Teen Librarian Toolbox
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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.

Book Review: Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K. R. Gaddy

Publisher’s description

The true story of the Edelweiss Pirates, working-class teenagers who fought the Nazis by whatever means they could.

Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean were classic outsiders: their clothes were different, their music was rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to fight. But they were also Germans living under Hitler, and any nonconformity could get them arrested or worse. As children in 1933, they saw their world change. Their earliest memories were of the Nazi rise to power and of their parents fighting Brownshirts in the streets, being sent to prison, or just disappearing.

As Hitler’s grip tightened, these three found themselves trapped in a nation whose government contradicted everything they believed in. And by the time they were teenagers, the Nazis expected them to be part of the war machine. Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean and hundreds like them said no. They grew bolder, painting anti-Nazi graffiti, distributing anti-war leaflets, and helping those persecuted by the Nazis. Their actions were always dangerous. The Gestapo pursued and arrested hundreds of Edelweiss Pirates. In World War II’s desperate final year, some Pirates joined in sabotage and armed resistance, risking the Third Reich’s ultimate punishment. This is their story.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: I knew absolutely nothing about the Edelweiss Pirates beyond at some point having heard that name and knowing that they were an anti-Nazi resistance group. I absolutely devoured this book. Get this one up on your displays about youth activism and youth movements.

Told through the actions of many youth involved in the Edelweiss Pirates, we learn about their backgrounds, the political climate of the 1930s and 1940s, the expectations for young people (like joining the Hitler Youth or the League of German Girls), and how they came to form these resistance groups. Photographs, historical reports and documents, and song lyrics help fill in what was happening at the time and set the scene. Despite it being illegal, these young people came together to spend time in nature, sing songs, plan political activities, and, as time went on, take increasingly risky actions against the Nazis. The members of these subversive groups were repeatedly interrogated, arrested, imprisoned, and, for some, even executed.

The action, rebellion, resistance, sabotage, and survival of these young people is extraordinary. Some of them were as young as 13, which, as the parent of a 13-year-old, was mind-blowing. For me, though, the most interesting part of all of this is how little I know or have ever read about these groups, yet have read so many things over the years about the White Rose group, which was made up of older, upper-middle class young people. The Edelweiss Pirates were leftist, young, working class kids. In fact, they weren’t even officially recognized as a resistance movement until 2005. The stories of these brave children need to be more well-known and further underscore just how much children and young adults have always led the way in political activism and resistance against evils. A deeply affecting book.

ISBN-13: 9780525555414
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/07/2020

Post-It Note Reviews: Picture books, graphic novels, memoirs, and more!

IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, Carolyn Choi, Ashley Seil Smith

The brainchild of three women-of-color sociologists, IntersectionAllies is a smooth, gleeful entry into intersectional feminism. The nine interconnected characters proudly describe themselves and their backgrounds, involving topics that range from a physical disability to language brokering, offering an opportunity to take pride in a personal story and connect to collective struggle for justice.

The group bond grounds the message of allyship and equality. When things get hard, the kids support each other for who they are: Parker defends Kate, a genderfluid character who eschews skirts for a superhero cape; Heejung welcomes Yuri, a refugee escaping war, into their community; and Alejandra’s family cares for Parker after school while her mother works. Advocating respect and inclusion, IntersectionAllies is a necessary tool for learning to embrace, rather than shy away from, difference.

Featuring gorgeous illustrations on every page by Ashley Seil Smith, as well as powerful introductions by activist and law professor Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality,” and Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, author of Intersectionality: An Intellectual History.

(POST-IT SAYS: A lovely little book advocating acceptance, inclusion, and community. Extensive back matter defines concepts further and provides a lengthy discussion guide. Ages 5-9)

Sunny Rolls the Dice (Sunny Series #3) by Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm (Illustrator)

From the award-winning duo of Jennifer and Matthew Holm comes the sequel to the bestselling Sunny Side Up — full of heart, laughs, and adventure!

Too cool for school . . . or the least groovy girl in the grade?

Sunny’s just made it to middle school . . . and it’s making her life very confusing. All her best friend Deb wants to talk about is fashion, boys, makeup, boys, and being cool. Sunny’s not against any of these things, but she also doesn’t understand why suddenly everything revolves around them. She’s much more comfortable when she’s in her basement, playing Dungeons & Dragons with a bunch of new friends. Because when you’re swordfighting and spider-slaying, it’s hard to worry about whether you look cool or not. Especially when it’s your turn to roll the 20-sided die.

Trying hard to be cool can make you feel really uncool . . . and it’s much more fun to just have fun. Sunny’s going to find her groove and her own kind of groovy, with plenty of laughs along the way.

(POST-IT SAYS: I eagerly awaited this book! Love the Sunny series. Graphic novels about all the changes that come with middle school are really having a moment. Light on dialogue/words, but a great read. Ages 8-12)

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, Wendy Xu (Artist)

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

(POST-IT SAYS: Likes: Cute art. Quirky and adorable characters. Both are queer and Asian American. Tam is nonbinary, Nova wears hearing aids. Could use improvement: Character development and plot. I felt like I was missing a lot of details. Uneven but good.)

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, Kaylani Juanita (Illustrator)

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. His parents gave him a pretty name, his room looked like a girl’s room, and he wore clothes that other girls liked wearing. After he realized he was a trans boy, Aidan and his parents fixed the parts of life that didn’t fit anymore, and he settled happily into his new life. Then Mom and Dad announce that they’re going to have another baby, and Aidan wants to do everything he can to make things right for his new sibling from the beginning—from choosing the perfect name to creating a beautiful room to picking out the cutest onesie. But what does “making things right” actually mean? And what happens if he messes up? With a little help, Aidan comes to understand that mistakes can be fixed with honesty and communication, and that he already knows the most important thing about being a big brother: how to love with his whole self.

When Aidan Became a Brother is a heartwarming book that will resonate with transgender children, reassure any child concerned about becoming an older sibling, and celebrate the many transitions a family can experience.

(POST-IT SAYS: A lovely, affirming, and important book. Full of love and hope as well as the message that there are so many ways to be a child of any gender. Really great. Ages 5-8)

Turtle and Tortoise Are Not Friends by Mike Reiss, Ashley Spires (Illustrator)

Two sworn enemies learn that they have more in common than meets the eye, and it’s never too late to make a new friend—even if it takes decades!

Ever since they were little hatchlings, Turtle and Tortoise decided that they’d forever be separated due to their different shells.

As years and years go by, the two reptiles stay on opposites side of the pen and embark on their own adventures, while holding an everlasting grudge. Until one day, Turtle and Tortoise get into a bit of pickle and need each other’s help!

This hilarious and heartwarming picture book from Merry Un-Christmas author Mike Reiss and The Most Magnificent Thing creator Ashley Spires is perfect for fans of unlikely pairs such as Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, Duck and Bear from Jory John’s Goodnight Already!, and Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman.

Turtle has a smooth shell.

Tortoise has a rough shell.

Goodness gracious! How can they possibly be friends?!

(POST-IT SAYS: Really I’m just sharing this to say this is one of my favorite books of the year. Funny, strange, and charming, this is a great read aloud choice. Ages 5-8)

Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj

An uplifting story, told through the alternating voices of two middle-schoolers, in which a community rallies to reject racism.

Karina Chopra would have never imagined becoming friends with the boy next door—after all, they’ve avoided each other for years and she assumes Chris is just like the boys he hangs out with, who she labels a pack of hyenas. Then Karina’s grandfather starts tutoring Chris, and she discovers he’s actually a nice, funny kid. But one afternoon something unimaginable happens—the three of them are assaulted by a stranger who targets Indian-American Karina and her grandfather because of how they look. Her grandfather is gravely injured and Karina and Chris vow not to let hate win. When Karina posts a few photos related to the attack on social media, they quickly attract attention, and before long her #CountMeIn post—”What does an American look like? #immigrants #WeBelong #IamAmerican #HateHasNoHomeHere”—goes viral and a diverse population begin to add their own photos. Then, when Papa is finally on the road to recovery, Karina uses her newfound social media reach to help celebrate both his homecoming and a community coming together.

(POST-IT SAYS: While the narrative voices of Karina and Chris didn’t really grab me, this compassionate look at standing up against racism and hate is a valuable addition to all collections. Ages 10-13)

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories by Amanda Li, Amy Blackwell (Illustrator)

From surviving a plane crash in the jungle to striking against climate change, you won’t believe the incredible stories of the challenges these brave kids from around the world have overcome! 

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids in Extraordinary Stories features 29 tales of amazing young girls and boys who have achieved the unimaginable. The stories range from triumphing over illness and injury to overcoming bullying. Entries include Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, whose youth climate activism sparked a global movement, and Pakistan’s Ayesha Farooq, who became Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot at age 25.

Each incredible story is narrated in an exciting and engaging style, and is combined with visually stunning illustrations by Amy Blackwell. Children can lose themselves in the remarkable true-life tales of ingenuity, courage, and commitment. Practical tips and skills accompany each story, from how to tie useful knots to send coded messages, and how to be more environmentally green to how to survive a shark attack. This useful information provides a springboard for children to apply this knowledge in their own lives. These empowering stories show that no matter who you are, how old you are, and what you do, you can rise to the challenge.

(POST-IT SAYS: Absolutely gorgeous book—full color pages with lots of variety in graphics and layout. I hadn’t heard of most of these kids! An inspiring and educational read. Would make a great gift! Ages 9-13)

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan

From celebrated author and illustrator Ashley Bryan comes a deeply moving picture book memoir about serving in the segregated army during World War II, and how love and the pursuit of art sustained him.

In May of 1942, at the age of eighteen, Ashley Bryan was drafted to fight in World War II. For the next three years, he would face the horrors of war as a black soldier in a segregated army.

He endured the terrible lies white officers told about the black soldiers to isolate them from anyone who showed kindness—including each other. He received worse treatment than even Nazi POWs. He was assigned the grimmest, most horrific tasks, like burying fallen soldiers…but was told to remove the black soldiers first because the media didn’t want them in their newsreels. And he waited and wanted so desperately to go home, watching every white soldier get safe passage back to the United States before black soldiers were even a thought.

For the next forty years, Ashley would keep his time in the war a secret. But now, he tells his story.

The story of the kind people who supported him.
The story of the bright moments that guided him through the dark.
And the story of his passion for art that would save him time and time again.

Filled with never-before-seen artwork and handwritten letters and diary entries, this illuminating and moving memoir by Newbery Honor–winning illustrator Ashley Bryan is both a lesson in history and a testament to hope.

(POST-IT SAYS: A stunningly lovely multimedia look at Bryan’s time in the Army. Powerful, passionate, and achingly emotional, this memoir is a true work of art. Ages 10+)

Jake the Fake Goes for Laughs (Jake the Fake Series #2) by Craig Robinson, Adam Mansbach, Keith Knight (Illustrator)

For fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate comes the second book in the side-splitting series about a class clown faking his way to comedy stardom from comedian and film star Craig Robinson, #1 New York Times bestselling author Adam Mansbach, and NAACP History Maker recipient and cartoonist Keith Knight.

“An absolute riot!” —LINCOLN PEIRCE, author of the BIG NATE series

Jake cracks up the crowd as a budding comedian at the Music and Art Academy talent show, but his new ego is no laughing matter. And when he starts blowing off his friends to pursue his “art,” Jake’s big head becomes a huge bummer.

Plus, being the funny man is way tougher than it looks. Luckily, Jake has his mentor Maury Kovalski, a retired comedy showstopper, to teach him the ropes about humor—and humility—before Jake loses all his biggest fans and best friends!

Featuring more than 200 illustrations, Jake the Fake stuns again with even greater gags and giggles than before!

(POST-IT SAYS: I love this (and the first book in this series). Wacky and truly hilarious, with enough art to help speed the story along. Such an easy one to recommend widely! Ages 8-12)

The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy

From award-winning actor Maulik Pancholy comes a hilarious and heartfelt middle grade debut about a gay Indian American boy coming into his own. Perfect for fans of Tim Federle’s Nate series.

Rahul Kapoor is heading into seventh grade in a small town in Indiana. The start of middle school is making him feel increasingly anxious, so his favorite person in the whole world, his grandfather, Bhai, gives him some well-meaning advice: Find one thing you’re really good at and become the BEST at it.

Those four little words sear themselves into Rahul’s brain. While he’s not quite sure what that special thing is, he is convinced that once he finds it, bullies like Brent Mason will stop torturing him at school. And he won’t be worried about staring too long at his classmate Justin Emery. With his best friend, Chelsea, by his side, Rahul is ready to crush this challenge…. But what if he discovers he isn’t the best at anything?

Funny, charming, and incredibly touching, this is a story about friendship, family, and the courage it takes to live your truth. 

(POST-IT SAYS: Strong characters, great humor, and an uplifting and affirming message about identity and self-acceptance. Wonderful representation of multifaceted identities. Ages 9-13)


On Your Radar: Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Publisher’s Book Description:

Hatchet meets Wild in this harrowing survival story from Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis.

The world is not tame.

Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is an outstanding adventure/survival story with some fierce feminism and deep, thoughtful looks at poverty and small town life. Authentic, real, raw and engaging, teens will devour this book.

And for those keeping track (like me), McGinnis plunges her female character into the wilderness while on her period and it’s talked about openly and without stigma and shame. Yes, we do need more of this in YA. Some people have periods.

I’ve read every Mindy McGinnis book and one of the things she does very well is authentically represent both poverty and rural small town life. BNFFM is no different. She takes that one step further in this story by plunging us into the actual wilderness where survival in the present and of the past becomes an imperative. And as dehydration, hunger and sepsis start creeping in, moments of flashback help the reader tie who Ashley is and where she has been into how she just might survive in a situation that seems truly un-survivable. Everything matters and it all comes together in satisfying ways.

Definitely recommended. Unfortunately it doesn’t come out until March of 2020 and I read it super early because I’m a fan. So go back and read the other works of Mindy McGinnis and put this one on your TBR list for 2020.

Book Review: The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah, a guest post by Sanya

Publisher’s description

In the last days of the twenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trapped in the abyss, humankind wavers between fear and hope-fear of what lurks in the depths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to the surface.

When sixteen-year-old submersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the city’s prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. The Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. But the race takes an unexpected turn, forcing Leyla to make an impossible choice.

Now she must brave unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a guarded, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If Leyla fails to discover the truths at the heart of her world, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture-or worse.And her father will be lost to her forever.

Sanya’s thoughts

An underwater world, a submarine race, an adorable puppy companion, an unlikely romance, and too many unanswered questions…

THE LIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD by London Shah is an own voices Young Adult sci-fi set in the year 2099. Society lives completely underwater. Leyla, our main character, is Muslim, and loves submarine racing and her dog, Jojo. But when her father is falsely accused of crimes he didn’t commit, and the government won’t even disclose where he is, Leyla knows she must uncover the mysterious circumstances of her father’s arrest and what other secrets the government may be hiding.

What I love most about this story is its easy diversity. Yes, Leyla is Muslim, but this story is not about her faith. It’s simply a part of her identity that no one questions, no one taunts her for, no one asks inane questions about. The year 2099 is free from Islamophobia. Leyla also does not struggle with her own faith. In fact, she turns to it for solace when struggling. As a Muslim girl myself, this kind of representation feels so important. I’m sure there any many like me that feel underrepresented in YA, but especially in a non-contemporary setting, and I’m so glad London Shah felt comfortable putting a part of herself on page like this.

My only true complaint for this book is how short it is. And yet still so much happens. From submarine racing to adventures beyond London, this story is jam-packed with happenings, but is perfectly paired with just the right pacing to make it feel like it’s not too much, too fast. It’s almost impossible to tell that this is London Shah’s debut, as her writing style is far from basic. She does a wonderful job at describing the lush and complex world of London under the sea. The implications and consequences of such a society are clearly well thought out, and the technology is deeply researched. At no point did I feel the need to question why something was done or explained a certain way. And broody Ari is the perfect addition to this deep sea mystery.

This story is an adventure. It’s about questioning everything you’re told and not being complacent. It’s about going outside of your comfort zone and doing whatever it takes for family, even if it scares you. But most importantly, this story is about never giving up hope, even when things seems darkest.

Meet Sanya

Sanya is a full time student at the University of Texas at Dallas and part time bookseller at Barnes & Noble. When she isn’t crying over her homework or forcing people to read her favorite books, you can find her squealing about dogs, hoarding fancy pens and journals, or writing poetry. Find her on Twitter @itsSANiiii and @BNFirewheel.

ISBN-13: 9781368036887
Publisher: Disney Press
Publication date: 10/29/2019
Series: Light the Abyss

Book Review: Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry

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—Two lesbians in rural Texas suffer physical and psychological torture in this reimagining of the Orpheus legend. Raised in a conservative small town where gossip becomes myth, Raya has never felt like the other girls. She keeps her real self hidden, knowing that gay kids in her town disappear and become cautionary tales. When Raya and her best friend Sarah, a preacher’s daughter, are caught in bed together, they are sent to Friendly Saviors conversion camp to”get fixed.” Like Orpheus, Raya is determined to save the girl she loves, even if that means going through hell. But her resolve to escape quickly turns to resignation as she undergoes a brutal regime of labor, prayer, exercise, and, eventually, electric shock treatments. The so-called therapies at Friendly Saviors are staggeringly painful to endure and to read about. Horrific, graphic scenes of electroshock treatment as well as homophobic slurs, transphobia, suicide, and more may be triggering for some readers. Deeply emotional, this devastating story is lyrical and haunting, though repetition and heavy-handed reminders of the Orpheus story distract from the power and immediacy of Raya’s narrative. Underdeveloped secondary characters align with other mythological figures but do little to move the story along. This unremittingly bleak depiction of what it means to be anything other than cisgender and heterosexual is heartbreaking; isolated Raya has no examples of queer happiness or survival. 

VERDICT A secondary purchase for libraries with large LGBTQIA+ YA collections that also offer more nuanced and positive looks at what it means to be gay.

ISBN-13: 9781641290746
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/08/2019

Book Review: The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King

Publisher’s Book Description: Liberty Johansen is going to change the way we look at the night sky. Most people see the old constellations, the things they’ve been told to see. But Liberty sees new patterns, pictures, and possibilities. She’s an exception.

Some other exceptions:

Her dad, who gave her the stars. Who moved out months ago and hasn’t talked to her since.

Her mom, who’s happier since he left, even though everyone thinks she should be sad and lonely.

And her sister, who won’t go outside their house.

Liberty feels like her whole world is falling from space. Can she map a new life for herself and her family before they spin too far out of reach?

Karen’s Thoughts:

I remember distinctly the day in the 4th grade when I came home from school and my parents told me to go get my brother. I knew in that moment on my way to get my brother that my parents would be announcing that they were separating. In my memory, the day that they told us they were officially getting divorced was exactly the same. I don’t know if that’s true or just a trick of memory. I remember promises made and promises broken. I remember fear and anger and confusion and parents who started dating other people. And I remember one day going camping with my Dad and him asking if we wanted him to tell us why they were getting a divorce and my just telling him no and walking away.

I tell you all of this because as a reader, The Year I Feel from Space was all too real for me and it was a very hard read. I loved it, I’m glad it exists in this world, and I’m here to tell you, it’s very authentic and real. And all of that is what made this a personally hard read for me.

I’m also here to tell you that there are kids just like me who need this book in the world. I needed this book in the world. I love that on Tuesday, October 15th, 2019, this book will exist in the world for every kid like me who needed it then or needs it now.

The Year We Fell from Space isn’t just about divorce, it’s also about navigating a world of feelings and mental illness. I am a person who parents with a mental illness; like the dad in this book, I struggle with depression (with some good ole’ fashioned anxiety sprinkled in to make it even more interesting.) I loved everything that this book had to say about mental illness. I appreciated the acknowledgements that came each time it was talked about. It is so vitally important the way that the characters talk about how depression isn’t the same for everyone and how it can look different. I like that it acknowledges things like guilt and failure and anger and how they, too, are wrapped up in depression. 1 in 4 people struggle with mental illness and it is profoundly meaningful for kids to read books that acknowledge the very real impact that having a parent with depression has on their lives and on their families.

There are a lot of other great moments in this book. There is a nontraditional mom who loves hiking, camping and feminism. There is talk about periods and acknowledge that it isn’t just girls who need to learn about them. There are a lot of great moments in which various characters wrestle with the topic of friendship and bullying in various ways.

And because this is a book written by Amy Sarig King, it weaves all these thoughts together using very creative strings, or I guess to stay on theme I should using very creative star maps. As someone who has read all of the works of A.S. King, I saw echoes of Ask the Passengers and Still Life with Tornado used in different and creative ways to give Liberty the opportunity to explore both her concept of self and her feelings. King uses her personal style to tell a meaningful and beautiful story while dipping into the surreal and creative; she is a master storyteller that enlightens, entertains, moves and challenges. King gets below the surface in ways that few writers do. I love that she has taken the respect she has always shown in the intellect and creativity in teens while writing YA and has extended that same respect to middle grade readers.

The Teen also read this book and because I knew she liked it I asked her why. Her response was, “I like that it says you’re allowed to feel whatever it is you feel and that it ends with a sense of hope.”

I love Liberty and her family and I think that readers will as well. This is a hopeful look at what it means to fall apart, to fall from space, and then try to put yourself and the pieces of your life back together again. This is an affirmation of feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly, and an exploration of what it means to feel on fire from anger and guilt on the inside. It’s an affirmation of the most fundamental truth of life: we are always in the process of becoming the new-new-version of us because we are a work in progress. And at the end of the day, nobody is perfect but how we deal with our own imperfections and the imperfections of those around us matters.

I highly recommend The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King. And so does 4th grade Karen who just wanted someone to help her navigate her parent’s divorce. And so does 46-year-old Karen who is trying to parent with depression. This book is written with middle grade readers in mind, but it’s a story for all of us in a world that needs more empathy and understanding.

Book Review: By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Publisher’s description

Heart-wrenchingly honest, fans of Brandy Colbert and Nicola Yoon will anticiapte this poignant reflection on what it means to choose yourself.

On the day Torrey moves and officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bank is foreclosing on the bee farm his Uncle Miles left him.

Torrey’s worked hard to become the first member of his family to go to college, but while the neighborhood held him back emotionally, Uncle Miles encouraged him to reach his full potential. For years, it was just the two of them tending the farm. So Torrey can’t let someone erase his uncle’s legacy without a fight.

He tries balancing his old life in L.A. with his new classes, new friends, and (sort of) new boyfriend in San Francisco, but as the farm heads for auction, the pressure of juggling everything threatens to tear him apart. Can he make a choice between his family and his future without sacrificing a part of himself?

Amanda’s thoughts

Hey, this was great. Here’s why: FANTASTIC voice. Set in the first weeks of college. It tackles gentrification. It revolves around an APIARY. And did I mention the FANTASTIC VOICE?

Torrey, who is Black and gay, is excited to finally get out of where he grew up. But as soon as he arrives as SFSU, he learns two things that throw him for a loop: One, unpaid taxes means he’s about to lose the bee farm he inherited from his uncle. Two, Gabe, a boy Torrey was really into in junior high (and who then moved to Ohio) is also at SFSU. Gabe is Afro-Latinx and bi and has a girlfriend, but it’s clear that Torrey and Gabe still have lots of intense feelings for each other. But instead of figuring out college classes, making new friends, and potentially getting together with Gabe, Torrey has this MUCH bigger thing looming over him. Losing the bee farm would be devastating. He feels so much guilt and obligation and also frustration over the entire situation. He contemplates what to do during the two weeks until the add/drop period ends, wondering if his choice has to be all or nothing—go home? Stay at college? Somehow save the farm? It’s a lot for an eighteen-year-old to deal with.

But he’s used to it.

His mom is in a medically-induced coma, his uncle was killed, and his only real family is his aunt and his homophobic grandpa. He’s been dealing with hard stuff for a long time. He’s also used to taking care of the adults in his life. Now, during a time that theoretically should be all about him finally, he’s still having to worry about taking care of people and doing the right thing. He’s also super used to people leaving, so to fall in with this great found family at school, and to start to see more community and connections, makes him want to figure out both parts of his life—continuing on at college and somehow keeping things going with the apiary.

This is an immensely readable look at gentrification, systemic oppression, protest, action, community, and having your voice heard. It’s also a very sweet love story as well as sort of a best case scenario college story (you like your roommate! you have instant friends! a cool prof immediately takes you under her wing!). And, I can’t stress this enough, the main thing that this book has going for it is its voice. Torrey’s narration just comes alive. A great suggestion for anyone looking to read at the upper edges of YA and a good addition to the growing number of books that tackle gentrification.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624147999
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 10/08/2019

Post-It Reviews: Graphic Novels Galore!

Here are some quick reviews of a few of the books I’ve read and enjoyed over the past few months. As I’ve been busy juggling library work, parenting, writing, blogging, and working on a secret project that has required a TON of reading (don’t worry, I’ll share eventually), I found myself reading a lot of graphic novels in what little free time I could find. I’m a huge fan of graphic novels and comic books.

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

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

The Secret of Danger Point (Surfside Girls Series #1) by Kim Dwinell

Sun… sand… and spooky adventures!

Things are getting weird in Surfside. Lately, Samantha’s best friend Jade explodes into fits of giggles whenever she sees a boy, and it’s throwing a wrench into the kick-back summer of surfing and hanging out that Sam had planned. But after swimming through a secret underwater cave, Sam starts to… see things. Like ghosts. And pirates. And maybe something even scarier! Can she and Jade get to the bottom of this mystery in time to save their town?

(Post-it says: The writing and depth of the story is pretty meh, but the kids at my school devour graphic novels so this very tame mystery will circulate plenty. The art is fun and the surfing, skateboarding girls are adept, if kind of dull, sleuths. Ages 8-11)

Stranger Things: The Other Side (Graphic Novel, Volume 1) by Jody Houser, Stefano Martino (Illustrator), Keith Champagn (Illustrator)

The hit Netflix series from the Duffer Brothers is now a spine-tingling comic that recounts Will Beyers’ harrowing survival in the treacherous Upside Down!

When Will Byers finds himself in the Upside Down, an impossible dark parody of his own world, he’s understandably frightened. But that’s nothing compared with the fear that takes hold when he realizes what’s in that world with him! 

Follow Will’s struggle through the season one events of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things! Written by Jody Houser (Mother Panic, Faith) and illustrated by Stefano Martino (Doctor Who, Catwoman).

(POST-IT SAYS: If you’ve watched the show and wondered, “But what happened while Will was missing in the upside-down?” this book’s for you. Satisfyingly adds a lot to the story we get on the show. A must-read for fans. Ages 11+)

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board (Making Friends #2) by Kristen Gudsnuk

Dany, Madison, and…wait-another Dany?!-must navigate some very complicated friendships while trying to capture a magical dog that is turning their town upside-down!

Almost everything is going great for Dany. She and Madison are still best friends, she still has her magic sketchbook, and the new school year is looking up. But when Dany creates a duplicate of herself to secretly help with homework and raise her social status, the two of them accidentally unleash a magical dog that wreaks supernatural havoc on the town. Now, with the big school dance coming up, time is running short for Dany, Madison, and their friends to set things right before the night is completely ruined!

(POST-IT SAYS: Definitely read book #1 in this series or you’ll be so lost. Wacky scifi plot mixes with relatable middle school issues. Very busy illustrations and an overstuffed plot mean it may take readers a while to finish this. Ages 9+)

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Harmony Becker (Illustrator)

A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself — in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

(POST-IT SAYS: I hope this book is already on your library shelves or in your hold queue. This profoundly moving memoir of one of the US’s darkest periods brings history to life through deeply emotional personal reflections. One of the best books I’ve read this year. Ages 12+)

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream is at once a coming-of-age story and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.

Malaka Gharib’s triumphant graphic memoir brings to life her teenage antics and illuminates earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into the lives of modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children they raised. Malaka’s story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream.

(POST-IT SAYS: Follows Malaka from childhood to present adulthood. A funny and authentic look at being part of a multiple cultures. The ever-changing layout/format, self-deprecating tone and illustrations, and real exploration of family and culture makes this a hit. Ages 13+)

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.  

(POST-IT SAYS: An important, honest, and raw look at gender and identity. Affirming and educational, Kobabe doesn’t shy away from complicated or painful feelings or experiences. Ages 16+)

Best Friends by Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

Bestselling creators of Real Friends Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with a true story about popularity, first crushes, and finding your own path in the graphic novel, Best Friends.

Follow your heart. Find your people.

Sixth grade is supposed to be perfect. Shannon’s got a sure spot in the in-crowd called The Group, and her best friend is their leader, Jen, the most popular girl in school.

But the rules are always changing, and Shannon has to scramble to keep up. She never knows which TV shows are cool, what songs to listen to, and who she’s allowed to talk to. Who makes these rules, anyway? And does Shannon have to follow them?

(POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal! Should be required reading for all 5th-7th graders–so much insight into friendship, popularity, identity, and important looks at anxiety disorder. Love this even more than book 1. Ages 8-13)

Bloom by Kevin Panetta, Savanna Ganucheau (Illustrator)

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

(POST-IT SAYS: A sweet romance that gets to happen because charismatic Hector puts up with Ari, who still has a lot of growing up to do. I liked that both characters weren’t quite settled into what life after high school looks like. Ages 14+)

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Ryan Andrews’s This Was Our Pact is an astonishing, magical-realist adventure story for middle-grade readers.

It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they’ve made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben’s disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in.

Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.

*And a talking bear.

(POST-IT SAYS: A strange and fantastical story. Dreamlike adventure and fantasy mix with themes of friendship and astronomy. Gorgeous art. I loved the ending. Ages 9-13)

Boy-Crazy Stacey (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novel #7) by Ann M. Martin, Gale Galligan (Illustrator)

A brand-new graphic novel adapted by USA Today bestselling author Gale Galligan!

Stacey and Mary Anne are baby-sitting for the Pike family for two weeks at the New Jersey shore. Things are great in Sea City: There’s a gorgeous house right on the beach, a boardwalk, plenty of sun and sand… and the cutest boy Stacey has ever seen!

Mary Anne thinks that Stacey should leave Scott alone and focus on the Pike kids, but Stacey’s in love. Looking for reasons to hang around his lifeguard stand takes up all her time, which means Mary Anne has to do the job of two baby-sitters! How can she tell Stacey that Scott just isn’t interested without ruining their friendship and breaking Stacey’s heart?

(POST-IT SAYS: I’m always as excited for these as the students are! Just enough dating/liking someone and friend drama with plenty of the usual BSC excitement. They can’t crank these out fast enough. PS—Did you know Stacey moved from New York? 🙂 Ages 8-12)

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Roller Girl in this hilarious, one-of-a-kind graphic novel about a half-witch who has just discovered the truth about herself, her family, and her town and is doing her best to survive middle school now that she knows everything!

Magic is harder than it looks.

Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all! When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. Secrets surface from generations past as Moth unravels the complicated legacy at the heart of her town, her family, and herself.

In this spellbinding graphic novel debut, Emma Steinkellner spins a story packed with humor and heart about the weird and wonderful adventures of a witch-in-progress.

(POST-IT SAYS: So fun and cute. Tons of dialogue, fantastic characters, and vibrant art. This will be mega popular in elementary and middle school collections. A must-have book. Ages 9-13)

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing is a heartwarming middle-grade graphic novel in the spirit of Real Friends and El Deafo, from New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Jen Wang.

Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic . . . and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.

But after Moon moves in next door, these unlikely friends are soon best friends, sharing their favorite music videos and painting their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she has visions, sometimes, of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

Moon’s visions have an all-too-earthly root, however, and soon Christine’s best friend is in the hospital, fighting for her life. Can Christine be the friend Moon needs, now, when the sky is falling?

Jen Wang draws on her childhood to paint a deeply personal yet wholly relatable friendship story that’s at turns joyful, heart-wrenching, and full of hope.

(POST-IT SAYS: A great story about unlikely friends, expanding your horizons, and community and identity. Moon’s brain tumor late in the story adds a solemn layer to this story about middle grade friendships. Ages 8-12)


Book Review: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

Publisher’s description

Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this heart-wrenching—and ultimately uplifting—novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates. 

For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?

But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.

It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.

From the author of Everything I Know About YouHalfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.”

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s start with what I usually save for the end of reviews: Great, important, REAL book. Order this for your libraries, hand it to your middle schoolers, get it up on displays, use it for starting points for discussions. This is about consent and boundaries and respecting girls and not everyone is getting these messages at home.

My son Callum (yep, just like a main character here) is in 8th grade. We have been talking about consent forevvvver. You can hear us here, from some years back, talking about sex on The Longest Shortest Time podcast. My son is absolutely sick of me using every opportunity I can to talk about consent or respect or misogyny. Witness:

He has me listed in his phone not as “Amanda MacGregor, mom” but “Amanda MacGregor, feminist,” because he says I act like that’s my job. And you know what? It is. Because I am trying to offset all of the messages he receives elsewhere about what it means to be a white, cis boy and what he is allowed to do or should feel entitled to.

Which brings us to the book (finally!). Dee does so many really brilliant yet ordinary things with her story. Mila has friends tell her she’s overreacting, that she’s being a baby, that she shouldn’t tattle. She has friends blame her for their actions, tell her they wouldn’t “allow” such things. She has friends offer to go with her to tell someone about the harassment. She has an adult basically tell her that boys will be boys and that it’s her job to ignore their behavior. She has an adult take her seriously and offer up her own stories of harassment. The reactions all feel so genuine. I was brought back to middle school as I read this, thinking of my own experiences with this sort of garbage from boys. The things the boys do may not look like what many people think of as harassment, as troubling. But no one will walk away from this book thinking that. Readers see Mila become scared and uncertain. She doesn’t want to be on the bus with them, she doesn’t want to be alone with them at school. She wants to hide. When she speaks up for herself, the boys say they will stop, but of course they don’t.

I would really love to see this book used as a read aloud for 6th or 7th graders or used in reading circles. There is SO MUCH to talk about. Outside of the main issue, Mila is also dealing with her parents being split up, her mom working an unsatisfactory job and looking for a new job, and their family’s money struggles. She makes new friends throughout the course of the story and finds a new interest, karate, which helps empower her. Her tight friendships change as everyone makes new friends and finds new interests. And while Mila learns that she’s certainly not the only girl to go through this kind of bullying and harassment, the boys who perpetuate this behavior come to finally understand just what they are doing and how it’s making Mila (and other girls) feel.

This look at consent, guilt, blame, pressure, and obligation will inspire much needed conversations for middle grade readers and the adults in their lives. Mila learns to speak up and draw the line, but ultimately, it’s not up to girls to end this—it’s up to boys (and those of us raising them and teaching them) to learn how to not do these things in the first place. This important and well-written story will surely find many readers who will relate to both sides of this experience.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432376
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/01/2019