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Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

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

 

 

heroineHeroine by Mindy McGinnis (ISBN-13: 9780062847195 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019)

★ 03/01/2019

Gr 9 Up—All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.

TLTer Karen Jensen also discusses and highly recommends Heroine by Mindy McGinnis in this previous TLT post.

Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

we set theIn this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I WANT THE NEXT BOOK! NOW! And after you read this, you will too.

 

Freshly out of the Medio School for Girls, 17-year-old Dani is now the Primera to a promising young politician from a wealthy and respected family. Dani understands her role as Primera, one of two wives in the household, means she will run the home and be her husband Mateo’s equal. She quickly learns that secretive and cold Mateo, who is being groomed to run for president, views her as little more than a personal assistant. She’s not thrilled to be placed with Carmen, an enemy from school, who is Mateo’s Segunda, the second wife. Together, they all live in the heart of the capital, where luxury abounds. Money and power are important in the inner island, and Mateo’s family has both. But not far away, things are very different. Long ago, a wall was built around the inner island, and those suffering on the other side know nothing of the riches afforded to those lucky enough to be inside the wall. Dani knows intimately what life is like there and the risk many take to cross the militarized border that has a shoot-on-sight policy. Now part of the island’s elite, she is appalled at the wealth and resources taken for granted here. Life as a Primera could be extremely dull—be responsible and think of nothing more than supporting your husband—but Dani never gets to experience that.

 

Dani becomes involved with La Voz, a resistance group. The road to her involvement is complex—first she’s blackmailed, then she’s spying, and eventually she has to choose were her allegiances are. Their repeated message of “if we’re not all free, none of us are free” begins to really eat away at Dani, making her think hard about her past, the wall, her role as Primera, and what action she could take to affect change. Dani is supposed to exist to bring order and stability to the home (with Carmen there for warmth and beauty), but with her eyes opened more than ever to the injustices and resistance movement, she knows she needs to act. Being a spy is a complicated enough idea on its own, but throw in the fact that Dani isn’t sure who she can trust, from La Voz to her new family to Carmen, and it’s a real mess full of potential spies, liars, and double agents. As she struggles with her place now, she discovers many surprising revelations about Carmen, not the least of which is that they both have feelings for each other that go well beyond just being a paired Primera and Segunda. But as Dani untangles all of the prejudice, privilege, lies, and hatred around her, she wonders who, if anyone she can trust. And as her roles both at home and within La Voz continue, she worries that every part of her life is now a lie. How and where is Dani the most useful? And what price for freedom?

 

A tense cliffhanger that reveals secrets and sets up book two will leave readers (me!) desperate to see what happens. This well-written book has great world building, strong characters, and so much intrigue. A smart and engrossing read full of twists and turns. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

Book Review: The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason

Publisher’s description

art of losingThe Art of Losing is a compelling debut that explores issues of addiction, sisterhood, and loss.

On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her boyfriend, Mike, hooking up with her younger sister, Audrey. Furious, she abandons them both. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her now ex-boyfriend has a drinking problem. So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as her sister slowly recovers, Harley begins to see a path forward with Raf’s help that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

One terrible night throws Harley’s entire life into chaos and makes her reevaluate her relationships, beliefs, and goals. The little summary up there from the publisher does an adequate job of hitting the highlights of the action of the plot, but since this is very much a character-driven story, about change and growth and moving forward, it doesn’t capture the powerfully emotional and resonant connections, struggles, and healing that make up the story.

 

While Harley’s sister Audrey is in a medically-induced coma following a car accident caused by Harley’s boyfriend, Mike, who was driving drunk, Harley is left to figure out her feelings toward both her sister and Mike (who she busted hooking up together at a party) as well as figure out who she is now that she’s no longer Mike’s Girlfriend. She had let herself become defined by her relationship with him over the past few years, losing herself and her real interests in the process. To her surprise, she starts hanging out again with her neighbor, Rafael, who she used to be really close with but now never talks to. Raf tells her he’s recently out of rehab, though he’s not totally convinced yet that he’s actually an alcoholic or an addict. Given Mike’s history of drinking, and that he’s now attending court-mandated rehab, Harley is a little wary of Raf, but quickly gets over any misgivings when she realizes that he still just totally gets her. He’s open, honest, thoughtful, talented, interesting, and not at all certain about his future. He’s also at a bit of a loss right now, just like Harley, because he’s broken ties with his old friends, who aren’t conducive to his recovery. Harley may worry that he’s a mess, and Raf may think that about himself, but he’s not. He’s just trying to figure some stuff out while beginning to understand that sobriety is a lifelong struggle. Harley has her own stuff to be dealing with—she feels guilty about what happened to her sister, feels a little lost without being with Mike anymore, and while she loves hanging out with Raf and is starting to realize her deeper feelings for him, she doesn’t think she should get to be happy right now.

 

Audrey’s progress while in the hospital is extremely slow. She wakes up for a bit a few times before finally coming fully out of her coma. Audrey has a lot of gaps in her memory, including no idea what happened the night of the party. Harley hasn’t even told her parents what actually happened and how Audrey ended up getting a ride home with Mike and not Harley. It’s all so complicated and painful, especially given Mike’s history of drinking and cheating, and the fact that Harley stuck around through all that. She has minimal interaction with Mike post-accident, including a visit to him at rehab while he is supposedly making amends. But unlike Raf, who has some missteps but is committed to sobriety, Mike hasn’t learned much from the accident, rehab, or Audrey’s coma, and goes right back to his partying ways. Thank goodness Harley cuts her ties with him and works through her own stuff in the company of Raf. They both start to understand more about themselves, like Raf likes to avoid reality and Harley is used to stuffing away her feelings. They both have a lot of insecurities (as does Mike) and Harley has trust issues. But she asks to see a therapist to start to work through everything, with the goal of learning how to stand up for herself and say what she actually feels. Together with Raf she learns that both recovery and just overcoming things in general is not an uninterrupted straight line. Life is complicated and messy, but both Raf and Harley are coming to understand that they can change the narrative and move forward, learning from their past and experiences but also not letting them define them.

 

I burned through this book because Mason presents engaging characters who go through real journeys in the course of the story. There is much to relate to here, including working through problems, redefining yourself, taking accountability, and learning forgiveness. There’s a lot of depth to the story and the characters, for the most part, are nuanced and imperfect but willing to work, change, and move on. This realistic look at addiction and its impact on lives is somber but ultimately hopeful. This well-written debut has lots of layers and will be an easy one to recommend to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616959876
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019

Post-it Note Reviews of YA Books: Undocumented teen voices, the supernatural, writing advice, a searing memoir, and Joan of Arc’s life told through poems

IMG_3631I 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. 

 

 

 

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We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults by Susan Kuklin

 

The Stonewall Honor–winning author of Beyond Magenta shares the intimate, eye-opening stories of nine undocumented young adults living in America.

“Maybe next time they hear someone railing about how terrible immigrants are, they’ll think about me. I’m a real person.” 

Meet nine courageous young adults who have lived in the United States with a secret for much of their lives: they are not U.S. citizens. They came from Colombia, Mexico, Ghana, Independent Samoa, and Korea. They came seeking education, fleeing violence, and escaping poverty. All have heartbreaking and hopeful stories about leaving their homelands and starting a new life in America. And all are weary of living in the shadows. We Are Here to Stay is a very different book than it was intended to be when originally slated for a 2017 release, illustrated with Susan Kuklin’s gorgeous full-color portraits. Since the last presidential election and the repeal of DACA, it is no longer safe for these young adults to be identified in photographs or by name. Their photographs have been replaced with empty frames, and their names are represented by first initials. We are honored to publish these enlightening, honest, and brave accounts that encourage open, thoughtful conversation about the complexities of immigration — and the uncertain future of immigrants in America.

(POST-IT SAYS: Deeply moving. The interviews/format allow the young adults’ voices to really come through, sharing painful experiences as well as hopes and frustrations. The lack of portraits/names is a powerful commentary on what this presidential administration has done. Ages 13+)

 

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When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry

(pub date 3/12/2019)

 

The Serpent King meets Stranger Things in Emily Henry’s gripping novel about a group of friends in a small town who find themselves dealing with unexpected powers after a cosmic event.

Almost everyone in the small town of Splendor, Ohio, was affected when the local steel mill exploded. If you weren’t a casualty of the accident yourself, chances are a loved one was. That’s the case for seventeen-year-old Franny, who, five years after the explosion, still has to stand by and do nothing as her brother lies in a coma.

In the wake of the tragedy, Franny found solace in a group of friends whose experiences mirrored her own. The group calls themselves The Ordinary, and they spend their free time investigating local ghost stories and legends, filming their exploits for their small following of YouTube fans. It’s silly, it’s fun, and it keeps them from dwelling on the sadness that surrounds them.

Until one evening, when the strange and dangerous thing they film isn’t fiction–it’s a bright light, something massive hurtling toward them from the sky. And when it crashes and the teens go to investigate…everything changes.

(POST-IT SAYS: I admit to skimming this because it didn’t really grab me. That said, it’s an easy recommendation for fans of supernatural/science fiction. Friendship, loss, and grief in an eerie package.)

 

 

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Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book by Ally Carter

(pub date 3/26/2019)

 

Have you always wanted to write a book, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re really great at writing the first few chapters . . . but you never quite make it to the end? Or do you finally have a finished manuscript, but you’re not sure what to do next? Fear not — if you have writing-related questions, this book has answers!

Whether you’re writing for fun or to build a career, bestselling author Ally Carter is ready to help you make your work shine. With honesty, encouragement, and humor, Ally’s ready here to answer the questions that writers struggle with the most.

Filled with practical tips and helpful advice, Dear Ally is a treasure for aspiring writers at any stage of their careers. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at how books get made, from idea to publication, and gives you insight into the writing processes of some of the biggest and most talented YA authors writing today.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: YA with plenty of wide appeal, because how do you write a book? Lots of great insight and useful advice in an accessible style. A great resource for writers of all ages.)

 

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Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

(pub date 3/12/2019)

 

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning author of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson!Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.
(POST-IT SAYS: POWERFUL. An immensely readable memoir that informs her fiction and reveals her truths. An outstanding and empowering take on surviving, advocacy, and rape culture. Intense.)

 

 

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Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott
(3/26/2019)

 

Bestselling author David Elliott explores how Joan of Arc changed the course of history and remains a figure of fascination centuries after her extraordinary life and death. Joan of Arc gets the Hamilton treatment in this evocative novel. Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood), Voices offers an unforgettable perspective on an extraordinary young woman. Along the way it explores timely issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.
(POST-IT SAYS: A unique perspective on Joan of Arc’s life, trials, and accusers. A strong introduction for readers who may not know much about her. May engage readers who otherwise would not gravitate toward historical fiction.)

 

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Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin

 

From National Book Award finalist Albert Marrin comes a fascinating look at the history and science of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic–and the chances for another worldwide pandemic.

In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.

Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people–one-third of the global population at the time–came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million.

In this powerful book, filled with black and white photographs, nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines the history, science, and impact of this great scourge–and the possibility for another worldwide pandemic today.

(POST-IT SAYS: A comprehensive and horrifying look at the circumstances that led to this pandemic. Full of archival photos, newspaper clippings, quotes, and diaries/letters, this is a compelling and deeply scary read.)

Book Review: The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

past and otherSix Feet Under meets Pushing Daisies in this quirky, heartfelt story about two teens who are granted extra time to resolve what was left unfinished after one of them suddenly dies. 

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

Critically acclaimed author Shaun Hutchinson delivers another wholly unique novel blending the real and surreal while reminding all of us what it is to love someone through and around our faults.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s been well established on here that I am a superfan of Hutchinson. I absolutely love his approach to telling a story and his always weird and thought-provoking mix of realism and science fiction. I read in order of publication date—it’s the only chance I stand of keeping my TBR piles and blogging ideas in check—but I always want to jump ahead and read his books the second I get them. If you’ve somehow missed out on reading him, get cracking. You won’t be disappointed.

 

This line up there in the description—A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up—should rope you in. We’ve seen plenty of books of grief, but what happens if the person you are grieving (or not really grieving because things went so awry in your relationship) came back to life? Or not-life. While Dino is helping prepare his former best friend, July, for her funeral (his family members are morticians and 17-year-old Dino is skilled at doing makeup on the dead), she suddenly sits up, alive. Or, more accurately, not-dead. July isn’t really ready to accept that she’s not living, and Dino is mystified how on earth she’s not-dead, but sort of just rolls with what is happening. Together, they spend the evening going around town, trying to keep July hidden from everyone (as it might be just a little unsettling for someone to see a girl who has been dead for a week, as one of their classmates discovers) while they attempt to figure out what’s happening, how to make July be dead-dead in time for her funeral tomorrow, and what exactly went on with their friendship. They talk a lot and do some really regular things—wander Walmart, hit up the gas station for Slurpees, go to a party—only July is not-alive, her skin is starting to fall off, and she smells terrible, like she’s decomposing, which she is. Meanwhile, in the wider world, people are not dying when they should be. The hospital is full of people who are not-dead as are places all around the world. Dino knows there has to be some answer here with July, whether rational or divine, and figures she is somehow tied into what is happening with death everywhere. And just when they think they’ve got it figured out, maybe, and July is ready for her funeral, she sends Dino a selfie from inside her buried coffin, and their plot is back up and running again. Will finding ways to wrap up unresolved issues in their relationship finally make July stay dead? Or is Dino doomed to hide his not-alive former best friend forever? 

 

I just loved this story. Dino’s mortician parents are great (Hutchinson describes his mother as a “Goth Peter Pan,” which I adore), their family profession is obviously unique and full of potential entertainment, and his soon-to-be-married sister is also a fun character. Dino’s boyfriend, Rafi, who is trans, and the other new friends he made after he had a falling out with July are lovely, diverse, and interesting. I wish we had seen more of them, especially Rafi, who patiently tries to work through their relationship with Dino, who is kind of freaking out about it while trying to unpack his other most significant relationship. I really love books that are weird (a word I only ever use as a compliment) and show me a story from a previously untold viewpoint. This book will give you a new outlook on the phrase “best friends forever.” A really readable, engaging, strange, poignant, and funny journey through a relationship autopsy. Highly recommended. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481498579
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/19/2019

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

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

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.

 

 

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The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA by Brenda Woods

 

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

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

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

 

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Blended by Sharon M. Draper

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

 

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

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

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

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

 

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The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

 

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

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

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

 

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Best Babysitters Ever by Caroline Cala

 

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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

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

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

 

 

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

★ Winter 2018

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

Book Review: Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss 

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

Book Review: The Whispers by Greg Howard

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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