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Book Review: The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

Publisher’s description

In this magical middle-grade novel, ten-year-old Gabrielle finds out that America isn’t the perfect place she imagined when she moves from Haiti to Brooklyn. With the help of a clever witch, Gabrielle becomes the perfect American — but will she lose herself in the process? Perfect for fans of HURRICANE CHILD and FRONT DESK.

It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell. 

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved this. Hand this to readers who like mostly realistic stories with just a bit of magic. Yes, the bad witch plays a big part in the story and Gabrielle’s new friend is a talking rat who wishes he were a rabbit, but it’s MOSTLY realistic.

Readers start out seeing a bit of Gabrielle’s life in Haiti. She is happy and loved, but like many, the hope is to be able to go to America. But instead of going there with her parents, Gabrielle has to go alone, to live with her relatives. And while she’s still so excited about the many opportunities and riches she has heard she will find in America (and, endearingly, she is most excited about free school), she’s worried. She fears she won’t fit in or understand things, so when a witch confirms for her that indeed no one will like her, Gabrielle begins to make some bad deals. The kids definitely are mean to her at school—they’re racist and prejudice and make fun of her—and Gabrielle decides that she will trade losing something small in return for the witch granting her some wishes. Before long, Gabrielle has lost her Haitian accent and is speaking perfect English, she’s fitting in better (thanks to wishing to be “100% pure American”), and she even gets the long, straight hair of her dreams and brand name clothes! Sounds great (maybe), right? Everything comes at a price, and those prices are hardly “small.”

Gabrielle’s story asks what you would give up in order to fit in and shows the dangers of losing yourself. Full of bravery, friendship, strength, and resourcefulness, this story of immigration, identity, and acceptance is one all collections should have.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780358272755
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 02/02/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Publisher’s description

The author of The Gravity of Us crafts another heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding the people who become your home—perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli.

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life—where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval. 

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, Marty. This kid is a mess. Right now I’m imagining the book that would come after this one, where Marty is getting the help he needs and starting to figure out how real friendships work etc. That’s not to say I didn’t like this book—I did. But Marty is having a ROUGH time and as a reader (particularly as an adult reader and as a mother) I just wanted to help him realize faster that he needs help and to really find better people to surround himself with. He’s doing that, in this story, but it’s a mess. So if you love mess, this book is for you.

Marty has lots of issues with anxiety, including panic attacks, but appears to be undiagnosed and untreated. I hope he can fix that. His relationship with his parents is mostly based on lies at this point. Guess what? I hope they can fix that (“they” being his parents, because I think it’s on them to repair that relationship and learn to love the son they have, not the one they may want). His best friend at home in Kentucky is one of the meanest and least supportive “friends” I’ve encountered in YA in a long time. She repeatedly outs him and just really sucks as a person. She’s awful, which Marty is finally beginning to see, and he IS fixing the friendship situations in his life. And when he starts dating Pierce, Marty also develops issues with food and weight (reader, beware, if that’s triggering for you), eventually going so long without food that he faints. He’s super self-conscious of his body, how Pierce views his body, and talks a lot about BMI and weight loss and food restriction (and thankfully there are characters who try to help him, point out the flaws in his thinking, and even Marty himself acknowledges BMI is garbage—but that doesn’t stop him from fixating on it or from talking about “normal” weight and using a slur for fatness).

Instead of focusing on developing some music contacts and his career while in England, he focuses on relationships with all these new people. He is SO painfully 17, floundering, and trying SO hard. He says that his new life, new friends, and potential new boyfriend make it all feel like he’s finally home and fits in, but it’s pretty clear that that’s not really true yet. He’s always felt out of place, but this new place is still new and can’t really be a home to him while he’s still dealing with so much STUFF. He’s so grateful to finally feel like he fits in that he’s overlooking a LOT of things right now, including one very huge thing with someone he’s newly close to.

Character-driven readers will enjoy this book about one teen’s journey toward self and independence. And while Marty certainly feels like he’s on the way to all kinds of healing and hope by the end of the book, getting to that point involves a lot of drama and pain. There is nothing better than finding your people and being yourself. Marty shows how hard both of those things can be but offers hope that, even with a bunch of disappointments, it’s possible. Realistically messy and heavier than I anticipated.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600175
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: #MeToo and You: Everything You Need To Know About Consent, Boundaries, and More by Halley Bondy

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.

Lerner/Zest. Feb. 2021. 200p. Tr $37.32. ISBN 9781541581555; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781541581593.

Gr 6-8–Tweens and young teens learn about healthy relationships, consent, boundaries, red flags, and more in this thorough, age-appropriate book on breaking the silence around sexual abuse and harassment. Chapters cover power dynamics, definitions, myths, asking for help, being an ally, and taking action to raise awareness. The text, which is inclusive of all sexualities and genders, describes how to recognize abusive behaviors and how to avoid committing them. It also examines why people may have difficulty asking for help and why some may not pursue support. Subsequent chapters break down how to seek out help, what to expect and what you may be asked, how court proceedings may work, restraining orders, counseling, why some adults don’t offer support, and the consequences of failed justice. Sidebars of scenarios, both real and fictitious, and stories from people who experienced abuse are incorporated throughout. The discussion of relationships and consent isn’t limited to a romantic context. Examples range from not sexual or violent to extremely graphic and deeply unsettling. In “Kaye’s Story,” featured in chapter two, readers are warned that the story is not only “true” but “very disturbing.” The color illustrations of generic posed mannequins (like wooden artist’s models) detract from the personal tone and approach. This dense, intense read never sugarcoats any of the information. Repeated content warnings remind readers to only read what they can handle. Resources such as hotlines and nonprofits are listed throughout; many more are detailed in the back matter.

VERDICT A recommended resource to jump-start difficult conversations.

Book Review: Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala

Publisher’s description

Project Runway goes to Comic Con in an epic queer love story about creativity, passion, and finding the courage to be your most authentic self.

Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making—for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything—and everyone—else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.

Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store—or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.

But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was a lot of fun. Yes, there was depth and drama and romance, but ultimately, it was the good fun that won me over. I was able to totally get wrapped up in Raffy’s world of crafting and cosplay and feel like I was right there at the con, witnessing everything unfold. What more can you ask for than for a book to take you away from reality and show you a different time and place?

There’s a lot going on in this story. Raffy’s super snobby artist/gallery director mom is horrible for most of the story. Never mind that he seems to mostly be raising and caring for himself while she disappears repeatedly to go do Important Things; she’s really awful because she actively does not support his interests and belittles his talent and ambitions. But Raffy doesn’t let her awfulness deter him—he continues to work in secret on all his builds and his social media. He’s hoping to get a sponsorship deal at some point to help pay for art school. His mother, of course, doesn’t think people should go to school at all, much less ART school—her being a snob extends to her looking down on formal arts education. Sure.

The now/then format of the story shows us how he got together with Luca, a bisexual soccer bro who’s a secret nerd, and how it all dramatically fell apart. In the “now” time, we’re at the con with them, watching them compete against each other until—TWIST!—they team up to work together.

They’re an easy couple to root for. Raffy’s total Type A personality and obsession with working on his crafting gets in the way of having a really good relationship. Luca has to keep lots of things about his time with Raffy secret, mainly from his family. But they really are into each other and are so cute together. And once they end up working together at the con, it’s easy to see how they will be able to overcome their past problems.

Full of messages about hiding yourself, authenticity, identity, being in costume to really be seen, trust, creation, and accomplishment, this fun read has wide appeal. Make sure the cosplay fans in your life get their hands on this!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492682691
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Post-It Reviews: Black Canary, hand-crafted dreams, and books set in the 1960s and 1980s

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

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

Black Canary: Breaking Silence by Alexandra Monir (ISBN-13: 9780593178317 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 12/29/2020 Series: DC Icons Series, Ages 12+)

In this thrilling origin story of Black Canary, Dinah Lance’s voice is her weapon. And in a near-future world where women have no rights, she won’t hesitate to use everything she has—including her song—to fight back.

Dinah Lance was eight years old when she overheard the impossible: the sound of a girl singing. It was something she was never meant to hear—not in her lifetime and not in Gotham City, taken over by the vicious, patriarchal Court of Owls. The sinister organization rules Gotham City as a dictatorship and has stripped women of everything—their right to work, to make music, to learn, to be free.

Now seventeen, Dinah can’t forget that haunting sound, and she’s beginning to discover that her own voice is just as powerful. But singing is forbidden—a one-way route to a certain death sentence. Fighting to balance her father’s desire to keep her safe, a blossoming romance with mysterious new student Oliver Queen, and her own need to help other women and girls rise up, Dinah wonders if her song will finally be heard. And will her voice be powerful enough to destroy the Court of Owls once and for all?

(POST-IT SAYS: Well, now I need to read the others in this DC Icons series. A compelling story of resistance, oppression, politics, feminism, rebellion, and revolution. A good story about finding your voice!)

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li (ISBN-13: 9780063008885 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 8-12)

This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

(POST-IT SAYS: This 1980s-set story about loss, family, friendship, and exploration is a great recommendation for readers who like quiet, emotional, character-driven reads. A good pick for those who like sad but not too sad books.)

The Nightmare Thief by Nicole Lesperance, Federica Fenna (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781728215341 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 01/12/2021 Series: Nightmare Thief Series , #1, Ages 8-13)

For fans of A Snicker of Magic and The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl comes a suspenseful dark fantasy duology, perfect for middle school readers that love stories of magic and sisterhood with a dash of danger.

Maren Partridge loves working in her family’s dream shop where she can hand-craft any dream imaginable. The shop has only one rule. Dreams cannot be given to a person without their consent. Maren has no problem with this—until her sister, Hallie, has an accident that leaves her in a coma. Maren’s certain she can cure Hallie with a few well-chosen dreams. And when no one is watching, she slips her a flying dream.

But a strange new customer from the shop has been following Maren and knows what she did. Now she’s laid the perfect trap to blackmail Maren into creating custom nightmares for a dark and terrible purpose. As Maren gets drawn further into the sinister scheme, she must make a choice: to protect her family or to protect the town from her family’s magic.

(POST-IT SAYS: It will be easy to recommend this one widely. A town full of magic, a villain, interesting characters to root for, and just enough scary stuff to keep readers a bit on edge. Good fun!)

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (ISBN-13: 9780544084773 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 01/05/2021, Ages 10-14)

In this poignant, perceptive, witty novel, Gary D. Schmidt brings authenticity and emotion to multiple plot strands, weaving in themes of grief, loss, redemption, achievement, and love. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school’s traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds. In a parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene’s with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang’s relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.

(POST-IT SAYS: Perfection in book form. Though filled with grief, sadness, and violence, this is such a warm, hopeful story of love, survival, and family in its many forms. A sensitive and thoughtful look at loss and moving forward.)

Book Review: Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

I thought maybe I’d read a few poems in between reading other things. I did not do that. Instead, I read the entire book in one go, went back to read favorites, and started googling the writers I learned about in this book. How is it that my undergrad degrees are in English and Women’s Studies, and I took multiple classes on women poets, American literature, AND Harlem Renaissance writers and knew none of these names?! Thank goodness this book showed up to teach me.

Grimes set out to rescue and celebrate the voices of Black women poets of the Harlem Renaissance era and did a phenomenal job with this collection. A preface talks about how many men writing in this era were (and are) well-known, but gifted, prolific women were overlooked and forgotten. These women were not just poets but also editors of literary magazines and anthologies and played large roles in what was happening at this time. Grimes teaches readers a little bit about the Harlem Renaissance, like the conditions, movements, and ethos of the time. She explains the roles played by the Great Migration, the Nineteenth Amendment, women pursuing education, Black-owned newspapers/literary magazines/journals, and the new literati. All of this lays a foundation for the poems and illustrations that follow.

As she did in One Last Word, Grimes uses the Golden Shovel form here, creating new poems from a short poem or line from a poem. She presents the original work, then presents her own poem in conversation with that (using the Golden Shovel form), and then an illustration follows. Taken all together, these three elements create a stunning picture that shows so much power and emotion. I started noting which poems were my favorite as I took notes and ended up with nearly a dozen that really stuck with me. These poems are full of pain, power, pride, feminism, hope, community, identity, and strength. They deserve to be widely known.

The collection includes extensive resources, poet and artist biographies, and sources. This beautiful and moving collection deserves a spot in all libraries. What a wonderful addition this would be for poetry units. Not to be missed.

For more on this collection, please see my interview with Nikki Grimes.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781681199443
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

Book Review: This Is How We Fly by Anna Meriano

This Is How We Fly

Publisher’s description

A loose retelling of Cinderella, about a high-school graduate who—after getting grounded for the whole summer—joins a local Quidditch league and finds her footing, perfect for fans of Dumplin’Fangirl, and everyone who’s read and adored Harry Potter. 

17-year-old vegan feminist Ellen Lopez-Rourke has one muggy Houston summer left before college. She plans to spend every last moment with her two best friends before they go off to the opposite ends of Texas for school. But when Ellen is grounded for the entire summer by her (sometimes) evil stepmother, all her plans are thrown out the window. 

Determined to do something with her time, Ellen (with the help of BFF Melissa) convinces her parents to let her join the local muggle Quidditch team. An all-gender, full-contact game, Quidditch isn’t quite what Ellen expects. There’s no flying, no magic, just a bunch of scrappy players holding PVC pipe between their legs and throwing dodgeballs. Suddenly Ellen is thrown into the very different world of sports: her life is all practices, training, and running with a group of Harry Potter fans. 

Even as Melissa pulls away to pursue new relationships and their other BFF Xiumiao seems more interested in moving on from high school (and from Ellen), Ellen is steadily finding a place among her teammates. Maybe Quidditch is where she belongs. 

But with her home life and friend troubles quickly spinning out of control—Ellen must fight for the future that she wants, now she’s playing for keeps. 

Amanda’s thoughts

First of all, OF COURSE J.K. Rowling is a disgusting human and her horrible TERF-y takes have made me divest myself of all my HP paraphernalia. I now have a visceral reaction of UGH whenever I see a HP reference (and somedays it feels impossible to get through a book without some kind of HP reference cropping up). So if you feel like me, here’s what I hope you will do: Understand that this book here is about playing quidditch, which, yes, is from the world of HP, but that’s it—it’s not some kind of love letter to a now VERY problematic franchise. I will totally admit to letting this book sit on my shelf for a bit because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it because of the simple fact that it’s something to do with HP. Please be better than me and just immediately get this book and start reading. This book is wonderful.

If you’re looking for a book that’s brimming with feminism and politics and messy friendships, this book is for you. Summer after senior year is supposed to be Ellen’s last chance to super bond with her friends before they all split up for college. Instead, her best friend Xiumaio basically cuts her loose on graduation day, claiming a need for more space. Combined with the fact that life at home is challenging—Ellen has a contentious relationship with her stepmother and totally feels like her family just wants her gone already—Ellen feels totally alone, like everyone thinks they’d just be better off without her.

Probably because she’s feeling so lost, she agrees to give playing quidditch a chance. Ellen has never been into sports of any kind and doesn’t exactly seem psyched, but Melissa, her other BFF, is into it, so at least they can spend a little time together. Once Ellen basically gets grounded for life (stepmom issues), quidditch practice and games become her only source of human interaction. Before long, she’s making new friends, trying new things, and finally maybe finding her people and her place. But it’s not all sunshine. Melissa seems to be pulling away now, too, ditching Ellen for a new quidditch friend. Ellen doesn’t know who to turn to as she experiences new things and has lots of feelings about what’s going on during this surprisingly eventful summer.

I adored the fiercely feminist conversations in this book, the great representation (Ellen is Mexican American and not entirely sure how she feels about gender things, identity-wise), the engaging look into the world of quidditch teams, and the super messy friendships, relationships, and family issues. I finished the book wishing I could hang out with Ellen and her friends. A super real look at the weird liminal space between high school and college. Don’t miss this one!

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593116876
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 12/15/2020
Age Range: 12 Years

Amanda’s favorites of 2020

My underused 2020 planner and my favs of 2020 and every year, The Good Boy Squad

Yes, it’s list time. 

What follows are my favorite 2020 books that I reviewed here at TLT and excerpts of my reviews. This was a ROUGH year (understatement, I know) full of stress and grief and change and despair. Everyone who debuted during this terrible year, congratulations. Everyone who published anything this year, congratulations. Anyone who wrote anything this year, congratulations. Anyone who simply survived this year, congratulations.

It’s hardly unique to say that 2020 has zapped my ability to concentrate AND that it’s worked hard to ruin reading for me. Why escape into fiction when you could doomscroll endlessly? As a result, I wrote more Post-It-style reviews than I usually do, and some of those books ended up being my favorites of the year. Longer reviews are excerpted and linked back to the original review.

I pretty much exclusively read contemporary fiction, which my list reflects. These are the YA books that most stuck with me this year.  Even though I’m a voracious reader, I’m sure I missed a lot of great 2020 books. I always enjoy reading the many lists that crop up this time of the year, but I also always want more variety and to hear from more people. So here’s my list—will you share yours with us too? Leave us a comment or hit me up on Twitter where I’m @CiteSomething. 

Books appear on this list in order of publication date.

Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K. R. Gaddy (ISBN-13: 9780525555414 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/07/2020 Ages 12-17)

Here’s the thing: I knew absolutely nothing about the Edelweiss Pirates beyond at some point having heard that name and knowing that they were an anti-Nazi resistance group. I absolutely devoured this book. Get this one up on your displays about youth activism and youth movements.

The action, rebellion, resistance, sabotage, and survival of these young people is extraordinary. Some of them were as young as 13, which, as the parent of a 13-year-old, was mind-blowing. For me, though, the most interesting part of all of this is how little I know or have ever read about these groups, yet have read so many things over the years about the White Rose group, which was made up of older, upper-middle class young people. The Edelweiss Pirates were leftist, young, working class kids. In fact, they weren’t even officially recognized as a resistance movement until 2005. The stories of these brave children need to be more well-known and further underscore just how much children and young adults have always led the way in political activism and resistance against evils. A deeply affecting book. (Full review here.)

Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden (ISBN-13: 9781681198040 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/14/2020 Ages 13-17)

17-year-old Savannah is hearing a lot of messages in 1919 Washington D.C. In the wake of WWI and the Spanish Flu, “onward and upward” is the motto of the times. She also hears a lot about being “a credit to the race” and “lifting as we climb.” Politically, there is a lot going on, particularly around the issue of women’s suffrage and the role that black women are allowed to play in that (and the issue of whether white women are considering them at all). Savannah feels a bit frustrated and disenchanted, embarrassed by the excess of the social circles her family is part of and curious about the wider world. Her uncle, a photographer, encourages her to find a challenge, a passion, a purpose. He urges her to stop just being an observer. When Savannah learns about a local school for girls, she begins to get involved helping there and, through her new contacts (many of whom are considered to be a “more radical element”), has her eyes opened to not just what is happening around the country but to what is happening in her very own city.


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.
(Full review here.)

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (ISBN-13: 9781616208967 Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers Publication date: 03/24/2020 Ages 14-18)

Only two months and a few dozen books into 2020 and I’m ready to call something one of my favorite books of the year? Yes, yes I am. This stunning book is easily the best thing I’ve read so far this year.

The power and beauty of this book is in the lovely writing and the magnificent, unforgettable characters. This is a story about what happens when girls become ghosts, when girls become animals. This is about what happens when girls embrace anger, when girls attack, when girls grow sick of the imprints men leave upon them. This is about aching, desperate, trapped, screaming girls. This is a warning and a celebration of what happens when girls become feral, become hunters, when girls decide they are not sorry. This haunting story is about sisterhood and death, about power and pain, and about confronting men and boys who are meddling cowards and abusers. A fierce story of heartbreak, grief, connection, and the complications of the human heart. Absolutely not to be missed. (Full review here.)

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson, Omar Mohamed, Iman Geddy (ISBN-13: 9780525553908 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/14/2020, Ages 10-14)

POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal. Such a moving look at life in a refugee camp. Full of as much love and hope as it is of pain and despair, this is a powerful and unforgettable story. Required reading.

Amazon.com: Dancing at the Pity Party (9780525553021): Feder, Tyler: Books

Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder (ISBN-13: 9780525553021 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/14/2020 Age Range: 12 – 17 Years)

Grief is a weird thing. It changes all the time, it’s intensely personal while also being so universal, and you have to still try to live your regular life while hauling it around. Feder’s book captures all of that and so much more.

When Tyler’s mother feels some abdominal pain, no one knows that indicates their lives will be forever changed. She’s eventually diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, and eventually that diagnosis morphs to stage 4 uterine cancer. They all try to remain optimistic, but it isn’t long before it’s very clear to Tyler and her family that her mother will not survive this. As her mother undergoes treatment and begins to fade, Tyler is still going to college and trying to compartmentalize her life enough to power through each day. Eventually, of course, as we know this is a dead mom memoir, the cancer spreads, hospice is called, and her mother dies.

While this is about watching someone you love die and life after loss, it’s also just a really beautiful love letter to her mom. Her mom seems like she was awesome. I was worried this book would wreck me, but that wasn’t the case. I mostly just nodded my head in recognition at her feelings, admired the close relationship Tyler and her mother had, and appreciated the candid, warm, cathartic feel of the whole thing. The mileage varies on everyone’s grief, but this story full of so much love and honesty will be a comfort to many. (Full review here.)

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (ISBN-13: 9780062882769 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/05/2020, Ages 14-17)

POST-IT SAYS: Quite possibly one of the most perfect books ever written. Sad, beautiful, powerful, and bittersweet, this story of family bonds broken and discovered will leave you crying. Just lovely.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (ISBN-13: 9780062820259 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/05/2020 Ages 14-17)

Black, queer, and trans Felix explores love, friendship, and possibly retribution in this powerful #OwnVoices story of identity and self-worth. Seventeen-year-old Felix Love hopes the summer art program he’s attending will help raise his grades and increase his chances of getting a full scholarship to attend Brown. Surrounded by a diverse and mostly queer group of artist friends, Felix navigates complicated relationships, including transphobia and harassment from his own friends, from his loving but still learning father, and from an anonymous bully. Bent on revenge, Felix begins catfishing his top suspect, only to encounter some uncomfortable and surprising revelations about not just his potential tormentor, but his own feelings. Coping with the abandonment of his mother and feeling like he isn’t worthy of love, Felix also grapples with the unsettling feeling that his identity still isn’t the best fit. It’s only after a lot of research that he discovers the label “demiboy” and begins to feel a sense of comfort that extends to how he works through and untangles his various complex relationships, both romantic and platonic.

Full of warmth, love, and support, this is an important story and an essential purchase. (Full review here.)

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (ISBN-13: 9780062990297 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/26/2020, Ages 14+)

POST-IT SAYS: Absolutely perfect and beautiful and unforgettable, just like Michael. A powerful and affirming exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, and relationships. One of my favorite reads of 2020 so far.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson (ISBN-13: 9781338503265 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 06/02/2020 Age Range: 12 – 17 Years)

It’s probably not enough to just write a little love note, like, “Dear book, I love you. Love, Amanda,” and consider this review done, is it? Or maybe it is. It gets across the point—I love this book. It’s cute, sweet, and fun while still dealing with serious and upsetting things. It made me remember all the best things about high school romances—the many firsts, the excitement, the joy, the fun.

The best thing about this book is how REAL it feels. Liz and friends all mess up. They make bad choices, hurt each other, apologize, and learn what true friendship looks like. The connection and acceptance and support that eventually shines through in this story shows all the best parts of high school and the best parts of people. As Liz fumbles her way toward the prom court, she learns that maybe playing the game differently is the key to it all. And with the encouragement of her friends and the eventual support of her peers, Liz comes to understand that if they won’t make space for you, demand it.

A smart, fun, and sweet look at navigating the unexpected moments and at celebrating being yourself. (Full review here.)

Amazon.com: Punching the Air (9780062996480): Zoboi, Ibi, Salaam, Yusef:  Books

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (ISBN-13: 9780062996480 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/01/2020 Age Range: 14 – 17 Years)

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

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

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

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

POST-IT SAYS: A stunning, heartbreaking look at what it means to be haunted. Readers will ache with Mila as she tries to be hopeful about her future while unable to heal from her traumatic past. Just lovely.

Grown by Tiffany D Jackson (ISBN-13: 9780062840356 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 14-17)

POST-IT SAYS: Profound. Possibly one of the most powerful and gripping books I’ve ever read. A horrific look at abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, and ambition. You need to read this.

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

Iloh writes, “when you start growing/further away from/what used to be home/you go looking for somewhere/that lets you be/what’s inside your head.”

I’m not sure I’ve read any better lines in any book this year. There is nothing Ada wants more than to be the person inside her head. She’s always been drawn to dance, but her practical father never saw the point in pursuing it. A chance encounter with Kendra, another dancer, provides connection and the encouragement to follow her desire.

A hopeful, beautifully written, deeply affecting story of what we endure and overcome in the journey to become ourselves. (Full review here.)

Thoughts & Prayers by Bryan Bliss (ISBN-13: 9780062962249 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/29/2020 Age Range: 14 – 17 Years)

I finished this book feeling both so, so angry and so, so hopeful. Angry because of the state of things and hopeful because of the awe-inspiring resiliency of humans. Angry that school shootings happen and hopeful that expanded conversations and movements regarding gun violence may one day lead us to a better, safer place. Angry as I think back to every library I’ve worked at, whether school or public, and had moments of fear, had lockdown drills, had spots picked out where I would hide, where I would shove kids. I finished the book angry at some characters, hopeful because of others, and really just profoundly sad that this fictional story is the true story of so many schools, so many communities, so many children.

These are teenagers in pain. We watch them remember to breathe, pretend to be fine, try to feel “normal,” and fall apart. Their stories are filled with pain, fear, rage, and grief. But no one is any one thing, no matter what our trauma or seemingly defining moment may be. The characters change, grow, and heal. They need help and they get help. They are not okay, and readers see that that’s okay. They have supportive teachers, parents, and friends. There is talk of therapy and trauma-informed practices. The characters show what is possibly the only true and universal part of grief and trauma: that healing and progress are not linear. In Bliss’s capable hands, we see their stories as intensely personal and individual while also being part of a larger narrative, a shared experience. We see them as broken and scarred but also as brave, fighters, warriors. They are survivors. They are coping. They are made-up characters, but their stories are those of thousands upon thousands of teenagers who live through these school shootings. A deeply empathetic, emotional, and infuriating story full of unforgettable characters (Dr. Palmer, I love you!). This affecting story is not to be missed. (Full review here.)

Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe (ISBN-13: 9780062824141 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 10/13/2020 Age Range: 13 – 17 Years)

Senior year ends up holding many surprises, the biggest (and best) being Corinne, his upstairs neighbor and the most intense girl in his class. She blackmails Henri into helping her revamp her image as someone less uptight and socially awkward, hoping it will improve her college recommendation letters. And while Henri is game, he has no idea what he’s in for. Turns out that Cori is not just brilliant but totally and bluntly honest, hilarious, and almost always gets what she wants (usually thanks to a series of note cards to study from and exceedingly detailed multi-point plans). What starts as a weird transaction between the two turns into a real friendship (and more) as they get to see each other beyond the labels, preconceived ideas, and Smiles. But Henri messes it all up (and I mean ALL of it) when he makes a terrible choice that he justifies as evening the playing field but really is just SO. BAD.

This book has everything going for it. The conversational tone, the standout characters, the excellent (and rocky) romance… everything. I’m a fast reader. Generally my approach is that I have to read as fast as I possibly can so I can keep flying through my TBR pile. But if I take the time to slow down, to make sure I’m really reading and not just skimming, to be sure I’m enjoying every well-crafted sentence and clever exchange, then I know I am loving a book. I stretched this one out over three afternoons, just so I could keep dipping back into Henri and Cori’s world. A completely satisfying, engaging, and memorable read. (Full review here.)

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (ISBN-13: 9781984851598 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 10/13/2020 Age Range: 12 – 17 Years)

This book is beautiful in every sense of the word and in every aspect of its presentation. The art is dynamic and full of detail, the shifting color palette works so well, the writing is spectacular, and the emotional heart of the story is stunning. Is this just a list of gushing love and appreciation instead of an actual professional-sounding book review? YES.

This is a story about immigrants, about shared language and connection, about a life left behind, about fitting in, about family, about being yourself, and about love. Tiến learns about the power of stories, about happy endings, about stories changing when they need to. The book ended abruptly but perfectly, leaving me crying and wishing everyone had the love and support Tiến has.

Beautiful and moving, this book will stick with me. I hope it gets the attention it deserves. Go add it to your library queue or order it from your local indie now. (Full review here.)

Super Fake Love Song

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon (ISBN-13: 9781984812230 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/17/2020, Ages 14-17)

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?

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. (Full review here.)

Book Review: Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Super Fake Love Song

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.

Amanda’s thoughts

Is David Yoon my new favorite author? I think so. I absolutely adored Frankly in Love and couldn’t wait to read this new one. If you know me even a little bit, you know my anxiety drives me to have everything done as far in advance as possible. I’m writing this on December 4 and all of my December posts for TLT are done and all of January is planned out. The day this review publishes, I also have my favorites of 2020 list publishing. I just had to squeeze in a review of this book because I loved it SO MUCH and because it definitely goes on that favorites list.

The easy comparison (that the publisher makes and that will likely occur to most readers) is to John Green, but I’m not even sure how relevant that comparison is to actual teens anymore. Yoon’s characters are quick-witted cerebral nerds who will make you want to be their best friends, and, for me, do the impossible: make me nostalgic for all the best parts of high school. (It’s maybe only now, in my 40s, that I can even see that there were any best parts.) When I was a teenager, I was a cynical punk who wanted to do nothing but go to shows, work on my zine, and argue about things. When my husband was a teenager, he was a philosophical D&D dork who made weird music and wore a cape. I think we both would’ve wanted to be best friends with Sunny Dae.

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.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984812230
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 11/17/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre

Publisher’s description

Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour, this #ownvoices romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley has something for everyone: backstage rendezvous, deadly props, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to True Love.

Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.

What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.

Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.

Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: there’s a lot going on in this great book, but ultimately, my review comes down to just simply saying THIS WAS ADORABLE. And while that statement may not have much depth, the book sure does. And I’ll talk about all that good stuff in a second, but for now, if this is all the further you read, know that the excellent romance as well as just the whole vibe of this book is ADORABLE. Goodness knows we could all use something this cute, sweet, real, and satisfying these days.

Mel, who is bi, LOVES theater. She takes her role as stage manager VERY seriously and hopes to go to college for stage management. I was never a theater person, but one of my high school BFFs was a stage manager and went to college for technical theater, and as a result so much of Melody’s taskmaster no-nonsense approach felt very real to me. Anyway. After Mel’s girlfriend, Rachel, breaks up with her at the worst possible moment, Mel’s crew team convinces her to maybe swear off relationships for the next play. They’re a very superstitious bunch and are worried that maybe Mel in a relationship is a curse (they are very big on curses and countercurses). Mel, who has dated a fair amount of people, agrees to this, figuring it can’t be that hard.

Obviously, enter someone she can’t help but fall for, right?

Suddenly, Mel is keeping secrets from her crew, hiding her relationship, not being totally honest with her new girlfriend, and wondering if the onslaught of accidents and mishaps are all because she’s in love.

Now, if you’re an adult reader, here’s what you need to do: remember being a teenager? Everything was always so intense, so significant, so meaningful. So you might read this and be like, wait, they’re really all taking this idea of a curse so seriously? Yes, they are. They’re teenagers. It makes sense. Everyone in this story really does get bent out of shape because of curses and their chaotic effects. Teen readers may just roll with this, but adults, we need to get past whatever issues we may have with that and remember wishing at 11:11, or pinning all your hopes on things like “if the next car that goes by is red, he totally likes me,” or feeling jinxed, etc.

I loved Melody’s dads and their support of her theater passion. I loved the relationship between Mel and Odile, her new girlfriend who is so much more than she seems (and is questioning what exactly her identity is–she knows she’s queer, but she’s figuring a lot out). And I loved the huge cast of diverse, interesting characters.

I read this book pretty quickly, as the countdown to the play format really keeps things moving. It was fun, cute, and completely satisfying. An excellent recommendation for all fans of contemporary fiction.

PS—Be ready to go down a Les Mis rabbit hole on YouTube once you finish the book. My poor family.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062409263
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years