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Post-It Note Reviews: Graphic novels and memoirs, a middle grade about racism and friendship, and a beautiful YA about drag and identity

Making my way through my library hold list and I’m appreciative of my local library’s contactless curbside pickup option. I currently have 56 books (staggered) in my hold queue and keep adding more. So surprising, I know.

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the Post-It notes follow the description.

Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm Series #1) by Lucy Knisley (ISBN-13: 9781984896841 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 05/05/2020, Ages 8-12)

This contemporary middle-grade graphic novel about family and belonging from New York Times bestselling author Lucy Knisley is a perfect read for fans of Awkward and Be Prepared.

Jen is used to not getting what she wants. So suddenly moving the country and getting new stepsisters shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

Jen did not want to leave the city. She did not want to move to a farm with her mom and her mom’s new boyfriend, Walter. She did not want to leave her friends and her dad.

Most of all, Jen did not want to get new “sisters,” Andy and Reese.

As if learning new chores on Peapod Farm wasn’t hard enough, having to deal with perfect-at-everything Andy might be the last straw for Jen. Besides cleaning the chicken coop, trying to keep up with the customers at the local farmers’ market, and missing her old life, Jen has to deal with her own insecurities about this new family . . . and where she fits in.

New York Times bestselling author Lucy Knisley brings to life a story inspired from her own childhood in an amazing journey of unlikely friends, sisters, and home.

(POST-IT SAYS: I adore all of Knisley’s books for older readers and am so glad to see her doing graphic novels for kids now. Shows how complicated families and change can be. A painfully honest look at Jen’s frustrations will leave readers ready to see what happens in forthcoming books.)

The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson (ISBN-13: 9780062278272 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/03/2020, Ages 14-17)

From Noelle Stevenson, the New York Times bestselling author-illustrator of Nimona, comes a captivating, honest illustrated memoir that finds her turning an important corner in her creative journey—and inviting readers along for the ride.

In a collection of essays and personal mini-comics that span eight years of her young adult life, author-illustrator Noelle Stevenson charts the highs and lows of being a creative human in the world.

Whether it’s hearing the wrong name called at her art school graduation ceremony or becoming a National Book Award finalist for her debut graphic novel, Nimona, Noelle captures the little and big moments that make up a real life, with a wit, wisdom, and vulnerability that are all her own.

(POST-IT SAYS: I wanted a little more depth than this scattered memoir gives, but as it’s Stevenson, it was still an enjoyable look at how complicated life, love, and success can be. Fragmented but beautiful.)

Catherine’s War by Julia Billet, Claire Fauvel (Illustrator), Ivanka Hahnenberger (Translator) (ISBN-13: 9780062915597 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/21/2020, Ages 10-14)

A magnificent narrative inspired by a true survival story that asks universal questions about a young girl’s coming of age story, her identity, her passions, and her first loves.

At the Sèvres Children’s Home outside Paris, Rachel Cohen has discovered her passion—photography. Although she hasn’t heard from her parents in months, she loves the people at her school, adores capturing what she sees in pictures, and tries not to worry too much about Hitler’s war. But as France buckles under the Nazi regime, danger closes in, and Rachel must change her name and go into hiding.

As Catherine Colin, Rachel Cohen is faced with leaving the Sèvres Home—and the friends she made there—behind. But with her beautiful camera, Catherine possesses an object with the power to remember. For the rest of the war, Catherine bears witness to her own journey, and to the countless heroes whose courage and generosity saved the lives of many, including her own.

Based on the author’s mother’s own experiences as a hidden child in France during World War II, Catherine’s War is one of the most accessible historical graphic novels featuring a powerful girl since Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi—perfect for fans of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Anne Frank, or Helen Keller.

Includes a map and photographs of the real Catherine and her wartime experiences, as well as an interview with author Julia Billet.

(POST-IT SAYS: This story of resistance and sacrifice provides another important view of WWII. Lovely art and strong themes of courage and connection will engage readers and back matter provides more info and context.)

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado (ISBN-13: 9780525518433 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/14/2020, Ages 10-13)

“STAY IN YOUR LANE.” Stephen doesn’t want to hear that—he wants to have no lane.

Anything his friends can do, Stephen should be able to do too, right? So when they dare each other to sneak into an abandoned building, he doesn’t think it’s his lane, but he goes. Here’s the thing, though: Can he do everything his friends can? Lately, he’s not so sure. As a mixed kid, he feels like he’s living in two worlds with different rules—and he’s been noticing that strangers treat him differently than his white friends . . .

So what’ll he do? Hold on tight as Stephen swerves in and out of lanes to find out which are his—and who should be with him.

Torrey Maldonado, author of the highly acclaimed Tight, does a masterful job showing a young boy coming of age in a racially split world, trying to blaze a way to be his best self.

(POST-IT SAYS: An important addition to the growing number of middle grade books that address Black Lives Matter. About racism, friendship, being biracial, and allyship. The conversational tone and strong voice give this wide appeal.)

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada, Hyung-Ju Ko (Illustrator) ( ISBN-13: 9781945820427 Publisher: Iron Circus Comics Publication date: 05/19/2020, Ages 14+)

When Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 she was ready for her world to open up. After acing her exams and sort-of convincing her traditional mother that it was a good idea for a woman to go to college, she looked forward to soaking up the ideas of Western Literature far from the drudgery she was promised at her family’s restaurant. But literature class would prove to be just the start of a massive turning point, still focused on reading but with life-or-death stakes she never could have imagined.

This was during South Korea’s Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protestors. In this charged political climate, with Molotov cocktails flying and fellow students disappearing for hours and returning with bruises, Hyun Sook sought refuge in the comfort of books. When the handsome young editor of the school newspaper invited her to his reading group, she expected to pop into the cafeteria to talk about Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter. Instead she found herself hiding in a basement as the youngest member of an underground banned book club. And as Hyun Sook soon discovered, in a totalitarian regime, the delights of discovering great works of illicit literature are quickly overshadowed by fear and violence as the walls close in.

In BANNED BOOK CLUB, Hyun Sook shares a dramatic true story of political division, fear-mongering, anti-intellectualism, the death of democratic institutions, and the relentless rebellion of reading.

(POST-IT SAYS: There’s a lot packed in here—censorship, activism, protest, Korean history, political unrest, propaganda, resistance, political awakening, and more. Add this look at 1980s South Korea to your lists and displays about youth activism.)

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (ISBN-13: 9780062990297 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/26/2020, Ages 14+)

Stonewall Book Award Winner!

A fierce coming-of-age verse novel about identity and the power of drag, from acclaimed UK poet and performer Dean Atta. Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Jason Reynolds, and Kacen Callender.

Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican—but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough.

As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs—and the Black Flamingo is born.

Told with raw honesty, insight, and lyricism, this debut explores the layers of identity that make us who we are—and allow us to shine.

(POST-IT SAYS: Absolutely perfect and beautiful and unforgettable, just like Michael. A powerful and affirming exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, and relationships. One of my favorite reads of 2020 so far.)

Post-It Note Reviews: Mythology, fencing, basketball, HIV, and more

School ended for me on June 5th. I gave myself two treats that day: I went to get bubble tea from my favorite local business and I picked up the library books that had been waiting for me at the public library for weeks and weeks. Our local library has been doing curbside pickup nearly the entire pandemic, a move I don’t agree with or think was in the best interest of the staff. But starting June 1st, more things began to open up here in Minnesota and I decided to do curbside pickup. I look forward to burning through my TBR list this summer as we won’t be traveling, I won’t be doing any summer library/summer school stuff, and while I should be writing, I know at least for now I only have the concentration to read, to get out of my own head and into world’s created by other people.

All descriptions from the publishers. Post-it note review follows the description.

Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster (ISBN-13: 9781492697206 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 06/09/2020 Series: Emblem Island Series #1, Ages 8-12)

A fast-paced series starter, perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time and filled with adventure, mythology, and an unforgettable trio of friends.

On Emblem Island all are born knowing their fate. Their lifelines show the course of their life and an emblem dictates how they will spend it.

Twelve-year-old Tor Luna was born with a leadership emblem, just like his mother. But he hates his mark and is determined to choose a different path for himself. So, on the annual New Year’s Eve celebration, where Emblemites throw their wishes into a bonfire in the hopes of having them granted, Tor wishes for a different power.

The next morning Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin…the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. There is only one way to break the curse, and it requires a trip to the notorious Night Witch.

With only his village’s terrifying, ancient stories as a guide, and his two friends Engle and Melda by his side, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only knows through myths, in a race against his dwindling lifeline.

(POST-IT SAYS: With courage and cooperation, Tor and friends use generations of stories to try to track down the Night Witch and change Tor’s story. A fast-paced and action-filled adventure full of friendship, magic, and monsters. An easy rec for fans of fantasy.)

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes (ISBN-13: 9780316493802 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/03/2020, Ages 8-12)

From award-winning and bestselling author, Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world, all while training for a fencing competition.

Framed. Bullied. Disliked. But I know I can still be the best.

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school and arrested for something he didn’t do.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.

As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

(POST-IT SAYS: Get this book in the hands of a book club/literature circle. Readers will (hopefully) rage at the racism, bullying, and injustice. A quick read featuring a great family and a challenging and caring mentor. Will especially speak to biracial kids. Ages 8-12)

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (ISBN-13: 9781626720794 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 03/17/2020, Ages 14-17)

In his latest graphic novel, Dragon HoopsNew York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches.

Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.

But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.

Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.

(POST-IT SAYS: LOVED this! I 100% do not care about sports, but a well-written story will rope me in. An interesting memoir/biography/deep dive into one school’s team of mainly BIPOC athletes. Powerful, tense, and riveting.)

Rick by Alex Gino (ISBN-13: 9781338048100 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 04/21/2020, Ages 8-12)

From the award-winning author of George, the story of a boy named Rick who needs to explore his own identity apart from his jerk of a best friend.

Rick’s never questioned much. He’s gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff’s acted like a bully and a jerk. He’s let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn’t given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick’s gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that . . . understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

As they did in their groundbreaking novel GEORGE, in RICK, award-winning author Alex Gino explores what it means to search for your own place in the world . . . and all the steps you and the people around you need to take in order to get where you need to be.

(POST-IT SAYS: This book should be in all collections because of the focus on a group of LGBTQIAP+ middle schoolers, how characters stand up to bullying and homophobia, and the asexual representation. Not the most well-written book, but covers important ground. Ages 8-12)

American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar (ISBN-13: 9781534439382 Publisher: Aladdin Publication date: 06/09/2020, Ages 8-12)

An Indian American girl navigates prejudice in her small town and learns the power of her own voice in this brilliant gem of a middle grade novel full of humor and heart, perfect for fans of Front Desk and Amina’s Voice.

As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

(POST-IT SAYS: Wide appeal—deals with common middle school issues like bullying, exclusion, and changing friendships. An easy rec for those who liked Amina’s Voice, Count Me In, and Wishtree. A great read full of warmth.)

You Say It First by Katie Cotugno (ISBN-13: 9780062674128 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 06/16/2020, Ages 13-17)

An addictive, irresistible YA novel about two teens from different worlds who fall for each other after a voter registration call turns into a long-distance romance—from Katie Cotugno, the New York Times bestselling author of 99 Days. Perfect for fans of Mary H.K. Choi, Robin Benway, and Nicola Yoon.

One conversation can change everything.

Meg has her entire life set up perfectly: she and her best friend, Emily, plan to head to Cornell together in the fall, and she works at a voter registration call center in her Philadelphia suburb. But everything changes when one of those calls connects her to a stranger from small-town Ohio.

Colby is stuck in a rut, reeling from a family tragedy and working a dead-end job. The last thing he has time for is some privileged rich girl preaching the sanctity of the political process. So he says the worst thing he can think of and hangs up.

But things don’t end there.…

That night on the phone winds up being the first in a series of candid, sometimes heated, always surprising conversations that lead to a long-distance friendship and then—slowly—to something more. Across state lines and phone lines, Meg and Colby form a once-in-a-lifetime connection. But in the end, are they just too different to make it work?

You Say It First is a propulsive, layered novel about how sometimes the person who has the least in common with us can be the one who changes us most.

(POST-IT SAYS: A quick read that will appeal to those that like a rocky road to romance. The two white main characters connect despite their differences and learn from each other. Though Meg is politically passionate, politics plays a smaller role than I’d thought/hoped they would.)

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (ISBN-13: 9780316456388 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/10/2020, Ages 10-13)

Award-winning YA author Brandy Colbert’s debut middle-grade novel about the only two black girls in town who discover a collection of hidden journals revealing shocking secrets of the past.

Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.

(POST-IT SAYS: Huge fan of Colbert’s YA books and this MG debut is just as fantastic. A great look at managing new and old friendships, racism, and Black history. I loved Al’s dads and Edie’s mom and the diary/mystery element. One of the best books I’ve read lately.)

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée (ISBN-13: 9780062836687 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019, Ages 9-12)

From debut author Lisa Moore Ramée comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what’s right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and the novels of Renée Watson and Jason Reynolds.

Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?

Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.

Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.

(POST-IT SAYS: As much about the Black Lives Matter movement as it is about friendship, identity, courage, and finding your voice. A little slow to really get going, but the engaging and multifaceted characters will keep readers reading.)

We Didn’t Ask for This by Adi Alsaid (ISBN-13: 9781335146762 Publisher: Inkyard Press Publication date: 04/07/2020, Ages 13-17)

From Adi Alsaid, the acclaimed author of Let’s Get LostNever Sometimes Always, and North of Happy

Every year, lock-in night changes lives. This year, it might just change the world.

Central International School’s annual lock-in is legendary — and for six students, this year’s lock-in is the answer to their dreams. The chance to finally win the contest. Kiss the guy. Make a friend. Become the star of a story that will be passed down from student to student for years to come.

But then a group of students, led by Marisa Cuevas, stage an eco-protest and chain themselves to the doors, vowing to keep everyone trapped inside until their list of demands is met. While some students rally to the cause, others are devastated as they watch their plans fall apart. And Marisa, once so certain of her goals, must now decide just how far she’ll go to attain them.

(POST-IT SAYS: I love bottle episodes! A great concept—locked in the school for a week—full of diverse and interesting characters. I devoured this, loving all the new relationships and truths that spring up when you’re trapped together.)

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (ISBN-13: 9781984829955 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 10/29/2019, Ages 14-17)

Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real—shy kisses escalating into much more—she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.
Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on.

(POST-IT SAYS: A really important book. Not a lot of representation yet of teens living with HIV. Full of typical teenage self-discovery complicated by Simone’s feelings about sharing her truth. Powerful and covers important ground.)