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Book Review: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a starred review, which originally appeared in the May 2018  School Library Journal.

 

 

they themA Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson (ISBN-13: 9781620104996 Publisher: Oni Press Publication date: 06/12/2018)

★Gr 7 Up—Genderqueer writer and illustrator Bongiovanni and cisgender writer Jimerson, longtime friends, present this educational comic guide to gender-neutral pronouns. Speaking to each other and directly addressing readers, they emphasize the importance of inclusive and respectful language. Bongiovanni brings the perspective of their lived experience, and Jimerson serves as a thoughtful ally and role-plays as someone unfamiliar with gender-neutral pronouns. Together, they offer examples and explanations of pronoun usage and discuss misgendering (using the wrong pronouns, assuming gender, and relying on faulty visual shortcuts based on a gender binary). They also model potential conversations, such as how to ask what pronouns others use. The repeated references to creating inclusive work spaces give this guide more of an adult-oriented focus; still, teens will get a lot out of it. Featuring whimsical, lively illustrations, this clear, well-organized, conversational guide also covers dealing with mistakes. A section called “For Folks Identifying with Alternative Pronouns” offers advice on coming out as nonbinary. VERDICT A great, simple look at the importance of using correct pronouns; extremely accessible to those for whom gender-neutral language is a new concept.

Book Review: Here, There, Everywhere by Julia Durango and Tyler Terrones

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 November 2017 issue of School Library Journal

 

here thereHere, There, Everywhere by Julia Durango and Tyler Terrones (ISBN-13: 9780062314031 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 12/19/2017)

Gr 9 Up—A seemingly lackluster small town becomes more appealing when two musically inclined teens fall in love and realize their time together in Buffalo Falls, Illinois may be shorter than they think. Jesús Bjorn Gunderson (who goes by Zeus), his World War II—obsessed little brother Manuel (whom Zeus calls Grub), and their mother leave Chicago to pursue her dream of opening a vegetarian café. While delivering food to a nursing home, Zeus meets Rose Santos, who’s there playing piano. Zeus begins to volunteer at the nursing home as a way to hang around Rose more, and it doesn’t take long for them to start dating. Their fun summer filled with dates to the county fair, a polka fest, a psychic, and more takes an uncertain turn when Rose reveals that she may go away to a music conservatory in the fall and when Zeus learns his mother may want to move them back to Chicago. They try to abide by the rule of one of their elderly friends—just enjoy today—but that’s easier said than done. The charming Buffalo Falls is populated with vibrant characters—from Zeus’s new friends to the residents of the nursing home—but Zeus and Rose feel underdeveloped. The plot begins to lose steam midway through, and the couple’s dialogue often feels stiff. The story takes some unexpected turns, especially regarding the nursing home patients, and the exhilaration of first love feels realistic if somewhat rushed to fit the compact time line. VERDICT This sweet but unremarkable romance is an additional purchase.

Book Review: Madness by Zac Brewer

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 July 2017 issue of School Library Journal

 

madnessMadness by Zac Brewer

ISBN-13: 9780062457851 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/19/2017

Gr 9 Up—Finding a kindred spirit turns chilling in this exploration of depression, suicidal ideation, and toxic love. Seventeen-year-old Brooke is freshly out of a treatment program after attempting suicide. Back at school, her classmates stare, whisper, and write “RIP” on her locker. Brooke’s situation at home is strained, therapy seems pointless, and the only good thing is Duckie, her lifelong best friend. Angry to still be alive, Brooke is determined to die soon. That is, until she meets Derek, who recently moved to town with his abusive, alcoholic father. The two bond over depression and suicide attempts, Derek’s favorite topic of conversation. Brooke immediately falls in love with him and even feels that he has given her a reason to live (though, of course, her therapist encourages her to find ways to live for herself). She also begins to open up at therapy, gets involved in activities, and raises her grades, but she fixates on Derek, who is clingy, jealous, and needy and has a quick temper. Brooke’s story perpetuates the dangerous idea that love will cure mental illness. Even after her eyes are opened, she worrisomely believes Derek is ultimately a good guy but “troubled,” excusing his horrific behavior and conflating controlling, abusive behavior with love. While the novel is filled with suspense and offers a compelling, cautionary look at an unhealthy relationship, the underdeveloped characters and lackluster dialogue detract from the potential impact of the tale. Graphic descriptions of suicide attempts are included. VERDICT A strictly additional purchase only where the author’s work is popular.

Book Review: Young Palestinians Speak: Living Under Occupation by Anthony & Annmarie Young

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of School Library Journal

 

youngredstarROBINSON, Anthony & Annemarie Young . Young Palestinians Speak: Living Under Occupation. photos by Anthony Robinson. 144p. chron. filmog. further reading. maps. websites. Interlink. Jul. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781566560153.

Gr 7 Up –A number of Palestinian kids and teens discuss their hopes and dreams and what it is like living in an occupied country. An introductory chapter explains the Occupied Territories, provides an overview of the history of the Palestinian land, and explores the impact of occupation on subjects such as human rights, citizenship, education, housing, land ownership, and the economy. The authors visited or held video conferences with participants from nine Palestinian cities and villages. Their meetings took place in schools, community centers, libraries, and homes. Robinson and Young devote a chapter to each city or village. Each chapter briefly examines the area’s geographic makeup, history, and location, then provides a transcript of the conversation. The kids speak about school, aspirations, family life, safety, and the difficulties of living in the Occupied Territories. Many answers are typical of young people anywhere, but most touch on the experience of living under occupation. In addition, excerpts from some of the young people’s writing are included. Photographs, maps, and art are interspersed throughout, enhancing the text. Beyond the initial information in each chapter, there is very little commentary from Robinson and Young; the voices of the Palestinian youths are what drive and shape this work. A time line of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is appended, as are references for films, websites, and books. VERDICT A straightforward, compelling, and eye-opening look at life in Palestine for all nonfiction collections.

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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 February 2017 issue of School Library Journal. I am SO EXCITED to now be able to rave to everyone about this book. 

 

upsideAlbertalli, Becky. THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED

ISBN-13: 9780062348708 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/11/2017

★ Gr 9 Up—Growing up can mean growing apart, which is a hard revelation for twins Cassie and Molly Peskin-Suso. When Cassie, who is a lesbian, begins dating Mina, a pansexual Korean American, Molly feels a little cast aside. Molly, who has an anxiety disorder, has silently nursed 26 crushes and is working on finally risking the rejection she fears and starting to date. Cassie wants Molly to hook up with Mina’s best friend, Will, but Molly might be more interested in sweet and endearingly geeky Reid. While the girls are navigating these new worlds of romance, things don’t slow down in other parts of their lives. Cassie and Molly’s moms are finally getting married, so there’s a wedding to plan, much to the delight of Pinterest-savvy Molly; plus there are jobs, friends, and a busy baby brother. Molly, Cassie, and all of the secondary characters are well-developed and distinctive. The outspoken girls have honest, humorous, and sometimes awkward conversations with each other, their friends, and their supportive and loving moms about relationships and growing up. Albertalli’s keen ear for authentic teen voices will instantly make readers feel that they are a part of Cassie and Molly’s world, filled with rich diversity (Cassie and Molly’s family is Jewish and interracial), love, support, and a little heartache. In the satisfying conclusion, Molly and Cassie learn that letting new people into their lives does not have to mean shutting out others. VERDICT: Readers will fall in love with this fresh, honest, inclusive look at dating, families, and friendship. A top purchase for all YA collections.

Book Review: Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon

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 January 2017 issue of School Library Journal.

 

done-dirtDone Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon. ISBN-13: 9781419723681. Publisher: Amulet Books. Publication date: 03/07/2017.

Gr 9 Up—Tourmaline Harris is an honor roll student whose mother is in jail and whose father is president of the Wardens of Iron Gate motorcycle club. Virginia Campbell, her classmate, has experienced abuse and addiction at home and has spent years hustling drugs and doing other illegal work for Hazard, a crooked lawyer. When Hazard instructs Virginia to infiltrate the Wardens in order to help him bring the club down, the girls form a surprising and complicated friendship. Before long, they are dealing with the tight-knit bikers and suspicious detectives, sorting out truth from lies, and figuring out the ways their lives have been tied together. Neither is quick to trust, but they’re aware that girls are better off if they stick together, and they work as a team to make plans and plot revenge. The risks they take extend to the complex choices that they make in romance and beyond. This gritty story is told through strikingly beautiful writing, and the Southern setting (West Virginia and Virginia) leaps off the page. While the plot is a bit slow to start, the pace picks up, and the narrative is filled with unpredictable turns. The unique premise—girls who have seen far more than their 18 years would suggest, embedded in a biker gang, surrounded by drugs, corruption, and lies—makes for a wild, enthralling journey. VERDICT Recommended for general purchase, this title will appeal broadly to readers who like realistic fiction with a hard edge.

Book Review: The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

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 January 2017 issue of School Library Journal.

 

Hop on over to the Rafflecopter to enter to win a copy of THE YOU I’VE NEVER KNOW. Contest ends January 27th. 

 

the-youHopkins, Ellen. The You I’ve Never Known

ISBN-13: 9781481442909 Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books Publication date: 01/24/2017

Gr 9 Up—Ariel and her father, an abusive, homophobic alcoholic, never stay in one place very long. Miraculously, though, they have spent Ariel’s entire junior year in Sonora, CA, and she hopes that, for once, they can stick around. Here, she has finally experienced a bit of stability and made friends. She has also begun to explore her sexuality with both new guy Gabe and Monica, her “queer Mexican American” best friend. Ariel keeps her feelings for Monica from her father, who never lets her forget that her mother left them when Ariel was two to “run off with her lesbian lover.” The teen longs to break free from her father’s control and be herself—whoever that is. Seventeen-year-old Maya, a Texan whose cold and abusive mother is increasingly involved in Scientology, seeks escape, too, and she finds it when she meets Jason, 10 years her senior; gets pregnant; and marries. But Jason has an escape plan of his own, one that will bring Ariel’s and Maya’s stories together in a startling way. Themes of identity, family, and truth are interrogated as readers slowly learn more about Ariel and Maya. Writing in verse (Ariel’s tale) and prose (Maya’s), Hopkins uses skillful pacing and carefully chosen words to conceal the most important truth of the novel. The reveal arrives just as readers may be putting the pieces together themselves. VERDICT A sharp, gripping read sure to please Hopkins’s legions of fans.—Amanda MacGregor

Book Review: Safe is Not Enough: Better Schools for LGBTQ Students by Michael Sadowski

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 November 2016 issue of School Library Journal.

 

safe-is-not-enoughSadowski, Michael. Safe Is Not Enough: Better Schools for LGBTQ Students 

ISBN-13: 9781612509426 Publisher: Harvard Education Press Publication date: 08/09/2016

★In his introduction, Sadowski writes, “Safety is an essential baseline…but it is not a sufficient goal in itself.” Aimed at educators, this book lays out many clear and detailed ways that schools can better meet the needs of LGBTQ students. The author advocates for moving beyond antibullying policies, safe spaces (often indicated by stickers), and gay-straight alliances (GSAs) to creating a more inclusive curriculum and environment. Chapters address integrating LGBTQ issues in the classroom, comprehensive inclusiveness throughout the school, the important work some GSAs are doing, the impact of race and socioeconomic status, transgender students’ unique needs, and avenues beyond GSAs for students to meet and talk. Sadowski profiles educators and programs, looks at policies, and offers arguments and counterarguments. He notes that progress is not uniform throughout the country and that students in some identity categories are more at risk than others. Additionally, there is a chapter dedicated to helping schools implement the ideas outlined here. It is clear that everyone benefits from more inclusive curriculum and policies and that moving beyond the idea of just being safe sends a stronger message of affirmation, value, respect, and acceptance. Though this is a brief volume, the detailed suggestions for advocacy and change are comprehensive and persuasive. Appended are a course syllabus, handouts, GSA materials, and a policy regarding transgender students that can be adapted for use. Online resources addressing curriculum, student support, and more are included. VERDICT As useful as it is essential.—Amanda MacGregor

Book Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

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 November 2016 issue of School Library Journal.

 

tragic

Lindstrom, Eric. A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

ISBN-13: 9780316260060 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 02/07/2017

Gr 9 Up—Mel has bipolar disorder and professes to have a “superpower” that lets her avoid thinking about certain things, especially her dead brother or the real reasons why she lost her best friends around the time of her diagnosis. She has made new friends, but she has been able to hide her illness from them. Mel works at a nursing home where a retired psychiatrist keeps an eye on her, and she is in treatment with her own doctor, too. After she meets a resident’s grandson, David, she wants to get closer to him, but she is worried that as he really gets to know her, he won’t like her. Though she has her ups and downs, Mel can appear fairly even-keeled until an incident with her former friends begins a terrifying descent into a manic episode. Lindstrom offers an intense look at one person’s experience with bipolar disorder, but unfortunately, the story’s execution is unsatisfying. The characters are undeveloped, particularly Mel, who seems defined by her diagnosis. In addition, there is a troubling correlation between her mental illness and her sexual behavior, and there are cringeworthy scenes relating her constant desire to touch the hair of minority characters. The messages that Mel needs to keep fewer secrets in order to truly be close to others (and to more effectively treat her mental illness) and that real friends will stick around in spite of her diagnosis are nearly lost in the meandering narrative. VERDICT Weak character development and plotting make this an additional purchase.—Amanda MacGregor

Book Review: It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt

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 August 2016 issue of School Library Journal.

 

looks likeMittlefehldt, Rafi. It Looks Like This. 336p. ebook available. Candlewick Publishers. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763687199.

Gr 9 Up—High school freshman Mike deals with homophobia and heartbreak in this throwback coming-out story. Recently transplanted from Wisconsin to Virginia, shy Mike is mostly a loner at school and feels uncomfortable in his “old-fashioned” family. His conservative, religious father wishes Mike were into sports instead of art and always seems mildly disappointed in his son. When Mike meets Sean, unspoken attraction eventually blooms into something more. A school bully films the two kissing and alerts the boys’ parents to their relationship, setting into motion horrific yet inevitable events. Mike is shipped off to a conversion therapy program, while Sean meets the same fate as so many gay teens from young adult novels of the past. Unlike in those older offerings, however, a few characters provide acceptance, including Mike’s fantastically loving and outspoken younger sister, Toby. Mittlefehldt manages to make the tragedies that befall Mike and Sean not seem like punishments for being gay. Instead, they are shown for what they are: things that happened because of people failing to support and love the boys. The work is told through factual, detached narration and is devoid of quotation marks, and it can be difficult to feel a connection to Mike, who has his guard up for good reasons. It’s only after tragedy strikes that characters begin to drop their defenses and show real emotion and the capacity for change. VERDICT A moving but dated-feeling examination of the costs of homophobia; an additional purchase for LGBTQ collections.—Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN