Teen Librarian Toolbox
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The Power of Humor in YA, a guest post by Jeff Strand

By way of introduction, I present to you dear reader Jeff Strand. Jeff Strand writes funny, irreverent, slap your sides humorous YA. It’s the kind of humor I don’t think there is enough of in YA, though if you like Jeff Strand I do recommend Lish McBride,  Sarah Rees Brennan and Lance Rubin as well. I am a huge fan of Jeff Strand’s books and today we are honored to have a guest post by him discussing humor in YA.

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First of all, I do believe that kids should be forced to read the classics in school. I certainly don’t want a new generation to get out of something I had to endure.

“Endure” isn’t always the right word. I loved Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye. But Wuthering Heights? If you genuinely enjoyed Wuthering Heights, I salute you, but for me that book was constant “Gaaaahhhhh!!!” I have scarring memories of lines like ‘Wretched inmates!’ I ejaculated, mentally, ‘you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality.’ And right after that, ‘T’ maister’s down i’ t’ fowld. Go round by th’ end o’ t’ laith, if ye went to spake to him.’

For those weeks in English class, reading was a nightmarish activity. Consecutive words on a piece of paper? Ugh. Where’s my Playstation 4? (Playstation 4 did not exist when I was in school, nor did Playstation 3, 2, or 1, but I’m trying not to date myself.)

This is one of the funniest, LOL books I have ever read

This is one of the funniest, LOL books I have ever read

Again, it was right of my teacher to subject the class to that excruciating novel. It was good that he quizzed us on that miserable book. I retroactively admire him for making us write papers about it. This ghastly reading experience was good for our brains. We needed it. But we don’t want students to have post-traumatic stress disorder when they see a book, so there should be a balance of weighty books with fun ones. Humor!

I don’t mean humor as in the comedic works of William Shakespeare, which some say should have you holding your sides as you roll in the aisles with tears of laughter streaming down your face. ROFL!!! The footnote explains why that reference is hilarious! No, I mean books that would make an actual teenaged human being laugh.

I mean, you can’t gorge yourself on candy for every meal (sadly) but you want candy sometimes. Nobody can live on healthy food all the time. Actually, I guess they can. It’s not as if somebody’s going to say, “Since I only have nutritious dining options available, I’m just going to stop eating altogether!” So it’s a bad metaphor. Which is fine, because I’m talking about the kind of books where you don’t have to analyze metaphors.

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As a kid, I always gravitated toward the “funny” books, although they tended to be more “lighthearted” than joke-filled. Judy Blume’s Fudge series and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, which I read over and over and over and over and over and over, were filled with wacky antics but not necessarily “Bwah hah hah hah!” types of reads. I would tell my friends about the crazy trouble these characters got themselves into, but I wasn’t quoting zany one-liners.

hitchhikers

The first laugh-out-loud funny book I read was Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My reaction was, “This is allowed? You can be this over-the-top goofy and funny and somebody will actually publish it?” I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to kidnap Douglas Adams, bury him in a shallow grave, assume his identity, and write his books for him. This plan turned out to be impractical, for a number of reasons, and I settled for trying to write like him.

Now, as a kid, I was most definitely not a reluctant reader. My parents were both avid readers and passed that on to me. Though the lighthearted romps were my favorite, I loved tales of adventure, mysteries…pretty much everything, old and new. I didn’t need anybody to dangle a carrot to get me to read. The reading experience itself was my carrot. (Again, I’m not here to do good metaphors. If you want good metaphors, Charlotte Bronte put plenty of them in Wuthering Heights.) (I’m here to do humor, like when you pretend that you thought Charlotte Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights, but of course it was her sister Emily. Charlotte wrote Captain Underpants.) (I apologize for that misinformation. Emily Bronte illustrated Captain Underpants but didn’t write it.)

But not everybody inherited a love of reading. And that’s why “fun” books are important. Sure, “fun” can involve swashbuckling pirates or high-speed cowboy horse chases, but humor is one of the strongest indicators that a book might be enjoyable to kids who aren’t predisposed to pick one up. “Hey, books don’t have to be gloomy! Books can make you laugh so hard that people give you weird looks!”

I don’t specifically write with a reluctant reader audience in mind, but few things are more gratifying than getting an e-mail that basically says, “I didn’t even know I liked to read! Reading to me was punishment! But your book, with all of its stupid jokes, made me realize that not all books exist to suck joy out of my life. What else have you written? What other books are like yours?”

Not all reluctant readers are going to discover nutty comedy novels and go on to develop a deep appreciation for deep complex literature. But at least it can be a step away from “Books! Ugh!”  Though I have not personally created a new generation of lifelong readers, I’ve at least converted a few of ’em, and it’s not through my brilliant character development or unbelievably gripping storylines. It’s ‘cuz they’re funny! There’s not just room for that kind of material in the world of young adult fiction—it’s a crucial part!

Of course, as an author of humorous young adult fiction, I would say that, but still…

To recap: Funny = Good. Impenetrable metaphor = Also Good. We need both.

About STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED

You can’t always believe what you see in this hilarious coming of age novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and I Have a Bad Feeling about This

Harry Houdini. Penn and Teller. David Copperfield. Marcus Millian the Third.

Okay, so Marcus isn’t a famous magician. He may not even be a great magician. But his great-grandfather, the once-legendary and long-retired Zachary the Stupendous, insists Marcus has true talent. And when Grandpa Zachary boasts that he and Marcus are working on an illusion that will shock, stun, and astonish, Marcus wishes he could make himself disappear.

The problem? Marcus also has stage fright—in spades. It’s one thing to perform elaborate card tricks in front of his best friend, Kimberly, but it’s an entirely different feat to perform in front of an audience.

Then Grandpa Zachary dies in his sleep.

To uphold his great-grandfather’s honor, the show must go on. It would take a true sorcerer to pull off the trick Marcus has planned. But maybe he’s the next best thing…

Sourcebooks Fire (April 4, 2017)

January #ARCParty – A look at some new YA lit releases

The Teen, The Bestie and I gathered together to discuss some January 2017 and upcoming YA releases recently. Here's a brief look at what we looked at and how the teens felt about them. Because we did it on Instagram (we often talk books and Teen MakerSpace on the TeenLibrarianToolbox Instagram page, though fair warning, you'll see pictures of my kids there too), the pictures can be hard to see here. You can also find the January #ARCParty storified here.

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Exclusive Deleted Scene from UNDEFEATED by Steve Sheinkin

For 10 years, I worked at the Marion Public Library in Marion, Ohio. This is significant to this story because one of our branches was in LaRue, the home of Jim Thorpe and the pro-football team which featured the Oorang Indians. We had entire programs built around Jim Thorpe. But it still always tickles me when other people talk about Jim Thorpe, in part because I’m not super involved in the world of sportsball of any kind and I forget that other people are and they know things about it. Today we are honored to share with you a deleted scene from the new book, UNDEFEATED by Steve Sheinkin.

undefeated

I always wind up with a lot of deleted material, and often whole scenes, but this was the once instance in Undefeated where I cut an entire chapter. I love the story, but I knew the same themes would be covered later in the story, once Jim Thorpe arrived on the scene.

On an October night in 1902, Pop Warner sat in his home on the Carlisle campus, wondering what he could possibly do to turn his football program around. The team had gone 6-4-1 in 1900, with losses to Penn and Harvard, and a 35-0 thrashing at the hands of Yale. 1901 was worse. A beating by old school, Cornell, set off a seven game winless streak, and the team finished with a losing record. Warner could not possibly justify his salary with these kinds of results.

      There was a big game with a strong Cornell team in four days. And Warner, an optimist at heart, was wrestling gloomy thoughts. 

      “It looked,” he later said, “as if victory was going to be impossible.”

      Halfway into the 1902 season, Carlisle was 3-1. Not bad, but they hadn’t played any top teams yet, which is what made this Cornell game so important. That and the fact it was Pop’s old school. And the fact they’d crushed Carlisle 17–0 the year before. And the fact that Pop’s younger brother Bill, one of the country’s top linemen, was the Cornell team captain. Was he really going to let his kid brother humiliate him again?

      Yeah, probably.

      Bill was six-foot-one, 220, and Cornell’s other linemen were nearly as big. They’d use mass plays to batter Carlisle’s smaller line. But the bigger problem was the state of the Carlisle team. Nikifer Schouchuck, the sturdy center from Alaska, had been hurt so badly the week before, he was still in the hospital. Albert Exendine, a promising eighteen-year-old left end, could hardly walk on his badly sprained ankle. Martin Wheelock, who Pop called “my best offensive weapon,” was down with a case of pleurisy, an excruciating inflammation of the membrane lining the lungs and inner side of the ribcage. “His pain was so great that he couldn’t bear even to have the bedclothes touch him,” Warner remembered.

      Warner was pondering limited options when there was a knock on the door. It was another of Pop’s best players, Antonio Lubo. His arm was in a sling.

      “Coach, I’d give anything if I could play against Cornell,” Lubo said. “I know how Schouchuk and Wheelock can’t play. I’d like to go up there for you and for Carlisle.”

      In a game with Navy the year before, Lubo had suffered a compound fracture of his left wrist. The wound got infected, and still hadn’t healed properly. But here he was, begging to play.

      “Not with that arm,” Warner told him.

      “But that wouldn’t make any difference,” Lubo insisted. “I’ve been exercising and have kept in good shape in every other way.”

      Warner asked Lubo where he thought he could play.

      “Tackle, in Wheelock’s place.”

      “No. That’s out of the question. A tackle must have both arms.”

      “Well, then, center.”

      “No, a center must use both hands to pass the ball.”

      “Well,” Lubo said, “I know I could play somewhere.”

      Pop had always been a tinkerer, the type of guy who liked to take things apart and put them back together. He had an idea. The next morning he found two strips of leather and sewed them into a finger-to-elbow cast. He slipped it over Lubo’s wrist, stuffed it with cotton, and wrapped the whole thing in a thick layer of tape.

      “Thank you, coach,” Lubo said with a huge smile.   

      That inspired a movement. “All the cripples around the place asked for harness that would enable them to play,” Warner recalled. Albert Exendine’s ankle injury was fairly straightforward. “We bound his crippled limb with tape so tightly that he couldn’t move his foot.” The real challenge was Martin Wheelock, who sneaked out of the infirmary and showed up at Pop’s door.

      Warner ordered him back to bed.

      “If you can fix Lubo, you can fix me,” Wheelock said. “There’s nothing wrong with my arms or legs; all I’ve got is pleurisy.”   

      “But you can’t run, Martin.”

      “Change me from guard to center. Then I won’t have to run.”

      Against his better judgment, Warner shaped two sheets of aluminum into a sort of lightweight suit of armor. Wheelock wriggled his tender chest into the contraption, and taped it in place.

      On the field at Cornell, Pop chatted with his brother before the game. Bill asked how the Carlisle team was feeling.

      “So-so,” Pop said, shrugging. “I’ve got a sick lad at center and a one-armed chap at guard.”

      “Say! We don’t want to play a bunch of cripples.”

      Pop smiled. “Don’t worry old boy. You’ll find ‘em lively enough.”

      Cornell was the stronger team, moving the ball steadily with power runs. But Carlisle hung around, making just enough third down stops to keep it close. “Mostly it was Lubo and Wheelock,” Warner recalled. “How Lubo did it with his lame arm I don’t know. And time and time again, Wheelock winced in pain as he came in contact with his opponents.”

      Late in the second half, with Cornell leading 6–5, Carlisle recovered a fumble at the Cornell thirteen. Four plays later, third down and goal from the Cornell two, quarterback Jimmie Johnson handed it to Charles Williams, who dove over backs of his blockers, Lubo and Wheelock, landing across the goal line.

      Carlisle held on for the win, 10–6.

      Bill Warner hobbled over to shake his brother’s hand. He told Pop, “Thank the Lord these boys weren’t feeling well.” 

About UNDEFEATED

Jim Thorpe was an incredible Native American athlete and Olympic gold medalist, and Pop Warner was an indomitable coach and football mastermind with an Ivy League background. Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the greatest teams in American football history. Called “the team that invented football,” they took on the best opponents of their day, defeating much more privileged schools such as Harvard and the Army in a series of breathtakingly close calls, genius plays, and bone-crushing hard work.

UNDEFEATED is an astonishing underdog sports story—and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. Expertly told by nonfiction powerhouse author Steve Sheinkin, it’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.

Just in time for pre-Super Bowl football roundups and coverage, Steve Sheinkin brings Jim Thorpe’s inspiring story to life, highlighting his heritage and the previously little-known and astonishing history of Native American boarding schools.

Meet Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin is the award-winning author of fast-paced, cinematic nonfiction histories for young readers. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights, was a National Book Award finalist and received the 2014 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Nonfiction. The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery, won both the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the YALSA award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Bomb: The Race to Build-and Stealthe World’s Most Dangerous Weapon was a Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist, and winner of the Sibert Award and YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War was a National Book Award finalist and a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award finalist. Sheinkin lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, with his wife and two children.

Published by Roaring Brook Press | On sale January 17, 2017 Hardcover | $19.99 | 9781596439542

Take 5: Book Links of Interest for January 2017 (Collection Development Tools)

newyalitIt’s 2017! Which means it’s time for new books. Here is a list of some links to new YA coming out this year, and a couple that focus on this month.

15 of the Best YA Books for January 2017 : Bustle

60 Diverse Books To Look Forward To In 2017 – Bookishness and Tea

22 of Our Most Anticipated Contemporary YAs of 2017 : The B&N Teen Blog

26 of Our Most Anticipated YA Fantasy Novels of 2017 : The B&N Teen Blog

17 2017 YA Books To Have On Your Radar : Amanda MacGregor (Teen Librarian Toolbox)

Privacy in the Digital Age, A Look at IN CASE YOU MISSED IT by author Sarah Darer Littman

What if you kept a diary and suddenly everyone could read what you had said in private? That’s the question posed in IN CASE YOU MISSED IT by author Sarah Darer Littman. Today she is here to talk about her latest book and the idea of privacy in an increasingly open and online world.

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Did you ever keep a journal in middle school or high school? My teen diaries provide a wealth of humor, insight, and sometimes, deep embarrassment when I read back on them through the lens of longer life experience.

Even now, the thought of those journals being made public in anything other than a deeply disguised fictional form is mortifying.

My teen diaries were hand written, but even though I tried to hide them, they were vulnerable to discovery by my siblings and parents.  Those discoveries had negative consequences, but nothing like what happens to Sammy Wallach, the main character in my latest YA novel, IN CASE YOU MISSED IT.

Sammy thinks she’s being smart by keeping her journal on her laptop, so her parents and little brother RJ can’t read it. What she forgets is that her laptop is set to automatically back up to the cloud. Her most private thoughts become public as “collateral damage” when hacktivists target her father, the CEO of a major bank. Sammy has been keeping secrets from her parents – but they’ve got secrets of their own. When everything becomes public, can they all learn to trust again?

One thing for which I’ve become increasingly grateful as I’ve watched my kids grow up in the Internet age is that I was able to make all the many, many mistakes I did in relative privacy.  Most of my worst offenses are hazy memories in the heads of middle school and high school friends. I didn’t have to worry about them being  documented on social media.

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that a great proportion of adults have difficulty with using social media responsibly.  Yet we put this technology in the hands of younger and younger kids, whose frontal cortexes (the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps with rational decision making) haven’t fully matured and developed, and we expect them to behave in a way many adults still have been unable to master and model.

As with all of my books, I hope IN CASE YOU MISSED IT helps to start some conversations, especially about online privacy and personal responsibility in the social media era.

Publisher’s Book Description

Everyone has secrets—until they go viral.

Sammy Wallach has epic plans for the end of junior year: Sneak out to the city to see her favorite band. Get crush-worthy Jamie Moss to ask her to prom. Rock all exams (APs and driver’s).

With a few white lies, some killer flirting, and tons of practice, Sammy’s got things covered. That is, until the international bank her dad works for is attacked by hacktivists who manage to steal everything in the Wallach family’s private cloud, including Sammy’s entire digital life. Literally the whole world has access to her emails, texts, photos, and, worst of all, journal.

Life. Is. Over.

Now Sammy’s best friends are furious about things she wrote, Jamie thinks she’s desperate, and she can barely show her face at school. Plus, her parents know all the rules she broke. But Sammy’s not the only one with secrets—her family has a few of its own that could change everything. And while the truth might set you free, no one said it was going to be painless. Or in Sammy’s case, private. (Scholastic, October 11, 2016)

About Sarah  Darer Littman

Sarah Darer Littman is the award-winning author of CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC, PURGE, LIFE, AFTER, WANT TO GO PRIVATE? and the upcoming CHARMED, I’M SURE and IN CASE YOU MISSED IT. In addition to writing for teens, she is a columnist the website CTNewsJunkie.com. She lives in Connecticut, in a house that never seems to have enough bookshelves.Tweeters follow Sarah @SarahDarerLitt

Win 5 from Merit Press

Want to win some books? I feel like giving some away today. I have 2 ARC and 3 Hardback copies of titles new or coming soon from Merit Press. Just leave a comment below by Friday (10/21/2016) to be entered to win. Be sure an leave a Twitter or email contact so I can contact you if you win. Open to U.S. residents only please.

Aftermath by Clara Kensie

merit1Publisher’s Book Description

Charlotte survived four long years as a prisoner in the attic of her kidnapper, sustained only by dreams of her loving family. The chance to escape suddenly arrives, and Charlotte fights her way to freedom. But an answered prayer turns into heartbreak. Losing her has torn her family apart. Her parents have divorced: Dad’s a glutton for fame, Mom drinks too much, and Charlotte’s twin is a zoned-out druggie. Her father wants Charlotte write a book and go on a lecture tour, and her mom wants to keep her safe, a virtual prisoner in her own home. But Charlotte is obsessed with the other girl who was kidnapped, who never got a second chance at life–the girl who nobody but Charlotte believes really existed. Until she can get justice for that girl, even if she has to do it on her own, whatever the danger, Charlotte will never be free. (November 2016)

Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles

merit2Publisher’s Book Description

After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother’s best friend–a boy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An up-close look at the lives of the children of military families, Beneath Wandering Stars takes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds.

Color Bind by Sheila Sobel

merit3Publisher’s Book Description

April is alone in the world. When she was only a baby, her teenage mother took off and now, unbelievably, her dad has died. Nobody’s left to take April in except her mom’s sister, a free spirit who’s a chef in New Orleans–and someone who April’s never met. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, April is suddenly supposed to navigate a city that feels just like she feels, fighting back from impossibly bad breaks. But it’s Miles, a bayou boy, who really brings April into the heart of the Big Easy. He takes her to the cemetery where nineteenth-century voodoo queen Marie Laveau is buried, and there, April gets a shocking clue about her own past. Once she has a piece of the puzzle, she knows she will never give up. What she doesn’t know is that finding out the truth about her past and the key to her future could cost her everything–maybe even her life.

Dessert First by Dean Gloster

merit4Publisher’s Book Description

Upbeat–that’s Kat, the girl in the family who everyone turns to when things get difficult. Especially now, when her beloved younger brother Beep is in his second leukemia relapse, and a bone marrow transplant from Kat may be his only chance.
But Kat’s worried that she and her bone marrow may not be up to the task: She can’t even complete homework, and she’s facing other rejection–lost friendships, a lost spot on the soccer team, and lots of heartache from her crush on her former best friend, Evan. Kat doesn’t know if her bone marrow will save Beep, or whether she can save herself, let alone keep her promise to Beep that she’ll enjoy life and always eat dessert first.


Dessert First is a funny, moving story about coping, appreciating sweetness, and learning to forgive
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If You Were Here by Jennie Yabroff

merit5Publisher’s Book Description

Just one person cared. And now she’s gone.

Tess was already an outcast before her mother started showing up at school acting like the insane person she actually is. Although Tess has some compassion for her mother’s mental illness, she’d never have made it without the support of her one true friend, Tabitha, and the stress relief of long runs through Central Park. Then Tabitha defects to the other side, becoming a fashion Barbie and dropping Tess like a bad habit. Before Tess can even come to terms with this loss, a horrific tragedy occurs, and everyone is blaming Tess. Now, Tess is heartbroken and obsessed: Is she headed for a fate like her mother’s? And can she find out what really happened to Tabitha and, at the very least, be able to claim her innocence? (January 2017)

Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews: THE FIXES, ENTER TITLE HERE, SEVEN DAYS OF YOU, THREE DARK CROWNS and THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR

kickypostitreviewsIt’s time once again for a new installment of Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews. The Teen reads a book from her TBR pile and leaves it on my desk with her Post It Note review. It’s a very sophisticated process. I always like to know what actual teenagers think about books and since I am parenting one who loves to read, it works out nicely.

She’s currently into Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and Contemporary. Though not horror. She started to read And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich but it was too creepy for her. I, however, read this entire book and it was excellently scary and creepy and disturbing. She also started but chose not to finish Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, she said she just didn’t like it. But here’s a look at the books that she has finished.

 

postit4The Fixes by Owen Matthews

Publisher’s Book Description

Five…

Eric Connelly is about to combust.

Four…

His senator father is forcing him to spend the entire summer working a mind-numbing law firm internship. He won’t stop lecturing him about the importance of upholding “the Connelly name.” He doesn’t know the definition of “blowing off steam.” But he’s about to find out. Because Eric is ready to blow.

Three…

Then Eric meets Jordan Grant. Super-rich, semi-famous Jordan Grant. The guy of Eric’s (secret) dreams. Jordan likes Eric. And, well, Eric likes that.

Two…

Jordan comes with a group of friends—the Suicide Pack, they call themselves—and they’re sick of the shallow hypocrisy of their exclusive beachside town. So they cook up some simple “fixes” to right the wrongs that the wealthy elite have committed. But as the fixes escalate, some members of the pack start to panic. Intoxicated by Jordan’s attention, Eric stays calm. Until Jordan starts to build the bombs.

One…

The question is not whether the bombs will go off—but who will be left standing when everything goes up in flames. (August 30, 2016 from HarperTeen)

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Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

Publisher’s Book Description

I’m your protagonist—Reshma Kapoor—and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.

Reshma is a college counselor’s dream. She’s the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all.

What’s a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent’s help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she’ll finally have the key to Stanford.

But she’s convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she’s already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success—a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy.

Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can’t always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she’ll have to decide just how far she’ll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It’s pretty far.) (August 2, 2016 from Disney Hyperion)

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Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

Publisher’s Book Description

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye? (March 7, 2017 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendara Blake

Publisher’s Book Description

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest. (September 20, 2016 Harper Teen)

Karen’s Note

Watching her read this book was fun. She loved it and had very intense reactions to it, often screaming at the book. Someone, for example, was called a butthole multiple times. She talked about it for days and is still upset she has to wait so long for the next book. It’s on her top books of 2016 list.

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Publisher’s Book Description

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true? (November 1, 2016 from Delacorte Press)

Karen’s Note

This is on both of our best of lists for 2016. We are huge Nicola Yoon fans and this book did not disappoint. I’m going to pretend it is a birthday present to me because it comes out the day before my birthday and is just a gloriously good book.

 

Setting a New Default for Readers and Myself: A Guest Post by LABYRINTH LOST author Zoraida Cordova

Today we are very honored to host a guest post by LABYRINTH LOST author Zoraida Córdova. Labyrinth Lost is book one in the Brooklyn Brujas series published by Sourcebooks Fire. It is the story of Alex, a girl who wants to reject her magical destiny and in doing so banishes her family to another plane where she must journey to find them before they become victims of the Devourer.

labyrinthlostI started my writing career very young and never had a back up plan. When I was 13 I decided this is what I wanted, and I started writing. When I was 16 and 17, I attended the National Book Foundation’s writing camp. Though camp no longer exists, it was the most defining experience in my life, both as a person and writer. Led by poet and author, Meg Kearney, a group of students spanning all ages and backgrounds took summer workshops in Bennington College in Vermont.

There are two lessons I remember the most from camp, and still use when writing. Cornelius Eady, poet and co-founder of Cave Canem, would tell us to “trim the fat.” Every time I have a massive first draft, the kind of draft that makes my agent and editor pause, I tell myself to “trim the fat.” The second lesson was by Jacqueline Woodson. First of all, it was incredible having someone like Jackie teaching us. As we shared our short stories, Jackie always pointed out the white default in our characters. I was a teen, the fourth youngest in our group. I went to public school. I knew about metaphor and symbolism, but I’d never heard of the “white default” before. Looking back, I’m guilty of this as well. My tv shows, my books, my movies, my music, my magazines. Everything I read was predominantly white. As an adult, I went back to my very first manuscript: a ground breaking teenage epic at 20 something pages, based on the Jessica Simpson song “Final Heartbreak.” You can laugh. I certainly do. “Final Heartbreak” was written by a thirteen year old who had internalized the white default. All of my beautiful characters were white. The two exotic characters were the only ones described as having slightly darker skin. This was the first time I ever wrote the white default.

After hearing Jackie Woodson tell us, “If you describe one person’s race, you have to do it for everyone else. Otherwise, they’re white by default,” my world changed. Thanks to discussion that’s at the forefront of publishing thanks to We Need Diverse Books, Diversity in YA, and other like-minded organizations, we know what the white default is. But as a teenager who wanted to write fantasy novels, it felt like everything had shifted. When you don’t see yourself represented in media, you start to erase yourself. The default has to change.

Changing the default starts with the authors. Daniel José Older tweeted, “If a character’s white I say it. Otherwise, assume they’re not. The default is POC.” Reading this made me think about what Jackie Woodson said all those years ago. Even though, I was conscious of what the default was, I was afraid. When I wrote The Vicious Deep, I did my job. I designated an ethnicity for all my characters. But that wasn’t enough. What was I so afraid of? Four years later, I know. When you’re an author of color, you fear being “too” diverse. You wait so long for the market to be ready, not just for your book, but also for you as a person.

Writing Labyrinth Lost was liberating. I’ve written Brooklyn before, but even that Brooklyn was white washed. In this world, the default in characters is POC. One of the reasons I started reading fantasy was because I hated contemporary stories as a kid. The only books I could find were about poor or struggling Latinxs (never Ecuadorian like me). And while those stories are brilliant and important and still need to be read, I also wanted to be a superhero. I wanted to be Buffy and Sabrina and Prue Halliwell. The issue in Labyrinth Lost isn’t my protagonist’s ethnicity or bisexuality. These are things that should’ve been normalized a long time ago. The issue that Alex Mortiz has is her magic and power. Being afraid to have power is something that everyone can relate to, especially when you’re a girl. How are you influenced by the people who surround you? How do you deal with feeling abandoned by a parent? How do you cope with the pressure of being sixteen and the pressure of school? These are the things that make Alex relatable to teens, no matter where they come from, and despite that the default in this book is POC.

Alex lives in an untraditional house. If you take the magical aspect for a second, what am I left with? A single mother. A working class home in a (made up) part of Brooklyn. A huge extended family. A girl with anxiety. A trio of sisters. A girl trying to find her place in the world.

I’m twenty-nine and sometimes I still feel like I haven’t fully understood my place in the world, so in my book, Alex Mortiz is already on the right track. In setting a new default for myself and for my readers, I hope others will see themselves in Alex’s strength.

Publisher’s Book Description

“Enchanting and complex. Every page is filled with magic.”-Danielle Paige, New York Times best-selling author of Dorothy Must Die

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Praise for Labyrinth Lost

“Zoraida Cordova’s prose enchants from start to finish. Labyrinth Lost is pure magic.” -Melissa Grey, author of The Girl at Midnight

“Magical and empowering, Labyrinth Lost is an incredible heroine’s journey filled with mythos come to life; but at its heart, honors the importance of love and family.” -Cindy Pon, author of Serpentine and Silver Phoenix

“A brilliant brown-girl-in-Brooklyn update on Alice in Wonderland and Dante’s Inferno. Very creepy, very magical, very necessary.” -Daniel Jose Older, author of Shadowshaper

“Labyrinth Lost is a magical story of love, family, and finding yourself. Enchanting from start to finish.” -Amy Tintera, author of Ruined.

Karen’s Thoughts

This was a unique and interesting twist on magic from a cultural perspective that I am not very familiar with. It was fascinating, dark and compelling. I highly recommend it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of the Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @zlikeinzorro

Immigration in the News and in YA Lit

You can’t escape it if you watch or read the news – everyone is talking about immigration. I grew up in Southern California and now live in Texas, so I have always heard people talking about it. Always. But it’s not something that I have read a lot about in YA literature. It comes up occasionally, but not to the degree that people seem to be talking about it at the present time, and often with very heated and harmful rhetoric. But when we talk about immigration, I can’t help but think – these are MY teens you are talking about.

In June of this year, two Texas valedictorians revealed that they were undocumented, and the reaction to that news quickly became very heated. Undocumented teens are often referred to as “Dreamers”, and we as a country are wrestling with how to approach the issue of dreamers. Dreamers may be granted citizenship through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Over 750, 000 have received DACA since 2012. You can find more information about this here. This is just one of the many controversial discussions that our nation is having regarding the topic of immigration in the media. You can also read about the inspiration for the DREAMERS movement in the book Spare Parts.

Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream by Joshua Davis

sparepartsPublisher’s Book Description

In 2004, four Latino teenagers arrived at the Marine Advanced Technology Education Robotics Competition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were born in Mexico but raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where they attended an underfunded public high school. No one had ever suggested to Oscar, Cristian, Luis, or Lorenzo that they might amount to much—but two inspiring science teachers had convinced these impoverished, undocumented kids from the desert who had never even seen the ocean that they should try to build an underwater robot.


And build a robot they did. Their robot wasn’t pretty, especially compared to those of the competition. They were going up against some of the best collegiate engineers in the country, including a team from MIT backed by a $10,000 grant from ExxonMobil. The Phoenix teenagers had scraped together less than $1,000 and built their robot out of scavenged parts. This was never a level competition—and yet, against all odds . . . they won!


But this is just the beginning for these four, whose story—which became a key inspiration to the DREAMers movement—will go on to include first-generation college graduations, deportation, bean-picking in Mexico, and service in Afghanistan.


Joshua Davis’s Spare Parts is a story about overcoming insurmountable odds and four young men who proved they were among the most patriotic and talented Americans in this country—even as the country tried to kick them out. (FSG 2014)

 

You can find some previous book lists about immigration here:

Ten Young Adult Books that Reflect the US Immigration Experience

YA Novels About Immigration – Latina

But I want to make sure two upcoming titles are on your radar, one of which is one of my favorite books of 2016 (the other I haven’t read yet).

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

somethinginbetweenPublisher’s Book Description

Who am I? Where do I belong? 

Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. Pretty and popular, she’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship.

And then everything shatters. A national scholar award invitation compels her parents to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all and the very real threat of deportation.

For the first time, Jasmine rebels, trying all those teen things she never had time for in the past. Even as she’s trying to make sense of her new world, it’s turned upside down by Royce Blakely, the charming son of a high-ranking congressman. Jasmine no longer has any idea where—or if—she fits into the American Dream. All she knows is that she’s not giving up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own. 

This is the one that I haven’t read yet. It comes out in October from Harlequin Teen.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

the sun is also a starPublisher’s Book Description

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Karen’s Thoughts

I love this book so much. The love story is beautiful, though I’m not typically a fan of the falling in love in 24 hours type of story. Yoon’s writing is just engaging and compelling. And if ever there was a book written for our current zeitgeist, this is it. Here are two teens searching for a sense of self and security in a world plagued by various forms of racism and, in the case of Natasha, the uncertainty that comes with being a child of a family on the brink of being deported. The Teen also read this book and it is also one of her favorites of 2016. It’s a thoughtful, moving story.

If books help readers to develop empathy, and I believe that they do, then it is important for those of us who have no idea what it is like to be an undocumented teen or a teen who is worried about losing the only home they have ever known to read books so we can get an idea of what that may be like. It’s easy to look at a number and make broadly sweeping generalizations, but it’s important to remember that behind those numbers are real people. Books help us zoom in, to move past a number and to see the people behind the numbers with focus and clarity. And for those teens who identify as dreamers, they can validate their fears and struggles and give them a voice.

Why I Write What I Write, a guest post by THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH author Peter Hoffmeister

laugh1For a brief period of time when I was in middle school, we lived in a trailer park. Technically, my dad’s girlfriend lived in a trailer park and we just spent a lot of time there. If you know anything about trailer parks, you know that there is a lot of stigma attached to living in one. There are not, in fact, a lot of YA books that feature teens that live in trailer parks. For example, both Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols and Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige feature a MC who lives in a trailer park. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline also features a group of people who live in a trailer in a trailer park. THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH by Peter Hoffmeister also features a main character that lives in a trailer park.

It’s interesting to me lately how I will read about something and think, you know – there’s not a lot of that in YA. It happened when I read the description of This is the Part Where You Laugh, where it mentions that the main character lives in a trailer park. It happened when I read an article talking about Simone Biles and her family adoption, something that I also have seen a lot of with my teens and yet find is under-represented in YA literature.

The fact that the main character lives in a trailer park isn’t really a significant part of the story, it’s just a fact of Travis’ life: he is economically disadvantaged. Many teens are. In fact I recently read that 1 in 3 workers qualify as the working poor. Slowly, we are beginning to see more of this truth represented in YA literature. I know far fewer teens who have been sent to a private boarding school – which we read about a lot in YA – and far more teens who live in trailer parks. So I’m thankful every time I see a book like this one come across my desk.

But this post is not about trailer parks or being economically disadvantaged in YA literature. This is about author Peter Hoffmeister and why he writes the types of books that he writes. He doesn’t use the words, but he writes for what we sometimes refer to as “reluctant readers“. He writes for readers who want short, quick chapters where a lot of things happen. He writes for readers who are just like him . . .

“First off, I want to write entertaining books. I don’t want to write something long and slow and dull because I don’t enjoy reading long, slow, dull books in which nothing happens. So I enjoy writing the romance scenes (the scenes with Natalie and Travis, for example), the action scenes and the struggles. And as strange as it sounds, I love it when things go wrong, when a book is like real life sometimes and many things go wrong all at once.

That’s not to say that I don’t want to slow down sometimes and allow the characters to have conversations or to be in peaceful environments – sometimes people need a break – but then I want something to happen again. I want my books to be readable, and readable usually means that the reader is sucked in and doesn’t want to put the book down.

People ask about my short chapters, and I guess that’s part of it too. I like reading short chapters and I like writing short chapters. I remember the first time I read Cormac McCarthy’s Child Of God, how every chapter was a page or two and it felt SO good to read. I thought, I want to write like that.

But then there has to be a second level to a book. Or there have to be many levels. The extended metaphors that make books stick with you. There’s a surface level to Creature’s “Pervert’s Guide To Russian Princesses,” those chapter-break scenes in my book that are over-the-top, funny and erotic and ridiculous. But then there are the metaphors behind those scenes. What are each of those scenes really saying?

In that same way, when I’m talking about hands or water, books, cell phones, pets or pills, I’m really saying something else at the same time. There’s more than the literal going on. Maybe my metaphors work and maybe they don’t. But I’m definitely trying to give the reader something to think about. I’m not saying there’s only one way to look at this world. I’m saying open your eyes and ask a lot of questions.” – Peter Hoffmeister

Publisher’s Book Description

Rising sophomore Travis and his best friend, Creature, spend a summer in a Eugene, Oregon, trailer park dealing with cancer, basketball, first love, addiction, gang violence, and a reptilian infestation. – Knopf Books for Young Readers, May 2016

Reviews for THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH

“Profane and profound… A raw offbeat novel with an abundance of honesty and heart.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review”In my mind the best storytellers walk that high tight wire between tragedy and comedy with a magician’s grace. The further they take you down the road of comedy, the further you’re willing to follow them down the road of tragedy. Enter Peter Hoffmeister. This Is the Part Where You Laugh is exactly the part where you laugh. And ache. This is a really good book!”—Chris Crutcher”A memorable story of good kids’ transcending rough lives…. What might seem didactic in lesser hands feels realistic and right here. Messages are delivered in natural dialogue, the well-drawn characters speaking from the heart with wisdom derived from firsthand experience.” —Kirkus, starred review”A unique, unforgettable tale that is a must-have for all YA collections.” —School Library Journal, SLJ Popular Pick

So real it hurts. Hoffmeister explores the depths of family and addiction, friendship and first love with the skill of a writer who knows his way around—and I was happy to follow. This story will stick with you.” —David Arnold, author of Mosquitoland

“A courageous novel. Incandescent and unflinching.” —Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King

“Hoffmeister crushes it, weaving seamlessly between aching humor, brilliant dissonance, gritty romance, and chaotic hope. He glosses over nothing. He doesn’t give a single word for free. There is blood and truth on every page.” —Estelle Laure, author of This Raging Light

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Peter Brown Hoffmeister is the author of the critically acclaimed novels This Is The Part Where You Laugh & Graphic The Valley, the memoir The End of Boys, and the forthcoming novel Too Shattered For Mending (Random House, Knopf).

His books have earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, School Library Journal, and The Bulletin.

A former troubled teen, Hoffmeister was expelled from three high schools, lived for a short while in a Greyhound bus station, was remanded to a recovery and parole program, and completed a wilderness experience for troubled teens.

He now runs the Integrated Outdoor Program, serving teens of all backgrounds, taking them into wilderness areas to backpack, climb, spelunk, orienteer, and whitewater raft.