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Book Review: Tonight We Rule the World by Zack Smedley

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, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Page Street. Oct. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781645673323.

Gr 9 Up–A sexual assault, the secrets surrounding it, and the resulting trauma reshape everything high school senior Owen understands to be true. Switching between earlier diaries and the current time line, Owen, who is on the autism spectrum, details his relationship with his girlfriend, do-gooder perfectionist Lily. Neither Lily nor their friends blink when Owen comes out as bisexual, but the night he reveals this information on social media he is sexually assaulted while on a class trip. He tries to keep the report of his rape and the ensuing investigation secret from Lily, as things between them are already strained and stressful. Though Owen knows who raped him, he refuses to tell the school, his parents, or the authorities. He grapples with what happened to him while trying to figure out if he can do the relationship reset that Lily desperately wants. Owen works through the hurdles that trauma brings, eventually confronting his abuser and revealing their identity to his parents. The intricate layers, stunning revelations, and powerful emotions in this story will captivate readers as well as help them overlook some of the flaws—mainly uneven writing. The structure of the novel, partially told through diary entries, successfully adds suspense and shows how difficult it can be to move forward and just exist in the aftermath of a horrific incident.

VERDICT A painful and important look at toxic relationships, rape, power, and control from a vantage point not often seen in YA.

Book Review: Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Publisher’s description

From the New York Times bestselling authors of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight comes a story about friendship, privilege, sports, and protest.

With a rocky start to senior year, cheerleaders and lifelong best friends Eleanor and Chanel have a lot on their minds. Eleanor is still in physical therapy months after a serious concussion from a failed cheer stunt. Chanel starts making questionable decisions to deal with the mounting pressure of college applications. But they have each other’s backs—just as always, until Eleanor’s new relationship with star quarterback Three starts a rift between them.

Then, the cheer squad decides to take a knee at the season’s first football game, and what seemed like a positive show of solidarity suddenly shines a national spotlight on the team—and becomes the reason for a larger fallout between the girls. As Eleanor and Chanel grapple with the weight of the consequences as well as their own problems, can the girls rely on the friendship they’ve always shared?

Amanda’s thoughts

Oooh, is there a LOT to talk about with this book! I’d love to see it used in a literature circle in a high school class and eavesdrop on every single thought!

Eleanor, or Leni, who is white and Jewish, is recovering from multiple falls and concussions from cheering on the competitive squad. She’s excited to get her medical clearance so she can cheer her senior year. Chanel, or Nelly, who is Black, has spent the summer at a prestigious cheer camp. She’s driven, organized, super competitive, and determined to attend a top business school. And then there’s Three, star football player, also Black, Leni’s new love interest, and a kid with an outrageous amount of pressure on him. His hardcore dad is determined for Three to make it in the bigtime.

Senior year in Atlanta, Georgia takes on a million twists and turns starting with Leni being chosen as cheer captain over Nelly. This strains their friendship, as does Leni’s attention to Three. When the cheer team decides to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with an alum making waves in the news, things really pop off. The football coach says the sidelines is not the place for this kind of act, the students become heroes to some and villains to others, and the squad’s act spreads to other student groups, drawing more attention to their school and to those who started this movement. The choices these students make affect them all differently and garner different reactions. Leni’s parents are proud of her and her rabbi reminds her of the obligation to bear witness to injustice. Nelly’s parents are not happy with her choice and she’s the one who ends up taking the heat from the school. And Three? He thinks the decision to kneel is admirable and brave, but isn’t sure he can make that move because it might risk his entire future.

The authors force their characters to grapple with big questions. They examine the controversy and power of social action. They make their characters (and, by extension, their readers) think about who gets to make these decisions, what consequences may look like, and what it all means. Leni has to think about what it means to be an ally versus what it means to be an accomplice. She has to think about what centering herself does and if she’s been listening to and understanding the very people she’s trying to support. Good intentions are not enough, and both Leni and Nelly think about what social justice work they may want to do as they move forward and in what way.

I loved the entire kneeling/social justice movement storyline as much as I loved seeing competitive cheerleaders hard at work and the outrageous pressure on some student athletes. We see friendships and romantic relationships strained because of all these plot elements. I really liked the other book these authors did together, I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, and hope to see more from them, both together and individually. A thought-provoking read full of social commentary.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492678922
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: Graphic novels, a ghost story, time travel, absurd words, 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.

Karen’s Worst Day (Baby-sitters Little Sister Graphic Novel #3) (Adapted edition) by Ann M. Martin, Katy Farina (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338356182 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 12/29/2020)

Another graphic novel in this fun series spin-off of The Baby-sitters Club, featuring Kristy’s little stepsister!

Karen is having a terrible day. Her favorite jeans are missing, there’s no prize in the Crunch-O cereal box, and Boo-Boo the cat won’t play with her. She even gets punished and sent to her room!

Karen tries everything to make her day better, but nothing is going right and her bad luck just won’t go away. Will this be the worst day ever?

Karen’s Kittycat Club (Baby-sitters Little Sister Graphic Novel #4) (Adapted edition) by Ann M. Martin, Katy Farina (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338356212 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 07/20/2021)

Karen wants to start her own club!

Karen’s best friend Hannie just got an adorable new kitten. Their neighbor Amanda has a cat, too, and Karen has grumpy old Boo-Boo. Now that they all have cats, Karen comes up with a great idea. She wants to start a Kittycat Club!

What will the club do? Karen can’t baby-sit like her big sister Kristy… but she can cat-sit! Will anyone want to hire Karen and her friends?

(POST-IT SAYS: These graphic novels continue to be super cute and fun. Perfect for the 6-9 set. Spirited Karen has LOTS of big feelings and lots of people to help her negotiate them.)

Partly Cloudy by Tanita S. Davis (ISBN-13: 9780062937001 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/07/2021, Ages 8-12)

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: Madalyn tackles tough conversations, big changes, and lots of discomfort in this quiet story. Character-driven readers will appreciate Madalyn’s adjustments and realizations.)

Tia Lugo Speaks No Evil by Danette Vigilante (ISBN-13: 9781631635755 Publisher: North Star Editions Publication date: 08/17/2021, Ages 10-14)

Tia Lugo has a deadly secret.

Tia Lugo considers herself an ordinary thirteen-year-old girl. She just wants to enjoy the end of summer, which means hanging out with her best friend and neighbor, Julius, and ignoring her Puerto Rican grandmother’s embarrassing reliance on creepy candles, weird-smelling herb bundles, and eerie statues—all available for sale at the nearby botanica. But when Tia witnesses a murder late one night from her bedroom window, everything changes in an instant.

Now, Tia is terrified to tell anyone what she’s seen. What if the killer comes after her too? He knows where she lives. Even worse, Tia believes he’s sending her secret messages, reminding her to stay quiet. Desperate to keep herself and her family safe, Tia turns to the last place she ever thought she’d go: her grandmother’s favorite shopping spot, the botanica.

(POST-IT SAYS: Pretty solid suspenseful middle grade thriller. Nota lot of murder mysteries for this age—especially with the main character as the witness. Fast-paced and filled with memorable characters.)

Ham Helsing #1: Vampire Hunter by Rich Moyer (ISBN-13: 9780593308912 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 8-12)

The monster hunt is on! A rip-roaring graphic novel adventure about the latest in a famous family of vampire-hunting pigs, inspired by legendary monster slayer Van Helsing!

Ham Helsing is the descendant of a long line of adventurers and monster hunters—who don’t often live to rest on their laurels. Ham has always been the odd pig out, preferring to paint or write poetry instead of inventing dangerous (dumb) new ways to catch dangerous creatures. 

His brother Chad was the daredevil carrying on the family legacy of leaping before looking, but after his death, it’s down to Ham. Reluctantly, he sets out on his first assignment, to hunt a vampire. But Ham soon learns that people aren’t always what they seem and that you need a good team around you to help save your bacon!

(POST-IT SAYS: Cute art, wacky characters and story, and fast-paced adventure will please especially those readers who like energetic silliness. Good fun!)

What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie (ISBN-13: 9781728245720 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 10-14)

For fans of Small Spaces and the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine comes a chilling ghost story about a girl living in the decrepit and creepy mansion, who discovers something in the woods is after her.

All Ginny Anderson wants from her summer is to sleep in, attend a mystery writing workshop, and spend time with her best friend. But when Ginny’s father—a respected restoration expert in Chicago—surprises the family with a month-long trip to Michigan, everything changes. They aren’t staying in a hotel like most families would. No, they’re staying in a mansion. A twenty-six room, century-old building surrounded by dense forest. Woodmoor Manor.

But unfortunately, the mansion has more problems than a little peeling wallpaper. Locals claim the surrounding woods are inhabited by mutated creatures with glowing eyes. And some say campers routinely disappear in the woods, never to be seen again.

As terrifying as it sounds, Ginny can’t shake the feeling that there’s something darker . . . another story she hasn’t been told. When the creaky floors and shadowy corners of the mansion seem to take on a life of their own, Ginny uncovers the wildest mystery of all: There’s more than one legend roaming Saugatuck, Michigan, and they definitely aren’t after campers.

It’s after her.

(POST-IT SAYS: We always need more scary/horror MG books! Paranormal creepiness, a mystery, and a truly spooky vibe. Great friendships/relationships and Ginny is an excellent and determined main character.)

The Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang (ISBN-13: 9780593111284 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/17/2021, Ages 9-12)

A family feud before the start of seventh grade propels Meilan from Boston’s Chinatown to rural Ohio, where she must tap into her inner strength and sense of justice to make a new place for herself in this resonant debut.

Meilan Hua’s world is made up of a few key ingredients: her family’s beloved matriarch, Nai Nai; the bakery her parents, aunts, and uncles own and run in Boston’s Chinatown; and her favorite Chinese fairy tales. 

After Nai Nai passes, the family has a falling-out that sends Meilan, her parents, and her grieving grandfather on the road in search of a new home. They take a winding path across the country before landing in Redbud, Ohio. Everything in Redbud is the opposite of Chinatown, and Meilan’s not quite sure who she is—being renamed at school only makes it worse. She decides she is many Meilans, each inspired by a different Chinese character with the same pronunciation as her name. Sometimes she is Mist, cooling and invisible; other times, she’s Basket, carrying her parents’ hopes and dreams and her guilt of not living up to them; and occasionally she is bright Blue, the way she feels around her new friend Logan. Meilan keeps her facets separate until an injustice at school shows her the power of bringing her many selves together. 

The Many Meanings of Meilan, written in stunning prose by Andrea Wang, is an exploration of all the things it’s possible to grieve, the injustices large and small that make us rage, and the peace that’s unlocked when we learn to find home within ourselves.

(POST-IT SAYS: What a fantastic read. Meilan’s journey through family history, new friends, racist administrators, and finding her own voice is moving, empowering, and exceedingly well written.)

Final Season by Tim Green (ISBN-13: 9780062485953 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 8-12)

From New York Times bestselling author and former NFL player Tim Green comes a gripping, deeply personal standalone football novel about a star middle school quarterback faced with a life-changing decision after his dad is diagnosed with ALS. Perfect for fans of Mike Lupica!

With two all-star college football players for brothers and a former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman for a father, it is only natural for sixth-grade quarterback Benjamin Redd to follow in their footsteps.

However, after his dad receives a heartbreaking ALS diagnosis—connected to all those hard hits and tackles he took on the field—Ben’s mom becomes more determined than ever to get Ben to quit football.

Ben isn’t playing just for himself though. This might be his dad’s last chance to coach. And his teammates need a quarterback that can lead them to the championships. But as Ben watches the heavy toll ALS takes on his dad’s body, he begins to question if this should be his final season after all. 

(POST-IT SAYS: A powerful and emotional read. This tight-knit family has to rethink its dedication to playing football in the face of the father’s ALS diagnosis. A moving look at choices, perseverance, and love.)

Your Life Has Been Delayed by Michelle I. Mason (ISBN-13: 9781547604081 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 09/07/2021, Ages 12-17)

Past and present collide in a captivating YA debut about a girl who takes off on a flight and lands . . . twenty-five years later.

When Jenny boards her flight back from New York, the biggest things on her mind are applying to Columbia and reuniting with her brand-new boyfriend. But when she and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, they’re told that their plane disappeared-twenty-five years ago. Everyone thought they were dead.

The world has fast-forwarded. Three of her grandparents are gone, her parents are old, and her “little” brother is now an adult. There’s so much she’s missed out on, not the least iPhones, social media, and pop culture. When some surprising information comes to light, Jenny feels betrayed by her family and once-best friend. She’s also fighting her attraction to Dylan, a cute and kind classmate who has an unusual connection to her past. And then there’s the growing contingent of conspiracy theorists determined to prove that Flight 237 hides a sinister truth. Will Jenny figure out how to move forward, or will she always be stuck in the past?

Debut author Michelle I. Mason offers a smart and funny high-concept debut about the most unbelievable of life changes-and the parts of yourself that can always stay the same.

(POST-IT SAYS: A fun thought experiment, especially to this 90s teen! A good premise full of culture shock, angst, and the weird adjustment to everyone you knew being 25 years older. Biggest themes: change and relationships.)

Drawn That Way by Elissa Sussman, Arielle Jovellanos (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781534492974 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date: 09/28/2021, Ages 12-18)

Moxie meets the world of animation in this fresh, unputdownable novel about a teen girl determined to prove herself in the boys’ club of her dream industry no matter what it takes.

Hayley Saffitz is confident, ambitious, and intent on following in the footsteps of her hero, renowned animation director, Bryan Beckett. When she’s given a spot in his once-in-a-lifetime summer program, Hayley devises a plan: snag one of the internship’s coveted directing opportunities. Dazzle Bryan with her talent. Secure a job post-graduation. Live her dream.

Except she doesn’t land one of the director positions. All of those go to boys. And one of them is Bryan’s son, Bear.

Despite Bear’s obvious apathy for the internship, Hayley soon realizes that there’s more to him than she expected. As they work together, the animosity between them thaws into undeniable chemistry and maybe something… more.

But Hayley can’t stop thinking about the chance she was refused.

Determined to make a name for herself, Hayley recruits the five other young women in the program to develop their own short to sneak into the film festival at the end of the summer. As the internship winds down, however, one question remains: Will Hayley conform to the expectations of her idol, or will she risk her blossoming relationship with Bear—and her future—to prove that she’s exactly as talented as she thinks she is?

(POST-IT SAYS: Loved this! Cool summer internship, feminism, animation, and friendship! Hayley is smart, passionate, and ambitious. Challenges sexism and the “boys’ club” mentality.)

I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 (I Survived Graphic Novel #4) by Lauren Tarshis, Corey Egbert (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338680485 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 08/03/2021, Ages 8-12)

A gripping graphic novel adaptation of Lauren Tarshis’s bestselling I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001, in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

The only thing Lucas loves more than football is his Uncle Benny, his dad’s best friend at the firehouse where they both work. Benny taught Lucas everything about football. So when Lucas’s parents decide the sport is too dangerous and he needs to quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan.

The next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York as he heads to the firehouse. But just as he arrives, everything changes — and nothing will ever be the same again.

Lauren Tarshis’s New York Times bestselling I Survived series comes to vivid life in bold graphic novels. Perfect for readers who prefer the graphic novel format, or for existing fans of the I Survived chapter book series, these graphic novels combine historical facts with high-action storytelling that’s sure to keep any reader turning the pages. Includes a nonfiction section at the back with facts and photos about the real-life event.

(POST-IT SAYS: The layout, art, and adaptation of the story are all great and so effectively convey the shock and horror of this awful day. The graphic novel format is so well suited to telling this specific story.)

Monarch Butterflies: Explore the Life Journey of One of the Winged Wonders of the World by Ann Hobbie, Olga Baumert (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781635862898 Publisher: Storey Books Publication date: 04/27/2021, Ages 7-10)

Monarchs are a favorite and familiar North American butterfly, and their incredible annual migration has captured the popular imagination for generations. As populations of monarchs decline dramatically due to habitat loss and climate change, interest in and enthusiasm for protecting these beloved pollinators has skyrocketed. With easy-to-read text and colorful, engaging illustrations, Monarch Butterflies presents young readers with rich, detailed information about the monarchs’ life cycle, anatomy, and the wonders of their signature migration, as well as how to raise monarchs at home and the cultural significance of monarchs in Day of the Dead celebrations. As the book considers how human behavior has harmed monarchs, it offers substantive ways kids can help make a positive difference. Children will learn how to turn lawns into native plant gardens, become involved in citizen science efforts such as tagging migrating monarchs and participating in population counts, and support organizations that work to conserve butterflies.

(POST-IT SAYS: A stunningly beautiful and educational book. Perfect for young readers curious about the life cycle and journey of a monarch. Tips for helping, fun facts, a glossary, and additional info.)

Egg Marks the Spot (Skunk and Badger 2) by Amy Timberlake, Jon Klassen (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781643750064 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 7-10)

“X Marks the Spot!”

Buried in the heart of every animal is a secret treasure. For rock scientist Badger, it’s the Spider Eye Agate he found as a cub, stolen years ago by his crafty cousin, Fisher. For Badger’s roommate, Skunk, the treasure is Sundays with the New Yak Times Book Review. When an old acquaintance, Mr. G. Hedgehog, announces his plan to come for the Book Review as soon as it thumps on the doorstep, Skunk decides an adventure will solve Badger’s problems as well as his own. Surprisingly, Badger agrees. Together
they set off on an agate-finding expedition at Badger’s favorite spot on Endless Lake.

But all is not as it seems at Campsite #5. Fisher appears unexpectedly. Then a chicken arrives who seems intent on staying. Something is up!

Indeed!

Secrets, betrayals, lies

. . . and a luminous, late-Jurassic prize.

In a volume that includes full-color plates and additional black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott medalist Jon Klassen, Newbery Honor author Amy Timberlake takes readers on a second adventure in the new series reviewers have called an instant classic, with comparisons to Frog and ToadWinnie-the-Pooh, and The Wind in the Willows.

(POST-IT SAYS: There is nothing else that, to me, captures the perfection of Frog and Toad like these Skunk and Badger stories. Clever, timeless, adorable animal adventures about friendship, cohabitation, and Important Rock Work. Just the best.)

Absurd Words: A kids’ fun and hilarious vocabulary builder for future word nerds by Tara Lazar (ISBN-13: 9781492697428 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 01/02/2022, Ages 8-12)

This revolutionary dictionary-thesaurus hybrid puts more than 750 high-level, wondrous, and wacky words in fun, engaging, and hilarious context.

(POST-IT SAYS: Zarf! Ultracrepidarian! Poltroon! Just some of the new words I learned thanks to this super fun, well laid out, colorful, and useful book. All words have example sentences and some have info on roots, pop culture use, and more. A wonderful resource!)

All Pets Allowed: Blackberry Farm 2 by Adele Griffin, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781643750736 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 08/31/2021, Ages 7-11)

New dog, no tricks!

Becket Branch has one birthday wish—a dog! Dogs are outgoing and friendly, and they live life loud, just like Becket. Becket’s twin, Nicholas, wants a pet more like him—a peaceful, quiet indoor cat. When their parents take them to the shelter to choose a dog and a cat, it should be Becket’s biggest BEAUTIFUL ALERT ever. But Becket’s dream dog, Dibs, turns out to be a super-shy scaredy-pooch. Meanwhile, Nicholas’s kitty, Given, loves being the center of attention and greeting visitors to Blackberry Farm.

Can Becket and Nicholas learn how to love Dibs and Given as they are—even if they aren’t exactly the pets the twins dreamed of?

With black-and-white drawings throughout by award-winning illustrator LeUyen Pham (Real Friends), this second volume of the Blackberry Farm series offers a gentle message about embracing new friends who may not match preconceived expectations.

(POST-IT SAYS: A joyful and compassionate read. The very different twins adopt pets whose personalities best match their sibling. Together they care for their pets and each other while also spending time with friends and family. Sweet story, great art.)

Be the Dragon: 9 Keys to Unlocking Your Inner Magic by Catherine J. Manning, Melanie Demmer (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781523511419 Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc. Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 8-12)

There is magic inside you if you only dare to look.

Dragons are the heroes we need.


They have fires in their bellies, wisdom in their eyes, and hearts big enough to welcome one and all. And now you can be one, too!


In this ingenious book filled with hands-on activities, quests and quizzes, exciting stories, and charming illustrations every young reader will discover firsthand how to slay their fears and find their inner power.


How, in other words, to Be the Dragon, filled with courage, kindness, insight, compassion, positivity, and so much more.

And that is something to roar about!

(POST-IT SAYS: What a great idea! Fun quizzes, little stories, projects/crafts, and more all aimed at problem solving, kindness, self-esteem, and self-care. Full-color pages and cute art. A hit!)

Book Review: The Insiders by Mark Oshiro

Publisher’s description

Three kids who don’t belong. A room that shouldn’t exist. A year that will change everything.

Perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Meg Medina, this debut middle grade novel from award-winning author Mark Oshiro is a hopeful and heartfelt coming-of-age story for anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t fit in.

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country—and opens the door to a life-changing year full of magic, friendship, and adventure.

Amanda’s thoughts

When I sat down to read this, I still had a long to-do list of tasks. But, oops, I sat there long enough to finish the entire book and all of a sudden it was time to make dinner. Don’t you love when you find a book that engrossing?

Héctor is not loving his new middle school in his new town. He misses San Francisco, his friends, and the school’s drama department. This school doesn’t even have drama! He lands on the radar of the school bully, who really starts to go after Héctor when Héctor says that he’s gay. It so wasn’t a thing at all at his old school, but now that his bully is antagonizing him even more because of this, he’s hesitant to come out to anyone else. He keeps trying to dodge the bully and his crew, eventually hiding out in a janitorial closet. But it’s no ordinary closet—it’s a secret portal/space that links him with two other students seeking refuge—Chinese and Black Juliana, who likes girls, and Filipino and white Sal, who uses they/them pronouns. Small note: Héctor lives in CA, Juliana in SC, and Sal in AZ. Yep, magic. The closet/Room (as they start to call it) seems to be a place that shows up to protect them and provide them with what they need. And the biggest need for all three? To feel like they belong, like they’re accepted, like they have their place in their schools. Together, the three are able to support and help each other. And in non-Room-related school stuff, Héctor begins to become friends with kids who befriended him right away. He goes from lonely, not feeling like he belongs, and wanting to just disappear to learning it’s okay to be himself, to trust new friends, and to ask for help.

Though all three Room kids face uncertainty, confusion, fear, and anxiety, they are all surrounded by support and love. Oshiro’s message is clear: nothing is better than being yourself. Not even a magical Room that appears just when you need it. A heartwarming and fun read.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780063008106
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Finding Refuge: Real-Life Immigration Stories from Young People by Victorya Rouse

Publisher’s description

When you read about war in your history book or hear about it in the news, do you ever wonder what happens to the families and children in the places experiencing war? Many families in these situations decide that they must leave their homes to stay alive. What happens to them?

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 70.8 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes because of war or persecution as of 2019. Over fifty percent of these people are under the age of eighteen. 

English teacher Victorya Rouse has assembled a collection of real-world experiences of teen refugees from around the world. Learn where these young people came from, why they left, and how they arrived in the United States. Read about their struggles to adapt to a new language, culture, and high school experiences, along with updates about how they are doing now and what they hope their futures will look like. 

As immigration has catapulted into the current discourse, this poignant collection emphasizes the United States’ rich tradition of welcoming people from all over the world.

Amanda’s thoughts

This wide-ranging collection of the stories of young people who immigrated to the United States is as informational as it is moving. Rouse put this anthology together using students from her own school. Most of the stories look at refugees in the past 5-10ish years, but some go back as far as the 1970s. The format makes it easy to know what to expect and to be able to jump around and read stories in any order you’d like. An introduction covers what a refugee is, why people become refugees, and what happens both when they leave their homes and when they arrive in the US.

The stories are grouped together by continent/region, and then all follow the same format: an initial introduction with information about the country, history, and a look at why people left this place. Then, we get the stories from the refugees themselves. Each person talks about their life, what things were like where they lived, and what changed or finally pushed their family to leave. Most talk about their complicated feelings and the process of leaving, as well as what it was like getting settled in the US. Little epilogues give a short summary of where they are now in life—families, college, work, goals, dreams, hopes, etc.

Because the people included here are all writing to the same general prompts (and the essays seem heavily edited for continuity of content and voice) and because the editor of this collection sometimes sat down with students who told her about their experiences, the only downfall of this collection is that the voices of most of the essays sound the same. I don’t think, however, that criticism is big enough to take anything away from the anthology other than some personality/personal connection. This would be a very useful book to have in collections especially for students to dip into to select stories to read that speak to them for whatever reason. Though each essay is only a few pages (generally 4-6), they create very thorough pictures of just why people choose to or have to leave their homes. A great resource to help create personal connections and understanding. Readers who have their own immigration story will likely see their experience and feelings reflected in these pages.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541581609
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 12+

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