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Writing What Haunts You, a guest post by Anuradha Rajurkar and the Class of 2kBooks

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at,
what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
-Joan Didion

Often, the germ of an idea for a story materializes from themes that haunt us for years, though we may not realize it at first. Writing helps us explore our deepest fears, our burning questions, and can ultimately serve as the beating heart of our stories. My debut, AMERICAN BETIYA, for example, explores cultural conflict within our most intimate relationships—a theme that rose from having grown up in predominantly white spaces as the daughter of first-generation Asian immigrant parents. I was initially drawn to the idea of the many ways teens are often under close scrutiny, despite the fact that our identities at that stage are still very much under construction—and how these pressures can lead to escapism in various forms. But soon, my writing delved deep into issues that only later did I realize had haunted me for decades.

I asked my fellow Class of 2k Books authors to share what issues just wouldn’t let go, leading to the writing of their debuts. Their answers were as thoughtful and compelling as their novels…

Megan Freeman: I certainly never imagined that ALONE, my book about surviving in total isolation, would come out during a pandemic. Yikes. But the idea of being isolated from other people has always fascinated/haunted me. I love the movie CASTAWAY and I was fascinated by books like ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS and MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN and HATCHET. I used to think being in prison and forcibly kept away from my family would be the worst thing I could imagine, but then one day I thought about people who go into witness protection programs and can never see their friends or family ever again, and that seemed even worse. Clearly, my connections to loved ones are central to some sense of security, and the threat of losing that connection is rich fodder for my creative imagination. 

Sam Taylor: After grad school, I worked at a job with some people who turned out to be very corrupt. It was a really thorny situation; I often had no idea how to fix matters at work, or what was the right thing to do. I turned to writing in the evenings as a way to vent out my feelings. I needed a story that captured the dilemma of wanting to make situations better, but not knowing how to do that. I wanted to explore the struggle of every option coming with steep cost–because the right choice often doesn’t come without a price. I wanted to show unlikely allies coming together, as I experienced during my own situation. Most of all, I wanted to show my characters overcoming the seemingly impossible odds stacked against them.

Jessica S. Olson: It’s a funny thing, because I didn’t realize what it was that drove me to write this story until well after it was finished. All I knew was that I connected deeply to the Phantom character in the Phantom of the Opera, and I wanted to tell a version of his story and explore what could drive someone to such a dark, lonely place. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that the reason I’d been so passionate about his story was because I identified with him. I was born with a medical eye condition that affects my appearance, and I grew up being bullied and teased and treated as “other” because of it. There were many times when I wished I could hide from a world that felt very cruel–and so I saw myself in the Phantom. I understood how it felt to be ostracized for your appearance and how desperate the desire can sometimes be to be loved for the aspects of us that aren’t readily apparent at first glance. Telling a female Phantom’s story meant drawing on my own experiences, my own anger, my own hope, and asking the world to look beyond someone’s face when deciding whether they’re valid or whether they deserve love.

Xiran Jay Zhao: My book IRON WIDOW, a Pacific Rim meets THE HANDMAID’S TALE reimagining of the only female emperor in Chinese history, is basically 400 pages of female rage. Around the time I wrote it, I kept hearing about women’s rights backsliding in so many places. I also happened to be taking 4 university courses in different subjects ranging from political science to gerontology, yet all 4 had info on how women are disproportionately expected to take on certain burdens and responsibilities, yet get no proper credit or recognition for them. Work that is traditionally more female-dominated is consistently overlooked and undervalued compared to work that is traditionally more male-dominated. I wrote Iron Widow not only to vent my rage through the character of Zetian, but to explore the kind of societal pressures that force girls to doubt their own worth and accept this kind of thankless work.

Anuradha D. Rajurkar:

Judging from these thoughts from my fellow Class of 2kbooks authors, it seems that some of the most impactful stories are born from themes that have haunted our minds for years. Since high school, I personally was so affected by the idea that the way we see ourselves is often at odds with how others see us. For me, researching and writing AMERICAN BETIYA helped reveal the ways microaggressions, cultural fetishization, and racial gaslighting occur with regularity—even in our closest relationships. And because trust is foundational in these relationships, it’s easy to overlook their signs. Writing my debut helped me acknowledge the silences we’ve been taught to hold, and that our friendships, family and internal strength can line the path to our empowerment.

Don’t be afraid to write what haunts you. It might just be what sets you free.

Buy links and more

Order ALONE by Megan Freeman
Add ALONE to your Goodreads


Order WE ARE THE FIRE by Sam Taylor
Add WE ARE THE FIRE to your Goodreads


Order SING ME FORGOTTEN by Jessica S. Olson
Add SING ME FORGOTTEN to your Goodreads


Pre-order IRON WIDOW
Add IRON WIDOW to your Goodreads


Order AMERICAN BETIYA

Add AMERICAN BETIYA to your Goodreads

Book Review: Between the Bliss and Me by Lizzy Mason

Publisher’s description

Acclaimed author Lizzy Mason delivers a moving contemporary YA novel about mental illness, young romance, and the impact of family history on one teen’s future, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Robin Benway, and Kathleen Glasgow.


When eighteen-year-old Sydney Holman announces that she has decided to attend NYU, her overprotective mom is devastated. Her decision means she will be living in the Big City instead of commuting to nearby Rutgers like her mom had hoped. It also means she’ll be close to off-limits but dreamy Grayson—a guitar prodigy who is going to Juilliard in the fall and very much isn’t single. 

But while she dreams of her new life, Sydney discovers a world-changing truth about her father. She knew he left when she was little due to a drug addiction. But no one told her he had schizophrenia or that he was currently living on the streets of New York City. 

She seizes the opportunity to get to know him, to understand who he is and learn what may lie in store for her if she, too, is diagnosed. 

Even as she continues to fall for Grayson, Sydney is faced with a difficult decision: Stay close to home so her mom can watch over her, or follow her dreams despite the risks?

Amanda’s thoughts

While certainly not an easy read, this is an important one because of how it looks at the mental health and justice systems. When Sydney learns that her long-absent father has schizophrenia and has been living on the streets for most of her life, she’s devastated. Not only is she heartbroken for her father, but she doesn’t understand how something so big was kept from her. Her mother says that when Sydney was younger, she didn’t know how to address it, and as she got older, she didn’t want to burden Sydney, already prone to lots of anxiety, with this information. Of course, since many mental health issues are hereditary, it’s important that Sydney know the truth. She spends a lot of time googling and basically finds all of the worst case scenarios for people with schizophrenia. And, unsurprisingly, when she learns that there’s a roughly 10% chance that she may inherit this illness, she becomes consumed with worry, looking for signs and symptoms all the time.

Sydney is still trying to live her life and figure out what her impending move to college will bring while trying to grapple with this new information about her dad, her family, and her own health. She’s hanging out with her gay BFF Elliot, sometimes singing in his band, going around and around with her mother about choosing to take her grandparents’ money and go to NYU instead of staying closer to home, and falling for a cute musician. But the news of her dad has rocked her world. She needs to understand his past, what her grandparents and mother did to help him, and what it means now that she knows all this. She learns about his stints in rehab and halfway houses, his refusal to take his medications, his many arrests, and the ways his generally untreated schizophrenia manifests. She and Elliot go to NYC to try to find him and learn while there that he’s in a hospital with liver failure.

It’s all a lot for Sydney to process and she can’t help feeling like everyone failed her dad. Understandably, she is also so, so worried about her future and what that would mean for all of her relationships. Thankfully, Sydney’s family gets her into therapy and puts her on a path to getting help for her own anxiety and depression as well as now having someone who can help monitor her mental health knowing her family history. While her dad truly is living out kind of the worst of all scenarios for someone with untreated mental health issues, Sydney is able to see a different future for herself, no matter what may happen with her own health. The reveal of this big family secret opens up her relationships with her own family members and helps her see more clearly what she wants out of life.

This educational and emotional look at schizophrenia is compelling, complex, and well executed. While Sydney is rather obsessed with the darkest paths schizophrenia could lead a person down, she is repeatedly reassured that many people live quiet, relatively “regular” lives while also having schizophrenia. As readers learn the many ways her grandparents tried to help her father, they will grow to understand just how complicated it can be to try to get mental health help and support especially when someone is unwilling or unable to accept that help. A thought-provoking read.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781641291156
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Recent YA Novels to Take You Around the World, a guest post by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau

One of the many things I love about reading is the way books transport me to different worlds. Whether it’s interesting family dynamics, industries I know little about, or long-gone eras, I will always cherish how books allow me to lead lives completely unlike my own for a few hours. That feeling is true of all novels, but it’s especially compelling when the story is set against a vivid backdrop somewhere around the world, with a sense of place so rich that it acts as a character in the novel.

With my own story, Kisses and Croissants, about an aspiring ballerina who moves to Paris for a summer intensive dance program, I wanted to make the setting shine as brightly as possible. There are many novels set in France—not to mention all the movies and TV shows—and I felt inspired to give Mia a deeply authentic and utterly unforgettable experience in, objectively, the most beautiful city in the world.

I wrote Kisses and Croissants between 2017 and 2019, going on a research trip to Paris and spending much time afterward exploring the city virtually so I could best bring it to life. Of course, I could never imagine that the world would feel very differently by the time it was published in April 2021. Many of us have been eager to be able to travel again, to wander aimlessly through foreign places, and to finally discover the ones that have been on our bucket list forever.

But we’ll always have books. And as I spent the last year daydreaming about leaving my apartment, let alone my neighborhood, I was pleased to come across several wonderful young adult novels with powerful stories set all over the world: from a multi-cultural suburb in Toronto to the white-sandy beaches of Santorini, and from the magical arctic island of Svalbard to glitzy palaces in Tokyo.

With these recent releases, you’ll go on a whirlwind journey around the planet, no passport necessary.

Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce (England)

Summary: This enchanting teen romance novel, which follows one girl across the Atlantic in a quest to find adventure, love (preferably with a guy with a cute accent), and maybe even herself, is perfect for fans of Kasie West and Stephanie Perkins. After a horrifying public rejection by her crush, Ellie Nichols does what any girl would do: she flees the country. To be more precise, she joins her high school’s study abroad trip to England. While most of her classmates are there to take honors courses and pad their college applications, Ellie is on a quest to rebuild her reputation and self-confidence. And nothing is more of a confidence booster than getting a hot British boyfriend.

Hot British Boyfriend is an anglophile’s paradise. When Ellie and her friends are not devouring fish and chips and sipping tea (with scones and finger sandwiches, obviously), they are roaming the halls and gardens of the stunning manor at which they are boarding, inspired by the real Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire. Outside school, they watch Quidditch games, explore charming village markets, and skip through the quaint English countryside. On weekends, they take London and its most famous sights by storm, from Big Ben to the London Eye, by way of Piccadilly Circus. Spoiler alert: there’s even a romantic weekend in Venice, complete with gondola rides.

Like Home by Louisa Onomé (Toronto, Canada)

Summary: Fans of Netflix’s On My Block, In the Heightsand readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Ibi Zoboi will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws her relationships and even her neighborhood into turmoil.

Nelo is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and her memories of growing up there. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be, though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, all her closest friends moved away, except for Kate. But as long as they have each other, Nelo’s good. Only, Kate’s parents’ corner store is vandalized, leaving Nelo shaken to her core.

Like Home is set in a fictional suburb of Toronto, Ginger East, but written with the authentic and loving flair of Louisa Onomé’s own neighborhood in the Greater Toronto Area (or the GTA, as the locals call it). Her diverse and endearing cast of characters sometimes hang out at the Eaton Centre, the well-known downtown mall, speak in regional slang, and more generally embody the vibrant youth culture specific to the city. Louisa Onomé infused the story with some of her own multi-cultural upbringing—living on the same street as families from all over the world, from her native Nigeria to Taiwan, and from Jamaica to Serbia, where they shared enriching experiences eating their favorite foods. Toronto shines as cosmopolitan and welcoming city.

The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance (Svalbard, Norway)

Summary: The Hazel Wood meets The Astonishing Color of After in this dreamy, atmospheric novel that follows sixteen-year-old Eli as she tries to remember what truly happened the night her mother disappeared off a glacier in Norway.

When Eli was six years old, her mother took her out onto a frozen fjord, whistled to the Northern Lights, and was swept away into the sky. Ten years later, Eli whistles at the lights and her mother returns, but nothing is quite right. She must piece together her memories, told as Norwegian folk tales, and journey back to Svalbard to figure out what really happened.

Svalbard is so eerily stunning and colorful that, when looking at pictures, you might be tempted to doubt that it is an actual place on earth. Yet, this Norwegian archipelago way up in the Arctic Circle, close to the North Pole, is very real. In fact, its biggest town, Longyearbyen, is home to people hailing from many different nationalities. It was the most perfect setting for part of Nicole Lesperance’s wintery story, where reality and fantasy blend against a magical backdrop of snow, ice, and the Northern Lights. Between the grand mountains, the glass-flat fjords, and the narwhals, The Wide Starlight feels like it takes places on another planet.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (Tokyo, Japan)

Summary: Crazy Rich Asians meets The Princess Diaries in this irresistible story about Izumi, a Japanese-American girl who discovers her senior year of high school that she’s really a princess of Japan.

Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess. In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras.

Japanese culture is incredibly rich with centuries-old traditions, gorgeous attire, and intricate rituals. When you throw in a deep dive into one of the oldest royal families in the world, Emiko Jean’s fun and sparkling writing, and a spunky heroine, you’re swept right off your feet into a head-spinning fairytale. It’s hard not to dream of being a princess when there are glitzy palaces, ancient castles, trips to historic Kyoto, and jaw-dropping cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see. Emiko Jean tells a story of hilarious antics set against a regimented world, with fascinating details that will make you want to book a trip, even if there is no red carpet at the other end.

Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass (Trinidad and Tobago)

Summary: Inspired by Jane Austen’s PersuasionWhere the Rhythm Takes You is a romantic, mesmerizing novel of first love and second chances, set in the author’s native Trinidad and Tobago. Reyna’s life changed forever two years ago, when her mother died and her best friend (first kiss, first love) Aiden, suddenly moved to America. Now Aiden has returned to their island as an international pop star, but the last thing Reyna wants to do is risk her heart again.

Sarah Dass chose to set the story in her homeland of Tobago, the more isolated and quieter island of this Caribbean nation near Venezuela. Reyna grew up at a seaside resort, and ends up as a tour guide to Aiden and his friends, showing them around the island’s most beautiful spots, to the beat of soca music. The lush tropical setting glimmers with powdery white sand, turquoise water, and rich vegetation. Beautiful details leap off the page as the group visits Pigeon Point beach, the Nylon Pool, and the Argyle waterfalls. Local cuisine also features heavily, with mouth-watering descriptions of guava pies, potato rotis, and rosy-pink rum punch. Where the Rhythm Takes You is the breezy, beautiful, and romantic Caribbean vacation we all crave.

Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch (Santorini, Greece)

Summary: Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.

Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.

With her “Love” trilogy, Jenna Evans Welch has taken us on a delightfully escapist tour of Europe, first to Italy, then to Ireland, and now to Greece, more specifically to the alluring island of Santorini. It’s a major tourist destination for a reason: the white houses with blue domes look stunning against the bold sunsets, the winding streets of its pretty villages make for idyllic strolls. Love and Olives is summer in book form, as we follow the search for the lost city of Atlantis, Liv’s conflicted relationship with her father and, of course, a cute romance, too.

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (Taipei, Taiwan)

Summary: When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since he was nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.

Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually nicknamed Loveboat, because the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.

Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?

Sometimes you have to fly to the other side of the world to discover who you are. It’s true in real life, especially for children of immigrants, who often grow up between two cultures, and it’s also a fascinating theme to explore in young adult literature. Taipei is a melting-pot of a city, with Chinese roots and a decidedly modern and vibrant atmosphere. As such, it makes a thrilling setting for this story about teenage rebellion. There are fun visits to night markets, plenty of hookups, deliciously intriguing foods, and the parties are wild (as well as wildly entertaining).

Meet the author

Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau is a bilingual French author of young adult fiction and nonfiction. Her books have been translated into seven languages. Kisses and Croissants (Delacorte Press, 2021)is her U.S. debut. After graduating university in France, she moved to Amsterdam to begin a career in advertising. She then spent a few years in Melbourne before settling in New York City, where she lives with her Australian husband and their American cat.

Social Media Links:

Website: https://www.asjouhanneau.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/asjouhanneau

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asjouhanneau/

About Kisses and Croissants

As sweet as a macaron from Laduree, with writing as crisp as a freshly baked baguette, this romantic novel set in Paris about an American ballerina and a charming French boy is parfait for fans of American Royals and Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Mia Jenrow has always known she’s destined to be a professional ballerina. In fact, it’s in her blood—according to family legend, her too-many-greats-to-count-grandmother once danced for the Paris Opera and was painted by Degas himself! Her parents say it’s just a fantasy, but to Mia it’s so much more than that. It’s her fate.

Mia is planning to spend a magical summer in France pursuing her dream, but as she pirou-ettes into Paris, she soon realizes it may be a bit more complicated than she hoped. For starters, there’s her rival, Audrey, who will stop at nothing to show her up. There’s her ballet instructor, whose impossibly high standards push her to the breaking point. And then . . . there’s Louis. Devastatingly, distractingly charming Louis. He’s eager to show Mia his city—and Mia is more than happy to hop on his Vespa and wrap her arms around him as they pass the gleaming lights of the Eiffel Tower.

Mia’s summer was supposed to be about ballet—but there’s a reason Paris is called the City of Love. . . .

ISBN-13: 9780593173572
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives and Secret Loves by Lee Wind

Publisher’s description

“History” sounds really official. Like it’s all fact. Like it’s definitely what happened.

But that’s not necessarily true. History was crafted by the people who recorded it. And sometimes, those historians were biased against, didn’t see, or couldn’t even imagine anyone different from themselves.

That means that history has often left out the stories of LGBTQIA+ people: men who loved men, women who loved women, people who loved without regard to gender, and people who lived outside gender boundaries. Historians have even censored the lives and loves of some of the world’s most famous people, from William Shakespeare and Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Cary Grant and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Join author Lee Wind for this fascinating journey through primary sources—poetry, memoir, news clippings, and images of ancient artwork—to explore the hidden (and often surprising) Queer lives and loves of two dozen historical figures.

Amanda’s thoughts

This book is a great and rather unique addition to the growing field of books on LGBTQIA+ history. It’s absolutely packed full of information about people throughout history who were, generally speaking, not out as queer. The book includes letters from the subjects and people in their lives, autobiography excerpts, interviews, articles, and other excerpts from writing (for example, some of Shakespeare’s sonnets), which provide “proof” and historical context. One of the big draws of this book, beyond the content, is the format, which includes lots of pictures, text boxes, bits of primary source materials, subheadings, and little explanatory notes about parts of the materials. Instead of opening the book and finding long blocks of text, these busy and lively pages will engage readers who may otherwise find this kind of historical stuff intimidating.

While certainly interesting and educational as a whole, and worth reading all of, this is also the kind of book that encourages readers to dip in and out, reading about someone who may interest them more than others, or an identity that may be more of interest. The book includes extensive source notes, recommended resources, and an index. At the beginning, Wind helps set the scene for the book by talking about hidden histories, how he decided who to include in this book, some general notes (like on the term “in the closet” bi erasure, acronyms, info on primary and secondary source materials, and more.

A really interesting read with a conversational tone, vibrant format, and so much historical information. A necessary addition to collections.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541581623
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Series: Queer History Project
Age Range: 12+

Recent and Forthcoming Books: Workman and Algonquin Young Readers Showcase

Look at all those books up there! They came in ONE haul. I was minding my own business in my house, eating some ramen and scrolling Twitter, when I heard a THUD from my front steps. Waiting at the door for me was this giant box of books from Workman. TRULY giant. Nearly 20 pounds.

The box contained both galleys of recent titles (that I’m guessing maybe weren’t shipped out prior due to COVID shutdowns—and many of these titles are now coming out soon in paperback) and galleys for titles coming out this month and beyond. I recently bought a little book cart to organize all my TLT review books. I may need another!

All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to young readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, to my own school, my kid’s school, or in giveaways. I can’t read/review every book I get, but it’s fun to be able to sift through boxes and see what grabs my attention, and to see what books will find loving new homes with the right reader.

I’m giving away a bunch of these books through my Twitter, in a giveaway for teachers and librarians only (ends April 4, 2021), so if you’re not already doing so, hop on over there and follow me.

Pull out your TBR lists or get ready to add to the orders for books that stock your library or classroom shelves. Today I’m sharing with you recent forthcoming titles from Workman Publishing and Algonquin. All annotations are from the publisher.

Books that are already out

The Oddmire, Book 2: The Unready Queen by William Ritter (ISBN-13: 9781616208400 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 06/23/2020 Series: Oddmire Series, Ages 8-12)

Human-raised brothers Tinn and Cole join forces with Fable, daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, to stop the fighting between the people of Endsborough and the creatures of the Wild Wood before violence turns into all-out war.  

Human and goblin brothers Cole and Tinn are finding their way back to normal after their journey to the heart of the Oddmire. Normal, unfortunately, wants nothing to do with them. Fable, the daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, has her first true friends in the brothers. The Queen allows Fable to visit Tinn and Cole as long as she promises to stay quiet and out of sight—concealing herself and her magic from the townspeople of Endsborough.

But when the trio discovers that humans are destroying the Wild Wood and the lives of its creatures for their own dark purposes, Fable cannot stay quiet. As the unspoken truce between the people of Endsborough and the inhabitants of the Wild Wood crumbles, violence escalates, threatening war and bringing Fable’s mother closer to the fulfillment of a deadly prophecy that could leave Fable a most Unready Queen.

In this second book in the Oddmire series, the New York Times bestselling author of Jackaby takes readers on an adventure full of monsters, mayhem, and magic.

In the Role of Brie Hutchens… by Nicole Melleby (ISBN-13: 9781616209070 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 06/30/2020, Ages 10+)

An own-voices LGBTQ novel from the acclaimed author of Hurricane Season, about eighth grader Brie, who learns how to be true to herself and to her relationships with family, friends, and faith.

Introducing Brie Hutchens: soap opera super fan, aspiring actor, and so-so student at her small Catholic school. Brie has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to be the star of the school play and convince her parents to let her go to the performing arts high school. But when Brie’s mom walks in on her accidentally looking at some possibly inappropriate photos of her favorite actress, Brie panics and blurts out that she’s been chosen to crown the Mary statue during her school’s May Crowning ceremony. Brie’s mom is distracted with pride—but Brie’s in big trouble: she has not been chosen. No one has, yet. Worse, Brie has almost no chance to get the job, which always goes to a top student.

Desperate to make her lie become truth, Brie turns to Kennedy, the girl everyone expects to crown Mary. But sometimes just looking at Kennedy gives Brie butterflies. Juggling her confusing feelings with the rapidly approaching May Crowning, not to mention her hilarious non-star turn in the school play, Brie navigates truth and lies, expectations and identity, and how to—finally—make her mother really see her as she is.

Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy edited by Kelly Jensen (ISBN-13: 9781616209674 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 08/18/2020, Ages 14-18)

It’s time to bare it all about bodies!
 
We all experience the world in a body, but we don’t usually take the time to explore what it really means to have and live within one. Just as every person has a unique personality, every person has a unique body, and every body tells its own story.
 
In Body Talk, thirty-seven writers, models, actors, musicians, and artists share essays, lists, comics, and illustrations—about everything from size and shape to scoliosis, from eating disorders to cancer, from sexuality and gender identity to the use of makeup as armor. Together, they contribute a broad variety of perspectives on what it’s like to live in their particular, unique bodies—and how their bodies have helped to inform who they are and how they move through the world.
 
Come on in, turn the pages, and join the celebration of our unique, diverse, miraculous, beautiful bodies!

The Constitution Decoded: A Guide to the Document That Shapes Our Nation by Katie Kennedy, Ben Kirchner (Illustrator), Kermit Roosevelt Contribution by) (ISBN-13: 9781523510443 Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc. Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 10-14)

The ultimate guide to the US Constitution—and the history of the US through the law of the land—for middle grade readers ages 10+. The book decodes the original document with a direct translation of the text, dissecting every word, phrase and idea. Then it connects the document to major historical figures and events using full-color illustrations and examples of how the document works in practice.

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger 1) by Amy Timberlake, Jon Klassen (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781643750057 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 09/15/2020 Series: Skunk and Badger #1, Ages 8-12)

Wallace and Gromit meets Winnie-the-Pooh in a fresh take on a classic odd-couple friendship, from Newbery Honor author Amy Timberlake with full-color and black-and-white illustrations throughout by Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen.
 
No one wants a skunk.
 
They are unwelcome on front stoops. They should not linger in Important Rock Rooms. Skunks should never, ever be allowed to move in. But Skunk is Badger’s new roommate, and there is nothing Badger can do about it.
 
When Skunk plows into Badger’s life, everything Badger knows is upended. Tails are flipped. The wrong animal is sprayed. And why-oh-why are there so many chickens?
 
Nooooooooooooooooooooo!”
 
Newbery Honor author Amy Timberlake spins the first tale in a series about two opposites who need to be friends.
 
New York Times bestselling author/illustrator and Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen completes the book with his signature lushly textured art. This beautifully bound edition contains both full-color plates and numerous black-and-white illustrations.
 
Skunk and Badger is a book you’ll want to read, reread, and read out loud . . . again and again.

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez (ISBN-13: 9781616209919 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 14-18)

A powerful contemporary YA for fans of The Poet X and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter set in Argentina, about a rising soccer star who must put everything on the line—even her blooming love story—to follow her dreams.

In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life. 

At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father. 

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

Filled with authentic details and the textures of day-to-day life in Argentina, heart-soaring romance, and breathless action on the pitch, Furia is the story of a girl’s journey to make her life her own.

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke (ISBN-13: 9781645660002 Publisher: Erewhon Books Publication date: 09/15/2020 Series: The Scapegracers #1, Ages 14-18)

An outcast teenage lesbian witch finds her coven hidden amongst the popular girls in her school, and performs some seriously badass magic in the process.

Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.

Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent on stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?

Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.

Premeditated Myrtle (Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery 1) by Elizabeth C. Bunce (ISBN-13: 9781616209186 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 10/06/2020 Series: Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery, Ages 10+)

Introducing Myrtle Hardcastle, your favorite new amateur detective: a wickedly smart twelve-year-old with a keen interest in criminology and a nose for murder.

Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science. Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet village of Swinburne, England.

When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance. With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and find the killer, even if nobody else believes he —not even her father, the town prosecutor.

With sparkling wit and a tight, twisty plot, Premeditated Myrtle, the first in a series from an award-winning author, introduces a brilliant young investigator ready to take on hard cases and maddening Victorian rules for Young Ladies of Quality in order to earn her place among the most daring and acclaimed amateur detectives of her time or any other.

How to Get Away with Myrtle (Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery 2) by Elizabeth C. Bunce (ISBN-13: 9781616209193 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 10/06/2020 Series: Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery, Ages 10+)

Before the train has left the station, England’s most accomplished new detective already is on a suspect’s trail, and readers will be delighted to travel along. 
 
Myrtle Hardcastle has no desire to go on a relaxing travel excursion with her aunt Helena when there are More Important things to be done at home, like keeping close tabs on criminals and murder trials. Unfortunately, she has no say in the matter. So off Myrtle goes—with her governess, Miss Judson, and cat, Peony, in tow—on a fabulous private railway coach headed for the English seaside.
 
Myrtle is thrilled to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Bloom, a professional insurance investigator aboard to protect the priceless Northern Lights tiara. But before the train reaches its destination, both the tiara and Mrs. Bloom vanish. When Myrtle arrives, she and Peony discover a dead body in the baggage car. Someone has been murdered—with Aunt Helena’s sewing shears.
 
The trip is derailed, the local police are inept, and Scotland Yard is in no rush to arrive. What’s a smart, bored Young Lady of Quality stranded in a washed-up carnival town to do but follow the evidence to find out which of her fellow travelers is a thief and a murderer?

Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA by Nova Ren Suma, Emily X.R. Pan (ISBN-13: 9781643750798 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 10/20/2020, Ages 14-18)

13 Short Stories from Bold New YA Voices & Writing Advice from YA Icons

Created by New York Times bestselling authors Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma, Foreshadow is so much more than a short story collection. A trove of unforgettable fiction makes up the beating heart of this book, and the accompanying essays offer an ode to young adult literature, as well as practical advice to writers.

Featured in print for the first time, the thirteen stories anthologized here were originally released via the buzzed-about online platform Foreshadow. Ranging from contemporary romance to mind-bending fantasy, the Foreshadow stories showcase underrepresented voices and highlight the beauty and power of YA fiction. Each piece is selected and introduced by a YA luminary, among them Gayle Forman, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jason Reynolds, and Sabaa Tahir.

What makes these memorable stories tick? What sparked them? How do authors build a world or refine a voice or weave in that deliciously creepy atmosphere to bring their writing to the next level? Addressing these questions and many more are essays and discussions on craft and process by Nova Ren Suma and Emily X.R. Pan.

This unique compilation reveals and celebrates the magic of reading and writing for young adults. A supplemental section of craft essays offers advice on subjects from technique to revision to publication.

So Embarrassing: Awkward Moments and How to Get Through Them by Charise Mericle Harper (ISBN-13: 9781523510177 Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc. Publication date: 11/10/2020, Ages 8-12)

This lively nonfiction graphic novel for ages 8-12, from bestselling middle grade author-illustrator Charise Mericle Harper, dives deep into that everyday source of stress and humor for kids—embarrassment. With science facts, jokes, and compassion (and some slapstick) this book lets kids know they aren’t alone and puts them at ease.

Girlhood: Teens around the World in Their Own Voices by Masuma Ahuja (ISBN-13: 9781643750118 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 02/09/2021, Ages 12-18)

What does a teenage girl dream about in Nigeria or New York? How does she spend her days in Mongolia, the Midwest, and the Middle East? 

All around the world, girls are going to school, working, dreaming up big futures—they are soccer players and surfers, ballerinas and chess champions. Yet we know so little about their daily lives. We often hear about challenges and catastrophes in the news, and about exceptional girls who make headlines. But even though the health, education, and success of girls so often determines the future of a community, we don’t know more about what life is like for the ordinary girls, the ones living outside the headlines.

From the Americas to Europe to Africa to Asia to the South Pacific, the thirty teens from twenty-seven countries in Girlhood share their own stories of growing up through diary entries and photographs, and the girls’ stories are put in context with reporting and research that helps us understand the circumstances and communities they live in. This full-color, exuberantly designed volume is a portrait of ordinary girlhood around the world, and of the world, as seen through girls’ eyes.

Kids on the March: 15 Stories of Speaking Out, Protesting, and Fighting for Justice by Michael Long (ISBN-13: 9781643751009 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 03/23/2021, Ages 10-14)

From the March on Washington to March for Our Lives to Black Lives Matter, the powerful stories of kid-led protest in America. 
  
Kids have always been activists. They have even launched movements. Long before they could vote, kids have spoken up, walked out, gone on strike, and marched for racial justice, climate protection, gun control, world peace, and more.  
 
Kids on the March tells the stories of these protests, from the March of the Mill Children, who walked out of factories in 1903 for a shorter work week, to 1951’s Strike for a Better School, which helped build the case for Brown v. Board of Education, to the twenty-first century’s most iconic movements, including March for Our Lives, the Climate Strike, and the recent Black Lives Matter protests reshaping our nation. 
  
Powerfully told and inspiring, Kids on the March shows how standing up, speaking out, and marching for what you believe in can advance the causes of justice, and that no one is too small or too young to make a difference. 

Forthcoming books

How to Go Anywhere (and Not Get Lost): A Guide to Navigation for Young Adventurers by Hans Aschim, Nainoa Thompson (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9781523506347 Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc. Publication date: 03/30/2021, Ages 9-12)

Born To Explore 

Get outside with this interactive boom that shows how explorers have found their way around the planet for thousands of years. Read about the ancient Polynesians who tracked the stars and waves  to sail precise paths through the ocean. Or the Age of European Exploration navigators who use compasses and dead reckoning to reach the New World. And learn the science behind radar and modern-day GPS satellites. Then discover how to do it yourself! With illustrated activities as well as handy tips throughout, you’ll learn the fascinating history and seriously useful skills to become a true navigator.
Up your adventure game and learn to:
—Find north and south by reading the trees
—Make a simple compass
—Use the stars to tell time
—Build a basic sextant
—Get your bearings using the sun
—Go treasure hunting with GPS

Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States by Warren Binford (Compiler), Michael Garcia Bochenek (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9781523513482 Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc. Publication date: 04/13/2021, Ages 8+)

The Testimony of Children 

A moving picture book for older children and families that introduces a difficult topic, amplifying the voices and experiences of immigrant children detained at the border between Mexico and the US. The children’s actual words (from publicly available court documents) are assembled to tell one heartbreaking story, in both English and Spanish (back to back). Each spread is illustrated in striking full-color by a different Latinx artist. A portion of sales will be donated to human rights organizations that work with children on the border.

Enduring Freedom by Trent Reedy, Jawad Arash (ISBN-13: 9781643750408 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 12-18)

On September 11, 2001, the lives of two boys on opposite sides of the world are changed in an instant.
 
Baheer, a studious Afghan teen, sees his family’s life turned upside down when they lose their livelihood as war rocks the country.
 
A world away, Joe, a young American army private, has to put aside his dreams of becoming a journalist when he’s shipped out to Afghanistan.
 
When Joe’s unit arrives in Baheer’s town, Baheer is wary of the Americans, but sees an opportunity: Not only can he practice his English with the soldiers, his family can make money delivering their supplies. At first, Joe doesn’t trust Baheer, or any of the locals, but Baheer keeps showing up. As Joe and Baheer get to know each other, to see each other as individuals, they realize they have a lot more in common than they ever could have realized. But can they get past the deep differences in their lives and beliefs to become true friends and allies?
 
Enduring Freedom is a moving and enlightening novel about how ignorance can tear us apart and how education and understanding can bring us back together.

How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby (ISBN-13: 9781643750361 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 05/25/2021, Ages 9-12)

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.
 
A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
 
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.
 
She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino, Bruno Navasky (Translator), Neil Gaiman (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9781616209773 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 06/15/2021, Ages 10-14)

Anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite childhood book, in English for the first time.
 
First published in 1937, Genzaburō Yoshino’s How Do You Live? has long been acknowledged in Japan as a crossover classic for young readers. Academy Award–winning animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro,Howl’s Moving Castle) has called it his favorite childhood book and announced plans to emerge from retirement to make it the basis of a final film. 
 
How Do You Live? is narrated in two voices. The first belongs to Copper, fifteen, who after the death of his father must confront inevitable and enormous change, including his own betrayal of his best friend. In between episodes of Copper’s emerging story, his uncle writes to him in a journal, sharing knowledge and offering advice on life’s big questions as Copper begins to encounter them. Over the course of the story, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, looks to the stars, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth, and human nature to answer the question of how he will live.
 
This first-ever English-language translation of a Japanese classic about finding one’s place in a world both infinitely large and unimaginably small is perfect for readers of philosophical fiction like The Alchemist and The Little Prince, as well as Miyazaki fans eager to understand one of his most important influences.

The Oddmire, Book 3: Deepest, Darkest by William Ritter (ISBN-13: 9781643750927 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 06/22/2021 Series: Oddmire Series, Ages 8-12)

The third adventure in the beloved fantasy series full of folklore and mayhem, from the creator of Jackaby.
 
Brothers Cole and Tinn—one human, one a goblin changeling—are determined to solve a mystery almost as old as they are: What happened to their long-missing father?
 
Joseph Burton vanished without a trace, leaving the baby boys’ mother to raise them alone. Some say he abandoned his family, others that he met foul play looking for a way to get rid of the changeling imposter. Cole is determined to finally push through the rumors and learn his father’s fate.
 
With the help of their friends—Evie, expert on the creatures of the Wild Wood, and Fable, the indomitable half human, half fairy—Tinn and Cole set out on a dangerous quest to the deepest, most deadly limits of the Wild Wood. Meanwhile a shudder runs through the forest. Increasingly powerful earthquakes shake the land, sinkholes form, and the spriggans, trolls, and other creatures along their path speak of an ancient evil on the rise . . .
 

Up All Night: 13 Stories between Sunset and Sunrise by Laura Silverman (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781643750415 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 07/13/2021, Ages 12-18)

When everyone else goes to bed, the ones who stay up feel like they’re the only people in the world. As the hours tick by deeper into the night, the familiar drops away and the unfamiliar beckons. Adults are asleep, and a hush falls over the hum of daily life. Anything is possible.

It’s a time for romance and adventure. For prom night and ghost hunts. It’s a time for breaking up, for falling in love—for finding yourself.

Stay up all night with these thirteen short stories from bestselling and award-winning YA authors like Karen McManus, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nina LaCour, and Brandy Colbert, as they take readers deep into these rarely seen, magical hours.

Full contributor list: Brandy Colbert, Kathleen Glasgow, Maurene Goo, Tiffany D. Jackson, Amanda Joy, Nina LaCour, Karen M. McManus, Anna Meriano, Marieke Nijkamp, Laura Silverman, Kayla Whaley, Julian Winters, Francesca Zappia

Walls by L.M. Elliott (ISBN-13: 9781643750248 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 07/27/2021, Ages 12-18)

Drew is an army brat, a hotshot athlete poised to be his high school’s star pitcher, when he has to move for the sixth time in fifteen years—this time to West Berlin, where American soldiers like his dad hold an outpost of democracy against communist Russia in Hitler’s former capital. Meanwhile, in East Berlin, his cousin Matthias has grown up in the wreckage left by Allied bombing during World War II, on streets ruled by the Communist Party’s secret police.
 
From the opposing sides of the Cold War, Drew and Matthias begin to overcome the many ideological walls between them to become wary friends. They argue over the space race, capitalism, socialism, and even the American civil rights movement, and bond over rock ’n’ roll—music outlawed in Matthias’s part of the city. If Matthias is caught by the Stasi’s neighborhood spies with the records or books Drew has given him, he will be sent to a work camp for “re-education.” At the same time, Drew’s friendship with the East Berlin Jugend—who ardently spout communist dogma—raises suspicions about his family’s loyalty to America. As the political situation around them gets all the more dire, Drew and Matthias’s loyalty—to their sector, their countries, their families, and each other—will be tested in ways that will change their lives forever.
 
Set in the tumultuous year leading up to the surprise overnight raising of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, and punctuated with real-life photographs, headlines, and personalities of the time, Walls brings to vivid life the heroic and tragic choices of the Cold War. 

Cold-Blooded Myrtle (Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery 3) by Elizabeth C. Bunce (ISBN-13: 9781616209209 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 10/05/2021 Series: Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery, Ages 10+)

Twelve-year-old Young Lady of Quality and Victorian amateur detective Myrtle Hardcastle returns, and now she’s on the trail of a serial killer in her hometown of Swinburne.
 
When Mr. Leighton, proprietor of Leighton’s Mercantile, is found dead on the evening his annual Christmas shop display is to be unveiled, it’s clear a killer had revenge in mind. But who would want to kill the local dry-goods merchant? Perhaps someone who remembers the unresolved, long-ago scandal that occurred when he was a professor and archaeologist. When the killer continues to strike, ­­­each time manipulating the figures in the display to foretell the crime, Myrtle finds herself racing to uncover the long-buried facts of a historical scandal—and the motivations of a modern murderer. 

A little bit noisier and a little bit stubborn: Life with Ramona

My Beverly Cleary collection

We now live in a world without Beverly Cleary.

I keep choking up when I think that. Sure, she died at 104, and lived a long, wonderful life. But to be without her? Seems impossible.

The books about Ramona were among the first I ever really, really loved. My grandma was a third grade teacher (and was, indeed, my husband’s third grade teacher) and I often found books at her house that I would take home and read and eventually be allowed to keep. My other grandma often took me to the Mankato library. She was a voracious reader and would disappear to look in fiction while I would poke around the children’s room, collect what I wanted, and wait back at the giant rocks near the circulation desk for her. I’d often have Ramona books in my pile, even though I owned most of them at that point. It’s funny, because in my normal non-pandemic year life, I work in an elementary library, and often kids will check out a book and gleefully tell me, “I have this at home!” And there are many people who would think, “Okay… so, why check it out if you own it?” But I get it. It’s like you bumped into a friend you know and you’re just so excited to see them and can’t imagine leaving them behind when you go home, so you bring them with. That’s the same reasoning behind why I own multiple copies of some Betsy-Tacy books—I ran into them somewhere in the world and needed to bring them home with me. I get it.

From my grandma’s classroom collection

At this time in my life, we were living in a tiny, tiny, TINY town (seriously TINY, like population less than 300 tiny). I was allowed to bike by myself to the nearby small library. It was one room in some kind of all purpose building. It had a Care Bear mural on the side and a miniscule children’s section, that I made my way through, in alphabetical order, during first and second grade. Again, I would feel a sense of glee when I saw friends waiting there like Ramona, or Anastasia Krupnik, or Encyclopedia Brown.

Ramona and her life were far from mine. I had a dog, not a cat. I had a little brother, not a big sister. My mom stayed home with me, so I didn’t have to go to some place like Howie’s for babysitting. She was loud and unrestrained and wild in a way I envied as a measured and careful child with undiagnosed anxiety. My life in small town Minnesota (by now a bigger small town, but still only 9,000 people) was filled with friends and fun. It was the 80s and I grew up with the freedom that came from some naïve idea that the world was safe. I biked all over town, disappeared into neighborhood kids’ houses, played in the woods (even though we weren’t supposed to because of a flasher there—a flasher that no one I knew ever saw, a flasher story that came standard with every town in the 80s), and came home when the street lights came on or when I heard my mom’s piercing whistle. But I so often thought of Ramona’s various adventures and hijinks, burned into my brain from reading them dozens of times. I wanted to find rope and paint cans and stomp around like Ramona and Howie. I thought how satisfying it would be to squeeze an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink. I was jealous of her unique last initial and how she could make a little cat out of that Q. You couldn’t make anything with an H. I still think Chevrolet is the most beautiful name for a doll.

Friends I’ve kept all these years

I got older and still kept going back to Ramona. I became a still relatively careful and anxious teen who started to embrace her inner Ramona and be louder, wilder, more herself. My life was punk and riot grrrl and I stole Ramona’s image for a cover of my zine and a friend made that into stickers that I plastered everywhere. I would reread Ramona every so often, a comfort move I still do with so many things because it somehow alleviates my anxiety—there’s no uncertainty about what’s happening, it’s just a familiar world. I went to college and didn’t haul all my books with me (there would’ve been nowhere for me to live in a dorm room then) but would study in the children’s book area of my college library. When I needed a break, I’d get up and wander the stacks, reading a little about Harriet or Margaret or Claudia and Jamie Kincaid or Ramona. By senior year of college, my professors were encouraging me to apply to graduate school programs in literature and, at that point, fully obsessed with the work I was doing for an undergraduate research grant I had gotten for a project about feminism and depictions of women and girls in picture books, I started to look into children’s literature programs. I had just spent four years drowning in books for both my English degree and my women’s studies degree, but I’d also spent four years reading children’s books in my spare time.

My zine from my teenage punk days

Now an adult (or whatever you are in college), I was amazed at how truly wonderful and profound so many of those books from my childhood were. I didn’t just reread Ramona all those years solely because of comfort; I reread those books because they were great. They were well-written, full of empathy and indelible characters, and I just wanted to move from a classroom where we discussed Joyce, Bradstreet, Shakespeare, and so on to one where we dove deep into children’s books. So I went to Simmons in Boston and fell in love—with the city, the school, my professors, my classmates, my program, the children’s book store where I worked, everything. On my first day at work at The Children’s Book Shop, Lois Lowry called and I answered. I played it cool but wanted to scream, “TELL ANASTASIA I SAY HI!”

I read and read and read, sometimes having to take a literal rolling suitcase to the BPL to bring home all the books I needed for school and for research. I read at work, I read at school, I read at home, I read and read and read children’s books. Then I spent the next twenty years working with children’s books. And I still go back to Ramona, all the time. I have moved a ludicrous amount of times over the years. With every move, I pared down my book collection, eventually learning to stop thinking of them as trophies I accomplished and only keeping my very best friends around. Naturally Ramona stayed.

By far the best of my many tattoos

A year and a half ago, I got a Ramona tattoo (from my lifelong friend Sara). Now in my 40s, I love to look at that tattoo and remember everything she means to me, the path she helped put me on, and I let Ramona guide the way I treat children. I look at Ramona and make sure I try to respect the “pest” in children, to see them as complicated people with complicated real and inner lives. I tell girls to be loud, to disagree, to say what they feel, to make some noise.

I spent last night scrolling Twitter, seeing the endless tributes from writers and readers. Beverly Cleary and Ramona shaped so many of us. Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for Ramona and all your other characters. Thank you for understanding children, for seeing us as who we were and who dreamed of being. Thank you for my childhood. We now live in a world without Beverly Cleary, but we will always have her books. What a gift she has given us.

Recent and Upcoming Young Adult Debuts That Grapple With Grief, a guest post by Kate Norris

This has been a year full of loss. Even those who have been lucky enough not to have lost loved ones are still grieving lost jobs, opportunities, friendships, holidays, favorite spots, and anticipated once-in-a-lifetime events like in-person proms and graduations.

Grief is one of the major themes of my debut young adult historical sci-fi novel, When You and I Collide, although I never could have anticipated (and never would have wished for) its release to arrive during a global pandemic, when we’ve all lost so much. But considering the year we’ve had, I wanted to take this opportunity to share my experience writing grief, as well as highlight some other recent and upcoming young adult debut novels that grapple with loss.

Part of the reason I enjoy writing for and about teens is that the emotional palette is all neon—every problem feels life-or-death, each crisis world-ending. That’s why it feels like such fertile creative territory when a character at an age where they’re ill-equipped to deal with tragedy encounters a devastating loss. It’s a bit like that old paradox: what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object? How do we endure the unendurable?

In my novel, the main character, Winnie—whose life is still shaped by her mother’s death eight years earlier—is so unable to cope with the loss of the boy she loves from afar that she transports herself to an alternative reality where he survived the accident she witnessed. Of course, this ends up causing a whole host of other problems.

I’m most interested in explorations of grief beyond just sadness: grief that manifests as rage or delusion, grief that’s been allowed to fester, maladaptive grief as a destructive force. The death of Winnie’s mother—and Winnie and her father’s shared guilt and grief over that loss—both unites them and puts a wall between them.

Grief can’t be simply escaped. But over the course of the book, the aftermath of new tragedy helps Winnie finally make peace with her earlier loss.

I think that reading—and writing—can be a sort of practice for living, and that vicariously experiencing the tragedies of fictional characters can help provide catharsis for our own. That’s my hope, at least.

Here’s a (non-exhaustive!) list of five debut novels released in late 2020 or expected in the first half of 2021 that I’m excited for, as well more info about my own. Please add more titles in the comments!

Title: Who I Was with Her

Author: Nita Tyndall

Publisher: HarperTeen/HaperCollins

On Sale Date: September 15, 2020

ISBN: 9780062978387, 0062978381

Ages: 14 and up, Grades 9 and up

Type of Loss: Death of Girlfriend

Publisher’s Summary: “There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school’s cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s bisexual.

But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa—Maggie’s ex and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling.

As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life . . . starting with herself.”

Title: When You Look Like Us

Author: Pamela N. Harris

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

On Sale Date: January 5, 2021

ISBN: 9780062945891, 0062945890

Ages: 14 and up, Grades 9 and up

Type of Loss: Disappearance of Sister

Publisher’s Summary: “When you look like us—brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades—people think you’re trouble. No one looks twice at a missing black girl from public housing because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. I, Jay Murphy, can admit that, for a minute, I thought my sister, Nicole, got too caught up with her boyfriend—a drug dealer—and his friends. But she’s been gone too long now.

If I hadn’t hung up on her that night, she’d be spending time with our grandma. If I was a better brother, she’d be finishing senior year instead of being another name on a missing persons list. It’s time to step up and do what the Newport News police department won’t.

Nic, I’m bringing you home.”

Title: Amelia Unabridged: A Novel

Author: Ashley Schumacher

Publisher: Wednesday Books/Macmillan

On Sale Date: February 16, 2021

ISBN: 9781250253026, 1250253020

Ages: 12 to 18

Type of Loss: Accidental Death of Friend (car accident)

Publisher’s Summary: “Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never had before. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna dies in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

Ashley Schumacher’s devastating and beautiful debut, Amelia Unabridged, is about finding hope and strength within yourself, and maybe, just maybe, falling in love while you do it.”

Title: The Valley and the Flood

Author: Rebecca Mahoney

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

On Sale Date: February 23, 2021

ISBN: 9780593114353, 0593114353

Ages:

Type of Loss: Death of Friend

Publisher’s Summary: “Rose Colter is almost home, but she can’t go back there yet. When her car breaks down in the Nevada desert, the silence of the night is broken by a radio broadcast of a voicemail message from her best friend, Gaby. A message Rose has listened to countless times over the past year. The last one Gaby left before she died.

So Rose follows the lights from the closest radio tower to Lotus Valley, a small town where prophets are a dime a dozen, secrets lurk in every shadow, and the diner pie is legendary. And according to Cassie Cyrene, the town’s third most accurate prophet, they’ve been waiting for her. Because Rose’s arrival is part of a looming prophecy, one that says a flood will destroy Lotus Valley in just three days’ time.

Rose believes if the prophecy comes true then it will confirm her worst fear—the PTSD she was diagnosed with after Gaby’s death has changed her in ways she can’t face. So with help from new friends, Rose sets out to stop the flood, but her connection to it, and to this strange little town, runs deeper than she could’ve imagined.”

Title: The Half-Orphan’s Handbook

Author: Joan F. Smith

Publisher: Imprint/Macmillan

On Sale Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 9781250624680, 1250624681

Ages: 14 to 18

Type of Loss: Death of Father (by suicide)

Publisher’s Summary: “It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:

1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.

2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.

But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.

On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again.”

Title: When You and I Collide

Author: Kate Norris

Publisher: Philomel Books/Penguin

On Sale Date: June 8th, 2021

ISBN: 9780593203033, 0593203038

Ages: 12 and up, Grades 7 and up

Type of Loss: Death of Mother (earlier in childhood, car accident), Possible Death of Friend/Love Interest

Publisher’s Summary: “Sixteen-year-old Winnie Schulde has always seen splits—the moment when two possible outcomes diverge, one in her universe and one in another. Multiverse theory, Winnie knows, is all too real, though she has never been anything but an observer of its implications—a secret she keeps hidden from just about everyone, as she knows the uses to which it might be put in the midst of a raging WWII. But her physicist father, wrapped up in his research and made cruel by his grief after the loss of Winnie’s mother, believes that if he pushes her hard enough, she can choose one split over another and maybe, just maybe, change their future and their past.

Winnie is certain that her father’s theories are just that, so she plays along in an effort to placate him. Until one day, when her father’s experiment goes wrong and Scott, the kind and handsome lab assistant Winnie loves from afar, is seriously injured. Without meaning to, Winnie chooses the split where Scott is unharmed. And in doing so, finds herself pulled into another universe, an alternate reality. One that already has a Winnie.

In this darkly thrilling novel that blends science and war with love and loss, some actions just can’t be undone.”

Meet the author

 Photo credit: Bridget Caswell Photography

Kate Norris received her MFA from Ohio State University, where she taught creative writing and served as fiction editor of The Journal. Her work has appeared in One Teen Story, The Threepenny Review, Sycamore Review, and Iron Horse Literary Review, among others. She currently lives and writes in Cleveland, Ohio with her partner and their mini-menagerie of dogs. When You and I Collide is her first novel. Find her online at katenorriswrites.com, on Twitter @kate_writes, and on Instagram and TikTok @katenorriswrites.

Book mail: New and forthcoming books for middle grade and YA readers

YAY! Book mail is starting to be a near-daily thing at my house again. So much of the pandemic shut that down and I’d go weeks sometimes with only a book or two arriving. I’m sure the UPS guy is happy to have his daily stop at my house back on his route.

I share all of the book mail that comes in on my Twitter when it arrives, so if you’re not already doing so, hop on over there and follow me. I also give away 100% of the books I get, with giveaways every few weeks on Twitter, often only for teachers and librarians. Everything that comes into my house goes back out in some fashion to find a new reader. Many of the books I get are reviewed here at TLT as either longer, in-depth reviews or quick Post-It Note reviews. Try as I may, I cannot read everything!

Thanks, as always, to all the great publishers, publicists, and authors who keep me in good books.

All descriptions are from the publishers.

This was one day’s haul! Yay for book mail!

After the Rain by Nnedi Okorafor, David Brame (Illustrator), John Jennings (Adapted by) (ISBN-13: 9781419743559 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 01/05/2021, Ages 14-18)

During a furious storm a young woman’s destiny is revealed . . . and her life is changed forever

After the Rain is a graphic novel adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s short story “On the Road.” The drama takes place in a small Nigerian town during a violent and unexpected storm. A Nigerian-American woman named Chioma answers a knock at her door and is horrified to see a boy with a severe head wound standing at her doorstep. He reaches for her, and his touch burns like fire. Something is very wrong. Haunted and hunted, Chioma must embrace her heritage in order to survive. John Jennings and David Brame’s graphic novel collaboration uses bold art and colors to powerfully tell this tale of identity and destiny.

Wings of Ebony by J. Elle (ISBN-13: 9781534470675
Publisher: Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/26/2021, Ages 14-18)

In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry and must save both the human and god worlds. Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games!

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

Phoenix Flame by Sara Holland (ISBN-13: 9781547603824 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 03/02/2021 Series: Havenfall #2, Ages 14-18)

New York Times bestselling author Sara Holland continues her blockbuster contemporary fantasy series with this unforgettable sequel to Havenfall.

Maddie Morrow thought her problems were over. She saved the Inn at Havenfall—a sanctuary between magical worlds hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado—from the evil Silver Prince. Her uncle the Innkeeper is slowly recovering from a mysterious spell that has left him not quite human. And there are still a few weeks of summer left to spend with her handsome, more-than-just-a-friend Brekken, even though she can’t stop thinking about Taya.

But Maddie soon realizes there’s more work to be done to protect the place her family has run for centuries. She must embark on a dangerous mission to put an end to the black-market trading of magical objects and open the Inn’s doors to Solaria, the once feared land of shapeshifters. 

As she tries to accomplish both seemingly impossible tasks, Maddie uncovers family secrets that could change everything. What if saving everyone means destroying the only home she’s known?

This next breathtaking fantasy from New York Times bestselling Everless author Sara Holland is perfect for fans of Melissa Albert and Holly Black.

Covet by Tracy Wolff (ISBN-13: 9781682815816 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 03/02/2021 Series: Crave #3, Ages 14-18)

I may have reached my breaking point. As if trying to graduate from a school for supernaturals isn’t stressful enough, my relationship status has gone from complicated to a straight-up dumpster fire. 

Oh, and the Bloodletter has decided to drop a bomb of epic proportions on us all… 

Then again, when has anything at Katmere Academy not been intense?

And the hits just keep coming. Jaxon’s turned colder than an Alaskan winter. The Circle is splintered over my upcoming coronation. As if things couldn’t get worse, now there’s an arrest warrant for Hudson’s and my supposed crimes—which apparently means a lifetime prison sentence with a deadly unbreakable curse.

Choices will have to be made…and I fear not everyone will survive.

Upstaged by Diana Harmon Asher (ISBN-13: 9781419740817 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 03/16/2021, Ages 8-12)

A shy seventh grader learns to step into the spotlight in this heartwarming middle-grade novel by acclaimed author, Diana Harmon Asher

Shira Gordon is painfully shy. She rarely speaks and blushes at everything. And yet, when she’s alone in her room, she’ll sing and dance, dreaming she were different. So when her best friend forces her to audition for their school’s production of The Music Man, she’s mostly hoping the play will get canceled . . . but a tiny part of her hopes she’ll get in.


And she does. As a member of the barbershop quartet. Playing a dude with a mustache is not exactly her dream role, but Shira is surprised by how much she loves rehearsing with her quirky new friends. When her teacher asks her to understudy the lead role, Marian the Librarian, she reluctantly accepts.


It’s not easy to understudy Monica Manley, an eighth-grade diva who will not be upstaged. And things get even more complicated when a mysterious prankster starts playing tricks on Monica and Shira’s crush joins the cast. But something keeps Shira going, and it might just be Marian herself. Sure, Marian is a leading lady, but she’s also misunderstood, lonely . . . and shy. And if a star can be shy, then maybe, just maybe, a shy person can be a star.

Rivals by Tommy Greenwald (ISBN-13: 9781419748271 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 03/23/2021, Ages 10-14)

From the author of the award-winning Game Changer comes a gripping novel about two student-athletes searching for stardom, a young reporter searching for the truth, and a crosstown basketball rivalry that goes too far

The people of Walthorne love their basketball—and one of the things they love most is the special rivalry between the Walthorne North Middle School Cougars and the Walthorne South Middle School Panthers. As the season begins, two star players are feeling the heat: Austin Chambers, captain of Walthorne North, worries that he’s not good enough to live up to his father’s legacy, while across town, the brilliantly talented Carter Haswell, captain of Walthorne South, is already under pressure to get a scholarship that might ease his family’s financial stress.

While both boys do whatever they can to make sure their team wins, Alfie Jenks, a school sports reporter, discovers that behind-the-scenes scandals are just as much a part of youth sports as on-the-court action. When she blows the story wide open, the whole season is jeopardized.

Told through a series of flashbacks, newspaper reports, social media posts, and interviews, Rivals will have readers tearing through the pages to see what happens next—and asking themselves if winning has become more important than doing the right thing.

The Follower by Kate Doughty (ISBN-13: 9781419748011 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 03/23/2021, Ages 13-18)

A spine-tingling YA thriller based on a true story

Instagram-famous triplets Cecily, Amber, and Rudy—the children of home renovation superstars—are ready for a perfect summer. They’ve just moved onto the site of their parents’ latest renovation project when they begin to receive spine-tingling messages from someone called The Follower. It soon becomes clear that this anonymous threat is more than a simple Internet troll, and they can’t wait to shatter the Cole family’s perfect veneer and take back what’s theirs.


The Follower examines the implications of what it is to be watched in the era of social-media fame—as well as the lies we tell and the lengths we’ll go to uphold a perfect image, when our lives depend on it.

Where the Road Leads Us by Robin Reul (ISBN-13: 9781492635253 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 04/06/2021, Ages 14-18)

Sometimes the best path is the unexpected one.

Jack is on the verge for leaving for college, but before he does, he wants to track down his estranged brother, Alex and find some closure in the wake of their father’s death. Meanwhile, Hallie has just found out some upsetting news about a friend in Oregon, and she has a small window to go see him before it’s too late.

Jack and Hallie are practically strangers. They shared a class together years ago and haven’t seen each other since, though they have more in common than they’d ever imagine. And when fate puts them into the same rideshare to the bus terminal, it kicks off an unconventional and hysterical adventure that may lead them to their own true selves…and maybe to each other.

The Light of Days Young Readers’ Edition: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Batalion (ISBN-13: 9780063037694 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/06/2021, Ages 8-12)

This young readers’ edition is the remarkable untold story of the young Jewish women who became resistance fighters against the Nazis during World War II. It has already been optioned by Steven Spielberg for a major motion picture.

As their communities were being destroyed, groups of Jewish women and teenage girls across Poland began transforming Jewish youth groups into resistance factions. These “ghetto girls” helped build systems of underground bunkers, paid off the Gestapo, and bombed German train lines.

At the center of the book is eighteen-year-old Renia Kukielka, who traveled across her war-torn country as a weapons smuggler and messenger. Other women who joined the cause served as armed fighters, spies, and saboteurs, all risking their lives for their missions.

Never before chronicled in full, this is the incredible account of the strong Jewish women who fought back against the seemingly unstoppable Nazi regime. It follows the women through arrests, internment, and for a lucky few, into the late 20th century and beyond.

It also includes an eight-page insert of black-and-white photos, so that readers can see firsthand the extraordinary women who bravely fought for their freedom in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker, Stacy Davidowitz (ISBN-13: 9781419743931 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/13/2021, Ages 8-12)

A heartfelt middle-grade novel about a theater-loving girl who uses a wheelchair for mobility and her quest to defy expectations—and gravity—from Tony award–winning actress Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz

Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon loves a lot of things: her dog Warbucks, her best friend Chloe, and competing on her wheelchair racing team, the Zoomers, to name a few. But there’s one thing she’s absolutely OBSESSED with: MUSICALS! From Hamilton to Les Mis, there’s not a cast album she hasn’t memorized and belted along to. She’s never actually been in a musical though, or even seen an actor who uses a wheelchair for mobility on stage. Would someone like Nat ever get cast?


But when Nat’s family moves from California to New Jersey, Nat stumbles upon auditions for a kids’ production of Wicked, one of her favorite musicals ever! And she gets into the ensemble! The other cast members are super cool and inclusive (well, most of them)— especially Malik, the male lead and cutest boy Nat’s ever seen. But when things go awry a week before opening night, will Nat be able to cast her fears and insecurities aside and “Defy Gravity” in every sense of the song title?

Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve (ISBN-13: 9781419746017 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/13/2021, Ages 12-18)

A moving YA debut about a trans boy finding his voice—and himself

Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?

The Key to You and Me by Jaye Robin Brown (ISBN-13: 9780062824585 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 14-17)

A sweet and funny ownvoices LGBTQ+ romance perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Julie Murphy, from the critically acclaimed author of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit!

Piper Kitts is spending the summer living with her grandmother, training at the barn of a former Olympic horseback rider, and trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. Much to Piper’s dismay, her grandmother is making her face her fear of driving by taking lessons from a girl in town.

Kat Pearson has always suspected that she likes girls but fears her North Carolina town is too small to color outside the lines. But when Piper’s grandmother hires Kat to give her driving lessons, everything changes.

Piper’s not sure if she’s ready to let go of her ex. Kat’s navigating uncharted territory with her new crush. With the summer running out, will they be able to unlock a future together?

“Piper and Kat are imperfect, but always trying their best—aren’t we all?—and Brown had me rooting for them all the way through this sweet, slow burn romance. Their triumphs, their blunders, and the way they swing between confidence and self-doubt are utterly relatable.”—Misa Sigura, award-winning author of It’s Not Like It’s a Secret

The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller (ISBN-13: 9781419736759 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 10-14)

A young witch must save her sister from evil birds in this masterful middle-grade fantasy

In the land of Tsaretsvo, civil war has divided the human kingdom from the Republic of Birds. Magic is outlawed, and young witches are sent to a mysterious boarding school, from which no one has returned. Olga and her family live a life of dull privilege in the capital until her father displeases the tyrannical tsarina. The family is sent off into exile at the Imperial Center for Avian Observation, an isolated shack near the Republic of Birds. Unlike the rest of her family, Olga doesn’t particularly mind their strange new life. She never fit into aristocratic society as well as her perfect younger sister, Mira. What does worry Olga is her blossoming magical abilities. If anyone found out, they’d send her away. But then Mira is kidnapped by the birds, and Olga has no choice but to enter the forbidden Republic, a dangerous world full of iagas, talking birds, and living dreams. To navigate the Republic and save her sister, she’ll need her wits, her cunning—and even her magic.

Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion by Gregory Mone (ISBN-13: 9781419738531 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 8-12)

Perfect for fans of Percy Jackson and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion launches an exciting, action-packed new series about the underwater lost city

Kaya, raised in the undersea, high-tech world of Atlantis, has always been fascinated by the legends about life above the water. Despite the government’s insistence that they’re only stories, she can’t help but dream about the Sun People—and when a group of officials known as Erasers move to bury those legends for good, Kaya sets out to the surface to uncover the truth once and for all.
In the world above, where climate change has led to giant tsunamis that threaten Earth’s coasts, all Lewis wants is to spend more time with his scientist father. When he stows away on his dad’s top-secret research trip, he finds himself thrown headfirst into an adventure much bigger than he bargained for.
Fast-paced and action-packed, The Accidental Invasion brings readers into a world unlike anything they’ve seen before. Bonus content includes real scientific information about genetic modification, earthquakes, nuclear power, and plate tectonics.

Ways to Grow Love by Renée Watson, Nina Mata (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781547600588 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 04/27/2021 Series: A Ryan Hart Novel, Ages 7-10)

Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Award winner Renée Watson continues her charming young middle grade series starring Ryan Hart, a girl who is pure spirit and sunshine.

Ryan Hart and her family are back in another installment of stories about a Black girl finding her way and her voice as she grows through change and challenges. In this book, Ryan finds herself waiting on lots of things — like for her new sister to be born healthy, for her new recipes to turn out right, for that summer camp trip to go better than she fears! And of course Ryan is facing these new challenges and new experiences in her classic style — with a bright outlook and plenty of spirit!

River Magic by Ellen Booraem (ISBN-13: 9780525428046 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/27/2021, Ages 10-12)

Magic moves in next door in this hilarious and heartfelt middle grade fantasy about a resourceful girl battling a temperamental thunder wizard.

Donna’s always liked her life by the river–that is, until her beloved aunt Annabelle died in a tragic kayaking accident. Now money’s tight, her mom works all the time, and her best friend, Rachel, would rather hang out with her basketball teammates than with Donna. When a strange old woman moves in next door and hires Donna to clean part-time, she figures this is the perfect chance to get over her friendship troubles and help her family out–especially since the woman pays in gold. Turns out, Donna’s new neighbor is an ancient, ornery thunder mage, and it doesn’t take much to make her angry. Before Donna knows it, Rachel is in danger and Donna’s family is about to lose their home. To save the day, Donna will need the help of a quirky new friend and the basketball team . . . plus the mysterious, powerful creature lurking in the river.

Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter (ISBN-13: 9781534467620 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 12-18)

In this rom-com about rom-coms, in the spirit of Kasie West and Jenn Bennett, a hopeless romantic teen attempts to secure a happily-ever-after moment with her forever crush, but finds herself reluctantly drawn to the boy next door.

Perpetual daydreamer Liz Buxbaum gave her heart to Michael a long time ago. But her cool, aloof forever crush never really saw her before he moved away. Now that he’s back in town, Liz will do whatever it takes to get on his radar—and maybe snag him as a prom date—even befriend Wes Bennet.

The annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor might seem like a prime candidate for romantic comedy fantasies, but Wes has only been a pain in Liz’s butt since they were kids. Pranks involving frogs and decapitated lawn gnomes do not a potential boyfriend make. Yet, somehow, Wes and Michael are hitting it off, which means Wes is Liz’s in.

But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment, she’s shocked to discover that she likes being around Wes. And as they continue to grow closer, she must reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own ideas of what Happily Ever After should look like.

Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh (ISBN-13: 9780062987983 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 8-12)

For fans of Inside Out and Back Again and Amina’s Voice, We Need Diverse Books cofounder Ellen Oh creates a breathtaking story of family, hope, and survival, inspired by her mother’s real-life experiences during the Korean War. Faced with middle school racism, Junie Kim learns of her grandparents’ extraordinary strength and finds her voice.

“Filled with unforgettable characters, this profoundly moving story about a girl’s search for self is at once both unique and universal, timely and timeless. A book that should be on every shelf.” —Padma Venkatraman, Walter Award-winning author of The Bridge Home

Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.

Then Junie’s history teacher assigns a project and Junie decides to interview her grandparents, learning about their unbelievable experiences as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination to overcome impossible odds, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie taps into the strength of her ancestors and finds the courage to do what is right.

Finding Junie Kim is a reminder that within all of us lies the power to overcome hardship and emerge triumphant.

The Best Worst Summer by Elizabeth Eulberg (ISBN-13: 9781547601509 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 8-12)

From the acclaimed author of The Great Shelby Holmes comes a new middle grade story about two summers-three decades apart-and the box of secrets linking them together.

This is going to be the worst summer ever for Peyton. Her family just moved, and she had to leave her best friend behind. She’s lonely. She’s bored. Until . . . she comes across a box buried in her backyard, with a message: I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. Things are about to get interesting.

Back in 1989, it’s going to be the best summer ever for Melissa and Jessica. They have two whole months to goof around and explore, and they’re even going to bury a time capsule! But when one girl’s family secret starts to unravel, it’s clear things may not go exactly as planned.

In alternating chapters, from Peyton in present day to Melissa three decades earlier (a time with no cell phones, no social media, and camera film that took days to develop, but also a whole lot of freedom), beloved author Elizabeth Eulberg tells the story of a mystery that two sets of memorable characters will never forget.

All Kinds of Other by James Sie (ISBN-13: 9780062962492 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 14-17)

In this tender, nuanced coming-of-age love story, two boys—one who is cis, and one who is trans—have been guarding their hearts, until their feelings for each other give them a reason to stand up to their fears.

Two boys are starting over at a new high school.

Jules is still figuring out what it means to be gay…and just how out he wants to be.

Jack is reeling from a fall-out with his best friend…and isn’t ready to let anyone else in just yet.

When Jules and Jack meet, the sparks are undeniable. But when a video linking Jack to a pair of popular trans vloggers is leaked to the school, the revelations thrust both boys into the spotlight they’d tried to avoid.

Suddenly Jack and Jules must face a choice: to play it safe and stay under the radar, or claim their own space in the world—together.

The Summer of Broken Rules by K. L. Walther (ISBN-13: 9781728210292 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 14-18)

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Katie Cotugno, this is a story of loss, romance, and the time it takes to become who you really want to be.

It’s all just fun and games…until someone loses their heart.

When Meredith Fox lost her sister, Claire, eighteen months ago, she shut everyone out. But this summer she’s determined to join the world again.

The annual family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard seems like the perfect place to reconnect. Her entire extended family is gathering for a big summer wedding, and although Meredith is dateless after being unexpectedly dumped, she’s excited to participate in the traditional Fox family game of assassin that will take place during the week of wedding festivities. Claire always loved the game, and Meredith is determined to honor her legacy.

But when Meredith forms an assassin alliance with a cute groomsman, she finds herself getting distracted. Meredith tries to focus on the game and win it for her sister, but she can’t help falling for him. And as the week progresses, she realizes she’s not only at risk of losing the game, but also her heart.

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney (ISBN-13: 9780063024793 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 13-17)

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by debut author Joya Goffney is an own voices story of an overly enthusiastic list maker who is blackmailed into completing a to-do list of all her worst fears. It’s a heartfelt, tortured, contemporary YA high school romance. Fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Kristina Forest’s I Wanna Be Where You Are will love the juicy secrets and leap-off-the-page sexual tension.

Quinn keeps lists of everything—from the days she’s ugly cried, to “Things That I Would Never Admit Out Loud” and all the boys she’d like to kiss. Her lists keep her sane. By writing her fears on paper, she never has to face them in real life. That is, until her journal goes missing . . .

Then an anonymous account posts one of her lists on Instagram for the whole school to see and blackmails her into facing seven of her greatest fears, or else her entire journal will go public. Quinn doesn’t know who to trust. Desperate, she teams up with Carter Bennett—the last known person to have her journal—in a race against time to track down the blackmailer.

Together, they journey through everything Quinn’s been too afraid to face, and along the way, Quinn finds the courage to be honest, to live in the moment, and to fall in love.

A Wilder Magic by Juliana Brandt (ISBN-13: 9781728245737 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 7-12)

From the author of The Wolf of Cape Fen comes a beautiful and lyrical story about one family with magic in their bones, and what happens when we have to give up what we love most.

For generations, Sybaline Shaw’s family has lived in an enchanted valley in the Appalachian Mountains, using their magic to help grow the land. But now the government has built a dam that will force the Shaws to relocate, and they’re running out of time before their home will be flooded.

Syabline and her cousin Nettle can’t imagine life without the valley and its magic, so they decide to stay. Using magic, they build an invisible wall around their home. As the water rises, they learn a terrible truth: the water will continue to rise, leaving them to live beneath the lake itself.

There is also a consequence to using magic selfishly, one that might transform both her and Nettle forever. If she can’t find a way to escape, Syballine and the ones she loves could be trapped in the valley forever.

Any Place But Here by Sarah Van Name (ISBN-13: 9781492677062 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 14-17)

An emotional story about complicated friendships, new family, unexpected romance, and finding the place you belong.

That’s what Jess was to me. I was the ground; she was the rain. I wasn’t anything until she woke me up.

Seventeen-year-old June can’t imagine life without her best friend Jess. June wasn’t anything, really, until Jess chose her. And June’s not sure who she is without Jess.

But after June is expelled, she’s forced to move to Virginia, to live with her grandmother and attend an all-girls boarding school. She’ll be miles away from her home, from her family, and from Jess.

June counts down the days until she can come back home for the summer. But when she befriends two new girls and meets Sam, who she is instantly drawn to, life in Virginia starts to feel more real. And as she begins to question if she has more than just a friendship with Jess, Jess pulls away, leaving June with more questions than answers.

Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield (ISBN-13: 9781250622235 Publisher: Wednesday Books Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 13-18)

In this sweeping debut, Asha Bromfield takes readers to the heart of Jamaica, and into the soul of a girl coming to terms with her family, and herself, set against the backdrop of a hurricane.

Tilla has spent her entire life trying to make her father love her. But every six months, he leaves their family and returns to his true home: the island of Jamaica. 

When Tilla’s mother tells her she’ll be spending the summer on the island, Tilla dreads the idea of seeing him again, but longs to discover what life in Jamaica has always held for him.

In an unexpected turn of events, Tilla is forced to face the storm that unravels in her own life as she learns about the dark secrets that lie beyond the veil of paradise—all in the midst of an impending hurricane.

Hurricane Summer is a powerful coming of age story that deals with colorism, classism, young love, the father-daughter dynamic—and what it means to discover your own voice in the center of complete destruction.

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard (ISBN-13: 9780062872623 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 13-17)

Irresistibly action-packed and full of lethal surprises, this stunning new fantasy series from Victoria Aveyard, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Red Queen series, begins where hope is lost and asks: When the heroes have fallen, who will take up the sword?

A strange darkness grows in Allward.

Even Corayne an-Amarat can feel it, tucked away in her small town at the edge of the sea.

She soon discovers the truth: She is the last of an ancient lineage—and the last hope to save the world from destruction. But she won’t be alone. Even as darkness falls, she is joined by a band of unlikely companions:

  • A squire, forced to choose between home and honor.
  • An immortal, avenging a broken promise.
  • An assassin, exiled and bloodthirsty.
  • An ancient sorceress, whose riddles hide an eerie foresight.
  • A forger with a secret past.
  • A bounty hunter with a score to settle.

Together they stand against a vicious opponent, invincible and determined to burn all kingdoms to ash, and an army unlike anything the realm has ever witnessed.

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee (ISBN-13: 9780063038837 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 14-17)

Felix Ever After meets Becky Albertalli in this swoon-worthy, heartfelt rom-com about how a transgender teen’s first love challenges his ideas about perfect relationships.

Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.

When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.

In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script.

Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas (ISBN-13: 9781419751028 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 05/11/2021, Ages 10-14)

A moving middle-grade debut for anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t belong

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .
But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and each other.

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler (ISBN-13: 9781250765826 Publisher: Wednesday Books Publication date: 05/11/2021, Ages 14-18)

Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer is a story of self-discovery and new love. It’s about the things we want and the things we need. And it’s about the people who will let us be who we are.

Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

Every Body Shines: Sixteen Stories About Living Fabulously Fat by Cassandra Newbould (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781547606078 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 05/11/2021, Ages 14-17)

An intersectional, feminist YA anthology from some of today’s most exciting voices across a span of genres, all celebrating body diversity and fat acceptance through short stories.

Fat girls and boys and nonbinary teens are: friends who lift each other up, heroes who rescue themselves, big bodies in space, intellects taking up space, and bodies looking and feeling beautiful. They express themselves through fashion, sports and other physical pursuits, through food, and music, and art. They are flirting and falling in love. They are loving to themselves and one another. With stories that feature fat main characters starring in a multitude of stories and genres, and written by authors who live these lives too, this is truly a unique collection that shows fat young people the representation they deserve. 

With a foreword by Aubry Gordon, creator of Your Fat Friend, and with stories by:
Nafiza Azad, Chris Baron, Sheena Boekweg, Linda Camacho, Kelly deVos, Alex Gino, Claire Kann, amanda lovelace, Hillary Monahan, Cassandra Newbould, Francina Simone, Rebecca Sky, Monique Gray Smith, Renée Watson, Catherine Adel West, Jennifer Yen

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy (ISBN-13: 9780062880451 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/25/2021, Ages 13-17)

Return to the beloved world of Julie Murphy’s #1 New York Times bestselling Dumplin’—now a popular Netflix feature film starring Jennifer Anistonin this fabulously joyful, final companion novel about drag, prom, and embracing your inner Queen.

Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth.

So when Clementine deviates from their master plan right after Waylon gets dumped, he throws caution to the wind and creates an audition tape for his favorite TV drag show, Fiercest of Them All. What he doesn’t count on is the tape getting accidentally shared with the entire school. . . . As a result, Waylon is nominated for prom queen as a joke. Clem’s girlfriend, Hannah Perez, also receives a joke nomination for prom king.

Waylon and Hannah decide there’s only one thing to do: run—and leave high school with a bang. A very glittery bang. Along the way, Waylon discovers that there is a lot more to running for prom court than campaign posters and plastic crowns, especially when he has to spend so much time with the very cute and infuriating prom king nominee Tucker Watson.

Waylon will need to learn that the best plan for tomorrow is living for today . . . especially with the help of some fellow queens. . . .

The Hollow Inside by Brooke Lauren Davis (ISBN-13: 9781547606115 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 05/25/2021, Ages 12-17)

Sadie meets The Glass Castle in a smart, gripping, and twisty YA debut about a girl seeking to reveal the truth about her mother-and herself.

Seventeen-year-old Phoenix has spent much of her life drifting from town to town with her mom Nina, using their charms to swindle and steal to get by. Now they’ve made it to their ultimate destination, Mom’s hometown of Jasper Hollow. The plan: bring down Ellis Bowman, the man who ruined Nina’s life.

When Phoenix gets caught spying on Ellis, she spins a convincing story that inadvertently gives her full access to the Bowman family. As she digs deeper into their secrets (and begins to fall for daughter Melody), she finds herself entrenched in the tale of a death and a disappearance that doesn’t entirely line up with what Mom has told her.

But there’s even more to this story Phoenix doesn’t know. Who, if anyone, is telling the whole truth about what happened? Debut author Brooke Lauren Davis explores the murkiness of right and wrong, of choices and consequences, of heroes and villains, in an eerily compelling and thought-provoking small-town saga.

A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia (ISBN-13: 9780062367297 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/25/2021, Ages 16+)

A tour-de-force from three-time National Book Award finalist Rita Williams-Garcia, this story of an antebellum plantation—and the enduring legacies of slavery upon every person who lives there—is essential reading for both teens and adults grappling with the long history of American racism.

1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s objections, to sit for a portrait.

While Madame plots her last hurrah, stories that span generations—from the big house to out in the fields—of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved.

This astonishing novel from award-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human.

An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi (ISBN-13: 9780062972415 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 13-17)

From bestselling and National Book Award–nominated author Tahereh Mafi comes a stunning novel about love and loneliness, navigating the hyphen of dual identity, and reclaiming your right to joy—even when you’re trapped in the amber of sorrow.

It’s 2003, several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, FBI agents are infiltrating local mosques, and the Muslim community is harassed and targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears hijab, keeps her head down.

She’s too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.

Shadi is named for joy, but she’s haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of her hear—

It’s broken.

Shadi tries to navigate her crumbling world by soldiering through, saying nothing. She devours her own pain, each day retreating farther and farther inside herself until finally, one day, everything changes.

She explodes.

An Emotion of Great Delight is a searing look into the world of a single Muslim family in the wake of 9/11. It’s about a child of immigrants forging a blurry identity, falling in love, and finding hope—in the midst of a modern war.

Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin (ISBN-13: 9781250757241 Publisher: Wednesday Books Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 14-18)

A queer YA reimagining of Thelma & Louise with the aesthetic of Riverdale, for fans of Mindy McGinnis, Courtney Summers, and Rory Power.

Love on the dark side of freedom

When Trixie picks up her best friend Lux for their weekend getaway, they’re looking to forget the despair of being trapped in their dead-end rustbelt town. The girls are packing light: a supply of Diet Coke and an ‘89 Canon to help Lux frame the world in a sunnier light; half a pack of cigarettes that Trixie doesn’t really smoke, and a knife she’s hanging on to for a friend that she’s never used before.

But a single night of violence derails their trip, and the girls go from ordinary high schoolers to wanted fugitives. Trying to stay ahead of the cops and a hellscape of media attention, Trixie and Lux grapple with an unforgiving landscape, rapidly diminishing supplies, and disastrous decisions at every turn. As they are transformed by the media into the face of a #MeToo movement they didn’t ask to lead, Trixie and Lux realize that they can only rely on each other, and that the love they find together is the one thing that truly makes them free.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park (ISBN-13: 9781728209425 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 14-18)

A social media influencer is shipped off to a digital detox summer camp in this funny coming-of-age story, perfect for fans of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty and Love and Gelato.

Sunny Song’s Big Summer Goals:
1) Make Rafael Kim my boyfriend (finally!)
2) Hit 100K followers (almost there…)
3) Have the best last summer of high school ever

Not on Sunny’s list: accidentally filming a PG-13 cooking video that goes viral (#browniegate). Extremely not on her list: being shipped off to a digital detox farm camp in Iowa (IOWA??) for a whole month. She’s traded in her WiFi connection for a butter churn, and if she wants any shot at growing her social media platform this summer, she’ll need to find a way back online.

But between some unexpected friendships and an alarmingly cute farm boy, Sunny might be surprised by the connections she makes when she’s forced to disconnect.

Don’t Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd (ISBN-13: 9781547605026 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 13-17)

From an exciting new voice comes a funny and heartfelt YA romance set in the world of competitive gaming, perfect for fans of Opposite of Always and Slay.

Emilia Romero is living a double life. By day, she’s a field hockey star with a flawless report card. But by night, she’s kicking virtual ass as the only female member of a highly competitive eSports team. Emilia has mastered the art of keeping her two worlds thriving, which hinges on them staying completely separate. That’s in part to keep her real-life persona, but also for her own safety, since girl gamers are often threatened and harassed. 

When a major eSports tournament comes to her city, Emilia is determined to prove herself to her team and the male-dominated gaming community. But her perfectly balanced life is thrown for a loop when a member of a rival team recognizes her . . . 

Jake Hooper has had a crush on Emilia since he was ten years old. When his underdog eSports team makes it into the tournament, he’s floored to discover she’s been leading a double life. The fates bring Jake and Emilia together as they work to keep her secret, even as the pressures of the tournament and their non-gaming world threaten to pull everything apart.

Debut author Alexis Nedd has crafted a YA combo-punch of charming romance and virtual adventure that will win the hearts of gamers and non-gamers alike.

Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June (ISBN-13: 9780063015159 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 14-17)

From debut novelist Jason June comes a moving and hilarious sex-positive teen rom-com about the complexities of first loves, first hookups, and first heartbreaks—and how to stay true to yourself while embracing what you never saw coming, that’s perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Becky Albertalli. 

There’s one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all his friends can’t stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda.

Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he’s found where he truly belongs. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he’ll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones . . . because after all, life and love don’t always go according to plan. 

On the Way to Birdland by Frank Morelli (ISBN-13: 9781947886056 Publisher: Fish Out of Water Books Publication date: 06/08/2021, Ages 14-17)

Self-proclaimed teenage philosopher Cordell Wheaton lives in a sleepy, southern town where nothing ever happens; not since his hero, jazz musician John Coltrane, left some seventy years earlier to “follow the sound.” Cordy’s life has been unraveling since the night his father and his brother, Travis, exploded on each other. The night Travis’s addiction transformed him from budding musician into something entirely different. The night Travis took his saxophone and disappeared. When Cordy’s father falls ill, the sixteen-year-old vows to reunite the Wheaton family. He embarks on a modern-day odyssey with forty bucks in his pocket and a dream to find his brother and convince him to be Travis again—by taking him to a show at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City, and reminding him of the common bonds they share with their legendary hero. Cordy’s journey is soon haunted by ghostly visions, traumatic dreams, and disembodied voices that echo through his mind. He starts to wonder if the voices are those of the fates, guiding him toward his destiny—or if he’s losing his grip on reality.

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (ISBN-13: 9780593326213 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/08/2021, Ages 8-12)

From the U.S.’s foremost indigenous children’s author comes a middle grade verse novel set during the COVID-19 pandemic, about a Wabanaki girl’s quarantine on her grandparents’ reservation and the local dog that becomes her best friend

Malian was visiting her grandparents on the reservation when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Now she’s staying there, away from her parents and her school in Boston. Everyone is worried about the pandemic, but on the reservation, everyone protects each other, from Malian caring for her grandparents to the local dog, Malsum, guarding their house. They always survive together. Malian hears stories from her grandparents about how it has always been this way in their community: Stories about their ancestors, who survived epidemics of European diseases; about her grandfather, who survived a terrible government boarding school; and about Malian’s own mother, who survived and returned to her Native community after social services took her away to live in foster care as a child. With their community and caring for one another, Malian and her family will survive this pandemic, too.

Love & Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura (ISBN-13: 9780062991232 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 06/08/2021, Ages 13-17)

This delightfully disastrous queer YA rom-com is a perfect read for fans of Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Sandhya Menon.

When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.

That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.

Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron (ISBN-13: 9781547603909 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 06/29/2021, Ages 13-17)

Darkness blooms in bestselling author Kalynn Bayron’s new contemporary fantasy about a girl with a unique and deadly power.

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined—it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

From the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead comes another inspiring and deeply compelling story about a young woman with the power to conquer the dark forces descending around her.

The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook (ISBN-13: 9781951142599 Publisher: Tin House Books Publication date: 06/29/2021, Ages 16+)

A witty and one-of-a-kind debut graphic memoir detailing and drawing the life of a girl with borderline personality disorder finding her way—and herself—one day at a time.

What does it feel like to fall in love too hard and too fast, to hate yourself in equal and opposite measure? To live in such fear of rejection that you drive friends and lovers away? Welcome to my world. I’m Courtney, and I have borderline personality disorder (BPD), along with over four million other people in the United States. Though I’ve shown every classic symptom of the disorder since childhood, I wasn’t properly diagnosed until nearly a decade later, because the prevailing theory is that most people simply “grow out of it.” Not me.

In my illustrated memoir The Way She Feels: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures and Pieces, I share what it’s been like to live and love with this disorder. Not just the hospitalizations, treatments, and residential therapy, but the moments I found comfort in cereal, the color pink, or mini corn dogs; the days I couldn’t style my hair because I thought the blow-dryer was going to hurt me; the peace I found when someone I love held me. This is a book about vulnerability, honesty, acceptance, and how to speak openly—not only with doctors, co-patients, friends, family, or partners, but also with ourselves.

Where It All Lands by Jennie Wexler (ISBN-13: 9781250750044 Publisher: Wednesday Books Publication date: 07/06/2021, Ages 12-18)

Sliding Doors-esque novel that reveals how our choices define us and how no matter the road, love can find its way.

Stevie Rosenstein has never made a true friend. Never fallen in love. Moved from city to city by her father’s unrelenting job, it’s too hard to care for someone. Trust in anything. The pain of leaving always hurts too much. But she’ll soon learn to trust, to love.

Twice.

Drew and Shane have been best friends through everything. The painful death of Shane’s dad. The bitter separation of Drew’s parents. Through sleepaway camps and family heartache, basketball games and immeasurable loss, they’ve always been there for each other.

When Stevie meets Drew and Shane, life should go on as normal.

But a simple coin toss alters the course of their year in profound and unexpected ways.

Told in dual timelines, debut author Jennie Wexler’s Where It All Lands delivers a heartbreaking and hopeful novel about missed opportunities, second chances, and all the paths that lead us to where we are.

Time Villains by Victor Piñeiro (ISBN-13: 9781728230498 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 07/06/2021 Series: Time Villains #1, Ages 8-12)

Story Thieves meets Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library in this wacky, hilarious, and fast-paced middle-grade series starter, with the perfect combination of magic, imagination, and adventure.

Javi Santiago is trying his best not to fail sixth grade. So, when the annual “invite any three people to dinner” homework assignment rolls around, Javi enlists his best friend, Wiki, and his sister, Brady, to help him knock it out of the park.

But the dinner party is a lot more than they bargained for. The family’s mysterious antique table actually brings the historical guests to the meal…and Blackbeard the Pirate is turning out to be the worst guest of all time.

Before they can say “avast, ye maties,” Blackbeard escapes, determined to summon his bloodthirsty pirate crew. And as Javi, Wiki, and Brady try to figure out how to get Blackbeard back into his own time, they might have to invite some even zanier figures to set things right again…

The Perfect Place to Die by Bryce Moore (ISBN-13: 978-1728229119 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Publication date: 08/03/2021, Ages 13-17)

Stalking Jack the Ripper meets Devil in the White City. In order to save her sister, Zuretta takes a job at a notorious house of horrors-but she might never escape.

Seventeen-year-old Zuretta had resigned herself to a quiet life in Utah. But when her younger sister, Ruby, travels to Chicago during the World’s Fair, and disappears, Zuretta leaves home to find her.

But Chicago is more dangerous and chaotic than she imagined. She doesn’t know where to start until she learns of her sister’s last place of employment…a mysterious hotel known as The Castle.

Zuretta takes a job there hoping to learn more. And before long she realizes the hotel isn’t what it seems. Women disappear at an alarming rate, she hears crying from the walls, and terrifying whispers follow her at night. In the end, she finds herself up against one of the most infamous mass murderers in American history―and his custom-built death trap.

Journey to the Heart of the Abyss by London Shah (ISBN-13: 9780759555075 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 10/26/2021 Series: Light the Abyss Series #2, Ages 12-18)

The sequel to London Shah’s thrilling futuristic mystery The Light at the Bottom of the World, perfect for fans of Illuminae and These Broken Stars

Leyla McQueen has finally reunited with her father after breaking him out of the illegal government prison, Broadmoor—but freedom comes at a terrible cost. As Leyla celebrates being with her father, she must grapple with the pain of losing Ari. Now separated from the boy who has her heart and labeled the nation’s number one enemy, Leyla must risk illegal travel with her father through unchartered waters in their quest for the truth behind Mr. McQueen’s arrest.

Across Britain, the fallout from Mr. McQueen’s escape has escalated tensions between Anthropoid and non-Anthropoid communities, bringing them to an all-time high. And, as Leyla and her friends fight to uncover the startling truths about their world, she discovers her own shocking past—and the horrifying secrets behind her father’s abduction and arrest. But as these long-buried truths finally begin to surface, so, too, do the authorities’ terrible future plans. And if the ever-pervasive fear prevents the people from taking a stand now, the abyss could stay in the dark forever.

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (ISBN-13: 9781250762030 Publisher: Wednesday Books Publication date: 11/02/2021, Ages 12-18)

If I Stay meets Your Name in Dustin Thao’s You’ve Reached Sam, a heartfelt novel about love and loss and what it means to say goodbye.

How do you move forward when everything you love in on the line?

Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend asummer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail. And Sam picks up the phone.

What would you do if you had a second chance at goodbye?

Filled with a diverse cast of characters, the heartache of first love and loss, and the kind of friends that can get you through anything, plus a touch of magic, You’ve Reached Sam will make an instant connection with anyone looking for a big emotional romance of a read.

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood (ISBN-13: 9781250787101 Publisher: Wednesday Books Publication date: 11/09/2021, Ages 14-18)

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. She would be hired, that is, if her mentor hadn’t thrown her out before she could earn her license. Now her only hope of steady work is to find a Patron—a rich, well-connected individual who will vouch for her abilities.

When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, she takes the job without question. Never mind that he’s rude and demanding and eccentric, that the contract comes with a number of outlandish rules… and that almost a dozen debtera had quit before her. If Andromeda wants to earn a living, she has no choice. 

But she quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, the reason every debtera before her quit. But leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option because—heaven help her—she’s fallen for him.

Stunningly romantic, Lauren Blackwood’s heartstopping debut, Within These Wicked Walls, ushers in an exciting new fantasy voice.

From Booklover to Storyteller: Have You Ever Wanted To Be An Author? a guest post by J. Elle

If you’re like me, when I was a teen, there was a vast difference between being obsessed with books and thinking I could actually write one. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I tried to pen a story and since, I’ve never looked back. I often wonder what life would have been like for me had I tried to pursue my love of storytelling sooner. 

The author as a teen

First, why hadn’t I? The answer is layered and a bit complicated, but the short of it is–I didn’t really think writing books could be an entire job; and the blips of moments when I’d suspend my disbelief and let myself imagine ‘what if’ a frequent stumbling block I’d hit was always: where would I even start? I love the epic worlds of fantasy adventure, finding magical worlds with spells, practicing those as a kid under my blanket at night, the made up creatures, the heart-throb romance… where do the ideas come from? It was all so daunting. How could I ever find something as cool and innovative as the books I’d read? I didn’t realize it then, but the answer was–by looking inside. 

I have this theory that stories live inside us, pulling at our subconscious, showing themselves to us  in bursts of creative inspiration. Everything from a TikTok skit to a bookstagram picture is a piece of a larger story, fueled by our individual imagination. And imagination is a funny thing. I like to imagine it akin to a bottomless well. When we dip our bucket down there, we pull out interesting things. And the more often we dip our bucket down there, we get better at angling the rope just right, filling the pail all the way up, bringing its contents to the surface with minor spills. And that’s how it worked for me. 

Wings of Ebony, my debut novel, centers around a character whose voice just popped in my head one day. She was vivid. I could see all her features, what she was wearing, the world that was around her. I could even feel the emotion she was grappling with–grief and feeling powerless. I put my fingers to the keyboard in that moment of clarity and let her tell me her story. Then, I revised and tidied it up for several (read: many) drafts and the result is what you have on shelves today. My next story, Park Row Magic Academy, about an inner-city magic school was another that came to me. That time, it was the plot that was quirky and cute and sounded like so much fun. I sat down to type and that story poured out of me in nine days. Nine. I’m still shook. It went through many rounds of revisions and you’ll be able to read that one as well in spring 2022! But understand I hadn’t truly realized there were stories tugging at me until I listened. I hadn’t realized writing was, well, my real life “magic,” in a sense. I just knew I loved all things books. So, reader, is there a story that lives inside you? Have you ever played with the idea of telling it, scratching its surface to see what you unearth? 

(I hope you’re nodding or if not, at least still reading. I’m convinced everyone is a storyteller, but even if you’re not and you just love books, there’s some valuable nuggets you can takeaway that I’ll tie together at the end for you. So, sit tight.) 

So, yes, you’ve toyed with the idea of writing. But the big question that stops you might be what stopped me back in 2018: Where does I start? With an idea? A vibe? A bunch of collaged aesthetics? Listening to inspiring music? Reading craft books? So, the answer is all of this. Or none of this. 

One of the coolest things about writing is that it’s not entirely formulaic. As an art form, it’s reliant on the creator to give it life, meaning, shape. So, start with an idea if you have one or a favorite song. Or peruse Pinterest and collage pictures until you feel inspired. Binge your favorite movies, books, shows. There is no right or wrong as long as you’re listening for that whisper of inspiration. That needling feeling that you might have a character or world or dilemma that could be fun to explore. 

Next, you sit down, and you write. Sure, there are ways to outline and research and prolong the writing process. But, at the beginning the biggest obstacle most writers face is just getting words on the page. And finishing a story. The story can be terrible, and no one may ever read it. But if you’ve ever ran a marathon or hiked a really tall peak or done anything that seemed really hard at first you’ll know what I mean when I say–it’s always harder the first time. Finishing your first story proves to yourself that you can do it. And that confidence is what will fuel you to keep going when you revise or start the next one. 

So that’s my challenge to you, reader. Find the story that’s calling to you and consider writing it down! You never know what could come of it. I certainly didn’t. And here we are, ha ha. So, your turn. Go figure out your story. I can’t wait to read it! 

For those of you that aren’t storytellers in the making–don’t miss the heart of what I’m saying here. And how it applies to you, too. Writing was my passion. So, my admonishment to you is unless you absolutely have to, don’t wait until you’re thirty-five to pursue the things you love. Dare to do it now, with the entire world ahead of you. There’s a magic in marrying what you love with what you do for work. Maybe that’s not writing for you, maybe it’s not even book related. But hold on to those things you enjoy, nourish the things that bring a smile to your lips just thinking about them. That just might be your magic! And the thing about tapping into your magic is it gives just as much to you as you give to it. 

Meet the author

Photo credit: Chris Spicks Photography

J.Elle is the author of the instant New York Times and Indie bestseller Wings of Ebony, a YA novel about a Black teen who must lean into her ancestor’s magic to protect her inner-city community from drugs, violence, and crime. Ms. Magazine calls it “the debut fantasy we need right now.” Elle is a former educator and first-generation college student with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Master’s in Educational Administration and Human Development. When she’s not writing, Elle can be found mentoring aspiring writers, binging reality TV, loving on her three littles, or cooking up something true to her Louisiana roots. 

About Wings of Ebony

Instant New York Times bestseller!

In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry and must save both the human and god worlds. Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games!

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

ISBN-13: 9781534470675
Publisher: Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 01/26/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: Evacuated siblings, allergies, Houdini, a dead body in a freezer, and more!

Post-it Note Reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers. Doing these short reviews would also be a great way to share more books during distance learning!

Frequent blog readers may have noticed I’m doing a lot more post-it-style reviews and less longer, individual review posts. Partially this is because my way of coping with the many upsetting pieces of the past year has been to drown myself in reading, so I’m burning through so many more books and want to share them, in some form, here. It’s been so hard for authors to be able to promote their books, through things like release parties or festivals or other events, and I want to share as many books as I can particularly these days to help them get the exposure they deserve.

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the Post-It notes are below each description.

The Best Worst Summer by Elizabeth Eulberg (ISBN-13: 9781547601509 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 8-12)

From the acclaimed author of The Great Shelby Holmes comes a new middle grade story about two summers-three decades apart-and the box of secrets linking them together.

This is going to be the worst summer ever for Peyton. Her family just moved, and she had to leave her best friend behind. She’s lonely. She’s bored. Until . . . she comes across a box buried in her backyard, with a message: I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. Things are about to get interesting.

Back in 1989, it’s going to be the best summer ever for Melissa and Jessica. They have two whole months to goof around and explore, and they’re even going to bury a time capsule! But when one girl’s family secret starts to unravel, it’s clear things may not go exactly as planned.

In alternating chapters, from Peyton in present day to Melissa three decades earlier (a time with no cell phones, no social media, and camera film that took days to develop, but also a whole lot of freedom), beloved author Elizabeth Eulberg tells the story of a mystery that two sets of memorable characters will never forget.

(POST-IT SAYS: Set in the now and also in summer 1989 (when I too lived in small town MN and was heading into 6th grade). Satisfying read about friendship, change, families, and enough intrigue with the 1989 time capsule plot to keep the story moving.)

Six Feet Below Zero by Ena Jones (ISBN-13: 9780823446223 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 8-12)

A dead body. A missing will. An evil relative. The good news is, Great Grammy has a plan. The bad news is, she’s the dead body.

Rosie and Baker are hiding something. Something big. Their great grandmother made them promise to pretend she’s alive until they find her missing will and get it in the right hands. The will protects the family house from their grandmother, Grim Hesper, who would sell it and ship Rosie and Baker off to separate boarding schools. They’ve already lost their parents and Great Grammy—they can’t lose each other, too.

The siblings kick it into high gear to locate the will, keep their neighbors from prying, and safeguard the house. Rosie has no time to cope with her grief as disasters pop up around every carefully planned corner. She can’t even bring herself to read her last-ever letter from Great Grammy. But the lies get bigger and bigger as Rosie and Baker try to convince everyone that their great grandmother is still around, and they’ll need more than a six-month supply of frozen noodle casserole and mountains of toilet paper once their wicked grandmother shows up!

This unexpectedly touching read reminds us that families are weird and wonderful, even when they’re missing their best parts. With humor, suspense, and a testament to loyalty, Ena Jones takes two brave kids on an unforgettable journey. Includes four recipes for Great Grammy’s survival treats.

(POST-IT SAYS: Great fun. Give this to readers who like hijinks, family-member-as-villain, racing against time, and can handle a plot that revolves around kids putting their dead great-grandma in a freezer! Fast-paced with great characters.)

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (ISBN-13: 9780823447053 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 9-12)

For fans of The War That Saved My Life and other World War II fiction, A Place to Hang the Moon is the tale of three orphaned siblings who are evacuated from London to live in the countryside with the secret hope of finding a permanent family.

It is 1940 and William, 12, Edmund, 11, and Anna, 9, aren’t terribly upset by the death of the not-so-grandmotherly grandmother who has taken care of them since their parents died. But the children do need a guardian, and in the dark days of World War II London, those are in short supply, especially if they hope to stay together. Could the mass wartime evacuation of children from London to the countryside be the answer? 

It’s a preposterous plan, but off they go— keeping their predicament a secret, and hoping to be placed in a temporary home that ends up lasting forever. Moving from one billet to another, the children suffer the cruel trickery of foster brothers, the cold realities of outdoor toilets and the hollowness of empty stomachs. They find comfort in the village lending library, whose kind librarian, Nora Müller, seems an excellent choice of billet, except that her German husband’s whereabouts are currently unknown, and some of the villagers consider her unsuitable. 


A Place to Hang the Moon is a story about the dire importance of family: the one you’re given, and the one you choose. 

(POST-IT SAYS: A delight, especially for bookworms. Vivid characters and strong writing will immediately rope in readers. The orphaned evacuees go through some rough times but always have each other—and books. A wonderful read.)

The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker, Stacy Davidowitz (ISBN-13: 9781419743931 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/13/2021, Ages 8-12)

A heartfelt middle-grade novel about a theater-loving girl who uses a wheelchair for mobility and her quest to defy expectations—and gravity—from Tony award–winning actress Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz

Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon loves a lot of things: her dog Warbucks, her best friend Chloe, and competing on her wheelchair racing team, the Zoomers, to name a few. But there’s one thing she’s absolutely OBSESSED with: MUSICALS! From Hamilton to Les Mis, there’s not a cast album she hasn’t memorized and belted along to. She’s never actually been in a musical though, or even seen an actor who uses a wheelchair for mobility on stage. Would someone like Nat ever get cast?
But when Nat’s family moves from California to New Jersey, Nat stumbles upon auditions for a kids’ production of Wicked, one of her favorite musicals ever! And she gets into the ensemble! The other cast members are super cool and inclusive (well, most of them)— especially Malik, the male lead and cutest boy Nat’s ever seen. But when things go awry a week before opening night, will Nat be able to cast her fears and insecurities aside and “Defy Gravity” in every sense of the song title?

(POST-IT SAYS: Another great book for theater kids—and everyone else! Nat and her new friends are great and both Nat’s desire for more independence and her adjustment to the move are relatable. Great to see a main character who uses a wheelchair, too!)

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd, Michelle Mee Nutter (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338568912 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 03/02/2021, Ages 8-12)

A semiautobiographical coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel featuring a girl with severe allergies who just wants to find the perfect pet!

At home, Maggie is the odd one out. Her parents are preoccupied with the new baby they’re expecting, and her younger brothers are twins and always in their own world. Maggie thinks a new puppy is the answer, but when she goes to select one on her birthday, she breaks out in hives and rashes. She’s severely allergic to anything with fur!

Can Maggie outsmart her allergies and find the perfect pet? With illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter, Megan Wagner Lloyd draws on her own childhood to tell a heartfelt story of family, friendship, and finding a place to belong.

(POST-IT SAYS: An easy hit with wide appeal. Deals with changing families and friendships as much as it does with allergies. At Maggie’s age, I too lived at the allergist and would’ve loved being able to relate to this book.)

Violet and the Pie of Life by Debra Green (ISBN-13: 9780823447558 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 03/09/2021, Ages 8-12)

There’s no golden ratio for a family, despite what number-crunching Violet might think.

Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie. And she loves her parents, even though her mom never stops nagging and her dad can be unreliable. Mom plus Dad doesn’t equal perfection. Still, Violet knows her parents could solve their problems if they just applied simple math. 

#1: Adjust the ratio of Mom’s nagging to her compliments. 
#2: Multiply Dad’s funny stories by a factor of three. 
#3: Add in romantic stuff wherever possible. 

But when her dad walks out, Violet realizes that the odds do not look good. Why can’t her parents get along like popular, perfect Ally’s parents? Would it be better to have no dad at all, like her best friend, McKenzie? Violet is considering the data when she and Ally get cast in the school play, and McKenzie doesn’t—a probability that Violet never calculated. Maybe friendship and family have more variables than she thought.

Filled with warmth, math-y humor, and delicious pie, this heartfelt middle grade read is perfect for fans of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. Includes illustrated charts, graphs, and diagrams throughout.

(POST-IT SAYS: Lots to relate to here—new friendships, divorcing parents, characters raised by grandparents, and typical middle school drama and change. Violet’s many charts and diagrams give the story added appeal. Vi really grows as a character over the story. A solid read.)

Houdini and Me by Dan Gutman (ISBN-13: 9780823445158 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 03/02/2021, Ages 8-12)

Harry has always admired the famous escape artist Houdini. And when Houdini asks for help in coming back to life, it seems like an amazing chance…or could it be Houdini’s greatest trick of all?

Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini is NOT Harry Houdini—the famous escape artist who died in 1926. But Harry DOES live in Houdini’s old New York City home, and he definitely knows everything there is to know about Houdini’s life. What is he supposed to do, then, when someone starts texting him claiming that they’re Houdini, communicating from beyond the grave? Respond, of course.

It’s hard for Harry to believe that Houdini is really contacting him, but this Houdini texts the secrets to all of the escape tricks the dead Houdini used to do. What’s more, Houdini’s offering Harry a chance to go back in time and experience it for himself. Should Harry ignore what must be a hoax? Or should he give it a try and take Houdini up on this death-defying offer? 

Dan Gutman is the award-winning author of series including My Weird SchoolThe Genius Files, and the baseball card series, including Honus & Me. He uses his writing powers for good once again in this exciting new middle grade novel.

(POST-IT SAYS: Can’t go wrong with Dan Gutman! Readers will learn a ton about Houdini and the secrets of his tricks. Photos add to the story. Lots of dialogue, action, and humor. A hit!)

Deadman’s Castle by Iain Lawrence (ISBN-13: 9780823446551 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 03/02/2021, Ages 9-12)

For most of his life, Igor and his family have been on the run. Danger lurks around every corner—or so he’s always been told. . . . 

When Igor was five, his father witnessed a terrible crime—and ever since, his whole family has been hunted by a foreboding figure bent on revenge, known only as the Lizard Man. They’ve lived in so many places, with so many identities, that Igor can’t even remember his real name. 

But now he’s twelve years old, and he longs for a normal life. He wants to go to school. Make friends. Stop worrying about how long it will be before his father hears someone prowling around their new house and uproots everything yet again. He’s even starting to wonder—what if the Lizard Man only exists in his father’s frightened mind?

Slowly, Igor starts bending the rules he’s lived by all his life—making friends for the first time, testing the boundaries of where he’s allowed to go in town. But soon, he begins noticing strange things around them—is it in his imagination? Or could the Lizard Man be real after all? 

Iain Lawrence is a winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Children’s Literature Prize and the California Young Reader Medal. In Deadman’s Castle, he brings readers a mystery filled with intrigue and moments of heart-stopping danger. 

(POST-IT SAYS: Satisfyingly creepy and suspenseful mystery about a family on the run. Lots of action, claustrophobic rules, and a main character determined to learn the truth.)