Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle by Robin Stevenson

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, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Gr 6-9–Stevenson’s joyful celebration of self, community, existence, and activism examines Pride parades, how they came to be, and what they celebrate. This updated edition contains an added focus on necessary and continuing activism as well as the role of young people in the movement. The text chronicles a brief history of LGBTQ+ advocacy, major issues, differing political goals, and inequality within the movement. Chapters explore the rise of Queer Nation (an activist group founded in NYC), marriage equality, PFLAG, community and subgroups, coming out, and definitions of various acronyms and identities. As the title promises, the main focus is Pride parades, the politics of Pride, intersectional activism and considerations, symbols commonly seen at Pride, and alternative Pride marches and demonstrations. While primarily focused on North America, there is a chapter on Pride as a symbol of freedom and hope around the world as well as the social climates, ongoing struggles, and laws of many countries. The eye-catching layout features large, vibrant pictures from celebrations, parades, and marches all over the world. Pull-out quotes, smaller pictures on the sides, and text boxes with “Queer Facts” adorn the pages and help break up longer sections.

VERDICT An indispensable and celebratory primer on the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights. An excellent resource that is as thorough as it is visually appealing.

ISBN-13: 9781459821248
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Edition description: 2nd Revised and Expanded ed.

Book Review: The Life Below by Alexandra Monir

As Naomi lifts off into space and away from a rapidly deteriorating Earth, she watches the world fade away, and along with it Leo, a Final Six contestant she grew close to during training. Leaving Earth behind is hard, but what’s ahead, on Europa, could be worse. The International Space Training Camp continues to hide the truth about what happened to the last group of astronauts who attempted a similar colonization but failed mysteriously. With one shot—at this mission and to Europa—Naomi is determined to find out if there is alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there.

Leo, back on Earth, has been working with renegade scientist Dr. Greta Wagner, who promises to fly him to space where he can essentially latch on to Naomi’s ship. And if Wagner’s hypothesis is right, it isn’t a possibility of coming in contact with extraterrestrial life on Europa—it’s a definite. With Naomi unaware of what awaits, it’s up to Leo to find and warn her and the others.

With all the pieces of their journey finally clicking into place, everything else starts to fall apart. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and the questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous failed mission get answered in the worst way possible. If the dream was to establish a habitable domain on Europa… the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.

Karen’s Thoughts:

When we left our crew at the end of The Final Six, the teens had gone through an intense selection process and some teens were chosen to go to space to save the human race. We pick up at lift off and the action does not disappoint. There is sabotage, political intrigue, lies, and a group of desperate teens trying to survive in a situation that they are in no way truly equipped to survive. It’s edge of your seat on every page.

These teens are on a mission to save the entire human race, but what happens if the information they have is a lie? And how do they know who to trust? It’s an important question as the teens – and the reader – are racing to discover what their truth is and it’s one of the primary driving forces of this novel. This group of teens are hurtling through space and the only information they have are the voices of a select few adults in their comms and two A.I. They don’t even know if they can trust each other.

Down below, Leo is enlisted by a rogue scientist who claims that the information the teens in space possess is faulty and that their lives and the fate of the entire mission is at risk. He is quickly trained and launched into space – alone I might add – in a desperate mission to correct the faulty data and save the girl he loves, Naomi. That’s right, there’s a rewarding and moving love story the compels a lot of the action.

The adults in this series are truly the worst, but the action is non stop and it’s a fun read with environmental themes that are relevant to our times. Fans of Doctor Who, science fiction, and all things space will enjoy this duology.

Recommended. This book publishes on February 18, 2020 from HarperTeen. I read an digital advanced reader on Edelweiss.

Post-It Note Reviews: a girl with Sensory Processing Disorder, a gloomy seaside town, special ed kids, 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. 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. 

Karen’s Witch (Baby-Sitters Little Sister Graphix Series #1) by Katy Farina (Illustrator), Ann M. Martin

A fresh and fun graphic novel series spin-off of The Baby-sitters Club, featuring Kristy’s little stepsister!

Karen Brewer lives next door to Mrs. Porter, who wears long robes and has wild gray hair. Mrs. Porter has a black cat named Midnight and always seems to be working in her garden. Karen isn’t supposed to spy on her neighbor, but she’s determined to prove that Mrs. Porter is a witch named Morbidda Destiny!

Mrs. Porter is getting ready to have a special meeting at her house, and Karen is sure the meeting is for witches. Are they going to cast a spell on Karen? Or will she be brave enough to send them away — once and for all?

(POST-IT SAYS: The BSC graphic novels fly off the shelves at my school and this spin-off will too. Spunky Karen really comes alive in illustrated form. The series can do no wrong. Ages 7-9)

Not If I Can Help It by Carolyn Mackler

From award-winning Carolyn Mackler, the story of Willa, who has been living with Sensory Processing Disorder but is thrown for a BIG loop when her dad announces he’s dating Willa’s best friend’s mom.

Willa likes certain things to be certain ways. Her socks have to be soft . . . and definitely can’t have irritating tags on the inside. She loves the crunch of popcorn and nachos . . . but is grossed out by the crunch of a baby carrot. And slimy foods? Those are the worst.

Willa can manage all these things — but there are some things she can’t deal with, like her father’s big news. He’s been keeping a big secret from her . . . that he’s been dating the mom of Willa’s best friend Ruby. Willa does NOT like the idea of them being together. And she does NOT like the idea of combining families. And she does NOT like the idea of her best friend becoming her sister overnight. Will she go along with all of these changes? NOT if she can help it!

(POST-IT SAYS: This is a very good book. Sensitively explores Sensory Processing Disorder, anxiety, divorce, and family. Willa is surrounded with so much love, support, and understanding. A superior story. Ages 8-12)

What I Want You to See by Catherine Linka (2/4/2020)

Winning a scholarship to California’s most prestigious art school seems like a fairy tale ending to Sabine Reye’s awful senior year. After losing both her mother and her home, Sabine longs for a place where she belongs.

But the cutthroat world of visual arts is nothing like what Sabine had imagined. Colin Krell, the renowned faculty member whom she had hoped would mentor her, seems to take merciless delight in tearing down her best work-and warns her that she’ll lose the merit-based award if she doesn’t improve.

Desperate and humiliated, Sabine doesn’t know where to turn. Then she meets Adam, a grad student who understands better than anyone the pressures of art school. He even helps Sabine get insight on Krell by showing her the modern master’s work in progress, a portrait that’s sold for a million dollars sight unseen.

Sabine is enthralled by the portrait; within those swirling, colorful layers of paint is the key to winning her inscrutable teacher’s approval. Krell did advise her to improve her craft by copying a painting she connects with . . . but what would he think of Sabine secretly painting her own version of his masterpiece? And what should she do when she accidentally becomes party to a crime so well -plotted that no one knows about it but her?

Complex and utterly original, What I Want You to See is a gripping tale of deception, attraction, and moral ambiguity.

(POST-IT SAYS: Sabine is so complicated–tough, vulnerable, smart, makes mistakes–and carries the generally fast-paced thrillerish mystery. A story of art school, crime, pressure, privilege, and homelessness. Ages 14+)

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith (2/11/2020)

A delightfully creepy novel from a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner imbued with magic and seafaring mythology. Lemony Snicket and Jessica Townsend meet Greenglass House, with a hint of Edward Gorey thrown in.

When twelve-year-old Rory applies for a job at a spooky old mansion in his gloomy seaside town, he finds the owner, Lord Foxglove, odd and unpleasant. But he and his mom need the money, so he takes the job anyway. Rory soon finds out that his new boss is not just strange, he’s not even human—and he’s trying to steal the townspeople’s shadows. Together, Rory and his friend Isabella set out to uncover exactly what Foxglove and his otherworldly accomplices are planning and devise a strategy to defeat them. But can two kids defeat a group of ancient evil beings who are determined to take over the world?

Another delightfully creepy tale from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award–winning author Ronald L. Smith.

(POST-IT SAYS: Weird and dark–excellent traits in a book. Genuinely creepy, great atmospheric setting, and oddball characters. Totally enjoyable read. Ages 10-12)

Chirp by Kate Messner (2/4/2020)

“[A] deftly layered mystery about family, friendship, and the struggle to speak up.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of Speak and Shout

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: Solid writing and important story override characters that sometimes lack nuance. Supportive family, great women role models, and a message about finding your voice and speaking up. Empowering and inspiring, this will surely generate discussions. Ages 10-14)

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Funny, poignant, and deeply moving, The Line Tender is a story of nature’s enduring mystery and a girl determined to find meaning and connection within it.

Wherever the sharks led, Lucy Everhart’s marine-biologist mother was sure to follow. In fact, she was on a boat far off the coast of Massachusetts, collecting shark data when she died suddenly. Lucy was seven. Since then Lucy and her father have kept their heads above water—thanks in large part to a few close friends and neighbors. But June of her twelfth summer brings more than the end of school and a heat wave to sleepy Rockport. On one steamy day, the tide brings a great white—and then another tragedy, cutting short a friendship everyone insists was “meaningful” but no one can tell Lucy what it all meant. To survive the fresh wave of grief, Lucy must grab the line that connects her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother’s unfinished research on the Great White’s return to Cape Cod. If Lucy can find a way to help this unlikely quartet follow the sharks her mother loved, she’ll finally be able to look beyond what she’s lost and toward what’s left to be discovered.

(POST-IT SAYS: Beautiful and sad. Grief, science, sharks, healing, and coping all come together to make a powerful story populated by unique characters who help guide and shape Lucy. Thoughtful and heartbreaking. Ages 10-13)

The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus

Fans of Jason Reynolds and Sharon M. Draper will love this oh-so-honest middle grade novel from writer and educator Maurice Broaddus.

Thelonius Mitchell is tired of being labeled. He’s in special ed, separated from the “normal” kids at school who don’t have any “issues.” That’s enough to make all the teachers and students look at him and his friends with a constant side-eye. (Although his disruptive antics and pranks have given him a rep too.)

When a gun is found at a neighborhood hangout, Thelonius and his pals become instant suspects. Thelonius may be guilty of pulling crazy stunts at school, but a criminal? T isn’t about to let that label stick.

(POST-IT SAYS: A fantastic book centered on special ed kids, stereotypes, bullying, and the dynamics of middle school. “Education is a full-contact sport.” For all collections. Ages 9-13)

The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read, Laura Trinder (3/3/2020)

For fans of portal fantasies like Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor, Colin Meloy’s Wildwood, and The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, and unlike so many other fantasies that introduce readers to a world of enchantment and wonder, The Midnight Hour is one filled with beasts and monsters for readers looking to shine their flashlights under the covers.

When strange late-night letters start arriving at home, Emily’s parents set off to investigate. But when her parents disappear completely and Emily is left home alone to face the weird strangers that begin to appear at her door, she takes all of the clues at her disposal and makes for the place where the letters came from — the mysterious Night Post. What she’ll discover is the secret world of the Midnight Hour — a Victorian London frozen in time, full of magic and monsters.

Kept safe by an age-old agreement, the Night Folk have been exiled to a parallel world that can only be accessed by a selected few, including the mail carriers of the infamous Night Post that operate between the two worlds. Emily’s parents are key players in keeping the Night Folk safe, but when the division of the two worlds is threatened, Emily must search for her parents while navigating this dark and unknown version of London.

Armed only with a packed lunch, her very sleepy pocket hedgehog, and her infamously big argumentative mouth, she must escape bloodthirsty creatures of the night, figure out her own family secrets, and maybe just save the world. This is a frightening and enchanting story, a world built out of creatures from our worst fears who become relatable, fully formed characters unlike any we’ve seen as these strangers of parallel worlds band together to save the day.

(POST-IT SAYS: Fantasy fans will love this. The action-packed midnight world full of magical creatures and lots of detail will make readers fly through the story. Whimsical and funny with great characters. Ages 8-12)

Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland

A laugh-out-loud funny and empowering graphic memoir about growing up and finding your voice.

Twelve-year-old Cindy has just dipped a toe into seventh-grade drama—with its complicated friendships, bullies, and cute boys—when she earns an internship as a cub reporter at a local newspaper in the early 1970s. A (rare) young female reporter takes Cindy under her wing, and Cindy soon learns not only how to write a lede, but also how to respectfully question authority, how to assert herself in a world run by men, and—as the Watergate scandal unfolds—how brave reporting and writing can topple a corrupt world leader. Searching for her own scoops, Cindy doesn’t always get it right, on paper or in real life. But whether she’s writing features about ghost hunters, falling off her bicycle and into her first crush, or navigating shifting friendships, Cindy grows wiser and more confident through every awkward and hilarious mistake.

(POST-IT SAYS: Doesn’t have quite the appeal of the other children’s graphic memoirs out there, but a solid read about friendship, writing, politics, and popularity. An empowering look at the middle school years. Ages 8-12)

Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann, Lily Williams

High school students embark on a crash course of friendship, female empowerment, and women’s health issues in Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann’s graphic novel Go With the Flow.

Good friends help you go with the flow.

Best friends help you start a revolution.

Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are fed up. Hazelton High never has enough tampons. Or pads. Or adults who will listen.

Sick of an administration that puts football before female health, the girls confront a world that shrugs—or worse, squirms—at the thought of a menstruation revolution. They band together to make a change. It’s no easy task, especially while grappling with everything from crushes to trig to JV track but they have each other’s backs. That is, until one of the girls goes rogue, testing the limits of their friendship and pushing the friends to question the power of their own voices.

Now they must learn to work together to raise each other up. But how to you stand your ground while raising bloody hell?

(POST-IT SAYS: Woohoo for an increase in books about periods! Smart, feminist, activist teens represent diverse identities and experiences. A cute, funny, terrific, inspiring read! Ages 9-14)

Book Review: We Were Promised Spotlights by Lindsay Sproul

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.

Gr 9 Up–A reluctant queen bee stumbles toward discovering her true self as she contends with expectations and her sexuality in a small town at the end of the 1990s. With high school almost over, Taylor Garland only wants two things: for her best friend Susan to reciprocate her (hidden) romantic feelings and to leave tiny Hopuonk, MA, where she’s bored by everything. Her future feels predictable and depressing, but pursuing a different path seems impossible. At one point, Taylor says that she “keeps meaning to be a different person” but doesn’t know how to become one. Revealing her real self—whoever that is—may bring satisfaction but may potentially throw her whole life in disarray. Much of the story hinges on Taylor accepting that she’s a lesbian. She carries a wealth of internalized homophobia as well as cliched ideas about what it may mean to be gay. Taylor’s crowd is fickle and callous, casually bullying their peers, being cruel to each other, and incessantly tossing around offensive slurs. The writing is at times lovely, and the setting of a tiny, ramshackle town casts a fittingly depressing vibe over an already bleak story. Taylor is compellingly flawed and unpredictable, and her path to growth, while rocky and cringe-inducing, is frank and honest. A hopeful if out-of-nowhere ending allows readers to think that maybe Taylor can indeed become the different person she means to be.

VERDICT Hand this grim coming-of-age story to readers who don’t mind characters who can be difficult to like.

Putnam. Mar. 2020. 288p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524738532.

Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

forest with reflection in lake and man silhouette; Shutterstock ID 418079275; Title: –

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.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Every once in a while, you read a book that leaves you stunned. This was one of those books for me. It is not an exaggeration when I tell you that there were a couple of moments while I was reading this book that I sat the book down and ran out to the garage where The Mr. was working and said, “Holy crud, you won’t believe what just happened.” It was mind-blowing, jaw dropping and stunningly fascinating, in truly dark and twisted ways. I’m still thinking about this book days later.

If you’re not familiar with Daniel Kraus, he writes super dark YA that is like Stephen King on steroids. Rotters is about a young boy who goes to live with his dad who is a grave robber. Scowler is about the very true terror of domestic violence. Kraus is also the man behind the middle grade Trollhunters series, which you can see on Netflix (Thing 2 has watched the entire series). So he’s not all dark all the time, but his YA is very dark. And glorious.

Liv is dealing with the loss of a father who has the distinguished honor of being the town laughingstock, having claimed to have been abducted by aliens. He’s now missing, but no one believes he has been abducted by aliens and Liv is learning to live with the truth that he is probably dead. Then she discovers a creature that may just prove her dad wasn’t crazy after all. Now in possession of this creature, Liv and her childhood friend Doug takes matters into their own hands to try and clear her father’s name and what happens next is truly stunning. And disturbing.

In Bent Heavens, Kraus explores the nature of violence and asks one of the age old questions that come up frequently in horror and science fiction: just who, exactly, are the monsters? The answer to that question involves some very truly unsettling scenes. And although the answer to that question will surprise no one, the path Kraus weaves to get us there is unlike anything I’ve read in YA for quite some time.

Like truly great literature, Kraus challenges his readers to step into the darkness and confront the bitter truths of human nature. Along the way, he weaves a visceral tale that pulls back the current on small town politics, mental health stigmas, violence, grief, and anger. It’s a wild, uncomfortable and challenging ride through the darkest parts of human nature, and it will punch you in the gut. It touches on some other important and timely topics that I can’t mention here because I don’t want to give too much away. But everything that happens does so for a reason and readers will not be disappointed. It’s some great craftsmanship and storytelling.

I need you to read it so we can talk about it. Highly recommended.

This book comes out February, 25, 2020. I read a digital arc for this review.

Book Review: Layoverland by Gabby Noone

Publisher’s description

Beatrice Fox deserves to go straight to hell.

At least, that’s what she believes. Her last day on Earth, she ruined the life of the person she loves most—her little sister, Emmy. So when Bea awakens from a fatal car accident to find herself on an airplane headed who knows where, she’s confused, to say the least.

Once on the ground, Bea receives some truly harrowing news: she’s in purgatory. If she ever wants to catch a flight to heaven, she’ll have to help five thousand souls figure out what’s keeping them from moving on.

But one of Bea’s first assignments is Caleb, the boy who caused her accident, and the last person Bea would ever want to send to the pearly gates. And as much as Bea would love to see Caleb suffer for dooming her to a seemingly endless future of eating bad airport food and listening to other people’s problems, she can’t help but notice that he’s kind of cute, and sort of sweet, and that maybe, despite her best efforts, she’s totally falling for him.

From debut author Gabby Noone comes a darkly hilarious and heartfelt twist on the afterlife about finding second chances, first loves, and new friendships in the most unlikely places.

Amanda’s thoughts

This is such an easy book to recommend to anyone who likes THE GOOD PLACE or just likes contemporary stories with redemption arcs. Bea is like a less dirtbag-y Eleanor Shellstrop—she’s a complicated and flawed character who is torn between acts of revenge and actually wanting to help and protect people. Now dead, she’s part of the Memory Experience Department, which is not in heaven or hell, but in an airport, which is a layover spot for mostly good people who need to process some stuff before they can move on. Bea will assist people and help them move on. Her passport tells her she needs to help 5,000 people, which she estimates will take her at least 15 years. And while that’s hardly an appealing notion, it becomes all the worse when Bea realizes she is not only in the airport with Caleb, who was driving the car that smashed into hers and killed her, but she has to help him process and move on. Caleb doesn’t know who Bea is or about their shared history, and Bea desperately wants to exact some revenge upon him. After all, he killed her.

But, as you may guess, nothing in Layoverland is simple. There’s the complication of having feelings, of understanding what really happened in their accident, of accepting their current reality.

This book was a great read. I was a little wary about it, because I tend to entirely skip books that center around car accidents or describe them in detail, but I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me here. Noone’s book is truly funny, with memorable and clever characters. Yes, it’s about death and the idea of an afterlife, but it’s a pretty quick, light read. No one is too bothered by any of their new revelations (they’re dead! and in a weird limbo! and then will be in heaven! and still dead!) or was too awful of a human while still alive. It’s the perfect teenage take on THE GOOD PLACE, but with less frozen yogurt and more Jello. This book will fly off shelves. Good fun.

ISBN-13: 9781984836120
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/21/2020

Book Review: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes the thing that I just really want to say about a book is “this was really enjoyable and cute.” Guess what? This book was really enjoyable and cute. The summary up there covers all the highlights and plot twists, but does nothing to capture just how much FUN this story was. The layers of their relationship really made the story—their Twitter battle, their chatting on the Weazel app, their real-life interactions, and the many little twists and turns that happen in all of those ways of communicating. Pretty much my favorite form of people falling for one another is via sarcastic banter. Pepper and Jack nail this—and they also do honesty and vulnerability pretty well, too.

That’s it. That’s the review. This was a really fun, cute, sweet story that was exactly what I was looking to read in one afternoon while curled up on the couch with the dogs. I tend to gravitate toward more serious YA, or YA featuring underrepresented identities and voices. But sometimes, I just want something light, and this rom-com totally hit the mark. It’s not often I keep my reviews this short, but honestly, the plot is totally summarized in the publisher’s description and I just wanted to share that this book was enjoyable and just what I needed. Good fun.

ISBN-13: 9781250237323
Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/21/2020

Book Review: Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author Tonya Bolden comes the story of a teen girl becoming a woman on her own terms against the backdrop of widespread social change in the early 1900s.

Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper class African American family in Washington D.C., she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation—black or white—and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society—the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men, and shallow young women—has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah starts attending suffragist lectures and socialist meetings, finding herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

Set against the backdrop of the press for women’s rights, the Red Summer, and anarchist bombings, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl and the risks she must take to be the change in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

Amanda’s thoughts

17-year-old Savannah is hearing a lot of messages in 1919 Washington D.C. In the wake of WWI and the Spanish Flu, “onward and upward” is the motto of the times. She also hears a lot about being “a credit to the race” and “lifting as we climb.” Politically, there is a lot going on, particularly around the issue of women’s suffrage and the role that black women are allowed to play in that (and the issue of whether white women are considering them at all). Savannah feels a bit frustrated and disenchanted, embarrassed by the excess of the social circles her family is part of and curious about the wider world. Her uncle, a photographer, encourages her to find a challenge, a passion, a purpose. He urges her to stop just being an observer. When Savannah learns about a local school for girls, she begins to get involved helping there and, through her new contacts (many of whom are considered to be a “more radical element”), has her eyes opened to not just what is happening around the country but to what is happening in her very own city.

This book is a mix of a very character-driven story for about 50% or more of the book, then a very action-driven story for the remainder. I really loved this book. In fact, I’ve been in a horrible reading slump for most of the past few weeks (thanks, depression!) and have started and abandoned a giant stack of books as I try to decide what to read and review here for TLT. I got lost in Savannah’s world and loved watching her awakening. Her best friend Yolande is always there, being horrified at Savannah’s choice of company, admonishing her for being around “common” people who are not their kind of people. Savannah’s own parents are less than pleased with her choices, so it takes real strength for Savannah to strike out on her own and make real strides to educate herself and expand her views. As D.C. and other major cities erupt in riots, bombings, lynchings, and fires, Savannah finds herself more involved in the action than she ever could have dreamed.

This complex story will put readers right in the middle of all the action and introduces a wide swath of ideas and perspectives. Set just over 100 years ago, the quest for social justice and real change makes for a powerful and still (always) relevant topic. An author’s note, historical photographs, notes, and sources all provide further context for Savannah’s story and her awakening in this engaging and unique read.

ISBN-13: 9781681198040
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 01/14/2020

Book Review: Revenge of the Red Club by Kim Harrington

Publisher’s description

A tween reporter discovers an important and beloved club at school is being shut down—and uses the power of the pen to try and activate some much-needed social change in this period-positive and empowering middle grade novel about the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

Riley Dunne loves being a member of the Red Club. It’s more than a group of girls supporting each other through Aunt Flo’s ups and downs; it’s a Hawking Middle School tradition. The club’s secret locker has an emergency stash of supplies, and the girls are always willing to lend an ear, a shoulder, or an old pair of sweatpants.

But when the school administration shuts the Red Club down because of complaints, the girls are stunned. Who would do that to them? The girls’ shock quickly turns into anger, and then they decide to get even.

But wallpapering the gym with maxi pads and making tampon crafts in art class won’t bring their club back. Only Riley can do that. Using the skills she has cultivated as her school paper’s top investigative reporter (okay, only investigative reporter), she digs for the truth about who shut the club down and why. All the while dealing with friendship drama, a new and ridiculous dress code, and a support group that is now more focused on fighting with each other than fighting back.

Can she save the Red Club before this rebellion turns into a full-scale war?

Amanda’s thoughts

My friends. MY FRIENDS. This book came out in October. I read it over the winter break after picking it up at my public library. I didn’t even take notes as I read. I figured I’d write a Post-It Note Review about it and be good. BUT. This book is SO good and SO important that I needed to give it its own space. I know we all have towering TBR stacks and endless scrolls of lists, but you really do need to find a few hours to sneak this book in. If you work in a middle school/middle school library/serve young teens, you especially need to familiarize yourself with this book. I was going to say, when I was growing up, all we had was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for books that talked at all about periods, but guess what? Periods are STILL so often completely ignored in books for young readers and teens. So here you go. A whole book about breaking the stigma that comes with having/acknowledging periods.

The Red Club is amazing. They support each other, provide each other with supplies and information, and work hard to normalize periods. There’s a lot more that goes on in this story—the dress code rears its ugly head, the principal demands prior review of newspaper articles (hey, I wrote my entire senior year project/paper about that very issue way back when I was a teen!), and The Red Club gets shut down. Riley and friends organize, protest, and speak up about all of these injustices and ways of shaming girls. I love the club and want it to exist in all schools. ALL schools need a locker that students can access for supplies and extra clothes. ALL schools should have this book.

ISBN-13: 9781534435728
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/22/2019

Book Review: Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz, a teen review

Publisher’s Book Description:

Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with Jane Anonymous, a gripping tale of a seventeen-year-old girl’s kidnapping and her struggle to fit back into her life after she escapes.

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and a crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life.

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew―everything you thought you experienced―turned out to be a lie? 

The Teen’s Thoughts:

I always love it when my teenage daughter talks with me about a book she’s read. She reads a lot, but she doesn’t always talk about the books she reads. When she does come and talk to me about it a book, it either means it’s really good or really bad. We’re very passionate people, us Jensens. The Teen talked to me at length about this book, using words like “intense”, “engaging”, and “enthralling”. She told me that she has “never read a book like this before.” And when you’ve read as many YA books as she has, that is high praise indeed.

She spent a good half hour telling me every detail about this book and it prompted a lot of good conversation for us both. We’ve talked a lot about psychology, mental health, ptsd, and more. I love it when a book becomes the basis for important and meaningful conversations. As a family that struggles with various mental health issues, this prompted a lot of important and meaningful conversation for us about mental health.

I also always note the speed at which she reads a book. A slow read means it’s not as engaging. This book she picked up and couldn’t put down. She read it in the car as we were driving to the store, stayed up late reading it, and finished it within two days. This was a can’t put it down book for her.

Highly recommended.