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Book Review: The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni

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 April 2018  School Library Journal.

 

 

gender identityThe Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni (ISBN-13: 9781684030309 Publisher: New Harbinger Publications Publication date: 04/01/2018)
K-Gr 4—Written by a clinical social worker specializing in gender nonconforming youth, this comprehensive guide helps children and families explore, understand, and affirm gender identities. This workbook is designed to allow kids to read, write, and draw about themselves, either with a parent or on their own. The thorough text defines terms in context and in a glossary, discusses gender diversity internationally and through history, and includes brief biographies of children who identify in a variety of ways. Through activities, readers can write about their pronouns, pick out clothes and hairstyles that best fit them, explore their feelings about their bodies, draw self-portraits, fill out a birth certificate, and list what changes they may like to make in their lives. Information is also presented on adult helpers (therapists, parents, and school staff), being safe and comfortable at school, and how to handle questions with example answers. This valuable resource clearly explains concepts and is full of activities that are fun and illuminating. Storck constantly reinforces the ideas that gender is expansive and identities are limitless, that any identity on the gender spectrum is valid and should be affirmed, and that children should feel loved, supported, and safe as they explore their identities. Working through this book with an adult would be useful, as the reading level may be much higher than that of the readers, though the text is aimed at young children. VERDICT A sensitive and empowering exploration of identity and expression that both educates and celebrates. Collections will strongly want to consider. —Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN

 

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA April 2018

tltbutton7It’s time for another roundup for new and forthcoming YA (and sometimes not YA) books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters.  The titles I’m including here have LGBTQIA+ main characters as well as secondary characters (in some cases parents), as well as anthologies that include LGBTQIA+ stories. Know of a title I missed in this list? Or know of a forthcoming title that should be on my radar for an upcoming list? Leave a comment or tweet me @CiteSomething. This list covers April 2018 titles. Head over to this link for the previous post (March 2018) in this series. All annotations here are via the publishers/Goodreads. I also have a 2017 master list and am working on one for 2018. I’m happy to send you the list if you’re interested. Tweet at me or email me to request the list. I’m amanda DOT macgregor AT gmail DOT com.

Looking for more information on LGBTQIA+ books or issues? Check out the hashtag here on TLT and go visit YA Pride and LGBTQ Reads, two phenomenal resources. 

 

April 2018

troublemakersTroublemakers by Catherine Barter (ISBN-13: 9781512475494 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 04/01/2018)

When she was three, Alena’s activist mother died. She’s been raised by her half-brother and his boyfriend in East London, which is being targeted by a lone bomber. Alena desperately wants to know about her mother, but her brother won’t tell her anything.

Alena’s played by the rules all her life, but that’s over. When she starts digging up information herself and does something that costs her brother his job and puts the family in jeopardy, Alena discovers she can be a troublemaker—just like her mother.

Now she must figure out what sort of trouble she’s willing to get into to find out the truth.

 

 

gender identityThe Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni (ISBN-13: 9781684030309 Publisher: New Harbinger Publications Publication date: 04/01/2018)

The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids offers fun, age-appropriate activities to help your child explore their identity and discover unique ways to navigate gender expression at home, in school, and with friends.

Transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) children need validation and support on their journey toward self-discovery. Unfortunately, due to stigma and misinformation, these kids can be especially vulnerable to bullying, discrimination, and even mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. The good news is that there are steps you can take to empower your child as they explore, understand, and affirm their gender identity. This important workbook will guide you both.

In this guide, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in gender-nonconforming youth offers real tools to help your child thrive in all aspects of life. You and your child will discover a more expansive way of understanding gender; gain insight into gender diverse thoughts, feelings, and experiences; and find engaging activities with fun titles such as, “Apple, Oranges, and Fruit Bowls” and “Pronoun Town” to help your child to explore their own unique identity in a way that is age-appropriate and validating.

No child experiences gender in a vacuum, and children don’t just transition—families do. Let this workbook guide you and your child on this important journey in their lives.

 

ameliaAmelia Westlake by Erin Gough (ISBN-13:9781760127152 Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont Publication date: 04/02/2018)

Harriet Price has the perfect life: she’s a prefect at Rosemead Grammar, she lives in a mansion, and her gorgeous girlfriend is a future prime minister. So when she risks it all by creating a hoax to expose the school’s many problems – with help from notorious bad-girl Will Everheart, no less – Harriet tells herself it’s because she’s seeking justice. And definitely not because she finds Will oddly fascinating.

But as Will and Harriet’s campaign heats up, it gets harder for them to remain sworn enemies – and to avoid being caught. As tensions burn throughout the school, how far will they go to keep their mission – and their feelings for each other – a secret?

 

 

lumberjanes 2Lumberjanes: Bonus Tracks by Holly Black (ISBN-13: 9781684152162 Publisher: BOOM! Box Publication date: 04/03/2018)

The Lumberjanes short stories collected for the first time in paperback!

Join April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley as they explore their all-girls camp. From ghost ponies to strange plants, these Lumberjanes are ready to take on anything that comes their way as long as they have each other.

With stories written by Eisner Award-winner Faith Erin Hicks, and New York Times bestselling author Holly Black, these adventures are definitely something you don’t want to miss. Collecting all the Lumberjanes one-shots for the first time, Lumberjanes: Bonus Tracks has a star studded cast of talent that is just too good to pass up!

Featuring Faith Erin Hicks (Nameless City, Friends with Boys), Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me), Jen Wang (In Real LifeAdventure Time with Fionna and Cake: Card Wars), Christine Norrie (Hopeless Savages), Kelly Thompson (Jem & The HologramsHawkeye), and Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles).

 

first girlFirst Girl by Julie Aitcheson (ISBN-13: 9781640801899 Publisher: Dreamspinner Press Publication date: 04/03/2018)

Some things are worth fighting for: a sense of identity, personal freedom, truth, and new love—even in a society that forbids them.

In the aftershocks of catastrophic climate change, the fundamentalist Christian group Unitas seized the opportunity to grab power in the United States. Gabi’s father, Sam Lowell, is one of the most powerful men on the Unitas council… and his sickly daughter’s hero, until Gabi discovers the horrors being carried out in the name of religion.

Gabi’s mission to expose Unitas will take her into the company of misfits and dissidents and beyond the borders of everything she knows as her life is threatened at every turn. Along the way, she uncovers her true origins and astonishing power, along with a ruthless dictatorship masquerading as a benevolent democracy that will stop at nothing—including playing God—to win the game of survival.

 

 

summer of jordiThe Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding (ISBN-13: 9781510727663 Publisher: Sky Pony Press Publication date: 04/03/2018)

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosseplaying bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is.

Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?

 

 

lizzieLizzie by Dawn Ius (ISBN-13: 9781481490764 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 04/10/2018)
From acclaimed author Dawn Ius comes an edge-of-your-seat reimagining of one of the most chilling mysteries in modern history—Lizzie Borden.

Seventeen-year-old Lizzie Borden has never been kissed. Polite but painfully shy, Lizzie prefers to stay in the kitchen, where she can dream of becoming a chef and escape her reality. With tyrannical parents who force her to work at the family’s B&B and her blackout episodes—a medical condition that has plagued her since her first menstrual cycle—Lizzie longs for a life of freedom, the time and space to just figure out who she is and what she wants.

Enter the effervescent, unpredictable Bridget Sullivan. Bridget has joined the B&B’s staff as the new maid, and Lizzie is instantly drawn to her artistic style and free spirit—even her Star Wars obsession is kind of cute. The two of them forge bonds that quickly turn into something that’s maybe more than friendship.

But when her parents try to restrain Lizzie from living the life she wants, it sparks something in her that she can’t quite figure out. Her blackout episodes start getting worse, her instincts less and less reliable. Lizzie is angry, certainly, but she also feels like she’s going mad…

 

past tensePast Tense by Star Spider (ISBN-13: 9781443452137 Publisher: HarperCollins Canada Publication date: 04/10/2018)

How do you live after death?

Julie Nolan is a pretty average girl with pretty average problems. She’s been in love with her best friend, Lorelei, ever since they met in grade three. Only Lorelei doesn’t know about it — she’s too busy trying to set Julie up with Henry, her ex, who Julie finds, in a word, vapid.

But life gets more complicated when Julie comes home to find her mother insisting that her heart is gone. Pretty soon it becomes clear: Julie’s mom believes that she has died.

How is Julie supposed to navigate her first year of high school now, while she’s making midnight trips to the graveyard to cover her mother with dirt, lay flowers and make up eulogies? And why is Henry the only person Julie feels comfortable turning to? If she wants to get through this, Julie’s going to have to find the strength she never knew she had, and to learn how to listen to both her mom’s heart and her own.

 

 

sam andSam & Ilsa’s Last Hurrah by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan (ISBN-13: 9780399553844 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 04/10/2018)

The New York Times Bestselling duo behind Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily return with twins out to throw the party of a lifetime—or at least the best party of high school!

Siblings Sam and Ilsa Kehlmann have spent most of their high school years throwing parties for their friends—and now they’ve prepared their final blowout, just before graduation.

The rules are simple: each twin gets to invite three guests, and the other twin doesn’t know who’s coming until the partiers show up at the door. With Sam and Ilsa, the sibling revelry is always tempered with a large dose of sibling rivalry, and tonight is no exception.

One night. One apartment. Eight people. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, we all know the answer is plenty. But plenty also goes right, as well…in rather surprising ways.

 

 

ace of shadesAce of Shades by Amanda Foody (ISBN-13: 9781335692290 Publisher: Harlequin Publication date: 04/10/2018 Series: Shadow Game Series #1)

Welcome to the City of Sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets…and secrets hide in every shadow

Enne Salta was raised as a proper young lady, and no lady would willingly visit New Reynes, the so-called City of Sin. But when her mother goes missing, Enne must leave her finishing school—and her reputation—behind to follow her mother’s trail to the city where no one survives uncorrupted.

Frightened and alone, Enne has only one lead: the name Levi Glaisyer. Unfortunately, Levi is not the gentleman she expected—he’s a street lord and con man. Levi is also only one payment away from cleaning up a rapidly unraveling investment scam, so he doesn’t have time to investigate a woman leading a dangerous double life. Enne’s offer of compensation, however, could be the solution to all his problems.

Their search for clues leads them through glamorous casinos, illicit cabarets and into the clutches of a ruthless Mafia donna. As Enne unearths an impossible secret about her past, Levi’s enemies catch up to them, ensnaring him in a vicious execution game where the players always lose. To save him, Enne will need to surrender herself to the city…

And she’ll need to play.

 

diminishedThe Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson (ISBN-13: 9781335016416 Publisher: Harlequin Publication date: 04/10/2018)
In the Alskad Empire, nearly all are born with a twin, two halves to form one whole…yet some face the world alone.The singlebornA rare few are singleborn in each generation, and therefore given the right to rule by the gods and goddesses. Bo Trousillion is one of these few, born into the royal line and destined to rule. Though he has been chosen to succeed his great-aunt, Queen Runa, as the leader of the Alskad Empire, Bo has never felt equal to the grand future before him.The diminishedWhen one twin dies, the other usually follows, unable to face the world without their other half. Those who survive are considered diminished, doomed to succumb to the violent grief that inevitably destroys everyone whose twin has died.Such is the fate of Vi Abernathy, whose twin sister died in infancy. Raised by the anchorites of the temple after her family cast her off, Vi has spent her whole life scheming for a way to escape and live out what’s left of her life in peace.As their sixteenth birthdays approach, Bo and Vi face very different futures—one a life of luxury as the heir to the throne, the other years of backbreaking work as a temple servant. But a long-held secret and the fate of the empire are destined to bring them together in a way they never could have imagined.

 

picture usPicture Us In The Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (ISBN-13: 9781484726020 Publisher: Disney Press Publication date: 04/10/2018)

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father’s closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there’s much more to his family’s past than he ever imagined.

 

Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family’s blessing to pursue the career he’s always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny’s lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can’t stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.

 

When Danny digs deeper into his parents’ past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed fa ade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

 

shadow callShadow Call by Michael Miller, AdriAnne Strickland (ISBN-13: 9780399552571 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 04/17/2018)
The rip-roaring space adventure sequel to the book that NYT bestselling author Lindsey Cummings heralded as “an explosive debut” has arrived. Full of action and romance, as if Star Wars was done in the vein of Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

His throne. Her rebellion. Their war.

Qole is the youngest starship captain in living memory on her homeworld of Alaxak and has spent her life hunting a dangerous energy source called Shadow. Alaxans distrust and evade the galaxy’s royalty as a rule, but Qole is now harboring the exiled Prince Nevarian Dracorte, along with some very conflicting feelings about it—and him.

Nev’s feelings are just as complicated, but not towards her. When it comes to Qole, he knows one thing: he’d do anything to stay with her. But when Alaxak is attacked and Nev finds himself framed for murder, he realizes the only way to help Qole and her people is to fight for the throne that should be his. To become the royal she might hate.

As for Qole, she would never have imagined herself as the leader of a rebellion. Despite that, she soon realizes that hiding from her power is no longer an option. It’s time to answer the call, even if it kills her.

 

 

obstructionThe Obstruction of Emma Goldsworthy by Sean Kennedy (ISBN-13: 9781640803879 Publisher: Dreamspinner Press Publication date: 04/17/2018)

It’s hard to live in Micah Johnson’s shadow, but Emma Goldsworthy is determined to make it out from under there. Emma’s studying hockey and trying to find her way at the Australian Institute of Sport, but it’s hard to keep her spirits up when her ex—who dumped Emma so she could remain in the closet—returns from an exchange program with a new American girlfriend in tow. Emma doesn’t want her ex back, but she can’t seem to convince everyone else that they’re over. Plus, there’s another girl Emma can’t stop thinking about, even though she only saw her once… while in costume. There was chemistry, but Emma doesn’t know her name, or even what she looks like.

 

 

 

leah on theLeah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (ISBN-13: 9780062643803 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/24/2018)

In this sequel to the acclaimed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—soon to be a major motion picture, Love, Simon—we follow Simon’s BFF Leah as she grapples with changing friendships, first love, and senior year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic.

She’s an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high.

It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

 

 

white rabbitWhite Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig (ISBN-13: 9781250085658 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 04/24/2018)

Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving, delivers another spellbinding YA murder mystery in White Rabbit.

Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian—the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to “talk.” Things couldn’t get worse, right?

Then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. He and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney.

April swears she didn’t kill Fox. Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth, but April has something he needs. Her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to clear his sister’s name . . . or die trying.

 

 

prom toA Prom to Remember by Sandy Hall (ISBN-13: 9781250119148 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 04/24/2018)

Love it or hate it, you’ll never forget it. In this heart-warming novel, Swoon Reads star, Sandy Hall, explores a classic high school celebration, capturing every relatable and hilarious teen milestone along the way.

Cora: Dating Perfect Boyfriend Jamie. Has NO IDEA how to break up with him…

Paisley: Anti-prom. Somehow nominated her anxiety-ridden best friend for prom king…

Henry: Hates social situations. Invited to prom by the most popular girl in school. SEND HELP!

Otis: Half of one of the cutest couples in his class. Not quite ready for a post-prom hotel room…

Lizzie: Shy. Excited to go to prom. With a boy. Whose name she doesn’t know.

Cameron: Loner. Over high school. Just wants to meet the mysterious girl who’s been leaving him notes…

Jacinta: Unnamed Nerd Girl #3. Determined to become the star of her own life, starting with prom…

A Prom to Remember, from Sandy Hall (author of A Little Something Different), is a funny and cinematic look at the biggest dance of every high schooler’s life.

Book Review: The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

Publisher’s description

summer of jordiSeventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosseplaying bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is.

Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

If you are not reading Amy Spalding’s books, you are totally missing out. Her dialogue is A+ and I always want to be best friends with all of her characters. This book was no exception.

 

17-year-old Abby has always viewed herself as the quirky, funny sidekick in her own life—the one who watches cool things happen to other people and is there for advice and clever one-liners. Because of this view of herself, she kind of can’t believe it when Mexican American Jordi Perez, who is cute, cultured, serious, and seems to have it all together, reciprocates her crush. Both girls get a summer internship together at Lemonberry, a faux vintage clothing store. Abby runs a fashion blog and Jordi takes excellent photographs. Though they’ve gone to high school together, they don’t really know each other—in fact, Abby can’t even remember Jordi’s name at first. It’s a summer full of unexpected things for Abby, who also ends up becoming best buds with Jax, a lacrosse-playing friend of her best friend’s boyfriend (Jax is convinced this makes them friends-in-law, so of course they should hang out). Jax ropes Abby into eating and rating burgers all summer as part of his dad’s new Yelp-like app. Jax is a gem of a character—funny, supportive, and so much more than the cliche that it seems like he may be. While Abby has a cool internship, a rad girlfriend, and great friends (including some unexpected new ones), it’s not all roses. Abby repeatedly mentions that she’s fat. When she says something about being fat and Jax starts to say she’s not, she points out to him that she is, which isn’t bad, but “acting like fat’s an insult is.” She’s cool with her body and her weight, for the most part, though she is a little self-conscious especially when she and Jordi start making out (a not-so-unusual feeling for anyone). Though she runs a fashion blog, she never posts pictures of herself on it. She’s particularly self-conscious about pictures of herself, not because she doesn’t like to look at them, but because she would like to avoid all of the fat-hating comments from people who may view them. It just seems easier and safer to not put herself out there. Then there’s the issue of her mother, a food blogger, who seems to constantly view Abby as a disappointment. Abby is pretty sure her mother would prefer her to be straight and thin, things she more or less says outright to her. But despite the feeling of being a disappointment to her mother, things are mostly going great… until they aren’t.

 

This book has a super wide appeal—it’s an excellent romance full of joy and happiness. Abby’s zest for fashion is contagious—my own closet is full of mostly black and extremely boring, but I loved reading about Abby’s outfits and the clothes at the shop. Though there is a fight and some fallout/heartbreak, this is a feel-good book with tons of charm, humor, and heart. This funny, sweet, summer read was the perfect thing to spend a blizzardy day off of work reading. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781510727663
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 04/03/2018

Book Review: Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Publisher’s description

hurricanCaroline Murphy is a Hurricane Child.

Being born during a hurricane is unlucky, and twelve-year-old Caroline has had her share of bad luck lately. She’s hated and bullied by everyone in her small school on St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, a spirit only she can see won’t stop following her, and — worst of all — Caroline’s mother left home one day and never came back.

But when a new student named Kalinda arrives, Caroline’s luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, becomes Caroline’s first and only friend — and the person for whom Caroline has begun to develop a crush.

Now, Caroline must find the strength to confront her feelings for Kalinda, brave the spirit stalking her through the islands, and face the reason her mother abandoned her. Together, Caroline and Kalinda must set out in a hurricane to find Caroline’s missing mother — before Caroline loses her forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

How great is it that we are starting to see more LGBTQIA+ main characters in middle grade books?

 

The summary up there does a fairly efficient job of presenting the major plots points of this novel. The summary doesn’t, however, convey how rich the narrative voice is or how vivid the characters are. Caroline lives on Water Island, a place she refers to as “a dumb rock.” Her mother left one year and three months ago, though Caroline isn’t particularly sure why or where she may have ended up. Caroline attends Catholic school, where she says she is “the littlest girl with the darkest skin and the thickest hair.” She’s always been the odd girl out, but the arrival of Kalinda, a new student from Barbados, changes that. The other girls don’t suddenly accept her once she and Kalinda become best friends, but they do kind of ignore her. More importantly, Kalinda seems as taken with Caroline as she is with her. Caroline can see things that other people can’t (specifically a woman in black who seems to show up all over the place, including the bottom of the sea) and suspects maybe Kalinda can, too. Also, it doesn’t take long for Caroline to realize she has a crush on Kalinda, and can only hope that maybe Kalinda could feel the same (a hope that fades after hearing Kalinda say it was disgusting, gross, and wrong when they see two women holding hands). When a letter Caroline writes to her confessing her feelings falls into the hands of the mean girls, suddenly the small bits of happiness Caroline was finding are threatened. With her feelings now exposed and their time together potentially limited, Caroline thinks it’s more important than ever to find her mother, even if that means searching the spirit world (and maybe not returning from it). Caroline has spent so long just wanting some answers, but now that she’s uncovering them, they may be too much to handle.

 

Readers will instantly be drawn in by the narrative voice, the strong characters, the various mysteries (like where is her mother, are there ghosts, what does her father know, and what will happen with Caroline and Kalinda). The setting, packed full of evocative details, add further richness to this unique story. Caroline is dealing with a lot—racism and poor treatment because of the darkness of her skin, absent parents, homophobic classmates—all things that make her feel very alone, bullied, and unloved. Though it was difficult to read how she was treated, the ending begins to provide hope that Caroline will have more people in her support network than she could have guessed. An intense look at relationships and self-discovery. Give this to introspective readers who may relate to Caroline always feeling on the fringes. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338129304
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 03/27/2018

 

Book Review: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Publisher’s description

ps i missA heartbreaking—yet ultimately uplifting—epistolary novel about family, religion, and having the courage to be yourself.

 

Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister, Cilla, away to stay with a distant great-aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. Forbidden from speaking to Cilla, Evie secretly sends her letters.

Evie writes about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend.

Evie could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn’t writing back, and it’s time for Evie to take matters into her own hands.

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy is a heartfelt middle grade novel dealing with faith, identity, and finding your way in difficult times.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, friends. We need SO MANY MORE middle grade books about LGBTQIA+ kids. I can’t wait for the day that kids of all identities can see themselves joyfully and lovingly represented and embraced.

Evie’s path to discovering who she really is is a very complicated and painful one. The entire book is told through letters to her sister Cilla, who at first has no internet/phone access and then later just isn’t responding. At first I couldn’t get past how extremely dated it feels to only be able to communicate through snail mail, but I did get past that once I got caught up in the story. Cilla got pregnant at sixteen and has been sent away from their home in Massachusetts to their great-aunt’s home in Virginia, to have the baby in secret, then to head to an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school after the baby is born and adopted. Evie desperately misses her sister and sends her endless letters, despite only rarely (and tersely) hearing back from Cilla. Evie’s extremely judgmental and withholding parents have retreated into work and baking/hiding away crying since Cilla left, leaving Evie so alone as she navigates some new feelings toward new classmate June. But it’s not like her parents would be comforting or loving to Evie during this time, anyway. The version of Catholicism that they practice is a strict and punishing one, one that makes them shun their pregnant daughter and, Evie is sure, would make them just as quickly disown their lesbian daughter. So she writes to Cilla, despite the silence back, trying to work out her feelings for June and process her sister’s absence. Evie is not at all prepared for what she finds when she goes looking on her own to find her sister. Uncovering a betrayal so profound that it’s hard to imagine it actually happening, Evie is forced to face the lengths some people will go to to maintain appearances and hide secrets. It’s a revelation that will change her life and her perception of her family, religion, and her thoughts on her own identity.

 

There is so much shame, stigma, and embarrassment here. Their parents constantly talk about how horrible Cilla’s “mistake” and “sin” is. They are mortified, deeply ashamed, and do everything to hide what has happened, including the very outdated-feeling move of sending her away to have the baby in secret. They have completely turned their back on Cilla, not communicating with her, showing any love, or even uttering her name. They remove her pictures from their walls, spin lies to the community about where she is, and even tell an old friend that Evie is their only child. The constant onslaught of shame and judgment toward teen pregnancy honestly got really hard to stomach.

 

Evie is very, very young-sounding and naive. The story takes place during 7th grade, but quite often, she feels much younger. She initially thinks in pretty simplistic ways (“bad girls get pregnant”). When she meets June, she notes that she’s never met anyone with dyed hair. When she learns June is an atheist, she again notes that she’s never met one. She observes that her sister broke commandments and sinned, but that she’s learned her lesson and won’t sin again. It’s clear how much of her thinking early on in the book has been influenced by her (awful) parents. Her thoughts on everything change and progress as the story unfolds, but for quite a bit of the story she is sheltered, naive, and parroting her parents’ beliefs. This development, this change to having her own opinions on right and wrong, on religion’s role in her life, on things like teen pregnancy and homosexuality, is believable if not always easy to read.

 

Evie’s relationship with June also develops in a believable, if not always happy, way. Though she recognizes and struggles with the crush she has on June early on, she is so worried that her parents will disown her, that she’s a sinner, that she’s doing something wrong. But she pushes past that and lets herself feel what she feels. Their relationship follows a very typical trajectory for 7th graders—they’re hesitant, nervous, excited, and happy. They hold sweaty hands, kiss (once, then Evie decides she isn’t ready to be doing that), and spend tons of time together. But for much of the book, it’s all in secret. Thankfully, when Evie does tell her best friends what is going on, they react positively. But even when Evie has told June how she feels and they are girlfriends, Evie notes that she still feels a little ashamed of herself for liking a girl.

 

My hope is that readers can see past the onslaught of shame and stigma, even felt and perpetuated by Evie herself, to see the joy of discovering someone you have a crush on and see how Evie eventually learns to not hide or be ashamed of who she is. A well-written, if deeply uncomfortable and often disheartening, look at identity, family, and secrets. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250123480
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 03/06/2018

Book Review: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

Publisher’s description

one trueWelcome to Daniel Boone Middle School in the 1970s, where teachers and coaches must hide who they are, and girls who like girls are forced to question their own choices. Presented in the voice of a premier storyteller, One True Way sheds exquisite light on what it means to be different, while at the same time being wholly true to oneself. Through the lives and influences of two girls, readers come to see that love is love is love. Set against the backdrop of history and politics that surrounded gay rights in the 1970s South, this novel is a thoughtful, eye-opening look at tolerance, acceptance, and change, and will widen the hearts of all readers.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s 1977 in North Carolina and new girl 12-year-old Allie is immediately taken under the wing of gregarious Sam, a star basketball player who moves easily between all the social groups. She helps Allie get a spot on the school newspaper, with her first assignment being a profile about Sam. As the girls get to know one another, it quickly becomes obvious that they like each other. Sam’s parents are very close-minded, and Sam knows they would never approve of her liking girls—she says they’d immediately get put on the prayer list at her church, One True Way. Her mother calls her basketball coach, who is a lesbian and dating a fellow teacher, a pervert and an abomination. Allie thinks maybe she can be open with her parents; after all, her uncle is gay and everyone seems okay with that. But telling her mom doesn’t go how she hopes it will—her mother tells her she’s too young to know if she likes girls, that maybe it’s just a phase. It all becomes very complicated as the girls try to stay away from each other and Allie tries to see if it really is a choice, if she can maybe make herself like boys instead. Thankfully, through this painful and confusing time the girls have some very open, smart, loving people looking out for them, including the reverend from Allie’s Methodist church, Coach Murphy and Miss Holt, and, eventually, Allie’s own parents.

 

One of the things I like best about this book is the conversations Allie has with the adults in her life, especially her mother. Her mother’s initial disappointment and fear change as Allie repeatedly discusses with her her feelings for Sam. Her dad’s reaction is wonderful and loving, the therapist they all go see (for many reasons, including the death of Allie’s brother and her parents’ impending divorce) is supportive and kind, and Sam’s sister reaches out to Allie to see how to best accept and support Sam. Though worried about being gay in a small town in this era, the girls get plenty of love and support, never forgetting for too long that the important thing is to be true to yourself. We desperately need more middle grade novels with LGBTQIA+ main characters, and Hitchcock’s book is a very welcome addition to the small but growing selection. An affirming look at discovering who you really are and finding love and support when you learn to speak your truth. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338181722
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/27/2018

Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Publisher’s description

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

princeI so enjoyed this graphic novel.

Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium doesn’t always feel like a prince. Some days, he looks at himself in the mirror, wearing his traditional “boy” clothes, and feels just fine. Other days, that doesn’t feel right at all. He’d rather wear dresses and feel like a princess. He’s completely uninterested in finding a wife (something his parents are fixated on). He’s 16 and harboring this secret—he doesn’t exactly feel ready for a relationship, where he’d likely need to reveal parts of himself that he isn’t yet ready to. Instead, he hangs with his new seamstress (and new best friend) Frances, who barely blinks when she learns her new client is a prince wanting to wear dresses. She’s just excited to make some wild designs and maybe be discovered. Sebastian dons her dresses and enjoys a nightlife as the popular, trend-setting Lady Crystallia. He appears happier than he’s ever been, but he still has to deal with the fact that his parents are on a wife-hunt and that he’s living a secret life. When Frances’s designs do get her noticed, she finds herself possibly getting the break of a lifetime. But pursuing her dreams may mean Lady Crystallia’s real identity getting out, a risk that Sebastian can’t take.

Sebastian’s story is, at times, difficult to read. Living a secret life, hiding who he is, is both heartbreaking and exhausting. He’s unhappy and lives in fear. He is so certain he won’t be accepted. The story also includes a pretty unpleasant scene of him being outed. That said, it’s important to know that Sebastian is eventually embraced and accepted by his family and friends, even once they know the truth. The scene surrounding this moment, a fashion show, is pretty epic. Readers who may feel some of the same self-loathing, secrecy, and fear especially need to see this happy resolution. Wang’s gorgeous artwork is well suited to depict a story filled with decadence and high fashion. The characters are so expressive and dynamic—we see Sebastian absolutely come live as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia, and generally appear so miserable when he’s out of those beautiful dresses. Though their relationship has some growing pains, the supportive and loving friendship between Frances and Sebastian is lovely. Fans of graphic novels will be drawn in by the lush and lively art. The strong storytelling and fantastic characters will keep readers engaged, making sure they pay attention to all of the details in the art that add to the story. Though Sebastian’s road to being able to show his real self isn’t easy, it’s wonderful to see him loved, embraced, and supported in the end. Let’s hear it for happy endings! 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626723634
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 02/13/2018

Book Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Publisher’s description

A raw, powerful, but ultimately uplifting debut novel perfect for fans of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe from debut author Angelo Surmelis.

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict immigrant Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend, Henry, has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan finds that his only escape is to draw in an abandoned monastery that feels as lonely as he is. And yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. Henry, who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he deserves more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse.

But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by being silent.

This is a powerful and revelatory coming-of-age novel based on the author’s own childhood, about a boy who learns to step into his light.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

dangerous artThis was a rough read. The abuse and homophobia are nonstop. Though this is absolutely a worthwhile read and is very well written, readers need to know going in that Evan suffers a lot at the hands of his peers and his own mother.

Illinois 17-year-old Evan Panos spends most of his life hiding and hoping to fly under the radar. His extremely abusive Greek mother has spent his whole life hurting him, telling him he’s ugly and a sinner, that she wishes he were gone, as she beats him. Though not out, his religious mother has lived in fear that Evan is gay (“deviant”), bringing in other devout members from their church to pray that he’s released from this “demon.” His father doesn’t agree with his wife’s tactics, but also doesn’t (generally) intervene. Evan’s cuts and bruises don’t go unnoticed, but he explains them away by telling people he’s just incredibly clumsy and falls a lot. But everything starts to change when Evan and his lifelong best friend, Henry, realize they’re falling for each other. Evan is so afraid to trust anyone, and even though Henry is his best friend, he has his reasons for being hesitant (reasons that go beyond what his mother will do to him if she finds out about any of this). Can Evan begin to reveal the many secret sides to his life, or will revealing those secrets be the thing that ends him?

 

Like I said, this is a hard read. Evan has virtually no support. Even as adults begin to figure out, or suspect, what has been happening to him, no one intervenes. His mother is unrelentingly abusive and all of the scenes of violence are right there on the page. To watch that, and to watch Evan try to explain it all away, is heartbreaking. His classmates constantly accuse him of being gay, hurling disgusting slurs around. What he has with Henry is lovely, if at times complicated, but the romance takes a backseat to the story of the abuse. Make sure readers who pick this up also realize there are plenty of books about happy, accepted, safe gay kids, too. The author includes a note at the end, talking about how the his own personal story mirrored Evan’s, and resources for help. A powerful and devastating read with some of the worst physical and emotional abuse I’ve ever seen in a YA book. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062659002
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/30/2018

Book Review: I Love This Part by Tillie Walden

Publisher’s description

Two girls in a small town in the USA kill time together as they try to get through their days at school.

They watch videos, share earbuds as they play each other songs and exchange their stories. In the process they form a deep connection and an unexpected relationship begins to develop.

In her follow up to the critically acclaimed The End of Summer, Tillie Walden tells the story of a small love that can make you feel like the biggest thing around, and how it’s possible to find another person who understands you when you thought no one could.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

love this partI was sent this by Avery Hill Publishing, in the UK. This is a hardcover rerelease of Walden’s 2015 book. It’s still available in the US in paperback and comes out in March in hardcover.

This book will take you all of five minutes to read, but the art is lovely and the brief story is heartbreaking. The little summary up there tells you all there is to know about the sparse story. While the narrative is spare, the expansive art, full of cities and outdoor landscapes and open spaces, contributes so much to the tone and feel of this short look at love and heartbreak. This is the kind of book that, for older readers, will make you think of breathtaking and devastating first love—how it encompassed everything, how every connection felt so significant, and how it could hurt like nothing you could imagine. Younger readers experiencing their first crush or heartbreak will see themselves reflected in this brief, beautiful look at love. Emotionally resonant despite its brevity. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781910395325
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2018

Book Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Publisher’s description

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller This Is Where It Ends comes another unforgettable story of loss, hope, betrayal, and the quest for truth

Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated—and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets—chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

before iYour number one thought while reading this book will be WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH THE PEOPLE IN LOST CREEK, ALASKA? The one word that will crop up most in your thoughts as you read is OMINOUS. Trust me. 

 

The last Corey knew, her best friend Kyra had been receiving treatment for her bipolar disorder through both medication and therapy. There had been talk of her getting further help at a facility in Fairbanks. But now Kyra is dead, and the entire tiny town of Lost Creek, Alaska (a tight-knit community that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders) seems to view her death as an inevitable act that not only was foretold, but was good and necessary. It was her time. Her time! Yep. The girl was mentally ill and now the town is saying that it’s okay she died (she fell through the ice) because she had found her purpose and served it.

Again, may I point you back to WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH THE PEOPLE IN LOST CREEK, ALASKA?

Corey’s family moved from Lost Creek a while back, so the closed community now considers her an outsider. They are NOT HAPPY that she has returned to town and that she is horrified by what she begins to uncover about the way the town was treating Kyra and the things that led up to her death. Kyra’s mother claims that Kyra was happy near the end, that she’d changed, that she’d found her place (in a town that, last Corey has seen, shunned Kyra because of her bipolar disorder). Her mother tells Corey that Kyra was no longer receiving any treatment, but that love and belonging made her better. Thank goodness Corey knows that’s garbage. She digs around to find the truth of what was going on in Lost Creek and is shocked when she learns just how exactly the town was “embracing” Kyra.

Parts of the story are told through letters and flashbacks. Through these, we learn more about what Kyra was actually going through and feeling as well as more about the history of Kyra and Corey’s friendship (like the fact that pansexual Kyra and asexual Corey shared a kiss that briefly seemed to complicate things).

There is a LOT to discuss here regarding mental health. Lost Creek treats her first as an outcast, then as a prophet—both extremely troubling notions. If we didn’t have Corey in the mix, pointing out how ludicrous all of that is, reminding us that therapy and medication treat mental illness, not some completely messed up idea of “belonging” and “love” (that’s not love, Lost Creek), I probably would’ve literally thrown this book across the room. Kyra’s mental illness is romanticized by the people of Lost Creek, and while Nijkamp (and Corey) take her illness seriously and are concerned, no one else in town does. Kyra is exploited and never properly supported. She is abandoned. It is shocking that anyone, much less a whole town, would treat ANYONE, much less someone with mental illness, this way. They are cruel, ill-informed, and, frankly, awful people. Nearly all of them—nearly all of the town. We never really learn how or why an entire town became so terribly cruel. I hope readers will really pay attention to Corey’s point of view, and understand that what the town did was deeply wrong, yes, but what Kyra’s parents did, the people who should have been advocating for her and TREATING her, was much, much worse. Despite the entire town feeling like Kyra was magical and served some grand purpose (and then died), it’s clear that untreated mental illness is a terrible thing, and that Lost Creek is one messed up place. Hand this to readers who like spooky-feeling stories that will leave them rather enraged at the gross injustice of a life lost. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492642282
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 01/02/2018