller White Rage, Carol Anderson laid bare an insidious history of policies that have systematically impeded black progress in America, from 1865 to our combustible present. With One Person, No Vote, she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. And with vivid characters, she explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans as the nation gears up for the 2020 presidential election season.

(POST-IT SAYS: I’ve been on a nonfiction kick. Anderson’s book will educate and enrage. The history will be illuminating, but it’s the stats and stories of modern times that may really surprise readers and spur them to action.)

Internment by Samira Ahmed (ISBN-13: 9780316522694 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/19/2019)

Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

(POST-IT SAYS: The powerful opening will grab readers’ attention, setting them off on a journey through a horrifying near-future. An absolutely gripping look at survival and resistance. Sure to generate lots of discussion.)

Creep by Eireann Corrigan (ISBN-13: 9781338095081 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 10/01/2019)

The haunting tale of a family that moves into a new house and finds that someone — or something — does NOT want them there.

Olivia is curious about the people moving into 16 Olcott Place. The last family there moved out in the dead of night, and the new family, the Donahues, has no idea why. Olivia becomes fast friends with Janie Donahue . . . so she’s there at the house when the first of the letters arrives:

—I am the Sentry of Glennon Heights. Long ago I claimed 16 Olcott Place as levy for my guardianship. The walls will not tolerate your trespass. The ceilings will bleed and the windows will shatter. If you do not cease your intrusion, the rooms will soon smell of corpses.—

Who is the Sentry? And why does the Sentry want the Donahues out of the house badly enough to kill? As Olivia and Janie explore the house, they find a number of sinister secrets . . . and as they explore their town, they find a hidden history that the Sentry wants to remain hidden forever. 

You can lock the doors. You can close the windows. But you can’t keep the Sentry out. . . .

(POST-IT SAYS: 100% I read this because of the article I’d read last year on the Watcher house in NJ. Satisfyingly creepy with plenty of intrigue and twists, this will appeal to readers seeking a scary book. Ages 11-14)