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Book Reviews, Thrillers Edition: Little Creeping Things and Nobody Knows But You

Reading during the pandemic has been hard for me. Very, very hard. But I have managed to finally finish a few books lately and I thought I would take a moment to do a quick review here.

Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

Publisher’s Book Description and Reviews/Praise

“Chelsea Ichaso has without a doubt written the breakout thriller of the year.” —DANA MELE, author of People Like Us

A compulsively readable debut with a narrator who can’t be trusted, perfect for fans of Natasha Preston.

When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. She’s pretty sure she didn’t mean to do it, and she’d give anything to forget that awful day. But her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down. In Melody’s eyes, Cassidy is a murderer and always will be.

Then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information about what happened. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what’s really going on before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.

PRAISE FOR LITTLE CREEPING THINGS
“Everyone’s a suspect, and no one is safe, in this twisty debut from a compelling new voice in YA, Chelsea Ichaso. Don’t miss it!” —KIT FRICK, author of See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us, and I Killed Zoe Spanos

“Little Creeping Things is a stunning debut in every sense of the word. From the chilling opening pages to the jaw-dropping final reveal, the pacing is relentless, the twists dizzying. Cass is the best kind of unreliable narrator, delightfully acerbic and hopelessly sincere even when she isn’t telling the truth. Chelsea Ichaso has without a doubt written the breakout thriller of the year.” —DANA MELE, author of People Like Us

“Ichaso’s debut is a riveting whodunnit… a psychological thriller worthy of mystery aficionados.”—SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Little Creeping Things, with its cast of creepy and untrustworthy characters, will satisfy the appetites of all manner of mystery fans.”—BOOKLIST

“The reveal…is both well earned and eerie.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS

Karen’s Thoughts:

I’ve been on a real run with thrillers for a while now and this one did not disappoint. There were a lot of twists and turns and every time I thought I knew what was going on, I was wrong. This is a compulsively readable book that keeps you invested. This will be a great addition to any teen collection. And for those of you who want a little bit of substance with your books, you will also find themes of childhood trauma, gaslighting, and abuse. It’s dark, but as I’ve told you before, dark is good. Put this in the hands of Karen McManus fans asap. Published in June by Sourcebooks.

Nobody Knows But You by Anica Mrose Rissi

Publisher’s Book Description:

Maybe a killer only looks like a killer in the moment just before, during, or after.

Maybe a liar, a good one, never shows it.

Kayla is still holding on to Lainie’s secrets.

After all, Lainie is Kayla’s best friend. And despite Lainie’s painful obsession with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, and the ways he has tried to come between them, friends don’t spill each other’s secrets. They don’t betray each other’s trust.

The murder at the end of the summer doesn’t change all that.

Besides—Kayla knows that the truth is not the whole story.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Yes, it’s another thriller. What can I say? Thrillers are my jam right now. Though the ending of this one was less surprising for me, it was still a pretty tight psychological thriller that teens will like. This book is about summer camp gone horribly wrong and for teens missing out on summer camp this year, it’s the perfect anecdote. Fans of Megan Miranda, Karen McManus and Lauren Oliver should be have there thirst for a good murder quenched by this summer read. Publishes September by HarperTeen.

What can I say? A good thriller or two is just what I needed to help me end my pandemic reading slump.

Book Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Publisher’s Book Description: It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them. 

Karen’s Thoughts: I do love a good twisted fairy tale. And in this case I do mean seriously twisted.*

Having recently read – AND LOVED – The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, I found this to be a great next read in the girl rebel against patriarchal towns genre. It’s by no means a new genre, but this was a really fascinating take on the concept with the way that the legend of Cinderella is woven into the storyline. It is also fiercely pro-LGBTQ in ways that many other smash the patriarchy books have failed to be. And it stars a main character of color, which again is often under represented. So this book definitely helps fill a lot of gaps that are vastly under-represented in YA literature. We need a lot more books like this, books that are intersectional in their feminism.**

Every twist in this tale will delight and astound readers. I had no idea where exactly it was going to go and was amazed at the ways that Bayron could take the tale of Cinderella and use it as the base for her story and then completely change it in such creative and twisted ways. This twisted tale will challenge, delight and thrill readers. Highly recommended.

Epic Reads Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

*When it comes to book reviews, twisted is a compliment. Less so when you are talking about horrific presidents and real life serial killers.

**For more YA with intersectional feminism check out Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang to get you started.

Riley’s Post It Note Reviews: Bent Heavens, Harrow Lake and Five Total Strangers

It’s time for another installment of Riley’s Post It Note Reviews where a teen tells us what she thinks about some of the recent Young Adult literature she has read.

Bent Heaven by Daniel Kraus

Publisher’s Book Description:

Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands. 

Post It Note Review: This book is so interesting. There was always a new surprise.

Editor’s Note: I was so excited that Riley wanted to read this book because I read it earlier and really liked it and wanted someone to talk about it with! This book is a stunning read and it’s out now.

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Publisher’s Book Description:

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her. But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot.

The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking Lola’s every move.

The more she discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her…

Post It Note Review: This book is very creepy. I wanted to keep reading it forever. The ending is now what I expected.

Editor’s Note: This book was a wild ride. Riley talked to me a lot about all the truly bizarre twists and turns in this book. It comes out in August 2020 from Kathy Dawson Books

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

Publisher’s Book Description:

A hitched ride home in a snow storm turns sinister when one of the passengers is plotting for the ride to end in disaster.

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

Post It Note Review: This was a very captivating read. The action never stopped.

Editor’s Note: Natalie D. Richards is a solid choice for teen thrillers, always. This book was especially fascinating because Riley’s father and I once rented a car with strangers during a blizzard while stranded at an airport. We were young college kids and I’m happy to report that no one in our journey was murderous. In hindsight, I of course do not recommend anyone do this. But the book was fascinating. This book comes out in October from Sourcebooks.

Three YA Titles That Talk About Black Lives Matters and Protests

For the past several weeks the United States – and the world, really – has been wrestling with our deep and unrelenting history of racism with a series of global protests. As a white woman, I have seen a lot of my teens and friends wrestling with what this moment means in history. I’ve also seen a lot of important conversations about what protests can and should look like, with some pretty profound discussion about things like tone policing. One of the comments I have seen over and over again is that white people like me don’t get to tell Black people how to feel or respond to the justified anger they have about history, policing and racism in general. Today I want to share with you some excellent books by Own Voices Black authors that tackle this topic that is relevant reading, especially for white readers who are looking to engage in anti-racist reading.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher’s Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. 

Karen’s Thoughts: This book has been on the New York Time’s Besteseller List, usually in the #1 spot, for over 2 years now. It has also been made into a major motion picture which you should watch, but only after reading the book. I read this book with an adult book club I am in. The members of my book club are all white women in their 30s or higher and range from liberal to very conservative. This conversation was one of the ones I was most tense about having but it went surprisingly well. This book really focuses on its main character, Starr, trying to find her voice when her friend is killed by a police officer while she sits in the car next to him. It’s stark, haunting and should move everyone to anger. Part of Starr’s voice comes in choosing to participate in local protests.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Publisher’s Book Description:

Rashad is absent again today.

That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…

Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.

And that’s how it started.

And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.

Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.

Cuz that’s how it can end.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is such a great book and I highly recommend it. This book tells a compelling story which is told in alternating points of view, with both a Black and white main character. The internal dialogues of both characters and how they wrestle with the police shooting and whether or not they want to get involved in the protests is profound. Like The Hate U Give, this book is essential reading.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely on NPR

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Publisher’s Book Description:

“An absolute page turner, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight is a compelling and powerful novel that is sure to make an impact.” —Angie Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U Give

An NAACP Image Award Nominee, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight follows two teen girls—one black, one white—who have to confront their own assumptions about racial inequality as they rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has set their city on fire with civil unrest.

Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.

When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.

They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.

Karen’s Thoughts: I listened to this audio book just yesterday while shelving books in a new branch that my system is hoping to open soon. Like All American Boys, this book also is told with two alternating point of view with both a Black and a white main character. There is mention of Black Lives Matter and protests in this title, but this book also most explicitly talks about and uses the word riot. This is a town that has obviously been struggling with racial tension for quite some time. There is discussion about how when the police show up the situation escalates, there is very specific discussion about white privilege, and many other nuanced conversations about race take place within this story. I highly recommend this book for everyone.

Also, please check out author Kimberly Jones talking about the Black Lives Matter movement in the videos below.

Riley’s Post It Note Reviews: A Wicked Magic, Goddess in the Machine and Havenfall

Editor’s Note: I have previously referred to my oldest child as both The Teen and Kicky (her nickname) on here, but as she is about to be a senior in high school and 18 years old, she is choosing to go by her real name. So let me introduce to you my oldest daughter, Riley. She’s an avid reader of YA and has been reviewing here for 7+ years. She loves musical theater, murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and she wants to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. So here’s what she’s been reading and reviewing for you.

Publisher’s Book Description:

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The Craft when modern witches must save teens stolen by an ancient demon in this YA fantasy-thriller debut.

Dan and Liss are witches. The Black Book granted them that power. Harnessing that power feels good, especially when everything in their lives makes them feel powerless.

During a spell gone wrong, Liss’s boyfriend is snatched away by an evil entity and presumed dead. Dan and Liss’s friendship dies that night, too. How can they practice magic after the darkness that they conjured?

Months later, Liss discovers that her boyfriend is alive, trapped underground in the grips of an ancient force. She must save him, and she needs Dan and the power of The Black Book to do so. Dan is quickly sucked back into Liss’s orbit and pushes away her best friend, Alexa. But Alexa has some big secrets she’s hiding and her own unique magical disaster to deal with.

When another teenager disappears, the girls know it’s no coincidence. What greedy magic have they awakened? And what does it want with these teens it has stolen?

Set in the atmospheric wilds of California’s northern coast, Sasha Laurens’s thrilling debut novel is about the complications of friendship, how to take back power, and how to embrace the darkness that lives within us all. 

Post It Note Review:

Extremely fascinating. A great story about friendship in a very unique way. Very enjoyable. Also, a very cool cover. Recommended.

Coming July 28 from Razorbill

Publisher’s Book Description:

When Andra wakes up, she’s drowning.

Not only that, but she’s in a hot, dirty cave, it’s the year 3102, and everyone keeps calling her Goddess. When Andra went into a cryonic sleep for a trip across the galaxy, she expected to wake up in a hundred years, not a thousand. Worst of all, the rest of the colonists–including her family and friends–are dead. They died centuries ago, and for some reason, their descendants think Andra’s a deity. She knows she’s nothing special, but she’ll play along if it means she can figure out why she was left in stasis and how to get back to Earth.

Zhade, the exiled bastard prince of Eerensed, has other plans. Four years ago, the sleeping Goddess’s glass coffin disappeared from the palace, and Zhade devoted himself to finding it. Now he’s hoping the Goddess will be the key to taking his rightful place on the throne–if he can get her to play her part, that is. Because if his people realize she doesn’t actually have the power to save their dying planet, they’ll kill her.

With a vicious monarch on the throne and a city tearing apart at the seams, Zhade and Andra might never be able to unlock the mystery of her fate, let alone find a way to unseat the king, especially since Zhade hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with Andra. And a thousand years from home, is there any way of knowing that Earth is better than the planet she’s woken to?

Post It Note Review:

Super interesting concept that never got boring. There was always something unexpected coming and it never stopped being surprising. Highly recommended.

Coming June 30th from Razorbill

Publisher’s Book Description:

A safe haven between four realms and the girl sworn to protect it—at any cost.

Hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall, a sanctuary that connects ancient worlds—each with its own magic. For generations, the inn has protected all who seek refuge within its walls, and any who disrupt the peace can never return.

For Maddie Morrow, summers at the inn are more than a chance to experience this magic firsthand. Havenfall is an escape from reality, where her mother sits on death row accused of murdering Maddie’s brother. It’s where Maddie fell in love with handsome Fiorden soldier Brekken. And it’s where one day she hopes to inherit the role of Innkeeper from her beloved uncle.

But this summer, the impossible happens—a dead body is found, shattering everything the inn stands for. With Brekken missing, her uncle gravely injured, and a dangerous creature on the loose, Maddie suddenly finds herself responsible for the safety of everyone in Havenfall. She’ll do anything to uncover the truth, even if it means working together with an alluring new staffer, Taya, who seems to know more than she’s letting on. As dark secrets are revealed about the inn itself, one thing becomes clear to Maddie—no one can be trusted, and no one is safe…

Bestselling author Sara Holland pulls readers into an enchanting world where both power and peril lurk behind every door. 

Post It Note Review:

Great story and a great read. I enjoyed the characters and the interesting settings. Recommended.

This book is out now.

Book Review: Pocket Change Collective books

Publisher’s descriptions

Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593094655 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us.

In Beyond the Gender Binary, poet, artist, and LGBTQIA+ rights advocate Alok Vaid-Menon deconstructs, demystifies, and reimagines the gender binary.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Beyond the Gender Binary, Alok Vaid-Menon challenges the world to see gender not in black and white, but in full color. Taking from their own experiences as a gender-nonconforming artist, they show us that gender is a malleable and creative form of expression. The only limit is your imagination.

This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593095188 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

In this powerful and hopeful account, arts writer, curator, and activist Kimberly Drew reminds us that the art world has space not just for the elite, but for everyon
e.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, arts writer and co-editor of Black Futures Kimberly Drew shows us that art and protest are inextricably linked. Drawing on her personal experience through art toward activism, Drew challenges us to create space for the change that we want to see in the world. Because there really is so much more space than we think.

The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593093689 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

In The New Queer Conscience, LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli argues the urgent need for queer responsibility — that queers anywhere are responsible for queers everywhere

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, The New Queer Conscience, Voices4 Founder and LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli offers a candid and compassionate introduction to queer responsibility. Eli calls on his Jewish faith to underline how kindness and support within the queer community can lead to a stronger global consciousness. More importantly, he reassures us that we’re not alone. In fact, we never were. Because if you mess with one queer, you mess with us all.

Imaginary Borders by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593094136 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)


In this personal, moving essay, environmental activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez uses his art and his activism to show that climate change is a human issue that can’t be ignored.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Earth Guardians Youth Director and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez shows us how his music feeds his environmental activism and vice versa. Martinez visualizes a future that allows us to direct our anger, fear, and passion toward creating change. Because, at the end of the day, we all have a part to play.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’ve said it before, but: Almost always, I read books in order of publication date. It’s really the only way I can keep track of everything I want to review and juggle the rest of life. These little books have sat on my shelf for months and I’ve been so looking forward to getting to them. They did not disappoint.

You know who these would be great for? All the great kids you know who are graduating right now. I love giving books as gifts (she preached to the choir) and these are perfect to hand to young readers. And old readers! These books read like really impassioned TED talks, interspersing personal histories and details with factual information and calls to action.

In Beyond the Gender Binary, Vaid-Menon explores the many ways the false idea of a binary hurts everyone and how harmful the disconnect between what people see (and comment on) and who you are can be. They discuss how an emphasis on a binary involves power, control, shame, repression, harassment, discrimination, and more. They look at the laws against people who don’t conform to the gender binary, the access denied, the targeted legislation, and point out how so much of this is all about gender non-conforming people but rarely actually engages with them.

Vaid-Menon shares their own story from growing up, full of shame, fear, and bullying. They also detail common arguments against gender non-conforming people and refutes them. They emphasize the importance for the narrative around nonbinary people to be one of reclamation, acceptance, peace, and celebration in this powerful look at the toxic notion of a binary and the harmony and creativity of embracing a spectrum of gender identities.

In The New Queer Conscience, Eli focuses on providing a hopeful, uplifting message of support and solidarity as he calls for a unified queer community. Drawing parallels to the support and collective sympathy, outrage, and action he finds within his Jewish community, he urges queer people anywhere to feel responsible for queer people everywhere. He writes about being young and feeling confused and uncomfortable and desperately needing the validation, assurance, and support of a community. He addresses the common feeling of being alone that so many queer kids may feel, a feeling that could be alleviated by a stronger and more active community. Eli explores the changes necessary for this kind of community and transformation, including policies of kindness and understanding, acknowledging uneven playing fields and issues of privilege, and the need for there to be solidarity with all oppressed people. A great reminder that there’s a huge, welcoming community that values you and that together it can be stronger and more effective.

In Imaginary Borders, Martinez examines the climate change movement. His message is that we build the world together, especially when we understand that we are part of a larger system, that we need to claim space in the movements, and explores the need for a cultural shift. He details the ways climate change reaches across real and imagined borders and looks as the cascading effects of climate change, environmental racism, and social justice. Martinez focuses on the fact that there are many paths to activism, and that to inspire connection and action, we need to bring our imagination and creativity to the movement as well as diverse tactics.

In This Is What I Know About Art, Drew looks at art, activism, protest, and inclusion through the lens of her own path to a life in the art world. Emphasizing curiosity, engagement, and learning, she pushes for a collective voice and a shared community. Detailing her exploration of art in college and in internships and jobs, she encourages us to ask who is not in the room and how can we get them there.

Illuminating and inspiring, all four books encourage more thoughtful conversations around these topics. Really well done.

Review copies (ARC) courtesy of the publisher.

Book Review: The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

Publisher’s description

Moxie meets A Knight’s Tale as Kit Sweetly slays sexism, bad bosses, and bad luck to become a knight at a medieval-themed restaurant.

Working as a Wench—i.e. waitress—at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a Knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be Knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place, clobbers the Green Knight, and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval—if they don’t get fired first.

Amanda’s thoughts

My reading taste really comes down to two things: show me people just talk, talk, talking OR show me something unique. A contemporary story about a girl who wants to become a knight? Now that’s unique!

There is so much to really love about this book. Kit (real name—brace yourselves—Courtney Love Sweetly) works at a medieval-themed restaurant that’s run by her uncle, but that doesn’t get her any preferential treatment. The place is not great, but Kit absolutely loves her workplace family and desperately needs the job there. She and her older brother (a knight at the restaurant) live with their mom—their dad took off a couple of years ago with all their college money to feed his heroin habit. Their family is constantly worried about money. Electricity gets shut off, there’s very little food, and everything is run-down. They all three work hard, but it’s just barely enough to keep them afloat.

Kit has very real worries about college. She has had a plan for years for herself, but now that the time for college acceptances is here, it looks like that plan isn’t doable. It’s hard to readjust your thoughts and grapple with a new reality. The money just isn’t there for her to follow the path she had long ago set for herself. I appreciate this depiction of teen life so much—a teenager with a job because it’s absolutely essential to the family’s budge, a teen making the very reasonable choice to follow a different college path due to financial reasons.

It’s not all just worries and disappointments for Kit, though. She has great support in Layla, her best friend, and Jett, her other best friend. Kit and Jett decided long ago to never date, for the sake of the friendship, but that doesn’t stop Kit from having a raging crush on him and wishing they could break that pact.

Then, of course, there’s the storyline of her wanting to become a knight. She knows she’s the right girl for the job, her corporate has made it very clear that only cis men can be knights at this restaurant. Outspoken feminist Kit is done tolerating that decree. When she fills in for her brother, Jett films it and the video begins to go viral online, giving Kit a platform to push her cause. She begins to train other friends from work (including trans and nonbinary characters), but with no corporate support and an uncle vehemently against helping her agenda, it’s uncertain whether they will even get a chance to showcase their talents even one time, much less overthrow the whole system.

I was into this story just from the very basic plot: teen girl wants to be a knight at the medieval-themed restaurant she works at. But the many layers of her life made this book so engrossing. And the wonderful (and very diverse) cast of supporting characters made this such a great workplace story, too. Kit is a badass, not just because she wants to smash the patriarchy, but because she’s juggling so much in just her day-to-day life. A great read that deserves lots of attention.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624149528
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Post-It Reviews: Some ghosts, a guide to critical thinking, folktales, Chernobyl, and more

I 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. My standard line here is, “Even if I quit my library job, I still couldn’t read them all.” Being home for like 7 weeks now has proven that even with more free time, I still barely make a dent in all the things I really want to read.

Back in the “before,” when I left my house, went to work each day, and circulated in the world, I read just about every free second I had—sitting in the car while waiting for my kid, on my lunch breaks at work, sometimes even while I was 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. 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 descriptions from the publishers. Post-it note review follows the description.

Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan

Making friends isn’t easy, but losing them is even harder!

Natalie has never felt that she’s enough — athletic enough, stylish enough, or talented enough. And on the first day of middle school, Natalie discovers that things are worse than she thought — now she’s not even cool enough for her best friend, Lily! As Natalie tries to get her best friend back, she learns more about her true self and natural talents. If Natalie can focus on who she is rather than who she isn’t, then she might realize she’s more than enough, just the way she is.

(POST-IT SAYS: Add this to your library or classroom—all who love Telgemeier, Jamieson, Hale, Liberson, etc will eat this up. There can never be too many graphic novels or books about friendship! A satisfying read. Ages 8-12)

The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

“This ghost story gave me chill after chill. It will haunt you.” — R.L. Stine, author of Goosebumps

“Do you know what it feels like to be forgotten?”

On a cold winter night, Iris and her best friend, Daniel, sneak into a clearing in the woods to play in the freshly fallen snow. There, Iris carefully makes a perfect snow angel — only to find the crumbling gravestone of a young girl, Avery Moore, right beneath her.

Immediately, strange things start to happen to Iris: She begins having vivid nightmares. She wakes up to find her bedroom window wide open, letting in the snow. She thinks she sees the shadow of a girl lurking in the woods. And she feels the pull of the abandoned grave, calling her back to the clearing…

Obsessed with figuring out what’s going on, Iris and Daniel start to research the area for a school project. They discover that Avery’s grave is actually part of a neglected and forgotten Black cemetery, dating back to a time when White and Black people were kept separate in life — and in death. As Iris and Daniel learn more about their town’s past, they become determined to restore Avery’s grave and finally have proper respect paid to Avery and the others buried there.

But they have awakened a jealous and demanding ghost, one that’s not satisfied with their plans for getting recognition. One that is searching for a best friend forever — no matter what the cost.

The Forgotten Girl is both a spooky original ghost story and a timely and important storyline about reclaiming an abandoned segregated cemetery.

“A harrowing yet empowering tale reminding us that the past is connected to the present, that every place and every person has a story, and that those stories deserve to be told.” — Renée Watson, New York Times bestselling author of Piecing Me Together

(POST-IT SAYS: While not the most well-written book, the scary/ghost element will draw kids in and they’ll learn about something many may not know about (segregation and abandoned graveyards). Ages 8-11)

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy.

For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business.

Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.

With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel.

(POST-IT SAYS: The kids at my school love “spooky” stories and will devour this. A great adventure full of magic, friendship, and family. The great writing and perfect pacing will make readers fly through this story of vengeance and heroics. Ages 8-12)

Think for Yourself: The Ultimate Guide to Critical Thinking in an Age of Information Overload by Andrea Debbink, Aaron Meshon (Illustrator) (MAY 12, 2020)

Middle school is a time of change, when things begin to look different and assumptions start to be questioned, and today more than ever it’s tough to know what to believe. This unique and timely book won’t tell you what to think—that’s up to you!—but it will show you how to think more deeply about your own life and current events. Covering a wide range of subjects affecting the world today, including human and animal rights, social media, cyber bullying, the refugee crisis, and more, THINK FOR YOURSELF will help you to learn how to ask questions, analyze evidence, and use logic to draw conclusions, so you can solve problems and make smart decisions.

Each chapter of the book covers one key step in the critical thinking process, and includes a real-world example to help convey the importance and relevance of every step:

Ask Questions: If you want to be a critical thinker, it helps to be curious. It’s normal to wonder about the world around us. Some questions are big, and some are small. Sometimes questions can spark debate and argument. All critical thinking starts with at least one question. 
Gather Evidence: First, find information—from making observations to interviewing experts to researching a topic online or in books. Then make connections and draw conclusions.
Evaluating Evidence: Smart thinkers evaluate the importance, accuracy and relevancy of the information they gather.
Getting Curious: Consider other points of view, examine your own point of view, understand the power of emotion, and practice empathy.
Draw Conclusions: The final step in the critical thinking process, this is based on reason and evidence. Revisit your original question, review the evidence and what you’ve learned, and consider your values. And remember: critical thinking doesn’t stop when you’ve reached a decision. Learn how to discuss and debate other points of view. Then keep growing. Sometimes you might change your mind—that’s OK, too!

Featuring profiles of real-life inspiring young critical thinkers from around the world, checklists, quizzes, and activities, THINK FOR YOURSELF is a clever and fun illustrated guide that teaches middle schoolers that even young people can make a difference in the world just by thinking smart and understanding. 

INCLUDES:

  • Your Turn: activities to help connect ideas to readers’ lives
  • Quizzes
  • Profiles of inspiring young critical thinkers
  • A Reading List for Young Thinkers
  • Teacher’s guides
  • Plus a table of contents, index, and glossary for easy searching

(POST-IT SAYS: Teaching how and why to think critically is especially vital these days. This book is short but very thorough with a format and content variety that will keep kids reading. Learn how to think, not what! Ages 10-14)

Folktales for Fearless Girls: The Stories We Were Never Told by Myriam Sayalero, Dani Torrent (Illustrator)

Heroines save the day in this empowering collection of folktales from around the world, perfect for fans of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Curses to be broken. Riddles to be solved. Kings’ favor to be won. These are the standard stories we’ve heard in folktales and fables for as long as we can remember—challenges faced and overcome by princes and knights in shining armor. In Folktales for Fearless Girls, though, we see a different set of heroes charge across the page. In fact, we see heroines.

Wily women and clever girls, valiant queens and brave villagers—these are the people to save the day in this collection of folktales from around the world and across the ages. Long before J.K. Rowling brought us Hermione Granger, well before Katniss Everdeen entered the arena, these fierce protagonists were the role models for strong girls through the ages. Here we read the story of Jimena, who dresses like a man to go fight in a war; of Min, whose cleverness leads her family to riches; and of Nabiha, who outsmarts thieves and wins the respect of the king. With stories from China, Russia, Persia, India, Armenia, the UK, Spain, France, Southern Africa, Egypt, and Germany, this is a collection of tales that showcases the original literary feminists.

With beautiful full-color art throughout to accompany these empowering tales, this an essential book for all girls!

(POST-IT SAYS: This book is gorgeous. Empowering feminist tales full of smart, outspoken, bold girls who are not waiting to be saved by anyone. An essential addition to collections and a great gift idea. Ages 9-14)

Taylor Before and After by Jennie Englund

In journal entries alternating between two timelines—before and after a tragic accident—Jennie Englund’s heartfelt coming-of-age story, Taylor Before and After follows the year that changes one girl’s life forever.

Before, Taylor Harper is finally popular, sitting with the cool kids at lunch, and maybe, just maybe, getting invited to the biggest, most exclusive party of the year.

After, no one talks to her.

Before, she’s friends with Brielle Branson, the coolest girl in school.

After, Brielle has become a bully, and Taylor’s her favorite target.

Before, home isn’t perfect, but at least her family is together.

After, Mom won’t get out of bed, Dad won’t stop yelling, and Eli…

Eli’s gone.

Through everything, Taylor has her notebook, a diary of the year that one fatal accident tears her life apart. In entries alternating between the first and second semester of her eighth-grade year, she navigates joy and grief, gain and loss, hope and depression.

How can Taylor pick up the pieces of what used to be her social life? How can her house ever feel like home again after everything that’s happened? And how can she move forward if she can’t stop looking back?

(POST-IT SAYS: The stream of consciousness narration may deter some readers, but I hope this poignant and complex look at mental health, friendship, and a life-changing catastrophe finds a large audience. Ages 10-13)

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura—and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

(POST-IT SAYS: Standing ovation! Fantastic read. Great hook, great voice, great look at learning how to be yourself, share your unique talents, and pursue your interests. Widely appealing. Ages 9-12)

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman

Like Ruta Sepetys for middle grade, Anne Blankman pens a poignant and timeless story of friendship that twines together moments in underexplored history.

On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work—Chernobyl—has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who’ve always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina’s estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother’s secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they’ve wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend’s life? Would you risk your own?

Told in alternating perspectives among three girls—Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka in 1941—this story shows that hatred, intolerance, and oppression are no match for the power of true friendship.

(POST-IT SAYS: An amazing read. This will be many young readers’ first exploration of life after Chernobyl. A profoundly powerful story of friendship, grief, and perseverance. Ages 10-13)

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Elana K. Arnold, author of the Printz Honor book Damsel, returns with a dark, engrossing, blood-drenched tale of the familiar threats to female power—and one girl’s journey to regain it.

You are alone in the woods, seen only by the unblinking yellow moon. Your hands are empty. You are nearly naked. And the wolf is angry.

Since her grandmother became her caretaker when she was four years old, Bisou Martel has lived a quiet life in a little house in Seattle. She’s kept mostly to herself. She’s been good.

But then comes the night of homecoming, when she finds herself running for her life over roots and between trees, a fury of claws and teeth behind her.

A wolf attacks. Bisou fights back. A new moon rises. And with it, questions.

About the blood in Bisou’s past, and on her hands as she stumbles home.

About broken boys and vicious wolves.

About girls lost in the woods—frightened, but not alone.

(POST-IT SAYS: This book tackles: the patriarchy; #MeToo; feminism; toxic masculinity; periods; incels; justice; empowerment. Dark, raw, gruesome, upsetting, and phenomenal. Ages 14-18)

Book Review: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny queer YA contemporary novel about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Amanda’s thoughts

When I’m writing this review it’s March 20, 2020 and I’ve just been diagnosed as “COVID-19 concern,” which I guess is what they diagnose those of us who are sick with all the symptoms in this world of no available tests. I’m really into feeling sorry for myself today. But you know what helped? This book. I read it all today. And loved it. And thank goodness I’ve stumbled into a pile of books keeping my attention because wow have I been in a reading slump lately.

This book is my favorite kind of book: small plot, lots of talking. It also has delightfully convoluted communication mainly due to the fact that we first see our characters meet at a con and know each other as Peak and Bats. Peak (Jubilee) assumes Bats (Ridley) goes back home to Seattle, but really, he stays in Connecticut to live with his terrible father. Also, while they initially know nothing about one another, Ridley figures out who Peak is (Jubilee, daughter of a famous indie comic artist and his father’s main rival) while she knows nothing about him. Even for many, many chapters while they are hanging out in IRL. And Riley may be spying on her family’s store to get intel to help his dad (who, did I mention? is terrible). And when the reveal comes that not only is Ridley Jubilee’s con-crush Bats but is the son of her mom’s rival, things grow even MORE complicated, because how can Jubilee possibly still like him? But she does.

Whew. Get all that? You will when you read it.

There’s also a lot going on here regarding both mental health and sexuality. Ridley is bi. Jubilee calls herself “flexible” and isn’t comfortable with any one label yet, but knows she’s into certain people regardless of their gender. Ridley worries what Jubilee will think about him being bi, and Jubilee worries that repeatedly liking boys somehow makes her less queer. Then there’s Ridley’s mental health. At one point he tells Jubilee that he doesn’t have a diagnosis—he has a laundry list. His main issue is anxiety with panic attacks. Given the amount of lies and secrets he juggles for much of the book, it’s no surprise that his anxiety is always in high gear. Things start to become dangerous when he begins to feel like he’d just like to get lost in Jubilee and forget everything else. A common statement at our house is that people don’t fix people. So wanting to get lost in his girlfriend isn’t exactly a doctor-approved way to treat his worsening anxiety. Some bad choices and instability lead to everything coming to a head.

While this is certainly a romance, it’s also so much more. It really asks the question of how do you survive the dark times and doesn’t offer any easy answers. It’s also a great look at two people getting maybe too wrapped up in each other and not helping them be their best selves (does that sound like a mom lecture? I may or may not have given it recently). This is much heavier than it may appear based on the cover and the summary. That said, those looking for a contemporary that successfully mixes romance with some rather serious issues (and some concerning choices regarding lies, truth, and mental health) will enjoy this. A character-driven book with wide appeal.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516286
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio

Publisher’s description

Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race and, ultimately, self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).

What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved Gregorio’s first book, None of the Above, and have been waiting to see what she would do next. When this book showed up, along with a letter about the importance of happy books about mental illness, I rearranged my reading schedule (a literal printed out schedule right now, as I write this review, as schools are closed and I’m home with far more unstructured time than I’ve had in years) to read this right away. And I loved it.

Chinese American Jocelyn lives in Utica, New York and is finally used to life there versus her old life in the city. So when she learns that her family’s restaurant is struggling and that they may have to closed up and move, she takes it upon herself to help the business thrive. That is A LOT for a high school junior to take on. She puts out an ad for help wanted to grow the business and give them a social media presence, and Will answers it. Nigerian American Will goes to a local private school and brings lots of skills to the table. Before long, the two are not just working on the business together, but falling for each other. But it’s complicated. Jos’s dad doesn’t want them dating for a variety of reasons, both teens deal with insecurities and mental health issues that interfere with their communications and interactions, and the pressure to save an entire business looms large.

Will starts to notice Jos seems like she has depression. He has generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. He’s been in therapy for years, which is great, but he’s not medicated, which is not great because his symptoms seem to need something else other than CBT for him to thrive. He’s wary of medication for all of the classic reasons, but also because his ob-gyn mother seems wary of medication. Jos is slowly growing more miserable, drowning under the pressure of the restaurant and clearly depressed. She is into Will be also appears to resent him—-she feels he’s more successful than she is (better grades etc). She begins to feel like she has to watch her mood around him because of how aware he is of her changing moods. She wonders if she has to appear happy for him to be happy.

I loved this story for how very real it was. Not everyone is having open conversations at home about mental health. Not everyone who is being treated is getting the full spectrum of what they could to help them feel their best. One thing that everyone is doing, however, is still living complicated, multifaceted lives that have a lot more going on than just trying to address any one thing. While this is a romance, and the story of children of immigrants juggling multiple cultures, norms, and expectations, it’s also a very affecting and complex exploration of mental health. Jos and Will’s story is warm and supportive, even when things get all mixed up. A smart story that shows that while people don’t fix people, they can support them, and that may lead to getting help. Gregorio makes it clear that not only is getting help okay, asking for help is good, too. Highly recommended.

Review copy (finished book) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316423823
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years