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Book Review: Love & Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura

Publisher’s description

This delightfully disastrous queer YA rom-com is a perfect read for fans of Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Sandhya Menon.

When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.

That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.

Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.

Amanda’s thoughts

Will I ever get sick of the “fake dating” trope? Nope. Never. There’s just so much room for so many things to go wrong with this probably pretty awful idea. And in this book, things both go as planned and hoped for and in completely surprising (to the characters) directions.

Nozomi, who is queer and Japanese American, is excited to leave Illinois for the summer and spend it with her uncles in San Francisco, helping out at the museum where one of her uncles works. It’s a chance for a summer of transformation, where no one knows her and she can be/become whoever she feels like being. And after she meets Willow, who’s devastated from a recent breakup, the person Nozomi decides to become is Willow’s fake girlfriend. Maybe they can make Willow’s ex, Arden, realize what she’s missing out on. Except, uh-oh, Nozomi actually super likes Willow and hopes that the fake dating will lead to real dating. Definitely a great plan when the girl you’re fake dating is obsessively sad about her ex, right? Right….

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of other things going on. Nozomi’s parents are divorcing and there’s a lot she doesn’t know and a lot she needs to process. Her grandmother, also in San Francisco, is dealing with increasingly bad dementia and the family is trying to convince her to move to an assisted living complex. Nozomi loves her grandma but also knows that her grandma has held incredibly homophobic views and Nozomi worries she will never be able to let her grandma know her full self. And then there’s Dela, a surly teenage artist who Nozomi ends up spending a lot of time with after she accidentally ruins some of Dela’s art installation. Oh, and Dela is now dating Arden, Willow’s ex. Got all that?

The “natural disasters” part of this title is apt. So much of this book is like watching something bad coming from far away and being like, come on, you see this thing is going to come stir everything up or knock things over, get to safety! But instead of safety—making reasonable choices like not desperately hoping a girl hung up on her ex will like you—the characters just walk right into the oncoming storm. And you know what? That’s adolescence, right? And for a while things go okay. And even unexpectedly great. Maybe. Kind of. Because a weird thing that happens when you get excited because no one knows you and you can be anyone, the funny thing that you end up learning is that it’s always best to be yourself. That being who other people try to make you or pretending doesn’t feel good. Nozomi has to grapple with understanding what she actually wants. She has to think about how to be the best version of herself. And, most importantly, she learns that it’s okay to follow your heart, even when that path changes, and not to give up on people. Things don’t always go how you think they will and love doesn’t always solve everything. A great read with lots of depth, humor, and heart.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062991232
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publisher’s description

A wedding harpist disillusioned with love and a hopeless romantic cater-waiter flirt and fight their way through a summer of weddings in this effervescent romantic comedy from the acclaimed author of Today Tonight Tomorrow.

Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email—and then he left for college without a response.

Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings—the flashier, the better—while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.

Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher.

Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all—and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.

Amanda’s thoughts

Rachel Lynn Solomon is an auto-read for me. Did you know she also wrote an adult book, too? Just as great as her YA. I’m glad she’s so prolific because I just adore her writing.

There is so much to like about this book. Newly graduated Quinn isn’t sure what she wants to do in college/for her grown-up life. But she does know she doesn’t want a future working for her family’s wedding planning company. She just doesn’t. But her parents have it all planned out for her—major in business, work for them, everything’s taken care of! And though Quinn doesn’t want that, she doesn’t know how to tell them that. She’s also worried that bailing on the business will upset the balance of their family and not give her the connection she loves having with her older sister.

One more summer of working weddings puts her back in the orbit of Tarek, son of the caterers who usually work with her parents. After she confessed her crush to him last year, he ghosted her, which is a pretty rotten move for a super romance-obsessed guy who loves grand gestures. Predictably, and thankfully (because they’re so cute together and their banter is A+), they get together, but it’s not smooth sailing. Quinn’s having a Big Summer. She’s grappling with what her future holds, how to please her family, the idea of her best friend moving across the country for college, and more. So dating her crush while simultaneously not believing in love or romance or relationships is… a lot.

The tension between Tarek and his belief that love is all about destiny and big gestures and “meant to be” stuff and Quinn and her totally cynical and guarded approach to relationships makes for an interesting story. As an adult, I read this thinking, “Quinn, come on. You’re doing all the relationship ‘stuff’ but are just too scared to call it that and feel the feelings!” But the teen stuck inside of me was like, “Yesss, Quinn, I feel you. Hide from those feelings. Blow things up yourself before you can get hurt or disappoint someone!” Especially because Quinn has anxiety and that good ol’ anxiety brain loves to churn everything around until everything seems fraught with peril and sure to implode.

Tarek and Quinn’s relationship has lots of ups and downs, which, again, feels so realistic and makes for a great read. They go from surface level friendship to a deeper and true friendship to so much more.

I also love how mental health is dealt with in this story. Quinn has OCD and generalized anxiety. Tarek has depression. They talk openly about medication, therapy, being diagnosed, the hard days, symptoms, and getting better. We love to see it!

Full of humor and heart and, yes, love, this is a fantastic story about being brave, being imperfect, learning, trying, changing, growing, and taking chances. An excellent look at vulnerability, trust, and self-exploration.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534440272
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June

Publisher’s description

From debut novelist Jason June comes a moving and hilarious sex-positive teen rom-com about the complexities of first loves, first hookups, and first heartbreaks—and how to stay true to yourself while embracing what you never saw coming, that’s perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Becky Albertalli. 

There’s one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all his friends can’t stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda.

Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he’s found where he truly belongs. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he’ll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones . . . because after all, life and love don’t always go according to plan. 

Amanda’s thoughts

Life is fine if a little boring for Jay. He’s headed into his senior year and is the ONLY out gay kid in his entire small school. He came out in 9th grade and figured that, statistically, SOMEONE else had to eventually come out. Maybe he’d make some gay friends. Maybe he’d meet a cute boy. Or maybe he’d remain the only out kid through all of high school. When his parents announce they’re moving to Seattle, he’s psyched to leave rural Washington behind, even though it means leaving his best friend, Lu. But she has Chip, her boyfriend, and besides, it’s time for Jay to go from third wheel to the main character in his own story.

Jay, a huge fan of making lists, makes a Gay Agenda—stuff like make gay friends, hook up with a cute boy, go to a dance, etc. He figures that all of these things are maybe achievable now that he’s no longer in LGBTQuarantine (his term!). But guess what? It turns out that if you move to a much larger city and meet a lot more people who are queer, not only is that list achievable, it’s easy for that list to get really complicated and messy. He’s taken under the wing of genderqueer Max, a new friend who dubs himself a gay guide for Jay. Together, they begin to plan the homecoming dance, which, uh-oh, coincides with the dance back home that he promised Lu he’d come back for. But that’s a problem for Future Jay. Right Now Jay is busy juggling two boys he likes, college guy Tony and high school classmate Albert. What could go wrong?

Well… before long Jay isn’t being honest with Lu or Albert. Max isn’t being honest with Jay. And Tony isn’t being honest with Jay, either. Let downs, lies, backstabbing, reveals, and general catastrophes ensue, leading Jay to eventually understanding that maybe experiences and relationships should be something more than just an item to check off a list. Jay, like all teens, makes bad choices, mistakes, and hurts people. And that’s totally a normal part, unfortunately, of growing up. With a little help and deep thought, Jay learns that it’s what you do after the mistakes that really count. He begins to make amends and figure out who he really is and what he really wants, with the help of some new lists, like the Apology Agenda and the Jay Agenda.

A fun and messy look at what happens when things don’t go as planned when it comes to love, friendship, and finding yourself.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780063015159
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/01/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: Stories about ghosts, chaos bunnies, grief, reform school, and more!

Post-it Note Reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers. Doing these short reviews would also be a great way to share more books during distance learning!

Frequent blog readers may have noticed I’m doing a lot more post-it-style reviews and less longer, individual review posts. Partially this is because my way of coping with the many upsetting pieces of the past year has been to drown myself in reading, so I’m burning through so many more books and want to share them, in some form, here. It’s been so hard for authors to be able to promote their books, through things like release parties or festivals or other events, and I want to share as many books as I can particularly these days to help them get the exposure they deserve.

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the Post-It notes are below each description.

Long Lost by Jacqueline West (ISBN-13: 9780062691750 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/11/2021, Ages 8-12)

Once there were two sisters who did everything together. But only one of them disappeared.

New York Times–bestselling author Jacqueline West’s Long Lost is an atmospheric, eerie mystery brimming with suspense. Fans of Katherine Arden’s Small Spaces and Victoria Schwab’s City of Ghosts series will lose themselves in this mesmerizing and century-spanning tale.

Eleven-year-old Fiona has just read a book that doesn’t exist.

When Fiona’s family moves to a new town to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club—and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends—nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated by a long-dead heiress. And there she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.

Soon Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. With a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places—maybe even from the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore.

New York Times–bestselling and acclaimed author Jacqueline West weaves a heart-pounding, intense, and imaginative mystery that builds anticipation on every page, while centering on the strong and often tumultuous bond between sisters. Laced with suspense, Long Lost will fascinate readers of Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers and fans of ghost stories. 

(POST-IT SAYS: Fabulous! Spooky story-within-the-story page-turner that will be a hit with readers who love ghost stories and mysteries. I got so involved in this book that I forgot to start dinner. A great read.)

Saint Ivy: Kind at All Costs by Laurie Morrison (ISBN-13: 9781419741258 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 10-14)

A thoughtful middle-grade novel about caring for others and for yourself––and what it truly means to be kind and vulnerable

Thirteen-year-old Ivy Campbell has always been a good kid: She supports her soccer-star brother, bakes with her nana, and puts her friends’ needs before her own. So of course, Ivy is 100 percent supportive when her mom decides to be a gestational surrogate, carrying and giving birth to her friends’ baby. But when Ivy finds out the surrogacy treatment worked and her mom is pregnant—and has been for weeks—she’s shocked that she’s jealous and worried about what others will think. And most of all, she’s ashamed that she isn’t reacting to this news in the right way. The Ivy way. Ivy is determined to prove to herself that she’s just as unselfish as she’s always believed, and she gets the chance to do that when she receives an anonymous email from someone who needs her help. But the more Ivy dives into helping this anonymous person, the further she gets from the people she loves—and from the person who she wants to be.

(POST-IT SAYS: Morrison nails how complicated life can be in middle school. Ivy makes lots of mistakes, struggles with changing friendships, and bottles up all of her feelings to be kind, easy, and please others. Ivy’s parents are divorced but still close. A great read that reminds readers to be kind to themselves, too.)

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga (ISBN-13: 9780062956675 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/11/2021, Ages 8-12)

An extraordinary new novel from Jasmine Warga, Newbery Honor–winning author of Other Words for Home, about loss and healing—and how friendship can be magical.

Cora hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Quinn, in a year.

Despite living next door to each other, they exist in separate worlds of grief. Cora is still grappling with the death of her beloved sister in a school shooting, and Quinn is carrying the guilt of what her brother did.

On the day of Cora’s twelfth birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her doorstep with a note. She has decided that the only way to fix things is to go back in time to the moment before her brother changed all their lives forever—and stop him.

In spite of herself, Cora wants to believe. And so the two former friends begin working together to open a wormhole in the fabric of the universe. But as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of time travel to save their siblings, they learn that the magic of their friendship may actually be the key to saving themselves.

The Shape of Thunder is a deeply moving story, told with exceptional grace, about friendship and loss—and how believing in impossible things can help us heal.

(POST-IT SAYS: A powerful, complicated, sensitive, and emotional story about gun violence, grief, loss, friendship, guilt, and time travel. As much about healing as it is about heartbreaking loss. Warga is a middle grade powerhouse.)

ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse by Stephanie Cooke, Mari Costa (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780358169000 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 07/13/2021, Ages 8-12)

A witch named Abby and her three friends—a wolf-girl, a ghost, and a pumpkinhead—band together to try and save their supernatural town from an invasion of rabid (but adorable!) chaos bunnies in this enchanting middle-grade graphic novel for fans of Making Friends, The Okay Witch, and Lumberjanes.

It’s fall break in the supernatural town of North Haven, and young witch Abby’s plans include pitching in at her mom’s magical coffee shop, practicing her potion making, and playing board games with her best friends—a pumpkinhead, a wolf-girl, and a ghost. But when Abby finds her younger sister being picked on by some speed demons, she lets out a burst of magic so strong, it opens a portal to a realm of chaos bunnies. And while these bunnies may look cute, they’re about to bring the a-hop-ocalypse  (and get Abby in a cauldronful of trouble) unless she figures out a way to reverse the powerful magic she unwittingly released. What’s a witch to do?

In this deliciously humorous, cozy, and bewitching graphic novel, sometimes the most of powerful magic comes from our connections to family and friends (but kicking bunny butt is great, too).

(POST-IT SAYS: Interdimensional bunnies! Really cute and fun graphic novel with nice diversity of representation and charming characters. Good messages about confidence, support, and friendship.)

On the Hook by Francisco X. Stork (ISBN-13: 9781338692150 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 14-18)

“You know I’m coming. You’re dead already.”

Hector has always minded his own business, working hard to make his way to a better life someday. He’s the chess team champion, helps the family with his job at the grocery, and teaches his little sister to shoot hoops overhand.

Until Joey singles him out. Joey, whose older brother, Chavo, is head of the Discípulos gang, tells Hector that he’s going to kill him: maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. And Hector, frozen with fear, does nothing. From that day forward, Hector’s death is hanging over his head every time he leaves the house. He tries to fade into the shadows — to drop off Joey’s radar — to become no one.

But when a fight between Chavo and Hector’s brother Fili escalates, Hector is left with no choice but to take a stand.

The violent confrontation will take Hector places he never expected, including a reform school where he has to live side-by-side with his enemy, Joey. It’s up to Hector to choose whether he’s going to lose himself to revenge or get back to the hard work of living.

(POST-IT SAYS: Incredibly intense read about violence, trauma, grief, hatred, guilt, and revenge. Half of the story is set at a reform school. An upsetting and all too real look at how unpredictable and complex life can be. So powerful.)

Hand-Me-Down Magic #3: Perfect Patchwork Purse by Corey Ann Haydu, Luisa Uribe (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780062978271 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 6-10)

Family magic saves the day for best-friend-cousins Del and Alma in the third Hand-Me-Down Magic book! With adorable illustrations and short, easy-to-read chapters, this series is perfect for fans of Ivy & Bean and Dory Fantasmagory.

Alma knew it the first time she saw it: The patchwork purse in the window of the Curious Cousins Secondhand Shoppe was magical. Special. Perfect. But when her friend Cassie spots the purse and buys it, what could Alma do but agree that the purse really did look just right on Cassie?

Del decides it’s up to her to bring some homespun magic back into Alma’s life, and she’s got just the plan to do it. After all, she is the EXPERT on magic!

All she needs is some glitter and lots and lots of glue . . . because she knows magic can always come from the most unexpected places, but most importantly, that best-friend-cousins never let each other down.

(POST-IT SAYS: Nice length for a small chapter book. Emphasis is on family, friendship, feelings, and everyday magic. Love the closeness of the cousins. Sweet, quiet, and full of emotions.)

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley, Tara Audibert (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780063015388 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/11/2021 Series: Jo Jo #1, Ages 6-10)

Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons! Full of pride, joy, and plenty of humor, this first book in an all-new chapter book series by Dawn Quigley celebrates a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…

The Heartdrum imprint centers a wide range of intertribal voices, visions, and stories while welcoming all young readers, with an emphasis on the present and future of Indian Country and on the strength of young Native heroes. In partnership with We Need Diverse Books.

(POST-IT SAYS: A joyful and adorable start to a new series. Spirited Jo Jo will instantly win over readers. How absolutely wonderful to see an Ojibwe girl lead a series. Full of humor and heart. A must for all collections.)

The Startup Squad (The Startup Squad Series #1) by Brian Weisfeld, Nicole C. Kear (ISBN-13: 9781250180414 Publisher: Imprint Publication date: 05/07/2019 Series: Startup Squad Series #1, Ages 8-12)

Girls mean business in a brand-new series about friendship and entrepreneurship that Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan, calls “A great read!”

All the great leaders had to start somewhere. And Teresa (“Resa” for short) is starting with the lemonade stand competition her teacher assigned to the class—but making it a success is going to be a lot harder than Resa thinks.

The prize: line-skipping tickets to Adventure Central. The competition: Val, Resa’s middle school nemesis. And the biggest obstacle to success: Resa’s own teammates. Harriet is the class clown, Amelia is the new girl who thinks she knows best, and Didi is Resa’s steadfast friend—who doesn’t know the first thing about making or selling lemonade. The four of them quickly realize that the recipe for success is tough to perfect—but listening to each other is the first step. And making new friends might be the most important one…

The back of each book in this middle-grade series features tips from the Startup Squad and an inspirational profile of a girl entrepreneur!

(POST-IT SAYS: Books 1-3 are now out in this fun series about friendship, teamwork, and entrepreneurship. The 6th graders learn the importance of both success and failure.)

Book Review: How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby

Publisher’s description

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.
 
A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
 
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.
 
She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.
 

Amanda’s thoughts

Yes, hi, I would like to climb inside this book and hug Pluto and Fallon. Is that something someone can arrange for me?

It’s the summer after 7th grade and, for Pluto, nothing is the same as it’s always been. She’s spent the past month in bed, not going to school, and acquired a new diagnosis: depression and anxiety. She’s just started meds and will start seeing a therapist soon, but for now, it’s still very new and very awful. Melleby absolutely nails conveying to the reader the mental and physical ways mental illness can affect a person and what the symptoms can look like. Pluto is exhausted. She has brain fog, she feels weighed down, and she just doesn’t feel like herself. She just wants to be herself again.

Her new friend Fallon see’s Pluto’s list of goals for the summer (attend a birthday party, take her meds, etc) and offers to help her if Pluto will help Fallon with things on her list (cut her hair short, tell her mom she doesn’t want to wear dresses and that she maybe—sometimes—feels like a boy). It’s a rough time for Pluto to be making a new friend, as she can hardly get moving most days, but she also loves that Fallon ONLY knows this version of her, and not what she was like before her diagnosis. Pluto spends the summer working with a tutor, beginning therapy, visiting her father (and meeting his girlfriend, who has OCD), also having a terrible, terrible time trying to adjust to living with depression and anxiety. She pulls back from friends, lashes out at her mom, shuts down, rages, cries, fakes her way through things, and just feels crummy.

But.

But. There’s hope. She has the BEST supportive and loving mother. She has medication. She has a therapist. She’s getting caught up in school. She’s sort of seeing her old friends a little. And she’s realizing she gets butterflies whenever she’s around Fallon. She will be okay. Pluto learns to move beyond just wanting to be “fixed” to starting to understand that she’s still herself, no matter what is happening in her life. It’s okay to have bad days. It’s okay to not be okay. And just like with the planet she’s named after, her definition may change but her properties are still the same. She’s still Pluto.

This is a lovely, compassionate, and gentle story that’s full of love, support, hope, and honesty. An absolutely necessary addition to all collections that serve this age group.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781643750361
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 05/25/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Book Review: Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

Publisher’s description

Frankly in Love meets Shark Tank in this feel-good romantic comedy about two entrepreneurial Korean American teens who butt heads—and maybe fall in love—while running competing Korean beauty businesses at their high school.

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

Amanda’s thoughts

What a fun read! I pretty much never get sick of the premise “they’re rivals/enemies, but SURPRISE, now they like-like each other!” The things that make this particular version of that story stand out are the focus on K-pop and K-beauty, the mostly Korean American cast, and Suk’s truly excellent talent for writing quick, snappy dialogue. I burned through this great book and then immediately went out and bought some Hi-Chews. (You’ll see.)

The fact that the high school in this book allows students to run their own small businesses made for a great platform to create a rivalry. Valerie is very assertive and completely focused on making her business succeed. Not only is she great at marketing and selling, but she’s driven by the wish to save enough money to take her beloved grandma on a trip to Paris. Wes, the new kid, is pretty quiet and really just focused on his music and trying to figure out to covertly apply to music school. His business really starts up by accident, but he sees it as a way to get the money he needs for application fees etc. He kind of gets swept up in the rivalry as accidentally as he starts his business—things get out of control, ideas grow beyond what he meant—but the one thing that’s not accidental is falling for Valerie.

Only guess what? Drama ensues. There’s spying and subterfuge and a big bet, and gossip, and DRAMA. There’s also kissing and mistakes and hurt feelings. Things fall apart in interesting ways and get fixed in satisfying and realistic ways. While this is a great look at identity, culture, family, expectations, and entrepreneurship, it’s also a wholly satisfying and really cute romance with fully realized characters who have so much going on in their lives beyond just (maybe reluctantly) realizing they like each other. Charming and well-written.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534474376
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Publisher’s description

Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer is a story of self-discovery and new love. It’s about the things we want and the things we need. And it’s about the people who will let us be who we are.

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

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m the kind of human who has to have things done faaaar in advance to even begin to control my relatively uncontrolled anxiety. I’m typing this on April 16th. It has been weeks upon weeks of dogs dying, violent allergy reactions resulting in hives all over my face and eyes, worrying about getting a vaccine (first shot down yesterday!), and being just sick over the state of the world, particularly the state of things here in Minnesota. 13 months into the pandemic, 13 months into guiding my teen through distance learning, 13 months of having even MORE reasons to worry than I usually do. One of my adaptive behaviors has been to just seek out wholly enjoyable things. Endless International House Hunters? Check. Only reading books I find completely engaging and enjoyable? SUPER CHECK. Fiction, take me awayyyyyy!

That looong lead in is to say that I enjoyed the heck out of this book and it was totally what I needed as I sat here today swinging my arm around to hopefully stave off Covid arm. I had attempted to start this book earlier in the week, but my new enemy, hives, overtook my face and left me unable to do anything but sit quietly with ice on my face and listen to tv shows. But today! Today I read this book! All in one go! In the sun! With dogs! And for a few hours, I didn’t feel anxious or miserable or even part of reality. So thanks for that, Dahlia Adler!

The summary tells you exactly what you need to know. The plot may not seem big, but as I always harp on, what bigger plot is there than finding out who you are and what you want? Isn’t that so often THE plot of adolescence? Lara realizes that her group of best friends at school may not actually know the real her, especially as it kind of seems like her defining characteristic, according to them, has been that she’s been obsessed with Chase forever. Sort of one-dimensional. She knows she’s so much more than that. But once she starts dating Chase, and being known as “Chase’s girlfriend,” that characteristic seems to overpower everything. But you know who knows the real Lara? Jasmine, who Lara spent the summer hooking up with AND really getting close to.

Only she keeps what happened a secret from her friends. She tries to write it off even to herself as just something they did for fun, constantly coming up with excuses (even in the moment) for why things happened or what they meant or didn’t mean. But she kind of can’t ignore her complicated feelings now that Jasmine goes to her school. They manage to pretend like they don’t know each other, remain relatively distant, AND have soooo much miscommunication. So much. Good lord, girls. TALK TO EACH OTHER. BE HONEST. (I know, I know—easier said than done and also would eliminate the need for most of the story).

I enjoyed getting sucked into Lara’s world and watching her try to figure out what it all means with Jasmine and Chase as well as what being honest with herself might reveal. Lots of undeveloped and unnecessary side characters kind of only crop up when useful, and I really deeply disliked Lara’s best friend (who, I would argue from the vantage point of adulthood, is maybe not even really her friend at all), but this fun, light look at questioning your identity while not necessarily wanting any labels will surely find many readers.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250765826
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas

Publisher’s description

A moving middle-grade debut for anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t belong

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .
But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and each other.

Amanda’s thoughts

As you know, I get a lot of book mail here. I spend a lot of time sorting it, reading summaries, paging through to read a bit, and deciding what I want to read for potential review. I usually have a pile of “for sure read” among all my other piles, but sometimes those books sit for along time before I get to them, and then their summaries get buried under hundreds of others in my head. All of this is to say, this book has been in my “for sure read” for a while, but by the time I got to it, I didn’t remember much about why I’d pulled it. I’m so glad I DID pull it to read. It’s a really well done middle grade book about boys, friendship, families, emotions, vulnerability, trust, mistakes, coming out, and so much more. It also felt really fresh and unique, which is difficult for a book to achieve!

13-year-old Brian is quiet and anxious. He has social anxiety and, over the course of the story, also begins having panic attacks. He’s a really complicated and quietly funny kid who has some rough stuff going on at home. When we meet him, his dad has fled into hiding from the police and his mother attempts suicide with her stockpile of pills for mental health issues. She ends up in the hospital, which leaves Brian and his 9-year-old brother alone. They get put into foster care and Brian, who has been holding back so much, finally snaps. He punches his bully at school and takes off with his brother, running away and going on a small adventure while he processes what is happening in his life.

It’s from here, after these moments, that his life, while still immensely difficult and unfair, starts to be filled with love and support from all directions. One of his teachers takes in Brian and his brother, and her teenage son begins to bring Brian out of his shell as they bond over basketball, grief, loss, and more. Ezra, the other main character in this book (who also shares narration duties) has always been friendly with Brian, but makes a real effort to be there for him, standing up to the other kids who are being mean to Brian or talking trash about him, helping find him when he’s missing, and truly making Brian feel seen and supported. Ezra also has a crush on Brian and eventually confesses this to him and comes out to his friends and his sister.

The overwhelming message of this book is that it’s okay to be a mess and to cry. It’s okay to tell people you are going through hard things. It’s okay to rely on others to help you and support you. Themes of love, support, and acceptance are strong, as is the message that you are not your mistakes or bad choices. An emotional book full of heart.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419751028
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

Book Review: Lucky Girl by Jamie Pacton

Publisher’s description

A hilarious and poignant reflection on what money can and cannot fix

58,642,129. That’s how many dollars seventeen-year-old Fortuna Jane Belleweather just won in the lotto jackpot. It’s also about how many reasons she has for not coming forward to claim her prize.

Problem #1: Jane is still a minor, and if anyone discovers she bought the ticket underage, she’ll either have to forfeit the ticket, or worse . . .

Problem #2: Let her hoarder mother cash it. The last thing Jane’s mom needs is millions of dollars to buy more junk. Then . . .

Problem #3: Jane’s best friend, aspiring journalist Brandon Kim, declares on the news that he’s going to find the lucky winner. It’s one thing to keep her secret from the town — it’s another thing entirely to lie to her best friend. Especially when . . .

Problem #4: Jane’s ex-boyfriend, Holden, is suddenly back in her life, and he has big ideas about what he’d do with the prize money. As suspicion and jealousy turn neighbor against neighbor, and no good options for cashing the ticket come forward, Jane begins to wonder: Could this much money actually be a bad thing?

Amanda’s thoughts

When Jane realizes she holds the winning ticket to a massive lottery ($58 million), it should maybe seem like her path forward is obvious: CASH THAT THING! But she’s only 17, so it’s both illegal for her to cash it and to have bought it in the first place. She might be able to find someone she trusts over 18 to pass it off to—they could cash it, maybe split some of the money—but it’s not just that simple. Every option seems fraught with lots of drawbacks, especially her most obvious option, her mother, who’s a hoarder. Jane can just picture her burying their already crowded house in more STUFF with access to that kind of money. And then there’s the fact that Jane’s been looking into the lives of other lottery winners and discovering that many of them become full of drama and tragedy after cashing their winning ticket. OH, and her best friend, Bran, is leading the charge for trying to track down who the winner is while the entire town gossips and speculates while they wait for the winner to come forward.

This is a short and fast-paced read, with Jane’s many hesitations bringing so much depth to the story of “girl wins lottery.” I love her friendship with Bran, her thoughtfulness, and what she ultimately ends up doing. I am also now the founder of the I Hate [NAME REDACTED] club. Go read the book—I bet you’ll have no problem realizing who I am talking about and joining me. Pacton does a great job of drawing out this will-she-or-won’t-she story and giving readers plenty to think about as Jane struggles with what to do. Short, sweet, and satisfying.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781645672081
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Strange Creatures by Phoebe North

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jun. 2021. 544p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062841155.

 Gr 9 Up–Fantasy, trauma, abuse, and grief are explored through the lives of white Jewish siblings who feel they are a soul shared between two bodies, their lives and minds braided together in ways that seem otherworldly. Annie and Jamie live the truest versions of their lives in Gumlea, a safe, sacred fantasy world in the woods behind their house, where they encounter harpies, mermaids, and feral children. In the real world, they don’t fit right. Jamie learns to turn off his feelings and go along to get along. Annie doesn’t mind being abrasive and strange, but worries she’s losing Jamie. When Jamie disappears as a young teen, Annie’s world is shattered. She becomes consumed with the idea that Jamie must somehow be trapped in Gumlea—she can see him there, with ships and pirates and ropes, their sanctuary now a prison. After Annie begins to date Indian American Vidya, Jamie’s ex-girlfriend, she descends into what looks like madness, gathering supplies for a ritual to open the Veil and bring Jamie back so she can be whole again. The story follows them from birth through Annie’s college years. Chapters begin with bits of their Gumlea stories, which serve as allegory and revelation. Narration is shared by Jamie, Annie, and Vidya to powerful effect. Readers will puzzle over just where the reality is in all the fantasy as they delve deeper into the siblings’ richly imagined paracosm.

VERDICT A devastatingly tragic and deeply immersive masterpiece.