Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Reading Your Way Through High School, a book gallery by grade

At my day job, I recently began making some RA tools for the youth services staff that highlighted novels for youth that featured a main character in each grade, K-12. I knew when I got to YA that it would be both harder and easier. Easier, because I’ve read a lot of YA and already had some books I wanted to recommend. Harder, because I knew that finding books that specified that a character was in the 9th or 10th grade would be harder. YA tends to skew towards the upper end of High School, featuring characters in their junior or senior year, and they are typically 17 years old. Middle grade tends to feature a character in middle school or typically in the 8th grade. So here are some of the titles that I have found that specificy the grade of the main character in high school. Please note, though I struggled to find books with 9th or 10th grade main characters, I could go on and on for 11th and 12th grade main characters. This is by no means a complete list. In fact, if you have recommendations please leave them in the comments.

Freshman Year of High School

Sophomore Year of High School

Junior Year of High School

Senior Year of High School

TLT Turns 10: The Top 10 YA Books I’ve Read of the Last 10 Years, by Karen Jensen

Today is the day! 10 years ago today, I wrote the very first post here at TLT. I thought I would end this week of celebration by talking about the books. I have always been a reader, so the books are one of my favorite parts of both librarianship and this blog. In the last 25+ years as a teen librarian, I have literally reads 1,000s of YA books. I know because up until last year, I kept track and I was well over 3,500. So here are my favorite books of every year for the past 10 years. I am not a person who does well with favorites, so I cheated and added a lot of honorable mentions.

2011 : Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Contestants on the way to the “Miss Teen Dream” contest crash on an island and have to find a way to survive, both the elements and each other. This feminist take on Lord of the Flies is by far one of the funniest novels I have ever read while also being deeply profound and moving. Do yourself a favor and listen to the audio read by the author, Libba Bray. This is Riley’s go to comfort book when she needs to be cheered up.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Hourglass by Myra McEntyre – Great for fans of Doctor Who
  • Human.4 by Mike Lancaster – Save the bees, but it feels like a Twilight Zone episode
  • Legend by Marie Lu – When dystopian was strong
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver – love is outlawed in this other favorite dystopian
  • Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King – one of A. S. King’s first and best looks at trauma and who am I kidding, it’s A. S. King and I love it

2012 : Ask the Passengers by A. S. King

A teenage lesbian named Astrid talks to the planes that pass overhead as she wrestles with self acceptance in a small town full of gossip. This is by far the most profound reading experience I have ever had. Riley and I are both huge fans of A. S. King and I know that this novel is one that we have both read more than once. A moving exploration of what it means to be human.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater – just beautifully written look at family, friendship and magic
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – The only historical fiction novel I like, best friendship ever
  • The Immortal Rules by Kendara Blake – amazing take on vampires and what it means to be human with a great discourse on what happens if we ban reading
  • This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers – If zombies existed in The Breakfast Club
  • A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand – 2 boys chase down a voodoo doll while it’s being used against them in this hilarious novel

2013 : The Archived by Victoria Schwab

There exists a library of souls and the keeper’s job is to help make sure they don’t escape the archives into our world. This is such a fantastic twist on libraries and a great read for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – another great take on vampires
  • Canary by Rachel Alpine – a searing look at one of the most infamous sexual violence cases in high school history
  • Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller – a heartbreaking look at the long term effects of sexual violence and childhood trauma
  • Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian – a compelling tale of a young man who wrestles with unlearning toxic masculinity
  • This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales – friendship, family and the power of music

2014 : A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

The town is Midnight Gulch, a place where magic used to exist. The girl is 12-year-old Felicity, who has moved around a lot and now they have come here, a place her momma used to call home. It is here and now that Felicity learns about friendship, family, magic, and hope. Technically, this is a middle grade novel. But it is my go-to-recommendation for anyone looking for a joyful read, a hopeful read, or a family read. This is a book that will remind you of childhood favorites as it becomes a new family favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Uses for Boys by Erica Loraine Webb – a heartbreaking and far too real look at what life can be like for teen girls in this world
  • Panic by Lauren Oliver – an elaborate game of truth or dare highlights the desperation that teens in small towns feel to try and escape poverty and small town life
  • Noggin by John Corey Whaley – Like The Breakfast Club, but set in a time where we can transplant a healthy head on a different body, which causes a lot of wrestling with identity
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King – Girls eat bat dust and imagine a future where they lose reproductive rights in this far too eerily real feminist novel
  • Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican – There are a lot of great books out there about bullying, but this one talks about the fact that sometimes, teachers are the bullies as well

2015 : More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Aaron Soto wants to forget the love of his life, so he heads to the Leteo Institute in an attempt to have his memory erased. But the heart can not always forget, no matter how much we want it to. This is a glorious, heartfelt speculative fiction novel that also highlights what it is like to live in very real poverty. Older readers will recall Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but this is a moving and original tale about love, loss, and trying to accept yourself in a world that very much does not want you to.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle – A dystopian with religious cult highlights
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – another twisted tale about cults and feminism
  • The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds – a simple and beautiful exploration of grief and character
  • Hit by Delilah Dawson – a searing take on capitalism where the banks that own your debt turn teens into hitmen to work of said debt
  • The Accident Season by Moria Fowley-Doyle – a beautiful, lyrical look at family secrets and lies

2016 : Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston

In the aftermath of her rape, head cheerleader Hermione wrestles with abortion, her classmates, and the idea of justice. Johnston has said that this book is a fantasy because it’s everything she wishes would happen after a girl has been raped. A powerful testament to friendship, resilience, and finding justice in a world in which far too few survivors of sexual violence and rape get justice.

Honorable Mentions:

  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab – my favorite take on monsters and politics, ever
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – a revenge fantasy for every survivor of sexual assault
  • Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova – after making her family accidentally disappear, a girl journeys into a magical realm to try and save them
  • And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich – one of the creepiest haunted life stories I have ever read
  • Rocks Fall Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar – I love a good this town is weird story
  • Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley – a great look at mental health issues in the lives of teens

2017 : Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

When Will’s older brother is killed, he wants revenge. And he knows just how to do it. But in one long elevator ride down to exact that revenge, he sees how the cycle of violence is never ending and is forced to reconsider the rules he lives his life by. Told entirely in verse, this is a profoundly amazing novel that looks at revenge and the cycle of violence in the life of our youth.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson – the most mind blowing twist ever written
  • We Are Okay by Nina LaCour – a beautiful exploration of grief
  • Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu – a fun, fabulous feminist read (see also another favorite of this year, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed)
  • The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy – another great this town is cursed read
  • Sadie by Courtney Summers – uses the popular concept of podcasts to explore a mystery and feminism

2018 : Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Tiffany D. Jackson is arguably one of the greatest YA authors writing right now. And she is queen of the plot twist. Claudia is the only one who seems to notice that her friend, Monday, is missing. So she tries to get the adults, the police, her teachers – anyone really – to help her find her friend in this exploration of a world in which Black girls go missing far too often and no one wants to do anything about it. It’s a moving exploration of missing Black girls and how the media doesn’t seem to care. It’s also one of the very few YA novels that talk about Dyslexia.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – a profoundly moving novel of identity written in verse
  • Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand – another this town is cursed novel, with feminism; great for Stephen King fans
  • Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson – a great friendship story, if you and your friends were witches and you had to raise your friend from the dead because issues
  • White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig – a mystery that looks at the opioid epidemic

2019 : The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

What if everything you thought you knew about your life, your town, and even your family was a lie? Girls have a very specific role to play and rules to follow in Garner County, and Tierney James is not a fan of them. They don’t feel right. But she is placed outside the community with others during what is called The Grace Year, and here they learn shocking truths about what it means to be a girl, about violence, and about the lies that run and ruin their lives.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Internment by Samira Ahmed – a look at anti-Muslim hate through the lens of a dystopia that reads as far too possible in current times
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power – a science fiction and feminist take on Lord of the Flies that will disturb you
  • Heroine by Mindy McGinnis – small town life, girls in sports, and the opioid epidemic come together in this moving contemporary tale
  • Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – Anderson shares herself in verse in this beautiful look at finding your voice after surviving sexual violence
  • I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones – this novel set in a day combines with Black Lives Matter for this moving contemporary novel that looks at police violence
  • Dig by A. S. King – the way all the pieces come together will always blow my mind in this surrealistic exploration of toxic families and white privilege

2020 : We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

In the midst of cultural discussions about refugees and immigrants, Sanchez writes a searingly honest and painful novel about what it means to flee your home and try to find sanctuary in the United States, and what that journey looks like. Jenny Torres Sanchez is one of my favorite YA authors of melancholy explorations of grief, and she really hit it out of the park with this timely novel.

Honorable Mentions:

  • You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson – if you are looking for pure joy, you will find it here
  • Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold – one of the best fairy tale retellings
  • The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes – for fans of The Westing Game, a fun mystery with twists, puzzles to solve, and Barnes witty dialogue
  • Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson – one of the best books that highlight what grooming looks like
  • Punching the Air by Iba Anu Zoboi – many books talk about how art can heal, and this one does so while also talking about incarceration

2021 : The Nature of Witches by Rachel M. Griffin

What if witches were the key to saving the world from Climate Change? I love this interesting take on witches that also explores Climate Change, grief and guilt. Each type of witch controls a different season, except for Clara. Clara is an Everwitch, the first in a century. So she controls all of the seasons, but it’s a power she doesn’t want because it has caused her great grief. When the world is on the verge of destruction from climate change, everyone needs Clara to use her powers, but she very much wants to get rid of them because of what they have cost her.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Off the Record by Camryn Garrett – a moving exploration of body acceptance and dealing with trauma
  • The Taking of Jake Livingston – a fantastically creepy book with a Black boy who sees ghosts
  • The Project by Courtney Summers – another fantastic exploration of cults and feminism
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley – a mystery that explores the world of sports and the opioid epidemic while exploring the very real and long term effects of grief

And there you have it, a look at some of my favorite YA reads of the last 10 years. This was actually pretty hard, because there are a lot of great YA book out there. There are a lot of other books I love that didn’t get mentioned, because I could be here all night – or for another 10 years – talking about YA lit. Seriously, YA lit is amazing (and not a genre!) What books would be on your list? Leave us a comment and let us know. We love talking about books! And here’s to another 10 years of reading and reviewing books here at TLT. Thank you for taking this journey with us.

Also, check out Amanda MacGregor’s Top 10 List for more great reads, because there are a lot of books here I love as well: https://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2021/07/tlt-turns-ten-ten-fav-books-ive-reviewed/

Sad Soup Books; AKA, Middle Grade and YA Fiction About Grief

We recently experienced a devastating loss in my family and, as Riley says, we all live in sad soup lately. That’s how she has described the grief that hangs over us each day, like we’re living in a big ole bowl of sad soup. I recently went looking for books for both of my girls to help them navigate the experience of grief, should they be interested in reading those kinds of books. So far they haven’t, which is fine because everyone handles it differently. But should they ever want them, I have some good suggestions to pass along now. So today’s book gallery is on the theme of grief.

Middle Grade Books about Grief

Here are some links to other great posts with lists of Middle Grade books that deal with the topic of grief

YA Fiction Books about Grief

Here are some links to other great book lists about YA fiction that deals with the topic of grief

I was actually in the midst of reading The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley when my father was in his car accident. Before the accident, I kept remarking that it was such a rich and meaningful look at loss and grief. So much so that when my father died, I had a hard time finishing the book because it hit too close to home. I did finish it and I’m glad that I did, but it was hard because it rang so very true to what I was thinking and feeling. So you’ll definitely want to add this to any book lists about grief.

Also, I want you to know that If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson is hands down one of the most beautifully written books ever written and it is a moving and beautiful exploration of grief.

As a parent who is grieving, I have found it difficult to have to navigate my own grief while helping my children, ages 12 and 18, navigate their grief. There are resources to help you help teens with grief.

For me, the biggest key has been allowing my kids to have space to feel their feelings and talk about them. If Riley wants to talk about sad soup, we talk about sad soup. If she doesn’t, then we don’t. We’ve talked a lot about the cycles of grief, that everyone goes through the process in their own time and in their own ways, and we have found ways to remember their beloved grandfather that works for each of them individually. And we take it moment by moment, day by day. And I’m not going to lie, every moment of this has been hard. I have been very thankful that I have the resources to research and read and learn and just . . . be. I hope when you have your sad soup days, you find comfort and healing in the ways that are right and healthy for you. And if that includes reading a book about grief, there are a lot of great ones out there for you.

New Horror to Read This Summer; By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Here’s a look at some horror published in 2021 that you may want to check out. I’m a fan of some good horror and mystery/thriller/suspense, so I thought I would share some things on my TBR list.

The Woods Are Always Watching by Stephanie Perkins

A traditional backwoods horror story set–first page to last–in the woods of the Pisgah National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Two girls go backpacking in the woods. Things go very wrong.

And, then, their paths collide with a serial killer.

This one comes out on August 3, 2021

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won’t stay hidden any longer.

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.

Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.

This title also comes out on August 3, 2021

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.

This one came out in April 2021 and it’s a dark fantasy

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.

To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.

When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

Editor’s Note: I just listened to this on audio and it’s really good. Lots of discussion of horror movies and horror tropes. Please note, it does deal with sexual assault for those who need to know.

This one came out in April 2021

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

This one cam out in April 2021

Have Some LGBTQ+ Books, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

I came across the book Cool for the Summer recently and thought the cover looked really cool and the premise sounded interesting. That sent me down the rabbit hole of upcoming LGBTQ+ books, which I am rounding up for you here. This is just a small sampling of some books coming out that sounded interesting to me. The descriptions are the publisher’s book descriptions. These are all 2021 releases.

Cool for the Summer By Dahlia Adler

Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

Some Girls Do by Jennifer Dugan

Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer high schools late in her senior year after it turns out being queer is against her private Catholic school’s code of conduct. There, she meets Ruby, who has two hobbies: tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino and competing in local beauty pageants, the latter to live out the dreams of her overbearing mother. The two are drawn to each other and can’t deny their growing feelings. But while Morgan–out and proud, and determined to have a fresh start–doesn’t want to have to keep their budding relationship a secret, Ruby isn’t ready to come out yet. With each girl on a different path toward living her truth, can they go the distance together?

She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen

After losing spectacularly to her ex-girlfriend in their first game since their break up, Scottie Zajac gets into a fender bender with the worst possible person: her nemesis, the incredibly beautiful and incredibly mean Irene Abraham. Things only get worse when their nosey, do-gooder moms get involved and the girls are forced to carpool together until Irene’s car gets out of the shop.

Their bumpy start only gets bumpier the more time they spend together. But when an opportunity presents itself for Scottie to get back at her toxic ex (and climb her school’s social ladder at the same time), she bribes Irene into playing along. Hijinks, heartbreak, and gay fake-dating scheme for the ages. From author Kelly Quindlen comes a new laugh-out-loud romp through the ups and downs of teen romance.

In Deep Waters by F.T. Lukens

Prince Tal has long awaited his coming-of-age tour. After spending most of his life cloistered behind palace walls as he learns to keep his forbidden magic secret, he can finally see his family’s kingdom for the first time. His first taste of adventure comes just two days into the journey, when their crew discovers a mysterious prisoner on a burning derelict vessel.

Tasked with watching over the prisoner, Tal is surprised to feel an intense connection with the roguish Athlen. So when Athlen leaps overboard and disappears, Tal feels responsible and heartbroken, knowing Athlen could not have survived in the open ocean.

That is, until Tal runs into Athlen days later on dry land, very much alive, and as charming—and secretive—as ever. But before they can pursue anything further, Tal is kidnapped by pirates and held ransom in a plot to reveal his rumored powers and instigate a war. Tal must escape if he hopes to save his family and the kingdom. And Athlen might just be his only hope…

The [Un]Popular Vote by Jasper Sanchez

Vaseline on the teeth makes a smile shine. It’s a cheap stunt, but Mark Adams knows it’s optics that can win or ruin an election.

Everything Mark learned about politics, he learned from his father, the congressman who still pretends he has a daughter and not a son. To protect his father’s image, Mark promises to keep his past hidden and pretend to be the cis guy everyone assumes he is. But when he sees a manipulatively charming candidate for student body president inflame dangerous rhetoric, Mark decides to risk the low profile he assured his father and insert himself as a political challenger.

One big problem? No one really knows Mark. He didn’t grow up in this town, and he has few friends; plus, the ones he does have aren’t exactly with the in-crowd. Still, thanks to countless seasons of Scandal and The West Wing, these nerds know where to start: from campaign stops to voter polling to a fashion makeover. Soon Mark feels emboldened to get in front of and engage with voters—and even start a new romance. But with an investigative journalist digging into his past, a father trying to silence him, and a bully front-runner who stands in his way, Mark will have to decide which matters most: perception or truth, when both are just as dangerous. 

On the Edge of Your Seat YA: Have Some Suspense Books; By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

We all love a good mystery. It’s actually my favorite genre. The way it hooks you in with all of the unanswered questions. The unexpected twists and turns. Suspenseful books just have all of the right elements for a good reading experience. So, here are some upcoming suspenseful mystery books. All the following books have the publisher’s book description for you and they are all 2021 releases. A couple of titles are already out and available for you to purchase today.

The Violent Season By Sara Walters

Every November, the people in Wolf Ridge are overwhelmed with a hunger for violence–at least that’s the town rumor. Last fall Wyatt Green’s mother was brutally murdered, convincing Wyatt that this yearning isn’t morbid urban legend. but rather a palpable force infecting her neighbors.

This year, Wyatt fears the call of violence has spread to her best friend Cash–who also happens to be the guy she can’t stop wanting no matter how much he hurts her. At the same time, she’s drawn to Cash’s nemesis Porter, now that they’re partners on an ambitious project for lit class. When Wyatt pulls away from Cash, and spends more time with Porter, she learns secrets about both of them she can’t forget.

And as the truth about her mother’s death begins to emerge from the shadows, Wyatt is faced with a series of hard realities about the people she trusts the most, rethinking everything she believes about what makes people decide to hurt each other.

Coming in September 2021 from Sourcebooks Fire

When All the Girls are Sleeping by Emily Arsenault

Windham-Farnswood Academy is beautiful, prestigious, historic–the perfect place for girls to prep for college. But every student knows all is not as it seems. Each January, the Winter Girl comes knocking. She’s the spirit who haunts the old senior dorm, and this year is no exception.

For Haley, the timing couldn’t be worse. This month marks the one-year anniversary of the death of her ex-best friend, Taylor. When a disturbing video of Taylor surfaces, new questions about her death emerge. And it actually looks like Taylor was murdered.

Now, as Haley digs into what really happened last year, her search keeps bringing her back to the Winter Girl. Haley wants to believe ghosts aren’t real, but the clues–and the dark school history she begins to undercover–say otherwise. Now it’s up to her to solve the mystery before history has a chance to repeat itself and another life is taken.

Coming in July of 2021 from Penguin Random House

The Perfect Place to Die by Bryce Moore

Zuretta never thought she’d encounter a monster—one of the world’s most notorious serial killers. She had resigned herself to a quiet life in Utah. But when her younger sister, Ruby, travels to Chicago during the World’s Fair, and disappears, Zuretta leaves home to find her.

But 1890s Chicago is more dangerous and chaotic than she imagined. She doesn’t know where to start until she learns of her sister’s last place of employment…a mysterious hotel known as The Castle.

Zuretta takes a job there hoping to learn more. And before long she realizes the hotel isn’t what it seems. Women disappear at an alarming rate, she hears crying from the walls, and terrifying whispers follow her at night. In the end, she finds herself up against one of the most infamous mass murderers in American history—and his custom-built death trap.

Coming in August 2021 from Sourcebooks Fire

The Girl in the Headlines by Hannah Jayne

Andrea McNulty goes to sleep on her eighteenth birthday with a near-perfect life: she’s a high school field hockey star, a doted-upon big sister, the beloved daughter of two happy parents. But when she wakes up in a motel room the next morning, unable to remember what happened the previous night and covered in blood, Andi is a fugitive.

According to the news, Andi’s parents were brutally attacked in the middle of the night. Her father is dead, her mother is in a coma, her little brother Josh is missing–and Andi is the prime suspect. Terrified and on the run from the police, Andi teams up with Nate, the sympathetic boy working the motel’s front desk, to find the real murderer. But while the police are getting further from the killer, the killer is getting closer to Andi–closer than she could ever have imagined.

Coming in July of 2021 from Sourcebooks Fire

14 Ways to Die by Vincent Ralph

Ten years ago, Jess’s mother was murdered by the Magpie Man.

She was the first of his victims but not the last.

Now Jess is the star of a YouTube reality series and she’s using it to catch the killer once and for all.

The whole world is watching her every move.

And so is the Magpie Man

Coming in June 2021 from Sourcebooks Fire

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.

Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.

Coming in August 2021 from Wednesday Books

Prom House by Chelsea Mueller

Ten people share a prom house at the Jersey Shore for the weekend. Every one of them has a secret . . . and when they begin to die one by one, panic ensues. Could somebody’s prom date also be . . . a killer?

Coming in May 2021 from Underlined

The Murder Game by Carrie Doyle

Luke Chase didn’t mean to get caught up solving the mystery of Mrs. Heckler’s murder. He just wanted to spend alone time with the new British girl at their boarding school.

But little did he know someone would end up dead right next to their rendezvous spot in the woods, and his best friend and roommate Oscar Weymouth would be the one to take the blame. With suspects aplenty and a past that’s anything but innocent, Luke Chase reluctantly calls on his famous survival skills to solve the mystery and find the true killer.

Coming in April 2021 from Sourcebooks Fire

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

Coming in April 2021 from Scribner

Where Secrets Lie by Eva V. Gibson

Amy Larsen has spent every summer with her cousin Ben and their best friend Teddy in River Run, Kentucky, loving country life and welcoming the break from her intensive ambitions and overbearing mother—until the summer she and Teddy confront the changing feelings and simmering sexual tension growing between them, destroying the threesome’s friendship in a dramatic face-off.

One year later, Amy returns to River Run dreading what she might find. But when Teddy’s sister disappears, Amy, Ben and Teddy agree to put aside their differences to search for her. As they dig deeper into the dark history of their small town, all three friends must unearth the truths that tie their families to tragedy, cope with their own toxic upbringings and beliefs, and atone for the damage done to each other and themselves.

Coming in April 2021 from Simon Pulse

The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

Tress Montor knows that her family used to mean something—until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. She might still be a Montor, but the entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo,” – a wild animal attraction featuring a zebra, a chimpanzee, and a panther, among other things.

Felicity Turnado has it all – looks, money, and a secret that she’s kept hidden. She knows that one misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is… only that she can’t look at Tress without having a panic attack.

But she’ll have to.

Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity – brick by brick – as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers – or settle for revenge.

This book came out earlier in 2021

The Forest of Stolen Girls by Jen Hur

After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns to her secretive hometown to pick up the trail in this second YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

Coming in April 2021 from Fiewel and Friends

All of these books will share their suspense, but each is different. A mystery for everyone.

For Your Consideration: Five YA Lit Books Coming in April 2021 to Make Your TBR Piles Bigger

Here’s a brief look at 5 new YA lit books coming our way in April, because our TBR lists aren’t big enough.

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publisher’s Book Description:

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.
From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.

Karen’s Thoughts: I am halfway through this book and it’s such an interesting exploration of what happens after death, ethics and more. It’s very fascinating, compelling, and rich.

The Flipside of Perfect by Liz Reinhardt

Publisher’s Book Description: What happens when her two worlds collide?

AJ is a buttoned-up, responsible student attending a high-achieving high school in Michigan. She lives with her mother, stepfather, and two younger half sisters.

Della spends every summer with her father in Florida. A free-spirited wild child, she spends as much time as possible on the beach with her friends and older siblings.

But there’s a catch: AJ and Della are the same person. Adelaide Beloise Jepsen to be exact, and she does everything she can to keep her school and summer lives separate.

When her middle sister crashes her carefree summer getaway, Adelaide’s plans fall apart. In order to help her sister, save her unexpected friendship with a guy who might just be perfect for her, and discover the truth about her own past, Adelaide will have to reconcile the two sides of herself…and face the fact that it’s perfectly okay not to be perfect all the time.

Between the Bliss and Me by Lizzy Mason

Publisher’s Book Description: Acclaimed author Lizzy Mason delivers a moving contemporary YA novel about mental illness, young romance, and the impact of family history on one teen’s future, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Robin Benway, and Kathleen Glasgow.

When eighteen-year-old Sydney Holman announces that she has decided to attend NYU, her overprotective mom is devastated. Her decision means she will be living in the Big City instead of commuting to nearby Rutgers like her mom had hoped. It also means she’ll be close to off-limits but dreamy Grayson—a guitar prodigy who is going to Juilliard in the fall and very much isn’t single.

But while she dreams of her new life, Sydney discovers a world-changing truth about her father, who left when she was little due to a drug addiction—that he has schizophrenia and is currently living on the streets of New York City. She seizes the opportunity to get to know him, to understand who he is and learn what may lie in store for her if she, too, is diagnosed.

Even as she continues to fall for Grayson, Sydney is faced with a difficult decision: Should she stay close to home so her mom can watch over her, or follow the desire to take risks and discover her true self?

Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve

Publisher’s Book Description: A moving YA debut about a trans boy finding his voice—and himself

Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?

You Were Made for Me by Jenna Guillaume

Publisher’s Book Description: The day I created a boy started out like any other.

Katie didn’t mean to create a boy. A boy like a long-lost Hemsworth brother: six-foot tall with floppy hair and eyes like the sky on a clear summer’s day; whose lips taste like cookie-dough and whose skin smells like springtime.

A boy who is completely devoted to Katie.

He was meant to be perfect.

But he was never meant to exist.

These are just a few of the titles coming out in April.

A High School Student Reviews CONCRETE ROSE by Angie Thomas

I was very fortunate to receive an advanced reader’s copy of CONCRETE ROSE by Angie Thomas in the mail. My teenage daughter read it, and loved it, but I wanted to reach out to a friend who has been working hard at her high school to get her students reading and I knew that they were huge fans of Angie Thomas. So with her help, we have a student review of Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas. This review is coming to you today from Aaliyah, a senior.

Concrete Rose Angie Thomas https://app.asana.com/0/1135954362417873/1168658175790681/f

Angie Thomas always has a way of captivating readers’ minds and sucking them in with her storylines and moving words. As we read in The Hate U Give, each character stood out on their own by their powerful stories. But Maverick Carter, Starr’s father, captured the hearts of many readers.

The Hate U Give gave readers a glance into the life that Maverick Carter had to live in the Garden and Starr’s point of view on his trials and tribulations. Concrete Rose gives the readers the chance to understand the real background behind the story of Garden Heights and the questions that plenty of us had about the real Maverick Carter. Concrete Rose explains the journey that Maverick had to endure in the Garden to become a real man. Angie has a way of entangling her stories with real life events that the reader is able to relate to. For Maverick Carter, life hasn’t always been easy. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does the only thing he was taught to do: dealing for the King Lords in order to provide and keep the bills paid in his home with his mother. His mother worked two jobs while his father was incarcerated, but for Mav that was normal; he had to do what he had to do in order to survive. Through the bad, Mav had his “Fresh-to-death” girlfriend and Brother-like cousin by his side; he was in control of everything in his life. But life always has surprises, and Mav’s surprise was the newfound information of becoming a teen father by someone who wasn’t his girlfriend. Mav’s Life changes drastically as he deals with having a son while trying to balance life as a King Lord, finish school, and be the best father he can be to Seven.

Life teaches lessons to Maverick in many forms. Being a teen father, part of a gang, and finishing school can be stressful to any average teen. As a Black teen myself, I have encountered similar obstacles that life has thrown at me in different ways. As a Black teen though, the standards set out for us are to become a minority in society and to fail. Concrete Rose gives different perspectives of Black teens and their journeys to adulthood and the limitations that are put on us by society at a young age. The future is unpredictable, and when the characters are put in the position to decide their fate it reveals the unlawful truths that society has set for them. With societal norms against Mav–Loyalty, Love, Revenge, and Responsibility become a battle in Mavericks life to become the man he needs to be for his family. Societal norms that are formed against Maverick and the other Black teens in the novel to become a failure to society create a force of motivation to beat the odds of Garden Heights that are set against them.  The novel opens up about the societal problems within a Black teens life, the Black community, and a look at a Black family who’s not perfect nor the ideal look but full of love and open arms.

Angie Thomas’ words always leave a mark in my mind about the reality of society and the world we live in. The book holds a powerful meaning and definition of the oppression many Black men face on a daily basis all over the world and the unimaginable events that occur in our neighborhoods. It’s clear that race is still a big problem in America today, and it may be a never ending problem that we will face for years to come.  Growing up in a world where there are unwritten rules for a Black child to go by from birth just to survive in America shows the discrimination and the targets that are put on African Americans from the minute we take our first breath.  We shouldn’t be obligated or responsible for the undoing of someone else’s ignorance and harmful ways and feelings. We also shouldn’t have to deal with violence within our own neighborhoods done by mislead people who fight for their image and worth in this world. Concrete Rose addresses gang violence and calls out the Black on Black crime in our communities by showing different ways these crimes are performed and the void that they create. 

Reading Concrete Rose allowed me to understand that we are not alone in this inhumane society, that I am in control of my destiny, and to use this voice that I was given to show that I will not go unheard in a world where I am supposed to be silenced. Yes, Black lives matter all the time, but the Mavericks in America especially matter to me.Hopefully, they matter to you, too.

Publisher’s Book Description:

International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood.

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man. 

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas releases tomorrow, January 12th, from Balzer + Bray

Riley’s Post It Note Reviews: These Vengeful Hearts, Down Comes the Night and Pumpkin

With the holiday break, teen reviewer Riley Jensen was able to get some reading done and is sharing some post-it note reviews with us. Riley’s mom, that’s me, had some technical difficulties so the post it note review pics are super tiny and I apologize.

These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

Publisher’s Book Description

Anyone can ask the Red Court for a favor…but every request comes at a cost. And once the deed is done, you’re forever in their debt.

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members–the most elite female students in the school–deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities a secret known only to their ruthless leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Sixteen-year-old Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Two years ago, they caused the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. Now, Ember is determined to hold them accountable…by taking the Red Court down from the inside.

But crossing enemy lines will mean crossing moral boundaries, too–ones Ember may never be able to come back from. She always knew taking on the Red Court would come at a price, but will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?

Riley’s Post It Note Review: Very dark and twisted, but there were some things that I didn’t fully understand.

This book is already published.

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

Publisher’s Book Description

He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.

Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.

The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.

With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night.

Love makes monsters of us all.

Riley’s Post It Note Review: Lots of good twists and turns and has a great theme of things aren’t always what they seem. Nice enemy to lover.

This book publishes in March 2021 from Wednesday Books

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Publisher’s Book Description

Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon, so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth.

So when Clementine deviates from their master plan right after Waylon gets dumped, he throws caution to the wind and creates an audition tape for his favorite TV drag show, Fiercest of Them All. What he doesn’t count on is the tape accidentally getting shared with the entire school. . . . As a result, Waylon is nominated for prom queen as a joke. Clem’s girlfriend, Hannah Perez, also receives a joke nomination for prom king.

Waylon and Hannah decide there’s only one thing to do: run—and leave high school with a bang. A very glittery bang. Along the way, Waylon discovers that there is a lot more to running for prom court than campaign posters and plastic crowns, especially when he has to spend so much time with the very cute and infuriating prom king nominee Tucker Watson.

Waylon will need to learn that the best plan for tomorrow is living for today . . . especially with the help of some fellow queens. . . .

Riley’s Post It Note Review: A classic Julie Murphy feel-good book about becoming who you were meant to be and loving yourself.

This book comes out May 2021 from Balzer & Bray and is book #3 in the Dumplin’ universe

Take 5: The Last 5 Best YA Books I Read in 2020, YA fiction round 2

We started with YA. Last week I dove into nonfiction. Last week was all about Middle Grade. And today we end where we began, with another round of Teen/Young Adult fiction.

The Burning by Laura Bates

Publisher’s Book Description:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month!

What happens when you can’t run or hide from a mistake that goes viral?

This powerful young adult novel by the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project is a necessary book every young adult needs.

A rumor is like fire. And a fire that spreads online… is impossible to extinguish.

New school. Check.
New town. Check.
New last name. Check.
Social media profiles? Deleted.

Anna and her mother have moved hundreds of miles to put the past behind them. Anna hopes to make a fresh start and escape the harassment she’s been subjected to. But then rumors and whispers start, and Anna tries to ignore what is happening by immersing herself in learning about Maggie, a local woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century. A woman who was shamed. Silenced. And whose story has unsettling parallels to Anna’s own.

From Laura Bates, internationally renowned feminist and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, comes a realistic fiction story for the #metoo era. It’s a powerful call to action, reminding all readers of the implications of sexism and the role we can each play in ending it.

Karen’s Thoughts: In the song Mad Woman off of the Folklore album by Taylow Swift, Swift reminds us that they use to call women who stood up for themselves mad and burn them as witches. That is an underlining theme in The Burning as well. Anna and her mother leave to start a new life and it’s clear that something has happened. Over time we learn that Anna’s dad has died and in her grief, she developed an unhealthy relationship with a boy who shares her nudes with others. Her fresh start doesn’t go well when new people find those nudes and more. At the same time, Anna is researching for a local history project and learn about a historical woman in her new town who was burned for being a witch because she had a child out of wedlock. There is a lot going on in this book: mothers and daugthers, friendships, social media, feminism and more. But it’s all woven together in a really solid story that made me rage and then rejoice.

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Publisher’s Book Description:

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

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

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

Karen’s Thoughts: Why do seemingly good people engage in horrific acts of violence? This is one of the main questions that Kraus tackles in this ultra violent novel that explores the depth of grief and loss and mixing in a bit of psychological manipulation and toxic masculinity. Nothing is ever as it seems in Bent Heavens and then there a mindblowing twist that turns everything on its head.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Publisher’s Book Description:

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Karen’s Thoughts: The prom novel is a tried and true staple of teen/young adult fiction. And here we get a joyful prom novel starring a Black main character that will make you laugh, make you cry, and warm your cold, dead 2020 heart. It’s everything you want in a ya novel and more.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Publisher’s Book Description:

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born


Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today


Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Karen’s Thoughts: A moving look at contemporary issues regarding systemic racism and the criminal justice system by someone who all too sadly knows about it from personal experience. Told in verse, this is such a moving and uncomfortable read. I love that it demonstrates the healing and expressive power of art while taking us on this journey. Like some of the best books out there, it takes an uncomfortable look at hard truths and it’s not always an easy read, but it’s a moving and necessary one.

We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Publisher’s Book Description:

A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families–both biological and found–create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives.

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico with their eyes on the U.S. border, they follow the route of La Bestia, a system of trains that promise the hope of freedom–if they are lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and the desperation that courses through their very veins, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know that there’s no turning back, dangerous though the road ahead might be.

In this powerful story inspired by real–and current–events, the plight at our southern border is brought to painful, poignant life.

Karen’s Thoughts: Jenny Torres Sanchez is one of the best authors you’re probably not reading and this book is hands down her best one yet. It’s a ripped from the headlines Own Voices story about a group of teens fleeing Guatemala and trying to get to the sanctuary of the United States. We start out with an in depth look at their lives at home, to get an idea of what, exactly, they are fleeing and then take the harsh journey with them. This is such a painful book to read, and terrifying in its stark depiction of real life for so many, which is why it’s one of the best and most important books of our time. Well written, moving, and sadly necessary for our current times, everyone should read this book.

And there you have it, 20 of the best books I read in 2020. What do you think of my list? What books are on yours? Let’s talk about it in the comment.