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Book Review: Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora edited by Saraciea J. Fennell

Publisher’s description

Edited by The Bronx Is Reading founder Saraciea J. Fennell and featuring an all-star cast of Latinx contributors, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is a ground-breaking anthology that will spark dialogue and inspire hope.

In Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, bestselling and award-winning authors as well as up-and-coming voices interrogate the different myths and stereotypes about the Latinx diaspora. These fifteen original pieces delve into everything from ghost stories and superheroes, to memories in the kitchen and travels around the world, to addiction and grief, to identity and anti-Blackness, to finding love and speaking your truth. Full of both sorrow and joy, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is an essential celebration of this rich and diverse community. 

The bestselling and award-winning contributors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Cristina Arreola, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Naima Coster, Natasha Diaz, Saraciea J. Fennell, Kahlil Haywood, Zakiya Jamal, Janel Martinez, Jasminne Mendez, Meg Medina, Mark Oshiro, Julian Randall, Lilliam Rivera, and Ibi Zoboi.

Amanda’s thoughts

This anthology of personal essays has appeal far beyond just a teen audience, especially as many of the essay delve into the years beyond their teens. While I love anthologies, I don’t always read everything in them. I’ll skim some that are less appealing, skip others entirely after just a few sentences, etc. But here, I read all of them. This is a powerful and well put together collection.

The pieces included here cover a lot of ground. They speak of experiences from childhood through adulthood. They include authors from a bunch of places and backgrounds, writing about a wide variety of experiences, showing that, as Julian Randall writes, “There are as many ways to be Latinx as there are Latinx people” (81). Their essays cover things like culture, assimilation, community, belonging, language, religion, wholeness, resilience, and pride. They have complicated relationships to friends, family, places, history, and the idea of respectability. They struggle with being outsiders, with being immigrants, with the weight of expectations, with the presence and absence of people in their lives. They write about being invisible and being seen, about colorism, anti-Blackness, ancestry, power, whiteness, food, travel, acceptance, camaraderie, isolation, mental health, goals, dreams, love, survival, agency, and existence.

This wonderful and deeply personal look into 15 experiences from the Latinx diaspora will give readers plenty to think about and will surely make many readers feel seen and understood as they encounter authors whose lives, feelings, and experiences echo their own. A great collection.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250763426
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

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

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

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 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

Book Review: The Problem with the Other Side by Kwame Ivery

Publisher’s description

A searing YA debut that follows the joys, complexities, and heartbreaks of an interracial romance between high school sophomores that blossoms during a volatile school election

Uly would rather watch old Westerns with his new girlfriend, Sallie, than get involved in his school’s politics—why focus on the “bad” and “ugly” when his days with Sallie are so good? His older sister Regina feels differently. She is fed up with the way white school-body presidential candidate Leona Walls talks about Black students. Regina decides to run against Leona . . . and convinces Uly to be her campaign manager.

Sallie has no interest in managing her sister’s campaign, but how could she say no? After their parents’ death, Leona is practically her only family. Even after Leona is accused of running a racist campaign that targets the school’s students of color—including Sallie’s boyfriend, Uly—Sallie wants to give her sister the benefit of the doubt. But how long can she ignore the ugly truth behind Leona’s actions? 

Together and apart, Uly and Sallie must navigate sibling loyalty and romantic love as the campaign spirals toward a devastating conclusion. 

CW: Acts of racism and bigotry, racist language, and gun violence are portrayed in this novel.

Amanda’s thoughts

Do you want to read a book with a character you can just totally and completely dislike? Without wondering “do I just think she’s unlikeable because I find her challenging?” and then interrogating what “unlikeable” really means and the weight it carries and how society has tried to train you to view girls and women in certain ways etc? Then settle on down with this book. Leona, sister of main character Sallie, is AWFUL. No redeeming qualities, straight up racist bigot nightmare, horrible human being AWFUL. She maybe wins my Worst Person in YA 2021 award.

This school election is nasty. Uly, who is Black, and Sallie, who is white, are dating. They’re cute—all obsessed with each other and stuff. I like them, even if I find their teen-speak exhausting (listen, if my teen started to say “real talk” or “bacon” or “corduroy” as many times as these teens do, I would have to find a spell to banish those words from his brain). Their sisters, Regina and Leona, are running against each other for student-body president. Leona, who is white, is basically running on a “Make Knight High Great Again” kind of platform. She literally says she wants to get rid of the kids who “have no business being at this school” (pg 50). She means the kids who come from the nearby small and poor towns. Guess what? Most of them are not white. She wants to send them “back where they belong” and she wants to “Turn Knight Back to Day.” Sallie gets roped into being her campaign manager, then Uly gets roped into doing the same with his sister. Plenty of students support Leona and her racism, but plenty are disgusted. And then there’s Sallie. Leona is nearly her only family (both birth parents are dead and they live with their stepmother) and Sallie just cannot wrap her mind around the fact that her sister is super duper racist. As you might imagine, tension arises between Uly and Sallie. And things get way, WAY out of control at school. There’s vandalism, confederate flags, attacks, hateful comments, transphobia, sexism, racism, white supremacy, and violence. In fact, page one of this book shows us a newspaper headline stating two dead on school inauguration day. So you know that despite the cute romance, this is not in any way going to be a light book or an easy read. It’s serious and sad and actually pretty devastating.

I look forward to more from Ivery. He’s got a good ear for realistic teen dialogue (even if I now never, ever want to hear the words “bacon” or “corduroy” in any context) and created interesting characters. I think the summary of the book makes it pretty clear what you’re going to get—this isn’t a romantic comedy or even just a romance. It’s a deep look at the extremes that have cropped up in the United States and shows how they affect teens, high school politics, and day-to-day life. Hand this book to readers ready for a heavy read with plenty of tragedy.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781641292054
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Summer in the City of Roses by Michelle Ruiz Keil

Publisher’s description

Inspired by the Greek myth of Iphigenia and the Grimm fairy tale “Brother and Sister,” Michelle Ruiz Keil’s second novel follows two siblings torn apart and struggling to find each other in early ’90s Portland.

All her life, seventeen-year-old Iph has protected her sensitive younger brother, Orr. But this summer, with their mother gone at an artist residency, their father decides it’s time for fifteen-year-old Orr to toughen up at a wilderness boot camp. When their father brings Iph to a work gala in downtown Portland and breaks the news, Orr has already been sent away against his will. Furious at her father’s betrayal, Iph storms off and gets lost in the maze of Old Town. Enter George, a queer Robin Hood who swoops in on a bicycle, bow and arrow at the ready, offering Iph a place to hide out while she tracks down Orr. 

Orr, in the meantime, has escaped the camp and fallen in with The Furies, an all-girl punk band, and moves into the coat closet of their ramshackle pink house. In their first summer apart, Iph and Orr must learn to navigate their respective new spaces of music, romance, and sex-work activism—and find each other before a fantastical transformation fractures their family forever. 

Told through a lens of magical realism and steeped in myth, Summer in the City of Roses is a dazzling tale about the pain and beauty of growing up.

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes a book is so wonderful and lovely and alive that I almost feel angry. I feel angry that I will have to leave the world of the story eventually, that someone can write so breathtakingly beautifully, that someone’s brain was able to come up with such a strange and special story. I finished this book and thought, well, great—now what am I supposed to do with myself? I mean that in the best way. In the way that you just had a great experience, and will never experience it in that same new and amazing way, and what, I’m just supposed to pick up some other book and pretend I’m not thinking about Orr and Iph and all their new friends?!

You can read the summary up above my thoughts. I’m not going to talk about what happens other than to say I felt completely wrapped up and brought along on the adventures Orr and Iph have while apart (and eventually together) in Portland. It’s the 90s, in this book (you know–that time I was a music-obsessed punk teen, an era my brain INSISTS on thinking was maybe 10 years ago—don’t correct me). The story is full of feminism and punk rock and adventure and magic and love. There’s poetry, theater, sex workers, books, beautiful weirdos in crummy apartments, mythology, fairytales, animals, and love love love. It’s a weird, dark, happy, sad, real, fantastical story. It’s serious and upsetting and whimsical and hopeful. Just go read it. This is a standout book about runaways finding what they need in the strangest of ways. Just lovely.

Review copy (finished hardcover) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781641291712
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

TLT TURNS TEN: Ten Fav Books I’ve Reviewed

I have been with TLT for seven years and over that time, I have reviewed A LOT of books. A LOT. Here are ten of my favorite YA books that have stuck with me over the years for various reasons. Maybe you missed reading these titles, and if that’s the case, get them on your summer reading list ASAP!

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (ISBN-13: 9781935955955 Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press Publication date: 10/14/2014)

Publisher’s description

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

From my review

In Gabi, we have a protagonist who challenges expectations, thinks for herself, and isn’t afraid of putting herself out there or making mistakes. I can’t rave enough about how wonderful this book is. Not only does Quintero unflinchingly address important issues, she’s created multifaceted characters who leap off the page. Gabi and her friends became so real to me that I often forgot this was fiction—it truly felt like reading a real teenager’s diary. I finished the book feeling honored to have watched Gabi grow as a poet and a young woman. I set the book down when I was done wishing I could read books of Gabi’s diaries from the high school years prior to this one, or to see a diary of what her life will hold now that she’s heading off to college. An all-around brilliant and outstanding look at one ordinary year in the life of an extraordinary teenage girl.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez (ISBN-13: 9781467742023 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 09/01/2015)

Publisher’s description

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?” 

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

From my review

The novel begins in media res (you know—in the middle of things). It’s March 18, 1937. Did you need some time to adjust to how completely emotionally obliterating this book will be? Too bad—welcome to page one, where we are faced with the rubble of a recently exploded school littered with bodies. No, check that—it manages to be worse than that: riddled with bits of bodies. Let’s make it worse: bits of children’s bodies. Sufficiently upset? Perez is just getting started.

We leave this heart-wrenching and gruesome scene to jump back to September 1936. Naomi and her twin siblings Beto and Cari are new to town, having recently been relocated from their San Antonio barrio to an oil-mining town by the twins’ father (and Naomi’s stepfather), Henry (their mother is dead). Naomi, who is Mexican, and her biracial siblings are instructed by Henry not to speak Spanish. The children seem to pass as white, but Naomi faces the town’s ugly racism. African-American Wash, the siblings’ one friend, is no stranger to racism either. The foursome quickly become friends, but keep their friendship secret, mainly getting together in wooded areas removed from the judging and gossiping of others. Wash is the one saving grace in Naomi’s fairly unhappy life. Her classmates are constantly whispering about her. The girls hate her because she’s pretty and the boys just want to get in her pants. She does make one girl friend, and a few of the neighbors are friendly, but even if she had a thousand friends, it wouldn’t erase what is happening at home. 

What’s happening at home, you ask? Some pretty horrific stuff. Naomi is essentially raising her siblings. She does all of the cleaning, cooking, and shopping (not easy when the stores don’t want to let in Negros, Mexicans, or dogs–the wording on the sign at the grocery store) while also attending high school. Naomi dislikes Henry (to put it mildly), that much we know, but the reasons why she hates him are slowly revealed. You might be able to guess what’s happening even with no context, but I’m not explicitly going to give you spoilers. Let’s just say it’s as bad as think…. multiplied by 100 more bads. Oh, and wait until you reach the end. Then it’s an infinite amount of bad. 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (ISBN-13: 9780062403162 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 10/06/2015)

A bold and irreverent YA novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable, The Rest of Just Live Here is from novelist Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal- and Kate Greenaway Medal-winning A Monster Calls and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

From my review

It’s a month prior to graduation and Mel, Mikey, Henna, and Jared are spending their last few weeks all together before their post-high school lives split them up. Outside of the constant background threat of possible undead masses coming to destroy the town, the kids lead pretty normal lives. Mike is full of anxiety about his friends, his future, and his family. He suffers from OCD and can’t stop getting stuck in repetitive loops. Mel, who’s one year older than her brother Mike, is making up for the year of school she lost while battling anorexia. Henna, the object of Mike’s affection, is not super excited to be heading to a war-torn African country for the summer. And Jared? Well, he’s a little less normal. He’s three-quarters Jewish and one-quarter God. His mother was a half-Goddess. So what exactly is Jared a god of? Cats. Mikey starts to stress out more when Nathan moves to town five weeks before graduation. Henna seems interested in him, much to Mikey’s dismay, and he can’t help but think it’s super suspicious that Nathan’s arrival happens to coincide with a resurgence of supernatural activity.

There is a lot to love about this book. The structure is intriguing, the writing is smart and funny, and the characters are incredibly interesting and well-developed. I love how they interact with each other and care for each other. At one point, Mike’s OCD has made him wash his face until it’s raw. Jared dabs some moisturizer on it for him. In Mike’s narration, he says, “Yeah, I know most people would think it weird that two guy friends touch as much as we do, but when you choose your family, you get to choose how it is between you, too. This is how we work. I hope you get to choose your family and I hope it means as much to you as mine does to me.” These friends care deeply for one another (and explore just what exactly might be found in the depth of those feelings, with Mike noting very matter-of-factly that he and Jared have hooked up in the past–“And fine, he and I have messed around a few times growing up together, even though I like girls, even though I like Henna, because a horny teenage boy would do it with a tree trunk if it offered at the right moment….”). Their stories dovetail at times with the story of the indie kids waging war against a potential apocalypse (those poor indie kids, always battling the undead, ghosts, and vampires. At one point, Mike notes there are two more indie kids dead. Henna says, “This is worse than when they were all dying beautifully of cancer.” GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK), but they prove that daily teenage life is just as fraught and dramatic as the lives of The Chosen Ones.

See No Color by Shannon Gibney (Originally published 11/01/2015 in hardcover. Paperback info: ISBN-13: 9780823445684 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 07/14/2020)

Publisher’s description

Black daughter, white father, white mother. Race, adoption, and identity collide in this award-winning #OwnVoices debut about a teen challenging the life she’s always known.

Being a transracial adoptee doesn’t bother sixteen-year-old Alex Kirtridge-at least, not in a way she can explain to her white family. It doesn’t matter that she’s biracial when she’s the star of the baseball team. But when Alex is off the field, she’s teased for “acting” too white and judged for looking black. And while she loves her parents, her hot-headed brother, and her free-speaking sister, they don’t seem to understand what it means that Reggie, a fellow ball player, is the first black guy who’s wanted to get to know her. 

Things only get more complicated when she finds hidden letters from her birth father. Alex can’t stop asking questions. Does she really fit in with her family? What would it be like to go to a black hairdresser? Should she contact her birth father, despite the fact that it might devastate her parents? Meanwhile, her body is changing, and Alex isn’t sure she can keep up with her teammates. If she’s going to find answers, Alex must come to terms with her adoption, her race, and the dreams she thought would always guide her.

Author Shannon Gibney draws from her own experiences as a transracial adoptee to deliver this honest coming-of-age novel about a girl who doesn’t know where she wants to fit in. Paperback edition includes a reading guide at the back!

From my review

Mixed into the narrative are incidents from Alex’s past, such as being a small child at the beach and a rude woman telling her she’s floated too far from her “host family.” The woman goes on to ask if she speaks English and asks where she’s from. When Alex’s white mother appears, the woman’s tiny brain explodes. She sputters over how it could be possible that this girl belongs to this woman. When Alex’s mom tries to make her feel better about what happened, she says, “We are all one in this family, okay? We don’t even see color.” As readers, we understand that Alex’s family believes this to be true and to be a good thing. But of course, their constant correction that she’s mixed proves otherwise, and claiming to be colorblind isn’t really helping anything, as it ignores and invalidates identities and experiences.

Kit is the one who really pushes this conversation, asking her family what they actually think about Alex being the only black person in an otherwise white family. She says she sees how people stare at their family. “But it’s like this secret, you know? Like no one is supposed to actually admit that she’s black, or maybe more that she’s not white.” Of course, we all know what her father does, right? “Alex is only half black,” he says. Just in case anyone forgot. But this family doesn’t see color. Later, Alex exasperatedly says to Kit that she doesn’t even know what “mixed,” her dad’s favorite word, is supposed to mean. “Mixed. As far as I can tell, it means closer to white for Mom and Dad, and the lightest shade of black for everyone else.” Later, her father, apparently trying to be loving and reassuring, tells her, “I just want you to know that your mother and I, we will always see you as just you, as Alex. There’s nothing black—or particularly… racial–about you to us because you’re our little girl and always will be.” Alex notes that the way he says “black” is cringe-inducing, “like it was the worst thing a person could be,” but that when her dad says “mixed,” he sounds prideful. More of these conversations happen over and over with her family.

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu (ISBN-13: 9780399186738 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/31/2017)

Publisher’s description

The girls of Devonairre Street have always been told they’re cursed. Any boy they love is certain to die too soon. But this is Brooklyn in 2008, and the curse is less a terror and more a lifestyle accessory—something funky and quaint that makes the girls from the shortest street in Brooklyn special. They wear their hair long and keys around their necks. People give them a second look and whisper “Devonairre” to their friends. But it’s not real. It won’t affect their futures.

Then Jack—their Jack, the one boy everyone loved—dies suddenly and violently. And now the curse seems not only real, but like the only thing that matters. All their bright futures have suddenly gone dark.

The Careful Undressing of Love is a disturbing and sensual story of the power of youth and the boundless mysteries of love set against the backdrop of Haydu’s brilliantly reimagined New York City.

From my review

Haydu has written a profound story examining grief, doubt, tradition, expectation, and identity. Haydu’s story brings up huge questions about sacrifice and protection, about truth and perception. We are asked to consider, right alongside Lorna and crew, if love if a decision. Lorna and her friends know grief and pain, but they are still young. They are still learning that loss and heartache are inherent in love. And they can’t protect themselves from that—not by chalking things up to a Curse, not by drinking certain teas, not by building cages around their hearts, not by anything. They don’t yet know that we are all Affected, that we are all Cursed. In their isolation, they don’t understand that everyone has lost loved ones, that everyone blames themselves. Thanks to the relentlessness of Angelika, the Devonairre Street girls feel like they are the only ones protecting themselves, denying themselves, and stumbling under the dizzying weight of grief and guilt. Lorna, Delilah, Charlotte, and Isla’s whole lives are filled with people making them feel Other because of this. They don’t yet understand these are the prices we pay for being alive, for being the survivors. Their search for this understanding, their stumbling for answers and finding new pain, is heartbreaking. This beautifully written story is not to be missed. A powerful and deeply profound exploration of love, tragedy, and life itself.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (ISBN-13: 9780525425892 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/14/2017)

Publisher’s description

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother. Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart. 
 
An intimate whisper that packs an indelible punchWe Are Okay is Nina LaCour at her finest. This gorgeously crafted and achingly honest portrayal of grief will leave you urgent to reach across any distance to reconnect with the people you love.

From my review

This is one of those books where I just don’t even want to say much of anything beyond OH MY GOD, GO READ THIS, IT’S STUNNING. I want the story to unfold for you like it did for me. I hadn’t so much as read the flap copy. I didn’t need to. It takes a while to figure out where the story might be going, and even once the pieces start to fall into place, it never feels predictable. This is, hands down, one of saddest books I have read in a very long time. But here’s how I mean that: you won’t cry all the way through. It’s not all doom and gloom. There is a lot of love and friendship to be found here. But Marin’s grief and loneliness will just destroy you.

And really, that’s all I’m telling you. The small summary up there of the plot gives you just enough of an outline to rope you in, but doesn’t reveal any of the really significant parts of the story. All you need to know is that this book will break your heart. But it won’t do it in a way that will leave you hopeless—I promise. A beautiful story of love, grief, and learning to heal. 

We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss (ISBN-13: 9780062494276 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/08/2018)

Publisher’s description

Luke and Toby have always had each other’s backs. But then one choice—or maybe it is a series of choices—sets them down an irrevocable path. We’ll Fly Away weaves together Luke and Toby’s senior year of high school with letters Luke writes to Toby later—from death row.

This thought-provoking novel is an exploration of friendship, regret, and redemption, for fans of Jason Reynolds and Marieke Nijkamp.

Best friends since childhood, Luke and Toby have dreamed of one thing: getting out of their dead-end town. Soon they finally will, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, never looking back. If they don’t drift apart first. If Toby’s abusive dad, or Luke’s unreliable mom, or anything else their complicated lives throw at them doesn’t get in the way.

In a format that alternates between Luke’s letters to Toby from death row and the events of their senior year, Bryan Bliss expertly unfolds the circumstances that led to Luke’s incarceration. Tense and emotional, this hard-hitting novel explores family abuse, sex, love, and friendship, and how far people will go to protect those they love. For fans of Jason Reynolds, Chris Crutcher, and NPR’s Serial podcast.

From my review

In Luke’s letters from death row, we see weird glimpses of hope that we could never see in the main narrative. I say “weird” because the kid is on death row. His letters are full of pain and anger, but also resiliency, and he works through so much in his letters to Toby. His letters give us a real insight into his mind during this time. It is, I would guess, virtually impossible for almost all of us to really imagine what it would be like to be on death row. To be waiting. To watch people you have come to know put to death. I think it can be easy for people to look at people in prison, on death row, and forget their humanity. It can be easy to write people off, to expect a punishment, to not see them as humans, to not understand what led them there, to not think about redemption or the worth of a life or what the death penalty really means. Bliss makes you think about all those things. He makes the reader understand that people are not just defined by one thing, but have entire lives and stories that led them to the act or acts that landed them in prison. He asks readers to see their complex lives and care about them. The standout characters, including the nun who routinely visits Luke in prison, are deeply affecting and beg readers to really pay attention to their lives and their choices. Though devastatingly sad, this is also a beautiful look at friendship between two boys—something we don’t always see much of in YA. This emotional, powerful, and unflinching look at friendship, loyalty, and the justice system is an absolute must for all collections. Not an easy read, but an important one. 

Heroine by Mindy McGinnis (ISBN-13: 9780062847195 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019)

Publisher’s description

A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope.

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

From my review

All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.

Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden (ISBN-13: 9781681198040 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/14/2020)

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author Tonya Bolden comes the story of a teen girl becoming a woman on her own terms against the backdrop of widespread social change in the early 1900s.

Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper class African American family in Washington D.C., she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation—black or white—and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society—the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men, and shallow young women—has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah starts attending suffragist lectures and socialist meetings, finding herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

Set against the backdrop of the press for women’s rights, the Red Summer, and anarchist bombings, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl and the risks she must take to be the change in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

From my review

This book is a mix of a very character-driven story for about 50% or more of the book, then a very action-driven story for the remainder. I really loved this book. In fact, I’ve been in a horrible reading slump for most of the past few weeks (thanks, depression!) and have started and abandoned a giant stack of books as I try to decide what to read and review here for TLT. I got lost in Savannah’s world and loved watching her awakening. Her best friend Yolande is always there, being horrified at Savannah’s choice of company, admonishing her for being around “common” people who are not their kind of people. Savannah’s own parents are less than pleased with her choices, so it takes real strength for Savannah to strike out on her own and make real strides to educate herself and expand her views. As D.C. and other major cities erupt in riots, bombings, lynchings, and fires, Savannah finds herself more involved in the action than she ever could have dreamed.

This complex story will put readers right in the middle of all the action and introduces a wide swath of ideas and perspectives. Set just over 100 years ago, the quest for social justice and real change makes for a powerful and still (always) relevant topic. An author’s note, historical photographs, notes, and sources all provide further context for Savannah’s story and her awakening in this engaging and unique read.

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon (ISBN-13: 9781984812230 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/17/2020)

Publisher’s description

From the New York Times bestselling author of Frankly in Love comes a young adult romantic comedy about identity and acceptance. Perfect for fans of John Green and To All the Boys I’ve Love Before.

When Sunny Dae—self-proclaimed total nerd—meets Cirrus Soh, he can’t believe how cool and confident she is. So when Cirrus mistakes Sunny’s older brother Gray’s bedroom—with its electric guitars and rock posters—for Sunny’s own, he sort of, kind of, accidentally winds up telling her he’s the front man of a rock band.

Before he knows it, Sunny is knee-deep in the lie: He ropes his best friends into his scheme, begging them to form a fake band with him, and starts wearing Gray’s rock-and-roll castoffs. But no way can he trick this amazing girl into thinking he’s cool, right? Just when Sunny is about to come clean, Cirrus asks to see them play sometime. Gulp.

Now there’s only one thing to do: Fake it till you make it.

From my review

Here’s my favorite line from the book: Sunny and Cirrus are talking and she says, “It begs the question, What person isn’t just a made-up thing in the first place? Is it the fakery that makes us real? Is anything real?” And while that may sound like the kind of eye-roll-inducing conversation we all had as teens and thought was so deep, guess what? It is deep. Is there anything innate about our personalities or are we all just amalgamations of our interests and influences and ideals and emulations etc? And in Sunny’s case, is he actually faking being “cool” and interesting or is he indeed cool and interesting? Is changing our personalities and interests really in any way being “fake” when there’s nothing any more “real” about our previous identities or personalities or interests? How do you become who you are?

As I said in my review of Yoon’s previous book, I’m a hard one to make laugh, as a reader. Cry, sure, at the drop of a hat. But laugh? Rarely. But with this book, I laughed and laughed. I made note of brilliant lines. I went back and read clever conversations. I got completely sucked into the story and felt right there with the characters. I was shoving my fist right in there with theirs and shouting, “To metal!” I can’t say enough positive about this really smart, empathetic, and hilarious look at identity, friendship, preconceived notions, high school, and missteps. One of my very favorite reads this year.

Post-It Note Reviews: Friendship, ghosts, true stories, late-night adventures, 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.

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.

Pawcasso by Remy Lai (ISBN-13: 9781250774491 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) Publication date: 05/25/2021, Ages 8-12)

Remy Lai, the award-winning creator of Pie in the Sky makes her middle-grade graphic novel debut, Pawcasso, about the unexpected friendship between the loneliest girl in class and the coolest canine in town.

Every Saturday, Pawcasso trots into town with a basket, a shopping list, and cash in paw to buy groceries for his family. One day, he passes eleven-year-old Jo, peering out the window of her house, bored and lonely. Astonished by the sight of an adorable basket-toting dog on his own, Jo follows Pawcasso, and when she’s seen alongside him by a group of kids from her school, they mistake her for Pawcasso’s owner. 

Excited to make new friends, Jo reluctantly hides the truth and agrees to let “her” dog model for an art class the kids attend. What could go wrong? But what starts as a Chihuahua-sized lie quickly grows Great Dane-sized when animal control receives complaints about a dog roaming the streets off-leash. With Pawcasso’s freedom at stake, is Jo willing to spill the truth and risk her new friendships?

(POST-IT SAYS: A great dog book AND a great friendship book. Jo, who is also angry and sad about how often her dad is gone for work, learns so much about friendship and community with the help of good dog Pawcasso.)

Metropolis Grove by Drew Brockington (ISBN-13: 9781779500533 Publisher: DC Comics Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 8-12)

Look, up in the sky!

The big city is full of Superman sightings, but here in Metropolis Grove? Every kid in this suburb knows that he’s not real…except newcomer Sonia Patel. She’d hoped that having a full summer in her new house would let her make some friends before school started, and it’s working! 

But if new pals Duncan and Alex don’t believe in a superhero she’s seen with her very own two eyes, will the school year be everything Sonia’s hoping for? Or will all her lonely fears be realized instead? Maybe she just needs to introduce her new friends to the super-strong, super-powered man who lives in the cave with all the super-memorabilia. 

Drew Brockington sends this trio into a school year full of drama and adventure…and more than a few opportunities for a newfound friendship to test its limits.

(POST-IT SAYS: Really fun fast-paced story with bright, appealing art. The 3 friends have lots of fun working on their fort and exploring the woods. Sonia’s efforts to “train” Bizarro are hilarious.)

Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff (ISBN-13: 9780593111154 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 10-12)

A haunting ghost story about navigating grief, growing up, and growing into a new gender identity

It’s the summer before middle school and eleven-year-old Bug’s best friend Moira has decided the two of them need to use the next few months to prepare. For Moira, this means figuring out the right clothes to wear, learning how to put on makeup, and deciding which boys are cuter in their yearbook photos than in real life. But none of this is all that appealing to Bug, who doesn’t particularly want to spend more time trying to understand how to be a girl. Besides, there’s something more important to worry about: A ghost is haunting Bug’s eerie old house in rural Vermont…and maybe haunting Bug in particular. As Bug begins to untangle the mystery of who this ghost is and what they’re trying to say, an altogether different truth comes to light—Bug is transgender.

(POST-IT SAYS: What a lovely, heartfelt, affirming story. As much about grief and friendship as it is about coming out as trans. An essential read—the acceptance, hope, and love highlight the joy in being your true self.)

Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed by Laura Brown, Elly Kramer, Sarah Mensinga (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781645950158 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 06/01/2021 Series: Trillium Sisters, Ages 7-9)

Three sisters discover that they and their pets have superpowers they can use to protect the world around them in the first book in a fantastical new chapter book series about family, friendship, and environmental responsibility perfect for fans of Mia Mayhem and The Wish Fairy.

Nothing can stop this triple team!

Eight-year-old triplets Emmy, Clare, and Giselle are excited to celebrate Founding Day, the day their dad found them and they became a family. The girls want this year’s celebration to be extra special. And Dad has a big sur¬prise—trillium petal charms that he found with the girls. 

But when the girls’ little brother, Zee, slips into the river while helping them plan a special surprise, something magical happens: The charms are drawn together, forming a glowing flower, and the girls suddenly have super¬powers! Channeling their new abilities, they work together to try to save Zee, but will they be able to figure out how to help in time?

(POST-IT SAYS: Young readers who like the outdoors, cute animals, and magic will enjoy this cheerful, undemanding series. Large print and lots of art make for a fast read.)

Accused: My Story of Injustice by Adama Bah, Dave Eggers (Editor), Zainab Nasrati (Editor), Zoe Ruiz (Editor), Amanda Uhle (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781324016632 Publisher: Norton Young Readers Publication date: 08/03/2021 Series: I, Witness Series #1, Ages 9-12)

Launching a propulsive middle grade nonfiction series, a young woman shares her harrowing experience of being wrongly accused of terrorism.

Adama Bah grew up in East Harlem after immigrating from Conakry, Guinea, and was deeply connected to her community and the people who lived there. But as a thirteen-year-old after the events of September 11, 2001, she began experiencing discrimination and dehumanization as prejudice toward Muslim people grew. Then, on March 24, 2005, FBI agents arrested Adama and her father. Falsely accused of being a potential suicide bomber, Adama spent weeks in a detention center being questioned under suspicion of terrorism.

With sharp and engaging writing, Adama recounts the events surrounding her arrest and its impact on her life—the harassment, humiliation, and persecution she faced for crimes she didn’t commit. Accusedbrings forward a crucial and unparalleled first-person perspective of American culture post-9/11 and the country’s discrimination against Muslim Americans, and heralds the start of a new series of compelling narrative nonfiction by young people, for young people.

(POST-IT SAYS: Unsurprisingly, a very upsetting look at Islamophobia, detainment, bravery, and perseverance. Told in a simple, straight-forward, effective way. Publisher suggests 9-12 for audience, but I’d say 11-14.)

Hurricane: My Story of Resilience by Salvador Gomez-Colon, Dave Eggers (Editor), Zainab Nasrati (Editor), Zoe Ruiz (Editor), Amanda Uhle (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781324016656 Publisher: Norton Young Readers Publication date: 08/03/2021 Series: I, Witness Series #2, Ages 9-12)

Launching a propulsive middle grade nonfiction series, a young man shares how he combated Puerto Rico’s public health emergency after Hurricane Maria.

Suffering heavy damage in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rican communities lacked access to clean water and electricity. Salvador Gómez-Colón couldn’t ignore the basic needs of his homeland, and knew that nongovernmental organizations and larger foreign philanthropies could only do so much. With unstoppable energy and a deep knowledge of local culture, Salvador founded Light and Hope for Puerto Rico and raised more than $100,000 to purchase and distribute solar-powered lamps and hand-powered washing machines to households in need.

With a voice that is both accessible and engaging, Salvador recalls living through the catastrophic storm and grappling with the destruction it left behind. Hurricane brings forward a captivating first-person account of strength, resilience, and determination, and heralds the start of a new series of compelling narrative nonfiction by young people, for young people.

(POST-IT SAYS: A harrowing look at living through a hurricane and the aftermath. The author’s activism to raise money to help people around him is inspirational. This compelling read would be made even more so if photos had been included.)

Up All Night: 13 Stories between Sunset and Sunrise by Laura Silverman (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781643750415 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 07/13/2021, Ages 12-18)

When everyone else goes to bed, the ones who stay up feel like they’re the only people in the world. As the hours tick by deeper into the night, the familiar drops away and the unfamiliar beckons. Adults are asleep, and a hush falls over the hum of daily life. Anything is possible.

It’s a time for romance and adventure. For prom night and ghost hunts. It’s a time for breaking up, for falling in love—for finding yourself.

Stay up all night with these thirteen short stories from bestselling and award-winning YA authors like Karen McManus, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nina LaCour, and Brandy Colbert, as they take readers deep into these rarely seen, magical hours.

Full contributor list: Brandy Colbert, Kathleen Glasgow, Maurene Goo, Tiffany D. Jackson, Amanda Joy, Nina LaCour, Karen M. McManus, Anna Meriano, Marieke Nijkamp, Laura Silverman, Kayla Whaley, Julian Winters, Francesca Zappia.

(POST-IT SAYS: Fun anthology! Mix of genres, identities, and late night hijinks. Games, storms, bonfires, homes, dance, rooftops, and more are settings for these stories of what teens get up to at night.)

The History of Western Art in Comics Part One: From Prehistory to the Renaissance by Marion Augustin, Bruno Heitz (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780823446469 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 07/20/2021, Ages 10+)

Learning about art through the ages has never been as interesting or fun as in this humorous and very informative graphic novel.

As two kids give their grandpa a tour of Paris, he starts an interesting conversation with them—about where all the art they see in their lives—from the movie house to the stadiums to museums and even the subway— started. Dad’s impromptu history lesson goes back to the first Cavemen drawings to the pyramids of Giza, and by the end of the book includes Greco-Roman feats of ingenuity and the frescoes of the Renaissance. Recounted as a narrative about why different civilizations created different kinds of art, centuries of art history are explored entertainingly for young readers. Iconic works, such as Donatello’s David and The Book of Kells, are included as well as architectural feats like the Colosseum. 

Written by a tour guide for museums and historic landmarks, the text is designed to entertain (with many funny asides and jokes) as it informs. The illustrations accurately portray the art and the artists described, with flavor and humor added to keep readers turning the page. Reproductions of the featured artworks and information about each piece are included in the back, along with a glossary of terms.

(POST-IT SAYS: Absolutely crammed with art and information. A deep exploration of history, technique, meaning, significance, style, and influences. Educational and entertaining. A great, if slightly overwhelming, look at art in context.)

Book Review: Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke by Andrew Maraniss


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.

Philomel. Mar. 2021. 320p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593116722.

 Gr 9 Up–A pioneering athlete’s life is examined through the intersection of gay rights, race, and Major League Baseball. Glenn Burke rose to acclaim in the 1970s as part of the L.A. Dodgers. Charismatic, popular, and phenomenally talented, Burke, who was Black and gay but not out, worked his way through the team’s farm system. He longed to reconcile his image with his true self, and in 1982 Burke, who is credited with inventing the cultural phenomenon of the high five, came out in a magazine article and a Today show interview. Burke struggled with drug addiction and eventually fell on devastatingly hard times, at times incarcerated, unhoused, and unemployed. He died of complications from AIDS in 1995. By looking at the social and political climates and incorporating the history of gay rights and activism, Maraniss shows what the world was like for gay people in the 1970s and 1980s, with no openly gay athletes, a homophobic sports world, and the AIDS crisis taking hold. Short sections, photographs, and quotes from Maraniss’s many interviews keep the deeply immersive story moving. Extensive back matter proves to be as essential reading as the main text. Detailed source notes provide more information on people quoted, events of the time, issues in MLB, and explanations of references. A bibliography, baseball statistics, a gay rights time line, selection of Black American LGBTQ people to know and study, and an index round out the work.

VERDICT This remarkable tribute to a trailblazer is narrative nonfiction at its finest.