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Book Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Publisher’s description

hereticsPut an atheist in a strict Catholic school? Expect comedy, chaos, and an Inquisition. The Breakfast Club meets Saved! in debut author Katie Henry’s hilarious novel about a band of misfits who set out to challenge their school, one nun at a time. Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Robyn Schneider.

When Michael walks through the doors of Catholic school, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow atheist at that. Only this girl, Lucy, isn’t just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism.

Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies one stunt at a time. But when Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Well, this book was right up my alley. As an atheist, I am always looking for more atheist rep in YA. I picked this book up because the summary sounded super interesting, and also because I TOTALLY judge books by their covers and this cover is amazing. Add in the fact that this book is thoughtful, compassionate, funny, and filled with great characters, and the result was I read this book in one sitting.

 

Michael has moved four times in ten years. He’s starting his new school, a private Catholic school, a month and a half into his junior year. He’s never believed in any god, but his father’s boss got him into St. Clare’s, the best private school in the area. He figures it will be terrible—after all, he’s an atheist—but is quickly proven wrong when he meets Lucy and her friends, an eclectic group of kids who all have their own reasons for not quite fitting in at school. Outspoken Colombian American feminist Lucy, whom Michael initially mistakes as a fellow atheist, wants to be a priest and has many thoughts on how and why the church should grow and change. Avi is Jewish and gay. Korean American Max is a Unitarian who just wants to be able to wear a cape to school. Eden is a Wiccan—well, actually, she’s a Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist. Even though Michael is an apostate, and not technically a heretic, he’s invited into their group, Heretics Anonymous, which is basically a support group serving as a place to air their grievances about school. It doesn’t take Michael long to feel the group should do something more, go public, figure out how they can make things better for everyone at school. They “fix” the sex ed video, challenge the dress code, and begin to leave their mark (literally) all over the school. But shaking things up and starting dialogues has consequences, and soon security cameras are popping up and innocent classmates are getting accused of these pranks. Things spiral out of control, causing HA to go on hiatus, but when Michael’s personal life becomes stressful, he pushes things at school too far and stands to lose all that good that has come out of landing in this most ill-fitting place.

 

I enjoyed that Michael and his friends all came from different backgrounds but worked to understand each other, even as they made mistakes and disagreed over big ideas. This isn’t some story where Michael sees the error of his ways and finds religion, but he does start to understand that God and faith is maybe far more complicated than he had previously thought. Michael may not believe in any god, but he does believe in plenty of other things that are meaningful. At its heart, this is a story about friendship, respect, beliefs, acceptance, and differences, but it’s also a very amusing look at a subversive secret society determined to bring about change and expose hypocrisy. Excellent dialogue and genuine character growth make this layered look at religion sparkle. A great recommendation for those who like their deep subjects peppered with humor. I look forward to more from this author. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062698872
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/07/2018

Book Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

Publisher’s description

heart of thornsInventive and heart-racing, this fierce feminist teen fantasy from debut author Bree Barton explores a dark kingdom in which only women can possess magic—and every woman is suspected of having it.

Fans of Leigh Bardugo and Laini Taylor won’t want to miss this gorgeously written, bold novel, the first in the Heart of Thorns trilogy.

In the ancient river kingdom, where touch is a battlefield and bodies the instruments of war, Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood. The same women who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia’s father announces an alliance with the royal family, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Determined to forge her own path forward, Mia plots a daring escape, but could never predict the greatest betrayal of all: her own body. Mia possesses the very magic she has sworn to destroy.

Now, as she untangles the secrets of her past, Mia must learn to trust her heart…even if it kills her.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

The prologue to this ARC says, “Once upon a time, in a castle carved of stone, a girl plotted murder.” Talk about immediately roping you in!

 

On the eve of her marriage to Prince Quin, Mia Rose is planning to stage her murder and run away. At 17, Mia has been trained as a huntress, and wants nothing more than to track down the demonic Gwyrach that killed her mother. Mia and her sister Angie, 15, are the daughters of an assassin, the leader of the Gwyrach hunters. The Gwyrach are half god, half human, and literally any girl or woman could be one. They transmit their magic via touch, so all girls are made to wear gloves to protect everyone from potential magic. All girls and women are under suspicion of being a Gwyrach and, as such, have their lives restricted. Mia has spent the past three years studying anatomy, hoping to learn how to protect against the Gwyrach power. She wonders what would happen if one could harness their power for good (instead of using it to enthrall and to wound, as they do now). If the hunters could eliminate magic, then no one could control another person’s body, thus girls would be free and could live full lives of their own choosing. These are all the thoughts Mia is having when she thinks about running away. Things grow even more complicated when she overhears a conversation between Quin and his parents in which they say Mia is dangerous and they speak of allegiances, leverage, and blackmail. All set to flee from her wedding, she is surprised when Quin is shot by an arrow and chaos breaks out at their ceremony. But that surprise is nothing compared to a revelation: while dragging Quin to safety, she somehow manages to heal him completely; Mia is a Gwyrach. Together, Quin and Mia flee the castle, uncertain where they will go, but desperately trying to get away from whoever wants them dead.

 

For me, the story really became good when they find themselves in a land where Mia begins to learn more about the Gwyrach and about her mother (and about herself and about Quin, for that matter). Here, the Gwyrach are acknowledged as creatures of the divine, a sisterhood, as angels and descendants of goddesses. She learns a lot about magic, including why the women are magic and why men are threatened by their power. The story looks at secrets, trust, lies, treachery, safety, traps, feminism, patriarchy, rape, love, hate, anger, dark magic, and betrayal. SO MUCH BETRAYAL. This is the first book in a series and I suspect readers will be anxious to see what happens to Mia and Quin, especially as we end on such a cliffhanger. Mia, who now knows she is a Gwyrach, as was her mother, and has been deeply shocked by a betrayal she couldn’t have seen coming, has many new understandings about her world. It will be interesting to see where her story goes. Full of action and intrigue, this will have wide appeal for fantasy fans. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062447685
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/31/2018

Book Review: The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford

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 the July 2018  School Library Journal.

 

pride guideThe Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford (ISBN-13: 9781538110768 Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Publication date: 06/01/2018)

Gr 9 Up—This frank, conversational, and often humorous look at sex, sexuality, gender, and expression is aimed at teens who identify as something other than heterosexual and cisgender. Langford, a bisexual therapist, sex educator, and parent, presents a wide range of information in short, if somewhat dense and visually unappealing, sections. Chapters tackle biology; puberty; body image (with a heavy emphasis on trans teens and dysphoria); intersex conditions; gender identities such as transgender, genderqueer, and agender; transitioning; dating and relationships; consent; and more. Sexual expressions and orientations covered include asexual, demisexual, gray-asexual, and bisexual, with conversations about erasure. A final chapter aimed at parents offers tips, a discussion of what not to do when one’s child comes out, and more. Sidebars go into more depth on other subjects (tucking and binding, the singular “they,” homophobia). Langford also discusses outdated terms and slurs. This inclusive, thorough resource respectfully presents information relevant to many queer teens and adults raising LGBTQIA+ kids. VERDICT Shelve this empowering guide where both parents and teens will find it.

Book Review: The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell and friends

Publisher’s description

cardboard kingdomPerfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Awkward, and All’s Faire in Middle School, this graphic novel follows a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary cardboard into fantastical homemade costumes as they explore conflicts with friends, family, and their own identity.

Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when sixteen kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters—and their own inner demons—on one last quest before school starts again.

In the Cardboard Kingdom, you can be anything you want to be—imagine that!

The Cardboard Kingdom was created, organized, and drawn by Chad Sell with writing from ten other authors: Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Kris Moore, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, and Barbara Perez Marquez. The Cardboard Kingdom affirms the power of imagination and play during the most important years of adolescent identity-searching and emotional growth.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m keeping track of what books I read for younger readers this summer and making a post-it note blog post about them, just like I post during the school year. But I loved this book so much that I wanted to single it out and make sure it gets seen so it can be added to all collections. There is a lot to like about this graphic novel. The vibrant, cheerful art is incredibly appealing, the large cast of characters all get their own little storylines and stand out as unique and memorable—not an easy task when looking at this many characters. I love the emphasis on creativity, imagination, and working together as well as the creative play that allows you to imagine yourself however you’d like to be—or to show the world how you really are. As the parent of a kid who still, at 12, loves nothing more than turning a cardboard box into the scene for some imagined battle, a kid who is generally outside in some kind of costume, I especially love it. The diversity of kids and home lives shown here is effortless, inclusive, and affirming. There’s a boy who lives with this grandmother while his mother is off somewhere else, and needs to learn to care for herself before he can go live with her again. There’s a young child, Jack, who loves the role of the sorceress because she is how he sees himself, how he’d like to be. His mother assures him that she’s okay with that, with him, and that he’s amazing. There’s Miguel who longs to be the romantic lead opposite a dashing prince. Seth’s parents are splitting up and he fears his father’s visits to their house. Some of the kids are the charismatic organizers while others hang back more and have to work a little harder to feel at ease with the group. This is a really excellent book with one of the most diverse groups of kids I’ve seen in a children’s book in a long time. A surefire hit with the graphic novel crowd. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781524719388
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 06/05/2018

 

Book Review: Light Filters In: Poems by Caroline Kaufman

Publisher’s description

light filters inIn the vein of poetry collections like Milk and Honey and Adultolescence, this compilation of short, powerful poems from teen Instagram sensation @poeticpoison perfectly captures the human experience. 

In Light Filters In, Caroline Kaufman—known as @poeticpoison—does what she does best: reflects our own experiences back at us and makes us feel less alone, one exquisite and insightful piece at a time. She writes about giving up too much of yourself to someone else, not fitting in, endlessly Googling “how to be happy,” and ultimately figuring out who you are.

This hardcover collection features completely new material plus some fan favorites from Caroline’s account. Filled with haunting, spare pieces of original art, Light Filters In will thrill existing fans and newcomers alike.

it’s okay if some things

are always out of reach.

if you could carry all the stars

in the palm of your hand,

they wouldn’t be

half as breathtaking

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’ve been using this summer to try to catch up on a lot of the books from the past few months that I haven’t had time to read. This one has been sitting in my pile since May and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. Librarians, teachers, and booksellers, please get this book and put it out in various displays. This collection of poems about mental health, the aftermath of sexual assault, help, and hope is an important one. This is a beautiful, raw, and extremely moving book that so many will be able to relate to for so many reasons. There are references to self-harm and other topics that some readers will find triggering, FYI. Told in four parts, Kaufman moves from crisis to processing what she’s been through to help and treatment to hope and moving forward. The poems are short and sometimes feel unfinished or repetitive, but taken all together create a powerful and profound look at what it means to be a girl, to be a survivor, and to find help, support, and hope in the face of so much unhappiness. Though I am well past my teenage years, reading this really spoke to Teenage Me and I can only imagine how comforted I would have felt seeing someone so adeptly capture so much of what I felt at that time. A lovely, if not always easy to read, collection. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062844682
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/22/2018

Book Review: Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye

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 the June 2018  School Library Journal.

 

super late★Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye (ISBN-13: 9781449489625 Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing Publication date: 05/01/2018)
Gr 8 Up—Cartoonist Kaye, who is transgender, reveals the many ups and downs of starting hormone replacement in this collection of strips from her webcomic Up and Out. In a “Before” section, she writes about her life before fully understanding her identity and transitioning, which helps ground the short, disconnected comics. The strips begin four months into Kaye’s decision to take hormones, and express her joy and excitement along with her impatience, frustration, dysphoria, and internalized transphobia. She describes moving home, changing her name, and coming out and explores self-image, reactions from others, misgendering, and more. Kaye shares many affirming experiences such as her parents using the right pronouns, her forays into trying out different clothes and makeup, and her reminders that she is valid no matter how she looks or is perceived, but never shies away from moments of frustration or self-loathing. The strips are like reading a diary—raw, honest, emotional, and not always uplifting. While Kaye’s feelings are complicated, she is ultimately hopeful. The simple line drawings add warmth and whimsy to the small snippets of text. Though Kaye focuses on her experiences as an adult, teens will relate to her reflections on identity and acceptance. VERDICT An important and accessible work, especially given that relatively few books tackle the process of transitioning.

Book Review: Tsu and the Outliers by Erik Johnson

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 the June 2018  School Library Journal.

 

tsuTsu and the Outliers by Erik Johnson (ISBN-13: 9781941250242 Publisher: Uncivilized Books Publication date: 06/12/2018)

Gr 7–10—Tsu, a nonverbal boy, is mocked by his peers and those around town for riding “the short bus”; they call him “dumb,” “idiot,” “freak,” and “unusual.” The local police in his rural town and a mysterious, apelike scientist want information from Tsu about the accident that his school bus was involved in and the creature that was seen shortly after. Tsu does not offer them any answers or tips but does haltingly speak to his mother to tell her he has to go away for a while. Densely drawn scenes, particularly outside, where most of the book takes place, are cluttered and sometimes hard to parse. The mostly black-and-white palette is punctuated by spots of a third color, which varies from section to section and helps images stand out; however, the overall effect is still a visual jumble. Readers are thrust right into the action, with little to no backstory about Tsu, the creature, or the scientist, and the thin plot feels like it is just starting to ramp up when it abruptly ends. Though Tsu isn’t explicitly described as autistic, the author heavily implies that he is, and the decision to imbue a character who has a disability with mystical powers is a tired cliché. VERDICT An additional purchase.

Book Review: I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain by Will Walton

Publisher’s description

funeralHow do you deal with a hole in your life?

Do you turn to poets and pop songs?

Do you dream?

Do you try on love just to see how it fits?

Do you grieve?

If you’re Avery, you do all of these things. And you write it all down in an attempt to understand what’s happened–and is happening–to you.

I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain is an astonishing novel about navigating death and navigating life, at a time when the only map you have is the one you can draw for yourself.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Things in Avery’s life are not going great. He’s laid up after being injured in a car accident. His mother has (finally) gone to rehab. He’s temporarily living across the street from his home with his grandpa, whom he calls Pal, and his grandpa’s girlfriend, Babs. Things are a little weird with Luca, his neighbor and best friend—they’d made a plan to be each other’s firsts, but this seemingly simple plan is complicated by life and complex feelings. Through all of this, Avery, who writes poetry, is discovering the work of many other poets (Plath, Berryman, Sexton, O’Hara, Ginsberg, Dickinson), thanks to his English teacher, and finding his own voice and ways of processing life.

 

Walton’s novel will challenge readers. It’s a mix of narrative, poems, imagined conversations/dreams, and bits of a eulogy. As we move back and forth in time, readers will see that Avery is speaking at Pal’s funeral, but it takes a while to find out how we got there. Avery’s grief, pain, loss, fears, love, hope, passions, and identity all get expressed and explored through poetry and music. This short book packs a powerful punch as it looks at grief, love, addiction, and hope. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545709569
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/29/2018

Book Review: Grump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Liesl Shurtliff

Publisher’s description

grumpFrom the New York Times bestselling author of Rump, comes the true story behind another unlikely hero: a grumpy dwarf who gets tangled up in Snow White’s feud with the wicked queen.

Ever since he was a dwarfling, Borlen (nicknamed “Grump”) has dreamed of visiting The Surface, so when opportunity knocks, he leaves his cavern home behind.
At first, life aboveground is a dream come true. Queen Elfrieda Veronika Ingrid Lenore (E.V.I.L.) is the best friend Grump always wanted, feeding him all the rubies he can eat and allowing him to rule at her side in exchange for magic and information. But as time goes on, Grump starts to suspect that Queen E.V.I.L. may not be as nice as she seems. . . .
When the queen commands him to carry out a horrible task against her stepdaughter Snow White, Grump is in over his head. He’s bound by magic to help the queen, but also to protect Snow White. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, the queen keeps bugging him for updates through her magic mirror! He’ll have to dig deep to find a way out of this pickle, and that’s enough to make any dwarf Grumpy indeed.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Confession: I’ve never read any of Shurtliff’s books before. Rump, one of her previous books, is really popular in our library. A student noticed I was carrying Grump on the way to lunch one day and practically ripped it out of my hands. And now, having read this book, I totally get the easy appeal of these books: familiar worlds turned on their heads and great world-building. Looks like I have some backlist to read this summer.

 

Most dwarves are born deep underground, but Borlen (later nicknamed “Grump”) was born just under The Surface. As a result, he was always interested in The Surface and the ways of the mysterious world up there. What he wouldn’t give to escape to that world and not have to suffer his fate—being the Seventh in a mining crew. Mining crews have six dwarves; the Seventh is a slot reserved for those considered “a troublemaker or an idiot.” When he joins his crew, he mines his Fate Stone. It’s a rare reflecting stone that works like a magic mirror. To Borlen, it’s just another thing that makes him different. As he gets settled in his new crew, his differences really stand out. The depths make him dizzy and sick. He doesn’t sing while he works. The other dwarves peg him as a grump. There’s not much to like about his new life (or his old life, for that matter), so when he discovers a chance to escape to The Surface, he takes it. He’s quickly “befriended” by the Queen (who, of course, has no real friends and has nefarious reasons for wanting Borlen around) and is supposed to do her bidding—a command that becomes more complicated when he meets Snow White and then has to protect her and do her bidding. Their adventures together lead them to reconnecting with Grump’s mining crew, who are all forced to escape to The Surface and hide out with Grump and Snow White (whom Grump calls “Spoiled Brat”). It’s up to Grump, the allegedly useless Seventh, to figure out how to outwit the Queen and save Snow White.

 

There’s something so satisfying about reading a story where you know the characters and the world, then seeing it turned on its head. This fast-paced story will have readers mentally chiding Grump for going along with the Queen’s plans and cheering for him once he connects with Snow White. A fun look at friendship and belonging. If, like me, this book is readers’ first introduction to the author, they will surely be scrambling to go back and read her older titles. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781524717018
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 05/29/2018

Book Review: All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Publisher’s description

all summer longA coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel about summer and friendships, written and illustrated by the Eisner Award–winning and New York Times–bestselling Hope Larson.

Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he’s off to soccer camp for a month, and he’s been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it’s up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own. At first it’s a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin’s older sister, who enjoys music just as much as Bina. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he’s acting even weirder than when he left. How Bina and Austin rise above their growing pains and reestablish their friendship and respect for their differences makes for a touching and funny coming-of-age story.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This will be an easy hit with fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Jennifer Holm, and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends. I could probably bring 20 of these to work, put them on my desk, and have them all gone to 5th graders in a few hours.

 

There’s so much to like here. I loved everything about this graphic novel except the repeated use of the word “lame.” Why do people think it’s okay to still use that word? Barring that, which took me out of the story every time because I had to sigh and roll my eyes, it was fantastic. I love that it’s about a boy-girl friendship. Neighbors Bina and Austin have been best friends literally their entire lives. But as athletic Austin heads off to a month of soccer camp, leaving music enthusiast Bina behind, Bina feels at loose ends. She’s never really had to figure out what to do without Austin. She listens to music, plays her guitar, binges a tv show, and texts Austin, wishing he’d bother to text her back. It’s not that she doesn’t have anything else going on in her life, but it’s her first summer really on her own. Her older brother and his husband are adopting a baby, her other adventurous brother pops home and gives her a little pep talk, and she has a good relationship with her parents. She becomes friends (maybe, sort of, she thinks) with Charlie, Austin’s older sister. Charlie introduces her to new music, gets her into babysitting, and makes Bina feel kind of cool. And kind of used and frustrated. Middle school is a pretty typical time to discover just how complicated relationships, even lifelong ones, can be. So much is changing, but, as her mom points out, Bina is becoming more herself every day. She’s getting more into music, understanding more about social dynamics, and learning how to shape her own days without her best friend there to help her. When Austin returns from camp, things between them are definitely different, but they work it out, discovering that growing and changing doesn’t have to mean growing apart. Bina is a great character and a lot of readers will relate to her feelings and uncertainty. A solid addition to any graphic novel collection. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780374310714
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 05/01/2018