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Book Review: Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

A gorgeous and magical collaboration between two critically acclaimed, powerhouse YA authors offers a richly imagined underdog story perfect for fans of Dumplin’ and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history.

But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands.

So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

Amanda’s thoughts

Individually, I love these authors. And together? Perfect. So glad they teamed up to write this magical, lovely, moving story of former best friends who team up to try to end 50 years of blond, white beauty queens.

In Meteor (or is it Meteorite?) New Mexico, the biggest thing in town is the Miss Meteor Pageant. Chicky, a “tomboy” (her term) who lives in flannel shirts and has a short “boy’s haircut” (again, her words) feels friendless. She’s sick of the bullying from the popular kids (mainly Kendra and Royce) and wonders if she could possibly stop queen bee Kendra from winning the pageant. She’d like to see Kendra lose and suffer. Around the same time Lita, Chicky’s former best friend, gets the idea to participate in the pageant. Could a brown girl made of stardust who’s being raised by the local bruja/curandera (who also came to earth with the meteor) possibly stand a chance?

The two old-but-new friends team up with Junior, a talented artist and also secretly talented cornhole player (cornhole being the most popular game in Meteor) who has long had a crush on Chicky (who, we learn, is pansexual but not out for much of the story–until she joyfully and beautifully IS out), and Cole, a kind, outspoken, trans boy, and one of the popular kids (and, it’s worth noting, brother to queen bee Kendra). Chicky’s three sisters get involved too, helping prepare Lita for the pageant and helping look out for her as others try to sabotage and stop her run for the crown.

A lot happens along the way. The characters call out racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. They fight stereotypes, they elevate each other, they find unexpected friendship, and they persist in the face of so many small-minded townspeople. The story is about the Miss Meteor Pageant, yes, but it’s really about relationships and finding your place. It’s about bringing light to the town, it’s about finding space for yourself, and it’s about belonging. Together, the four main characters find and offer strength to one another in powerful and meaningful ways. A feel-good story about being proud of your identity and opening yourself to sharing your self and your truth with others. This layered story with fantastic characters shows that trying to blend in sometimes just hides the many wonderful ways you were made to stand out. Like Chicky and Lita find out, there is space for you. You belong, just as you are.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062869913
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: Quick looks at new YA and MG graphic novels, fiction, and nonfiction

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the Post-It notes follow the description.

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge (ISBN-13: 9781419742002 Publisher: Amulet Paperbacks Publication date: 04/07/2020, Ages 13-18)

A bold and original YA graphic novel about one teen’s battle to understand her mental illness—and find her creative genius

Sometimes, the world is too much for Mona Starr. She’s sweet, geeky, and creative, but it’s hard for her to make friends and connect with other people, and her depression seems to take on a vivid, concrete form. She calls it her Matter.

The Matter seems to be everywhere, telling Mona she’s not good enough and that everyone around her wishes she’d go away. But with therapy, art, writing, and the persistence of a few good friends, Mona starts to understand her Matter and how she can turn her fears into strengths.

Heartfelt, emotionally vulnerable, and visually stunning, The Dark Matter of Mona Starris a story about battling your inner doubts and fears—and finding your creative genius.

(POST-IT SAYS: Really nice addition to the field of YA books about mental health. Emphasis on self-care, connection, therapy, art, and hope. Really gets at how depression and anxiety can feel. A quiet, introspective story many will relate to.)

Parachutes by Kelly Yang (ISBN-13: 9780062941084 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/26/2020, Ages 14-17)

Speak enters the world of Gossip Girl in this modern immigrant story from New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang about two girls navigating wealth, power, friendship, and trauma.

They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the United States while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California.

Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.

Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. But Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course when her debate coach starts working with her privately.

As they steer their own distinct paths, Dani and Claire keep crashing into one another, setting a course that will change their lives forever. 

(POST-IT SAYS: A devastating read about privilege, identity, sexual assault, socioeconomics, and speaking up. An important look at rape culture and a smart, intersectional addition to #metoo books based on the author’s own experience.)

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera (ISBN-13: 9781547603732 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 13-17)

Acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, this retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper.

(POST-IT SAYS: I don’t mind instalove, so this Latinx reenvisioning of the Greek myth worked for me. Great imagery and writing, but the uneven pacing and rushed ending detract from the overall success of the book. Still, a satisfying read about love, mental health, and culture.)

Like Spilled Water by Jennie Liu (ISBN-13: 9781541572904 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 13-18)

Nineteen-year-old Na has always lived in the shadow of her younger brother, Bao-bao, her parents’ cherished son. Years ago, Na’s parents left her in the countryside and went to work in the city, bringing Bao-bao along and committing everything to his education.

But when Bao-bao dies suddenly, Na realizes how little she knew him. Did he really kill himself because of a low score on China’s all-important college entrance exam? Na learns that Bao-bao had many secrets and that his death may not be what it seems. Na’s parents expect her to quit her vocational school and go to work, forcing Na to confront traditional expectations for and pressures on young women.

(POST-IT SAYS: A quick but powerful read. Unique setting of community college in China and compelling explorations of expectations, culture, and education. A poignant look at pressures and disappointments and identity.)

She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics . . . and the World by Caitlin Donohue (ISBN-13: 9781541579019 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 13-18)

In a complicated political era when the United States feels divided, this book celebrates feminism and female contributions to politics, activism, and communities. Each of the forty-four women profiled in this illustrated book has demonstrated her capabilities and strengths in political and community leadership and activism, both in the United States and around the world. Written in an approachable, journalistic tone and rounded out by beautiful color portraits, history, key political processes, terminology, and thought-provoking quotes, this book will inspire and encourage women everywhere to enact change in their own communities and to pursue opportunities in public affairs.

(POST-IT SAYS: A well-rounded collection that includes women of all political backgrounds and will introduce readers to many names they may not encounter in other such collections. Visually appealing, easy to browse, and packed with information.)

How to Do It Now Because It’s Not Going Away: An Expert Guide to Getting Stuff Done by Leslie Josel (ISBN-13: 9781541581616 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 13-18)

With distance learning, teens are having to manage their time and attention now more than ever.

Procrastination is especially tough for young adults. Getting started is overwhelming, it’s hard to get motivated, not knowing how long things take messes up planning, and distractions are everywhere. We are all wired to put things off, but we can learn tools and techniques to kick this habit. This book is a user-friendly guide to help teens get their tasks done. Simple, straightforward, and with a touch of humor, it’s packed with practical solutions and easily digestible tips to stay on top of homework, develop a sense of time, manage digital distractions, create easy-to-follow routines, and get unstuck. In her breezy, witty style, internationally recognized academic and parenting coach Leslie Josel opens the door to a student’s view of procrastination, dives deep into what that really looks like, and offers up her Triple Ts—tips, tools and techniques—to teach students how to get stuff done…now.

(POST-IT SAYS: Sharing this because it’s good to know about as a potential resource. Charts, time charts/worksheets, personal stories, and lists help break up intimidatingly thorough looks at various areas of procrastination. My own teenager could use this… but he’d never read it.)

Undecided, 2nd Edition: Navigating Life and Learning after High School
by Genevieve Morgan
(ISBN-13: 9781541597792 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 14-18)

For high school students all over the country, deciding what to do after graduation can be overwhelming. How do you know if college is your best choice? If it is, how do you plan for student loans? If it’s not, what are your other options?

That’s where Undecided comes in! This updated and revised edition provides a comprehensive overview of the choices available after high school, from traditional four-year colleges and trade schools to military service and gap years. Teens can choose a career path and get advice on how to succeed. Checklists, anecdotes, brainstorming activities, and journal exercises lead to well-informed decisions. Find a future that works for you!

(POST-IT SAYS: Really nice because it gives equal time and value to the many post-high school paths. Asks readers to put a lot of thought into their options, desires, and decisions. The information and aspects to consider may help make the future less overwhelming. Good for students and caregivers.)

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp (ISBN-13: 9781492636113 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 14-18)

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp comes a shocking new thriller about a group of friends tied together by a game and the deadly weekend that tears them apart.

FIVE friends go to a cabin.

FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.
NO ONE IS SAFE.

Are you ready to play?

(POST-IT SAYS: A thriller-ish story populated by a great diversity of characters (trans, autistic, disabled) who use the game as a backdrop to explore their own issues, feelings, and the mystery of what’s happening at the cabin.)

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz (ISBN-13: 9780525552864 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 07/14/2020, Ages 8-12)

This middle-grade graphic novel for fans of Roller Girl and Smile introduces Jamila and Shirley, two unlikely friends who save each other’s summers while solving their neighborhood’s biggest mysteries.

Jamila Waheed is staring down a lonely summer in a new neighborhood—until she meets Shirley Bones. Sure, Shirley’s a little strange, but both girls need a new plan for the summer, and they might as well become friends.

Then this kid Oliver shows up begging for Shirley’s help. His pet gecko has disappeared, and he’s sure it was stolen! That’s when Jamila discovers Shirley’s secret: She’s the neighborhood’s best kid detective, and she’s on the case. When Jamila discovers she’s got some detective skills of her own, a crime-solving partnership is born.

The mystery of the missing gecko turns Shirley and Jamila’s summer upside down. And when their partnership hits a rough patch, they have to work together to solve the greatest mystery of all: What it means to be a friend.

(POST-IT SAYS: Graphic novels need zero help to move off the shelves, but this is a good one to know about because of the diverse characters and the fast-paced detective element. A great, fun look at independence and friendship.)

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram (ISBN-13: 9780593108239 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/25/2020, Ages 13-17)

In this companion to the award-winning Darius the Great Is Not Okay, Darius suddenly has it all: a boyfriend, an internship, a spot on the soccer team. It’s everything he’s ever wanted—but what if he deserves better?

Darius Kellner is having a bit of a year. Since his trip to Iran, a lot has changed. He’s getting along with his dad, and his best friend Sohrab is only a Skype call away. Between his first boyfriend, Landon, varsity soccer practices, and an internship at his favorite tea shop, things are falling into place.

Then, of course, everything changes. Darius’s grandmothers are in town for a long visit, and Darius can’t tell whether they even like him. The internship is not going according to plan, Sohrab isn’t answering Darius’s calls, and Dad is far away on business. And Darius is sure he really likes Landon . . . but he’s also been hanging out with Chip Cusumano, former bully and current soccer teammate—and well, maybe he’s not so sure about anything after all.

Darius was just starting to feel okay, like he finally knew what it meant to be Darius Kellner. But maybe okay isn’t good enough. Maybe Darius deserves better.

(Link to my review of the first book, Darius the Great is Not Okay)

(POST-IT SAYS: Really lovely, perfect sequel. Looks at dating, consent, depression, family, and daily life. A very character-driven and beautifully written story. Shows that just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, everything changes. I love Darius!)

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg (ISBN-13: 9781338325034 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 14-18)

Two teenagers, strangers to each other, have decided to jump from the same bridge at the same time. But what results is far from straightforward in this absorbing, honest lifesaver from acclaimed author Bill Konigsberg.

Aaron and Tillie don’t know each other, but they are both feeling suicidal, and arrive at the George Washington Bridge at the same time, intending to jump. Aaron is a gay misfit struggling with depression and loneliness. Tillie isn’t sure what her problem is — only that she will never be good enough.

On the bridge, there are four things that could happen:

Aaron jumps and Tillie doesn’t.

Tillie jumps and Aaron doesn’t.

They both jump.

Neither of them jumps.

Or maybe all four things happen, in this astonishing and insightful novel from Bill Konigsberg.

(POST-IT SAYS: The unique format of following all the possible paths will grab readers’ attention. Konigsberg’s excellent writing and compassionate telling of a story that he intimately relates to make for a moving and realistic look at mental health and hope.)

Digging for the Truth, a guest post by Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Isabelle Santiago

If you’re like me, I try my best to avoid consuming the news all day. This is not an easy feat considering the world we’re currently experiencing. The reality is that to get to the truth about things takes more than just a quick glance at a headline. Our most “trusted” news outlets continue to fail us. How can we prepare ourselves when the established media institutions bend the truth? There is fake news and then there is also this idea of sugarcoating the truth. Why not use the words “white supremacy” or “racist” when you can use “racially tinged” and “racially motivated?”

However, this essay is not about linguistics or the history of how words are used to perpetuate the racial structure that so many benefit from. This essay is about High School history class. When I was attending High School in New York, I attended a public school specializing in secretarial studies and computer sciences. The goal was to prep students to enter the work force as assistants. I learned how to type and spent most summers temping in various offices around the city. The funny thing was that I loved history. I devoured books exploring the period between the late 1950s to the late 1970s. During that period, the world felt as if it was at a crossroads. Students and young people all across the United States were rising up to make their voices heard against a tyrannical government. I wanted so desperately to read about the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican youth movement who joined the Black Panthers to help aid their community. I wanted to read about the Chicano Movement, La Raza, and more.

Sadly, this wouldn’t be the case. The history books I was forced to read didn’t mention these Brown and Black social movements. And if I ever wanted to search anything tied to Puerto Rico, well, I was out of luck. Instead I cobbled together what I could, creating a mix match selection from the library which included memoir, fiction, and poetry. I read Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets right alongside Alex Healey and Malcom X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  I read Bobby Seale’s Power to the People with Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t find works on Latin America’s liberation theology or the Young Lords work in Chicago and the Bronx. It would be later in college when I would be able to connect with those periods. Perhaps this is the reason why I decided to find ways to incorporate history in my young adult novels. I’m not writing historical fiction but allowing these characters to explore their cities through a historical lens.

The Education of Margot Sanchez

In my first novel The Education of Margot Sanchez, I introduced gentrification and its effects on Brown and Black families. But my latest young adult novel goes further with this idea. In Never Look Back, I flip the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and set it in mostly in the Bronx, New York with two Afro Latino protagonists. Pheus is a wannabe bachata singer who meets and falls in love with Eury, a Puerto Rican displaced by Hurricane Maria and haunted by an angry spirit. The novel is a love story but it is also a story of how trauma infects each generation. Pheus is a fairly typical high schooler, one with the gift of musical talent. He is also a great history buff. Through Pheus, we are able to get insight, however short, into the colonization of Puerto Rico, the Young Lords occupation of Lincoln Hospital in the 1970s to help their community, and the traumatic effects of the military on young people. Pheus doesn’t just see a building, he sees the blood and tears imprinted on the walls.

Never Look Back

I love this idea of the school curriculums moving between fiction and history. High School English and US history are great places to have a robust conversation. In recent years, there have been wonderful works being produced in children’s book spaces. Why not pair Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano with The Young Lords: A Reader by Iris Morales? What about Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican with The Taste of Sugar: A Novel by Marisel Vera? A school guide has already been created for the award-winning New York Times’  1619 Project. What if the project was paired with Kekla Magoon’s Fire in the Streets or Renée Watson’s Some Places More Than Others

If a young reader is not into historical fiction, there are still a lot of innovative ways to introduce overlooked historical moments through young adult and middle grade novels. The excitement is not only discovering the pages can be mirrors but can also bring much needed light to a period times overlooked by our history books. Let young readers question the very text books being handed to them. Let them raise their eyebrows at what is left off the page and nudge them to present their doubts through the use of fictional characters who are also on a similar journey. The goal is to expand what is presented in approved texts and have them find the missing voices in between the lines because no one story book or newspaper holds the full truth.

Meet Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Vanessa Acosta

Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and the author of children’s books Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, Dealing in DreamsThe Education of Margot Sanchez, and the forthcoming young adult novel Never Look Back (September 15, 2020) by Bloomsbury. Her work has appeared in The Washington PostNew York Times, and Elle, to name a few. A Bronx, New York native, Lilliam currently lives in Los Angeles. 

About NEVER LOOK BACK

Never Look Back

Expertly blends reality and fantasy to explore what’s behind love and loss, what it takes to heal.” – Randy Ribay, author of National Book Award finalist Patron Saints of Nothing

Acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, this retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper.

ISBN-13: 9781547603732
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Psst–Wanna Hear a Secret? Keeping Things Private in My Life in the Fish Tank, a guest post by Barbara Dee

This may sound funny to admit, but I’ve only recently realized that all my recent books are about secrecy.

I didn’t write these books with a recurring theme in mind.  My latest Middle Grade (or, to be precise, Upper Middle Grade) books explore a variety of  “tough topics”–sexual orientation (Star-Crossed),  pediatric cancer (Halfway Normal), eating disorders (Everything I Know About You), sexual harassment (Maybe He Just Likes You).  My next book, My Life in the Fish Tank (Aladdin/S&S, Sept 15, 2020) is about a family of four kids unsettled by the oldest son’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Looking over my shoulder, though, I see that what these very different stories have in common  is a protagonist struggling under the burden of a secret.  In Star-Crossed and Maybe He Just Likes You, it’s a secret that shouldn’t be a secret at all. In Halfway Normal, the secret is a form of self-protection. In Everything I Know About You and My Life in the Fish Tank, the secret is intended to protect others. But in all these stories, whatever motivates the desire to hide information, the secret is a source of anxiety, responsible for tensions with the protagonist’s friends and family.

My Life in the Fish Tank

In My Life in the Fish Tank, Zinny doesn’t want to keep her brother Gabriel’s mental illness secret–it’s her parents who insist on it. And actually, her parents never use the word secret–they simply ask that the kids in the family keep it private.  “For Gabriel’s sake,” they explain. 

But Zinny immediately sees through their language.

“You mean secret?” I asked.

“Not secret, private,” Dad said. He flashed mom a look.

“Okay,” I said.

But if there was a difference between those two words–“secret” and “private”–I didn’t know what it was. 

It’s not that Zinny wants to talk about her brother’s bipolar disorder (“The whole thing hurt my heart in a way I couldn’t describe…I couldn’t explain to anyone how it felt to wonder if he’d be okay.”) She’s also (rightfully) wary of friends like Maisie who pry, expecting gossipy details on demand.

But what Zinny comes to realize is that not talking to people about Gabriel  has a cost. If you don’t share vital information about yourself, if you hide your true feelings, you push people away. As the hospital social worker tells Nora in Halfway Normal, there’s no requirement that she “entertain anyone with (her) cancer story…Although not sharing can be tricky too…Maybe you want to consider how other people would feel about that.” 

I think one reason I write about secrecy so much is that in middle school, intimacy–sharing secrets–is the currency of friendship, especially among girls. So in Maybe He Just Likes You, when Mila doesn’t tell Zara about the boys’ s sexual harassment game, it seals the fate of their already rocky relationship. In Star-Crossed, Mattie’s instinct not to tell loyal but loudmouthed Tessa about her crush on Gemma almost wrecks their friendship too. In Halfway Normal Nora’s desire to keep her “cancer story” to herself is understandable–but it threatens her bonds with Harper and Griffin. Withholding secrets from your best friends can be  dangerous, a source of conflict–even when it’s for a good reason.

Sometimes I hear from adult readers, “I just wished the character had told an adult.” This comment always surprises me.  For upper elementary and middle school kids, one of the worst things you can be is a tattletale, which is why Tally resists sharing  Ava’s secret in Everything I Know About You. And when the secret is your own, you also don’t rush off to tell a grownup. You usually do one of two things: either you share it with your friends (if it’s the sort of secret that’s shareable) or you turn inward–closing yourself off, obsessing in potentially unhealthy ways.

Because as a bright, observant twelve-year-old, Zinny is starting to see that adults aren’t perfect and can’t solve all your problems. She watches her parents with sharp eyes: the way after her brother’s diagnosis her dad withdraws from the rest of the family but adopts a “bright, cheery voice” when they visit Gabriel at the residential treatment center  (“I couldn’t help thinking that he’d kept it from us, hidden away. Almost like he thought we didn’t deserve it or something.”) And even though Mom insists that she wants to keep Gabriel’s condition “private” out of respect for Gabriel, Zinny notes how Mom lies to her neighbor Mrs. Halloran, telling her that Gabriel is “back at school and working hard.”   Horrified, Zinny wonders: “Why would Mom lie about Gabriel? Was she ashamed that her own kid was crazy? Because I couldn’t think of any other reason.”

Eventually  Zinny is brave enough to confront her parents. She doesn’t call them out for stigmatizing mental illness;  she’s a kid, so she’s more focused on the way their insistence on secrecy has affected both the family and her own social life.  At the same time, Zinny has been identifying people she can confide in: kids like Kailani and the others in the Lunch Club. Adults like Mr. Patrick, the excellent guidance counselor who allows Zinny to proceed at her own pace, gradually feeling comfortable enough to share her secret. In all my stories about kids with secrets, there are good friends and less-good ones, adults who demand information (like Ms. Castro in Halfway Normal) and adults who offer support in unobtrusive ways that earn the protagonist’s trust  (like Mr. Torres in Star-Crossed and both Ms. Molina and Mr. Patrick  in Fish Tank).

If you ask me what Middle Grade books are about, I’d say they’re about this: learning to analyze behavior.  Evaluating friendships in ever-changing light. Seeing adults not as all-powerful, all-knowing paragons, but as complicated, flawed (if often benevolent) human beings.

And then figuring out your relationship with all these people–whom you can trust, especially with your precious secrets.  

Meet Barbara Dee

Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

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My wonderful local indie is Scattered Books.  They ship everywhere. I’m doing a signing there on Sat, Sept 26 from 2-4 pm. It will be outside, in front of the bookstore—COVID safe!

About My Life in the Fish Tank

My Life in the Fish Tank

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

Book Review: My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee

My Life in the Fish Tank

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

Amanda’s thoughts

The summary up there is pretty thorough and hits most of the main plot points of the story. What you need to know, what you can’t really learn from the summary, is how nuanced and emotional this story is. Many families choose to keep something like a mental illness private/secret/a family matter. I’m not here to judge people doing that (though, we all know I’m super open about our mental health issues here and think being open helps eliminate stigma and leads to more help for everyone) because mental illness is hard, family can be hard, choices are hard, and so on. But certainly for Zinny, being told to keep it private that her older brother is bipolar and in a treatment facility really destroys her.

Zinny’s parents become distant and shut down as the family tries to get through this hard time without really talking to one another about it or being open. Her mother shows signs of depression and takes a leave from her job as a teacher. Her father is always at work. No one makes dinner or takes care of things, leaving Zinny to feel like she should cook, get groceries, and so on. Her secrecy drives a wedge between her and her best friends, leaving her feeling even more isolated and alone. Her older sister is dealing with their brother’s diagnosis and absence differently than Zinny is, so she also feels a loss of kinship with her sister. She’s confused, ashamed, upset, and still not entirely clear what’s happening. Her feels even worse when she hears her mom straight up lie about her brother (he’s back at college and doing great!).

While all of that is really hard, surprising good things happen. Dee doesn’t leave Zinny alone and despairing. She gives her a great science teacher, Ms. Molina, who lets Zinny come help in her classroom during lunch, who supports her without overtly making it about what’s happening at home, and who encourages Zinny to be making connections and continuing to live her life. Dee also gives Zinny a group of new friends, a lunch bunch of other middle school kids dealing with rough issues. While Zinny isn’t thrilled to be in this group at first, she gets a lot out of those connections and finds not just kids who are also experiencing difficult times, but kids who want to be her friend, who include her, and who show her it’s okay to be dealing with family issues. Her family is struggling, but Zinny is surrounded by support and true caring. And while her parents definitely make missteps along the way (as a parent, I can safely say we all do, even if we’re certain we’re trying to do our best), they all work together to figure out how to get through this time.

Flashbacks to both happier times and moments with Gabriel that illuminate how long his mental illness went undiagnosed create a bigger and better picture of Zinny’s family. Given how many children are most certainly dealing with mental illness at home or with someone close to them, this is a much needed book that shows how hard and scary it can be, but also how much help there is and how much hope there is. Zinny’s story moves from feeling like they’re all just barely surviving this upheaval to seeing how everyone learns to function more honestly and healthily in this new reality. It’s hardly news to say that mental illness affects the entire family, but it’s so important that we see the ways this can happen and understand that it’s okay to be affected and to need to figure out a way forward. An important read and highly recommended.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

New Books Alert: Thrillers, sequels, nonfiction, poetry, and more!

There is very little that has been making me feel anything other than MEH these days, but spying some book mail waiting for me on the front steps always gives me a lift. The pandemic has revealed an endless list of things we took for granted that may not ever return to the way they were, and one of those things is definitely getting near daily deliveries of ARCs. It feels like an extra nice treat when books show up now.

That said, here’s what has shown up at the Minnesota branch of TLT. All descriptions from the publishers.

Harrow Lake

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (ISBN-13: 9781984814531 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/25/2020, Ages 12-17)

A can’t-put-down, creepy thriller about the daughter of a horror film director who’s not afraid of anything—until she gets to Harrow Lake.

Things I know about Harrow Lake:
1. It’s where my father shot his most disturbing slasher film.
2. There’s something not right about this town.

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker—she thinks nothing can scare her.

But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s quickly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map—and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone—or something—stalking her every move.

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

Darius the Great Deserves Better

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram (ISBN-13: 9780593108239 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/25/2020, Ages 12-17)

In this companion to the award-winning Darius the Great Is Not Okay, Darius suddenly has it all: a boyfriend, an internship, a spot on the soccer team. It’s everything he’s ever wanted—but what if he deserves better?

Darius Kellner is having a bit of a year. Since his trip to Iran, a lot has changed. He’s getting along with his dad, and his best friend Sohrab is only a Skype call away. Between his first boyfriend, Landon, varsity soccer practices, and an internship at his favorite tea shop, things are falling into place.

Then, of course, everything changes. Darius’s grandmothers are in town for a long visit, and Darius can’t tell whether they even like him. The internship is not going according to plan, Sohrab isn’t answering Darius’s calls, and Dad is far away on business. And Darius is sure he really likes Landon . . . but he’s also been hanging out with Chip Cusumano, former bully and current soccer teammate—and well, maybe he’s not so sure about anything after all.

Darius was just starting to feel okay, like he finally knew what it meant to be Darius Kellner. But maybe okay isn’t good enough. Maybe Darius deserves better.

The Radium Girls: Young Readers' Edition: The Scary but True Story of the Poison that Made People Glow in the Dark

The Radium Girls: Young Readers’ Edition: The Scary but True Story of the Poison that Made People Glow in the Dark by Kate Moore (ISBN-13: 9781728210346 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 10-16)

The acclaimed national bestseller about America’s glowing girls and their brave fight for justice, now adapted for young readers

Amidst the excitement of the early twentieth century, hundreds of young women spend their days hard at work painting watch dials for troops overseas using glow-in-the-dark paint made with radium. They are well paid and consider themselves lucky—until they begin to fall mysteriously ill. As the corporations try to cover up a shocking secret, these determined shining girls suddenly find themselves at the center of a historic and deadly scandal.

Written with a captivating voice and galloping pace, The Radium Girls illuminates the courage and tenacity of these incredible women, whose determination to fight back led to life-changing regulation, advanced nuclear research, and ultimately saved countless lives.

This enthralling and accessible young readers’ edition of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller includes all-new material including a glossary, timeline, dozens of bonus photos, and more.

The Bridge

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg (ISBN-13: 9781338325034 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 14-18)

Two teenagers, strangers to each other, have decided to jump from the same bridge at the same time. But what results is far from straightforward in this absorbing, honest lifesaver from acclaimed author Bill Konigsberg.

Aaron and Tillie don’t know each other, but they are both feeling suicidal, and arrive at the George Washington Bridge at the same time, intending to jump. Aaron is a gay misfit struggling with depression and loneliness. Tillie isn’t sure what her problem is — only that she will never be good enough.

On the bridge, there are four things that could happen:

Aaron jumps and Tillie doesn’t.

Tillie jumps and Aaron doesn’t.

They both jump.

Neither of them jumps.

Or maybe all four things happen, in this astonishing and insightful novel from Bill Konigsberg.

Like Spilled Water

Like Spilled Water by Jennie Liu (ISBN-13: 9781541572904 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 13-18)

Nineteen-year-old Na has always lived in the shadow of her younger brother, Bao-bao, her parents’ cherished son. Years ago, Na’s parents left her in the countryside and went to work in the city, bringing Bao-bao along and committing everything to his education.

But when Bao-bao dies suddenly, Na realizes how little she knew him. Did he really kill himself because of a low score on China’s all-important college entrance exam? Na learns that Bao-bao had many secrets and that his death may not be what it seems. Na’s parents expect her to quit her vocational school and go to work, forcing Na to confront traditional expectations for and pressures on young women.

She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics . . . and the World

She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics . . . and the World by Caitlin Donohue (ISBN-13: 9781541579019 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2020, Ages 13-18)

In a complicated political era when the United States feels divided, this book celebrates feminism and female contributions to politics, activism, and communities. Each of the forty-four women profiled in this illustrated book has demonstrated her capabilities and strengths in political and community leadership and activism, both in the United States and around the world. Written in an approachable, journalistic tone and rounded out by beautiful color portraits, history, key political processes, terminology, and thought-provoking quotes, this book will inspire and encourage women everywhere to enact change in their own communities and to pursue opportunities in public affairs.

Meme

Meme by Aaron Starmer (ISBN-13: 9780735231924 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/08/2020, Ages 14-17)

A tense, psychological thriller for the internet age about the destructive combination of self-important goals and self-serving plans.

Cole Weston—former friend, former boyfriend—has become dangerous, erratic. Something needs to be done. Getting rid of Cole is practically a public service. So high school seniors Holly Morse, Grayson Hobbs, Logan Bailey, and Meeka Miller devise a plan. Kill Cole. Bury him in the woods behind Meeka’s house. Bury him deep, deep in the ground along with four old cell phones, wiped except for their video confession as insurance that no one will ever betray the group. Everything is perfect, until the meme appears. It’s a screenshot from their confession… a confession that’s supposed to be entombed with Cole forever in the cold Vermont dirt.

The Tiny Mansion

The Tiny Mansion by Keir Graff (ISBN-13: 9781984813855 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/08/2020, Ages 8-12)

In this pitch-perfect middle grade adventure, twelve-year-old Dagmar must endure a summer living off-the-grid with her family in a tiny home.

The last thing twelve-year-old Dagmar wants is to spend her summer vacation squished into a tiny house with her dad, her stepmom, and her annoying five-year-old half brother. But after a sudden financial setback, her family is evicted from their Oakland apartment, and that’s just where they end up, parked among the towering redwoods of Northern California.

As Dagmar explores the forest around their new and (hopefully) temporary home, she discovers they are living next door to an eccentric tech billionaire and his very unusual extended family. There’s his brother, a woodsman who sets dangerous booby traps all over the place, and his sister, a New Age animal lover who meditates to whale songs in an isolation tank. And then there’s the billionaire’s son, Blake, who has everything he could ever wish for—except maybe a friend.

But when a wildfire engulfs the forest, everyone—rich and poor, kid and adult—will have to work together to escape. And with both families at risk of losing everything, it turns out it’s not the size of the home but the people you share it with that matters.

Sources Say

Sources Say by Lori Goldstein (ISBN-13: 9780593117408 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/08/2020, Ages 12-17)

Two exes. One election. All the drama.

For fans of Becky Albertalli and Morgan Matson comes a funny, heartfelt novel about feuding exes running for class president and the scandal that makes the previously boring school election the newest trending hashtag.

At Acedia High, student council has always been a joke. Nobody pays attention. Nobody cares.

But that changes when someone plasters the halls with Photoshopped images of three “perfect tens”—composites of scantily clad girls made from real photos of female students at the school. Quickly dubbed the “Frankengirls,” the scandal rocks the student body. And the two presidential candidates, budding influencer Angeline Quinn and charming jock Leo Torres, jump on the opportunity to propose their solutions and secure votes. Fresh from a messy public breakup, Angeline and Leo fight to win, and their battle both mesmerizes and divides the school.

The election fills the pages of The Red and Blue, the school newspaper run by Angeline’s sister, Cat. The Quinn sisters share a room and a grade but little else, and unlike her more sensationalist sister, Cat prides herself on reporting the facts. So when a rival newspaper pops up—written by an anonymous source and the epitome of “fake news”—Cat’s journalistic buttons are pushed. Rumors fly, secrets are leaked, and the previously mundane student election becomes anything but boring.

Even If We Break

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp (ISBN-13: 9781492636113 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 14-18)

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp comes a shocking new thriller about a group of friends tied together by a game and the deadly weekend that tears them apart.

FIVE friends go to a cabin.
FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.
NO ONE IS SAFE.

Are you ready to play?

Watch Over Me

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour (ISBN-13: 9780593108970 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 14-17)

Nina LaCour delivers another emotional knockout with Watch Over Me, the much-anticipated follow-up to the Printz Award-winning We Are Okay

★ “Gripping; an emotion-packed must-read.” –Kirkus, starred review
★ “Moving, unsettling, and full of atmospheric beauty.” –SLJ, starred review 


Mila is used to being alone.

Maybe that’s why she said yes. Yes to a second chance in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.

But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a teaching job and a place to live on an isolated part of the Northern California coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home—a real home. The farm is a refuge, but it’s also haunted by the past. And Mila’s own memories are starting to rise to the surface.

Nina LaCour, the Printz Award–winning author of We Are Okay, delivers another emotional knockout with Watch Over Me, a modern ghost story about trauma and survival, chosen family and rebirth.

Puppy Problems

Puppy Problems by Paige Braddock (ISBN-13: 9780593117439 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/22/2020, Ages 4-8)

A goofy new puppy rocks the world of a high-strung dog and a snarky cat in this hilarious graphic novel for early readers.

Crackers is a rescue dog who’s a bit on the nervous side, but pretty comfy at home with Butter, a very plump cat who—like all cats—is all about himself. The two pets have a good life: big backyard, nice couch, good eats, and an owner who goes to work every day so they can pretty much do what they want.

Enter Peanut, a brand-new puppy with big floppy ears, unabashed energy, and no appreciation for the quiet life. The little dog is a chowhound who dips into everybody’s food bowl. He drools, he chews up stuff, he doesn’t get how stairs work, and he’s afraid of the dark. Yowl! Not to mention he’s hogging their owner’s lap. Even the squirrels in the yard are laughing at this goofy little canine.

Butter and Crackers have had it! This puppy has to go! But when the backyard gate is left open (the cat’s idea, of course!) and Peanut wanders out and gets lost, the older animals remember what it was like to be alone—and lonely. Butter and Crackers to the rescue!

Kids will laugh-out-loud at Paige Braddock’s funny, endearing art and dialogue. (She also cleverly never shows “our human,” the animals’ owner, as anything more than a pair of hands or unintelligble speech balloons.) This is a wonderful story about friendship and acceptance, with the funniest combination of pets to ever hit the page.

How It All Blew Up

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi (ISBN-13: 9780593202876 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/22/2020, Ages 14-17)

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda goes to Italy in Arvin Ahmadi’s newest incisive look at identity and what it means to find yourself by running away.

Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy—he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?

Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature… until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

At turns uplifting and devastating, How It All Blew Up is Arvin Ahmadi’s most powerful novel yet, a celebration of how life’s most painful moments can live alongside the riotous, life-changing joys of discovering who you are.

Every Body Looking

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh (ISBN-13: 9780525556206 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/22/2020, Ages 12-17)

Every Body Looking is a heavily autobiographical novel of a young woman’s struggle to carve a place for herself–for her black female body–in a world of deeply conflicting messages.

Told entirely in verse, Ada’s story encompasses her earliest memories as a child, including her abuse at the hands of a young cousin, her mother’s rejection and descent into addiction, and her father’s attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria.

The present-tense of the book is Ada’s first year at Howard University in Washington D.C., where she must finally confront the fundamental conflict between who her family says she should be and what her body tells her she must be.

Undecided, 2nd Edition: Navigating Life and Learning after High School

Undecided, 2nd Edition: Navigating Life and Learning after High School by Genevieve Morgan (ISBN-13: 9781541597792 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 14-18)

For high school students all over the country, deciding what to do after graduation can be overwhelming. How do you know if college is your best choice? If it is, how do you plan for student loans? If it’s not, what are your other options?

That’s where Undecided comes in! This updated and revised edition provides a comprehensive overview of the choices available after high school, from traditional four-year colleges and trade schools to military service and gap years. Teens can choose a career path and get advice on how to succeed. Checklists, anecdotes, brainstorming activities, and journal exercises lead to well-informed decisions. Find a future that works for you!

How to Do It Now Because It's Not Going Away: An Expert Guide to Getting Stuff Done

How to Do It Now Because It’s Not Going Away: An Expert Guide to Getting Stuff Done by Leslie Josel (ISBN-13: 9781541581616 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 10/06/2020, Ages 13-18)

Procrastination is especially tough for young adults. Getting started is overwhelming, not knowing how long things take messes up planning, and distractions are everywhere. We are all wired to put things off, but we can learn tools and techniques to kick this habit. This book is a user-friendly guide to help teens get their tasks done. Simple, straightforward, and with a touch of humor, it’s packed with practical solutions and easily digestible tips to stay on top of homework, develop a sense of time, manage digital distractions, create easy-to-follow routines, and get unstuck. Author Leslie Josel, an academic/life coach for teens, will guide readers in taking back their time and tackling responsibilities.

Wishes and Wellingtons

Wishes and Wellingtons by Julie Berry (ISBN-13: 9781728223254 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 10/13/2020, Ages 8-11)

From New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Julie Berry comes a brand new middle-grade fantasy adventure full of humor and heart.

Be careful what you wish for …

Maeve Merritt chafes at the rigid rules at her London boarding school for “Upright Young Ladies.” When punishment forces her to sort through the trash, she finds a sardine tin that houses a foul-tempered djinni with no intention of submitting to a schoolgirl as his master.

Soon an orphan boy from the charitable home next door, a mysterious tall man in ginger whiskers, a disgruntled school worker, and a take-no-prisoners business tycoon are in hot pursuit of Maeve and her magical discovery.

It’ll take all of her quick thinking and sass to set matters right. Maeve Merritt is one feisty heroine you won’t soon forget.

First published as an Audible Original in 2018

The Ravens

The Ravens by Kass Morgan, Danielle Paige (ISBN-13: 9780358098232 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 11/03/2020, Ages 14-18)

From New York Times best-selling authors Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige comes a thrilling, dark contemporary fantasy about a prestigious sorority of witches and two girls caught up in its world of sinister magic and betrayals.

At first glance, the sisters of ultra-exclusive Kappa Rho Nu—the Ravens—seem like typical sorority girls. Ambitious, beautiful, and smart, they’re the most powerful girls on Westerly College’s Savannah, Georgia, campus.

But the Ravens aren’t just regular sorority girls. They’re witches.

Scarlett Winter has always known she’s a witch—and she’s determined to be the sorority’s president, just like her mother and sister before her. But if a painful secret from her past ever comes to light, she could lose absolutely everything . . .

Vivi Devereaux has no idea she’s a witch and she’s never lived in one place long enough to make a friend. So when she gets a coveted bid to pledge the Ravens, she vows to do whatever it takes to be part of the magical sisterhood. The only thing standing in her way is Scarlett, who doesn’t think Vivi is Ravens material.

But when a dark power rises on campus, the girls will have to put their rivalry aside to save their fellow sisters. Someone has discovered the Ravens’ secret. And that someone will do anything to see these witches burn . . .

Love & Olives

Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch (ISBN-13: 9781534448834 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date: 11/10/2020, Ages 13-18)

From the New York Times bestselling author of Love & Gelato comes a Mamma Mia–inspired tale about a teen girl finding romance while trying to connect with her absent father in beautiful Santorini, Greece.

Liv Varanakis doesn’t have a lot of fond memories of her father, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight. What Liv does remember, though, is their shared love for Greek myths and the lost city of Atlantis. So when Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father explaining that National Geographic is funding a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and will she fly out to Greece and help?—Liv jumps at the opportunity.

But when she arrives to gorgeous Santorini, things are a little…awkward. There are so many questions, so many emotions that flood to the surface after seeing her father for the first time in years. And yet Liv doesn’t want their past to get in the way of a possible reconciliation. She also definitely doesn’t want Theo—her father’s charismatic so-called “protégé”—to witness her struggle.

And that means diving into all that Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the hidden caves, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (ISBN-13: 9781681199443 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/05/2021, Ages 10-14)

From Children’s Literature Legacy Award-winning author Nikki Grimes comes a feminist-forward new collection of poetry celebrating the little-known women poets of the Harlem Renaissance—paired with full-color, original art from today’s most talented female African-American illustrators.

For centuries, accomplished women—of all races—have fallen out of the historical records. The same is true for gifted, prolific, women poets of the Harlem Renaissance who are little known, especially as compared to their male counterparts. 

In this poetry collection, bestselling author Nikki Grimes uses “The Golden Shovel” poetic method to create wholly original poems based on the works of these groundbreaking women-and to introduce readers to their work. 

Each poem is paired with one-of-a-kind art from today’s most exciting female African-American illustrators, including: Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Cozbi Cabrera, Pat Cummings, Nina Crews, Laura Freeman, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, April Harrison, Ekua Holmes, Keisha Morrison, Daria Peoples-Riley, Andrea Pippins, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

Legacy also includes a foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, and poet biographies, which make this a wonderful resource and a book to cherish.

Written in Starlight

Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez (ISBN-13: 9781645671329 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 01/26/2021, Ages 14+)

An adventerous South American Tomb Raider! This hotly anticipated companion to Woven in Moonlight follows an outcast Condesa, as she braves the jungle to forge an alliance with the lost city of gold.

If the jungle wants you, it will have you…

Catalina Quiroga is a Condesa without a country. She’s lost the Inkasisa throne, the loyalty of her people, and her best friend. Banished to the perilous Yanu Jungle, Catalina knows her chances of survival are slim, but that won’t stop her from trying to escape. Her duty is to rule.

While running for her life, Catalina is rescued by Manuel, the son of her former general who has spent years searching for allies. With his help, Catalina could find the city of gold that’s home to the fierce Illari people and strike a deal with them for an army to retake her throne.

But the elusive Illari are fighting a battle of their own—a mysterious blight is corrupting the jungle, laying waste to everything they hold dear. As a seer, Catalina should be able to help, but her ability to read the future in the stars is as feeble as her survival instincts. While searching for the Illari, Catalina must reckon with her duty and her heart to find her true calling, which is key to stopping the corruption before it destroys the jungle completely.

On the Power of Rereading

I’ve always been what I like to refer to as a ‘chronic rereader.’ It started, of course, when I was a young child and demanded Make Way for Ducklings every night for what probably seemed an eternity to my poor mother. It continued once I learned to read for myself. I had a shelf full of books and would reread them constantly. I vividly remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott books over and over again. In fact, I stopped counting the number of times I’d reread Little Women when I hit 50.

This had certain advantages when I was a child. It built and reinforced a really spectacular vocabulary. I learned a great deal about narrative structure, and am even able to readily predict certain tropes before they are made evident.

In my current position as a children’s librarian, it helps me to defend the reading habits of many of the young people I serve. A parent who complains that all their child wants to read is Diary of a Wimpy Kid books on repeat will find no ally in me. What they will get is an earful about vocabulary development and reading comprehension, as well as fostering a love of reading. Followed, of course, by a list of read-alike titles to suggest but not force on their child.

But what does rereading mean to me now, as an adult? In our current circumstances it provides a great deal of comfort to revisit beloved characters and settings. It also offers an opportunity to reevaluate the books you like to recommend to readers. Do they hold up after a few years? Are they really as great as you remember?

I recently reread some of my favorite books to recommend to reluctant teen readers, Hold Me Closer Necromancer and Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride. I’m pleased to report that they more than hold up. Her world building skills are in great evidence in these books, as is her gift for characterization. If you haven’t had a chance to read these, I strongly recommend them.

So go forth and be a champion of rereading!

September/October Comics Roundup

Hey, friends! It’s been quite awhile since we’ve done a comics roundup here at TLT, so here’s a few MG and YA comics and graphic novels releasing in September and October that you might be interested in!

Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse. September 1. Random House Graphic. Effie has a new life with new family members in Brooklyn, but wait until she realizes that magic runs in the family!!

Flamer by Mike Curato. September 1. Holt Books for Young Readers. It’s the summer between middle school and high school and Aidan is away at camp. While there, he deals with bullies, friendships, and a boy he can’t stop thinking about.

Teen Titans: Beast Boy by Kami Garcia. Illustrated by Gabriel Picolo. September 1. DC Ink. Gar has spent his whole life being overlooked. When a dare catches the eye of the popular kids, his social status soars. But other things are changing too–physically. Can he get a hold on his social life and his body before his life spins out of control?

Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros. September 22. Quill Tree Books.  13 year old Jo runs an anonymous blog about her family, is starting to come to terms with both 8th grade and the fact that she might have a crush on Freddie, the cute girl who edits the school paper.

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff. October 13. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books. Jason Reynolds’s acclaimed book Long Way Down, about a boy on an elevator with a mission, is back in a haunting new graphic novel adaptation.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. October 13. Random House Graphic. Tiến loves his family and friends, but he has a secret he’s been keeping from them. Can he find a way to tell it?

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater, illustrated by Morgan Beem. October 13. DC Comics.  Twins Walker and Alec are different, but inseparable. Spending their last summer before college with family in a new town, they discover that the swamp holds something of interest to them.

I hope you find something in this roundup for your school, library, or yourself. Happy reading!

Book Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air

Publisher’s 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.

Amanda’s thoughts

This incredible novel in verse is definitely one of my top reads of 2020. The reality is that books about racism, the criminal justice system, and the prison industrial complex will always be both timely and timeless. But, I do think that at this particular time in history, maybe more people than ever will be drawn to this story and open to really sitting with what they learn from what happens to Amal and how it affects him.

As Amal goes through a trial and then is sent to a juvenile detention center, readers see the many ways racism and racist systems and institutions have tried to break Amal his entire life. Amal is fully aware of the fact that he has rarely even been seen as just a kid, that his every move can be misconstrued as threatening, angry, guilty. He’s not seen as a boy but a man, a criminal, a stereotype. Hardly anyone sees the real him—not the teachers at his arts high school, not the judge, not the corrections officers. Charged with aggravated assault and battery (Amal admits to being in the fight, to throwing the first punch, but not the last, the one that landed a white boy in a coma), Amal has too much time to ruminate over the many ways life has already been a prison for him. As he moves through the system and eventually falls into the routine of his life in prison, he constantly thinks of slave ships, of shackles, of auction blocks, of no freedom. Amal shows readers how he’s been boxed in his whole life.

Perhaps no page is more moving, more devastating, than the one where, on the day of his conviction, Amal memorizes his inmate number, his crime, and his time, and forgets his school ID number, his top colleges, and his class schedule. Stripped of his humanity, Amal becomes just another number in the school-to-prison pipeline. We see people fail Amal again and again, but also, surprisingly, we see people really see him for who he is and push him to retain his identity (an artist, a poet) while in prison. These people include other inmates who appreciate his talents, a corrections officer who understands his need to create art, and a teacher who visits and tells Amal she’s a prison abolitionist.

A deeply moving, profound, and infuriating look at how we fail Black boys, at the miscarriage of justice, at racist systems, and so much more. An essential purchase.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062996480
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Movies and Media in Not Your #Lovestory, a guest post by Sonia Hartl

When I sat down to write NOT YOUR #LOVESTORY, I didn’t realize at first how big of a role older movies would play in my story. I knew I wanted my main character, Macy, to be a YouTuber and I knew my premise would involve Macy going viral through a series of tweets captured by a stranger, but it took some time for me to land on what she did with her YouTube channel.

I watch a lot of older movies with my own teenage daughter, and we sometimes poke fun at them, but we also talk about what we think the movies are trying to say, or what they say to us. It really made me realize how media can bridge the gap between generations, and how movies can make it possible for us to have conversations we wouldn’t otherwise know how to start.

A big theme in NOT YOUR #LOVESTORY is how destructive media can be, especially when people are photographed without consent or when they have personal tragedies picked apart, but I also wanted to show how it can connect and heal as well. Movies are a way for Macy’s mom to say things to her daughter that she isn’t able to vocalize, but it’s also a way for Macy to explore where she fits in the world. They allow her to shape her own views based on the way they speak to her and what she takes away from them.

I also wanted these older movies to act as symbol for the town she lives in as a whole. The way these films are often viewed through a nostalgic lens, but there is always a new way of looking at things that is often much deeper than what appears on the surface. Media has its ugly side, but it’s also what connects us and lets us see the commonalities we have with each other.

Meet Sonia Hartl

Sonia Hartl is the author of NOT YOUR #LOVESTORYand HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME (Page Street), which received a starred review in BookPage and earned nominations for the Georgia Peach Book Award, YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year, and ALA’s Rise: A Feminist Book Project List. When she’s not writing or reading, she’s enjoying pub trivia, marathoning Disney movies, or taking a walk outside in the fall. She’s a member of SCBWI and the Managing Director for Pitch Wars 2020. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and two daughters. Follow her on Twitter @SoniaHartl1.   

About NOT YOUR #LOVESTORY

Not Your #Lovestory

#PlaneBae meets Gilmore Girls in this hilarious and heartfelt story about the addictiveness of Internet fame and the harsh realities of going viral.

Macy Evans dreams of earning enough income from her YouTube channel, R3ntal Wor1d, to leave her small, Midwestern town. But when she meets a boy named Eric at a baseball game, and accidently dumps her hotdog in his lap, her disastrous “meet-cute” becomes the topic of a viral thread. Now it’s not loyal subscribers flocking to her channel, it’s Internet trolls. And they aren’t interested in her reviews of VHS tapes—they only care about her relationship with Eric.

Eric is overly eager to stretch out his fifteen minutes of fame, but Macy fears this unwanted attention could sabotage her “real-life” relationships—namely with the shy boy-next-door, Paxton, who she’s actually developing feelings for. Macy knows she should shut the lie down, though she can’t ignore the advertising money, or the spark she gets in her chest whenever someone clicks on her videos. Eric shouldn’t be the only one allowed to reap the viral benefits. But is faking a relationship for clicks and subscribers worth hurting actual people?

ISBN-13: 9781645670544
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years