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Book Review: By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Publisher’s description

Heart-wrenchingly honest, fans of Brandy Colbert and Nicola Yoon will anticiapte this poignant reflection on what it means to choose yourself.

On the day Torrey moves and officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bank is foreclosing on the bee farm his Uncle Miles left him.

Torrey’s worked hard to become the first member of his family to go to college, but while the neighborhood held him back emotionally, Uncle Miles encouraged him to reach his full potential. For years, it was just the two of them tending the farm. So Torrey can’t let someone erase his uncle’s legacy without a fight.

He tries balancing his old life in L.A. with his new classes, new friends, and (sort of) new boyfriend in San Francisco, but as the farm heads for auction, the pressure of juggling everything threatens to tear him apart. Can he make a choice between his family and his future without sacrificing a part of himself?

Amanda’s thoughts

Hey, this was great. Here’s why: FANTASTIC voice. Set in the first weeks of college. It tackles gentrification. It revolves around an APIARY. And did I mention the FANTASTIC VOICE?

Torrey, who is Black and gay, is excited to finally get out of where he grew up. But as soon as he arrives as SFSU, he learns two things that throw him for a loop: One, unpaid taxes means he’s about to lose the bee farm he inherited from his uncle. Two, Gabe, a boy Torrey was really into in junior high (and who then moved to Ohio) is also at SFSU. Gabe is Afro-Latinx and bi and has a girlfriend, but it’s clear that Torrey and Gabe still have lots of intense feelings for each other. But instead of figuring out college classes, making new friends, and potentially getting together with Gabe, Torrey has this MUCH bigger thing looming over him. Losing the bee farm would be devastating. He feels so much guilt and obligation and also frustration over the entire situation. He contemplates what to do during the two weeks until the add/drop period ends, wondering if his choice has to be all or nothing—go home? Stay at college? Somehow save the farm? It’s a lot for an eighteen-year-old to deal with.

But he’s used to it.

His mom is in a medically-induced coma, his uncle was killed, and his only real family is his aunt and his homophobic grandpa. He’s been dealing with hard stuff for a long time. He’s also used to taking care of the adults in his life. Now, during a time that theoretically should be all about him finally, he’s still having to worry about taking care of people and doing the right thing. He’s also super used to people leaving, so to fall in with this great found family at school, and to start to see more community and connections, makes him want to figure out both parts of his life—continuing on at college and somehow keeping things going with the apiary.

This is an immensely readable look at gentrification, systemic oppression, protest, action, community, and having your voice heard. It’s also a very sweet love story as well as sort of a best case scenario college story (you like your roommate! you have instant friends! a cool prof immediately takes you under her wing!). And, I can’t stress this enough, the main thing that this book has going for it is its voice. Torrey’s narration just comes alive. A great suggestion for anyone looking to read at the upper edges of YA and a good addition to the growing number of books that tackle gentrification.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624147999
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 10/08/2019

Post-It Reviews: Graphic Novels Galore!

Here are some quick reviews of a few of the books I’ve read and enjoyed over the past few months. As I’ve been busy juggling library work, parenting, writing, blogging, and working on a secret project that has required a TON of reading (don’t worry, I’ll share eventually), I found myself reading a lot of graphic novels in what little free time I could find. I’m a huge fan of graphic novels and comic books.

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.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.

The Secret of Danger Point (Surfside Girls Series #1) by Kim Dwinell

Sun… sand… and spooky adventures!

Things are getting weird in Surfside. Lately, Samantha’s best friend Jade explodes into fits of giggles whenever she sees a boy, and it’s throwing a wrench into the kick-back summer of surfing and hanging out that Sam had planned. But after swimming through a secret underwater cave, Sam starts to… see things. Like ghosts. And pirates. And maybe something even scarier! Can she and Jade get to the bottom of this mystery in time to save their town?

(Post-it says: The writing and depth of the story is pretty meh, but the kids at my school devour graphic novels so this very tame mystery will circulate plenty. The art is fun and the surfing, skateboarding girls are adept, if kind of dull, sleuths. Ages 8-11)

Stranger Things: The Other Side (Graphic Novel, Volume 1) by Jody Houser, Stefano Martino (Illustrator), Keith Champagn (Illustrator)

The hit Netflix series from the Duffer Brothers is now a spine-tingling comic that recounts Will Beyers’ harrowing survival in the treacherous Upside Down!

When Will Byers finds himself in the Upside Down, an impossible dark parody of his own world, he’s understandably frightened. But that’s nothing compared with the fear that takes hold when he realizes what’s in that world with him! 

Follow Will’s struggle through the season one events of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things! Written by Jody Houser (Mother Panic, Faith) and illustrated by Stefano Martino (Doctor Who, Catwoman).

(POST-IT SAYS: If you’ve watched the show and wondered, “But what happened while Will was missing in the upside-down?” this book’s for you. Satisfyingly adds a lot to the story we get on the show. A must-read for fans. Ages 11+)

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board (Making Friends #2) by Kristen Gudsnuk

Dany, Madison, and…wait-another Dany?!-must navigate some very complicated friendships while trying to capture a magical dog that is turning their town upside-down!

Almost everything is going great for Dany. She and Madison are still best friends, she still has her magic sketchbook, and the new school year is looking up. But when Dany creates a duplicate of herself to secretly help with homework and raise her social status, the two of them accidentally unleash a magical dog that wreaks supernatural havoc on the town. Now, with the big school dance coming up, time is running short for Dany, Madison, and their friends to set things right before the night is completely ruined!

(POST-IT SAYS: Definitely read book #1 in this series or you’ll be so lost. Wacky scifi plot mixes with relatable middle school issues. Very busy illustrations and an overstuffed plot mean it may take readers a while to finish this. Ages 9+)

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Harmony Becker (Illustrator)

A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself — in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

(POST-IT SAYS: I hope this book is already on your library shelves or in your hold queue. This profoundly moving memoir of one of the US’s darkest periods brings history to life through deeply emotional personal reflections. One of the best books I’ve read this year. Ages 12+)

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream is at once a coming-of-age story and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.

Malaka Gharib’s triumphant graphic memoir brings to life her teenage antics and illuminates earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into the lives of modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children they raised. Malaka’s story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream.

(POST-IT SAYS: Follows Malaka from childhood to present adulthood. A funny and authentic look at being part of a multiple cultures. The ever-changing layout/format, self-deprecating tone and illustrations, and real exploration of family and culture makes this a hit. Ages 13+)

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.  

(POST-IT SAYS: An important, honest, and raw look at gender and identity. Affirming and educational, Kobabe doesn’t shy away from complicated or painful feelings or experiences. Ages 16+)

Best Friends by Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

Bestselling creators of Real Friends Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with a true story about popularity, first crushes, and finding your own path in the graphic novel, Best Friends.

Follow your heart. Find your people.

Sixth grade is supposed to be perfect. Shannon’s got a sure spot in the in-crowd called The Group, and her best friend is their leader, Jen, the most popular girl in school.

But the rules are always changing, and Shannon has to scramble to keep up. She never knows which TV shows are cool, what songs to listen to, and who she’s allowed to talk to. Who makes these rules, anyway? And does Shannon have to follow them?

(POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal! Should be required reading for all 5th-7th graders–so much insight into friendship, popularity, identity, and important looks at anxiety disorder. Love this even more than book 1. Ages 8-13)

Bloom by Kevin Panetta, Savanna Ganucheau (Illustrator)

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

(POST-IT SAYS: A sweet romance that gets to happen because charismatic Hector puts up with Ari, who still has a lot of growing up to do. I liked that both characters weren’t quite settled into what life after high school looks like. Ages 14+)

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Ryan Andrews’s This Was Our Pact is an astonishing, magical-realist adventure story for middle-grade readers.

It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they’ve made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben’s disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in.

Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.

*And a talking bear.

(POST-IT SAYS: A strange and fantastical story. Dreamlike adventure and fantasy mix with themes of friendship and astronomy. Gorgeous art. I loved the ending. Ages 9-13)

Boy-Crazy Stacey (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novel #7) by Ann M. Martin, Gale Galligan (Illustrator)

A brand-new graphic novel adapted by USA Today bestselling author Gale Galligan!

Stacey and Mary Anne are baby-sitting for the Pike family for two weeks at the New Jersey shore. Things are great in Sea City: There’s a gorgeous house right on the beach, a boardwalk, plenty of sun and sand… and the cutest boy Stacey has ever seen!

Mary Anne thinks that Stacey should leave Scott alone and focus on the Pike kids, but Stacey’s in love. Looking for reasons to hang around his lifeguard stand takes up all her time, which means Mary Anne has to do the job of two baby-sitters! How can she tell Stacey that Scott just isn’t interested without ruining their friendship and breaking Stacey’s heart?

(POST-IT SAYS: I’m always as excited for these as the students are! Just enough dating/liking someone and friend drama with plenty of the usual BSC excitement. They can’t crank these out fast enough. PS—Did you know Stacey moved from New York? 🙂 Ages 8-12)

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Roller Girl in this hilarious, one-of-a-kind graphic novel about a half-witch who has just discovered the truth about herself, her family, and her town and is doing her best to survive middle school now that she knows everything!

Magic is harder than it looks.

Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all! When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. Secrets surface from generations past as Moth unravels the complicated legacy at the heart of her town, her family, and herself.

In this spellbinding graphic novel debut, Emma Steinkellner spins a story packed with humor and heart about the weird and wonderful adventures of a witch-in-progress.

(POST-IT SAYS: So fun and cute. Tons of dialogue, fantastic characters, and vibrant art. This will be mega popular in elementary and middle school collections. A must-have book. Ages 9-13)

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing is a heartwarming middle-grade graphic novel in the spirit of Real Friends and El Deafo, from New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Jen Wang.

Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.

But after Moon moves in next door, these unlikely friends are soon best friends, sharing their favorite music videos and painting their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she has visions, sometimes, of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

Moon’s visions have an all-too-earthly root, however, and soon Christine’s best friend is in the hospital, fighting for her life. Can Christine be the friend Moon needs, now, when the sky is falling?

Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope.

(POST-IT SAYS: A great story about unlikely friends, expanding your horizons, and community and identity. Moon’s brain tumor late in the story adds a solemn layer to this story about middle grade friendships. Ages 8-12)


With Her Nose Stuck in a Book, a guest post by Jessica Burkhart

Reading has always been my thing. When I was six, my parents were barely able to get me out of my “Belle” costume. I didn’t want to wear the fancy yellow ballgown, no. I was all about the casual blue and white dress that Belle wore as she walked through town and carried a book or two in her basket. I didn’t dream about turning the Beast into a handsome prince, but I did daydream about living in a castle with an expansive library. What more did a girl need?

My love of books propelled me through my elementary school days and I devoured every horse book I could get my hands on, since I’d started riding horses in second grade. My favorite series were Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell and Bonnie Bryant’s The Saddle Club. If it was a horse book, I’d read it or had it on my list to read.   

In middle school, I relied on books to help me hide from my peers. And I really did want to hide. I’d developed a case of severe scoliosis and even spending 22 hours a day in a back brace didn’t slow the growing hump on my back. I had to stop riding because I couldn’t move without pain and had trouble taking a deep breath. After a spinal fusion in eighth grade and during the long, painful recovery, I devoured Harry Potter.

In high school, I obsessed over YA and romance novels. I adored works by Megan McCafferty and Meg Cabot. Works by these authors helped me feel less alone as a homeschooler who was already a bit isolated from my peers.

By college, I’d written my first book, TAKE THE REINS, and soon landed an agent. My middle grade novel, about equestrians at an elite boarding school, drew inspiration from books that I’d loved as a kid and young teen. While writing the bulk of my series, the books I’d drop anything to read were Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard and Kate Brian’s Private.

My own writing career had taken off and I was living and breathing books. If I wasn’t talking about them with friends, I was blogging or Tweeting about them. I spent one day a week walking down to my Brooklyn neighborhood’s Barnes & Noble and combing the shelves for new reads or discovering old favorites that I’d forgotten. I bought as many bookshelves as my apartment could handle and even then, they weren’t enough to hold all my books.  

But one night, reading stopped being fun. I’d open a book and be flooded with anxiety. It kept happening no matter what kind of book I tried to read. I thought I’d take a break, catch up on some Netflix and the feeling would surely go away.

It didn’t.

I didn’t want to open a book or keep track of new releases or chat with my friends about the huge plot twist in the latest installment in our favorite series. I stopped visiting Simon & Schuster’s office and loading up my backpack with new reads. Everything I’d loved about books was gone and all I could feel was shame. In my eyes, I was broken. I was an author and books were not only my hobby, but also part of my job. I couldn’t tell anyone about being filled with dread if I so much as even thought about reading. So, I quietly muted all my bookish friends on social media. I deleted the Goodreads app. I stopped going to the bookstore.

It took over a year for me to realize that this wasn’t my fault. My severe anxiety and depression that had robbed me of any desire to read were to blame. I considered myself fairly well-versed in mental health topics, but I hadn’t recognized it in myself.

This pushed me to organize an anthology, LIFE INSIDE MY MIND: 31 AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PERSONAL STRUGGLES. I wanted to gather stories from other authors who had struggled with mental health because I didn’t want another person to experience the shame and feelings of worthlessness that I’d struggled with.

The book sold and hit shelves and I was still just coming around to reading. Books still felt daunting and since I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other writers, I fell into fanfiction. I spent almost a year reading nothing but fics written around my then favorite shows—ONCE UPON A TIME and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

Last fall, I picked up a book and started reading. Maybe four or five hours later, I looked at the clock and did a quick check in with myself. Sweaty palms? Nope. Fast heartbeat? No. Nausea? Also, nope. Bookish Jess was back and she has been for almost a year.

I’m reading a book every couple days now. If a book doesn’t grab me, I put it aside and start a new one. I’m thoroughly enjoying the feeling of wanting to stay up all night reading, so I don’t try and slog through any books I don’t like. The Goodreads app is back on my phone and my current “want to read” list sits at 1,045 and it grows each week.

If you lose interest in what you love, you’re not broken. You may be depressed. Do what I should have done: talk to someone. Confide in a trusted friend and seek help. You don’t have to be ashamed of your feelings because it’s very likely that you’re not alone in them. A couple of years ago, I thought I’d never read another book and now, I can’t stop. It took a long, long time, but a combination of medication and therapy helped me find my groove again. If you’re missing yours, there is hope. I promise.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to my book.

Meet Jessica Burkhart

Jessica Burkhart is the author of the Canterwood Crest series, the Unicorn Magic series, WILD HEARTS and LIFE INSIDE MY MIND: 31 AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PERSONAL STRUGGLES. She’s sold over 1.5 million books worldwide. Jess is passionate about mental health. She’s teaching classes online next year with The Writing Barn and hopes you’ll sign up. Visit Jess online at www.JessicaBurkhart.com, Tweet her @JessicaBurkhart and follow her on Goodreads.

Book Review: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

Publisher’s description

Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this heart-wrenching—and ultimately uplifting—novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates. 

For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?

But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.

It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.

From the author of Everything I Know About YouHalfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.”

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s start with what I usually save for the end of reviews: Great, important, REAL book. Order this for your libraries, hand it to your middle schoolers, get it up on displays, use it for starting points for discussions. This is about consent and boundaries and respecting girls and not everyone is getting these messages at home.

My son Callum (yep, just like a main character here) is in 8th grade. We have been talking about consent forevvvver. You can hear us here, from some years back, talking about sex on The Longest Shortest Time podcast. My son is absolutely sick of me using every opportunity I can to talk about consent or respect or misogyny. Witness:

He has me listed in his phone not as “Amanda MacGregor, mom” but “Amanda MacGregor, feminist,” because he says I act like that’s my job. And you know what? It is. Because I am trying to offset all of the messages he receives elsewhere about what it means to be a white, cis boy and what he is allowed to do or should feel entitled to.

Which brings us to the book (finally!). Dee does so many really brilliant yet ordinary things with her story. Mila has friends tell her she’s overreacting, that she’s being a baby, that she shouldn’t tattle. She has friends blame her for their actions, tell her they wouldn’t “allow” such things. She has friends offer to go with her to tell someone about the harassment. She has an adult basically tell her that boys will be boys and that it’s her job to ignore their behavior. She has an adult take her seriously and offer up her own stories of harassment. The reactions all feel so genuine. I was brought back to middle school as I read this, thinking of my own experiences with this sort of garbage from boys. The things the boys do may not look like what many people think of as harassment, as troubling. But no one will walk away from this book thinking that. Readers see Mila become scared and uncertain. She doesn’t want to be on the bus with them, she doesn’t want to be alone with them at school. She wants to hide. When she speaks up for herself, the boys say they will stop, but of course they don’t.

I would really love to see this book used as a read aloud for 6th or 7th graders or used in reading circles. There is SO MUCH to talk about. Outside of the main issue, Mila is also dealing with her parents being split up, her mom working an unsatisfactory job and looking for a new job, and their family’s money struggles. She makes new friends throughout the course of the story and finds a new interest, karate, which helps empower her. Her tight friendships change as everyone makes new friends and finds new interests. And while Mila learns that she’s certainly not the only girl to go through this kind of bullying and harassment, the boys who perpetuate this behavior come to finally understand just what they are doing and how it’s making Mila (and other girls) feel.

This look at consent, guilt, blame, pressure, and obligation will inspire much needed conversations for middle grade readers and the adults in their lives. Mila learns to speak up and draw the line, but ultimately, it’s not up to girls to end this—it’s up to boys (and those of us raising them and teaching them) to learn how to not do these things in the first place. This important and well-written story will surely find many readers who will relate to both sides of this experience.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432376
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/01/2019

The Building Blocks to Change, a guest post by Nancy Richardson Fischer

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones whose parents told them that they could do anything, be anything, and accomplish anything. Perhaps, when you were a kid, you were picked first for every team in gym class, never went through an awkward stage, and sailed through high school, college, got your dream job, dream guy or gal or dog, and created a rose-colored universe, all without any hurdles or roadblocks. But I’m guessing that didn’t happen… because even if life seems easy for someone on the exterior, inside there are always challenges. And it’s those challenges, when shared that help shape self-perception and the views other people have of us.

I recall a gal in high school named Beth who was a cheerleader, great student, and very popular. I thought she had the world by the tail. But she was living with an alcoholic mother who was verbally and sometimes physically abusive. One night, I went to dinner at Beth’s house and her mom was so drunk she slurred, fell down, and made us a moldy frozen pizza for dinner, insisting we finish every bite. After that I saw Beth in a different light. She’d let me into her world and I realized she was thriving despite enormous challenges. She was a survivor.

Nancy in high school.

Here’s a different kind of example. Bill was in my freshman high school class and had epilepsy. Everyone knew and most of the kids didn’t tease him, but they did avoid a friendship. One day we were summoned into a general assembly and that boy stood on stage in front of 400 students and did a presentation about epilepsy, how it had affected his life, his fears, hopes, and what we could all do to help him. It was so incredibly brave. More than that, he opened a window to his interior world, allowed us to understand and sympathize… and that opened the door to friendships. After that day, Bill was a warrior to us and we did everything possible to help him navigate his condition.

People only care deeply about people they know. And part of being known is sharing experiences, successes, failures and fears. By sharing and allowing others to truly understand you, and to mirror what they see, versus what you believe, self-perception can also change for the better. 

Nancy and a very good dog.

This idea is what led me to write The Speed of Falling Objects, my new young adult novel (HarperCollins/Inkyard Press Oct. 1, 2019). The story revolves around a timid young woman named Danny who believes she’s defective, inferior and an embarrassment because of an accident when she was seven, and her parents’ subsequent divorce. When her estranged father, a famous TV survivalist, invites Danny to join him and his guest, a teen movie idol, for an episode of his show being filmed in the Amazon Rainforest, she jumps at the chance to renew their relationship. But their small plane crashes in the Amazon and all three must face deadly perils, dark secrets and discover hidden strengths to survive and find their way home. Danny’s perceptions of who she is and who she wants to become changes dramatically as she shares her fears, sees herself in others’ eyes, and embraces her unique abilities.

Authors write what they know. I have always believed that I’m inferior and defective. I’m not looking for sympathy! My path was winding and filled with obstacles, but today I have a great husband, dream job writing books and a life that exceeded my expectations. I just want to share that the things we believe, or were told about ourselves early in life may not be true, but we still carry them somewhere inside. And it’s the heavy baggage we can’t actually see that will, in reality, lead us to sink or swim unless we’re willing to unload it.

Here’s my story in a nutshell.  From a young age I was told I could accomplish some things, be some things, but not everything. My parents weren’t cruel, they were just a product of their own parents, came from small towns, and didn’t believe the entire world was there for the taking… just a little slice. So the message, for me, was that there were things beyond my grasp, impossible things. I took that to mean that I was inferior—incapable of achieving all my dreams. In addition, I’ve had some health issues over the years. My back is tricky… meaning I’ve had ruptured discs and a few surgeries. That led me to believe my body was defective.

Nancy catching air while kitesurfing.

So how did I become someone who lives to ski, kitesurf, and cycle? How did I become an author? How did I find the courage to put myself out there and write novels? Part of the reason is that I’m stubborn. I truly believe I’m defective and inferior to this day! But I refused to miss out on the life I want to live. So I shared my story, my fears, my dreams, with friends I trusted. And what I saw reflected in their eyes was someone who was braver and tougher than she believed… and had some writing talent. I took those building blocks and created a ladder that allowed me to climb past my perceptions and insecurities.

Nancy riding Mt. Ventoux.

It’s HARD to share your doubts, to open yourself up to people who might not always be kind. But no situation is a failure if you’re being authentic. By doing so you discover strengths you never knew you had, and also come to realize that your own struggles and story can actually help other people overcome their hurdles in life.

Here’s the takeaway: Don’t allow negative self-perceptions and vulnerabilities to prevent you from opening a door or window into your life.  One day you will realize that your early beliefs are just steps on a road that must be climbed in order to achieve your dreams. 

Meet Nancy Richardson Fischer

Photo credit: Kelley Dulcich

Nancy Richardson Fischer is the author of When Elephants Fly and The Speed of Falling Objects ((HarperCollins/Inkyard Press Oct. 1, 2019). She has authored multiple sport autobiographies and Star Wars books for LucasFilm.

Visit her website at www.nancyrichardsonfischer.com

Twitter: @nfischerauthor

Facebook: @nanfischerauthor

Instagram: @nanfischerauthor

Bookbub: @nancyrfischer

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/98412.Nancy_Richardson_Fischer

About The Speed of Falling Objects

From the author of When Elephants Fly comes an exceptional new novel about falling down, risking everything and embracing what makes us unique. Don’t miss this compulsively readable novel about the most unlikely of heroes.

Danger “Danny” Danielle Warren is no stranger to falling. After losing an eye in a childhood accident, she had to relearn her perception of movement and space. Now Danny keeps her head down, studies hard, and works to fulfill everyone else’s needs. She’s certain that her mom’s bitterness and her TV star father’s absence are her fault. If only she were more—more athletic, charismatic, attractive—life would be perfect.

When her dad calls with an offer to join him to film the next episode of his popular survivalist show, Danny jumps at the chance to prove she’s not the disappointment he left behind. Being on set with the hottest teen movie idol of the moment, Gus Price, should be the cherry on top. But when their small plane crashes in the Amazon, and a terrible secret is revealed, Danny must face the truth about the parent she worships and falling for Gus, and find her own inner strength and worth to light the way home.

ISBN-13: 9781335928245
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 10/01/2019

Maybe He Just Likes You: #MeToo Comes to Middle Grade, a guest post by Barbara Dee

MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU begins with a hug. It’s the seventh grade recess, and as Mila celebrates her friend’s birthday, suddenly the  “basketball boys” are surrounding them, locking arms, singing “Happy Birthday” way too loudly.

Friendly, right? Sweet but extremely awkward– basically what you’d expect from middle school boys.

Except the hug continues a few seconds past the ending of the song. And Mila feels squeezed, like she can’t breathe.

Afterwards, there’s more unwanted contact–all targeting Mila, all of it happening when adults aren’t around. Bumping, grabbing, sitting too close. Then comments about her body. Jokes that aren’t really jokes at all. Finally a “scorecard” that turns contact with Mila into a team sport.

 

As the boys’ behavior escalates, Mila feels humiliated and confused. When she tells the boys to stop, they just laugh and continue. She doesn’t know how to ask for help; she doesn’t even know how to talk about it.  Because what is this behavior, exactly? It’s not just teasing (as a male guidance counselor, lacking all the details, suggests ). It’s not just bullying, at least not like the kind Mila witnessed in elementary school. And she rejects her friend Zara’s argument that one boy is “flirting” because he “just likes her.” To Mila the behavior feels aggressive, even threatening. And shouldn’t flirting feel better than that? On both sides?  

In her gut, Mila knows she’s encountering something new. But she doesn’t have a way to conceptualize what’s happening to her. She doesn’t know words like micro-aggression or sexual harassment. Or, for that matter, consent and boundaries.   

And how would she? Those words are rarely included in the middle school curriculum–and I think it’s time for that to change. Because even if middle schoolers are squeamish and uncomfortable, even if in some ways they seem too “immature” for these topics, we can’t postpone talking about concepts like consent and boundaries until high school (or even college). As many recent studies prove, middle school is where sexual harassment begins. So if we’re going to stop the behavior,  we need to address it at inception.

The difficult part is how. I’m not going to lie–writing MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU was one of my biggest challenges as a middle grade author. I’ve explored some sensitive topics before.  Eating disorders in EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU. Pediatric cancer in HALFWAY NORMAL.  A girl’s crush on another girl in STAR-CROSSED. In all of those books, I felt I could treat the topic directly, as long as I wove in other plot threads and plenty of humor.

But the topic of sexual harassment is different, because for many gatekeepers, acknowledging the sexuality of middle schoolers is taboo. So I had to strike a very delicate balance with this book: I had to keep the harassment PG-rated, but at the same time do justice to Mila’s sense of violation.  I had to make it clear that this was a particular kind of aggressive behavior that homed in on her growing sense of selfhood.  And because Mila was a seventh grader struggling with the self-consciousness and confusion of puberty,  it affected her in a way she couldn’t articulate–not to friends, teachers, or even her mom.

Also, it affected others.  One thing I learned from interviewing a middle school guidance counselor for this book was that when sexual harassment happens in middle school, it violates not  just the student being targeted, but the whole school community.  In MAYBE, some of Mila’s harassment occurs in isolation, under the radar of both adults and other kids. But enough of the behavior is witnessed– confusing, embarrassing and threatening not just Mila, but also her friends and classmates.

If I were writing a YA, the harassment might reach a crescendo, some act that was clearly criminal. (I’m thinking about Deb Caletti’s beautiful, brilliant A HEART IN A BODY IN THE WORLD.) But the whole point of MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU is that this behavior does, in fact, occur in the safe, wholesome world of MG–and so for the purposes of this story, it needed to be resolved in a MG-appropriate way.  Without spoiling too much of the ending,  I’ll just say that Mila makes mistakes, but learns to stand up for herself, partly by studying karate. She discovers several surprising allies, both adults and kids. There’s a scene of restorative justice in which the boys come to understand Mila’s perspective.  And the teachers take responsibility, initiating a schoolwide program about Consent, Boundaries and Sexual Harassment.

I never want to write one-note books, so like my other middle grade novels, MAYBE is also about family, and the constantly-shifting dynamics of middle school friendship. I hope it’s entertaining, even funny at times. I’ll confess that Mila’s bratty little sister made me laugh.

But the subject– sexual harassment in middle school–is one we need to take seriously. I’m hoping MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU starts that conversation.  

Meet Barbara Dee

Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

https://BarbaraDeeBooks.com
@BarbaraDee2
IG: barbaradeebooks

About MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU

Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this heart-wrenching—and ultimately uplifting—novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates. 

For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?

But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.

It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.

From the author of Everything I Know About YouHalfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.

ISBN-13: 9781534432376
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/01/2019

New books alert: Cults, activism, a magical bookshop, deadly assassins, a rom-com, and more!

Book mail in and book mail out.

I am very lucky to get so! many! books!

All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to teen readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, to my own school, or in giveaways. In August, I cleaned out my entire stash of new and forthcoming books (beyond what I had pulled to read in the near future). Between dropping off books for my local Friends of the Library group, giving a huge bag to an elementary teacher friend, and doing four giant giveaways on Twitter, I gave about 90 books new homes.

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. The following are the books that have arrived here in the past few weeks. I will be reviewing many of them in the upcoming months on TLT. See something you’ve already read and need to make sure I don’t skip? Or something you’re super excited to read when it comes out? Let me know with a comment here or on Twitter, where I’m @CiteSomething.

All descriptions from the publishers.

Girl Activist by Louisa Kamps, Georgia Rucker (Illustrator), Susanna Daniel, Michelle Wildgen, Shannon Watts (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9781941367643 Publisher: Downtown Bookworks Publication date: 07/23/2019)

Rebel girls, young activists, and other trailblazing tweens and teens will be inspired by the stories of 40 women who have changed the world for the better. 

Mini-biographies of unstoppable women activists—from Malala Yousafzai to Susan B. Anthony, Emma Gonzalez to Gloria Steinem, Wangari Maathai to Dolores Huerta—offer windows into what it takes to stand up for a cause, rally others together, and even ignite a movement. The book features activists from around the world and throughout history, spotlighting impressive women who have fought for workers’ safety, women’s rights, racial equality, animal welfare, democracy, environmental causes, and more. Each story reminds readers that they really can make a difference in the world and inspires today’s young activists to stand up for what they believe in. 

With a foreword by activist Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. 

ABOUT THE SERIES

Generation Girl books celebrate game-changing women. They are filled with profiles of amazing women who’ve been there, done that, and learned some valuable lessons along the way. Readers will be inspired by their stories, learn from their struggles and successes, and pick up some useful tools so that they too can change the world. Other Generation Girl books include: Girl CEO and Girl Genius.

Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj (ISBN-13: 9780525517245 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/27/2019)

An uplifting story, told through the alternating voices of two middle-schoolers, in which a community rallies to reject racism.

Karina Chopra would have never imagined becoming friends with the boy next door—after all, they’ve avoided each other for years and she assumes Chris is just like the boys he hangs out with, who she labels a pack of hyenas. Then Karina’s grandfather starts tutoring Chris, and she discovers he’s actually a nice, funny kid. But one afternoon something unimaginable happens—the three of them are assaulted by a stranger who targets Indian-American Karina and her grandfather because of how they look. Her grandfather is gravely injured and Karina and Chris vow not to let hate win. When Karina posts a few photos related to the attack on social media, they quickly attract attention, and before long her #CountMeIn post—”What does an American look like? #immigrants #WeBelong #IamAmerican #HateHasNoHomeHere”—goes viral and a diverse population begin to add their own photos. Then, when Papa is finally on the road to recovery, Karina uses her newfound social media reach to help celebrate both his homecoming and a community coming together.

Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford (ISBN-13: 9781335090447 Publisher: Inkyard Press Publication date: 08/27/2019)

For generations, the princes of Ilara have married the most beautiful maidens from the ocean village of Varenia. But though every girl longs to be chosen as the next princess, the cost of becoming royalty is higher than any of them could ever imagine…

Nor once dreamed of seeing the wondrous wealth and beauty of Ilara, the kingdom that’s ruled her village for as long as anyone can remember. But when a childhood accident left her with a permanent scar, it became clear that her identical twin sister, Zadie, would likely be chosen to marry the Crown Prince—while Nor remained behind, unable to ever set foot on land.

Then Zadie is gravely injured, and Nor is sent to Ilara in her place. To Nor’s dismay, her future husband, Prince Ceren, is as forbidding and cold as his home—a castle carved into a mountain and devoid of sunlight. And as she grows closer to Ceren’s brother, the charming Prince Talin, Nor uncovers startling truths about a failing royal bloodline, a murdered queen…and a plot to destroy the home she was once so eager to leave.

In order to save her people, Nor must learn to negotiate the treacherous protocols of a court where lies reign and obsession rules. But discovering her own formidable strength may be the one move that costs her everything: the crown, Varenia and Zadie.

Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks, Ted Caplan (ISBN-13: 9780062876249 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/10/2019)

SOON TO BE A MOVIE FROM WARNERMEDIA!

Perfect for fans of Juno and Jennifer E. Smith, Unpregnant is a heartfelt and hysterically funny YA debut about fierce friendship, reproductive rights, and the wild road to adulthood.

“Hilarious. A remarkable debut.” —Stephen Chbosky, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“A buddy road trip novel so funny, touching, and surprising, readers will forget it’s also important. Honest and relatable!” —Alex Flinn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beastly

Seventeen-year-old Veronica Clarke never thought she’d want to fail a test—that is, until she finds herself staring at a piece of plastic with two solid pink lines. With a college-bound future now disappearing before her eyes, Veronica considers a decision she never imagined she’d have to make: an abortion.

There’s just one catch—the closest place to get one is over nine hundred miles away. With conservative parents, a less-than-optimal boyfriend, and no car, Veronica turns to the only person who won’t judge her: Bailey Butler, a legendary misfit at Jefferson High—and Veronica’s ex-best friend.

What could go wrong? Not much, apart from three days of stolen cars, crazed ex-boyfriends, aliens, ferret napping, and the betrayal of a broken friendship that can’t be outrun. Under the starlit skies of the Southwest, Veronica and Bailey discover that sometimes the most important choice is who your friends are.

This breakout novel is from authors Jenni Hendriks (writer for How I Met Your Mother) and Ted Caplan (music editor for The Hate U Give).

A Treason of Thorns by Laura E Weymouth (ISBN-13: 9780062696908 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/10/2019)

Dark, gripping, and utterly unique, this atmospheric historical fantasy from critically acclaimed author Laura E. Weymouth is perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood and Caraval.

Violet Sterling has spent the last seven years in exile, longing to return to Burleigh House. One of the six great houses of England, Burleigh’s magic kept both the countryside and Violet happy.

That is, until her father’s treason destroyed everything.

Now she’s been given a chance to return home. But Burleigh isn’t what she remembered. Wild with grief, Burleigh’s very soul is crying out in pain. As its tormented magic ravages the countryside, Vi must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her house—before her house destroys everything she’s ever known.

A house left unchecked will lead to ruin.

But I will not let it ruin me.

The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson (ISBN-13: 9780823444182 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 09/10/2019)

Piper was raised in a cult.
She just doesn’t know it. 

Seventeen-year-old Piper knows that Father is a Prophet. Infallible. The chosen one. 

She would do anything for Father. That’s why she takes care of all her little sisters. That’s why she runs end-of-the-world drills. That’s why she never asks questions. Because Father knows best. 

Until the day he doesn’t. Until the day the government raids the compound and separates Piper from her siblings, from Mother, from the Aunts, from all of Father’s followers—even from Caspian, the boy she loves. 

Now Piper is living Outside. Among Them. 

With a woman They claim is her real mother—a woman They say Father stole her from. 

But Piper knows better. And Piper is going to escape.

Pages & Co.: The Bookwanderers by Anna James, Paola Escobar (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781984837127 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/24/2019)

An enchanting story about the magic of books and the power of imagination from debut author Anna James. Perfect for fans of Inkheart,The Land of Stories, and Story Thieves. Soon to be a major television series!

Since her mother’s disappearance, eleven-year-old Tilly Pages has found comfort in the stories at Pages & Co., her grandparents’ bookshop. But when her favorite characters, Anne of Green Gables and Alice from Wonderland, start showing up at the shop,Tilly’s adventures become very real. Not only can she follow Anne and Alice into their books, she discovers she can bookwander into any story she chooses. Tilly’s new ability leads her to fun and exciting adventures, but danger may be lurking on the very next page…

When new secrets are uncovered, it’s up to Tilly to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother all those years ago. From debut author Anna James comes a charming and exciting adventure about a bookish young heroine, a mysterious librarian, and a magical bookshop that will delight book lovers everywhere.

Shadowscent by P. M. Freestone (ISBN-13: 9781338335446 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 11/05/2019)

An Ember in the Ashes meets Indiana Jones in an electrifying, steal-your-breath away, supercharge-your-senses YA fantasy adventure.

Across the Aramtesh Empire, scent is everything. Prayers only reach heaven on sacred incense, and perfumes are prized status symbols. 17-year-old Rakel has an uncanny ability with fragrances, but her skills aren’t enough to buy her dying father more time.

Ash bears the tattoos of an imperial bodyguard. When his prince, Nisai, insists on a diplomatic mission to an outer province, Ash is duty-bound to join the caravan. It’s a nightmare protecting Nisai on the road. But it’s even harder for Ash to conceal a secret that could see him exiled or executed.

Rakel and Ash have nothing in common until smoke draws them to a field of the Empire’s rarest flower. Nisai’s been poisoned, flames devour the priceless blooms, and the pair have “suspect” clinging to them like a bad stench. Their futures depend on them working together to decipher clues, defy dangers and defeat their own demons in a race to source an antidote … before the imperial army hunts them down.

I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson (ISBN-13: 9781492693369 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 11/05/2019)

Jemma knows who the murderer is. She knows because he told her.

He thought his secret was safe because Jemma can’t speak or move.

But Jemma observes all kinds of things about everyone around her. His secret is just one of them.

And when a new technology means she may be able to communicate and reveal all she knows, Jemma no longer feels powerless in the face of this deadly secret. It’s a race against time before the killer acts again…or tries to stop her.

Reverie by Ryan La Sala (ISBN-13: 9781492682660 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 12/03/2019)

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since the accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different… reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is in accident, and only he can stop their town from unraveling.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez (ISBN-13: 9781624148019 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 01/07/2020)

A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.

Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princesa, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Beyond the Shadowed Earth by Joanna Ruth Meyer (ISBN-13: 9781624148200 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 01/14/2020)

It has always been Eda’s dream to become empress, no matter the cost. Haunted by her ambition and selfishness, she’s convinced that the only way to achieve her goal is to barter with the gods. But all requests come with a price and Eda bargains away the soul of her best friend in exchange for the crown.

Years later, her hold on the empire begins to crumble and her best friend unexpectedly grows sick and dies. Gnawed by guilt and betrayal, Eda embarks on a harrowing journey to confront the very god who gave her the kingdom in the first place. However, she soon discovers that he’s trapped at the center of an otherworldly labyrinth and that her bargain with him is more complex than she ever could have imagined.

Set in the same universe as Joanna’s debut, Beneath the Haunting SeaBeyond the Shadowed Earth combines her incredible world building and lush prose with a new, villainous lead.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord (ISBN-13: 9781250237323 Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Publication date: 01/21/2020)

A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming — mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese — that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life — on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate — people on the internet are shipping them — their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

Devil Darling Spy by Matt Killeen (ISBN-13: 9780451479259 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/21/2020)

In this utterly gripping thriller, Sarah, the fearless heroine of indie bestseller Orphan Monster Spy, hunts a rogue German doctor in Central Africa who might be a serial murderer.

It’s 1940, and Sarah Goldstein is hiding in plain sight as Ursula Haller, the Shirley Temple of Nazi high society. She helps the resistance by spying on Nazi generals at cocktail parties in Berlin, but she yearns to do more. Then the spy she works for, the Captain, gets word of a German doctor who’s gone rogue in Central Africa. Rumors say the doctor is experimenting with a weapon of germ warfare so deadly it could wipe out entire cities. It’s up to the Captain and Sarah to reach the doctor and seize this weapon—known as “the Bleeding”—before the Nazis can use it to murder thousands. Joining them on their journey, in of the guise of a servant, is Clementine, a half-German, half-Senegalese girl, whose wit and ferocity are a perfect match for Sarah’s. As they travel through the areas now known as the Republic of the Congo and Gabon, Clementine’s astute observations force Sarah to face a hard truth: that mass extermination didn’t start with the Nazis. 

This unbearably high-stakes thriller pushes Sarah to face the worst that humanity is capable of—and challenges her to find reasons to keep fighting.

What Kind of Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel (ISBN-13: 9781492667278 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 02/01/2020)

The girls at North Bay Academy are taking sides. It all started when Mike Parker’s girlfriend showed up with a bruise on her face. Or, more specifically, when she walked into the principal’s office and said Mike hit her. But the students have questions. Why did she go to the principal and not the cops? Why did she stay so long if he was hurting her? Obviously, if it’s true, Mike should be expelled. But is it true?

Some girls want to rally for his expulsion—and some want to rally around Mike. The only thing that the entire student body can agree on? Someone is lying. And the truth has to come out.

An unflinching exploration of the many forms of abuse society inflicts upon women, and the strength it takes to rise above it all to claim your worth.

Alice By Heart by Steven Sater (ISBN-13: 9780451478139 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/04/2020)

A young girl takes refuge in a London Tube station during WWII and confronts grief, loss, and first love with the help of her favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, in the debut novel from Tony Award-winning playwright Steven Sater.

London, 1940. Amidst the rubble of the Blitz of World War II, fifteen-year-old Alice Spencer and her best friend, Alfred, are forced to take shelter in an underground tube station. Sick with tuberculosis, Alfred is quarantined, with doctors saying he won’t make it through the night. In her desperation to keep him holding on, Alice turns to their favorite pastime: recalling the book that bonded them, and telling the story that she knows by heart—the story of Alice in Wonderland

What follows is a stunning, fantastical journey that blends Alice’s two worlds: her war-ravaged homeland being held together by nurses and soldiers and Winston Churchill, and her beloved Wonderland, a welcome distraction from the bombs and the death, but a place where one rule always applies: the pages must keep turning. But then the lines between these two worlds begin to blur. Is that a militant Red Cross Nurse demanding that Alice get BACK. TO. HER. BED!, or is it the infamous Queen of Hearts saying…something about her head? Soon, Alice must decide whether to stay in Wonderland forever, or embrace the pain of reality if that’s what it means to grow up. 

In this gorgeous YA adaption of his off-Broadway musical, the Tony Award-winning co-creator of Spring Awakening encourages us all to celebrate the transformational power of the imagination, even in the harshest of times.

Chirp by Kate Messner (ISBN-13: 9781547602810 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 02/04/2020)

From acclaimed author Kate Messner comes the powerful story of a young girl with the courage to make her voice heard, set against the backdrop of a summertime mystery.

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.

Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding–and find the courage she never knew she had?

In a compelling story rich with friendship, science, and summer fun, a girl finds her voice while navigating the joys and challenges of growing up.

The Queen’s Assassin by Melissa de la Cruz (ISBN-13: 9780525515913 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/04/2020)

Perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Red Queen, this is the first novel in a sweeping YA fantasy-romance duet about a deadly assassin, his mysterious apprentice, and the country they are sworn to protect from #1 NYT bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz.

Caledon Holt is the Kingdom of Renovia’s deadliest weapon. No one alive can best him in brawn or brains, which is why he’s the Guild’s most dangerous member and the Queen’s one and only assassin. He’s also bound to the Queen by an impossible vow—to find the missing Deian Scrolls, the fount of all magical history and knowledge, stolen years ago by a nefarious sect called the Aphrasians.

Shadow has been training all her life to follow in the footsteps of her mother and aunts—to become skilled enough to join the ranks of the Guild. Though magic has been forbidden since the Aphrasian uprising, Shadow has been learning to control her powers in secret, hoping that one day she’ll become an assassin as feared and revered as Caledon Holt.

When a surprise attack brings Shadow and Cal together, they’re forced to team up as assassin and apprentice to hunt down a new sinister threat to Renovia. But as Cal and Shadow grow closer, they’ll uncover a shocking web of lies and secrets that may destroy everything they hold dear. With war on the horizon and true love at risk, they’ll stop at nothing to protect each other and their kingdom in this stunning first novel in the Queen’s Secret series.

Freaky in Fresno by Laurie Boyle Crompton (ISBN-13: 9780310767473 Publisher: Blink Publication date: 02/11/2020)

Ricki has one goal: save the Starlight Drive-in movie theater from going dark forever. Okay, make that two goals … she may also want a first kiss from her cinema-rescuing partner and major crush, Jake. Lana definitely has only one goal: grow her online makeup channel to keep her momager off her back, even if the posts attract ugly internet trolls.

The two cousins couldn’t be more different, but their opposite personalities come crashing to a head when their aunt gifts the girls a vintage cotton-candy-pink convertible. To share. Ricki wants the convertible for the drive-in’s grand reopening, but it’s the same day as Digifest, a huge event where Lana needs to shine. After a major fight and a minor electric shock while wrestling over the wheel, Ricki wakes up as Lana, and Lana wakes up as Ricki.

Ricki and Lana have only a day to un-Freaky Friday themselves, a task made even more difficult as they try to keep up appearances on Lana’s channel and with Ricki’s hopefully-soon-to-be-kissed crush. But it turns out experiencing a day as each other—with a mini road trip in the Skylark and the Chihuahua wrangling it entails—may be the one thing that help the cousins see each other and themselves more clearly.

From Laurie Boyle Crompton, author of Pretty in Punxsutawney, comes Freaky in Fresno, perfect for fans of Mary Rodgers and Morgan Matson.

The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly by Meredith Tate (ISBN-13: 9781984813497 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/11/2020)

If I Stay meets One of Us is Lying in this gripping contemporary thriller.

When band-geek Ivy and her friends get together, things start with a rousing board game and end with arguments about Star Wars.

Her older sister Autumn is a different story. Enigmatic, aloof, and tough as nails, Autumn hasn’t had real friends–or trusted anyone–in years. Even Ivy.

But Autumn might not be tough enough. After a drug deal gone wrong, Autumn is beaten, bound, and held hostage. Now, trapped between life and death, she leaves her body, seeking help. No one can sense her presence–except her sister.

When Autumn doesn’t come home, Ivy just knows she’s in trouble. Unable to escape the chilling feeling that something isn’t right, Ivy follows a string of clues that bring her closer to rescuing her sister… and closer to danger.

Autumn needs Ivy to find her before time runs out. But soon, both sisters realize that finding her also means untangling the secrets that lead to the truth–about where they’re hiding Autumn, and what Autumn has been hiding.

Night Spinner by Addie Thorley (ISBN-13: 9781624148880 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 02/11/2020)

A must-read for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, transforming The Hunchback of Notre Dame into a powerful tundra-inspired epic.

Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer—a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.

Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.

Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees.

Rebelwing by Andrea Tang (ISBN-13: 9781984835093 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/25/2020)

“Mixing everything that’s best about dragons, dystopia, and generational conflict, Tang delivers a high flying debut that pulls no punches.” –E.K. Johnston, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author 

Business is booming for Prudence Wu.

A black-market-media smuggler and scholarship student at the prestigious New Columbia Preparatory Academy, Pru is lucky to live in the Barricade Coalition, a near-future version of Washington, DC, where she is free to study, read, watch, and listen to whatever she wants. But between essays and exams, she chooses to spend her breaks sweet-talking border patrol with her best friend, Anabel, in order to sell banned media to the less fortunate citizens of the United Continental Confederacy, Inc. 

When a drop-off goes awry, Pru narrowly escapes UCC enforcers to find that her rescuer is, of all things, a sentient cybernetic dragon. On the one hand, Pru is lucky not to be in prison, or worse. On the other, the dragon seems to have imprinted on her permanently, which means she has no choice but to be its pilot. 

Drawn into a revolution she has no real interest in leading, Pru, Anabel, and friends Alex and Cat become key players in a brewing conflict with the UCC as the corporate government develops advanced weaponry more terrifying and grotesque than Pru could have ever imagined.

Only Mostly Devastated: A Novel by Sophie Gonzales (ISBN-13: 9781250315892 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 03/03/2020)

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease

Summer love…gone so fast.

Ollie and Will were meant to be a summer fling—casual, fun, and done. But when Ollie’s aunt’s health takes a turn for the worse and his family decides to stay in North Carolina to take care of her, Ollie lets himself hope this fling can grow to something more. Dreams that are crushed when he sees Will at a school party and finds that the sweet and affectionate (and comfortably queer) guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.

Will is more than a little shocked to see Ollie the evening of that first day of school. While his summer was spent being very much himself, back at school he’s simply known as one of the varsity basketball guys. Now Will is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: follow his heart and risk his friendships, or stay firmly in the closet and lose what he loves most.

Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me: A Novel by Gae Polisner (ISBN-13: 9781250312235 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 04/07/2020)

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is an absolutely real, raw and emotional read, and it’s a book that touched my heart with every page.” – Katie McGarry, critically acclaimed author of Only a Breath Apart

Fifteen-year-old JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren’t the friends they once were.

With JL’s father gone on long term business, and her mother suffering from dissociative disorder, JL takes solace in the in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he’s going to hit the road – with or without JL.

JL can’t bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story about the fragility of female friendship, of falling in love and wondering if you are ready for more, and of the glimmers of hope we find by taking stock in ourselves.

Book Review: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Publisher’s description

Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.

Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels—about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner. 

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.

Amanda’s thoughts

That summary up there is thorough. I just read it again, when I pasted it in, to see if it’s too thorough—after all, it really hits every major plot point. But while it gives you the broad strokes of the plot, it doesn’t do much to capture how powerful the story is, how beautiful the writing is, or how achingly lovely and profound the connection is between Agnes and Mabel. To be entirely honest, the book started a little slow for me, but once Agnes and Mabel are put in the same space, the story really took off and I became completely immersed in their world, their families, their big thoughts and feelings, and their love.

There is so much to love about this story. Yes, Agnes is sent away when her mother catches her with her girlfriend. She’s shamed and told she’s “nasty” by her mother. But she finds love, support, and acceptance from everyone else in her life. Mabel finds kissing her boyfriend kind of boring, but even just being near her friend Jada makes her all tingly. She’s working out what all this means, but it’s not angst-filled or painful or met with any hate. In Minneapolis, they are surrounded by supportive family and friends, many of whom are queer. And for Agnes, she has Queenie, her grandma, back home in Trinidad, who has always been her closest and most loving person. Queenie fully accepts Agnes for who she is—she always has—and fills with her love, always reminding her of her self-worth and that she’s perfect as she is.

While the story alternates between Mabel and Agnes, we also get some unexpected perspectives. There are chapters about Queenie’s younger life as well as chapters from a memoir Mabel is reading. Written by Afua Mahmoud while incarcerated, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them (his memoir) provides surprising points of connection for Mabel, who feels less alone as she reads his thoughts on life while dealing with her new diagnosis of a terminal illness. All of these voices and experiences speak of hope, connection, loneliness, love, isolation, and freedom. After they become pen pals, Afua tells Mabel that, despite his circumstances, his life is still his own, and so is hers.

Through the lenses of freedom and love, the characters ruminate on the past, the present, and an eternal future found through cosmic connections. They learn to be uncontained, to love without fear or boundaries, to give themselves the space to figure out who they are. The voices from this stunning debut will stay with readers long after the unpredictable ending. Full of love, healing, strength, and spirituality, this is a story that hasn’t been told before—not like this. Be ready to lose a day once you start reading; Mabel and Agnes will draw you into their worlds and not release their grip on you even after the last page. A lovely story that is sad and hopeful all at once.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525555483
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/17/2019

What’s new in LGBTQIA+ YA September 2019

It’s time for another roundup for new and forthcoming YA (and sometimes not YA) books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters.  The titles I’m including here have LGBTQIA+ main characters as well as secondary characters (in some cases parents), as well as anthologies that include LGBTQIA+ stories. Know of a title I missed in this list? Or know of a forthcoming title that should be on my radar for an upcoming list? Leave a comment or tweet me @CiteSomething. This list covers September 2019 titles. Head over to this link for the previous post (August 2019) in this series. All annotations here are via the publishers/Goodreads. I also have a 2018 master list. I’m working on the 2019 list. I’m happy to send you any list if you’re interested. Tweet at me or email me to request the list. I’m amanda DOT macgregor AT gmail DOT com.

Looking for more information on LGBTQIA+ books or issues? Check out the hashtag here on TLT and go visit YA Pride and LGBTQ Reads, two phenomenal resources. 

The Truth Is by NoNieqa Ramos (ISBN-13: 9781541528772 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/03/2019)

A powerful exploration of love, identity, and self-worth through the eyes of a fierce, questioning Puerto Rican teen.

Fifteen-year-old Verdad doesn’t think she has time for love. She’s still struggling to process the recent death of her best friend, Blanca; dealing with the high expectations of her hardworking Puerto Rican mother and the absence of her remarried father; and keeping everyone at a distance. But when she meets Danny, a new guy at school—who happens to be trans—all bets are off. Verdad suddenly has to deal with her mother’s disapproval of her relationship with Danny as well as her own prejudices and questions about her identity, and Danny himself, who is comfortable in his skin but keeping plenty of other secrets.

Red Skies Falling by Alex London (ISBN-13: 9780374306847 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 09/03/2019 Series: Skybound Saga Series #2)

In Red Skies Falling, Alex London’s thrilling sequel to Black Wings Beating, the epic fantasy Skybound Saga continues as twins Kylee and Brysen are separated by the expanse of Uztar, but are preparing for the same war–or so they think.

Kylee is ensconsed in the Sky Castle, training with Mem Uku to master the Hollow Tongue and the Ghost Eagle. But political intrigue abounds and court drama seems to seep through the castle’s stones like blood from a broken feather. Meanwhile, Brysen is still in the Six Villages, preparing for an attack by the Kartami. The Villages have become Uztar’s first line of defense, and refugees are flooding in from the plains. But their arrival lays bare the villagers’ darkest instincts. As Brysen navigates the growing turmoil, he must also grapple with a newfound gift, a burgeoning crush on a mysterious boy, and a shocking betrayal.

The two will meet again on the battlefield, fighting the same war from different sides. But the Ghost Eagle has its own plans.

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar (ISBN-13: 9781492681045 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/03/2019)

A poignant, heartbreaking, and uplifting, story in the tradition of The Perks of Being a Wallflower about three friends coming-of-age in the early 1980s as they struggle to forge their own paths in the face of fear of the unknown.

Michael is content to live in the shadow of his best friends, James and Becky. Plus, his brother, Connor, has already been kicked out of the house for being gay and laying low seems to be Michael’s only chance at avoiding the same fate.

To pass the time before graduation, Michael hangs out at The Echo where he can dance and forget about his father’s angry words, the pressures of school, and the looming threat of AIDS, a disease that everyone is talking about, but no one understands.

Then he meets Gabriel, a boy who actually sees him. A boy who, unlike seemingly everyone else in New York City, is interested in him and not James. And Michael has to decide what he’s willing to risk to be himself.

Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman (ISBN-13: 9781541572843 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/03/2019)

In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latinx outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor—also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk—robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters (ISBN-13: 9781945053801 Publisher: Interlude Press Publication date: 09/10/2019)

Everyone on campus knows Remy Cameron. He’s the out-and-proud, super-likable guy who friends, faculty, and fellow students alike admire for his cheerful confidence. The only person who isn’t entirely sure about Remy Cameron is Remy himself. Under pressure to write an A+ essay defining who he is and who he wants to be, Remy embarks on an emotional journey toward reconciling the outward labels people attach to him with the real Remy Cameron within.

From the author of the bestselling novel Running With Lions, a story about overcoming the labels that try to define our lives.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (ISBN-13: 9780525647072 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 09/10/2019)

The highly-anticipated, genre-defying new novel by award-winning author Akwaeke Emezi that explores themes of identity and justice. Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi makes their riveting and timely young adult debut with a book that asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.


The Prom: A Novel Based on the Hit Broadway Musical by Saundra Mitchell, Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, Matthew Sklar (ISBN-13: 9781984837523 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/10/2019)

An honest, laugh-out-loud, feel-good novel inspired by the hit Broadway musical The Prom—a New York Times Critic’s Pick!

Seventeen-year-old Emma Nolan wants only one thing before she graduates: to dance with her girlfriend at the senior prom. But in her small town of Edgewater, Indiana, that’s like asking for the moon. 

Alyssa Greene is her high school’s “it” girl: popular, head of the student council, and daughter of the PTA president. She also has a secret. She’s been dating Emma for the last year and a half. 

When word gets out that Emma plans to bring a girl as her date, it stirs a community-wide uproar that spirals out of control. Now, the PTA, led by Alyssa’s mother, is threatening to cancel the prom altogether.

Enter Barry Glickman and Dee Dee Allen, two Broadway stars who decide to take up the cause and get a little publicity along the way. But when they arrive in Indiana to fight on Emma’s behalf, their good intentions go quickly south. 

Between Emma facing the fray head-on, Alyssa wavering about coming out, and Barry and Dee Dee basking in all the attention, it’s the perfect prom storm. Only when this unlikely group comes together do they realize that love is always worth fighting for.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus (ISBN-13: 9780525555483 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/17/2019)

Told in two distinct and irresistible voices, Junauda Petrus’s bold and lyrical debut is the story of two black girls from very different backgrounds finding love and happiness in a world that seems determined to deny them both.

Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner. 

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Junauda Petrus’s debut brilliantly captures the distinctly lush and lyrical voices of Mabel and Audre as they conjure a love that is stronger than hatred, prison, and death and as vast as the blackness between the stars.

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories by Katherine Locke (Editor), Laura Silverman (Editor), Mayim Bialik (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9780525646167 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 09/17/2019)

Includes a special introduction by Mayim Bialik, star of The Big Bang Theory and author of the #1 bestseller Girling Up!

Get ready to fall in love, experience heartbreak, and discover the true meaning of identity in this poignant collection of short stories about Jewish teens, including entries by David Levithan, Nova Ren Suma, and more!

A Jewish boy falls in love with a fellow counselor at summer camp. A group of Jewish friends take the trip of a lifetime. A girl meets her new boyfriend’s family over Shabbat dinner. Two best friends put their friendship to the test over the course of a Friday night. A Jewish girl feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. Hilarious pranks and disaster ensue at a crush’s Hanukkah party. 

From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It’s a Whole Spiel features one story after another that says yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be. You will fall in love with this insightful, funny, and romantic Jewish anthology from a collection of diverse Jewish authors.

His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined edited by Dahlia Adler (ISBN-13: 9781250302779 Publisher: Flatiron Books Publication date: 09/10/2019)

Thirteen of YA’s most celebrated names reimagine Edgar Allan Poe’s most surprising, unsettling, and popular tales for a new generation.

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining “Ligeia”), Kendare Blake (“Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), amanda lovelace (“The Raven”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

The Infinite Noise (Bright Sessions Series #1) by Lauren Shippen (ISBN-13: 9781250297518 Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates Publication date: 09/24/2019)

Lauren Shippen’s The Infinite Noise is a stunning, original debut novel based on her wildly popular and award-winning podcast The Bright Sessions.

Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.

Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.

“What if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy?” (Vox on The Bright Sessions)

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall (ISBN-13: 9781984837011 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/24/2019)

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister—at all costs.

Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy’s game isn’t for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose…. 

Sara’s sister disappeared one year ago—and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on the road that leads to her. In the sleepy town of Briar Glen, Lucy’s road is nothing more than local lore. But Sara knows it’s real, and she’s going to find it. 

When Sara and her skeptical friends meet in the forest to search for Becca, the mysterious road unfurls before them. All they have to do is walk down it. But the path to Lucy is not of this world, and it has its own rules. Every mistake summons new horrors. Vengeful spirits and broken, angry creatures are waiting for them to slip, and no one is guaranteed safe passage. The only certainty is this: the road has a toll and it will be paid.

Sara knows that if she steps onto the road, she might not come back. But Becca needs her.

And Lucy is waiting.

High School by Sara Quin, Tegan Quin (ISBN-13: 9780374169947 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 09/24/2019)

From the iconic musicians Tegan and Sara comes a memoir about high school, detailing their first loves and first songs in a compelling look back at their humble beginnings

High School is the revelatory and unique coming-of-age story of Sara and Tegan Quin, identical twins from Calgary, Alberta, who grew up at the height of grunge and rave culture in the nineties, well before they became the celebrated musicians and global LGBTQ icons we know today. While grappling with their identity and sexuality, often alone, they also faced academic meltdown, their parents’ divorce, and the looming pressure of what might come after high school. Written in alternating chapters from both Tegan’s and Sara’s points of view, the book is a raw account of the drugs, alcohol, love, music, and friendship they explored in their formative years.

A transcendent story of first loves and first songs, High School captures the tangle of discordant and parallel memories of two sisters who grew up in distinct ways even as they lived just down the hall from each another. This is the origin story of Tegan and Sara.


Book Review: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Publisher’s description

Two friends. One fake dating scheme. What could possibly go wrong?

Frank Li has two names. There’s Frank Li, his American name. Then there’s Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California.

Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl—which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white.

As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he’s forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don’t leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he’s left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love—or himself—at all.

In this moving debut novel—featuring striking blue stained edges and beautiful original endpaper art by the author—David Yoon takes on the question of who am I? with a result that is humorous, heartfelt, and ultimately unforgettable.

Amanda’s thoughts

Easily one of my top ten reads this year. EASILY. You know how many books I read a year? A few hundred. Eventually, many of them blur into fuzziness—I can’t remember plots or characters or (gulp) sometimes even that I read them at all. A long time ago, working at The Children’s Book Shop while I was in graduate school, my boss scolded me. “Don’t bolt your food!” she told me, watching me devour book after book. I can’t help it—I hardly stop to actually enjoy the writing, so desperate to consume the story. I usually hardly take a breath in between finishing one book and starting the next. But with this book? I read slowly. I let myself NOT read anything the rest of the day after I finished it. And I definitely will not be forgetting plot details or characters. This book is GOOD.

Korean-American Frank isn’t sure where he’s supposed to fit in. The child of immigrants, he always feels like he’s not Korean enough, but he’s not fully American. He loves his parents, who are complicated people. He fully admits they’re racist (and have essentially let their daughter, whose husband is black, walk out of their lives because of this). His best friend, Q, is black, and while he feels totally at home at Q’s house, he rarely has him over. He knows when he eventually finds a girlfriend, she should probably be Korean-American, just to make everything easier. Falling for white Brit means lots of deception. When he begins fake dating his Korean-American friend Joy, as a cover, we can see what may happen, but we can’t predict all of the twists and turns that will come with both his real relationship and his fake one.

While this is a love story, it’s also about so much more. Frank spends an awful lot of time thinking about race and where he fits. He talks with his friends about this. He travels in various circles—the AP kids (the Apeys), the Gathering kids—and fits everywhere and nowhere. He is always learning, rethinking, growing. At one point he thinks, “People who let themselves learn new things are the best kind of people.” Mine, too, Frank. When he starts to date Brit, he eventually realizes that he will always be holding her at a distance because he isn’t being his real self with her (whoever his real self is). But dating Joy turns out to be just as complicated when he begins to see all the gaps in life–gaps in time, in generations, in class, in upbringing, in experience. He’s trying to figure out what labels are for him, or if labels are even helpful, which is not an easy task.

I absolutely loved this book. It’s smart, funny, sweet, sad, cute, and thoughtful in all the best ways. I totally admit that if I start a book that’s more than 250 pages or so, I think, ugh—I bet it won’t need to be so long, mostly just because I want to race through it and onto the next book on my list. At 432 pages, I was wary. But you know what? Every single page needs to exist. I wanted more. The ending is perfect and satisfying, but I wanted more. One last thing: I am an easy crier. I cry at books all the time. If we could play back a reel of my life so far, we could clip together like an entire hour of my son just looking at me in exasperation, saying, “Oh my god—are you crying? Are you crying again? Are you still crying? WHY ARE YOU CRYING SO MUCH?” I am not, however, an easy laugh. It’s the rare book that makes me literally laugh out loud or smile into its pages. This book managed that trick many times. I love how Frank and his friends talk, how they relate, how they support each other. I just love them. I hope you’ll go grab this book and love them too. An utter delight.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984812209
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/10/2019