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Writing Your (Hidden) Self, a guest post by Jessica Pennington

I write romance. I write kissing books. I write love stories.

I don’t know how many times I gave those answers—at book launches and conventions, festivals, and family functions—before I realized it wasn’t the most accurate description of my work. Yes, my stories are full of sweet book boyfriends and swoony kisses. There are nights under the stars getting to know someone new, and long, painful discussions with former first-loves. And they are most definitely the type of books you see being read poolside or at the lake. But that’s not the only thing all of my books have in common.

As authors, many of us set out to write a book and have a map of where it will go. We have character sketches, plot points, beginnings and endings in mind. Some authors don’t, but for now let’s just say a lot of us do. Personally, I can’t even start a project until I have at least a general idea of where I’m headed. Of course, even for plotters, stories change along the way; characters reveal themselves to us, or a really great scene can steal the show and send us in an entirely different direction. Still, as the author, we have ultimate control of the story and the words we put on the page.

Despite that illusion of control, it took me two published books and five years to figure out what I was actually writing. My debut, Love Songs & Other Lies is about two teens who are unexpectedly trapped with their ex on a battle of the bands tour bus, but it’s also about a girl who doesn’t know how to share her feelings, even with those closest to her, except in the form of song lyrics. And it’s about caring for someone so much that you accept less than you deserve, just to preserve the relationship.

When Summer Ends is about two teens forced to work together when each of their summer plans fall apart, but it’s also about a girl who has planned her future so carefully, that she can’t see the problems—or fresh new potential—in her present.     

And by the time I wrote Meet Me At Midnight, I already knew it wasn’t just going to be about two teens forced to vacation together while torturing one another with yearly pranks, until they’re forced to call a truce and work together. It’s also about a girl who is emotionally guarded, and finds control in her life by meticulously organizing and planning things.

It may have taken me two-hundred-thousand written words to figure it out, but I finally did: I write stories about girls like me. Not thirty-seven-year-old me, of course (wow, what a disappointing YA novel that would be) or even the teen girl I saw myself as at the time, but the teen girl I didn’t realize I was until I started writing parts of myself into my stories.

As authors, we’re always hearing about how books affect readers, but one thing I’ve thought about a lot while stuck in my house for the last three months, is just how much writing my books has affected me. It’s funny how looking at your life from the outside can show you a new perspective, even fifteen years later.

I didn’t realize how dysfunctional one of my high school friendships was, until I tried putting it on the page in Love Songs & Other Lies. The friend I read in that first draft was not the one I remembered, but it was accurate. So I re-wrote that character into the friend I wish I’d had—the person that would have been what I actually needed in high school. Olivia in When Summer Ends is stripped of her carefully laid plans and shown that flipping a coin and living life by chance isn’t the great disaster she would have thought. I gave my social anxiety to Sidney in Meet Me At Midnight, and forced her not only to acknowledge it, but to find someone who held her hand and loved her through it.

Today, when I describe my books, I still say I write romance, but more importantly, I write books about girls like me: Type-A, focused, self-conscious, anxious, driven, emotionally guarded, a little too serious sometimes, and absolutely worthy of love. I write teen girls who need to make some mistakes to realize not all mistakes are bad. And I hope that readers will see my characters bruised-but-not-broken (and in love) and they’ll discover some things about themselves, too—hopefully twenty years earlier than I did.

Meet Jessica Pennington

Jessica Pennington is the author of contemporary romance novels for young adults (and the young at heart), including Meet Me At Midnight, When Summer Ends, and Love Songs & Other Lies. A self-proclaimed “professional romantic,” she has spent the last fifteen years immersed in love–first as a wedding planner and now a novelist. Jessica lives in a Michigan beach town suspiciously similar to the one in her novels, with her husband and son.

Find Jessica on IG @jessicapennington and Twitter @jessnpennington

Sign up for her monthly newsletter The EpistolarYAn here: http://itsjess.com/newsletter/

Website: www.itsjess.com

Jessica’s local indie bookstore is Forever Books.

About MEET ME AT MIDNIGHT

Meet Me at Midnight

They have a love-hate relationship with summer.

Sidney and Asher should have clicked. Two star swimmers forced to spend their summers on a lake together sounds like the perfect match. But it’s the same every year—in between cookouts and boat rides and family-imposed bonfires, Sidney and Asher spend the dog days of summer finding the ultimate ways to prank each other. And now, after their senior year, they’re determined to make it the most epic summer yet.

But their plans are thrown in sudden jeopardy when their feud causes their families to be kicked out of their beloved lake houses. Once in their new accommodations, Sidney expects the prank war to continue as usual. But then she gets a note—Meet me at midnight. And Asher has a proposition for her: join forces for one last summer of epic pranks, against a shared enemy—the woman who kicked them out.

Their truce should make things simpler, but six years of tormenting one another isn’t so easy to ignore. Kind of like the undeniable attraction growing between them.

ISBN-13: 9781250187666
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Continuing Anti-Racist Work in Publishing in the Wake of the George Floyd Protests, a guest post by Roseanne A. Brown

Being a Black debut is weird right now.

Being Black right now is weird. And being a debut right now is weird. But being both? Being both is a whole new level of weirdness I did not know it was possible to achieve.

My debut novel A Song of Wraiths and Ruin came out on June 2nd, and like most writers with spring/summer releases this year, I spent the months before coming to terms with the reality that the launch I had dreamed of for years would not be possible in the wake of COVID-19. As disappointing as it was, the health and safety of my community mattered more.

But then June 2nd itself arrived. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin came out on a day when the world was gripped in the throes of some of the largest scale protests we’ve seen since MLK was assassinated. The unjust killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police marked a turning point in the conversation on racial injustice, and institutions around the globe are still reckoning with what it means to not only be non-racist, but anti-racist in the face of centuries of subjugation and oppression of Black people.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

In the publishing world, this looked like a push to highlight books by Black authors that might have otherwise gotten lost in the chaos. The people of the publishing community, lead by amazing Black women writers, came together to create a Black Tuesday to ensure that my book, A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson, and several other books by Black authors that released on June 2nd were not forgotten. Posts went up, the books went out of stock across multiple retailers, and everyone from authors to booksellers to publishers and beyond reaffirmed their commitments to amplifying Black voices in our industry.

I have zero complaints about the reception ASOWAR has gotten. Seeing readers connect with these characters I’ve loved for years has been a highlight of my career. But I am curious to see how the commitment to amplifying Black voices will continue now that Black Lives Matter is no longer trending and people’s feeds have gone back to normal.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) recently released the 2019 figures for the yearly report they compile on the state of diversity in children’s literature, and the numbers are simply appalling. Out of the 3,716 books that the CCBC received, there were more books about animals than there were books about children of color. Of the measly 11.9% of books that featured Black/African protagonists, less than half were actually written by Black/African authors.

We Need Diverse Books has been a fixture in the industry since 2014, and the movement for more inclusive children’s media has brought hundreds of wonderful books into the world that are going to change young reader’s lives for the better. But the numbers make it clear that the work is far from over, and now—when the world feels like it’s ending and the future is murkier than it has ever been—now is the time to ramp up our efforts instead of pulling back.

Buying books by Black authors is a great start, but the work to elevate and amplify Black voices cannot end there. As a community, we need to be pushing Black voices front and center when there isn’t a national tragedy happening. We need to be listening to these voices even when the truths they are saying are uncomfortable to hear. We need to make sure that Black and other IPOC publishing professionals at all levels have the support and mentorship they need to continue putting out books of anti-racism and radical Black joy.

In the weeks since Black Tuesday, several organizations that committed to doing better by Black writers and employees have proved that their environments are still unsafe for the very people they claim to support. The same Black writers people were clamoring to support a few weeks ago have been silenced and harassed as they continue to speak up about racist practices in the industry.

Being anti-racist is going to take more than a few weeks of hyping certain books and creating aesthetic Instagram posts. It’s going to take a fundamental shifting in the way we all view and interact with the world. It’s going to take interrogating the way each and everyone of us has allowed the structures of this industry to function unjustly for so long.

The work does not and cannot end with buying a copy of a Black author’s book or even blacking out an entire bestseller list, though that is an excellent start. The work will end when Black and other marginalized voices are no longer working in this industry at a structural disadvantage. And it’s going to take every single one of us at every level of the publishing hierarchy to make sure this change stays for good.

We all need to keep showing up for Black voices and Black lives, even when it’s no longer on trend to do so.

Meet Roseanne A. Brown

Photo credit: Ashley Hirasuna

Rosanne A. Brown is an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she completed the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her work has been featured by Voice of America, among other outlets. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is her debut novel.

You can visit her online at 

Website: roseanneabrown.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rosiesrambles

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

Roseanne suggests getting her book from her local indie, Books With a Past.

About A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

The first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction—from debut author Roseanne A. Brown. This New York Times bestseller is perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi, Renée Ahdieh, and Sabaa Tahir.

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts his younger sister, Nadia, as payment to enter the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a heart-pounding course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

ISBN-13: 9780062891495
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One conversation can change everything.

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

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

But things don’t end there.…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teen Friendship: It’s Complicated, a guest post by Kit Frick

Photo credit: Simon Maage on Unsplash

When I was a teen, I clung tight to my small, close-knit friend group. I liked to describe the sandstone walls that surrounded us as “Abercrombie and Fitch High School,” and by nature and by nurture, I did not fit in with the mainstream aesthetic. Social interactions with anyone outside of my little group of misfits made my anxiety spike big time. It didn’t matter how kind or thoughtful the other person was being; I was convinced that niceness was a trap. I lived with the pervasive fear that anyone and everyone was judging me. Sometimes, they probably were. Most of the time, I was my own harshest critic.

I was a few weeks into my life on a residential college campus in New York when a worldview-shattering realization hit: I had spent the last few weeks talking to strangers, sometimes strangers with backgrounds and experiences very different from my own, and the world had not ended. Quite the opposite—I was building an expansive, life-affirming network of new friends. I was newly nineteen, and for the first time, I wasn’t consumed by social anxiety.

I’m known for writing YA thrillers, but my books are also about complicated female friendships. I put my characters through a lot, but in a way, they’re lucky: they learn to foster important peer relationships outside of their comfort zones earlier than I did, and thank goodness for that, because these friendships are key to these teen girls’ ability to save themselves from the perilous situations I’ve written them into.

Amanda and Rosalie, the co-protagonists in All Eyes on Us, begin the novel at serious odds. These two girls from opposite sides of Logansville, West Virginia have pretty much nothing in common aside from the intense, harmful pressure they’re being subjected to by their families and communities. Pressure that has driven both of them into staying in unhealthy relationships with real estate heir and town golden boy, Carter Shaw.

When Rosalie and Amanda are targeted by an anonymous harasser out to get Carter and take the girls down with him, they come together to end their stalker’s reign of terror. I have to give it to Rosalie especially; Amanda hates her when the book begins, and Rosalie knows it. Amanda’s only seeing a small sliver of the truth, but Rosalie’s actions, while justified by the physical and emotional necessity to shield herself from the conversion “therapy” she’s already been subjected to as a younger teen, are nonetheless hurting Amanda. And if I were Rosalie as a teen, I don’t think I would have allowed myself to trust Amanda’s olive branch when it comes. I probably would have run for the hills, and without the uneasy alliance the girls form, who knows where they would have ended up. (Nowhere good!)

I Killed Zoe Spanos also explores an unlikely friendship between two teen girls—this time bonded by a search for truth and justice. When local teen Zoe Spanos goes missing, Anna Cicconi confesses to playing a role in her death and the concealment of her body, but her story is riddled with holes, and teen true crime podcaster Martina Green is determined to uncover the truth and get justice for Zoe’s family. Here’s the thing, though: Martina isn’t convinced of Anna’s innocence, just that Anna couldn’t have killed Zoe in the way she described to police. Either the wrong girl is in juvie awaiting trial, or what Anna did is a lot worse than the accident she confessed to. Throughout the course of the novel, Martina puts her friendship with Zoe’s younger sister Aster in jeopardy in her quest for the truth, and Anna allows herself to trust Martina, despite the reality that Martina’s not necessarily out to exonerate her. It’s a lot. Way more than I would have been capable of dealing with as a teen, where the most explosive fall-out in my friend group involved a punk rock hoodie. Don’t ask.

Photo credit: Simon Maage on Unsplash

As a writer of YA thrillers, it’s important to me to not just write girls into peril, but to also allow them to fight their way out of danger. Often that involves high-stakes relationship building, and I think that has a lot to do with my own adolescent experiences as a very timid relationship-builder. I would not have fared well in one of my own books, okay? Don’t drop Teen Kit in a thriller; it’s going to end badly. But fiction allows us to explore our shortcomings as well as our successes. And important teen topics shouldn’t be limited to realistic YA contemporary. Genre fiction allows us to write about issues important to real teens—such as complex female friendships—against the backdrop of thrills, chills, and twisty mysteries. Thrillers can be both an escape and a space for social engagement. This capacity to “walk and chew gum” is part of what makes engaging with the genre so exciting to me as a creator writing for a teen audience.

Meet Kit Frick

Photo credit: Carly Gaebe, Steadfast Studio

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow from Pittsburgh, PA. She studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press and edits for private clients. She is the author of the young adult thrillers I Killed Zoe SpanosAll Eyes on Us, and See All the Stars, all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, as well as the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs from New American Press. Kit is working on her next novel.

BUY LINKS:

Signed pre-orders from Riverstone books: https://riverstonebookstore.indielite.org/pre-order-signed-copies-kit-fricks-new-book

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-killed-zoe-spanos-kit-frick/1134080087

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/i-killed-zoe-spanos/9781534449701

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781534449701

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1534449701/

SOCIAL:

Website: https://kitfrick.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kitfrick

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

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

About I Killed Zoe Spanos

For fans of Sadie and Serial, this gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Kit Frick weaves a thrilling story of psychological suspense that twists and turns until the final page.

ISBN-13: 9781534449701
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 06/30/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

Publisher’s description

For fans of Sadie and Serial, this gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Kit Frick weaves a thrilling story of psychological suspense that twists and turns until the final page.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a very impatient person, so it’s no surprise I’m an impatient reader. I sometimes have a hard time with mysteries or thrillers where we’re reading to find out who did something. I know the whole entire point of the book is to keep us guessing, but I have to fight the urge to be like “JUST TELL US!” and skip ahead to the end. My point is that, for me, I’m probably not going to stick with it or not skim to get to the end faster if it’s not a completely compelling and unpredictable story. That said, I read every word of this book, didn’t skip to the end, and didn’t know who actually did what until it was revealed.

If you’re a fan of unreliable narrators—or of unreliable characters, period—you will enjoy this book. We toggle back in forth in time to the summer Anna spends as a nanny and to a later point, after she has confessed to killing Zoe Spanos. Except, did she? She has trouble remembering details. Some things feel like a dream. Is she just being led by what police are saying happened? We see her spend an entire summer forgetting things, talking about blacking out, feeling an eerie sense of memories that she can’t possibly have. Or can she? Everything that seems true or false is up for debate. So many of her sentences are punctuated with “I guess,” or “maybe,” or “I don’t remember.” With her history of ditching school, drinking to the point of blacking out, being brought home by cops, and stealing her moms medicine, maybe she did kill Zoe and just can’t remember. Or maybe that’s what someone wants her to think.

Interspersed with Anna’s story are transcripts from a podcast by a local teen who is trying to figure out just what happened to Zoe. Other secondary characters provide bits and pieces of their relationships with Zoe and it seems like many other people could be suspects. When an autopsy report throws Anna’s story into question, she finally begins to question if she actually did kill Zoe, but it’s hard to piece together the truth when your own brain is being so foggy and unreliable.

Full of lies, manipulation, half-truths, secrets, twists, and SO MUCH tension, this mystery will easily rope in readers as we, along with all of the characters, try to figure out just who killed Zoe Spanos.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534449701
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 06/30/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann

Publisher’s description

My Eyes Are Up Here is a razor-sharp debut about a girl struggling to rediscover her sense of self in the year after her body decided to change all the rules.

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on excelling at math or negotiating peace talks between her best friend and . . . everyone else. She wouldn’t spend any time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head.

But you can’t play volleyball inside your head. Or go to the pool. Or have confusingly date-like encounters with the charming new boy. You need an actual body for all of those things. And Greer is entirely uncomfortable in hers.

Hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, My Eyes Are Up Here is a story of awkwardness and ferocity, of imaginary butterflies and rock-solid friends. It’s the story of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not right to say that I’ve been in a reading slump. I’ve been in a life slump (I write, gesturing at everything all around us causing these feelings). Books are, as they always have been, where I seek refuge. But I set aside a lot of them these days because they just aren’t right. I find myself reading horror, because it’s so far removed from reality, or books on depression, because why not really lean into this. I shift my TBR pile around like maybe I will make it land in some magically appealing configuration that will engage me long enough to get out of my own head.

Not only did this book do just that, but getting out of her own head is something that Greer, the main character here, also needs to do. I won’t say she overthinks things, but she is rather consumed with thoughts about her boobs. Her best guess is she’s a 30H, and her boobs quite literally get in the way of her life. They are both physically uncomfortable and mentally?… theoretically?… emotionally? uncomfortable. She’s worried they’re all people can see when they look at her and she spends her life hiding under giant sweatshirts, trying to make herself smaller or maybe invisible.

I was a hardcore My So-Called Life fan. It came out when I was around 17 and felt so SEEN by it. One of the best lines is, “So when Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. ‘Cause she wasn’t just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life.” For Greer, it’s not her hair, it’s her boobs. But the same idea applies. She sticks to what she knows she’s good at—school and really only being friends with the outspoken and argumentative Maggie. She sort of gets used to living a smaller life than she’d maybe like because she’s being held back, because she’s holding herself back.

But a cute (and funny and smart) new boy, Jackson, seems to maybe like her, and Greer definitely likes him, but she can’t imagine actually pursuing things with him because her boobs will get in the way. Again. Like, she panics at the idea of physical intimacy and possibly ever revealing just what’s under the big sweatshirts. And she worries her boobs are all anyone notices (though she really needs to give Jackson more credit because he’s pretty much a perfect YA novel boyfriend). And she even backs out of going to a formal dance with him because there is no way she will ever find a dress that will fit her body.

Greer is rather shocked to find out she has an aptitude for volleyball and that she actually wants to make the team. But again, it’s her body that holds her back. All of her bras seem horrible and completely mess up her ability to play the game. Even when she finally gets a good bra, the team jersey is just WAY too tight for her to wear. Eventually Greer has to decide if she’s going to let her body stop her from experiencing life or just learn to deal with what she has and see what happens.

While this is so much about self-esteem and bodies, it’s also about finding new interests and making new friends. Greer learns to see herself as a team of girls (and not just literally as part of a volleyball team of girls), she learns how to stand up for other girls and let other girls have her back. And while it’s easy to say things like “all bodies are good bodies” and want someone to feel nothing but 100% positive about 100% of the pieces that make up a body, we all know it’s much more complicated than that. It’s complicated for me as an adult, never mind how complicated it was for me at 15, like Greer. Greer talks about finding YouTubers who share her experience and how one isn’t angry at her body but is angry on behalf of her body (she doesn’t need her body to be “better” or different, but she needs the world to be better and different), and for the most part, much of how Greer feels reflects that—she wishes she could find better bras, that clothes come truly made for a bigger variety of shapes, that society’s obsession with women’s bodies isn’t the way it is. But she also really would like her body to be different, to cause her less physical pain, to fit better, to feel better. She’s not ashamed so much as she’s 15, so much as she’s built so unlike anyone around her, so much as she’s just trying to figure out how to fit in her own body—the way so many of us have to figure this out.

Not only is this book well-written with great banter and interesting secondary characters, but I suspect it will speak to all readers in SOME way, since it’s very likely we all have a “thing” we obsess over or grapple with with our own bodies. A smart and honest look at the various ways we hide ourselves as well as an empowering look at strong friendships. Highly recommended.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984815248
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/23/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

So I Guess Now I’m Someone Who Talks About Boobs, a guest post by Laura Zimmermann

Somehow, as I was writing a book about a girl with uncomfortably large breasts, I didn’t anticipate how much people were going to want to talk to me about breasts. Strangers. Neighbors. Mammography techs. Usually their own. Occasionally someone else’s.

To be clear, there are other things to talk about in the book, too. Greer, the narrator of My Eyes Are Up Here, leads a full and complex life of ideas, relationships, responsibilities, and a range of human characteristics. She’s got an excellent best friend who thrives on confrontation. She’s super good at math and skeptical about the quality of the Spanish language instruction she’s getting at school. There’s a new boy who is relying on her to shortcut his acclimation to school. There’s some drama with the drama kids (as is often the case), who are performing an outdated and sexist musical (as is often the case). There’s quite a lot of volleyball. I could talk about volleyball all day.

Greer is confident in a lot of ways and painfully unsure of herself in other ways—like most of us are when we are on the way to adulthood. Like many of us are even now. And finding the way through is what this book is about.

….but there are also breasts. And, it turns out, a lot of people who want to talk about them.

Please indulge a sidebar here to note that once you start talking about breasts, you quickly run into a vocabulary problem. In most cases, I am a proponent of calling body parts by their proper (but non-Latin) names, with the exception of refusing to say “abdominal pain” when what I really mean is “tummy ache.” In the case of breasts, however, unless we are talking about surgery, feeding a baby, or self-exams, a lot of people don’t use the word. “Breasts” are what is still staggeringly susceptible to cancer, or the driest part of a chicken. It sounds clinical. (Or culinary.)

Most women I know say “boobs” instead. I try to be little careful, so as not to appear cavalier (especially in my new role as boob confidant), and because I don’t believe it feels right coming from, say, the guy who works at the animal hospital behind my house. There is a near endless list of other names ranging from cutesy to deeply misogynistic, and probably a dissertation in the works somewhere examining that list. In regard to My Eyes Are Up Here, you could go super clinical and say “macromastia,” but then only librarians, my editor, or other word-loving nerds would know what you were talking about. So please forgive boobs. (In the book, Greer often refers to hers as Maude and Mavis. This, unfortunately, is not a solution that scales to wider discussion.)

I wasn’t always someone who was comfortable talking about bodies—especially not mine. Like Greer, who spends each day under the cover of an extra-large sweatshirt, I spent my high school years doing anything to divert attention from my body: big, drapey clothes; the posture of a Disney crone; no swimming without a t-shirt. I went to chiropractors for my back, to orthopedic doctors for my neck, I took a lot of Tylenol for everything. I stretched and did physical therapy to strengthen my core, in case the real reason my shoulders hurt was because my abs were weak. I ran with two sports bras at once, which is the Spandex equivalent of a python. I didn’t own a tank top. When I got invited to a formal event, my mom sewed me a purple taffeta sleeping bag with a pretty lace collar. It was a weird thing for a 19-year-old person to wear to a fancy party, but it was very nice of her to sew it to my specifications. Even after I had breast reduction, I let all my coworkers believe I was having back surgery. (Most people come back from back surgery with all new shirts, right?)

Over a long time, I got more comfortable. I mean that both physically and not physically.

And then came this book. One of the first things people learn about Greer is what makes her so uncomfortable in her own skin (the cover and title help with that). Early on, I wondered if that it might make it uncomfortable to talk about—though to be honest, that’s also exactly why I wanted to write it in the first place. But a few things have surprised me. The first is the number of people who readily chime with their own experiences, as though they’ve been waiting to be asked. Sometimes it’s about breast surgery (way more common than you think), or a funny or painful story about their own Maudes and Mavises. (One friend described an embarrassing net fault playing volleyball. Her team essentially lost a point because she wasn’t a B-cup and got too close to the net on a block.)

Sometimes someone will tell me that she had “the opposite problem,” meaning that she felt self-conscious because she was flat-chested. But’s that’s not the opposite; it’s really kind of the same. I know this because it’s never really about boobs at all. It’s about being too big or too small or too slow or too hairy or simply too much in the eyes of somebody else. It’s about wishing your body or your face or your skin or your walk or your voice fit a mold. And then, hopefully, realizing that it doesn’t have to.

The second thing that’s surprised me is how much I love these connections, these tiny revelations from friends or strangers. When someone launches unbidden into a tale about underwires or nursing a baby or trying out those weird strapless adhesive things, I am all in. And I come back with perspective on built-in shelf bras or the magic of lanolin or a vow to never try those weird strapless adhesive things. I love how quickly we find solidarity in vulnerability, and how maybe solidarity can create invulnerability. It is not uncomfortable; it’s a relief.

There was a time I would have dropped to the floor and hidden under a rack of underwear rather than tell the lady at Nordstrom what size I was looking for. But now? I guess now I’m someone who talks about boobs.

Meet Laura Zimmermann

Photo by Jeff Wheeler

Laura is a writer, a storyteller, and a maker of cheesecakes. You might find her at a softball game, a jazz concert, or a nonprofit board meeting, but you’ll never find her on a ladder or entering a triathlon. She is a multi-time winner of Moth and WordSprout story slams, and has frequently shared stories on the Twin Cities Listen To Your Mother stage. Her debut YA novel, My Eyes Are Up Here, will be published by Dutton Books in June 2020. She lives in Minneapolis with her three favorite people, who show up in her stories whether they like it or not.

My website is laurazimmermannbooks.com

My Twitter is @laurazimbooks

Instagram is @laurazimbooks

Laura suggests purchasing her book from her favorite local indie, Red Balloon Books in St. Paul.

About My Eyes Are Up Here

“An original, feminist, and timely first choice title for all libraries serving teens,” School Library Journal starred review.

To see Amanda’s review, hop over here!

My Eyes Are Up Here is a razor-sharp debut about a girl struggling to rediscover her sense of self in the year after her body decided to change all the rules.

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on excelling at math or negotiating peace talks between her best friend and . . . everyone else. She wouldn’t spend any time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head.

But you can’t play volleyball inside your head. Or go to the pool. Or have confusingly date-like encounters with the charming new boy. You need an actual body for all of those things. And Greer is entirely uncomfortable in hers.

Hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, My Eyes Are Up Here is a story of awkwardness and ferocity, of imaginary butterflies and rock-solid friends. It’s the story of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.

ISBN-13: 9781984815248
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/23/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

New Books Alert: Stories of prejudice, politics, family secrets, and more.

It’s been pretty quiet on the book mail front here. With so many places being shut down during the pandemic, much of the reading to be done has moved to being digital. Thank goodness I’m starting to get a few paper books again, as I’m not a fan of reading on electronics. Who knows what the future holds (truly at this point, who knows what tomorrow holds), but I really hope we don’t lose paper ARCs.

Interested in what you see here? Be sure to order from your local indie store! Two of my favorite stores are The Red Balloon in St. Paul, MN and The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline Village, MA.

As always, reminder that 100% of what I get in book mail goes back out the door to find new homes with teachers, librarians, and young readers. Keep at eye on my Twitter (@CiteSomething) and maybe you’ll see some of these books ready for new homes soon!


All descriptions from the publishers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One conversation can change everything.

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

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

But things don’t end there.…

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

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

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon (ISBN-13: 9781534440241 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 07/28/2020 Ages 12-18)

The Hating Game meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by way of Morgan Matson in this unforgettable romantic comedy about two rival overachievers whose relationship completely transforms over the course of twenty-four hours.

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

Look at the box of fun that this book came in!

The Companion

The Companion by Katie Alender (ISBN-13: 9780399545917 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/25/2020, Ages 12-17)

The other orphans say Margot is lucky.
 
Lucky to survive the horrible accident that killed her family.
 
Lucky to have her own room because she wakes up screaming every night.
 
And finally, lucky to be chosen by a prestigious family to live at their remote country estate.
 
But it wasn’t luck that made the Suttons rescue Margot from her bleak existence at the group home.  Margot was handpicked to be a companion to their silent, mysterious daughter, Agatha. At first, helping with Agatha—and getting to know her handsome older brother—seems much better than the group home. But soon, the isolated, gothic house begins playing tricks on Margot’s mind, making her question everything she believes about the Suttons . . . and herself.  
 
Margot’s bad dreams may have stopped when she came to live with Agatha – but the real nightmare has just begun.

Punching the Air

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam (ISBN-13: 9780062996480 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 14-17)

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo. 

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born 

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white. 

The story that I think

will be my life 

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it? 

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Charming as a Verb

Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe (ISBN-13: 9780062824141 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/08/2020, Ages 13-17)

From the award-winning author of The Field Guide to the North American Teenager comes a whip-smart and layered romantic comedy. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and Jenny Han.

Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.

There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.

Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .

This is a sharply funny and insightful novel about the countless hustles we have to keep from doing the hardest thing: being ourselves.

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My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee (ISBN-13: 9781534432338 Publisher: Aladdin Publication date: 09/15/2020 Ages 9-13)

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

Far From Normal by Becky Wallace (ISBN-13: 9781645670568 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 09/22/2020 Ages 14-17)

From Stealing Home author Becky Wallace comes a Devil Wears Prada-inspired YA romance, in which “normal girl” Maddie must repair the image of Major League Soccer’s bad boy to ace her internship. A perfect read for fans of Morgan Matson and Miranda Kenneally.

Maddie McPherson is sick of Normal—both her hometown of Normal, Illinois and being the ‘normal’ sibling. But when she lands a summer internship with a sports marketing firm, she finally has a chance to crawl out of her genius brother’s shadow. Not to mention, a glowing letter of recommendation could secure her admission to her dream college.

But Maddie’s nickname is “CalaMaddie” for a reason, and when the company tasks her with repairing the image of teen soccer phenom Gabriel Fortunato, she wonders if she’s set herself up for embarrassment. Gabriel is a tabloid magnet, who’s best-known for flubbing Italy’s World Cup hopes. As Maddie works with him to develop “pleasant and friendly” content for social media, she also learns he’s thoughtful, multi-talented, and fiercely loyal—maybe even to a fault. Falling for a footballer is exactly how CalaMaddie would botch this internship, but with the firm pressuring her to get the job done, perhaps her heart is worth risking?

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The Pants Project by Cat Clarke (ISBN-13: 9781728215525 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 10/01/2019 Ages 9-13)

“My name is Liv (Not Olivia)… I’m not technically a girl.

I’m Transgender. Which is a bit like being a transformer. Only not quite as cool because I probably won’t get to save the world one day.”

Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Liv to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy—it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

The Puppetmaster’s Apprentice by Lisa DeSelm (ISBN-13: 9781645670803 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 10/13/2020 Ages 14+)

Impressed by the work of the puppetmaster and his apprentice, Tavia’s ruler, The Margrave, has ordered dozens of life-size marionette soldiers to be sent to Wolfspire Hall. When the orders for more soldiers come in with increasingly urgent deadlines, the puppetmaster’s health suffers and Pirouette, his daughter and protégé, is left to build in his stead. But there is something far more twisted brewing at Wolfspire—the Margrave’s son wants Pirouette to create an assassin. And he wants her to give it life.

With Tavia teetering on the brink of war and her father dying in the dungeons, Pirouette has no choice but to accept. Racing against the rise of the next blue moon—the magic that will bring her creations to life—she can’t help but wonder, is she making a masterpiece…or a monster?

You Know I'm No Good

You Know I’m No Good by Jessie Ann Foley (ISBN-13: 9780062957085 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 10/13/2020, Ages 14-17)

This razor-sharp novel from Printz Honor winner and Morris Award finalist Jessie Ann Foley will appeal to fans of Rory Power and Mindy McGinnis.

Mia is officially a Troubled Teen™— she gets bad grades, drinks too much, and has probably gone too far with too many guys.

But she doesn’t realize how out of control she seems until she is taken from her home in the middle of the night and sent away to Red Oak Academy, a therapeutic girls’ boarding school in the middle of nowhere.

While there, Mia is forced to confront her painful past at the same time she questions why she’s at Red Oak. If she were a boy, would her behavior be considered wild enough to get sent away? But what happens when circumstances outside of her control compel Mia to make herself vulnerable enough to be truly seen?

Challenging and thought-provoking, this stunning contemporary YA novel examines the ways society is stacked against teen girls and what one young woman will do to even the odds.

The Messy, Complicated In-Between, a guest post by Katie Cotugno

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Twelve or thirteen years ago I heard a piece on NPR about an engaged couple who were members of a conservative religious group and weren’t allowed to have any physical contact at all until the day they were married. I’ll be honest: I was expecting a pretty bleak courtship story, bracing myself for some kind of patriarchal purity culture BS, but when I heard the host interview the husband-to-be, I have to admit the whole thing actually sounded the tiniest bit romantic. Here were two people who’d gotten to know each other intimately—who’d had deep conversations and shared secrets and legitimately fallen in love—without ever so much as holding hands.

“Right now,” the man said, “the basic complication is that we can’t touch each other.”

Oh, I thought, my ears perking up. I reached for a pen and scrawled the quote in my notebook, where I’d return to it again and again over the years as I tried to figure out what to do with it. That is a very good complication.

Amazon.com: You Say It First (9780062674128): Cotugno, Katie: Books

The two main characters in my new book, You Say It First, live eight hours apart—Meg in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Colby in rural Ohio—but they may as well have grown up in completely different dimensions. Meg’s headed for the Ivy League; Colby barely graduated high school. Meg’s laptop is covered with campaign stickers, while Colby is less than convinced by cheery idealism. They “meet” when she dials his parents’ landline from her job at a voter registration call center: they bicker, they banter, he bests her, she calls him back.  They fall in love—or something like it—over the course of long, meandering, sometimes tough conversations that challenge them both to rethink certain inalienable truths about themselves and what they believe. Their relationship thrives in that strange, liminal space, an invisible phone line tethering them together.

Grounding those feelings in the reality of their day-to-day lives—their families, their friends, their communities—proves to be a little bit trickier.

“I don’t know,” I said, when I first started toying with the idea of a project that touched, however lightly, on politics. “I’m not interested in writing a book about, like, two white people debating abortion. And I definitely don’t want to write about how we might believe different things, but deep down in our purest hearts we’re all really the same and all opinions are created equal.”

Because here’s the thing: I don’t think all opinions are created equal. I don’t even think all opinions are valid. And I certainly don’t believe in meeting in the middle for the sake of keeping an uneasy peace.

But I do think that part of being a human is navigating messy, complicated relationships with people whose experiences are different than yours are. And part of growing up is realizing you don’t know everything you thought you knew.

That was the problem with Meg, Colby laments at one point in the novel. He could never manage to feel just one thing about her at a time.

I think that’s a very good complication, too.

I’ve been thinking about Meg and Colby a lot lately, both as I try to figure out how to launch a book during a pandemic and as I’ve watched that first basic complication—we can’t touch each other—become literal in a way that never occurred to me as I was writing. The last few months have laid bare all the fissures in our society we try so hard to ignore, drawing a big fat circle around the ways in which the random luck of people’s circumstances dictates their privilege, their prospects, the sturdiness of their safety nets, their chances of survival.

I knew I was writing a book for an election year. I didn’t realize I was writing a book for a quarantine, too.

Here is what I know to be true: we’re not all the same deep down in our purest hearts, and we’re not all weathering this storm from the same boat. But as we say goodbye to our old world and wait for the new one to reveal itself, I wonder if there’s a way for us to reach out and connect with each other in this strange place in between.

Meet Katie Cotugno

Katie Cotugno is the New York Times bestselling author of Top Ten99 Days9 Days and 9 Nights, and How to Love. She is also the coauthor, with Candace Bushnell, of Rules for Being a Girl. Katie studied writing, literature, and publishing at Emerson College and received her MFA in fiction at Lesley University. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in Iowa ReviewMississippi Review, and Argestes, among others. She lives in Boston with her husband, Tom. You can visit Katie online at www.katiecotugno.com.

Find Katie’s book at Frugal Bookstore and wherever books are sold.

About You Say It First

You Say It First

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

One conversation can change everything.

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

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

But things don’t end there.…

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

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

ISBN-13: 9780062674128
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/16/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Me and My Abuela: The Stories that Made Me Want to Become a Storyteller, a guest post by Alex Aster

Storytelling is one of our most ancient and sacred abilities as humans. From cave drawings, to woven tapestries, to the bards in Ovid, to my abuela, whispering terrifying tales in the dark. I remember it all—me and my twin sister tugging at my grandmother’s soft, starfish-like hand, leading her to our room. As a child, my abuela, at four-foot-eight, was always more of a conspirator than an adult figure. She would sneak us apple juice at 9pm, way past our bedtime, which we would request through a matching pair of Barbie walkie-talkies. She was scared of the same things we were—I remember screaming at the sight of a giant spider in my room, and calling for her to help, only for my abuela to say tentatively in the hallway, in Spanish, “What is it? I might be scared too.”

I don’t know how it started, but somehow, every night, my abuela would end up at the end of the bed my sister and I shared, swaddled in endless blankets like a giant child. My sister and I would shout requests, and then she would start, in a voice completely different than the high-pitched laugh that always echoed through our house. Everything about her would change—her voice became serious. Her spine straightened. And now, thinking back on it, maybe she wrapped herself in so many blankets because she was afraid for any of her skin to be exposed to the darkness. Because she understood something I do now. Words have power. Scary stories can make the room change—make the shadows on the wall longer, make the darkness hungrier.

Though my grandmother has been on a desperate, long journey to learn English since my sister and I were born, she never mastered it. So these stories were told the same way her mother had told them to her—in Spanish. And language, in storytelling, makes a difference. There are words I can’t begin to translate, not because I don’t know what the English equivalent is, but because the available words are unworthy. They don’t capture either the tenderness, or wickedness, or humor. They don’t sound the same. And, since these stories were always told orally, sound also makes a difference.

My grandmother knows dozens of stories that she can recite word for word—and they’ve never been written down. These tales have been passed along the same way they were passed to me. In dark rooms, on stormy nights, as cautionary tales to curious children. They contained warnings that used to shape my nightmares—don’t wear a ponytail to bed, or it’ll fall off. Don’t sleep backwards on the bed, or your life source will be flipped as well, and the devil will think you’re old instead of young, then collect you for death. Follow the rules, or you might just end up with horns on your forehead.

These Colombian legends shaped my creative brain, during a time when it was still growing, when critical connections were being made. And they continue to influence me now. One story in particular, La niña con la estrella en la frente, inspired the world of my debut book, Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch. In the story, a girl earns a star on her forehead for following the rules, and her sister is given horns on her face for breaking them. That tale inspired me to create a world where markings on one’s skin could be earned, and could come with great power—or could end up being a curse. And, as a tribute to all of those cuentos my abuela told me before bedtime, I created a Book of Cuentos for my debut, an ancient book of legends on Emblem Island that the main characters must use to track down the only person that can break their deadly curse—the Night Witch. Some of these cuentos are based on Latinx monsters, like “La patasola,” “La ciguapa,” and “La llorona.” Some I wrote from scratch. We included these stories in between each chapter, creating a book within a book. Nothing can quite capture the magic of my grandmother telling stories herself, or my sister and I on the edge of our seats (only for my abuela to start snoring before we lightly kicked her awake again). But, hopefully, my book will introduce children who have never heard of these Latinx monsters to our beautiful, rich culture.

I’m lucky to still have my grandmother in my life. She’s still four-foot-eight, still laughs more than she talks, and still can’t quite speak English the way she wants to. But, now that I’m twenty-four, I haven’t heard her storytelling in years. I asked her recently, if she told these stories to my cousins, who are four and eight. I believe she’s tried. Perhaps I’ll ask her to tell them to me again sometime. I owe everything to her, and to our family’s traditions. Because my abuela’s stories made me want to become a storyteller too.

Meet Alex Aster

About — Alex Aster
Photo credit: Kathryn Wirsing

Alex Aster recently graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch is her debut novel, inspired by Latinx myths her Colombian grandmother told her before bedtime. She is currently working on the second book in the Emblem Island series. Explore the world of Emblem Island at asterverse.com.

About Curse of the Night Witch

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

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

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

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

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

ISBN-13: 9781492697206
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 06/09/2020
Series: Emblem Island Series #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years