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Book Review: Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

Publisher’s description

pointe-clawJessie Vale dances in an elite ballet program. She has to be perfect to land a spot with the professional company. When Jessie is cast in an animalistic avant-garde production, her careful composure cracks wide open. Nothing has felt more dangerous.

Meanwhile, her friend Dawn McCormick’s world is full of holes. She wakes in strange places, bruised, battered, and unable to speak. The doctors are out of ideas.

These childhood friends are both running out of time. Jessie has one shot at her ballet dream. Dawn’s blackouts are getting worse. At every turn, they crash into the many ways girls are watched, judged, used, and discarded. Should they play it safe or go feral?

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Take my advice on this, please: read Carrie Mesrobian’s Just a Girl, Elana Arnold’s What Girls Are Made Of, and Amber Keyser’s Pointe, Claw all in a row just like I did. Especially taken together like this, they build a powerful examination of girlhood.

 

Amber and I are agency-mates and here is something from her bio there: “Amber is a former ballerina with a masters degree in zoology and a doctorate in genetics; she lives in Portland, Oregon.” I tell you this to say that really only Amber could have written this unique and very weird (I mean that in the best way) book. Pointe, Claw takes place in Portland and involves a ballerina and a girl, a bear, and lots of genetic questions. The cover made me extremely curious about the book, but I had NO IDEA what I was in for.

 

When we first meet Dawn, she is in some kind of rage. She seems feral (I word I wrote in my notes after reading the second page and that I now see is used in the description–really, there’s no other way to think of Dawn). She talks about “going dark,” about waking up not knowing where she’s been or how she got there or what on earth is going on with her. She is drawn to a bear that a sketchy neighbor keeps locked up in a cage on his property. Her cold and unsympathetic mother drags her to doctor after doctor, trying to figure out what is wrong with Dawn and how to “fix” her. Is it mental illness? Lyme disease? Drugs? What’s behind Dawn’s strange episodes?

 

Jessie, meanwhile, dances six hours a day, six days a week, and is about to learn to be feral in ways that will disturb, challenge, and ultimately change her. At first devastated to not be chosen to dance in the artistic director’s student showcase piece, she learns to embrace the freedom and wildness that comes from dancing in Vadim’s boundary-pushing piece. The dance is animalistic and “ugly, lustful, lonely,” opening Jessie to a side of herself she’s never considered before.

 

Once Jessie and Dawn’s lives intersect again (they were childhood friends), things become even more interesting. Together they will reminisce about their past and recover memories that felt long gone, as well as uncover secrets and truths. Dawn’s episodes increase and she begins to suspect what may be going on with her, as impossible as her theory seems. And while Jessie doesn’t fully understand what exactly is happening to Dawn, she’s there for her, understanding that no one has ever meant what Dawn has meant to her. 

 

This is absolutely 100% a book about what it means to inhabit a girl’s body. It’s a book about growing up, changing, seeing ourselves, and being seen. It’s about expectations, anger, jealousy, relationships, shame, love, friendship, and support. There is a constant conversation about women and women’s bodies–Jessie, her fellow dancers, Dawn, Dawn’s makeup-selling mother, the girls at the strip club, the men who observe all of them… there is SO MUCH to unpack and think about. Much like Vadim’s dance (which, by the way, I was left sobbing after the description of their performance), this book is experimental and risky. And, like his dance, it is successful and surprising. The metamorphosis each girl undergoes is powerful; Dawn’s is downright shocking. I can’t say enough good things about this strange, disturbing, and extremely compelling look at girlhood, bodies, and identities. Raw, weird, and wonderful. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781467775915

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/01/2017

#SJYALit: If You Don’t Get It, You Won’t Get It Right, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

sjyalitI tell stories because the real world sucked for me when I was a teen.  No.  Sucked doesn’t even begin to cover it.  The real world nearly killed me.  The real world told me that I was going to hell because I was gay.  It told me I would die of AIDS or have the crap kicked out of me or spend my life as an unfulfilled sex addict or as someone’s campy gay best friend without a real life of my own.  I tried to escape the real world by reaching out to books and movies and television, but found only the same poison that infected reality.

 

More and more I’m seeing members of the YA community (led primarily by women of color) standing against and calling out books that feature harmful representation of race or gender or sexuality or disability.  Rather than allowing these books to continue to be published unchallenged, they’re taking a stand and shining a light on these problematic books and the system that continues to publish them.  At the same time, within minutes of someone calling out a book, someone else will come along and say, “What’s the big deal? It’s only fiction.”  You can set your watch by it. I promise.

 

It’s only fiction, right?  I can’t harm anyone, right?  Wrong.  We live in a big world, but as we’re growing up we often see only a small part of it.  That small part becomes our entire world.  We look to the people around us, the friends and family and schoolmates that inhabit our worlds, to catch glimpses of our possible futures.  And we use literature and movies and television as telescopes to view life outside of our worlds.  For many people, the future looks limitless.  They see they can be doctors or computer engineers or painters or world travelers.  Books and other artistic mediums help expand their worlds and show them infinite possibilities.

 

For kids from marginalized groups, their worlds begin much smaller.  When I came out, I knew exactly two gay people.  One was the best friend of my mother who had died of AIDS.  The other was my brother and, at the time, he wasn’t a particularly great example of what growing up gay could look like.  Matthew Shepard had been brutally tortured and murdered; Bill Clinton had signed the Defense Against Marriage Act, declaring I did not have the right to marry a member of the same sex; the U.S. military was actively discharging homosexual soldiers despite the heinous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule.  The real world was sending me a message, and I heard it loud and clear.  My world was small.  It was claustrophobic. So I retreated to books and movies and television and found more of the same.  Stories of shame.  Stories of death and depression.  If the gay character wasn’t killed as an object lesson, they were the butt of every joke.  I’d looked to books to escape from the real world, but there was no escape.

 

I did not fit the stereotype of gay men that so many writers at the time leaned heavily on.  Instead of finding positive stories that showed me a future where I could be myself and be happy, I found the opposite.  I found a handful of possible futures, and they were all grim.  So I tried to kill myself and nearly succeeded.  I didn’t attempt suicide because my parents rejected me or because I couldn’t accept that I was gay.  I attempted suicide because there was so much bad representation of gay life out there that I was no longer able to see the possibility of ever living a happy life.

 

Don’t tell me it’s only fiction.  Don’t tell me bad representation can’t harm anyone.  It can. It does.  It nearly killed me.

 

we are the antsI’ve gotten comments from readers that the acceptance the queer characters in my books receive from everyone around them is unrealistic.  They might be right.  I don’t think they are, but they could be.  And I don’t care.  I don’t write for those people.  I write books so that queer teens can see themselves, so that they can see a possible future for themselves.  Marginalized teens deserve the same opportunity to see themselves represented accurately and positively in the books they read as everyone else.  I’ve heard the argument that queer teens only make up a small percentage of the population, so it shouldn’t be important.  Well, screw that.  None of us should be willing to write off marginalized groups, no matter how many or few of us there are.  If you’re a writer and you think it’s not important enough to get it right, you shouldn’t be writing it.  Actual lives of actual people depend on getting it right.  If you think otherwise then you haven’t been paying attention.

 

We should all be speaking out about books with harmful representation.  Writers need to know that doing the bare minimum isn’t enough.  They need to get it right or write something else.  Publishers need to know that there are real consequences to publishing books with harmful representation and they need to promote diversity at every level of their operations to ensure harmful books aren’t being published, while at the same time promoting own voices books that are getting it right.  Publishers need to do more than simply pay lip service to the notion of diversity.  Teachers and librarians need to speak up about books that are harmful to the teens they serve, and actively seek out books that get it right so that they can put the right books into the hands of the teens who need them.

 

This isn’t a game.  This isn’t just fiction.  These are real lives, and if we’re not working to make those lives better, what the hell are we doing?

 

Meet Shaun David Hutchinson

shaunShaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, which won the Florida Book Awards’ Gold Medal in the Young Adult category and was named to the ALA’s 2015 Rainbow Book List; the anthology Violent Ends, which received a starred review from VOYA; and We Are the Ants, which received five starred reviews and was named a best book of January 2016 by Amazon.com, Kobo.com, Publishers Weekly, and iBooks, and At the Edge of the Universe. He lives in South Florida with his adorably chubby dog, and enjoys Doctor Who, comic books, and yelling at the TV. Visit him at ShaunDavidHutchinson.com.

Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Publisher’s description

radioFrom critically acclaimed author Alice Oseman comes a smartly crafted contemporary YA novel, perfect for readers who love Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. This is an utterly captivating and authentic new teen novel from the author of Solitaire, which VOYA said “could put her among the great young adult fiction authors.”

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.

You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.

They don’t. They make a podcast.

In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’ll be honest: it took me a while to get into this story. I spent a few days picking it up and finding my mind wandering, so putting it down and working on something else instead. BUT, once I got roped in, I got ROPED IN. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a mystery, but it has elements of a mystery, and that’s what propelled me forward.

 

The summary up there doesn’t do the best job of making this sound appealing (although, yes please to more books about main character best friends who seem like they might fall in love but don’t, and yes please to stories about podcasts). It’s not just that Aled and Frances make a podcast together (think Welcome to Night Vale)—it’s that they make a VERY popular podcast, with a large fandom, and, as creators, stay shrouded in mystery for a long time. The premise of their podcast (which Aled starts and Frances joins eventually) is a student is sending out SOS messages from a futuristic university that they’re trapped inside of. The student goes by Radio Silence and is agender. The podcast grows in popularity, but when word gets out who is behind it, things really begin to fall apart quickly. Aled and Frances have an argument and drift apart (or rather, Aled bails on Frances and refuses to answer her calls etc). It becomes clear that something very troublesome is going on with Aled, and while Frances desperately wants to do SOMETHING to help him, she doesn’t know what to do. Until she does.

 

The small ensemble of characters feature a diversity of sexual identities, including gay, bi, lesbian, and demisexual. Frances is white and Ethiopian, Daniel is Korean, and Raine is Indian. There is also a lot of room for choices, or for rethinking choices, regarding what to do after school ends—namely, there are more options than just going to university and more options than just doing the thing you thought you were supposed to work toward. The story is about the podcast, but it’s also not. It’s about people desperately in need of friends. It’s about identities, desires, plans, expectations, and feeling lost. Frances and friends will easily appeal to teen readers who are also grappling with all these same feelings. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062335715

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 03/28/2017

What’s New in LGBTQIA+ YA March 2017

It’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 March 2017 titles. Head over to this link for the previous post (January and February 2017 titles) in this series. All annotations here are via the publishers/Goodreads. I also have a 2017 master list that I’m always working on. 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.

 

March 2017

 

inexplicableThe Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (ISBN-13: 9780544586505 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 03/07/2017)

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.

 

 

 

 

drivenDriven by MB Mulhall (ISBN-13: 978-1-63533-278-0 Publisher: Harmony Ink Publication date: 03/07/2017)

As an eighteen-year-old ex-con living on the streets, Oliver doesn’t have it easy. Don’t show weakness and survive to repent are the daily mottoes he lives by.

A chance encounter with a clumsy older lady leads him to temporary room and board in exchange for being the errand boy for spinster twins in a fairy-tale home—much to the dismay of their concerned neighbor Simon.

Inside, Oliver fights a battle between staying and going. The guilt of a horrible accident eats away at him, keeping him from getting too close to anyone, even when sparks start to ignite a heart he long thought broken.

Will Oliver get over the past and allow himself a chance at a happiness, love, and better life? Or will the blackness in his soul take over and demand he pay the ultimate price for his crimes?

 

 

other f wordThe Other F-Word by Natasha Friend (ISBN-13: 9780374302344 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 03/07/2017)

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy—giddy, even—by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

 

 

piperPiper Perish by Kayla Cagan (ISBN-13: 9781452155838 Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC Publication date: 03/07/2017)

Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and get to New York City, the better. Art school has been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power when it means giving up so much? Debut author Kayla Cagan breathes new life into fiction in this dynamic, utterly authentic work featuring interior art from Rookie magazine illustrator Maria Ines Gul. Piper will have readers asking big questions along with her. What is love? What is friendship? What is family? What is home? And who is a person when she’s missing any one of these things?

 

 

pants projectThe Pants Project by Cat Clarke (ISBN-13: 9781492638094 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 03/07/2017)

“My name is Liv (Not Olivia)… I’m not technically a girl.

I’m Transgender. Which is a bit like being a transformer. Only not quite as cool because I probably won’t get to save the world one day.”

Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Liv to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy—it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

 

 

seven days of youSeven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse (ISBN-13: 9780316391115 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/07/2017)

Anna and the French Kiss meets Before Sunrise in this smart and swoony debut.

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven Days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days….Until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

 

 

queens of geekQueens of Geek by Jen Wilde (ISBN-13: 9781250111395 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 03/14/2017)

Three friends. Two love stories. One convention.

Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Queens of Geek, an empowering young adult novel by Jen Wilde, is all about fandom, friendship, and finding the courage to be yourself.

 

 

born bothBorn Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria (ISBN-13: 9780316347846 Publisher: Hachette Books Publication date: 03/14/2017)

A candid, provocative, and eye-opening memoir of gender identity, self-acceptance, and love from one of the world’s foremost intersex activists.

My name is Hida Viloria. I was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that my body looked different. Having endured an often turbulent home life as a kid, there were many times when I felt scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls. But unlike most people in the first world who are born intersex–meaning they have genitals, reproductive organs, hormones, and/or chromosomal patterns that do not fit standard definitions of male or female–I grew up in the body I was born with because my parents did not have my sex characteristics surgically altered at birth.

It wasn’t until I was twenty-six and encountered the term intersex in a San Francisco newspaper that I finally had a name for my difference. That’s when I began to explore what it means to live in the space between genders–to be both and neither. I tried living as a feminine woman, an androgynous person, and even for a brief period of time as a man. Good friends would not recognize me, and gay men would hit on me. My gender fluidity was exciting, and in many ways freeing–but it could also be isolating.

I had to know if there were other intersex people like me, but when I finally found an intersex community to connect with I was shocked, and then deeply upset, to learn that most of the people I met had been scarred, both physically and psychologically, by infant surgeries and hormone treatments meant to “correct” their bodies. Realizing that the invisibility of intersex people in society facilitated these practices, I made it my mission to bring an end to it–and became one of the first people to voluntarily come out as intersex at a national and then international level.

Born Both is the story of my lifelong journey toward finding love and embracing my authentic identity in a world that insists on categorizing people into either/or, and of my decades-long fight for human rights and equality for intersex people everywhere.

 

 

star-crossedStar-Crossed by Barbara Dee (ISBN-13: 9781481478489 Publisher: Aladdin Publication date: 03/14/2017)

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare.

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

 

 

shadow runShadow Run by Michael Miller, AdriAnne Strickland (ISBN-13: 9780399552533 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 03/21/2017)

Firefly meets Dune in this action-packed sci-fi adventure about a close-knit, found family of a crew navigating a galaxy of political intrigue and resource-driven power games.

Nev has just joined the crew of the starship Kaitan Heritage as the cargo loader. His captain, Qole, is the youngest-ever person to command her own ship, but she brooks no argument from her crew of orphans, fugitives, and con men. Nev can’t resist her, even if her ship is an antique.

As for Nev, he’s a prince, in hiding on the ship. He believes Qole holds the key to changing galactic civilization, and when her cooperation proves difficult to obtain, Nev resolves to get her to his home planet by any means necessary.

But before they know it, a rival royal family is after Qole too, and they’re more interested in stealing her abilities than in keeping her alive.

Nev’s mission to manipulate Qole becomes one to save her, and to survive, she’ll have to trust her would-be kidnapper. He may be royalty, but Qole is discovering a deep reservoir of power—and stars have mercy on whoever tries to hurt her ship or her crew.

 

all you needAll You Need Is Love by Russell J. Sanders (ISBN-13: 978-1-63533-321-3 Publisher: Harmony Ink Publication date: 03/21/2017)

It is 1969 when Dewey Snodgress, high school theater star, meets irrepressible hippie Jeep Brickthorn, who quickly inserts himself into Dewey’s life—and eventually into his heart. Meanwhile, Dewey prepares to appear in a production across town, a play about protestors of the Vietnam War, where he befriends the wild and wonderful Lucretia “LuLu” Belton, who is also determined to follow her dreams and become an actress—whether her parents approve or not.

The show has a profound effect, especially on Dewey’s father, who reconsiders his approval of the war after his son’s performance. But Dewey knows his dad won’t be so accepting if he reveals the love he’s developing for Jeep, so he fights to push his feelings away and keep the peace in his family.

Still, Dewey can’t ignore the ripples moving through society—from the impending Woodstock Festival to the Stonewall Riots—and he begins to see that the road to happiness and acceptance for him and Jeep might lead them away from conservative Fort Worth, Texas—and Dewey’s  dad.

 

 

honestly ben2Honestly Ben (Openly Straight #2) by Bill Konigsberg (ISBN-13: 9780545858267 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 03/28/2017)

Ben Carver is back to normal. He’s working steadily in his classes at the Natick School. He just got elected captain of the baseball team. He’s even won a full scholarship to college, if he can keep up his grades. All that foolishness with Rafe Goldberg the past semester is in the past.

Except…

There’s Hannah, the gorgeous girl from the neighboring school, who attracts him and distracts him. There’s his mother, whose quiet unhappiness Ben is noticing for the first time. School is harder, the pressure higher, the scholarship almost slipping away. And there’s Rafe, funny, kind, dating someone else . . . and maybe the real normal that Ben needs.

Perfect for fans of David Levithan, Andrew Smith, and John Green, Honestly Ben is a smart, laugh-out-loud novel that will speak to anyone who’s struggled to be “honestly ____________” in some part of their lives.

 

 

lotterysThe Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (ISBN-13: 9780545925815 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 03/28/2017)

Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed “good girl” of her (VERY) large, (EXTREMELY) unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are: four parents, children both adopted and biological, and a menagerie of pets, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery. Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And not just any grandfather; the long dormant “Grumps,” who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn’t been part of any of their lives.

Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the newcomer feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly Grumps’s clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live: whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets, a multicultural household… He’s worse than just tough to get along with — Grumps has got to go! But can Sumac help him find a home where he belongs?

 

 

radio silenceRadio Silence by Alice Oseman (ISBN-13: 9780062335715 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/28/2017)

What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?

Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.

But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…
She has to confess why Carys disappeared…

Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.

It’s only by facing up to your fears that you can overcome them. And it’s only by being your true self that you can find happiness.

Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.

 

 

things-i-shouldThings I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik (ISBN-13: 9780544829695 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 03/28/2017)

Meet Chloe Mitchell, a popular Los Angeles girl who’s decided that her older sister, Ivy, who’s on the autism spectrum, could use a boyfriend. Chloe already has someone in mind: Ethan Fields, a sweet, movie-obsessed boy from Ivy’s special needs class.

Chloe would like to ignore Ethan’s brother, David, but she can’t—Ivy and Ethan aren’t comfortable going out on their own so Chloe and David have to tag along.  Soon Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan form a quirky and wholly lovable circle. And as the group bonds over frozen yogurt dates and movie nights, Chloe is forced to confront her own romantic choices—and the realization that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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 March 2017 issue of School Library Journal

 

 

gentlemans★ The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee.

ISBN-13: 9780062382801 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date:06/27/2017

Gr 9 Up—A trio of high-born, determined, and wildly charismatic teenagers get more than they bargained for in this rollicking 18th-century Grand Tour of the Continent gone awry. Endearing rake Lord Henry Montague (or Monty) and his biracial best friend (and unrequited love), the infinitely patient Percy, leave England to drop Monty’s fiercely intelligent sister Felicity off at finishing school. The friends then spend a year traveling. After the Grand Tour, Monty will return home to help his demanding father run their estate and Percy will go to Holland to law school. If Monty’s dad catches wind of him still “mucking around with boys,” Monty will be cut off from the family. The trip is intended to be a cultural experience. However, no one could have predicted that one seemingly petty theft would set off an adventure involving highwaymen, stowaways, pirates, a sinking island, an alchemical heart, tomb-raiding, and a secret illness. From the start, readers will be drawn in by Monty’s charm, and Felicity and Percy come alive as the narrative unfolds. The fast-paced plot is complicated, but Lee’s masterly writing makes it all seem effortless. The journey forces Monty and friends to confront issues of racism, gender expectations, sexuality, disability, family, and independence, with Monty in particular learning to examine his many privileges. Their exploits bring to light the secret doubts, pains, and ambitions all three are hiding. This is a witty, romantic, and exceedingly smart look at discovering one’s place in the world. VERDICT A stunning powerhouse of a story for every collection.

Book Review: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Publisher’s description

star-crossedMattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare.

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

COULD WE PLEASE HAVE MORE MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS ABOUT QUEER KIDS? Thanks.

 

Mattie sneaks into mean girl Willow’s Halloween party by attending in full Darth Vader regalia. While in the kitchen, she bumps into cute new British girl, Gemma, who is hiding out because she didn’t know it was a costume party. The two banter and Willow unmasks Mattie, mortifying her. Gemma had definitely been flirting with her—but she probably assumed the person under the Darth Vader costume was a boy. Right? After the party, Mattie finds herself pulled toward Gemma. She’s smart, funny, and cute. Mattie likes how she smells and how her voice sounds. But what does all that mean? Especially given that she spent the past year having a crush on Elijah. Mattie begins to wonder if she only liked Elijah because she thought she had to. She can’t yet articulate what she feels for Gemma, but when her best friend Lucy tells her it’s cool if she has a crush on Gemma, she’s forced to take stock of what she’s feeling.

 

All of that would be plenty, but the 8th graders are also putting on a class play—and Gemma is Juliet to Mattie’s Romeo. Much of the action of the book takes place at play practices, where a nervous Mattie has to figure out how to interact with Gemma. She eventually takes some advice for the play and turns to her own Benvolio and Mercutio—her best friends Lucy and Tessa. While she knows she likes Gemma, she’s still not sure what it actually means for her (or if Gemma feels the same way), but surrounded by caring friends, family, and peers, she’s on her way to figuring it out in this much needed look at a middle schooler questioning her sexuality. The positive, accepting, supportive tone of the story makes this book a must-have for every middle school library. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481478489

Publisher: Aladdin

Publication date: 03/14/2017

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Publisher’s description

inexplicableFrom the multi-award-winning author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe comes a gorgeous new story about love, identity, and families lost and found.

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Because I read in order of publication date (the only way I can manage my towering TBR pile), there are certain books that sit on my shelf for MONTHS and kind of taunt me from their spot. This is one such book. Given my absolute adoration of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, my expectations for this book were high. And I was not let down.

 

I am a big fan of quiet books. Give me good dialogue and interesting characters and I’m in. I don’t need a big plot. I don’t need big things to happen. To me, there is nothing more compelling or more of a “big thing” than just teenagers living their teenage lives–figuring out who they are, changing, finding their people, hurting, loving, and growing. That’s plenty. That’s everything. And for 450 pages, I was so wrapped up in the lives of Sal, Sam, Fito, and their families. Sal and Sam have been best friends forever. It’s never been romantic between them; they’ve always been like brother and sister. Sam knows Sal better than anyone. But lately, Sal feels like he’s changing. He’s developed a quick temper that manifests when he’s righteously angry and trying to protect those he loves. For the first time ever, he’s lashing out and getting in fights. He starts to wonder about his biological dad—maybe he was angry and a fighter. Maybe Sal is acting like him. But his wonderful father, Vicente, is calm and loving and open. Sal wonders about nature versus nurture. He wonders who is he really like. He wonders who he really is. His Mima, his father’s mom, is dying. Heartbroken that he’s about to lose someone he loves so dearly, Sal also ruminates on life, death, and everything that comes in between. Sam is a steadying force by his side, but she has her own terrible things going on. The pair take Fito, a gay classmate who’s had to survive on his own for a long time, into their fold, and together the three lean on each other and on Sal’s dad (and eventually on Vicente’s new boyfriend) while they redefine what “family” means.

 

Beautifully written and told, this is an unforgettable look at life, love, loss, grief, friendship, and family. Vicente may win the award for Best Parent in a YA Book 2017. The friendship between Sal, Sam, and Fito is profoundly moving and rich. Fans of Aristotle and Dante who are eagerly awaiting the sequel will be happy to have another wonderful work from Sáenz to tide them over. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544586505

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 03/07/2017

#SJYALit: LGBTQ+ YA lit in the 90s/00s versus now, a guest post by Alex B.

rainbow roadImagine a gay teen buying Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Road at the local bookstore and keeping it on her bookshelf at home after reading it. Is she going to recommend it to friends? Would she take it to school or read it at a café? Since this gay teen was me, I can tell you, no, she does not.

 

 

Keeping you a secretGrowing up in the 90s, I had no exposure to LGBTQ+ characters or themes in any of my children’s books (despite my deep love of Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish, there’s no gay content). The teen section of 00s bookstore was my first chance to see someone like me in print. Yet, it was also the section that labeled its books pretty clearly. See this cover with loopy cursive font for the title and an image of two people holding hands? Probably a romance. See this cover with a sword on it? Probably going to have some fighting in it. See this cover of two girls’ resting their heads together with the title Keeping You a Secret? Probably about lesbians. Obvious benefits of doing this include helping teens find a book they are interested in. In the case of social justice in young adult literature (#SJYALIT everyone!), there’s a lot to be said for the clear, visible inclusion of LGBTQ+ books at the publishing press, bookstore, and classroom. This group of books definitely seemed to grow with me as I got older. The downside of these covers, in LGBTQ+ literature’s situation, is that they may lead to exclusion from collections or isolation from public or personal promotion, as in my experience. I was lucky to find LGBTQ+ lit (and here I should make a very important note – it was really mostly books with gay characters, and a few with lesbians, but rarely if at all any queer, bi, or trans characters) relatively easily, but then I had to decide if I was brave enough to buy it, when it clearly sent a message to everyone else, too.

 

IMG_3574 (1)What does LGBTQ+ lit look like now, in the 10s? Beautiful! There are still books with covers or titles that showcase the content, which is important, but there are many more books that have characters tangentially representing LGBTQ+ identity in the larger scope of the story, more subtle books that have LGBTQ+ main characters or LGBTQ+ experiences, or books that are diversely including LGBTQ+ themes in other ways. I was talking about this post with a straight friend when she told me she could not remember reading a book – in school or out – that had an LGBTQ character, at least a main character. I would bet some of that is access, with fewer books out in the 90s and 00s when we were growing up, and some might have to do with those covers. Now, teens may pick a book to read, such as Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, and then discover the LGBTQ+ plot within. These kinds of books help promote social justice because they place the stories in context, helping LGBTQ+ teens find themselves in stories where they can fall in love and form their identity but also do more, interact more, think more, talk more, and live more.  It helps non-LGBTQ+ teens do the same and will build bridges between us. We are here, we are falling in love, but we are also helping our sisters escape from the forest’s magical Folk… wait, no. That’s Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest. But we are maybe just stressing out about homework, trying to figure out what to do after high school, and reconciling with our families and friends, like other teens.

 

IMG_3575In my reflection of how LGBTQ+ YA lit has changed over the decades, I noticed the inclusion of smaller characters or plot points and/or more subtle covers and titles as one significant change. Their crossover to address other social justice concerns such as gender, racial, socioeconomic, or religious diversity has also been growing. I hope to find more in the late 10s or early 20s that also address a range of styles, since so many are still focused on deeply emotional topics such as coming out. For instance, can some be solely funny or lighthearted, too? I would personally appreciate having both books that provide acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ issues and books that promote stress relief in laughing with genuinely funny characters who, like me, include being gay as part of their larger humanity. The growth in LGBTQ+ YA lit in recent years, in all styles, is so important. Here’s to keeping the momentum going.

 

You can read my previous post,#SJYALit: How does real life and research fit with LGBT young adult lit?, here. 

Look out for posts about LGBTQ YA lit in educational settings next, available late March! Thank you for reading.

 

Here are a few books to check out!

Black, H. (2015). The darkest part of the forest. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Danforth, E. M. (2012). The miseducation of Cameron Post. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Nelson, J. (2014). I’ll give you the sun. New York, NY: Dial Books.

Peters, J. A. (2003). Keeping you a secret. New York, NY: Little, Brown.

Sáenz, B. A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

 

Here are a few related online articles to explore!

Doll, J. (2013). A new way for gay characters in Y.A. The Atlantic.

Lo, M. (2011). I have numbers! Stats on LGBT young adult books published in the US. 

Sunderland, M. (2016). Once taboo gay characters are taking over YA fiction. 

Waters, M. (2016). The critical evolution of LGBTQ+ young adult literature.

Wetta, M. (2015). An updated guide to LGBTQ YA literature for pride month. 

 

Meet Alex B.

Alex B is an aspiring librarian in a Master’s of Library and Information Science + K-12 program. She’s gay and has a goofy sense of humor. She can read, is testing her ability to write, and is so-so at talking. She does love to listen so you can connect with her via email (absjyalit at gmail.com) or comment here with your stories or thoughts!

DVD Review: Political Animals + Giveaway

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 (or, in this case, DVD), finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of School Library Journal.

 

political animalsPolitical Animals

87 min and 53 sec., Dist. by the Video Project. 2016. $89.

Gr 9 Up–The personal is political in this examination of the hard-fought progress for LGBT rights. This engrossing documentary focuses on the work of the first four openly gay state legislators in California, all lesbians. Pioneering politicians Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Jackie Goldberg, and Christine Kehoe (all elected between 1994 and 2000) advocated for laws protecting LGBT people and expanding civil rights. The film looks at the bills these groundbreaking legislators authored, such as one adding sexual orientation to the list of protected identities in schools. Included are extensive archival footage from legislative meetings from the 1990s and early 2000s, interviews with the women, information on their history of activism, and a reunion of the four. Fierce advocates for equal protection, the women also discuss the importance of straight allies and how it felt to listen to their colleagues fight against fundamental rights these four were being denied. The profile ends with the victory of marriage equality in 2015. The state assembly sessions scenes highlight the women’s impassioned speeches and the heated debates often marked by hostility from other legislators. Listening to testimonies and watching bills (particularly the one protecting LGBT students) fail repeatedly reveal just how hard the fight has been. This is a compelling and enlightening exploration of trailblazing women and their lawmaking. VERDICT: Highly recommended for public library collections where documentaries are popular and for high school history curricula on LGBTQ rights, pioneering women, and political movements.

 

Head on over to the Rafflecopter to enter to win this DVD. If you’re a librarian or a teacher, this would be a good addition to your collection! Ends Thursday, March 2. US ONLY. 

“Not for Everyone”: The continuing marginalization of LGBTQ literature for kids, a guest post by M.G. Hennessey

sjyalitToday we are happy to share this post from author M.G. Hennessey as part of our Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Other Boy, came out in 2016 and is about 12-year-old Shane, who is transgender. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

 

 

 

RUN“The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers.”

 

This dire warning was part of a review for Kody Keplinger’s book Run. Bad language aside, the implication in the review is that the mere presence of a bisexual character is reason enough to steer clear. On Tumblr, author Tristina Wright summarized it nicely by saying, “When you tell children that mentions of bisexuality in a YA book require[s] a content warning, you tell them they are something Other. That their orientation is something to be ashamed of, to warn others about, that they’re not good. That they’re wrong and unacceptable.”

 

I read a wide range of young adult literature, and never once have I been warned off a book because of heterosexual characters behaving in a heterosexual manner. This disparity exists because of the mistaken perception that LGBTQ themed books are really about sex, not personal identity. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to LGBTQ themed literature. Consider this: Wonder was not specifically marketed toward kids with mandibulofacial dysostosis, and The Crossover wasn’t simply intended for African-American children. So why are stories about LGBTQ children often treated differently?

 

Books like Run aspire to achieve the sort of mainstream acceptance that Wonder and The Crossover have. Yet all too frequently, they end up on the LGBTQ shelf in libraries and bookstores. That’s not to say that they don’t belong there, but they should also be shelved with other new releases. And that’s still rarely the case. After all, you don’t see many “People of Color” or “Differently-Abled Character” themed tables in the same stores. And the sad truth is that many cisgender, heterosexual children do not gravitate toward the LGBTQ table, because they simply don’t think it applies to them. So essentially, these books are being held back from most of the population.

 

While in the past couple of years there has been a positive move toward publishing more diverse books for kids, on a wider range of themes, this type of ghettoization remains a problem. The “We Need Diverse Books” movement has nudged the industry in the right direction, but until reviewers and other gatekeepers catch up, it remains a partial victory.

 

other boyI experienced something similar with The Other Boy, the story of a transgender boy who gets outed after living stealth. Kirkus concluded their review with, “This is the story with a triumphant-but-realistic ending that trans kids haven’t had enough of.” Frankly, I cringed. It was exactly what I’d been afraid of; that a book about a transgender boy’s struggles would be regarded as only appropriate for kids exactly like him. While I’m delighted that transgender and gender expansive kids can see themselves reflected in my main character, that’s not the primary reason I wrote the book. My larger hope was that it would provide a window into the life of a transgender boy for all kids; after all, the bullying he suffers as a result is something most of them can relate to. And being transgender is not the only challenge he confronts over the course of the story; he also has to navigate divorced parents, his first crush, and issues with his best friend. These are all struggles that should speak to the vast majority of tweens.

 

The assumption seems to be that the mainstream population isn’t interested in these types of stories; that despite the merits of a book, it doesn’t deserve a widespread audience sheerly because of its content.

 

I’d hoped we’d be past this by now, but the Run incident and my own personal experience have proven otherwise. I’d recommend that book reviewers take a moment to replace “bisexual” or “transgender” with “hetero” or “African American,” and see if it reads as offensive. If our goal is to open kids’ eyes to the wider world, to help them to understand and empathize with characters whose lives and experiences might differ from their own, then books that deal thoughtfully with those themes should be accorded the same level of respect and treatment as Wonder. “Try kindness” is not something that’s limited to one particular group; it’s something we should all aspire to. And until books with LGBTQ characters receive the same treatment as the Dork Diaries, we will not have achieved full equality.

 

Meet M.G. Hennessey

M.G. Hennessey is the author of The Other Boy, an upper middle grade debut about a 12 yo transgender boy who is living stealth after his transition. Described by Transparent creator Jill Soloway as, “A terrific read for all ages,” The Other Boy won a spot on the Rainbow List as one of the best LGBTQ-themed novels of 2017. M.G. is an ally and supporter of the Transgender Law Center, Gender Spectrum, and the Human Rights Campaign; she also volunteers at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She lives in Los Angeles. (She/Her)