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Book Review: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Publisher’s description

serious moonlightAfter an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, ApproximatelyMystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Look, the two main characters, Birdie and Daniel, are adorable, flawed creatures who solve mysteries, eat pie, and fall for each other (with many bumps along that road). I feel like you can booktalk this to your students/patrons/customers with just that summary and watch it fly off the shelves.

 

Birdie spent her childhood being raised by her mother (who got pregnant at 17) and her mother’s best friend, Mona. But when her mother died, when Birdie was ten, she went to be raised and homeschooled by her grandparents. Now her grandmother has recently passed away and, left with her more lenient grandfather, Birdie is finally enjoying a little freedom. Freedom for Birdie means getting her first job (overnights at a historic hotel in downtown Seattle), being left home alone, swearing, and, oh yeah, meeting and sleeping with a cute boy and then immediately fleeing in mortification. That’s the “awkward first encounter” the publisher’s summary refers to! Birdie writes it off as a mistake, a very unlike her thing to do, and hopes to never see him again. Besides, he’s probably forgotten all about her, right? Well, surprise! She does see him, he hasn’t forgotten her, and now they’re coworkers!

 

The universe is funny like that.

 

Birdie loves mysteries and Daniel loves magic tricks. Both are keen observers. Daniel thinks fate brought them back together and Birdie chalks it up to random chance. While they try to figure out how to act around each other, or if they can even be friends, they decide to team up to try to solve a mystery in their very hotel. They also go on cute dates like live action Clue, reveal parts of their pasts to one another, hook up, and have lots of misunderstandings/hesitations to work through. Their relationship feels so honest and real and lovely. When Daniel eventually reveals a secret about his past, he worries it will drive Birdie away, and for her part, Birdie wonders if she’s strong enough to support him or if he’s just another person she’s bound to lose.

 

Birdie grows a lot over the course of the story. Both Birdie and Daniel are surrounded by loving, supportive characters—grandparents, Daniel’s mother, Birdie’s godmother Mona—who help them navigate not just life in general but specifically their relationship together. They learn a lot of new things together, about their relationship, yes, but also things like Birdie’s narcolepsy diagnosis and the reveal of one of Daniel’s secrets. They’re sweet, supportive, and encouraging of one another. They make mistakes, are awkward, and are insecure.

 

I enjoyed this book so much. Trust me, you won’t have to work hard to move this book off your shelves. That cover! A quick summary! Happy ending! Romance! Mystery! Pie! Recommend this one widely.

 

And now I want pie. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534445284
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 04/16/2019

 

Post-it Note Reviews of YA Books: Rappers, movie lovers, musicians, survivors, and teens who create their own universe

IMG_3631I do my best to get a LOT of reading done, but can’t even begin to attempt to read all the books that show up here. Even if I quit my library job, I still couldn’t read them all.  I read just about every free second I have—sitting in the car while waiting for my kid, on my lunch breaks at work, sometimes even while I’m walking in the hall at work. A lot of that kind of reading isn’t super conducive to really deep reading or taking many notes. Or maybe I’m reading in my own house, but while covered in sleeping dachshunds, or while trying to block out the noise of kids playing. I might not get around to being able to write a full review, but I still want to share these books with you, so here are my tiny Post-it Note reviews of a few titles. I also do these posts focusing on books for younger readers. It’s a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

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

 

 

 

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On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

 

This is the highly anticipated second novel by Angie Thomas, the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning The Hate U Give.

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

(POST-IT SAYS: Like you need me to tell you this is a great read! Outspoken rapper Bri is complex and talented. A sharp look at stereotypes, activism, racism, and labels. A fresh, engrossing read.)

 

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This Book Is Not Yet Rated by Peter Bognanni

(Releases April 9, 2019)

In this enormously funny, smart, and moving contemporary YA novel, fighting for the thing you love doesn’t always turn out like in the movies.

Movies have always helped Ethan Ashby make sense of the world. So when developers swoop in and say the classic Green Street Cinema is going to be destroyed to make room for luxury condos, Ethan is ready for battle. And so a motley crew of cinema employees comes together to save the place they love:

There’s Sweet Lou, the elderly organist with a penchant for not-so-sweet language; Anjo, the too-cool projectionist; Griffin and Lucas who work concessions, if they work at all; and Ethan, their manager (who can barely manage his own life). Still, it’s going to take a movie miracle for the Green Street to have a happy ending. And when Raina Allen, Ethan’s oldest friend (and possible soul mate?), comes back to town after working in Hollywood—cue lights and music—it seems that miracle may have been delivered. But life and love aren’t always like in the movies.

This Book is Not Yet Rated is about growing up, letting go, and realizing love hides in plain view—in the places that shape us, the people who raise us, the first loves who leave us, and the lives that fade in and fade out all around us.

(POST-IT SAYS: Love, loss, growth, and grief are explored against the backdrop of saving a beloved institution. For 90s fans, think Empire Records. Full of quirky misfits, humor, heart, and movie references galore.) 

 

 

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You’d Be Mine: A Novel by Erin Hahn

 

Annie Mathers is America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about. Superstar Clay Coolidge is most definitely going to end up one of those things.

But unfortunately for Clay, if he can’t convince Annie to join his summer tour, his music label is going to drop him. That’s what happens when your bad boy image turns into bad boy reality. Annie has been avoiding the spotlight after her parents’ tragic death, except on her skyrocketing YouTube channel. Clay’s label wants to land Annie, and Clay has to make it happen.

Swayed by Clay’s undeniable charm and good looks, Annie and her band agree to join the tour. From the start fans want them to be more than just tour mates, and Annie and Clay can’t help but wonder if the fans are right. But if there’s one part of fame Annie wants nothing to do with, it’s a high-profile relationship. She had a front row seat to her parents’ volatile marriage and isn’t interested in repeating history. If only she could convince her heart that Clay, with his painful past and head over heels inducing tenor, isn’t worth the risk.

Erin Hahn’s thrilling debut, You’d Be Mine, asks: can the right song and the perfect summer on the road make two broken hearts whole?

(POST-IT SAYS: Fans of sweet, swoony romances will love this music-centered story full of chemistry, easy to like characters, emotional depth, and just enough drama. Follows a predictable but enjoyable path.) 

 

 

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Every Moment After by Joseph Moldover

(Releases April 9, 2019)

Best friends Matt and Cole grapple with their changing relationships during the summer after high school in this impactful, evocative story about growing up and moving on from a traumatic past. 

Surviving was just the beginning. 

Eleven years after a shooting rocked the small town of East Ridge, New Jersey and left eighteen first graders in their classroom dead, survivors and recent high school graduates Matt Simpson and Cole Hewitt are still navigating their guilt and trying to move beyond the shadow of their town’s grief. Will Cole and Matt ever be able to truly leave the ghosts of East Ridge behind? Do they even want to?

As they grapple with changing relationships, falling in love, and growing apart, these two friends must face the question of how to move on—and truly begin living.

(POST-IT SAYS: This look at what life’s like years after a school shooting is unique and as much about friendship as it is about trauma. FYI, the shooting isn’t detailed on the page. An unfortunately always timely topic.)

 

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Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst, Paula Garner

 

(Releases April 16, 2019)

 

In a novel in two voices, a popular teen and an artistic loner forge an unlikely bond — and create an entire universe — via texts. But how long before the real world invades Starworld?Sam Jones and Zoe Miller have one thing in common: they both want an escape from reality. Loner Sam flies under the radar at school and walks on eggshells at home to manage her mom’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, wondering how she can ever leave to pursue her dream of studying aerospace engineering. Popular, people-pleasing Zoe puts up walls so no one can see her true self: the girl who was abandoned as an infant, whose adoptive mother has cancer, and whose disabled brother is being sent away to live in a facility. When an unexpected encounter results in the girls’ exchanging phone numbers, they forge a connection through text messages that expands into a private universe they call Starworld. In Starworld, they find hilarious adventures, kindness and understanding, and the magic of being seen for who they really are. But when Sam’s feelings for Zoe turn into something more, will the universe they’ve built survive the inevitable explosion?

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Strong characters carry this moving look at the complex lives of teens. Great dual POV in this story about risk, connection, friendship, and identity. A warm, funny, and heartfelt escape from reality.) 

Book Review: Wreck by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Publisher’s description

wreckSometimes loss has its own timetable.

Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Wreck follows high school junior Tobin Oliver as she navigates her father’s diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Steve’s life as a paramedic and a runner comes to an abrupt halt just as Tobin is preparing her application for a scholarship to art school. With the help of Steve’s personal care assistant (and family friend) Ike, Tobin attends to both her photography and to Steve as his brain unexpectedly fails right along with his body.

Tobin struggles to find a “normal” life, especially as Steve makes choices about how his own will end, and though she fights hard, Tobin comes to realize that respecting her father’s decision is the ultimate act of love.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Full disclosure: Kirstin is my friend and I blurbed this book. For the tl;dr version of this review, here’s my blurb:

 

Kirstin Cronn-Mills takes readers on a provocative, unflinching, and emotionally-complex deep dive into mortality and loss while Tobin and her father grapple with almost unfathomable decisions. A wrenching and empathetic look at the tumultuous waters and seemingly bottomless grief that can interrupt an otherwise placid life.

 

When Tobin’s father, Steve, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), everything changes. ALS is a progressive, degenerative disease. While some things may slow the progression of the disease, there is no cure. ALS involves paralysis, eventually affecting breathing and swallowing. It’s junior year and Tobin should be hanging out with her few friends, preparing her photography portfolio for scholarships for art school, working at her aunt’s thrift shop down in Canal Park in Duluth, and just going about life as she has come to know it. But the diagnosis throws everything into disarray. Steve’s disease is rapidly changing his body and his brain. Ike, a family friend and former Army medic, moves in to be Steve’s personal care assistant. Tobin’s mom took off years ago, so it’s really always just been Tobin and her dad. They know that before long, Steve will die, leaving Tobin in the care of her aunt until she’s no longer a minor, then on her own.

 

The question becomes what do you do in the time between getting a devastating and terminal diagnosis and actually dying? For Steve, he continues to socialize, help work on the marathon committee, and writes a book of advice to leave behind for Tobin. For Tobin, she tries to bury her heart deep in Lake Superior, which feels like the only way she can keep going and cope with this horrible situation. To complicate matters further, there’s a box in their house that’s haunting her. Inside that innocuous-looking box is pentobarbital, a barbiturate that Steve intends to take a high dose of to end his life, on his terms, when the time is right. And if he’s physically unable to do so on his own, he’s asked Tobin to be the one to administer the medicine.

 

Yep. Oof.

 

For both Tobin and her father, their lives are nothing like what they had imagined them to be like. The grief that comes with accepting this diagnosis and Steve’s eventual death is heart-wrenching. Having lost my own father very suddenly in a car accident, I don’t know if there is a “good” way to have a parent die—unexpectedly, where you have no time to prepare, or slowly, where you have lots of time to anticipate and watch someone ail. I think it’s terrible no matter what the circumstance. For Steve, his personality changes are ROUGH. He vacillates between loving and his usual self to angry, mean, hateful, and uncontrolled. It goes with the territory with ALS, but that doesn’t make it easy for Tobin to experience or easy to read. No matter how hard Tobin tries to protect her heart, she can’t. The grief, the waiting, the unpredictability, the potential to have to help her father die—it’s all too much. Trying to have no feelings about something that causes BIG feelings is impossible. We know where this story is going and how it will end. It is an unrelentingly sad plot, punctuated by brief moments of joy, whimsy, and always by plenty of love. 

 

Undoubtedly, the narrative of death with dignity–that is, the right for terminally ill people to die on their own terms—will create passionate feelings about this book and possibly some controversy. That said, the plot makes it clear why this can be a compassionate act, why someone would choose this option. Steve and Tobin’s story is filled with lots of nuance, empathy, support, and love. This is a moving exploration of mortality, family, and impossibly difficult decisions.

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781510739031
Publisher: Sky Pony
Publication date: 04/16/2019

Audio Review: Spin by Lamar Giles

Now that I have a super long commute, I listen to a lot of audio books. I recently listened to Spin by Lamar Giles, which The Teen is currently reading. Here’s what I thought.

spinPublisher’s Book Description

Sixteen-year-old Paris Secord’s (aka DJ ParSec) career–and life–has come to an untimely end, and the local music scene is reeling. No one is feeling the pain more than her shunned pre-fame best friend, Kya, and Paris’s chief groupie, Fuse. But suspicion trumps grief, and since each suspects the other of Paris’s murder, they’re locked in a high-stakes game of public accusations and sabotage.

Everyone in the ParSec Nation (DJ ParSec’s local media base)–including the killer–is content to watch it play out, until Kya and Fuse discover a secret: Paris was on the verge of major deal that would’ve catapulted her to superstar status on a national level, leaving her old life (and old friends) behind. With the new info comes new motives. New suspects. And a fandom that shows its deadly side. As Kya and Fuse come closer to the twisted truth, the killer’s no longer amused. But murdering Paris was simple enough, so getting rid of her nobody-friends shouldn’t be an issue…

Karen’s Thoughts

This was a really intriguing mystery with a great example of female friendship. The opening grabs your immediate attention and it just keeps you hooked page after page. I loved how the formal rivals for ParSec’s affection became friends as they worked together to clear their name. There’s also a lot of fascinating discussion about music, family, school, identity and the power of social media. So many rich details in between the mystery to reflect on.

Also, bonus points, there is a strong female character engaged in STEM which is essential to the story and there are several strong yet vulnerable and self-aware female characters from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds that just add some additional layers to this story. It’s a mystery, but the character development is on point.

The audio was engaging and well narrated. I was invested and wanted to know who did what, but I enjoyed spending time with the characters along the way.

Highly recommended.

Post-It Note Reviews: Books for younger readers featuring a psychic, an alien cat, scientists, a girl with ADHD, a homeschooled girl, and campers

IMG_3631Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K-5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

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

 

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Far Away by Lisa Graff

A book about life, loss, and the secrets families keep, reminiscent of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, by National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff.

CJ’s Aunt Nic is a psychic medium who tours the country speaking to spirits from Far Away, passing on messages from the dearly departed. And CJ knows firsthand how comforting those messages can be — Aunt Nic’s Gift is the only way CJ can talk to her mom, who died just hours after she was born.

So when CJ learns that she won’t be able to speak to her mother anymore, even with Aunt Nic’s help, she’s determined to find a work-around. She sets off on road trip with her new friend Jax to locate the one object that she believes will tether her mother’s spirit back to Earth . . . but what she finds along the way challenges every truth she’s ever known. Ultimately, CJ has to sort out the reality from the lies.

National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff has written a poignant, heartfelt novel that explores the lengths we go to protect those we love — and the power secrets have to change our worlds.

(POST-IT SAYS: The unique premise of a medium connecting with spirits/the dead will catch readers’ attention. Full of adventure, mystery, questions, and twists, this is a moving story of family and truth. Ages 9-12)

 

 

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Klawde (Evil Alien Warlord Cat Series #1) and Enemies (Evil Alien Warlord Cat Series #2) by Johnny Marciano, Emily Chenoweth, Robb Mommaerts (Illustrator)

 

#1: Klawde is not your average cat. He’s an emperor from another planet, exiled to Earth. He’s cruel. He’s cunning. He’s brilliant… and he’s about to become Raj Banerjee’s best friend. Whether he likes it or not.

Klawde had everything. Sharp claws. Fine fur. And, being the High Commander of the planet Lyttyrboks, an entire world of warlike cats at his command. But when he is stripped of his feline throne, he is sentenced to the worst possible punishment: exile to a small planet in a quiet corner of the universe… named Earth.

Raj had everything. A cool apartment in Brooklyn. Three friends who lived in his building. And pizza and comics within walking distance. But when his mom gets a job in Elba, Oregon, and he is forced to move, all of that changes. It’s now the beginning of summer, he has no friends, and because of his mother’s urgings, he has joined a nature camp.

It’s only when his doorbell rings and he meets a furball of a cat that Raj begins to think maybe his luck is turning around…

Heavily illustrated, with a hilarious, biting voice that switches between Raj and Klawde’s perspectives, this is the story of an unlikely friendship that emerges as two fish out of water begin to find their footing in strange new worlds.

 

#2: Klawde is not your basic cat. He’s an emperor from another planet, exiled to Earth. He’s cruel. He’s cunning. He’s brilliant… and he’s also Raj Banerjee’s best friend.

Klawde and Raj are back! As summer turns to fall, our favorite warlord cat remains in his pitiful exiled existence. But Raj has an even scarier prospect than cosmic exile: starting at a new school.And if things didn’t seem complicated enough, both cat and human are confronted with two figures from their past they did not expect to pop up in Elba, Oregon…Heavily illustrated, with a hilarious, biting voice that switches between Raj’s and Klawde’s perspectives, this is the story of an unlikely friendship that emerges as two fish out of water continue to find their footing in strange new worlds.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Super enjoyable new series. We hear the story from the perspective of both Raj and Klawde. The illustrations add a lot to the story. Fun, silly, and hilarious with wide appeal. Ages 8-11)

 

 

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Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship by Cynthia Platt, Rea Zhai (Illustrator)
(May 21, 2019)

 

In this fun young-middle-grade novel with STEM appeal, Parker really wants to win the school Science Triathlon—but first she’ll have to figure out how to keep her BFF from being stolen. Budding scientist Parker Bell really wants to win the school Science Triathlon and follow in the footsteps of her idols, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and astronaut Mae Jemison. She’s sure that if she teams up with her trivia whiz BFF, Cassie, they will dominate the Science Bee, Egg Drop, and Animal Adaptation Presentation. When Cassie invites her new friend, Theo, to join their team, Parker is worried—that Theo won’t help them win and might steal her best friend. As the three work together, Parker learns that you don’t have to be the best to be a real scientist and a good friend.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Science-minded readers will especially enjoy this story of friendship and competition. Good STEM focus, lots of humor, and emphasis on teamwork. Ages 7-10)

 

 

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Focused by Alyson Gerber

 

Clea can’t control her thoughts. She knows she has to do her homework . . . but she gets distracted. She knows she can’t just say whatever thought comes into her head . . . but sometimes she can’t help herself. She know she needs to focus . . . but how can she do that when the people around her are always chewing gum loudly or making other annoying noises?It’s starting to be a problem–not just in school, but when Clea’s playing chess or just hanging out with her best friend. Other kids are starting to notice. When Clea fails one too many tests, her parents take her to be tested, and she finds out that she has ADHD, which means her attention is all over the place instead of where it needs to be. Clea knows life can’t continue the way it’s been going. She’s just not sure how you can fix a problem that’s all in your head. But that’s what she’s going to have to do, to find a way to focus.In a starred review, Booklist called Alyson Gerber’s first novel, Braced, “a masterfully constructed and highly empathetic debut about a different kind of acceptance.” With Focused, she explores even further how, when life gives you a challenge, the best way to face it is with an open mind, an open heart, and the open support of the people around you.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: A welcome addition to the small field of books about characters with ADHD. A deep and compassionate look at not just ADHD but other common middle school issues. I’ll be handing this well done book to my own 7th grader with ADHD. Ages 10-13)

 

 

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Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

 

Newbery Honor-winning author Cynthia Lord has written a sensitive and accessible book about the challenges of fitting in when you know you’re a little different.On the last night of summer, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a routine call. They’re supposed to rescue a wild rabbit from a picket fence, but instead they find a little bunny. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night.The next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time after years of being homeschooled. More than anything, Emma wants to make a best friend in school.But things don’t go as planned. On the first day of school, she’s paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can’t stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he’s obsessed with animals. Jack doesn’t fit in, and Emma’s worried he’ll make her stand out.

Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit. But will their new friendship keep Emma from finding the new best friend she’s meant to have?

Newbery Honor-winning author Cynthia Lord has written a beautiful and sensitive book about being different and staying true to yourself.

(POST-IT SAYS: A tender examination of fitting in, making friends, embracing differences, and being yourself. Any story based around an animal flies off the shelves at my school. An easy book to recommend widely.)

 

 

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Camp by Kayla Miller
(April 23, 2019)

 

Raina Telgemeier and Frazzled fans, rejoice! Author-illustrator Kayla Miller is back with Olive in this emotional and honest story about navigating new experiences, learning to step outside one’s comfort zone, and the satisfaction of blazing your own trails.Olive and Willow are happy campers!
Or are they?Olive is sure she’ll have the best time at summer camp with her friend Willow – but while Olive makes quick friends with the other campers, Willow struggles to form connections and latches on to the only person she knows – Olive. It’s s’more than Olive can handle! The stress of being Willow’s living security blanket begins to wear on Olive and before long…the girls aren’t just fighting, they may not even be friends by the time camp is over. Will the two be able to patch things up before the final lights out?

Look for more of Olive’s adventures in Click!

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Public, elementary, and middle school libraries NEED this book, as well as Miller’s first bookl, Click. Point fans of Telgemeier to these visually appealing looks at friendship. SO GOOD. More, please! Ages 8-12)

Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews: On the Come Up and The Devouring Gray

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The Teen, as many of you know, is a prolific reader of YA lit but basically hates to write reviews. So years ago she decided to write short reviews on post-it notes and thus, Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews was born. I try to fill in the gaps when I can because she and I talk about the books that she reads often, though not always. So here today are some thoughts from a prolific teen reader about some new and upcoming YA lit titles.

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On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

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Publisher’s Book Description

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

Post It Note Review

“An absolutely amazing and powerful book.”

The Teen and one of her best friends both read this book at the same time. At first she was kind of meh about it and told me that she thought it was okay but liked The Hate U Give better. Then one afternoon we were driving and she was reading in the passenger seat and she literally gasped/squeed/yelled and starting texting her friend about what was happening. This was a huge turning point in the book for her and as you can see from her brief post-it note review, she ended up really liking it.

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

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Publisher’s Book Description

On the edge of town a beast haunts the woods, trapped in the Gray, its bonds loosening…

Uprooted from the city, Violet Saunders doesn’t have much hope of fitting in at her new school in Four Paths, a town almost buried in the woodlands of rural New York. The fact that she’s descended from one of the town’s founders doesn’t help much, either—her new neighbours treat her with distant respect, and something very like fear. When she meets Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper, all children of founder families, and sees the otherworldly destruction they can wreak, she starts to wonder if the townsfolk are right to be afraid.

When bodies start to appear in the woods, the locals become downright hostile. Can the teenagers solve the mystery of Four Paths, and their own part in it, before another calamity strikes?

Post It Note Review

“Interesting. I’m not a big fan of series but I may read the second book.”

So the Jensens are notorious for leaving series unfinished. The Teen in particular prefers stand alone titles, with paranormal fantasy, mysteries and realistic fiction being her favorites. She liked this book enough that she would consider reading the second book, and I need you all to understand this is high praise indeed.

The Devouring Gray comes out on April 2nd. On the Come Up is out now.

Book Review: Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne

Publisher’s description

night music2Music has always been Ruby’s first love. But has it ever loved her back?
Slip behind the scenes of the classical music world one hot, anything-can-happen, New York City summer.

Ruby has always been Ruby Chertok: future classical pianist and daughter of renowned composer Martin Chertok. But after her horrendous audition for the prestigious music school where her father is on faculty, it’s clear that music has publicly dumped her. Now Ruby is suddenly just . . . Ruby. And who is that again? All she knows is that she wants away from the world of classical music for good.

Oscar is a wunderkind, a musical genius. Just ask any of the 1.8 million people who’ve watched him conduct on YouTube—or hey, just ask Oscar. But while he might be the type who’d name himself when asked about his favorite composer and somehow make you love him more for it, Oscar is not the type to jeopardize his chance to study under the great Martin Chertok—not for a crush. He’s all too aware of how the ultra-privileged world of classical music might interpret a black guy like him falling for his benefactor’s white daughter.

But as the New York City summer heats up, so does the spark between Ruby and Oscar. Soon their connection crackles with the same alive, uncontainable energy as the city itself. Can two people still figuring themselves out figure out how to be together? Or will the world make the choice for them?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

My first note for this book was “Ack! This book is SO LOVELY immediately.” That’s pretty much how I felt throughout the read. Later I wrote, “Their banter! I love them!” I’m old. My reading tastes haven’t really ever changed and probably won’t ever. I like realistic stories with strong characters, good banter, and lots of emotions. This book hits all three.

 

Oscar has all the reasons in the world right now to be egotistical and insufferable. He’s a composer and conductor whose YouTube video went super viral. The music world is treating him like a genius superstar. He’s spending his summer training with one of the greatest living composers, Martin Chertok.

 

Ruby Chertok comes from a family of talented, famous classical musicians. Until recently, she thought this was her path too, until a less than stellar audition at her father’s school makes her break up with music. She needs to distance herself from that world, from her famous last name.

 

So when Ruby and Oscar meet, neither of them are looking for a relationship. Oscar is supposed to be completely focused on composing and the last person Ruby needs to get involved with is a musical protege studying under her father. But, of course, life makes its own course. With their attraction rather immediate, we know they will get together before too long, but both have so much else going on that they need to deal with. First love is great, but it’s hard to juggle that enormous thing with Oscar’s sudden fame/career and Ruby’s complete fixation on what on earth she will do with her life if not be a classical musician. She hopes to spend the summer figuring out her life (an ambitious summer project when you’re 17). Does she even have the option to travel her own path? Her whole life has been music. Now, without her, she needs to find other ways to fill her days—she takes up running, reconnects with an old friend, hangs out like a regular teenager, and, of course, falls for Oscar. Their relationship is beautiful and intense and profound, but it’s not without its issues. Both could come off looking like opportunists here. And dating Oscar certainly ropes Ruby further into the world of classical music, not exactly giving her the distance she expected this summer. And if she’s Oscar’s muse and his girlfriend, will this get in the way of forming her own new identity? 

 

There’s a lot more going on, too, that starts to come to light as the story unfolds, including financial questions about the music school and a push for the school to sell its “diversity” with Oscar as the face of that. But how genuine is their commitment to diversity? And why are their rewriting Oscar as some poor kid from the rough streets of DC instead of who he really is—an affluent kid from the suburbs?

 

This look at pressures, identity, first love, and the desire to be seen is heartfelt and moving. This great romance with a lot of depth is an easy one to recommend widely to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735228771
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/19/2019

Book Review: Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

girlswithsharpsticksPublisher’s Book Descriptions

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

Karen’s Thoughts

Overall, I really liked this book and recommend it. It’s a subversive look at the patriarchy through the lens of an all girls finishing school that takes a lot of darkly unique twists and turns. By the end of this book I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for these girls to take up their sharp sticks and use them against the abusive men running the school. I want a very real and very vengeful uprising and trust me, these men deserve it.

Here’s the set up: a group of girls are in a finishing school where they are being groomed to be the perfect companions for men. They are told repeatedly that their greatest glory is this and in the beginning, they have no reason to think differently. They are sequestered, cut off from friends, family and all modern day conveniences. They are abused, manipulated, groomed, harassed, and then . . . things get even darker. That’s right my friends, things get seriously twisted and dark. I won’t tell you how because spoilers, but yeah, dark and twisted.

What I loved about this book is how it takes that dystopian mirror but shines a real light on a lot of modern day toxic elements of the patriarchy. It seems dark and twisted, but it’s also fundamentally rooted in a lot of real life perceptions held by men who want to maintain male dominance. It’s the patriarchy twisted, but also truthful. When you peel back this twisted dystopian curtain you are left with a lot of very real twisted and toxic truths about rape culture, the patriarchy and more. There is a lot of truth to discuss here. It’s like looking at our world through a fun-house mirror. It may seem absurd, but it’s only a mild distortion of reality.

You’ll notice that I didn’t highly recommend this book, because it’s not perfect. I think there is a lot of solid attempt here, but it doesn’t always necessarily come together perfectly. For one, it is a really slow start. I almost put it down but am thankful that I picked it back up again a few weeks later. That slow start really pays off.

Another real problem with this book is that these girls are told repeatedly that they are they ideal girl and that the way that they look physcially is part of that. However, almost all of the girls in this book present as white, which reinforces the very harmful ideal that white standards of beauty are the ultimate standards of beauty. It many ways, while trying to break down these very ideals, the narrative also reinforces the toxic cultural white beauty standards by not including more girls of color in the book. I think this part needed more time and attention to be better and more fully developed.

Another slight quibble I had with the narrative is that the girls are ultimately helped a lot by a male outsider in both their growing awareness that something isn’t right and in their ultimate attempts at escape. It’s unfortunate that a clearly feminist book still has its female characters need so much help from a male character to accomplish their goals. And of course this male character is presented as a possible romantic interest for one of the main female characters. To me, it’s an unfortunate narrative choice, but I understand that a lot of readers also like possible romance in their stories.

There’s lots of good here though. Two of the girls are in a relationship with each other. Although the many girls start out seeming interchangeable, which makes sense given that they are basically being trained to be the same docile version of femininity, they experience a lot of growth and individuation. And the girls do find lots of ways to fight the system on their own. Plus, bonus points here, it is the words of a poem that really help to stir their souls and awaken their intellect, and I loved this because I’m a librarian who believe in the power of the written word.

In the end, I found this book to be inspiring, challenging, and binge-worthy. It’s by no means perfect, but I’m looking forward to reading what happens next as this book is clearly set up for a sequel.

Book Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Publisher’s description

oppositeDebut author Justin A. Reynolds delivers a hilarious and heartfelt novel about the choices we make, the people we choose, and the moments that make a life worth reliving. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and John Green.

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I picked this up initially because I love the cover. Then I read the summary, and as someone who obsessively quotes Groundhog Day, the premise sold me. Reliving the same chunk of time over and over? Bring it on!

 

This completely enjoyable story asks what you would do differently—or the same—if you got a second chance. Or a third, fourth, or twentieth chance. Jack and Kate are only just really getting to know each other, to fall for each other, when Kate dies from sickle cell anemia. Upon hearing the news, Jack rushes from his house, falls down the stairs, and BAM! time starts over again. Suddenly, he’s back at the party where he first met Kate. Kate is clueless as to who he is (though she has a weird feeling that she already knows him), or that they have somehow respawned, but Jack remembers everything. Jack wonders why he’s reliving this time loop and blows off so much to be with Kate, whose time may or may not be limited in this run. When she dies again, Jack really buckles down, trying to figure out how he is supposed to do whatever it is he’s back here to do. Jack has to figure out what risks he should take and try to foresee what the consequences might be. It’s terrible to lose someone over and over, but he’s determined to figure out how to change that. And it’s not like he has a choice—he keeps getting tossed back through this loop no matter what changes he makes. He starts to wonder if he can save everyone—or, heck, if he can even save anyone.  He’ll make mistakes and different choices each time, but is he doomed to spend eternity living the same few months and always losing Kate?

 

This is a fun love story that features strong friendships, great parents, humor, and heartbreak. I loved Jack’s voice, the excellent banter, and the complex and caring relationships he has with Franny and Jillian, his best friends. This warm, smart, unique debut will have an easy wide appeal. I suspect, like me, readers will be drawn to it when they spy the great cover and once they start reading it, they’ll want to race through the whole thing and see if Jack can break the loop and find a happy ending. Or an ending, period. Readers who can suspend their disbelief and just go with the time loop premise will love this character-driven look at choices, consequences, and possibilities. I can’t wait to see what else Reynolds writes. 

 

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062748379
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/05/2019

Book Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans

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

 

manic pixieThe Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans (ISBN-13: 9781541512597 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 03/05/2019)

 

Gr 9 Up—Members of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and Boy) Trope fight for the right to exist—in fiction and in their own lives—in this entertaining send-up of literary conventions. Riley, one of the few Manic Pixie Dream Boys residing in TropeTown (a place filled with familiar literary devices, situations, and characters), has been sent to behavioral therapy for deviating from the expected quirky fun he is supposed to bring to a novel. There he meets Zelda and other whimsical Manic Pixie Dream Girls who have been sent to therapy to learn to embrace their Trope. As a group, they would like to be taken seriously, but since the TropeTown Council has decided their type is problematic, they may be retired. With only a few days to avert their demise, they work hard to show the Council how charming, creative, and vibrant they are. Their plan is complicated by other potential futures, like planting in a novel (staying for good), seeing where the Termination Train may really lead, or accepting the small bit of freedom that being a Trope in TropeTown allows them. Appelhans’s metafictional story asks if Tropes can live authentic lives, if they are doomed to live out other people’s stories, or if they can steer their own path. Affable Riley’s quest to be seen beyond labels and stereotypes and his desire for agency are feelings to which many Readers in Reader World will relate. VERDICT Recommend this well-crafted book to voracious readers of YA who will appreciate the satire.