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


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

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

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

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

Book Review: Strange Creatures by Phoebe North

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

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

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

VERDICT A devastatingly tragic and deeply immersive masterpiece.

Book Review: What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson

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

Roaring Brook. Apr. 2021. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250268099.

 Gr 9 Up–A desperate boy risks everything to keep his brother out of foster care in this heart-pounding and heartbreaking story of survival and sacrifice. Seventeen-year-old Jack and his second-grade brother, Matty, only have each other. With their father incarcerated and their mother recently deceased, their only hope of sticking together is finding the money their father went to prison for stealing. Deeply impoverished and terrified of child protective services getting involved, Jack sets out to track down that cash, pursued at every turn by drug dealers and Bardem, his father’s partner in crime. His only hope comes in the form of Ava, who decides to help them and gets wrapped up in their mission. But Ava’s secret—that she’s Bardem’s daughter—guarantees there is no way things can end happily. Unremittingly bleak and gritty, this suspenseful story centers around the ravages of poverty and drug addiction that have left Jack and Matty with nothing. Breathtakingly beautiful writing and tender characters collide with a brutal plot filled with bloodshed and anguish. The body count piles up as Jack, Matty, and Ava try to hide in the quiet, frigid emptiness of rural Idaho, never more than half a step ahead of their hunters. The lengths Jack goes to keep his family together and the obstacles he faces will leave readers gutted. A gorgeous, intense, and shocking look at chaos, survival, fate, and betrayal. Characters’ ethnicities aren’t named and Jack and Matty are described as pale.

VERDICT A first purchase and a must-read. Prepare to be haunted and chilled to the bone by this exceptional story.

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: The Project by Courtney Summers

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

The Project

St. Martin’s/Wednesday Bks. Feb. 2021. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250105738.

 Gr 9 Up–A young woman’s determination to reveal the truth behind an apparent cult exposes a more complicated look at doubt and belief than she could have imagined. Lo Denham barely survived the car accident that killed her parents. Her sister, Bea, credits her miraculous recovery to Lev Warren, leader of the Unity Project, an outwardly innocuous religious group that performs acts of service and community outreach. Bea gives up everything to join them. Years after being abandoned by her sister, Lo—who works as an assistant at an investigative magazine—follows in her path, desperate to uncover the truth behind the Project and to save her sister. With promises of atonement, redemption, and salvation, Lev’s message begins to penetrate Lo’s skepticism—how far will she go to get the real story? And once she discovers it, can she bear what it may reveal? Masterfully written and pulling no punches, the narrative moves back and forth in time, showing events from both Bea and Lo’s perspectives. Summers creates and sustains almost unbearable tension, exploring sacrifice, loss, forgiveness, miracles, surrender, grief, and lies. The unflinching look at Bea and Lo’s desperation is devastating, especially as both chase healing and salvation to counteract emptiness and loss. Readers will question the truth and everyone’s motivations in this world full of manipulation and mind games. Secondary characters are of various races; Bea and Lo are described only as having brown hair.

VERDICT A gripping, flawless psychological thriller ready to leave readers shattered.

Book Review: Real Talk About Sex and Consent: What Every Teen Needs To Know by Cheryl M Bradshaw

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

Real Talk About Sex and Consent: What Every Teen Needs to Know

New Harbinger. (Instant Help Solutions). Oct. 2020. 200p. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781684034499.

 Gr 8 Up–This comprehensive guide to the legal, emotional, social, and physical aspects of consent shows teens that this issue is much more complicated than just saying “yes” or “no.” Bradshaw, who is a registered psychotherapist, focuses on creating healthy relationships that are safe and respectful, have boundaries, and involve enthusiastic consent. Readers are given the skills to communicate effectively and clearly. Bradshaw provides many examples of scenarios and scripts that depict what consent looks and sounds like. Aimed at all genders and all sexualities, chapters examine getting to know yourself and your desires, identities, and attractions; gendered stereotypes and dynamics; pornography, nudes, and sexting; laws regarding age, power dynamics, and the ability to consent; warning signals; solutions and approaches to conflict; factors that may affect consent; and how to recognize sexual assault and get help. Conversational, honest, and accessible, with an emphasis on consent as a complete way to approach intimacy, this resource is invaluable. Repetition and summaries drive home which aspects are involved in total consent. The text makes it clear that all people deserve respect and the ability to be in control while emphasizing that consent is an ongoing component of healthy, happy, safe, and respectful relationships. Back matter includes resources (books, videos, articles), sexual assault intervention training and programs, and where to find support.

VERDICT: A truly vital and nuanced guide that is as empowering as it is educational.

Book Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

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

 Gr 9 Up–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. Immensely readable, the narration and the dialogue are honest, smart, and at times, bitingly vicious. Felix and friends are complicated characters, constantly fighting, messing up, and making up. Felix is achingly relatable, both vulnerable and guarded, often on the sidelines but wanting so much more. His explorations address privilege, marginalization, and intersectionality while he learns about what and who get to define a person.

VERDICT Full of warmth, love, and support, this is an important story and an essential purchase.

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2020. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062820259

Book Review: The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

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

Gr 9 Up—The Finney family’s carefully constructed world begins to unravel as they struggle to hide dreams, disappointment, and deceptions. Primarily set in 1986 Texas, brother and sister Joaquin and Elena live with their single Cuban refugee mother, Caridad. Controlling, volatile, bitter, and always drinking, Caridad creates a culture of dread, manipulation, and lies. Elena’s only escape is babysitting for the Callahans and sneaking off with her new boyfriend, while Joaquin works as a waiter and dreams of finding the strength to break free from his family and leave Mariposa Island. Their difficult home life is contrasted with chapters set in 1950s Cuba, where Caridad lives an easy life full of wealth and love. When she is sent to the United States during the Cuban Revolution, Caridad’s life begins to fall apart. Joaquin makes a discovery that pushes them toward the potential for finally being truthful, but the secrets and silence that feel necessary for survival threaten to destroy the small family as they continue to lie to themselves and each other. With chapters from the perspectives of all three main characters, readers gain insight into the depth of lies, isolation, and frustration they all live with. The flawed, secretive, and well-developed characters make up for a plot that sometimes lags. Mathieu, the daughter of a Cuban refugee, spins an emotional, sensitive, and heartbreaking story about one dysfunctional family’s survival and unhappiness. 

VERDICT Quietly powerful, this layered story full of unreliable narrators will appeal to readers of character-driven stories

ISBN-13: 9781626726338
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 09/17/2019

Book Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans

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.

 

manic pixieThe Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans (ISBN-13: 9781541512597 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 03/05/2019)

 

Gr 9 Up—Members of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and Boy) Trope fight for the right to exist—in fiction and in their own lives—in this entertaining send-up of literary conventions. Riley, one of the few Manic Pixie Dream Boys residing in TropeTown (a place filled with familiar literary devices, situations, and characters), has been sent to behavioral therapy for deviating from the expected quirky fun he is supposed to bring to a novel. There he meets Zelda and other whimsical Manic Pixie Dream Girls who have been sent to therapy to learn to embrace their Trope. As a group, they would like to be taken seriously, but since the TropeTown Council has decided their type is problematic, they may be retired. With only a few days to avert their demise, they work hard to show the Council how charming, creative, and vibrant they are. Their plan is complicated by other potential futures, like planting in a novel (staying for good), seeing where the Termination Train may really lead, or accepting the small bit of freedom that being a Trope in TropeTown allows them. Appelhans’s metafictional story asks if Tropes can live authentic lives, if they are doomed to live out other people’s stories, or if they can steer their own path. Affable Riley’s quest to be seen beyond labels and stereotypes and his desire for agency are feelings to which many Readers in Reader World will relate. VERDICT Recommend this well-crafted book to voracious readers of YA who will appreciate the satire.

Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

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

 

 

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

★ 03/01/2019

Gr 9 Up—All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.

TLTer Karen Jensen also discusses and highly recommends Heroine by Mindy McGinnis in this previous TLT post.