Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

When Being Different Makes Us Powerful, a guest post by Jessica S. Olson

It was at a very young age that I realized I was different. I was born with strabismus, an eye condition that caused my left eye to point permanently toward my nose in a way that made it not only difficult to see, but difficult to socialize, even as a child. Two major eye surgeries later, my eye no longer stuck inward, but I was left with a condition called strabismic amblyopia, or, as society has not-so-lovingly nicknamed it, a “lazy eye.” There is no cure, no surgery that can fix it, no glasses that would make it better. I will be cross-eyed for life.

None of the children I went to school with directly came out and said “you’re worth less because you are different.” They didn’t have to. They showed me that’s what they thought by the way they avoided talking to me, went out of their way to not make eye contact with me, or even, at times, directly belittled me and called me offensive names.

I internalized it all. I became uncomfortable in social situations because I was afraid people would think I looked weird. I avoided driving in cars in high school with guys I liked because I couldn’t look at the driver from the passenger seat properly without my eye going the wrong direction. And when I was passed over for group outings or ostracized or called “Mad-Eye Moody,” I took it. I thought I somehow deserved to be treated that way because I had the gall to be different. As if I’d chosen it at all. As if it were my fault.

We walk through life, all of us, being told we need to blend in. Especially when we are teens, we are fed this message that if we aren’t the right weight, if we don’t have the right look, if we don’t wear the right makeup, there is something wrong with us. The growing influence of Instagram, TikTok, and other social media websites has only added fuel to the fire. Over and over, the world whispers that we need to filter who we are and what we look like to “fit in,” that we must be flawless to have worth, and that those of us who don’t fit the world’s definition of “perfect” cannot be valuable.

That’s not only a lie; it’s an incredibly damaging one. Anxiety and Depression in teens are at an all-time high. Teen suicide rates are at staggering rates as well. Yet we continue to allow our culture to perpetuate the myth that being different is wrong—when really, who hasn’t felt different or weird at some point in their lives? When we compare our worsts to other people’s Instagram highlights, we will always come up short, regardless of whether our eyes function in tandem or not.

My debut novel, Sing Me Forgotten, tells a gender-swapped version of the Phantom of the Opera story from the Phantom’s perspective, and it explores how deeply damaging it is when society villainizes people for the ways they differ from what’s expected. It shows how dangerous it can be for everyone when a culture abuses someone to their breaking point. But not only did I hope to directly oppose the concept that different is bad with this story, I aimed to show that those who are told they are worth the least are often the most powerful of us all.

My phantom girl, Isda, is fierce and determined and brilliant, and what she looks like has no bearing on her value. But though she lives in a fantasy world of opulence and magic, she is still just a teen. One who has been forced into hiding by the many who have shunned and rejected her. One terrified of not living the life she dreams. One lonely and so desperately hoping she’ll find someone who’ll think she’s worth loving.

In many ways, she is me. She was written from pieces of my experience growing up. Her pain and her fear are as real as my own. And, sadly, her plight is not a unique one. Young people all over the world are being hurt, bullied, and broken down every day, and over and over they’re being told that they are worth less because they are different.

My hope is that there will be teens who will see society’s lies for what they are. That they will find in current YA stories the hope that they so desperately need. That they will comprehend how fundamentally important they are and how groundbreaking it is to love themselves even when the world refuses to. Because being different is not a crime. Being different does not decrease our value. The world only pushes us aside because it fears what it cannot understand, but that isn’t on us.

We are powerful because we are different. We understand more and we understand deeper because of the trials we have faced.

So let the world fear us, and then let us prove to it just how magical we are.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Breanna Olson

Jessica S. Olson claims New Hampshire as her home, but has somehow found herself in Texas, where she spends most of her time singing praises to the inventor of the air conditioner. When she’s not hiding from the heat, she’s corralling her three wild—but adorable—children, dreaming up stories about kissing and murder and magic, and eating peanut butter by the spoonful straight from the jar. She earned a bachelor’s in English with minors in editing and French, which essentially means she spent all of her university time reading and eating French pastries. Sing Me Forgotten is her debut novel.

Website: www.jessicasolson.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jessicaolson123

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jessicaolson123

TikTok: www.tiktok.com/@jessicaolson123

About Sing Me Forgotten

Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.

Cast into a well at birth for being one of the magical few who can manipulate memories when people sing, she was saved by Cyril, the opera house’s owner. Since that day, he has given her sanctuary from the murderous world outside. All he asks in return is that she use her power to keep ticket sales high—and that she stay out of sight. For if anyone discovers she survived, Isda and Cyril would pay with their lives.

But Isda breaks Cyril’s cardinal rule when she meets Emeric Rodin, a charming boy who throws her quiet, solitary life out of balance. His voice is unlike any she’s ever heard, but the real shock comes when she finds in his memories hints of a way to finally break free of her gilded prison.

Haunted by this possibility, Isda spends more and more time with Emeric, searching for answers in his music and his past. But the price of freedom is steeper than Isda could ever know. For even as she struggles with her growing feelings for Emeric, she learns that in order to take charge of her own destiny, she must become the monster the world tried to drown in the first place.

ISBN-13: 9781335147943
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

THIS IS NO GAME: WHEN FACTS MATTER, SPORTS NON-FICTION IS A GOOD PLACE TO TURN, a guest post by Andrew Maraniss

Everything we hunger for in this country right now – racial and economic justice, environmental sustainability, a stable democracy, managing COVID – requires a fundamental commitment to seeking the truth and acknowledging basic facts.

As this year’s theme for Teen Librarian Toolbox states, #FactsMatter.

It’s such a timely theme. And such an indictment of so many of our neighbors that we even have to say it.

With so many powerful institutions profiting from lies, “alternative facts,” and conspiracy theories  – from Fox News to corners of the Internet to the Republican Party  — it falls on the rest of us to push against the rising tide of misinformation and hate in whatever ways we can.

I’ve chosen to do it by writing books for young readers that extol the enduring values of truth, equity, and justice through the lens of sports.

Maraniss with Perry Wallace

My first book, STRONG INSIDE, is the story of Perry Wallace, the Vanderbilt basketball player who desegregated the Southeastern Conference in the 1960s and later became an esteemed law professor. My second book, GAMES OF DECEPTION, is the story of the first U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, which played at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. My third book, which just came out this week, SINGLED OUT, is a biography of Glenn Burke, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player and inventor of the high-five. I’m writing a book now on the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, to be told in the context of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s.

Why sports? First, I’ve been hooked as long as I can remember. I taught myself to read as a five-year-old by examining the back of baseball cards. The first time I cried of happiness came when I was 12 years old and Cecil Cooper delivered a game-winning hit for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 playoffs. One of the biggest thrills of my life came in 1998, when I was able to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium as a member of the media relations staff for the Tampa Bay Rays. I went to college on a sportswriting scholarship and my ‘day job’ today is in the Athletic Department at Vanderbilt University.

But more important than any of that, what I value most about writing about sports is that it’s a genre that is highly accessible to just about anyone. When a young person picks up a book with a baseball or basketball player on the cover, it’s likely that they’re not going to feel intimidated by the subject. But once they dig into the story, they’ll realize the stories are not about scores and statistics or tired sports clichés– but about the denial of justice to so many in America and around the world, whether by racism, fascism, antisemitism, homophobia, or sexism, and the critical difference between being a bystander and upstander in the face of such injustices.

Because sports-related nonfiction offers “windows and mirrors,” (the term originated by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) a peak into the lives of other people or a reflection of the reader’s own place in the world, they provide valuable opportunities for empathy and understanding. And the audience for sports books is probably as broad or broader than any other genre –  no parameters on age, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, geography, academic achievement, race, or religion.

But within that universality, there is also a subversive element to the best sports books. For many people, the sports world has been seen as American as hot dogs and apple pie – where old-fashioned notions of patriarchy, patriotism, and white supremacy have traditionally gone unchallenged. So what better genre than sports to shine a light on the everyday elements of American life that have perpetuated injustice? These are the stories where the truth shines the brightest.

The lasting lesson of both STRONG INSIDE and GAMES OF DECEPTION, books that deal respectively with the civil rights movement here and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, is the same: the profound danger of standing by and doing nothing when injustices are perpetrated against others. I think of that lesson often when I hear people criticize modern-day athletes for taking a stand for justice, whether it’s NFL players taking a knee or WNBA players supporting a Senate candidate. If the big truth to be learned from these monumental periods in world history is to speak up, then how can one fault athletes, citizens like anyone else, for using their platforms to call out injustice? When Fox commentator Laura Ingraham tells LeBron to “just shut up and dribble,” we see clearly that she’s not just missing the lesson of history, but actively suppressing the truth.

For those who haven’t succumbed to the notion that the truth is irrelevant, it’s easy to spot the liars. But we must also to turn a skeptical eye toward those who call for unity or civility. Of course, both concepts sound reasonable and are desirable long-term outcomes. But as Perry Wallace once told me, “reconciliation without the truth is just acting.” Any efforts toward unity and civility must include truth-telling and acknowledgement of facts as necessary preconditions. Unity and civility without justice are just other names for oppression.

The best nonfiction books – even sports books! — name the problem, praise the real-life heroes, call out the real-life villains, and pose direct questions where facts determine the right answers.

Now more than ever, #FactsMatter.

Meet the author

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss writes sports-related nonfiction for adult, Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. His books have received the Lillian Smith Book Award, RFK Book Awards Special Recognition Prize, and Sydney Taylor Honor Award. Andrew lives in Nashville and manages the Sports & Society Initiative at Vanderbilt University. Read more about his books at www.andrewmaraniss.com and follow him on Twitter @trublu24, Instagram @amaraniss, and on Facebook at /andrewmaranissauthor.

About Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke

From New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss comes the remarkable true story of Glenn Burke, a “hidden figure” in the history of sports: the inventor of the high five and the first openly gay MLB player. Perfect for fans of Steve Sheinkin and Daniel James Brown. 

On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made history without even swinging a bat. When his teammate Dusty Baker hit a historic home run, Glenn enthusiastically congratulated him with the first ever high five. 

But Glenn also made history in another way—he was the first openly gay MLB player. While he did not come out publicly until after his playing days were over, Glenn’s sexuality was known to his teammates, family, and friends. His MLB career would be cut short after only three years, but his legacy and impact on the athletic and LGBTQIA+ community would resonate for years to come. 

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss tells the story of Glenn Burke: from his childhood growing up in Oakland, his journey to the MLB and the World Series, the joy in discovering who he really was, to more difficult times: facing injury, addiction, and the AIDS epidemic.

Packed with black-and-white photographs and thoroughly researched, never-before-seen details about Glenn’s life, Singled Out is the fascinating story of a trailblazer in sports—and the history and culture that shaped the world around him.

ISBN-13: 9780593116722
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira

Publisher’s description

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Jane the Virgin, this immediately accessible and irresistibly fun #ownvoices rom-com debut will spin readers into an unforgettable summer of late-night dancing, broken hearts, second chances, and telenovela twists.

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship. Now she has to perform as a party princess! In a ball gown. During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that’s only the first misfortune in what’s turning out to a summer of Utter Disaster. 

But if Carmen can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off an oh-so-unfortunately attractive ex, and stopping her spoiled cousin from ruining her own quinceañera—Carmen might just get that happily ever after—after all.

Amanda’s thoughts

Certainly here’s how everyone would LOVE to spend their summer after senior year: not technically graduated yet thanks to needing to fulfill an internship credit, performing in the quince of a cousin you’re in a feud with, surrounded by former acquaintances and distanced family members, and oh yeah, you’re also doing all this with your crush who’s actually your cousin’s date AND your ex-boyfriend/nemesis.

I mean, this whole story is sort of fairytale-based, and that’s obviously the one we all hope will play out for us—a summer of utter awkwardness full of people you generally dislike. Wheeee!

Might not be a great setup for real life, but it sure makes for a good story! Carmen isn’t psyched to be spending her summer performing as a princess at children’s parties, but I’m guessing she’d rather do a zillion of them than perform at her cousin Ariana’s quinceañera. Carmen’s own quince was cancelled thanks to some drama a few years back with Ariana and her family, so it’s really insult to injury to have to perform at this. And to make things worse, Mauro, her ex who moved away, is back, working for the party company, and everywhere Carmen goes. He wants them to be friends, but Carmen’s main question of the summer seems to be “do people really change?” and let me tell you, she is not one to give anyone the benefit on the doubt. But Mauro is persistent, and eventually Carmen agrees to be friends with him—or friendish. She’s super good at holding onto a grudge.

As summer progresses, there comes a point where everything seems perfect, so of course, queue some further drama and disasters.

This was a great read that will have wide appeal. Gomez-Hira makes the hot Miami summer come alive as we follow Carmen and crew through days of dance, Disney, and drama. Great dialogue (and such good banter between Carmen and Mauro) will keep readers flipping pages, probably hoping that Carmen and Mauro figure out how to find their own happy ending. Good fun.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062996831
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

“Who do you think you are?” a guest post by Monica Gomez-Hira

The author at her college graduation.

Growing up, I could not leave my house without my keys, my wallet, and the elaborate blessings by Mami gave me to protect me from el ojo malo—the evil eye.  When I was younger and fidgeting while she drew the sign of the Cross on my forehead before I left for school, I took the idea of the eye literally. It would be something like the Eye of Sauron, spanning the horizon until it landed on me and burnt me to cinders.

It wasn’t until I was older that I understood that the evil eye was actually not our main problem. The evil eye was supposed to be caused by those green with envy, people wanting your possessions, your relationships, your life. But…it seemed presumptuous to even think that about us. We were a working class Latinx family in an area full of them. I couldn’t see that we had anything particularly special.

No. The real problem we always had was way more common. The evil tongue, the whispers that would follow anyone who strayed from the narrow path of whatever was acceptable.  The thing was, unlike the evil eye, the evil tongue was often presented as a positive thing; your community caring enough about you to make sure you watched your step, because if any of us messed up, we might not get another chance to fix it. 

This was doubly true for me as a young Latina. Like my main character, Carmen, I was acutely aware of the assumptions that people made about me, both positive and negative. Sometimes it felt like I only existed within other people’s visions of me. I mean—I tried to do everything right, followed all the rules.  I was a Good Catholic Girl, an honor student who was bound for college on scholarships—but I was also surrounded and fascinated by the girls who weren’t. Girls who talked back to teachers, who wore rings of eyeliner and Spandex bandage dresses (two things I favored as well, but only when I was safely out of Mami’s line of sight.) Girls with wild hair who welcomed the catcalls from boys and even men. (Even back then, I wondered why we never seemed to blame said boys or men for any of this.)

The author, from a photography class

Part of the reason I wrote Once Upon a Quinceañera was to celebrate girls like this—the girls who weren’t like me, desperate for everyone’s approval. Because when I was younger, I believed the stoic wall they presented to the world. And just like so many people around me, my ideas about them were only the surface of the story.

For Carmen, the only way to get herself through the negative assumptions is to pretend she doesn’t care. She walks through the world daring anyone to tell her what they think to her face. She doesn’t care, because she already knows. She knows that a lot of people don’t expect someone like her to go to college, or to have an actual career.  She takes comfort in her summer job playing Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It’s one of the first times that she feels worthy of admiration, even as she acknowledges that the praise and love are for the role she is portraying instead of for herself.

Still, it feels good. 

Unfortunately for Carmen, there is a voice that is louder than the happy shrieks of party going children. The one inside her own brain, hissing the negative stereotypes and comments that we’ve all internalized.  Sometimes, those comments come from the people with good intentions—some of whom love us the most. Carmen feels like she’s fated to make the same mistakes that her parents did—an angry explosion of love that created her and ruined them.  It’s difficult for her to see them as something bigger than their mistakes.

Despite Mami’s incantations and protections, there really isn’t anyway to protect yourself from the world’s assumptions. People are going to think, and occasionally say, whatever they want, and that’s not going to change. In the book, Carmen tries various strategies, from ignoring the speakers to pushing them to further exaggerations so that she could agree with them and show how little it hurt her.

None of that helped at all.

The way that Carmen finally moved past her locked in beliefs about herself and other people was to allow for the fact that, well, people are complicated, and nothing is the sum totality of what they are. Not a bad history, not a terrible mistake, not a slip off the narrow path to success, not living down to everyone’s worst opinion of you.

This is hard. And for a part of the book, Carmen retreated behind her negative history like a shield.  Sure, it didn’t make her happy, but it kept her safe. Or so she thought.

The price of this safety was high. A betrayal of her own ambitions. An inability to risk.

I know Carmen’s dilemma well. It’s always easier to agree with the voice that asks, “who do you think you are?” when you do anything. That voice was my constant companion while I wrote this book. Honestly, it still is.

It’s hard for Carmen to admit what she really wants in Once Upon a Quinceañera. To risk being told, yet again, “Who do you think you are?” It would have been easier for her to hide behind the role of Belle forever, or worse, to hide in the idea that she’s doomed because of where she comes from, and who she’s afraid she really is.

But ultimately, the only way she can create her own happily ever after is to face down the negative external voices, and more importantly, the negative internal voice, by daring to say “I’m here. I belong. And I’m worthy.”

That’s the blessing I needed. In fact, it’s the evergreen blessing I always need as there is some new person to jeer “who do you think you are?” and so there is always the need to say “I am worthy” every time I leave the house.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Nicole Lamkin

Monica Gomez-Hira is the daughter of Colombian immigrant parents, the wife of an Indian immigrant, the mother of a half Latina/half Indian daughter, and the quintessential Jersey girl who loves her salsa as much as her Springsteen. After getting her BA in English at Wellesley College, Monica spent most of her professional life surrounded by books, and the people who love them. She began her career working for literary agencies, moved to publicity and editorial at Simon & Schuster and Random House, and most recently was a Children’s Lead at Barnes & Noble. She lives with her family in Minneapolis, MN. Once Upon a Quinceañera is her first novel.

About Once Upon a Quinceañera

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Jane the Virgin, this immediately accessible and irresistibly fun #ownvoices rom-com debut will spin readers into an unforgettable summer of late-night dancing, broken hearts, second chances, and telenovela twists.

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship. Now she has to perform as a party princess! In a ball gown. During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that’s only the first misfortune in what’s turning out to a summer of Utter Disaster. 

But if Carmen can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off an oh-so-unfortunately attractive ex, and stopping her spoiled cousin from ruining her own quinceañera—Carmen might just get that happily ever after—after all.

ISBN-13: 9780062996831
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

The Flicker of a Smile, a guest post by Anuradha D. Rajurkar

                

“You wrote a whole book?” she asked. Eight-year-old Mia* and I were at our customary spot at the little round table in my math support classroom where we worked together three times a week. We had recently begun meeting one-on-one rather than in a small group with Mia’s peers, and it was working: instead of timidly twisting a tissue under the table with her delicate brown hands and hanging back, on her own she was happy, focused, engaged. She was making huge gains.

On that particular day, Mia and I had been talking about grit and perseverance, and she’d just learned that my debut novel, American Betiya, was going to be published. Her excitement was palpable; she bounced in her seat. “Is your book funny?”

“Yes. I made sure to make it funny.”

Her deep brown eyes sparkled impishly. Rolling a couple dice we’d been using in her hands, she asked, “What’s it about?”

Ah, the dreaded question. How to explain the heart of my #ownvoices upper YA book about first love, family boundaries, and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship to a third grader? Or to anyone, for that matter?

“It’s about love, friendship, and family,” I say finally. “And how when people don’t see each other’s points of view, there can be a lot of hurt feelings.” I stop, suddenly uncertain. This went dark fast.

But she sat forward. “Oh, so there is, like, fighting in your book?”

“Some,” I admit. “Mainly it shows how even with people you love, sometimes you have to fight for who you are.”

She gazed at me a moment, this wise-beyond-her-years girl who has gone from skulking uncertainly to bounding happily into my classroom, brightening my day every time. “What if you don’t know who you are yet?”

“That’s a big part of the book,” I said. “Figuring out who you are.”

She considered this. “And you said it’s also funny.”

“Yep. There’s a lot of silliness with friends,” I said, watching a slow smile spread across her face. “A book can be funny and serious, happy and sad, right?”

“Yeah.” She studied me. “Those are actually my favorite kinds of books.” She set down the dice and grabbed a handful of rubber teddy bear counters. “You know The Watsons Go to Birmingham?”

I looked at her, genuinely stunned. “How did you know that’s one of my favorite books of all time?”

“What?! Mine too!” she crows happily. “It’s got everything in it.” She begins arranging the bears into a circle. “Like yours.”

Working with students, especially those from underrepresented communities, reminds me of why I wrote American Betiya. On its surface, it’s a story about breaking from social and family expectations, first love, and learning to embrace the beauty of your cultural identity amid your search for love and belonging. But it’s also a story about feminist allyship, and learning to become an upstander for yourself in the face of specific kinds of microaggressions—the kinds that arise in places we least expect. As my main character Rani hurtles headfirst into her quest for love while her often charming boyfriend behaves in questionable ways, the story reveals how true first love is your own sense of dignity—one that is sculpted messily over time.

Amid the widespread “love conquers all” narrative so common in young adult literature, I hoped instead to explore the way our cultural identities intersect with love, personal boundaries, and respect.

Usually, when we think of racism, we imagine hate crimes, strangers yelling slurs, and perhaps the reality of systemic racism. But managing racism and patriarchy in our closest relationships are nuances that are just beginning to arise in our cultural conversation. Working with Mia both in a small group versus individually reminded me that microaggressions in our daily relationships—sometimes even our closest relationships—are so challenging because of the faith you have placed in them. The trust you have in them. Having watched Mia navigate her complicated surroundings reminded me of what I had always wished I had had more of growing up: More allies in the face of microaggressions. A stronger sense of myself as I learned to embrace my own sense of identity. And stories about the same that told me I wasn’t alone.

I was late joining the small group of students in my room that included Mia. The students were already at the table, eating their snacks, and I overheard one student—a girl who presented at times as being a friend of Mia’s— mocking the snack Mia had brought, one that was specific to her culture. On the spot, we discussed how that kind of a comment makes people feel, how foods from different cultures are actually really cool, and I shared my personal favorite snack foods—samosas and chaklis. As we moved on to the math lesson, Mia was quiet, but I noticed that she participated more than usual. I even saw the flicker of a smile.

At eight, Mia already knew a lot about fielding microaggressions, bias, and stereotyping. She already knew what it was like to try to seek belonging in a predominantly white learning community that didn’t always value the ways she was different. She knew the stress and exhaustion of self-advocacy. She’s experienced how racism can come from anywhere, even those close to you. She recognizes that sometimes, staying silent is self-preservation, and yet how an ally stepping in can turn everything on its head.

When we were together—both BIPOC females in a predominantly white institution—my classroom became a newfound safe space for both of us. Over the months I got to work with her, I admired her resilience, her quiet tenacity, her grit. Her teacher eventually shared that Mia was slowly coming into her own in class, opening herself up to her peers in a way that felt like small progress. She taught me, in her quiet way, all about grace.

Mia and I shared a love for stories about characters from diverse cultures who experience the joys and challenges of growing up nonwhite in America. We both love characters that embrace their identity while discovering spaces that are imbued with a warm sense of belonging, of laughter. That genuine feeling of love.

I hope that when she’s old enough to read it, she finds all of that and more in American Betiya.

I hope it makes her proud.

*All names and personal details have been changed for privacy.

Meet the author

Anuradha D. Rajurkar is the recipient of the nationwide SCBWI Emerging Voices Award for her YA contemporary debut, American Betiya (Knopf). Born and raised in the Chicago area to South Asian immigrant parents, Anuradha earned two degrees from Northwestern University, and for many years had the joy of being a public school teacher by day, writer by night. Nowadays, when she’s not writing or reading, Anuradha spends her time hiking through forests with her husband, obsessing over her garden, watching old horror flicks with her sons, eating too many baked yummies, or roguishly knitting sweaters without their patterns. She hopes her stories will inspire teens to embrace their unique identities and inner badass despite outside pressures and cultural expectations. American Betiya is her first novel.

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About American Betiya

A luminous story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship. Perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson.

Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in—his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art—make him her mother’s worst nightmare.

They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself—and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.

Winner of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices award, Anuradha D. Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.

ISBN-13: 9781984897152
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Mail: New titles for middle grade and teen readers

Here are a slew of new and forthcoming titles. Some of these have arrived to me digitally. All summaries are from the publisher.

Call Me Him by River Braun (ISBN-13: 979-8557679978 Publisher: Independently Published Publication date: 12/01/2020, Ages 12 up)

Fight. Sleep. Repeat. That’s life for 14-year-old SoCal skate-punk Wylie Masterson. Like most teens, Wylie struggles with authority, puberty, and family. But when you’re a transgender male whose body, family, and society insist that you are female, the struggle to break out and live the life you were meant to live becomes a matter of life and death. Born Willow, Wylie wants nothing more than to escape his oppressive SoCal hometown and live the life he was meant to live—as a man, but his overly-religious mother has other plans for her “sweet, lovely daughter.”

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda (PAPERBACK ISBN-13: 9780525518235 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 12/29/2020 Series: Aurelian Cycle Series #1, Ages 12-17)

Game of Thrones meets Red Rising in a debut young adult fantasy that’s full of rivalry, romance . . . and dragons.

Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

From debut author Rosaria Munda comes a gripping adventure that calls into question which matters most: the family you were born into, or the one you’ve chosen.

Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge by Ann Bausum (ISBN-13: 9781426338540 Publisher: National Geographic Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 10-14)

“I’ve come on orders from Berlin to fetch the three children.” —Gestapo agent, August 24, 1944

With those chilling words Christa von Hofacker and her younger siblings found themselves ensnared in a web of family punishment designed to please one man—Adolf Hitler. The furious dictator sought merciless revenge against not only Christa’s father and the other Germans who had just tried to overthrow his government. He wanted to torment their relatives, too, regardless of age or stature. All of them. Including every last child. 

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. 

Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 2: Tater Invaders! by David Fremont (ISBN-13: 9781645950066 Publisher: Pixel+Ink Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 8-12)

More hilarious antics, more fast food, and more zany monsters combine in a treat middle grade graphic novel readers will devour in the second installment of the Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher series for fans of Lunch Lady and Dog Man.

Now that Carlton’s an official Creature Catcher with the Shady Plains police department, he’s on the hunt for a new monster. 

While taking a snack break with his buddy and faithful assistant Lulu, suddenly one of their tater tots comes alive! And that little robot tot dude leads them to whole underground world of evil potato creatures. 

Holy bacon bits!

It’s Carlton Crumple to the rescue, and he’ll have to get to the root of the problem before everything becomes a mashed potato mess!

David Fremont bring even more rolling-on-the-floor humor and fast-food fun in the second installment in his bright and brilliant middle grade graphic novel series, which will especially appeal to fans of series like Lunch Lady and Dog Man.

Ellie Makes Her Move by Marilyn Kaye (ISBN-13: 9780823446094 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/09/2021, Ages 8-12)

A magical spyglass reveals secrets that will bring four girls together in this new series.

Twelve-year-old Ellie is ordinary. Absolutely, positively ordinary. Then her dad’s latest community project makes their whole ritzy town, including all of Ellie’s friends, turn against them. Tired of being ostracized, Ellie’s family moves to the other side of the state to live in a rickety 100-year-old house complete with a turret—and Ellie swears off friendship forever.

That is until Ellie explores the turret and discovers an old-fashioned telescope—a spyglass. When she looks through it, the world she sees isn’t the same that’s out the window. There’s a community center that isn’t built yet and her new classmate Alyssa flying around on a broomstick!

To figure out what the magical images mean, Ellie recruits other self-described loners, Alyssa and Rachel. When they see a vision of fellow student Kiara playing tag with a tiger and a donkey—they have their first real spyglass secret to solve.

The New York Times best-selling author behind the Gifted series and the Replica books, Marilyn Kaye delivers a story filled with light magic and heart in this first book in the Spyglass Sisterhood series. Each girl will take a turn at the spyglass, confronting fears and sticking up for her peers.

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Rucker Moses, Theo Gangi (ISBN-13: 9780525516866 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/16/2021, Ages 10-14)

Magic has all but disappeared in Brooklyn, but one tenacious young magician is determined to bring it back in this exciting middle grade mystery.

Kingston has just moved from the suburbs back to Echo City, Brooklyn—the last place his father was seen alive. Kingston’s father was King Preston, one of the world’s greatest magicians. Until one trick went wrong and he disappeared. Now that Kingston is back in Echo City, he’s determined to find his father.

Somehow, though, when his father disappeared, he took all of Echo City’s magic with him. Now Echo City—a ghost of its past—is living up to its name. With no magic left, the magicians have packed up and left town and those who’ve stayed behind don’t look too kindly on any who reminds them of what they once had.

When Kingston finds a magic box his father left behind as a clue, Kingston knows there’s more to his father’s disappearance than meets the eye. He’ll have to keep it a secret—that is, until he can restore magic to Echo City. With his cousin Veronica and childhood friend Too Tall Eddie, Kingston works to solve the clues, but one wrong move and his father might not be the only one who goes missing.

Life in the Balance by Jen Petro-Roy (ISBN-13: 9781250619730 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 02/16/2021, Ages 8-12)

Veronica struggles to balance softball, friends, and family turmoil in this new honest and heartfelt middle grade novel by Jen Petro-Roy, Life in the Balance.

Veronica Conway has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. She’s practically been playing the game since she was a baby. She should have this tryout on lock.

Except right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team.

Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much.

Is her mom the only one learning balance, or can Veronica find a way to discover what she really wants to do with her life?

Daughter of the White Rose by Diane Zahler (ISBN-13: 9780823446070 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/16/2021, Ages 8-12)

Can a common girl save a prince trapped in the Tower of London?

April. England. 1483. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Nell Gould is the daughter of the royal butcher, a commoner, but she has been raised as the playmate of King Edward and Queen Elizabeth’s royal children: Princess Cecily, Princess Bess, Prince Dickon, and Prince Ned, heir apparent and Nell’s best and closest friend. They think alike, her and Ned, preferring books and jousts to finery and gossip and the sparkle of the court. But when King Edward dies, Prince Ned is imprisoned in the Tower of London by his scheming uncle, the evil Richard III—and Nell with him. Can they escape? Is Nell the key?

Based on the real royal scandal of the Princes in the Tower, Daughter of the White Rose covers a shocking episode in medieval history that has captured the imagination for 530 years. A story of murder, betrayal, resilience, and growing up, this girl-led medieval middle-grade novel will make a perfect companion to Catherine, Called Birdy and The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.

Dragonfly Girl by Marti Leimbach (ISBN-13: 9780062995865 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/23/2021, Ages 13-17)

In this spellbinding thriller and YA debut from bestselling author Marti Leimbach, Kira Adams has discovered a cure for death—and it may just cost her life.

Things aren’t going well for Kira. At home, she cares for her mother and fends off debt collectors. At school, she’s awkward and shy. Plus, she may flunk out if she doesn’t stop obsessing about science, her passion and the one thing she’s good at . . . very good at.

When she wins a prestigious science contest she draws the attention of the celebrated professor Dr. Gregory Munn (as well as his handsome assistant), leading to a part-time job in a top-secret laboratory. 

The job is mostly cleaning floors and equipment, but one night, while running her own experiment, she revives a lab rat that has died in her care. 

One minute it is dead, the next it is not.

Suddenly she’s the remarkable wunderkind, the girl who can bring back the dead. Everything is going her way. But it turns out that science can be a dangerous business, and Kira is swept up into a world of international rivalry with dark forces that threaten her life. 

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.

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. 

Violet and the Pie of Life by D. L. 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.

Flamefall by Rosaria Munda (ISBN-13: 9780525518242 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/23/2021 Series: Aurelian Cycle Series #2, Ages 12-17)

Revolutionary flames ignite around Annie, Lee, and a brand new character in the follow-up to FIREBORNE.

After fleeing the revolution and settling into the craggy cliffs of New Pythos, the dragonlords are eager to punish their usurpers and reclaim their city. Their first order of business was destroying the Callipolan food supply. Now they’re coming for the dragonriders.

Annie is Callipolis’s new Firstrider, charged with leading the war against New Pythos. But with unrest at home, enforcing the government’s rationing program risks turning her into public enemy number one.

Lee struggles to find his place after killing kin for a leader who betrayed him. He can support Annie and the other Guardians . . . or join the rebels who look to topple the new regime.

Griff, a lowborn dragonrider who serves New Pythos, knows he has no future. And now that Julia Stormscourge is no longer there to protect him, he is called on to sacrifice everything for the lords that oppress his people—or to forge a new path with the Callipolan Firstrider seeking his help.

With famine tearing Callipolis apart and the Pythians determined to take back what they lost, it will be up to Annie, Lee, and Griff to decide who—and what—to fight for.

Six Feet Below Zero by Ena Jones (ISBN-13: 9780823446223 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 04/13/2021, 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.

Homewrecker by Deanna Cameron (ISBN-13: 9781989365472 Publisher: Wattpad Books Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 14+)

They say it is quietest in the eye of a storm…they lied.

Bronwyn’s mother is late. Again. Sitting on the edge of the sidewalk, waiting, Bronwyn figures she’s flaked out again. She’s always flaking out. Stomping home ready for a fight, Bronwyn is met by a cataclysmic tornado heading directly toward their run-down trailer. Bronwyn barely escapes with her life. Her mother isn’t as lucky.

Enter Senator Soliday, a.k.a. Bronwyn’s estranged father, who shows up at the hospital and takes her home with him, to a family she’s never been a part of, to people who have proved again and again they don’t want her. Confused, resentful, absolutely raging, Bronwyn enters a world she’s never been privy to, while reeling from the news that her mother wasn’t killed by the tornado but murdered

Torn between two identities: the daughter of a single drug addict and the middle child of a well-respected senator, Bronwyn is forced to navigate through this new, unfamiliar life alone and with a gut feeling she can’t shake.

Her mother’s killer isn’t unfamiliar.

The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons (ISBN-13: 9781984815408 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 12-17)

Love, Simon meets Bend It Like Beckham in this feel-good contemporary romance about a trans teen who must decide between standing up for his rights and staying stealth.

“A sharply observant and vividly drawn debut. I loved every minute I spent in this story, and I’ve never rooted harder for a jock in my life.” – New York Timesbestselling author Becky Albertalli 

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham in training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of isolation and bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio. 

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boys’ soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans—he’s passing. 

But when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even though it would mean coming out to everyone—including the guy he’s falling for.

A Dragonbird in the Fern by Laura Rueckert (ISBN-13: 9781635830651 Publisher: North Star Editions Publication date: 08/03/2021, Ages 14-18)

When an assassin kills Princess Jiara’s older sister Scilla, her vengeful ghost is doomed to walk their city of glittering canals, tormenting loved ones until the murderer is brought to justice. While the entire kingdom mourns, Scilla’s betrothed arrives and requests that seventeen-year-old Jiara take her sister’s place as his bride to confirm the alliance between their countries.
Marrying the young king intended for her sister and traveling to his distant home is distressing enough, but with dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, Jiara abandoned any hope of learning other languages long ago. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land where she’ll be unable to communicate. 
Then Jiara discovers evidence that her sister’s assassin comes from the king’s own country. If she marries the king, Jiara can hunt the murderer and release her family from Scilla’s ghost, whose thirst for blood mounts every day. To save her family, Jiara must find her sister’s killer . . . before he murders her too.

Post-It Note Reviews: Books about gentrification, Black boyhood, time travel, the Greenwood Massacre, 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!

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

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles (ISBN-13: 9780593175170 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 01/26/2021, Ages 8-12)

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That—and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games—is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late?

Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong—to a place and a movement—and to fight for what you believe in.

(POST-IT SAYS: A great look at gentrification, community, activism, social justice, and friendship. Wes and friends don’t always say or do the right thing, but ultimately are there for each other. Great narration and vivid characters.)

You Have a Match by Emma Lord (ISBN-13: 9781250237309 Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 12-18)

A new love, a secret sister, and a summer she’ll never forget.

From the beloved author of Tweet Cute comes Emma Lord’s You Have a Match, a hilarious and heartfelt novel of romance, sisterhood, and friendship…

When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents — especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones. 

(POST-IT SAYS: An overall sweet read about family, friendship, and romance with an engaging voice and fun summer camp setting that requires a good suspension of disbelief. Will appeal to those who like drama in their stories. Adding that this is not a really great depiction of adoption from any angle—and Leo’s transracial adoption story is largely ignored.)

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (ISBN-13: 9780062846716 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 14-17)

International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood.

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

(POST-IT SAYS: No surprise that this was great. A powerful look at family, loss, belonging, love, aspiration, and choices. Loved to learn Mav’s story and see familiar characters along the way.)

Every Single Lie by Rachel Vincent (ISBN-13: 9781547605231 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 14-18)

In this gripping YA novel about social media bullying and half-truths, one girl’s shocking discovery of a dead baby in her high school locker room rocks an entire community.

Nobody in sixteen-year-old Beckett’s life seems to be telling the whole story. Her boyfriend Jake keeps hiding texts, which could mean he’s cheating on her. Her father lied about losing his job and so much more before his shocking death. And everyone in school seems to be whispering about her and her family behind her back.

But none of that compares to the day Beckett finds the body of a newborn baby in a gym bag—Jake’s gym bag—on the floor of her high school locker room. As word leaks out, rumors that Beckett’s the mother take off like wildfire in a town all too ready to believe the worst of her.

Beckett soon finds herself facing threats and accusations both heartbreaking and dangerous. Nobody believes her side of the story, and as the police investigation unfolds, she discovers that everyone has a secret to hide and the truth could alter everything she thought she knew.

A page-turning thriller set in a small Southern community, Every Single Lie is a jaw-dropping, twisty must-read for fans of Sadie.

(POST-IT SAYS: A solid read that will appeal to those that like stories where horrible things happen. The mystery of the dead baby’s parents will keep readers engaged. Action-packed.)

The Afterlife of the Party by Marlene Perez (ISBN-13: 9781640639027 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 02/02/2021 Series: Afterlife #1, Ages 14-18)

I didn’t even want to go to the party.

Seriously, I’d rather have stayed home with my librarian-witch grandmother and her mystical book club than go. But my best friend Skyler begged me. So I went.

And it was the worst party of my life. Actually, it was the last party of my life.

Not only was there something very strange about the band, but the lead singer bit me afterwards. And then took off with Skyler.

Now I’m chasing down a band of dangerous vamps with my best guy friend Vaughn—the boy I’ve been secretly crushing on forever.

But anything can happen on the road.

I thought all I wanted was for things to change with Vaughn. For him to finally see the real me. But this wasn’t what I had in mind…

Let the afterlife begin.

(POST-IT SAYS: Pure fun. Quippy main character, fast-paced plot, and tons of twists. A lot goes unexplored and is underdeveloped, but if you want a clever paranormal adventure, this will satisfy.)

Yesterday Is History by Kosoko Jackson (ISBN-13: 9781492694342 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 14-18)

A romantic, heart-felt, and whimsical novel about letting go of the past, figuring out what you want in your future, and staying in the moment before it passes you by.

Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.

He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.

And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.

Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.

Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.

(POST-IT SAYS: I burned through this interesting take on a love triangle. The time traveling is never really explained, but that’s okay because this story is full of so much goodness I could overlook that.)

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman (ISBN-13: 9780061998676 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/09/2021, Ages 14-17)

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.

The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

This high-concept novel from the National Book Award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author of the Arc of a Scythe series tackles the most urgent themes of our time, making this a must-buy for readers who are starting to ask big questions about their own role in the universe.

(POST-IT SAYS: Ash discovers he’s the literal center of the universe in this speculative fiction look at identity, experience, interconnectedness, and privilege. A super interesting, twisty, unpredictable look at parallel universes/the multiverse.)

Claudia and the New Girl (The Baby-sitters Club Graphic Novel #9) by Ann M. Martin, Gabriela Epstein (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338304589 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 8-12)

A brand-new Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adapted by newcomer Gabriela Epstein!

Claudia has always been the most creative kid in her class… until Ashley Wyeth comes along. Ashley’s really different: She wears hippie clothes and has multiple earrings, and she’s the most fantastic artist Claudia has ever met.

Ashley says Claudia is a great artist, too, but thinks she’s wasting her artistic talent with The Baby-sitters Club. When Claudia starts spending more time with Ashley and missing BSC meetings, it becomes clear that Claudia has to make a decision — one of them has to go!

(POST-IT SAYS: Totally in love with these graphic novels—BSC forever! Such a good look at negotiating a new friendship and all that comes with it. The new illustrator did a great job.)

Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink (ISBN-13: 9781250768476 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 12-17)

Randi Pink’s The Angel of Greenwood is a historical YA novel that takes place during the Greenwood Massacre of 1921, in an area of Tulsa, OK, known as the “Black Wall Street.”…

Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Wilson is, on the surface, a town troublemaker, but is hiding that he is an avid reader and secret poet, never leaving home without his journal. A passionate follower of W.E.B. Du Bois, he believes that black people should rise up to claim their place as equals.

Sixteen-year-old Angel Hill is a loner, mostly disregarded by her peers as a goody-goody. Her father is dying, and her family’s financial situation is in turmoil. Also, as a loyal follower of Booker T. Washington, she believes, through education and tolerance, that black people should rise slowly and without forced conflict.

Though they’ve attended the same schools, Isaiah never noticed Angel as anything but a dorky, Bible toting church girl. Then their English teacher offers them a job on her mobile library, a three-wheel, two-seater bike. Angel can’t turn down the money and Isaiah is soon eager to be in such close quarters with Angel every afternoon.

But life changes on May 31, 1921 when a vicious white mob storms the community of Greenwood, leaving the town destroyed and thousands of residents displaced. Only then, Isaiah, Angel, and their peers realize who their real enemies are.

(POST-IT SAYS: More about Black life, thought, politics, and love in Greenwood at the time of the massacre than the massacre itself. Beautiful, powerful, lyrical, and full of so much heart and life. I love Isaiah and Angel’s connection.)

Book Review: What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson

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

Roaring Brook. Apr. 2021. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250268099.

 Gr 9 Up–A desperate boy risks everything to keep his brother out of foster care in this heart-pounding and heartbreaking story of survival and sacrifice. Seventeen-year-old Jack and his second-grade brother, Matty, only have each other. With their father incarcerated and their mother recently deceased, their only hope of sticking together is finding the money their father went to prison for stealing. Deeply impoverished and terrified of child protective services getting involved, Jack sets out to track down that cash, pursued at every turn by drug dealers and Bardem, his father’s partner in crime. His only hope comes in the form of Ava, who decides to help them and gets wrapped up in their mission. But Ava’s secret—that she’s Bardem’s daughter—guarantees there is no way things can end happily. Unremittingly bleak and gritty, this suspenseful story centers around the ravages of poverty and drug addiction that have left Jack and Matty with nothing. Breathtakingly beautiful writing and tender characters collide with a brutal plot filled with bloodshed and anguish. The body count piles up as Jack, Matty, and Ava try to hide in the quiet, frigid emptiness of rural Idaho, never more than half a step ahead of their hunters. The lengths Jack goes to keep his family together and the obstacles he faces will leave readers gutted. A gorgeous, intense, and shocking look at chaos, survival, fate, and betrayal. Characters’ ethnicities aren’t named and Jack and Matty are described as pale.

VERDICT A first purchase and a must-read. Prepare to be haunted and chilled to the bone by this exceptional story.

Book Review: Reckless, Glorious, Girl by Ellen Hagan

Publisher’s description

The co-author of Watch Us Rise pens a novel in verse about all the good and bad that comes with middle school, growing up girl, and the strength of family that gets you through it.

Beatrice Miller may have a granny’s name (her granny’s, to be more specific), but she adores her Mamaw and her mom, who give her every bit of wisdom and love they have. But the summer before seventh grade, Bea wants more than she has, aches for what she can’t have, and wonders what the future will bring. 

This novel in verse follows Beatrice through the ups and downs of friendships, puberty, and identity as she asks: Who am I? Who will I become? And will my outside ever match the way I feel on the inside?

A gorgeous, inter-generational story of Southern women and a girl’s path blossoming into her sense of self, Reckless, Glorious, Girl explores the important questions we all ask as we race toward growing up.

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, how I hope middle schoolers pick up this book. Beatrice is asking the biggest question: who am I? Having recently survived parenting a human through middle school, I am convinced that, in general, there is no worse age, no worse time, no worse everything than middle school. What a hard age. Hagan deftly captures how complicated this age is, and how all-consuming the questions of identity and fitting in can be.

I loved this book for a lot of reasons, and one of the biggest is Beatrice’s relationship with her grandma (Mamaw) and her mom. It’s loving and inspiring and accepting even when it’s challenging and frustrating and disappointing. With her Mamaw, she has a wonderful role model for embracing eccentricity and being yourself, whoever that is. She encourages Beatrice not to observe life from the sidelines, but to get right in there and live life.

Beatrice longs to show people more of who she really is, the parts that no one ever sees, her multitudes and complexities. She’s feeling a pull between her old self and the new self she maybe wants to be. She knows she sometimes mimics who she’s with, that she changes depending on who she’s around and the expectations. She’s worried about shaving, bras, periods, dating, kissing, and popularity. She wants to be noticed, to be really seen, to be liked by a boy. She does and feels all these things in the company of two totally accepting and unique best friends, friends who let her grow and change and make mistakes. Listen, for middle school? that’s a great depiction of friendship.

The message to be yourself, to be free, to not let others define you, and to not hide yourself away comes across loud and clear as we watch Beatrice fumble her way through early adolescence. This novel in verse will speak to many who so totally and completely relate to how Beatrice is feeling. She’s yet another middle grade character I want to give a hug and say, I know this is hard, but you will be okay. Thankfully, she has wonderful people in her life to do this. A beautifully written book with an empowering message.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547604609
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/23/2021
Age Range: 8 – 11 Years

Questions, Anyone? a guest post by Neal Shusterman

When I have speaking engagements, even virtual ones, I like to do all questions-and-answers.  Sometimes it panics the more control-oriented administrators.  They’re terrified that their students will ask something inappropriate or won’t ask anything at all.  Never happens.  And even when someone in the audience asks something meant to rattle me, it doesn’t work—because I love thinking on my feet.

            Q: “How come so many people vomit in your book?”

             A: “Well, if you were going through what the characters go through, you’d hurl, too.” 

            Q: “How many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

            A: “Three.  And here’s why three is such an important number in storytelling…”

            Q: “Mr. Shusterman, what planet are you from?” 

            A: “A planet that your puny human telescopes have yet to discover.”

The thing about relating to an audience is that if you talk at them, they get this passive, glazed-over look.  They might engage, but only as a recipient, not as a participant.  I would rather get a slew of “What’s your favorite color” questions than spend an hour giving a lecture.  Invariably the questions I am asked are the things I would talk about anyway, but at least now the audience owns the answers.

A book is exactly the same.  Reading a book can be a passive experience or an active one.  An author can spoon-feed a story, a message, a moral—as if the author knows all the answers and has deigned to impart their wisdom to the masses.

Or an author can make the reader uncomfortable by offering questions with no easy answers.  Moral ambiguity; unintended consequences of our most noble actions; characters who face impossible choices but must decide anyway.  Because if you make the readers work for it, they will own the answers they find.

To me that is what writing is all about.  Not being afraid to ask hard questions.  Now don’t get me wrong—I am afraid.  In fact I’m terrified when I ask the hard questions, perseverating on all the things that can go wrong in the asking–especially now, when everyone on all sides of every issue is furious, and just looking for a reason to criticize.

And so what do I do?  Like an idiot, I throw into the raging inferno this Molotov cocktail called Game ChangerWhy would I write a book that peers into so many open wounds in society?  What would possess me to do such a thing, knowing that we’re all working our last nerve?

This might sound like a writerly BS answer, but it’s the truth:  I could not NOT write it.  Once the idea (and terror) took hold, I felt that I would be cheating if I didn’t write it. I would be a fraud, because I didn’t have the courage to tell the story that was screaming at me.  That is, after all, what I always tell students: I only write stories that scream at me and demand to be told.  So if I demanded that this story shut the hell up, I’d be a hypocrite.

Why was the story screaming?  That comes back to a question that I always get asked—more often from adults than from kids.  “What do you want readers to take away from your books?”  The answer to that is always the same.

Perspective. 

If there’s one belief that infuses everything that I write, it’s that perspective is the only way we’ll ever come close to answering the hard questions.  The more angles from which we can view a problem, the more likely we’re going to have the epiphanies and find the inspiration we need to solve it.

Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect?  All about illusory superiority, self-awareness, and meta-cognition.  In a nutshell, the two titular social psychologists postulated and proved that the less of an expert you are, the more of an expert you believe you are.   In other words, ignorance fuels itself, and the only way to deprive it of an energy source is through greater and greater perspective. It’s an ironic truth: the more you realize you don’t know, the more you actually do.  

Game Changer is all about a character learning empathy and killing the fuel source of his own ignorance.  The story is told from the point of view of a fairly oblivious white male heterosexual teen—but in the course of the story, he’s going to have all his notions of the world, and of himself, challenged.  He’s going to have a crash course in racism, sexism, homophobia, and privilege through a series of alternate realities that give him perspectives he could never have otherwise experienced.

 Now, before you go saying, “Great, another straight-white-male-hero-who-saves-the-world story,” I want to make it clear that my goal was to do precisely the opposite.  This is a story about that all-too-familiar character learning that he’s not the hero he thought he was, and, in fact, the only reason the world needs saving is because of his own actions… and inaction.   He can’t fix everything.  The best he can possibly do is find a place to start.

I set out to model how to accept personal and social responsibility, even when it’s painful.  Accountability is not something that just happens.  You have to grow into it—and resistance to accountability can often happen because someone doesn’t know how to get there.

It is always my hope that my stories will reach those who need to read them and offer them perspective they didn’t know they were missing. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  As a writer, I want to take that even further.  It’s more than just walking in someone’s shoes—it’s also understanding the reason for the journey.  I want to show readers what it means to be the road.

And if that leads to more questions than answers, then I’ve done my job! 

Meet the author

Photo credit: Gaby Gerster

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels for children, teens, and adults. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep-and his novel, Scythe, was a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor book-and is in development with Universal Studios as a feature film. His novel, Unwind, has become part of the literary canon in many school districts across the country-and has won more than thirty domestic and international awards. He co-wrote his most recent novel, Dry, with his son Jarrod, and in addition to being on numerous award lists, Dry is currently in development with Paramount Pictures. His upcoming novel, Game Changer, is in development with Netflix as a TV series, and he is co-writing the pilot episode.

Shusterman has also received awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, and has garnered a myriad of state and local awards across the country. His talents range from film directing, to writing music and stage plays, and has even tried his hand at creating games.

Shusterman has earned a reputation as a storyteller and dynamic speaker. As a speaker, he is in constant demand at schools and conferences. Degrees in both psychology and drama give him a unique approach to writing, and his novels always deal with topics that appeal to adults as well as teens, weaving true-to-life characters into sensitive and riveting issues, and binding it all together with a unique and entertaining sense of humor. Neal lives in California but spends much of his time travelling the world speaking and signing books for readers.

Website: http://www.storyman.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nealshusterman

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NealShusterman

About Game Changer

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.

The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

This high-concept novel from the National Book Award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author of the Arc of a Scythe series tackles the most urgent themes of our time, making this a must-buy for readers who are starting to ask big questions about their own role in the universe.

ISBN-13: 9780061998676
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years