Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Author-Reader Relationship: Reaching Beyond Expectations, a guest post by Halli Gomez

When I first wrote my young adult novel, List of Ten, a story about a teen living with Tourette Syndrome (TS), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety, someone told me the only people who would read the book are those with TS. I argued against that statement, insisted it wasn’t true, and kept pursing the publishing dream.

When List of Ten sold and I began going through the publishing process, I thought more about that statement. I agonized over it. And I realize now, I may have had a Field of Dreams attitude: write it and they will read it.

And why wouldn’t they? People read books for a variety of reasons, not all of which involve a personal connection. We read about magical characters, but we are not magic. Mysteries, but we’re not detectives. Dragons, and we are definitely not fire-breathing fantastical creatures. Maybe that statement was true. This book is different. It focuses on a lesser-known disorder, mental health, and suicide. Would people read this book? And more importantly, why?

The first two manuscripts I wrote didn’t sell, and thinking back, I didn’t have much thought after getting the words on paper. Sure, I had dreams of seeing my book on store shelves, but I can see now that I was missing a crucial piece. The author-reader relationship.

I’ve given a lot of thought to that relationship over the past few years. Does an author have a responsibility to their readers? What is the overall purpose? A question as big as the universe, but appropriate since books have the power to change the world.

Any writer will tell you there’s a feeling to create, a desire to tell a story that’s deep inside and won’t let go. Despite the stress, time, and rejections, we keep writing, often laughing to ourselves as we do it.

So, we are going to write, but what is the purpose? As a reader myself, I thought about what I look for in books. Entertainment, sure. At times I want to escape my life, the struggles with neurodiversity, even the sky when there are too many rainy days in a row. But is that the extent of the author-reader relationship? To entertain and chase the blahs away? Being able to make someone happy with your art is a wonderful gift, but there is much more authors can do.

Think about the books that have impacted today’s generation. Harry Potter brought out the love of reading in many reluctant and non-readers. Hunger Games embodied female empowerment. Thirteen years after the book was published and nine years since the movie was made, I still hear the well-known phrase “I volunteer as tribute.” Most will admit the books are entertaining, but many readers will say they formed a deeper connection.

It’s time to look at my own reading journey. I read everything from picture books to adult fiction and non-fiction. Mysteries, historical fiction, contemporary, ghost stories and much more. I choose stories based on the authors (I frequently refer to John Green as a literary genius) others based on the plot, and many because I want to learn about new people and places.

Books in general, but List of Ten in particular, and others like it, for example All the Bright Places, Brave Enough, Challenger Deep, The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down are not to be taken lightly. They deal with very tough topics and may not be for everyone. I went back to that original statement again, this time keeping the author-reader relationship in mind. Who would read a book about Tourette Syndrome and suicide?

To be honest, the answer surprised me. I hoped people with similar issues would connect and feel seen. I hoped it would bring a greater understanding of misunderstood neurodivergent individuals. What I didn’t expect was an even greater audience. I’ve heard from people who see books like List of Ten as a way to connect with their own children and family members, and others who are sharing it to promote inclusion and respect, and even others who have found themselves questioning their own behavior toward neurodivergent individuals.

To forge that author-reader relationship, stories don’t have to be as blatant and serious as List of Ten. The story a writer wants to tell, the theme they want to impart on the reader can be wrapped up in anything. It can entertain and impact.

I hope to accomplish that with my work-in-progress, a young adult thriller filled with suspense, secrets, and a dead body. But running through it all is a girl who has been talked over and disregarded her entire life. More than solving the mystery, I’m writing this for readers who need to see what can be accomplished when they find their voice, and, just as important, for those readers who need to understand what happens when you don’t allow people to have a voice. And, of course, for those readers who will discover their own connection.

Meet the author

Halli Gomez teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults. She has written several stories with neurodivergent characters including her young adult novel List of Ten (Sterling Teen) When no one is looking, she sock skates through the house and talks to dogs like they are human. When people are looking, she enjoys reading, outdoors, and breaking out of escape rooms with her family. Halli lives in North Carolina with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

Website: https://halligomez.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Halli_Gomez

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

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

About List of Ten

A harrowing yet hopeful account of a teen living with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder . . .
and contemplating his own mortality.


Ten: three little letters, one ordinary number. No big deal, right? But for Troy Hayes, a 16-year-old suffering from Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the number ten dictates his life, forcing him to do everything by its exacting rhythm. Finally, fed up with the daily humiliation, loneliness, and physical pain he endures, Troy writes a list of ten things to do by the tenth anniversary of his diagnosis—culminating in suicide on the actual day. But the process of working his way through the list changes Troy’s life: he becomes friends with Khory, a smart, beautiful classmate who has her own troubled history. Khory unwittingly helps Troy cross off items on his list, moving him ever closer to his grand finale, even as she shows him that life may have more possibilities than he imagined. This is a dark, intense story, but it’s also realistic, hopeful, and deeply authentic.

ISBN-13: 9781454940142
Publisher: Sterling Teen
Publication date: 03/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

The Made-up Parts Have the Most For-reals in Them, a guest post by Grant Farley

The house is a “tall-skinny” built in a slightly hilly area overlooking LA harbor, a hodgepodge neighborhood of houses built and rebuilt on half-lots first planned for beach combers and dock workers in the 1920’s. It is where my wife and our son and I have lived since he was born seventeen years ago, and it is where we are now, like you, hunkered down during this time of Covid. Within this house lurk mysterious triangles. This blog is about one such mystery. 

“It’s cool how the old man never butts into the tale, instead lets me tell it to the end. If there is an end. It takes a good listener to make a story whole, and he has a deep-down way of listening.”

The first point of the triangle: My writing space is an enclosed balcony off the back of the upper story. A roll-top desk and a shelf fill it. The desk was my father’s before me and my grandfather’s before him. Ink stains and coffee rings and scratches and a trace of airplane glue connect the three of us. A triangle, I suppose, but not the one for us now. I wrote Bones of a Saint from this desk. I still can’t free myself from R.J. whispering some tale in my ear, as though his voice has permeated this wood.

“My all-time most favorite tale was selling toes. Not my own, of course. I sold my brother Charley’s toes.”

Those were the first words he spoke for Bones of a Saint. Now I gaze over the top of the desk out to the harbor, a more industrial panorama than romantic vista, but the freighters and cranes remind me to stop gazing off at the ocean and get the hell back to work. At my back is the “guest bedroom.” Since there haven’t been guests for over a year, and my dresser has migrated here, stacks of notes and drafts teeter amid piles of clothes. The door is now closed, as is the door to our bedroom, but I can hear my wife’s full laugh from the second point of the triangle, drowning out even R.J.’s insistent whisper.

“Mr. Sanders, with his Canterbury Tales, he taught me about pilgrims that lived in a past that went back hundreds and hundreds of years. And Father Speckler, with his New Testament, he preached about a future that won’t come until forever and ever, amen. Neither way does any good now, against the Blackjacks. All I can do is live in the here and now.” 

The second point of the triangle: Our bedroom is now half-converted to her classroom, and even through two doors I hear her online students engaged in an animated discussion of a favorite novel. My wife is a high school English teacher. A very good teacher. Is it weird to say that part of why I fell in love with her was the way she throws herself into her teaching and her students? Her students used to call her Ms. Frizzle. I’m pretty sure it was a compliment. Most of the time. I fantasize about her teaching Bones of a Saint. When Covid struck, with little space in our house, we moved my dresser from our bedroom into “the guest room” and ordered a desk that we put together in our bedroom, and her classroom was born. At least she has a large window overlooking a hill with the sun streaming in the afternoon. Still, there have been many times when I have had to helplessly watch her cry from exhaustion or frustration or anger. Now I hear her call, “David!” That’s our son. He is in her class and must be in big trouble. “David, you get on this zoom, now!” Boy, is he in trouble. This brings us to the third part of our triangle.

“My scary stories are make-believe. They help my sibs escape the for-real scary. A whole flying saucer full of bloodsucking aliens is nothing compared to a single Blackjack.”

The third point of the triangle: Downstairs, directly below my alcove, lurks the dark reaches of David’s room. During Covid, it has evolved into more of a burrow. I dare not describe its depths. However, a beacon of hope rises in the form of two shiny trombones, secure on stands precisely parallel to one another rising out of that bleakness. Outwardly, since the Covid, he appears quite content with his world being reduced to a microcosm. Somewhere inside he must be hurting, but I can’t reach it. He is a senior, a band geek and an aspiring jazz “trom-boner.” He was proud of being chosen section leader for the low brass and looked forward to all the competitions, marching in the Rose Bowl Parade one last time, and performing in the All City Jazz Band at the Hollywood Bowl. He has been consumed with his college apps, mostly music auditions on YouTube and zoom interviews. Never once has he complained about his Covid situation. Well, maybe a flicker of worry, since his parents are ancient and there looms danger.  

Abuelita grabs a chair and sits down facing us and puts the glass on the window ledge and lets out this sigh like she’s too old and tired to put up with my mierda… Her tales are about funny people, the earth and the sky, animals that talk and even witches, what she calls brujas. Manny does his best squeezing them into English for me.”

“Sorry.” David has come upstairs and is talking through her door.  “I overslept.” All the kids whose faces must be on that zoom are his classmates, and I find myself on his side. Yes, be defiant. His footsteps echo down the stairwell, and I’m relieved my wife has let it drop, as I imagine him sheepishly signing on to the zoom amid a wall of faces. Is this oversleeping a small chink in his armor, or am I overthinking it? He is, after all, a world class sleeper. He has a list of books he likes, when pressed to read. But he doesn’t share his parents’ passion for reading. Still, he is that third point on the triangle, the student reader wedged between the writer and the teacher. He has read fragments of drafts from Bones. I imagine him opening the real book someday and reading the dedication.

“Father Speckler announced that there wouldn’t be no more Bible Story Time. Instead, we’d have Science Project Demonstrations. Trust a Jesuit to bust Bible Story Time for something like Science Project Demonstrations.”

So there you have the three points of one human triangle. Bones of a Saint is a tale of survival through story, with the countless triangles that implies. Survival as in, this tale just might postpone a boy’s death. Or this tale may lead to an old man’s redemption. And that story, why that story may help vanquish a hundred-year-old evil. During our time of Covid, rather than point out that tales are trivial compared to the travails of our times, the disease has done just the opposite. How many times have we come to the end of a zoom or a phone call, even one that’s mostly business, and especially if it’s one that involves sadness, and someone will ask, “Did you see The Queen’s Gambit on NETFLIX?” “Have you read The Nickle Boys yet?” “What’s your favorite audiobook lately?” “Can you believe what he just tweeted?” “You gotta look at this Youtube.” These may be different media, but they are all tales.  Imagine surviving the last year without any stories to sustain us, to connect us through myriad triangles.   

“There’s something clear and hard way deep inside the old man, like that creepy old body is just a shell he’ll toss away any time he feels like it. I sit back listening, wondering if he’ll die with the next word or just rattle on with his tale into forever.”

Join Grant Farley, in conversation with Michael Cart, for an engaging discussion on Bones of a Saint, writing, and YA literature this Friday, March 19 at 6 pm PST in a virtual event with Vroman’s Bookstore. Sign up here.

Meet the author

Grant Farley, born in North Hollywood CA, is a former teacher, full-time writer and lighthouse enthusiast. While writing and raising a family, he has also taught at a Santa Monica alternative school, a barrio junior high, and a Marine Science magnet in San Pedro. At this very moment you may spot him in his alcove overlooking Los Angeles Harbor, huddled over his grandfather’s roll top, a Springer Spaniel at his feet as he pounds away at his next writing project—a fantasy novel inspired by his love of Celtic lore, his cynicism of mystic triangles, and his experiences working in an antique light house. Bones of a Saint is his debut novel.

ABOUT BONES OF A SAINT

“A compelling, unforgettable reading experience that is brilliantly executed.” Booklist, Starred Review

“[A]n atmospheric read . . . Pulls you forward toward an ending that is like the sting of a scorpion.” —Newbery winner Jack Gantos

Set in Northern California in the late ’70s, this timeless coming-of-age story examines the nature of evil, the art of storytelling, and the possibility of redemption.

Fifteen-year-old RJ Armante has never known a life outside his deadend hometown of Arcangel, CA. The Blackjacks rule as they have for generations, luring the poorest kids into their monopoly on petty crime. For years, they’ve left RJ alone, but now they have a job for him: prey upon an old loner in town.

In spite of the danger, RJ begins to resist. He fights not only for himself, but for his younger brother, Charley, whose disability has always made RJ feel extra protective of him. For Roxanne, the girl he can’t reach, and the kids in his crew who have nothing to live for. Even for the old loner, who has secrets of his own. If RJ is to break from the Blackjacks’ hold, all of Arcangel must be free of its past.

ISBN-13: 9781641291170
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: The latest graphic novels, nonfiction, and YA and middle grade fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: I hope your library or classroom is stocked with all of Bausum’s books. This is a powerful look at resistance, dissent, separation, and punishment. Totally compelling. I don’t think other WWII/Hitler books have talked so much about this particular part of history.)

Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 2: Tater Invaders! by David Fremont (ISBN-13: 9781645950066 Publisher: Pixel+Ink Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 8-10)

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

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

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

Holy bacon bits!

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: Completely silly and wacky. The fast pacing and busy, goofy illustrations will make readers fly through this low-brow but entertaining book. Hand to fans of Dog Man, The Bad Guys, and Lunch Lady.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: So much to love here—a compassionate look at addiction and its many effects, sports-focus that will draw in many readers, navigating friendships, finding your interests, and more. Honest, real, and emotional. A great addition to collections.)

Ellie Makes Her Move by Marilyn Kaye (ISBN-13: 9780823446094 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/09/2021 Series: The Spyglass Sisterhood #1, Ages 8-12)

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: A quiet story about friendship, fitting in, and some mysterious magic. The pacing is pretty slow and while the characters are in 7th grade, it’s a younger audience who will appreciate this series.)

When Dogs Heal: Powerful Stories of People Living with HIV and the Dogs That Saved Them by Jesse Freidin, Robert Garofalo, Zach Stafford, Christina Garofalo (ISBN-13: 9781541586765 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 03/02/2021, Ages 15+)

The best medicine may not always be found at a pharmacy or in a doctor’s office. Sometimes it comes in the form of a four-legged friend.

Three well-known leaders in their fields—award-winning dog photographer Jesse Freidin, adolescent HIV+ specialist Dr. Robert Garofalo, and LGBTQ advocate and journalist Zach Stafford—offer a refreshing, beautiful, and unique portrait of HIV infused with a deep message of hope. Each extraordinary profile shows the power of the incredible bonds between humans and their canine companions, whether that means combating loneliness and stigma, discovering the importance of unconditional love, overcoming addiction, or simply having a best friend in a time of need.

When Dogs Heal shares the stories of a diverse set of people who are thriving and celebrating life thanks to the compassion and unconditional love of their dogs. 

A portion of the proceeds from this book benefits Fred Says, an organization dedicated to financially supporting HIV+ teen health care.

(POST-IT SAYS: A beautiful testament to love, resilience, and the power of a good dog. Will inform readers on the history and progress of AIDS treatments. Narratives are both painful and uplifting.)

Muted by Tami Charles (ISBN-13: 9781338673524 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 02/02/2021, Ages 14+)

A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of ambition, music, and innocence lost, perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo and Jason Reynolds!

Be bold. Get seen. Be Heard.

For seventeen-year-old Denver, music is everything. Writing, performing, and her ultimate goal: escaping her very small, very white hometown.

So Denver is more than ready on the day she and her best friends Dali and Shak sing their way into the orbit of the biggest R&B star in the world, Sean “Mercury” Ellis. Merc gives them everything: parties, perks, wild nights — plus hours and hours in the recording studio. Even the painful sacrifices and the lies the girls have to tell are all worth it.

Until they’re not.

Denver begins to realize that she’s trapped in Merc’s world, struggling to hold on to her own voice. As the dream turns into a nightmare, she must make a choice: lose her big break, or get broken.

Inspired by true events, Muted is a fearless exploration of the dark side of the music industry, the business of exploitation, how a girl’s dreams can be used against her — and what it takes to fight back.

(POST-IT SAYS: Intense. Hand this to readers who enjoyed Grown or who are leaning what the music/fame worlds can do to young women thanks to #FreeBritney. I absolutely burned through this story and did not see the twist at the end coming. Wow.)

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: Magic, fantasy, mystery—what’s not to like?! The fast-paced plot will immediately grab readers. Ciphers, puzzles, and twists abound—great appeal for readers who are drawn to those things. Almost all characters are Black.)

Some Other Now by Sarah Everett (ISBN-13: 9780358251866 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/23/2021, Ages 14-18)

This Is Us for teens, this luminous and heartbreaking contemporary novel follows a girl caught between two brothers as the three of them navigate family, loss, and love over the course of two summers. For fans of Far From the TreeEmergency Contact, and Nina LaCour.

Before she kissed one of the Cohen boys, seventeen-year-old Jessi Rumfield knew what it was like to have a family—even if, technically, that family didn’t belong to her. She’d spent her childhood in the house next door, challenging Rowan Cohen to tennis matches while his older brother, Luke, studied in the background and Mel watched over the three like the mother Jessi always wished she had.

But then everything changed. It’s been almost a year since Jessi last visited the Cohen house. Rowan is gone. Mel is in remission and Luke hates Jessi for the role she played in breaking his family apart. Now Jessi spends her days at a dead-end summer job avoiding her real mother, who suddenly wants to play a role in Jessi’s life after being absent for so long. But when Luke comes home from college, it’s hard to ignore the past. And when he asks Jessi to pretend to be his girlfriend for the final months of Mel’s life, Jessi finds herself drawn back into the world of the Cohens. Everything’s changed, but Jessi can’t help wanting to be a Cohen, even if it means playing pretend for one final summer.

(POST-IT SAYS: Don’t open this looking for a swoony romance—this is a real gut-punch of a look at grief, death, loss, depression, and families falling apart. A real twist on the “fake dating” concept.)

After the Rain by Nnedi Okorafor, David Brame (Illustrator), John Jennings (Adapted by) (ISBN-13: 9781419743559 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 01/05/2021, Ages 16+)

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: Hand this to older readers who like gore and horror. This suspenseful and creepy story mixes the supernatural with folklore to explore identity and culture.)

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

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

Shira Gordon is painfully shy. She rarely speaks and blushes at everything. And yet, when she’s alone in her room, she’ll sing and dance, dreaming she were different. So when her best friend forces her to audition for their school’s production of The Music Man, she’s mostly hoping the play will get canceled . . . but a tiny part of her hopes she’ll get in.
And she does. As a member of the barbershop quartet. Playing a dude with a mustache is not exactly her dream role, but Shira is surprised by how much she loves rehearsing with her quirky new friends. When her teacher asks her to understudy the lead role, Marian the Librarian, she reluctantly accepts.
It’s not easy to understudy Monica Manley, an eighth-grade diva who will notbe upstaged. And things get even more complicated when a mysterious prankster starts playing tricks on Monica and Shira’s crush joins the cast. But something keeps Shira going, and it might just be Marian herself. Sure, Marian is a leading lady, but she’s also misunderstood, lonely . . . and shy. And if a star can be shy, then maybe, just maybe, a shy person can be a star.

(POST-IT SAYS: Recommend this one to the shy kids, the theater kids, the “finding their people” kids, the “where is my place in middle school” kids. Wide appeal, great characters, and full of heart. A great read.)

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

A spine-tingling YA thriller based on a true story

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


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

(POST IT SAYS: I was obsessed with the story of the Watcher and that NJ house, so I burned through this seemingly Watcher-inspired book. Satisfyingly creepy and suspenseful thriller that’s fast-paced and not entirely predictable.)

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: The format (texts, interviews, different narrators, etc) will engage readers. Lots of action and exploration of youth sports and all that goes with them. Delves into family issues, pressure and expectations, rivalries, and choices. Wide appeal, especially for sports fans.)

Queer Joy, Pain, and the Other Side of Silence, a guest post by Steven Salvatore

Pen tips scratching the surface of notebook paper; fingers clacking against keyboards; ideas bursting into eager young minds like popping corn, unleashing sighs of relief as the clock ticks: these are the sounds of silence that fill a creative writing classroom.

I wasn’t planning on beginning a new book during a standard freewrite at the start of a creative writing class I taught Spring of 2018. But my students had a way of taking my prompts and creating magic, and that day, I couldn’t resist joining in on the exercise.

One image flashed in my mind: a red-haired teen standing in front of their high school locker staring at a pair of destroyed ruby red sequin heels.

Immediately the scene shifted; I saw this same teen in their therapist’s office. It was raining as they stared out the window, telling their therapist that the shoes had been destroyed, likely by a bully who had it out for them, and that they needed the heels as a good luck charm to audition for the school musical.

I didn’t know the plot yet, but in that twenty minutes freewrite, Carey Parker, the central character of CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, was born. Not yet by name, but in spirit. They were a voice in the back of my mind for a long time but until that day I wasn’t quite able to see them clearly. This scene still exists, making it past querying, submissions, editorial acquisitions, and multiple rounds of developmental edits once it sold to Bloomsbury YA. With some key differences, as readers will soon spot. That day in my classroom, whether my students at the time knew it or not, was the beginning of something life-changing for me. It was the beginning of me admitting to myself that I was genderqueer.

I wrote the first full draft CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, which was originally titled DIVA and sold under the title THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE, in forty-six days that summer. When I finished, I knew it would be the book that would lead to me realizing my dream of becoming a published author. How? Because it was the first time I was completely honest in my writing.

The best writing advice I’ve ever received was from a fellow writer who once told me that if something in a draft isn’t working, it’s because somewhere along the way in the writing process, you told a lie. Maybe it was a forced plot point, or uncharacteristic move by a character. Or maybe it was something you feared writing, so you avoided it entirely. I never knew how afraid I’d been.

My life has been weighed down by fear.

I’ve been writing since I was six years old when, after becoming obsessed with animated Disney films like Aladdin and The Lion King, I wrote what was essentially fan fiction of those stories. I created stories in my head for years but never thought I could turn writing into a career until I got to Ithaca College. I majored in writing and latched onto my professors, telling more than one of them that I wanted to become them one day. Thankfully, they encouraged me, and I did become a composition professor.

Years were spent honing my craft. I wrote my first novel as a sophomore in college at the age of twenty. That manuscript will never see the light of day, but the main character in that story will finally get a chance to shine with my sophomore novel AND THEY LIVED… publishes from Bloomsbury YA in March of 2022 (who, originally, was a hopelessly and delusionally straight character.)

I wrote six more manuscripts and queried more than three hundred agents over a nine-year period. Those manuscripts were all about characters who couldn’t quite confront their own queerness much the same way I couldn’t confront my own queerness: I was gay. I knew that. I came out as gay at twenty-three. But there was more to me that I couldn’t grapple with. And it took me years of enduring depression, suicidal ideations, and therapy to untangle that and accept all facets of my genderqueer identity.

In 2018, I signed with my first agent for a different manuscript that never sold and has since been shelved and stripped for parts. We eventually parted ways because we weren’t a good match. Meanwhile, I was writing and revising what would become CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY as a way to work through my genderqueer identity. I was finally able to tell the truth. I was finally able to pierce through the silence, all the things I was afraid to say, and shout them for the world to see through Carey Parker’s voice. As Carey found their voice, I found mine. My current agent, Jessica Regel of Helm Literary, found Carey in the slush pile of her inbox and gave both of us a chance. She believed in my truth, and it sold two weeks after going on submission.

Still, there was this voice in the back of my head telling me that I wasn’t genderqueer enough. That I would never be enough. That readers would scoff at it, or worse, hate me and Carey for who we are or because this story isn’t their story or because it isn’t a shiny bucket of rainbows, despite all the joy on the page. After it sold, I was told by an LGBTQ+ author that nobody wanted to read anything that wasn’t utopic queer joy, that “pain has no place on the page.”

So I asked myself: Is this joyful enough? Realistic enough? Too realistic? Too painful? Am I letting queer readers down somehow? Can joy and pain coexist?

Over the last five or six years there has been an explosion of new queer writers, and I’ve seen a shift in discourse about what queer books “need” to accomplish to satisfy readers. The discourse mainly centers around the shift from the “solely queer pain” narrative to the “necessary queer joy” narrative, and it’s inspiring to see more and more joy-filled queer books by #OwnVoices authors get published. There also exists in these conversations a didactic line of thought that posits new queer books as needing to only be about Queer Joy, and that queer books exist within a limiting binary of either Queer Pain or Queer Joy. Queer trauma should never be a selling point for queer narratives, and if pain is written as shock value or a central plot point for a straight character, it’s incredibly harmful. But not all pain on the page is harmful.

Without pain, how do we understand joy? Or triumph? How do we measure love? Maybe that’s a little “chicken or egg,” but as far as I know, true utopias don’t exist even in the fantasy genre, and the world I live in is one where LGBTQ+ persons continue to face discrimination, whether in small ways like microaggressions from “well-meaning” people (many of whom are relatives or friends) or actual physical pain.

With Can’t Take That Away, I wanted to highlight, emphasize, and showcase joy and all the ways in which Carey discovers their voice and shines in the spotlight they deserve. I wanted to depict supportive family and friends and underscore the love—self-love and otherwise—that surrounds Carey. How Carey got there matters.

There is so much queer joy in Can’t Take That Away. There are also moments of real pain. I detail my own struggles in the Author’s Note at the end of my book, and unfortunately these are persistent truths for too many queer youth. As an openly out college professor and a volunteer at my local LGBTQ+ center, I constantly hear hardships from queer youth. The reality is that, for queer folks, microaggressions are a near daily occurrence. Bullying is a major problem. Physical and emotional pain is unavoidable, regardless of who you are. To ignore reality would be disingenuous and do a disservice to myself, Carey, and queer youth.

The point is that there is life on the other side of pain.

And as a gay, genderqueer person, I shouldn’t have to remain silent or write around that. Nor should I have to fear the truth in my writing anymore. I also try to remember that one story does not represent all stories. My genderqueer experience is not the only one. But it is mine, and there’s power in that realization. Carey taught me that.

I wrote this book to heal myself and process my pain. I wrote this book for the queer teens who desperately need Carey’s story. Had I had a book like Can’t Take That Away in high school, I might have found inner peace—and my own joy—much, much sooner.

Can’t Take That Away no longer belongs to me, but it did for a short time. I’m grateful Carey came to me when they were ready.

I hope you find the joy.

Meet the author

Steven Salvatore is a gay, genderqueer author, educator, Mariah Carey lamb, and Star Wars fanatic who spends most days daydreaming and making up stories. They have an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. They were formerly a full-time Assistant Professor of Composition and Director of the Writing Center at The College of New Rochelle. After the college permanently closed in 2019, they took a step back from teaching full-time to focus on their writing, though they do still teach at a few colleges while running a writing workshop at The LOFT, an LGBT resource center in White Plains, NY. Steven currently lives in Peekskill, NY, with their amazingly patient husband, whose name is also Steve. stevensalvatore.com • @StevenSSWrites

About Can’t Take That Away

An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice. 

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights—and they refuse to be silenced. 

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s Can’t Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.

ISBN-13: 9781547605309
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Pages: 384
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Information Literacy Skills in the Digital Citizenship Classroom: Teaching Lateral Reading, a guest post by Jennifer Hanson

How do you teach information literacy skills in a remote class setting? When the pandemic hit last spring, all of my digital citizenship classes suddenly became asynchronous classes. This gave me the opportunity to redesign how I was going to teach information literacy skills in my 8th grade classes. Without the face-to-face interaction, I knew I needed some solid videos to explain evaluating information. I could either make those videos myself or use something that already existed. Through the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program, I was familiar with the Stanford History Education Group Civic Online Reasoning lessons. I really liked their video from Crash Course with John Green explaining lateral reading.

If you are unfamiliar with lateral reading, the basic concept is to open a new tab or tabs on your device and search for information about a website. Rather than scrolling down a webpage or reading the About Us page, lateral reading provides other sources of information about the website you might be viewing.

For my asynchronous lesson, I put together a Google Form lesson with a series of videos for my students to watch, asking them evaluate a source for its authenticity using lateral reading, then applying their new lateral reading skills to another video. Because the activity included no interaction with a teacher, students struggled at the end to provide evidence for whether or not this video of a snowboarder being chased by a bear was real or fake. I asked them to watch the video, then read laterally to determine if the video was real or fake and provide evidence of their decision. Of the 39 students who completed the assignment, 15 noted their strategy to read laterally and cited Snopes or National Geographic as their evidence the video was fake. The other students tried to analyze the video itself, determining if the bear looked real and if the girl was bothered by the presence of the bear.

I felt like this lesson had some merit, so when we returned to school in the fall, I modified it a bit. The fact that we now had a Zoom-based synchronous class helped me provide a level of guidance and context that the asynchronous format did not accommodate. In order to practice their lateral reading skills more, I added an activity from the Stanford History Education Group lesson “Intro to Lateral Reading.” After analyzing the snowboarder video as a class and practicing lateral reading to provide evidence of whether the video is real or fake, I ask students to complete an activity about the Odyssey Online website. This activity is more challenging than the snowboarder activity as it asks students to evaluate the reliability of a website that has published an article about the minimum wage.

One challenge students faced immediately with the Odyssey activity was the first question of “who is the sponsoring organization?” Sponsor sounds like advertiser, and lots of ads pop up at the top and on the right side of the page. Students were responding that the sponsoring organization was a variety of advertisers like The New York Times and Starbucks instead of the organization Odyssey. If big names like The New York Times and Starbucks advertise on the site, it must be good, right? This gave me the opportunity to help students understand the difference between sponsor (the owner of a website) and advertisers (other entities who buy space/time in a variety of venues without vetting everything their advertisements are attached to). The second time I taught the lesson, I prefaced the activity with that discussion so that students didn’t get off track from that central question.

In December, I attended Jennifer LaGarde and Darren Hudgins’ ISTE presentation “Evaluating Bias and Truth in the Fake News Era.” One question LaGarde asked during the session was “how do we teach students to read laterally on mobile devices?” Since then, I have added a discussion on reading laterally when we are on Instagram or Snapchat, emphasizing that lateral reading isn’t just done on a laptop or for websites, but for all media we consume.

Teaching remotely, both in an asynchronous and synchronous environment, pushed me to reevaluate how I was teaching information literacy skills with my students. I think the changes to my instruction have been positive overall and have given students stronger evaluation skills. How have you adapted your instruction this past year? What strategies will you keep?

Meet the author

Jennifer Hanson is the Director of Library Services at Worcester Academy and has over a decade of experience teaching information and technology literacy skills. She is also an Educational Consultant for the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Eastern Region Partner at Waynesburg University and has written for School Library Journal.

Book Review: Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

Publisher’s description

An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice. 

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights—and they refuse to be silenced. 

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s Can’t Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s what’s beautiful about this book: Carey is surrounded by so much love. If only all teens could have the amount of love, support, and complete acceptance Carey receives. This is such a lovely look at what parent-child relationships can be, what deep and loving friendship can look like, what teachers can mean to teens, and so much more.

The publisher’s summary up there hits all the broad strokes of the story. Mariah Carey-obsessed Carey, who is genderqueer, is a wonderful singer and decides to try out for the school musical, Wicked. They try out for and are cast as Elphaba. New friend Phoebe (who is Black and pansexual) is cast as Glinda and Carey’s new maybe-boyfriend Cris (who is Filipino, Greek, and bisexual) is cast as Fiyero. With new friendships cropping up, old friendships on their way to being repaired, the musical, and a cute boy in their life, it seems like things are starting to go well for Carey, who is also dealing with frequent panic attacks and their beloved Grams ailing from Alzheimer’s.

But it’s not all great. Carey is being bullied and blackmailed by a classmate as well as discriminated against and verbally attacked by a teacher who is out to ruin Carey’s role in the musical (readers may want to know going in that there’s suicidal ideation, lots of misgendering, and vicious bullying). Then things with Cris get really complicated. And the bullying and discrimination Carey is facing at school grow beyond anything they can try to ignore. Before long, Carey is at the center of a movement to increase the safety and support of queer kids at their school, eventually leading a protest, starting petitions, addressing the school board, and gaining national attention.

Through it all, Carey is surrounded by love and support. They have a great therapist, a fantastic mother who is 100% there to support and love her kid, and far more friends than they initially feel like are in their corner. Throughout the story, Carey needs to learn to be brave, feel safe, and trust others (you know—just really tiny and simple things—ha!) in order to be seen as they truly are. Carey comes to really understand that the reality of people is that they’re complicated and messy, but those that are there for you will be there for you no matter what. This book will leave readers with the powerful and affirming message that you are worthy, loved, perfect, important, and deserve to be seen as yourself, whatever that may look like. And while many upsetting and completely unacceptable things happen to Carey over the course of the book, Salvatore makes sure Carey always sees the love and support, ultimately leading Carey to a much happier place than they start the story in. Carey’s road is not easy—in fact, it’s very painful to read about—but the crying I mentioned up there in my tweet? It wasn’t for the all-too-realistic trauma Carey goes through—it was for the beautiful expressions of love, support, solidarity, and acceptance. All teens should be so lucky.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547605309
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

The Great Gatsby, Tell Me My Name, and Re-Imagining The American Dream, a guest post by Amy Reed

Nearly 100 years after its publication, The Great Gatsby is still considered by many to be the Great American Novel, and its depiction of the American Dream, that epic myth of the self-made man, is the one teens read year after year in English classes across the country. I vaguely remember reading it as a teen, hating Daisy and suspecting Nick was gay, and not understanding why Gatsby tried so hard to fit into a shallow world that so obviously didn’t want him in it.

More than anything, I remember wondering how I was supposed to see myself in the book. Was the American Dream Gatsby represented supposed to be my story, or was I supposed to identify with the female characters? My choices were bleak: either Daisy—pretty, weak, and shallow; or Jordan Baker, slightly more interesting because she was quick-witted, but mean and dishonest. Or was I supposed to be Myrtle, the mistress, the poor woman who never had a chance, the woman used and scorned by Tom Buchanan, the epitome of entitled, rich, white men?

When I read it again as an adult a few years ago, something became clear to me: the book was not written for me. It was not written for my mother’s father, raised in the colonized Philippines, sold the myth of freedom and prosperity in his American textbooks, then confronted by the reality of racism when he got here at age sixteen and began his life as a farmworker, who died never having owned his own land. Perhaps it was written for my father, the self-made man, who did the most American thing possible and pulled himself up by his bootstraps out of a family plagued by generational poverty, neglect, and mental illness.

 

My father, who tells me he still sometimes feels surges of shame that seem to come out of nowhere, is still wracked by an old suspicion that everyone’s going to find out what a phony he is—the poor kid daring to think he has a place in a successful man’s world. He’s spent a lifetime trying to prove he deserves a place in that world, working sixty-hour weeks my whole childhood. Only now, at eighty-years old, is he finally giving himself permission to retire.

My father achieved the American Dream, but what did it cost him?

 Jay Gatsby achieved the American Dream, and we all know what happened to him.

I wrote Tell Me My Name as an exploration of these questions: What is the American Dream depicted in The Great Gatsby? And does it include me? Does it include you?

 It is the story of two young women fifty years in the future, living in an America tipping into disaster, in a world where all of the excesses of capitalism and industrialization have reached their breaking point. A teen girl who came from nothing—Ivy Avila, my Gatsby—has dared to claim a piece of the American Dream for herself. She is a girl, like so many of us, whose only esteem has ever come from other people telling her how much she’s worth. She lives in an America where class is even more stratified than it is now, where the only way to make it out of poverty is to be exceptional. It is the most American story there is.

It is my father’s story, who, by all accounts, is an exceptional man. It is my Filipino grandfather’s story, who made it further than many of the manongs of his generation, but whose ambition was always limited by his lack of formal education, his dark brown skin, and thick Cebuano accent; who then placed that ambition on his daughters who he instructed to get an education and marry white men. And then there’s me, raised to absorb this heritage of imposter syndrome. Poor white imposter. Immigrant imposter. The American Dream built on this bedrock of shame, of needing to prove your worth because you believe, deep down, you will never ever be enough.

I wrote Tell Me My Name to dive deep into this uncomfortable place. Ivy and Fern, my heroines, yearn to be seen and valued, to be told “You are enough.” But Ivy will not find it in fame and fortune or even romantic love, will never be able to drown out her shame with alcohol and drugs. And Fern will not find it in Ivy, cannot run from her own dreams with the distraction of being useful. There is another source, one that has nothing to do with all this noise outside, one that does not require another person, or a nation, to tell us who we are or what we should dream.

The American Dream of Gatsby, of my father, of my grandfather—this is not my dream anymore. It is a place that once you reach it, as Gatsby did, you realize there’s nothing actually there. For those in power, for those who come from lives already steeped in it—those Tom Buchanans of the world, or in my book, those Tami Butlers—it is a dream of further conquest. It is a dream built on entitlement and the hoarding of power and wealth. For many of the rest of us, it is a dream built on shame, on the fantasy of aspiring, like my grandfather, to take our place among the people who oppress us.

My question is this: How does the American Dream depicted in The Great Gatsby and Tell Me My Name—that dream of obsessive ambition, relentless striving, fame and fortune and accumulation of power and wealth—how does it get in the way of your own authentic dream?

What is the potential of your dream if you look beyond the lie that we are only as good as what we own, what we accomplish, what external validation tells us we are worth?

What can our dreams look like if we already believe we’re worth something?

I’ll tell you what my dream is. I want to spend as much time as I can on this earth loving and creating. I want to cause as little harm as possible. I want to do my part to reduce harm, in whatever small ways I can.

What I want, more than anything, is the peace of being enough.

I hope this small dream has a place in our collective American imagining. I hope your dreams, whatever they are, do too. In a time so fraught with confusion, suffering, and conflict, I have to believe there is a place for all of our dreams, even—and especially—the ones that challenge the version of the American Dream we have been taught. 

Meet the author

Photo credit: Brian Relph

Amy Reed is the award-winning author of several novels for young adults, including The Nowhere Girls, Beautiful, and Clean. She also edited Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America. Amy is a feminist, mother, and Virgo who enjoys running, making lists, and wandering around the mountains of western North Carolina where she lives.

Purchase signed copies of Tell Me My Name from Amy’s local indie, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café

About Tell Me My Name

We Were Liars meets Speak in this haunting, mesmerizing psychological thriller–a gender-flipped YA Great Gatsby–that will linger long after the final line. On wealthy Commodore Island, Fern is watching and waiting–for summer, for college, for her childhood best friend to decide he loves her. Then Ivy Avila lands on the island like a falling star. When Ivy shines on her, Fern feels seen. When they’re together, Fern has purpose. She glimpses the secrets Ivy hides behind her fame, her fortune, the lavish parties she throws at her great glass house, and understands that Ivy hurts in ways Fern can’t fathom. And soon, it’s clear Ivy wants someone Fern can help her get. But as the two pull closer, Fern’s cozy life on Commodore unravels: drought descends, fires burn, and a reckless night spins out of control. Everything Fern thought she understood–about her home, herself, the boy she loved, about Ivy Avila–twists and bends into something new. And Fern won’t emerge the same person she was. An enthralling, mind-altering psychological thriller, Tell Me My Name is about the cost of being a girl in a world that takes so much, and the enormity of what is regained when we take it back.

ISBN-13: 9780593109724
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the author

Photo credit: Breanna Olson

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

Website: www.jessicasolson.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jessicaolson123

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jessicaolson123

TikTok: www.tiktok.com/@jessicaolson123

About Sing Me Forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maraniss with Perry Wallace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now more than ever, #FactsMatter.

Meet the author

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

About Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

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