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Book Review: Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq

Publisher’s description

In this middle-grade graphic novel, Nisrin will have to rely on faith, friends, and family to help her recover after she is the target of a hate crime

Nisrin is a 13-year-old Bangladeshi-American girl living in Milwaukie, Oregon, in 2002. As she nears the end of eighth grade, she gives a presentation for World Culture Day about Bangladesh while wearing a traditional cultural dress. On her way home, she is the victim of a hate crime when a man violently attacks her for wearing a headscarf.

Deeply traumatized by the experience, Nisrin spends the summer depressed and isolated. Other than weekly therapy, Nisrin doesn’t leave the house until fall arrives and it’s time for her to start freshman year at a new school. The night before class starts, Nisrin makes a decision. She tells her family she’s going to start wearing hijab, much to their dismay. Her mother and grandparent’s shocked and angry reactions confuse her—but they only strengthen her resolve.

This choice puts Nisrin on a path to not only discover more about Islam, but also her family’s complicated relationship with the religion, and the reasons they left Bangladesh in the first place. On top of everything else, she’s struggling to fit in at school—her hijab makes her a target for students and faculty alike. But with the help from old friends and new, Nisrin is starting to figure out what really makes her happy. Piece by Piece is an original graphic novel about growing up and choosing your own path, even if it leads you to a different place than you expected.

Amanda’s thoughts

As the publisher’s description indicates, this is a pretty intense read. Bangladeshi American Nisrin lives in the Portland, Oregon area in 2002. While walking home with her best friend Firuzeh (who is Iranian and Black) one day after 8th grade, an angry white supremacist guy accosts them and tears off Nisrin’s headscarf. The attack deeply scars both girls and Nisrin decides that when she returns to school for 9th grade, she will start wearing hijab. She feels safer this way, kind of hidden, and also has a growing interest in Islam, something her grandfather feels is “nonsense” and that they raised to “better than this.” But she begins to investigate Islam on her own, while standing out at school for her hijab. She faces racist teachers, is harassed and bullied, has her scarf ripped off again, and is called a terrorist. Thankfully, there are good things in Nisrin’s life, too. She makes a new friend, Veronica, and patches things up with Firuzeh, who was also deeply affected by the attack, but who feels like Nisrin never bothered to recognize or understand that. In addition to learning more about Islam and committing to wearing hijab, Nisrin learns about her mother’s childhood in Bangladesh and how it shaped her and how she has raised Nisrin. She gets lots of support from her mother and grandmother, as the story goes on, but still butts heads with her grandpa over her choices and growing beliefs.

This is a very emotional and powerful read, with the assault and resulting trauma coloring much of the story. Nisrin’s story touches on choices, pride, permission, acceptance, tolerance, trauma, friendship, and identity. Back matter gives readers a brief overview of Bangladesh in the form of a presentation Nisrin did in 8th grade. My review copy was in black and white, but showed some of the full-color artwork at the end and I’m going to have to at least flip through a finished copy at some point so I can fully enjoy the finished art. This unique graphic novel will educate and resonate with readers. A good addition to collections.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419740190
Publisher: Amulet Paperbacks
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 10 – 18 Years

What Horror–Yes, Horror–Can Do For Kids, a guest post by Josh Allen

A few days before the recent release of my second middle-grade horror book, Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom, I visited my local bookstore to sign the copies they were preparing to shelve.

“We’re going to put them in the children’s horror section,” the cheerful clerk told me. “We didn’t used to have a children’s horror section, but we get asked for so much of it, we had to make one.” She pointed, and there it was. 

A children’s horror section! In my local bookstore! Finally!

But I knew a lot of people would wander past that section and wonder. 

Children’s horror? In 2021? Don’t kids get enough of that already in their everyday lives? 

Those are fair questions. Obviously, it’s a terrifying time to be to be a kid, and that statement is so apparent I’m not even going to spend a few sentences defending it. 

And yet, children’s horror is rising. We see this not only in bookstore shelving practices, but in School Library Journal articles like “Six Late Summer Scares for Tweens” and “17 Books to Get Readers in the Halloween Spirit.” We see it in the success of the recent Fear Street series on Netflix (based on the R. L. Stine books). And we see it in the rising popularity of writers like Christian McKay Heidicker, Katherine Arden, and Jonathan Auxier. And the list goes on. 

But . . . why is horror rising? When kids visit libraries and bookstores, why, in these terrifying times, are so many of them seeking out horror? Why not reach instead for some pleasant escapism? A rollicking adventure? A magical voyage? A bit of modern day humor? Wouldn’t those kinds of stories give today’s kids the all-too-welcome distractions they need?

But . . . horror? Really?

I believe the answer to horror’s appeal can be explained, in part, by the words of Natalie Goldberg. Literature, she tells us in the introduction of her book Writing Down the Bones, is for people who are “unconsciously seeking peace, a coming together, an acknowledgement of our happiness or an examination of what is broken, hoping to embrace and bring our suffering to wholeness.”

An examination of what is broken

Hoping to embrace and bring our suffering to wholeness

When kids ask for scary books, I believe we’re witnessing exactly what Goldberg describes above—human beings unconsciously reaching out for the stories they know will fill their psychological gaps, for the stories that can help them be made whole. 

Let me explain:

In his book The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall likens the act of reading fiction to the act of practicing in a flight simulator. The simulator is safe. It’s where you go to hone your skills before dealing with the real situation. 

See also: fiction. It’s a flight simulator. “Fiction allows our brains,” Gottschall writes, “to practice reacting to the kinds of challenges that are, and always were, most crucial to our success.”

Like the challenges that come when we’re afraid. Like the challenges that too many kids are facing in 2021. 

Sure, escape is nice. Escape from what so many kids have had to endure over the past two years—heartache, confusion, anger, loneliness, crippling loss—would be the sweetest mercy. But sometimes when kids come to the library or to the bookstore, they’re not looking for escape. They’re looking to probe the complex (and sometimes dark) emotions they’ve been carrying around inside them—anxiety, tension, horror.  They’re looking for stories that can help them practice dealing with these emotions. They’re looking for a book that can act as a flight simulator, a book that can help then probe the grainy textures of fear and taste the metallic bitterness of it, a book that can teach them how to navigate what it means to be afraid. 

A kid reading a scary book is in practice mode, like a movie character in a training montage. Think of Rocky Balboa whacking away at sides of beef. Or Mulan climbing a towering mountain again and again. Or Daniel LaRusso waxing on and waxing off. That’s what kids with spooky books are—fighters looking to level up—and when kids reach for horror, they’re entering the psychic gym, gearing up to do mental calisthenics.

This means that when a kid comes asking for a scary book, we shouldn’t smile politely and substitute in a book we think is more appropriate, maybe one with a bit of charming suspense and a companionable ghost or two.

No. When kids come asking for horror, here’s what we should do:

Give. Them. Horror. 

If a kid asks for doom, death, monsters, blood, and worse, we should give that kid doom, death, monsters, blood, and worse. True, there are enough of these things in kids’ day-to-day lives already (sadly), but that is the very point. We can’t shield kids from the blows of this too-terrifying world. All we can do is arm them with the tools they need to navigate it well.

Today’s kids know, deep in their guts, that they need to get good at being afraid. So of course they’re reaching out for stories of darkness and terror. 

A side note: None of this means that kids can’t have gobs of fun while also getting scared speechless. They can. And the best horror writers don’t just scare kids. They entertain them. They amaze them. They walk that fine line between horror and humor. (This, by the way, is why the amazing people at Holiday House Books made sure both of my books feature covers that glow in the dark. Spooky, yes. But also, we hope, gobs of fun.)

We need to trust kids’ unconscious yearnings. We need to trust that they know what kinds of books they need better than we do. We need to trust the healthy cravings of their own psyches. 

So, children’s horror? In my local bookstore? In 2021? When there’s already so much horror in kids’ lives?

You bet.

Because kids are smart. If they reach for scary books, they’re doing so for a reason.

They’re choosing terror on the page so they can develop resilience.

They’re choosing stress-filled stories so they can learn to navigate their own anxieties. 

They’re choosing fear in fiction so they can cultivate bravery in real life. 

May we help them to do all these things and more.

Meet the author

Josh Allen’s debut book, Out to Get You: 13 Tales ff Weirdness And Woe, received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist and was named a Junior Library Guild selection. When his second book, Only If You Dare: 13 Tales of Darkness and Doom, came out School Library Journal wrote, “Allen has cemented himself as the heir-apparent of Alvin Schwartz.” His writing has received praise from The Horn Book, The Wall Street Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and more. Both Out to Get You and Only If You Dare contain artwork by the award-winning illustrator Sarah J. Coleman, and both of these books feature covers that glow in the dark. Josh lives in Idaho with his family where he teaches English.

About Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom

Thirteen chilling short stories to keep you up at night—but only if you dare.

You never know what’s out to get you. Though you might think you’re safe from monsters and menaces, everyday objects can turn against you, too. A mysterious microwave. A threatening board game. A snowman that refuses to melt. Even your own heartbeat has its secrets. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. When you stop to listen, each beat sounds more menacing than the last. 

Master storyteller Josh Allen brings thirteen nightmare scenarios to life in this page-turning collection that’s perfect for budding horror junkies. In his wondrous world, danger waits behind every doorway . . . even in the most ordinary places. 

Eerie illustrations by award-winning artist Sarah Coleman accompany the stories, packaged in a stunning hardcover edition complete with glow-in-the-dark jacket. Readers will sleep with one eye open!

ISBN-13: 9780823449064
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/31/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Book Review: Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs

Publisher’s description

Based on a true story, the tale of one girl’s perilous journey to cross the U.S. border and lead her family to safety during the Mexican Revolution

It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left—her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito—until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.

Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios—they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border—a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.

Amanda’s thoughts

12-year-old Petra lives with her 6-year-old sister Amelia, her 11-month-old brother Luisito, and her abuela. Her mother died in the hours after childbirth and her father was taken away and forced to join the Federales. We only get a tiny snapshot of life in their village before Petra and family are forced to flee. The Federales invade their home, steal from their, and ultimately burn their home down. The soldier instructed to destroy their home is also supposed to kill them, but he tells them to flee. The rest of the story takes place in the grim, hot, dry, wide-open landscape between their home village and the border crossing into the United States. Petra and family have no real plan as they walk north. They don’t want to leave their home behind—how will their father ever find them again? They seek temporary refuge in a church only to have to flee again, this time eventually getting brief help in a small town where a woman soldier, a rebel, comes to their aid. Luisito is in desperate need of a doctor (and, frankly, the entire family is in terrible shape—hungry, thirsty, tired, bleeding, sore), and the family is cared for while here. The solider wants Petra to consider joining the rebels, something she considers but ultimately can’t bring herself to do. When they finally reach the border, it’s closed and costs far more money than they can imagine scraping together to cross.

Though essentially the entire story is just them walking and walking and walking, so much happens. They encounter helpful people and are sent running repeatedly from those out to harm them. They survive in the face of what feel like impossible circumstances. And along the way, they talk. Petra so desperately wants to be able to attend school and learn how to read and write. Her grandma feels she should just accept her lot in life and not have such big dreams. Though I read this book assuming that Petra and family would be “okay,” a word I use verrrrry loosely, because nothing about what they’ve been through, have lost, or will face is okay/will allow them to be truly okay, I held my breath a lot as they faced illness, injury, setbacks, and exhaustion. An author’s note explains the inspiration for the story (the author’s great-grandma’s 1913 escape during the Mexican Revolution) and a timeline is also included. Readers won’t soon forget Petra’s harrowing story.

Review copy (hardcover) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781728234656
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Lifting Their Voices, a guest post by Marcia Argueta Mickelson

As a teen, I didn’t have a voice. Well, technically I did, but I didn’t use it. My voice was hidden; it lived in fear of being seen or heard by anyone around it. My voice was so quiet that, in my junior year of high school, a bee stung me during math class, and I said nothing. I didn’t tell my teacher or my classmates. I didn’t ask to go to the nurse. I sat in pain for the rest of the day until I got home and told my mom.

My voice was so scared of being heard that it couldn’t even advocate for my own well-being. This was due to social anxiety or extreme shyness or both. Perhaps I quieted my voice because I always had a sense of not belonging wherever I was. There were loud, overwhelming voices telling me that since my family came to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants, I didn’t belong. So, I quieted my voice even more. One day, I missed school to attend my naturalization ceremony and receive my citizenship. The next day, my teacher asked why I was absent, and I was too embarrassed to tell him the reason. I could have spoken out in celebration of a wonderful experience, but I hid it.

My father, Jose Argueta, is pictured here taking his oath of citizenship. I was able to receive my citizenship a few years after him.

It was in the last year of my teens that I finally found my voice and realized that I needed to use it. This realization came in the form of a transformative book. In a college class, we were assigned to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In Malcom X’s writings, I discovered my voice. His message taught me to be proud of who I am and where I came from. His words inspired me to feel pride in my very small voice, and I became resolved to amplify it to advocate for myself and for others.

One of the reasons I love to read and write about teens is because in these young characters, I see them doing what I could never do at that age—lifting their voices. I see these young characters using their voices to say many important things.

We see young people speaking out to advocate for themselves or for other people all of the time, and I am in awe of their courage. The young people who formed the March For Our Lives movement were compelled to speak out against gun violence. They used their voices to create a huge movement. A young undocumented immigrant used her voice during her valedictorian speech in Texas to advocate for undocumented immigrants. Greta Thunberg, with her very young voice, inspired students all over the world to join her strike for climate change. Today’s young people are advocating for change in a way I could never imagine doing when I was a teen. I lacked their courage.

While I was not courageous enough to use my voice as a teen, I can now create fictional characters who are not afraid as I was or who overcome their fear to speak out.

In my book, Where I Belong, Millie Vargas is the oldest daughter of parents who came to the U.S. from Guatemala as undocumented immigrants. The book begins with Millie keeping her voice small, not wanting people to know that her she and her parents were once undocumented. She lives her life quietly, helping to take care of her siblings when her mother is at work. Millie’s quiet existence gets thrown into the spotlight when her mother’s employer, a Senate candidate, shares their story at a campaign event. He praises Millie’s family as deserving immigrants because of their work ethic and Millie’s straight A’s. The media recognition brings out trolls who denigrate and threaten Millie. At the same time, activists and reporters want Millie to speak publicly, to tell her story and advocate for immigrants. Millie doesn’t like the spotlight and wants everyone to forget about her. Susanna, an undocumented teen from a neighboring city, reaches out to Millie and invites her to a rally. Millie hesitates, but as she sees that Susanna is willing to put herself in danger of deportation by attending the rally, Millie decides to go. She takes the stage at the rally and tells her story.

Millie was scared to use her voice to speak out for the undocumented, but she overcame her fears for a great cause. She was inspired by another teen to use her voice. Although she was hesitant at first, it didn’t take her nearly as long as it did for me to find and use my voice. Even though I am not a teenager anymore and never had the courage to do what I see so many young people doing, I am thrilled that I get to create characters who find the courage to lift their voices.

What a wonderful generation of youth that surrounds us who elevate their voice, sometimes individually and sometimes collectively to uplift, inspire, protest, resist, inform, or advocate.

Meet the author

Marcia Mickelson was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States as an infant. She attended high school in New Jersey and then graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in American Studies. She is the author of five novels including Star Shining BrightlyThe Huaca, and Where I Belong. She lives in Texas with her husband and three sons.

Marcia Argueta Mickelson’s Website: http://marciamickelson.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marciamickelson/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/marciamickelson

About Where I Belong

An immigrant teen fights for her family, her future, and the place she calls home.

In the spring of 2018, Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas knows her life is about to change. She’s lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Now a citizen, Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family. With college on the horizon, Millie is torn between attending her dream school and staying close to home, where she knows she’s needed. She’s disturbed by what’s happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn’t see herself as an activist or a change-maker. She’s just trying to take care of her own family.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions—especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie—Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

ISBN-13: 9781541597976
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 12 +

Pausing to Check the Weather, a guest post by Tanita S. Davis

The first series I published – on binder paper, bristling with staples – was The Police Academy Chronicles. Protagonist Deenie Brown was Black, book-smart, and at fourteen, the youngest cadet in her police academy – which was apparently like high school, but with adults. Together with sidekick Danny (whose long, thick lashes did nothing to hide his utter lack of characterization), Deenie Brown’s adventures were legion, and heavily derivative of Encyclopedia Brown (and with the amount of cookie baking going on, Trixie Belden). No gangs, drugs, or violence, Deenie’s cases dealt with priceless art theft and missing princes (commonly found in every suburb) and ended with a loud “atta girl” from Danny and the proud gratitude of the community.  These novellas paint a clear (and endearingly awful) picture of my writer’s mind between the ages of twelve to fifteen.

During this same period, I was frequently told I had “an attitude” in the way I interacted with adults. The object of adult speculation in the form of “teasing” about the number of kids I would have or how early I would marry, I was frequently asked by pediatricians – from the age of ten, as I recall – if I was sexually active. I was mortified when my seventh-grade tumbling teacher wouldn’t spot me one day because I was “too much of a big girl now” to necessitate that. Even as I saw myself as goofy and scattered, bookish and unsure, adults around me seemed increasingly able to see something in me which I hadn’t yet seen in myself.

In 2017 the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality released a study detailing what they called ‘adultification bias,’ the idea of Black girls as less innocent and more adultlike than their white peers. The study revealed that even as young as five to nine years old, black girls are perceived as needing less nurturing, protection, comforting and care than white girls of the same age, as they’re considered more independent. This bias is strongest in girls ages ten – to – fourteen, which shapes ideas of innocence and experience. Until I read about this study, and the qualitative research conducted in 2019, I had no words for some of the experiences of my tweenhood. Like Deenie and many of my later teen characters, I was not particularly hip or worldly. Even as I leaned into the new requirements and abilities of young adulthood, I was still a child day-dreaming super sleuth adventures and solving imaginary crimes. Mine was not a graceful transition, and I went into teaching determined to grant girls like me more tools to make their liminal stage easier. All we needed, I reasoned, was a pause to check the weather before being expected to face the headwind on a new road.

Most of my first students had criminal records, social workers, parole officers, and a history of truancy. As a very junior teacher, I was to provide one-to-one tutoring and an educational approach that met them at their level, but which wasn’t insultingly infantilizing. With the supervisory support of the County’s independent study teacher, my little group home class struggled toward diplomas and GEDs.  Seeking any enticement to engage them, I hit on reading aloud. My kids would work, and better, urge each other to work, in exchange for a story – despite adultification bias’s claim that they should have “outgrown” that long ago.

We began by reading Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade, the story of fourteen-year-old, college-bound LaVaughn, babysitting seventeen-year-old Jolly’s two small children. Resonating with the characters’ fears and intentions, my students listened fiercely as LaVaughn observed, judged, learned and transformed. With her, they were frustrated with, charmed by, and terrified for others. Within the pages of those blank verse poems, my students lived and breathed. The day we finished, my learners, who had listened in near reverent silence, refused to even consider the sequel, voting unanimously that we read it again. They seemed to need to re-immerse themselves in the moments and decisions that led the novel to the powerful hope in its conclusion.

Publishing stories for girls like me, girls who were tender inside, and dreamers, wasn’t as simple. As other Black authors published to well-deserved success, my editors grew disappointed with my work. “She needs to be edgier,” was the most common criticism of my characters. I was encouraged to depict characters with more “street smarts” whose lives were “grittier.” “Your characters are too innocent,” one editor told me bluntly. I couldn’t understand – what did “too” innocent mean? Isn’t every teen, merely by virtue of their age, innocent of a remarkable number of experiences? Despite criminal charges and court dates, my students had limited experience with a world which had already judged them as ‘knowing better.’ When an editor suggested I was more suited to write chapter books for early readers, I was shaken. Much like Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie’s idea of the danger of a single story, I realized that much of publishing had, in essence, defaulted to another single story, that of poverty and pain, a Black girl on the brutal streets, bereft of innocence and old too soon…a story I wasn’t convinced that I was capable of telling.

Still, I reconsidered Partly Cloudy, a book originally featuring a first-year college student, the unwilling subject of a viral video, making a cross-continental escape to her great-uncle’s house on the West Coast. In my rewrite, seventh-grader Madalyn arrives at Papa Lobo’s in a slightly more organized fashion, though she remains conflicted by the push-pull challenges and growth of interracial, intercultural friendships at her new school. How do we make friends with others raised to think and react differently than ourselves? How do we decide what has value, where we should put our energy, what is worth fighting for, and what is best allowed to fade? Junior high friendships can be fast-changing and painfully fraught. In Madalyn I wanted readers to feel nurtured by her relationships, and with her, take a moment to pause and process, to determine what friendships feel like, and to grow deliberately into the adulthood they’re so often assumed to have.

And what comes of such deliberation? Clarity. I see now that like Deenie, I wanted strongly to fix things, and restore what was broken or lost. Like Madalyn, I wanted to safely and honestly navigate friendships, to cut through distraction and find genuine connection. And like them both, I wasn’t gritty and street smart – I’m still not. I had to learn pragmatism and resilience, neither of which come easily, especially if you’re seen as “grown” and not in need of comfort or help.

I hope that this September we welcome tweens of all colors into our learning communities in the spirit of honoring what is within them. We can lend them all our nurture, protection, and comfort. And as Black girls pause among the books to check the weather, I hope we’ll be on hand to give them a loud “atta girl,” as they choose to open the door and step into the storm.

Meet the author

Tanita S. Davis is the award-winning author of six novels for middle grade and young adult readers, including Serena Says, Peas and CarrotsHappy Families, and Mare’s War, which was a Coretta Scott King Award Honor book and earned her a nomination for the NAACP Image Award. She grew up in California and was so chatty as a kid that her mother begged her to “just write it down.” Now she’s back in California, doing her best to keep writing it all down.


Website: www.tanitasdavis.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tanita_s_davis/

About Partly Cloudy

From award-winning author Tanita S. Davis comes a nuanced exploration of the microaggressions of middle school and a young Black girl named Madalyn who learns that being a good friend means dealing with the blue skies and the rain—and having the tough conversations on days that are partly cloudy. Perfect for fans of A Good Kind of Trouble and From the Desk of Zoe Washington.

Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? After a terrible year, Madalyn needs clear skies desperately. Moving in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, and switching to a new school is just the first step.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though. Madalyn discovers she’s the only Black girl in her class, and while most of her classmates are friendly, assumptions lead to some serious storms.

Papa Lobo’s long-running feud with neighbor Mrs. Baylor brings wild weather of its own, and Madalyn wonders just how far things will go. But when fire threatens the community, Madalyn discovers that truly being neighborly means more than just staying on your side of the street— it means weathering tough conversations—and finding that together a family can pull through anything.

Award-winning author Tanita S. Davis shows us that life isn’t always clear, and that partly cloudy days still contain a bit of blue worth celebrating.

ISBN-13: 9780062937001
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi

Publisher’s description

At a time when we are all asking questions about identity, grief, and how to stand up for what is right, this book by the author of A Thousand Questions will hit home with young readers who love Hena Khan and Varian Johnson—or anyone struggling to understand recent U.S. history and how it still affects us today.  

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win.

Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim community on edge.

With “Never Forget” banners everywhere and a hostile group of townspeople protesting the new mosque, Yusuf realizes that the country’s anger from two decades ago hasn’t gone away. Can he hold onto his joy—and his friendships—in the face of heartache and prejudice?

Amanda’s thoughts

I love Yusuf. And I love this book.

Pakistani American sixth grader Yusuf Azeem is in middle school in Texas. He’s best friends with Danial, one of the few other Muslims in town, and loves robotics and coding. But the year is off to a rocky start with mean notes in his locker. And as the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 approaches, tensions in his small town rise. Yusuf doesn’t really know a lot about 9/11. None of the adults in his life seem to want to talk to him about it, it’s hardly discussed in school, and is view by many as “ancient history.” Then his uncle, who was Yusuf’s age when 9/11 happened, gives him his journal. He’s finally able to gain more insight into what it was like for a Muslim in the US at that time, to learn more about what it felt like, how people were reacting, and so many other facts and feelings he just hasn’t been able to wrap his mind around.

Meanwhile, because disgustingly little has changed in 20 years, things in his own town in Texas are not great. The 11 Muslim families in town are working to build a small mosque and find themselves being picketed, challenged at zoning meetings, and harassed mainly by a small group of vocal townspeople called the Patriot Sons. Yusuf and others at school as called “terrorists” and told to go back where they came from, referred to as “the enemy” and sweeping statements are made about “your kind,” not just from the adults in this Patriot Sons group, but by their classmates. Yusuf is hurt and furious. This is their home. And so he starts calling out the bullying he’s witnessing. He doesn’t want to be a hero, but he does want to be a decent person who spreads kindness and protects others—things he sees as his duty as a Muslim. He’s speaking out and standing up, but horrible stuff just keeps happening—a peer’s hijab is ripped off, his father’s shop is vandalized, and, eventually, Yusuf is accused of having a bomb at school and hauled into the police station. He listens to his friends tell him it’s just easier to stay on the sidelines and not get involved, but that’s just not who Yusuf is. Someone has to be brave. Someone has to speak up.

The journal entries from 2001 and Yusuf’s narration from 2021 show the kind of hatred and cruelty that exists. And though Yusuf faces a lot during his sixth grade year, he is also surrounded by so many good people who also stand up for what’s right, who speak up, who are willing to learn and change and grow. This emotional read will give readers plenty to think about—whether because they’re learning to see people and events in a new light, or because they see their own experiences reflected in Yusuf’s. A must for all collections.

ISBN-13: 9780062943255
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Gallery: Teen Lit with Working Teens

Today is Labor Day, a day when we pause and celebrate the labor force. Around the world, teens are working. Recent statistics indicate that in the United States, more than 20 million people aged 16-24 were employed. This is around 54% of the people in this age category. They work in our restaurants, our grocery stores, and in places that are often deemed “essential” in the height of a deadly global pandemic. They often work while going to school and for many of them, they aren’t just working for themselves but to help their struggling families put food on the table and keep a roof over their head. You can read the latest youth employment statistics at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Today, I want to talk about teens working in teen lit. I was recently reading The Cost of Knowing by Brittney C. Morris and started thinking about teens working in teen fiction.

In The Cost of Knowing, Alex Rufus, our main character, works in an ice cream shop called Scoops. This is not the only book I have read where the main character works in an ice cream shop, the main character in Stay Sweet by Vivian Shiobhan also works in an ice cream shop.

Restaurants and food trucks are another place that you can find teens working in teen lit. Rather than duplicate lists that are already out there, here is a great list of food themed ya books that include lists of teens working in restaurants and food trucks. My personal favorite food truck book currently is Geekerella by Ashley Poston

And one of my favorite books about working in a restaurant or diner is All the Rage by Courtney Summers. This fantastic book highlights the profound economic need that many of our teens live in and the necessity of employment.

The Education of Margot Sanchez highlights another place that a lot of teens work: the local grocery store or super market. I know that when I begrudgingly go grocery shopping, it is often teens I know from the local high school that bag my grocery and stock the shelves.

And it what would now seem like a very 2021 twist, the book Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt stars a teen who delivers grocery. Although this job seems very relevant and everywhere today, Okay for Now was actually written in 2011, which makes it kind of spooky in light of current events.

In Carrie Mesrobian’s Perfectly Good White Boy, the main character works at a thrift store. Sean also ends up joining the Marine Corp, a job that a lot of teens will choose as they see the military as their only option after high school.

In Nina Lacour’s Everything Leads to You, Emi is a set designer. This is arguably one of the coolest jobs I have seen a teen hold in this moving love letter to the cinema.

And we will wrap this post up with a book that features a teen having my first job as a teenager: working in a movie theater. In The Map from Here to There by Emery Lord, Paige works at a local movie theater. This was my first job back in the very late 80s and early 90s, the time when we had midnight special showings and prize give aways and it was honestly pretty glorious.

What is your favorite book about a teen working? Share it with us in the comments.

Additional Resources:

Bustle: 11 Contemporary YA Novels about Life Changing Summer Jobs

The Hub: Working Teens in YA Fiction

Book Review: The Jasmine Project by Meredith Ireland

Publisher’s description

Jenny Han meets The Bachelorette in this effervescent romantic comedy about a teen Korean American adoptee who unwittingly finds herself at the center of a competition for her heart, as orchestrated by her overbearing, loving family.

Jasmine Yap’s life is great. Well, it’s okay. She’s about to move in with her long-time boyfriend, Paul, before starting a nursing program at community college—all of which she mostly wants. But her stable world is turned upside down when she catches Paul cheating. To her giant, overprotective family, Paul’s loss is their golden ticket to showing Jasmine that she deserves much more. The only problem is, Jasmine refuses to meet anyone new.

But…what if the family set up a situation where she wouldn’t have to know? A secret Jasmine Project.

The plan is simple: use Jasmine’s graduation party as an opportunity for her to meet the most eligible teen bachelors in Orlando. There’s no pressure for Jasmine to choose anyone, of course, but the family hopes their meticulously curated choices will show Jasmine how she should be treated. And maybe one will win her heart.

But with the family fighting for their favorites, bachelors going rogue, and Paul wanting her back, the Jasmine Project may not end in love but total, heartbreaking disaster.

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was great fun! It was literally on page one that I was already rolling my eyes at Paul, Jasmine’s not-great boyfriend, so I was READY to read a story about her finding out what she really wants in life and understanding that she deserves more than Paul is giving her—and more than she is giving herself.

Jasmine is all set to head to community college and move in with Paul, who she has been with for all of high school. He kind of sucks (he’s mean and manipulative and uncaring), but she puts up that fact and makes herself smaller to fit into the narrower version of who he’s decides she should be. When he hooks up with another girl, he decides that they should take the summer to date other people before moving in together. Right. Because that will go great and certainly seems fair and healthy. Her giant, loving family decides to secretly set Jasmine up with three guys to help show her there are people other than Paul that she might connect with (and, you know, BETTER than Paul. Have I mentioned I don’t like Paul?). Keeping her in the dark, they arrange for her to meet these guys, and things take off from there.

Family group texts (minus Jasmine) tell some of the story, as do notes from her siblings on what’s happening and transcripts from the anonymous podcast about the whole ordeal. Jasmine learns a lot about herself as she navigates this summer. But when she finds out what her family has been up to, and how the guys she’s been hanging out with have kept her in the dark too about what’s going on, she feels so betrayed. What’s even real, now?

While reading this, after a few pages, I thought, okay, this is going to be cute and fun, but I don’t really care if she ends up liking any of these boys, I care if she ends up liking herself better. And she does. She grows a lot over the course of the book. She starts off complacent and playing it safe, never feeling good enough or special. She has learn that it’s okay to want things, that it’s okay to want more. She learns to see herself as worth it, to respect herself, and finally starts to live her own life, the one she envisions for herself. A really great read with wide appeal.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534477025
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

The Ghostly Inspiration Behind Burden Falls, a guest post by Kat Ellis

I’ve always loved the idea of ghost hunting, so I think it was inevitable a group of ghost-hunting teens would find their way into Burden Falls. In the book, siblings Freya and Dominic Miller — rivals of my main character, Ava — and two of their friends make a spooky YouTube show called Haunted Heartland. Ava is totally unimpressed by this, seeing as they’re threatening to expose the supernatural goings-on in her ancestral home, but I think if there’d been a group like them in my high school I would definitely have wanted in on that action. Sadly, there wasn’t, and I had to wait until a few years ago to get the chance to spend a night in a haunted castle.

The first time I went on a ghost hunt, I didn’t see any ghosts. But I might have heard one.

My sister Alex and I had gone to Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales in search of the supernatural. Now I think it’s fair to say that Alex is more of a believer than I am; while I’m open to being convinced, I take creaky floorboards and flickering candles with a pinch of salty skepticism (I’m a little like Ava that way).

But Bodelwyddan Castle looks like exactly the kind of place you’d expect ghosts to hang around. It also has the reputation of being one of the most haunted places in the UK. It’s an impressive turreted stone castle, with some parts dating back to the fifteenth century. The kind of place that’s seen some serious history, in other words, and probably more than a few deaths — especially seeing as it was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers back in World War I.

There have been reports of all kinds of spectral sightings there over the years: pale children who’ve been heard playing in the Toy Room and spotted looking out from one of the upstairs windows; a Victorian lady who wanders along the sculpture gallery and disappears through a wall where there was once a doorway; and the Cellar Man — an unfriendly spirit who we were told likes to pinch and tug on the hair of any woman who ventures down into the maze of underground cellars at the castle. Unsurprisingly, given the castle’s history during World War I, there have also been reports of a soldier seen in full military uniform — sometimes walking the castle grounds, and other times in the rooms which were used as hospital wards during the war.

Plenty of creepy candidates for potential sightings, right? Knowing this, Alex and I were braced for some serious spookiness.

There were around twenty of us on our ghost hunt, separated into two groups led by a small team of expert ghost hunters and history buffs. We’d already explored several rooms of the castle, using things like dowsing rods and electronic devices to try to locate any spirits who might be hiding nearby; table-tipping and calling out for the dead to make themselves known to us. But beyond some cold spots and movement behind the curtains — both of which I put down to it being a draughty old castle, in my Scullyish way — I didn’t feel that I had encountered anything particularly unearthly. It wasn’t until around 1am, near the end of the hunt, that I heard the sound that made me pause.

The room we were in was on the ground floor — an elegantly furnished parlor next to a grand hallway with a wide, carved staircase. All the lights in the castle had been out since the hunt began, and the other group were exploring a room at the far side of the castle, one floor up. So, we weren’t expecting to hear footsteps rushing down the staircase just outside our room.

“Did you hear that?” my sister asked me, wide-eyed. And I definitely had; it sounded like someone running downstairs, but with all the lights off, that would most likely have ended with a tumble and a broken neck. The rest of our group had heard it too, and we all hurried out to see if anyone — or anything — was waiting for us at the foot of the stairs.

There was nobody there. We turned on the lights to check, but there was no sign that anyone had been on that staircase a moment earlier.

Our group leader contacted the others upstairs via walkie-talkie to check that it hadn’t been one of them coming to look for us, but they were all still at the far side of the castle, all present and accounted for.

I can’t say for sure that what I heard was a ghost, but I can’t come up with another explanation that makes sense of the sound. So maybe it was the spirit of one of the children, escaped from the Toy Room upstairs. Maybe it was another of the castle’s reported apparitions — a spirit who appears as no more than a pair of disembodied legs wearing white stockings and gold-buckled shoes. Maybe it was just a creaky old building stretching its spine… or maybe I need to go back to Bodelwyddan Castle and try again to catch sight — or sound — of the supernatural.

Although the pandemic put my paranormal adventures on hold, I definitely plan to explore more spooky locations in future. Meanwhile, writing about my ghost-hunting teens in Burden Falls only seems to have increased my appetite for all things otherworldly, so I think there’ll be lots more spookiness in my future writing.

And I’ll always be game to creep through a castle in the dark.

Meet the author

Kat Ellis is the author of young adult horror and thrillers, including Burden Falls and Harrow Lake. She studied English with Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, then spent worked in local government communications and IT for several years before writing her first novel. When she’s not writing, Kat can usually be found exploring the ruins and cemeteries of North Wales with her camera.

LINKS:

Website: www.katelliswrites.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/el_kat

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/katelliswrites/

Books & buy links: https://katelliswrites.blogspot.com/p/books-buy-links.html

About Burden Falls

Riverdale meets The Haunting of Hill House in the terrifying new thriller from the author of Harrow Lake.

“Cinematic, clever, and creepy, with a main character that leaps off the page, Burden Falls ticks off all my moody thriller boxes.” —Goldy Moldavsky, New York Times bestselling author of The Mary Shelley Club and Kill the Boy Band

The town of Burden Falls drips with superstition, from rumors of its cursed waterfall to Dead-Eyed Sadie, the disturbing specter who haunts it. Ava Thorn grew up right beside the falls, and since a horrific accident killed her parents a year ago, she’s been plagued by nightmares in which Sadie comes calling—nightmares so chilling, Ava feels as if she’ll never wake up. But when someone close to Ava is brutally murdered and she’s the primary suspect, she begins to wonder if the stories might be more than legends—and if the ghost haunting her dreams might be terrifyingly real. Whatever secrets Burden Falls is hiding, there’s a killer on the loose . . . with a vendetta against the Thorns.

ISBN-13: 9781984814562
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/24/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Why we should let girls read, and relate to, morally grey heroines, a guest post by Cyla Panin

I got a text a few days ago from a friend. She’s reading a copy of my debut YA fantasy, STALKING SHADOWS, and she’s been giving me wonderful live updates chapter to chapter. Well, this time her text went like this, “I don’t like what Marie did!”

Ah. Yes. Me either.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say that my main character, Marie, definitely made a questionable decision involving someone she’s growing to care for. Her decision might even hurt him, though she’s certain she has it all under control enough that the damage will be mild and temporary. Do I, as a human with a heart, agree with what she did?

No.

So why did I write it?

Because I understand why Marie had to make a bad decision. Her circumstances left her very few choices, and her commitment to protecting her sister, and ultimately herself, has never wavered. She does the best she can with the situation she’s in, and I think that’s more real and relatable than always doing the right and heroic thing.

None of us will always make the best choice, the most selfless or most noble. At least, I have yet to encounter anyone who can claim they’ve always, without fail, done the absolute right thing. That level of perfection rarely exists in the real world, and yet we continually hold our female protagonists up to this unachievable standard. If they fail the test, they might be labelled as unlikeable, or even as an anti-hero that readers have a hard time getting behind.

Fantasy is escapist. We can sink into the world’s authors create and join the characters as they do things we never would—or could. Fighting a dragon, traipsing over mountains and through meadows with a sword at our hip, dancing in a flowing gown in a ballroom, running into enchanted woods at night. The realest thing in any fantasy should still be the characters and their emotions. Their drive. Underneath all of this magic, we should be anchored by what the human lives unspooling through this dark, glittering world.

Girl protagonists have a right to take the drags of whatever awful situation they’ve found themselves in and try to piece together a solution to reach their goals, even if that solution makes some people give them the side eye. Girl readers have the right to see heroines in books be just as angry, brash, impulsive, and determined as any heroes can be. And they have to right to see them not only succeed, but be embraced for their fire and ingenuity.

In Julie C. Dao’s 2017 YA fantasy, FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS, the main character Xifeng is faced with embracing darkness or sacrificing the power she could wield. Thankfully, Dao has her protagonist decide grasp whatever power she can. As a reader, I could emphasize with Xifeng and why she made those decisions, even if they sometimes made me uncomfortable. She came from hardship, poverty, and was faced with a beautiful palace and magic—I mean, that doesn’t seem like a hard choice. It was Dao’s skillful character building that showed us her main character’s drive, so readers could emphasize and stand beside Xifeng even when she did things some might label ‘evil.’

There was some outrage about Xifeng being an unlikeable character, though. Certain readers shook their heads and pursed their lips and got on Goodreads to air their distaste. What I didn’t get then is why they felt like they needed to like Xifeng to understand her.

When male main characters do bad things, readers tend to be much more forgiving. We don’t have to look much further than The Darkling in the SHADOW AND BONE series by Leigh Bardugo or Ronan Lynch in THE RAVEN’S CIRCLE by Maggie Stiefvater to find bad boys who have been embraced, and even loved, despite the pain they inflict on others or the ends they go to in order to get what they want. But boys will be boys, right?

Wrong. People will be people. All characters will, with good literary craft, be products of their world and upbringing. They’ll be shaped by the past, as we all tend to be, and they’ll decide whether or not they’re defined by it. They’ll give us enough glances into their hearts that we’ll be rooting for them whether or not we agree with their actions.

The word I think best describes Marie Michaud in STALKING SHADOWS is ‘determined’. She doesn’t much care about being liked, but she sure does care about achieving her goal. I won’t be giving anything away when I say she selects her sister’s victims (because it’s in the pitch.) Marie choses who’s going to die by her sister’s claws. She marks unmoored men, those who aren’t well known in the village, those who are just passing through, those that she forces herself to believe don’t have any family to miss them. She selects these men because, in her mind, it’s better them than someone people will cry over. She elects to destroy one life instead of two or three or four, depending on the size of the family. It’s not right, by any estimation, even hers, but in the confines of her world and the hand she’s been dealt, she does her best. And really, is there anything more relatable than that?

Meet the author

Cyla Panin is an MG, YA and Adult Author who prefers to look at the world through a dusting of magic. Her YA debut, STALKING SHADOWS will be out with Amulet, Abrams Sept. 14. She is represented by Chloe Seager of the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV, and Film Agency. Find her on Instagram at @cylapanin. 

About Stalking Shadows

A gothic YA fantasy debut about a young woman striving to break her sister’s curse and stop the killing in her small French town

Seventeen-year-old Marie mixes perfumes to sell on market day in her small eighteenth-century French town. She wants to make enough to save a dowry for her sister, Ama, in hopes of Ama marrying well and Marie living in the level of freedom afforded only to spinster aunts. But her perfumes are more than sweet scents in cheap, cut-glass bottles: A certain few are laced with death. Marie laces the perfume delicately–not with poison but with a hint of honeysuckle she’s trained her sister to respond to. Marie marks her victim, and Ama attacks. But she doesn’t attack as a girl. She kills as a beast.

Marking Ama’s victims controls the damage to keep suspicion at bay. But when a young boy turns up dead one morning, Marie is forced to acknowledge she might be losing control of Ama. And if she can’t control her, she’ll have to cure her. Marie knows the only place she’ll find the cure is in the mansion where Ama was cursed in the first place, home of Lord Sebastien LaClaire. But once she gets into the mansion, she discovers dark secrets hidden away–secrets of the curse, of Lord Sebastien . . . and of herself.

ISBN-13: 9781419752650
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years