Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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

THIS IS NO GAME: WHEN FACTS MATTER, SPORTS NON-FICTION IS A GOOD PLACE TO TURN, a guest post by Andrew Maraniss

Everything we hunger for in this country right now – racial and economic justice, environmental sustainability, a stable democracy, managing COVID – requires a fundamental commitment to seeking the truth and acknowledging basic facts.

As this year’s theme for Teen Librarian Toolbox states, #FactsMatter.

It’s such a timely theme. And such an indictment of so many of our neighbors that we even have to say it.

With so many powerful institutions profiting from lies, “alternative facts,” and conspiracy theories  – from Fox News to corners of the Internet to the Republican Party  — it falls on the rest of us to push against the rising tide of misinformation and hate in whatever ways we can.

I’ve chosen to do it by writing books for young readers that extol the enduring values of truth, equity, and justice through the lens of sports.

Maraniss with Perry Wallace

My first book, STRONG INSIDE, is the story of Perry Wallace, the Vanderbilt basketball player who desegregated the Southeastern Conference in the 1960s and later became an esteemed law professor. My second book, GAMES OF DECEPTION, is the story of the first U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, which played at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. My third book, which just came out this week, SINGLED OUT, is a biography of Glenn Burke, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player and inventor of the high-five. I’m writing a book now on the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, to be told in the context of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s.

Why sports? First, I’ve been hooked as long as I can remember. I taught myself to read as a five-year-old by examining the back of baseball cards. The first time I cried of happiness came when I was 12 years old and Cecil Cooper delivered a game-winning hit for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 playoffs. One of the biggest thrills of my life came in 1998, when I was able to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium as a member of the media relations staff for the Tampa Bay Rays. I went to college on a sportswriting scholarship and my ‘day job’ today is in the Athletic Department at Vanderbilt University.

But more important than any of that, what I value most about writing about sports is that it’s a genre that is highly accessible to just about anyone. When a young person picks up a book with a baseball or basketball player on the cover, it’s likely that they’re not going to feel intimidated by the subject. But once they dig into the story, they’ll realize the stories are not about scores and statistics or tired sports clichés– but about the denial of justice to so many in America and around the world, whether by racism, fascism, antisemitism, homophobia, or sexism, and the critical difference between being a bystander and upstander in the face of such injustices.

Because sports-related nonfiction offers “windows and mirrors,” (the term originated by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) a peak into the lives of other people or a reflection of the reader’s own place in the world, they provide valuable opportunities for empathy and understanding. And the audience for sports books is probably as broad or broader than any other genre –  no parameters on age, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, geography, academic achievement, race, or religion.

But within that universality, there is also a subversive element to the best sports books. For many people, the sports world has been seen as American as hot dogs and apple pie – where old-fashioned notions of patriarchy, patriotism, and white supremacy have traditionally gone unchallenged. So what better genre than sports to shine a light on the everyday elements of American life that have perpetuated injustice? These are the stories where the truth shines the brightest.

The lasting lesson of both STRONG INSIDE and GAMES OF DECEPTION, books that deal respectively with the civil rights movement here and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, is the same: the profound danger of standing by and doing nothing when injustices are perpetrated against others. I think of that lesson often when I hear people criticize modern-day athletes for taking a stand for justice, whether it’s NFL players taking a knee or WNBA players supporting a Senate candidate. If the big truth to be learned from these monumental periods in world history is to speak up, then how can one fault athletes, citizens like anyone else, for using their platforms to call out injustice? When Fox commentator Laura Ingraham tells LeBron to “just shut up and dribble,” we see clearly that she’s not just missing the lesson of history, but actively suppressing the truth.

For those who haven’t succumbed to the notion that the truth is irrelevant, it’s easy to spot the liars. But we must also to turn a skeptical eye toward those who call for unity or civility. Of course, both concepts sound reasonable and are desirable long-term outcomes. But as Perry Wallace once told me, “reconciliation without the truth is just acting.” Any efforts toward unity and civility must include truth-telling and acknowledgement of facts as necessary preconditions. Unity and civility without justice are just other names for oppression.

The best nonfiction books – even sports books! — name the problem, praise the real-life heroes, call out the real-life villains, and pose direct questions where facts determine the right answers.

Now more than ever, #FactsMatter.

Meet the author

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss writes sports-related nonfiction for adult, Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. His books have received the Lillian Smith Book Award, RFK Book Awards Special Recognition Prize, and Sydney Taylor Honor Award. Andrew lives in Nashville and manages the Sports & Society Initiative at Vanderbilt University. Read more about his books at www.andrewmaraniss.com and follow him on Twitter @trublu24, Instagram @amaraniss, and on Facebook at /andrewmaranissauthor.

About Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke

From New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss comes the remarkable true story of Glenn Burke, a “hidden figure” in the history of sports: the inventor of the high five and the first openly gay MLB player. Perfect for fans of Steve Sheinkin and Daniel James Brown. 

On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made history without even swinging a bat. When his teammate Dusty Baker hit a historic home run, Glenn enthusiastically congratulated him with the first ever high five. 

But Glenn also made history in another way—he was the first openly gay MLB player. While he did not come out publicly until after his playing days were over, Glenn’s sexuality was known to his teammates, family, and friends. His MLB career would be cut short after only three years, but his legacy and impact on the athletic and LGBTQIA+ community would resonate for years to come. 

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss tells the story of Glenn Burke: from his childhood growing up in Oakland, his journey to the MLB and the World Series, the joy in discovering who he really was, to more difficult times: facing injury, addiction, and the AIDS epidemic.

Packed with black-and-white photographs and thoroughly researched, never-before-seen details about Glenn’s life, Singled Out is the fascinating story of a trailblazer in sports—and the history and culture that shaped the world around him.

ISBN-13: 9780593116722
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

RevolTeens: The Long Dark Winter of the Soul, by Christine Lively

RevolTeens have been busy throughout this pandemic and the quarantine of 2020. They have made their way out to the community to lend a helping hand to their neighbors. They have taken to the streets to demand justice and to ensure that Black Lives Matter. They’ve spoken up for themselves and those who have no voice. They have been busy shaking up the world and making their voices heard.

Of course then school started. Our school is completely online, but students have been stopping by school to pick up their school materials, food for themselves and family members, and to check out library books from our outdoor “pop up” library. It’s been a joy to see even just a handful of our students on these days and to hear how they’re doing. All of the casual conversations that kept me going through days in the school library are now gone and are replaced with hours of staring at cold little blank squares on Microsoft Teams and hope that I might be reaching at least one student with my lesson. Teens similarly are feeling isolated and powerless in our strange new reality.

Now, as Halloween approaches, the world seems to be slowing down. People are spending less time outside and everyone is thinking about the next big wave of COVID-19 and the accompanying quarantine that will likely follow. I have spent a lot of time worrying about teens in general, and the students at Wakefield High School where I work in particular. Times have been tough, but at least we’ve all been able to get outside to enjoy ourselves and to say hello to neighbors or other people we encounter when we’re out and about.

But winter is coming and teens will be faced with cold weather, winter blues, and mental health challenges that they’ll need to revolt against.

Dreading a Dark Winter Lockdown? Think Like a Norwegian offers some great advice and research for getting through the winter months that I want to share. In Norway, the sun barely rises above the horizon for three months. Researchers there have found that despite this, Norwegians are not less happy in those dark cold months. Their mindset makes the difference. They see the winter as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy different experiences than in the warmer months. Preparing for the winter and not dreading it keeps them from despair.

How does this translate to a winter of COVID 19 for teens? As the researchers explain, “the aim is not to sugar-coat the situation or to deny the difficulties that we will face; we can’t hide from the shadow cast by the pandemic, any more than the citizens of Tromsø (Norway) can pretend that the sun is still rising. By recognising our own capacity to control our responses to the lockdown and the changing seasons, however, we may all find some hidden reserves of strength and resilience to see us through the days ahead.”

Thinking of all the teens getting ready to face a long dark winter of cold temperatures and looming danger of the coronavirus, I’ve begun to brainstorm how to help them revolt against that dread and instead think of this as an opportunity.

First of all, let’s talk to them about it. In my young adult life coaching, I speak to a lot of clients about what they can do to change their lives. Maybe they can’t control their surroundings and situations like adults can, but we can talk to them about what they can do so that they’re prepared.  Asking them think, “What makes you feel safe, secure, and comforted?” It’s not going to be the same for everyone, which is why we may need to help them think it through. If they need social engagement, they can make sure to schedule time online with friends via video call, playing video months. If they like novelty and new experiences to feel fulfilled, this may be a time they could try something that they have never had time to do.  Without the hustle and bustle of bus rides, and other outside of school activities, maybe they could give NaNoWriMo a try this year. Attempting to draft a novel in the month of November is definitely in the plans at my house. Or, maybe learn a new instrument, language, or other new skill? There are a lot of possibilities still open to them.

We can help RevolTeens get ready for the winter. Maybe they haven’t really thought through the next few months and how it may get harder. Maybe they have and they’re paralyzed about what to do about it. Gathering ideas, and thinking of the possibilities together can make this winter something to embrace. Having a trusted adult to talk with may just make all the difference.

This is an opportunity for RevolTeens to gather their resources, make some plans, and thrive through this winter. Once we emerge from the cold weather, they will emerge too ready to take on the world outside and once again, make it more just, inclusive, and beautiful for the rest of us.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.

RevolTeens: Being the Change and Leading the Way by Christine Lively

Often when I sit down to write this column, I have only a vague idea of what teens may have been up to in the last month to shake things up and fight the system. I usually search through articles and posts to see what has been happening and keep reading until a pattern emerges to be woven into a column.

This month is different. Teens are making headlines and are at the forefront.

As I have written before, so much of the major change and revolution of thinking in this country has started with the young – teens and young adults whose passion compels them to take a stand and use their voices to be heard. These teens have thrown aside the low expectations that adults have for their activism and have ignored the rules around who gets to be heard. They’re not waiting for the world to change, they’re charging ahead and demanding that the world change now. These are the RevolTeens, and they’ve been busy, brave, and successful this month.

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the country and they continue today. The passion of the protesters has not faded. The protests against police brutality against Black Americans and against racist policies, monuments, and violence haven’t just happened in big metropolitan areas. These protests have happened in towns large and small and many of them have been not just attended by RevolTeens, but organized and led by them as well.

In Nashville, Tennessee, six teens organized and led the largest protest in the area in recent memory. Jade Fuller, Nya Collins, Zee Thomas, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith and Mikayla Smith who range in age from 14 to 16 all met on Twitter. They realized they had a shared desire to speak out after the murder of George Floyd and decided to form Teens4Equality through a group chat and then on Instagram. Soon after that, they reached out to other organizations to form a coalition and organize a protest. The Black Lives Matter Nashville helped organize the protest, but gave full credit to the RevolTeens who made the protests possible.  As Zee Thomas explained to the Huffington Post, “As teens, we are tired of waking up and seeing another innocent person being slain in broad daylight,” Thomas said in a speech during the event, according to Nashville Scene. “As teens, we are desensitized to death because we see videos of black people being killed in broad daylight circulating on social media platforms. As teens, we feel like we cannot make a difference in this world, but we must.”  These young organizers didn’t let their age hold them back from having their say. “We wanted to show people that no matter how old you are you have a voice and can make a change,” Emma Rose Smith told HuffPost.

Sixteen year old Stefan Perez got off a city bus in Detroit and joined up with a group of protesters who were heading to Police Headquarters. By the end of the night a few nights later, he had emerged as the leader of the protests, raising his fist and calling out for calm and safety as the protesters took a knee with police officers around them. Later, someone handed Perez a phone. When he answered, he found that the Mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan was calling to tell him how amazed he was at Perez’s leadership and that he brought tears to his eyes.

After speaking with the mayor, Perez said: “That was amazing. … I didn’t think I was gonna make it to 16. … The fact that people follow me … and the fact that the mayor just spoke to me, the fact that the Detroit police didn’t shoot. And they could’ve. It’s just amazing. I’m glad I’m not a statistic, because I could be.” The Detroit Free Press reported. Perez didn’t wait for permission, a degree, or any membership in a group. He saw what was happening and turned his passion into action and leadership by revolting against injustice.

Video of Stefan Perez in Detroit

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2020/06/02/stefan-perez-detroit-protest/5314686002/

Finally, teens are speaking out in writing. The Gothamist  has this to share, “Our photographers have been out documenting the historic moment, which is part of a larger national, youth-driven movement working to defund the police and end systemic racism. With hundreds of photos, we asked New York City teens to choose one that resonated with them, and write about it. Below is a piece from Tevelle Taylor, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, who attends Benjamin Banneker Academy. You can follow him @tevelletaylor

WHAT I SEE

I Am That Fast-Paced Heartbeat At The Encounter Of Police

I Am That Shock Welcomed Into The Mind Of The Majority When The Black Man Can Pronounce His Words Correctly

I Am That Last Breath Taken By George Floyd

I Am That Anger Aroused At Every Melanated Achievement

I Am That Unopened Pack Of Skittles & Arizona Drink

I AM

I Am Suspicion When Two Or More Black People Are Gathered Together

I Am The Loss Of Gravity That Compels The Arms Of Black Men To Float, In An Effort To Cease Intimidation

I Am That Relief After Hearing The Metal *Click* Of The Handcuffs Cutting Off The Circulation Of Every Innocent Black Man’s Wrist

I Am The Sorrow Felt By The Little Black Boy When His Parents Tell Him That He Can’t Play Cops & Robbers

I AM

I Am The Slowing Down Of Black Body Movement When Being Spoken To By The Men In Blue

I Am The Confusion Awakened After Seeing A Black Man Knowledgeable In His Rights

I Am The Sharp Pain, Inflicted By The Cops, Giving Him A Reason To Shoot A “Resister”

I Am The Gravitational Force That Sinks The Hearts Of Black Mothers When They Hear That Their Son Became A Gun Target

I Am The Unfinished Jog

I Am The “Strange Fruit”

I Am The Antonym Of Privilege

RevolTeens are taking up the charge. They are changing the world, and we are lucky enough to follow them to the future.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

Book Review: Pocket Change Collective books

Publisher’s descriptions

Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593094655 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us.

In Beyond the Gender Binary, poet, artist, and LGBTQIA+ rights advocate Alok Vaid-Menon deconstructs, demystifies, and reimagines the gender binary.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Beyond the Gender Binary, Alok Vaid-Menon challenges the world to see gender not in black and white, but in full color. Taking from their own experiences as a gender-nonconforming artist, they show us that gender is a malleable and creative form of expression. The only limit is your imagination.

This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593095188 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

In this powerful and hopeful account, arts writer, curator, and activist Kimberly Drew reminds us that the art world has space not just for the elite, but for everyon
e.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, arts writer and co-editor of Black Futures Kimberly Drew shows us that art and protest are inextricably linked. Drawing on her personal experience through art toward activism, Drew challenges us to create space for the change that we want to see in the world. Because there really is so much more space than we think.

The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593093689 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

In The New Queer Conscience, LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli argues the urgent need for queer responsibility — that queers anywhere are responsible for queers everywhere

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, The New Queer Conscience, Voices4 Founder and LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli offers a candid and compassionate introduction to queer responsibility. Eli calls on his Jewish faith to underline how kindness and support within the queer community can lead to a stronger global consciousness. More importantly, he reassures us that we’re not alone. In fact, we never were. Because if you mess with one queer, you mess with us all.

Imaginary Borders by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593094136 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)


In this personal, moving essay, environmental activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez uses his art and his activism to show that climate change is a human issue that can’t be ignored.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Earth Guardians Youth Director and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez shows us how his music feeds his environmental activism and vice versa. Martinez visualizes a future that allows us to direct our anger, fear, and passion toward creating change. Because, at the end of the day, we all have a part to play.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’ve said it before, but: Almost always, I read books in order of publication date. It’s really the only way I can keep track of everything I want to review and juggle the rest of life. These little books have sat on my shelf for months and I’ve been so looking forward to getting to them. They did not disappoint.

You know who these would be great for? All the great kids you know who are graduating right now. I love giving books as gifts (she preached to the choir) and these are perfect to hand to young readers. And old readers! These books read like really impassioned TED talks, interspersing personal histories and details with factual information and calls to action.

In Beyond the Gender Binary, Vaid-Menon explores the many ways the false idea of a binary hurts everyone and how harmful the disconnect between what people see (and comment on) and who you are can be. They discuss how an emphasis on a binary involves power, control, shame, repression, harassment, discrimination, and more. They look at the laws against people who don’t conform to the gender binary, the access denied, the targeted legislation, and point out how so much of this is all about gender non-conforming people but rarely actually engages with them.

Vaid-Menon shares their own story from growing up, full of shame, fear, and bullying. They also detail common arguments against gender non-conforming people and refutes them. They emphasize the importance for the narrative around nonbinary people to be one of reclamation, acceptance, peace, and celebration in this powerful look at the toxic notion of a binary and the harmony and creativity of embracing a spectrum of gender identities.

In The New Queer Conscience, Eli focuses on providing a hopeful, uplifting message of support and solidarity as he calls for a unified queer community. Drawing parallels to the support and collective sympathy, outrage, and action he finds within his Jewish community, he urges queer people anywhere to feel responsible for queer people everywhere. He writes about being young and feeling confused and uncomfortable and desperately needing the validation, assurance, and support of a community. He addresses the common feeling of being alone that so many queer kids may feel, a feeling that could be alleviated by a stronger and more active community. Eli explores the changes necessary for this kind of community and transformation, including policies of kindness and understanding, acknowledging uneven playing fields and issues of privilege, and the need for there to be solidarity with all oppressed people. A great reminder that there’s a huge, welcoming community that values you and that together it can be stronger and more effective.

In Imaginary Borders, Martinez examines the climate change movement. His message is that we build the world together, especially when we understand that we are part of a larger system, that we need to claim space in the movements, and explores the need for a cultural shift. He details the ways climate change reaches across real and imagined borders and looks as the cascading effects of climate change, environmental racism, and social justice. Martinez focuses on the fact that there are many paths to activism, and that to inspire connection and action, we need to bring our imagination and creativity to the movement as well as diverse tactics.

In This Is What I Know About Art, Drew looks at art, activism, protest, and inclusion through the lens of her own path to a life in the art world. Emphasizing curiosity, engagement, and learning, she pushes for a collective voice and a shared community. Detailing her exploration of art in college and in internships and jobs, she encourages us to ask who is not in the room and how can we get them there.

Illuminating and inspiring, all four books encourage more thoughtful conversations around these topics. Really well done.

Review copies (ARC) courtesy of the publisher.

Book Review: Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

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

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

ISBN-13: 9781681198040
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 01/14/2020

Book Review: Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan

Publisher’s description

watch us riseNewbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Renée Watson teams up with poet Ellen Hagan in this YA feminist anthem about raising your voice.

Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission–they’re sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post their work online–poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial microaggressions she experiences–and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by trolls. When things escalate in real life, the principal shuts the club down. Not willing to be silenced, Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices–and those of other young women–to be heard.
These two dynamic, creative young women stand up and speak out in a novel that features their compelling art and poetry along with powerful personal journeys that will inspire readers and budding poets, feminists, and activists.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This book is so good. Order it, read it, book talk it, display it, love it.

 

Jasmine, Chelsea, and their friends attend a high school all about social justice and equity (or, allegedly it is). All students are required to be in a social justice club. But, like everywhere, their school is not perfect, with racism, sexism, and more alive and well. Jasmine and Chelsea leave their clubs to form a women’s rights club, focusing their intersectional feminism and activism on and around their lives at school. Together with their best friends Nadine and Isaac, they create art and foster conversations about many important issues. Jasmine, who is black, is a writer and an actress. Isaac, who is Puerto Rican, is a visual artist. Japanese and Lebanese Nadine is a singer and  DJ. And Irish and Italian Chelsea is a talented poet. Together, they inspire each other and help each other learn, grown, discover, and act. This book covers a lot of ground, tackling so many subjects in honest, creative, and effective ways.

 

I’m going to leave this review short and simple, because the real joy will come from reading about these smart, passionate, and motivated young people for yourself. This book is immensely readable—I burned through it in a couple of hours. Great dialogue, great writing, great poetry, great characters, great everything. It’s not often that I find a book wholly satisfying. And, even more rare, this book made me feel nostalgic for my teen years, remembering back to when I was a zine-writing young feminist and Gender and Sexuality Studies student. Empowering and inspiring, this book demands a wide readership. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600083
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/12/2019

Book Review: We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES and MEET ME HERE, the two previous novels from Bryan Bliss, so I figured I’d enjoy this. Though, really, enjoy is the wrong word to use for reading about impoverished, neglected, abused teens, one of whom is on death row. My point is, I knew I’d like the book. But I wasn’t prepared to be totally blown away and just gutted by this story. I’m a reading machine—as soon as I finish something, I pick up something new right away, hardly pausing for a breath in between. After finishing WE’LL FLY AWAY, I didn’t read anything else for a few days, just wanting the story and the characters to stick with me a while longer. This powerful look at loyalty, protection, friendship, and choices will shatter you. Be ready.

 

The story toggles between the letters that Luke is writing to Toby from death row and the time prior to his incarceration. We don’t know why Luke is on death row, other than he did something that he admitted to and doesn’t regret. We only learn at the very end how he landed there. Though I suspected what was going to happen, what would land him there, it was still absolutely devastating when the reveal of what happened came. But that all happens near the end. For the bulk of the book, we see Luke and Toby struggling through their day-to-day lives. Luke lives with his mom and twin younger brothers in a one-bedroom apartment. There’s never enough to eat and Luke does most of the caring for his brothers. When his mom eventually disappears for a few days, it hardly matters, because she wasn’t doing a whole lot to help out while there. Toby lives with his violent, drunk, abusive father. Toby is used to seeking safety and space to recover with Luke. What little Luke has, he’s happy to share with Toby.  He has always been Toby’s defender and protector. The two have hopes of leaving their small North Carolina town after graduation. Luke has a wrestling scholarship waiting for him in Iowa and Toby figures he’ll tag along. They haven’t exactly worked out details, but having some idea of life after this place helps them both cope with their realities. Things begin to unravel when Toby gets involved with Lily, a young woman he meets at the bar his dad frequents. Their meeting sets in motion terrible events that almost feel inevitable. As I read, as I watched events unfold, I kept thinking, “NO, NO, NO, NO,” even though I knew something terrible had to happen to get Luke on death row. It all feels so hopeless.

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9780062494276
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/08/2018

#SJYALit: Because Their Stories Matter, a guest post by Danielle Ellison

 Today, author Danielle Ellison joins us as part of our Social Justice in YALit Discussion. You can find all of the #SJYALit Posts here.

sjyalit

As much as I want to write this guest post, I also don’t want to. It’s a familiar feeling, for me, of why I was nervous to write my newest book and why I am terrified of my next one: I’m not representative of what I’m writing.

In a world of YA where Own Voices matter, where representation matters, where diversity is important—and as someone who stands in support of that—I didn’t want to write a book with a gay teen. I also don’t want to have a MC who is a person of color, which my next in this series. But I am anyway because their stories matter.

Their stories matter.

##

My day job is working with teenagers. I love my job and I love my teens, fiercely, even when they say or do or act in messed up teenage ways. I love being a pro-claimed library mom to them.

I don’t love the other parts.

I don’t love having to bite my tongue when I listen to my LGBTQ+ teens talk about being are too afraid to come out to their families because they know if they do, they’ll be homeless.

I don’t love watching one of my teens, who is a fantastic makeup artist and future (self-proclaimed) drag queen, wear beanies and sweats to school because he believes if he dresses as who he is, he will get beat up by rednecks. (His words.)

sweetheartsham

I feel pride when I see seventh graders speak out about their gender identity, about their pronouns, about the name they want to be called instead, and stand up to peers who ridicule. (I never knew that much about myself, or the world, in seventh grade because my peers were more invested in boy band drama.) While I embrace that pride, I don’t love hearing some of those same kids talk about how his mom tried to make him wear a dress to picture day. Or how her dad keeps introducing her as his dead name in public, even though dad doesn’t call her that at home. Or how kids at school say comments that imply being a “they” means they have two people inside their head, and in which case wouldn’t that just make them crazy?

I have listened to, cried with, been angered for, sat helplessly by and listened to LGTBQ+ teens (and adult friends) no matter what their gender, identity, race or pronoun, deal with issues of acceptance, trust. How they can’t walk down the street holding their partner’s hand just in case. How they get stares for looking “different”. How they fear every day that today may be the last day they have the rights they fought for.

I’m lucky. I don’t have those fears. I don’t have, and never have had to, face the reality that my parents, my family, my friends could turn their backs on me if they found out who I was wasn’t who they wanted me to be. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, that I won’t fight, that I won’t support, listen to, march with, fight for those who do. In fact, it means the opposite. It means I will.

As fiercely as I love my teens, writing, my job, I love people. I believe that fear shouldn’t be present in their lives, and it makes me sad—and it makes me angry—that humans in our “free” country have to experience any of that.

##

These stories matter.

It’s the aftermath of them, too, that matter. It’s the other teens, the ones who lend clothes and give rides and offer bedroom floors to their friends “just in case”. It’s the ones who listen, who care, who fight and argue and march alongside their friends. It’s the stories of those who just love other humans…not because they’re LGBTQ+ or a person of color. Not because of any social issue other than being a friend.

Those stories matter too.

And that’s why I write these stories I’m afraid of. There are more stories out there to be told, and there are some out there being shouted off rooftops. We just have to be brave enough to listen.

About The Sweetheart Sham:

In a small town like Culler, South Carolina, you guard your secrets like you guard your cobbler recipe: with your life. Georgia Ann Monroe knows a thing or two about secrets: she’s been guarding the truth that her best friend Will is gay for years now. But what happens when a little white lie to protect him gets her into a fake relationship…and then the boy of her dreams shows up?

Enter Beau Montgomery: Georgie’s first love, hotter than ever, and much too much of a southern gentleman to ever pursue someone else’s girl. There’s no way to come clean to Beau while still protecting Will. But bless their hearts, they live in Culler—where secrets always have a way of revealing themselves.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains a hilarious “fakeship,” a scorching-hot impossible relationship, and a heartwarming best-friendship that will make you want to call your best friend right here, right now.

Buylinks: https://entangledpublishing.com/the-sweetheart-sham.html

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33025418-the-sweetheart-sham

About Danielle Ellison:

danielleellison

Danielle Ellison is a nomad, always on the lookout for an adventure and the next story. In addition to writing, she’s the founder and coordinator of the NoVa TEEN Book Festival. When she’s not busy with books, she’s probably watching her favorite shows, drinking coffee, or fighting her nomadic urges. She is newly settled in Oklahoma (for now) with her cat, Simon, but you can always find her on twitter @DanielleEWrites.

Book Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Publisher’s description

dear martinRaw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

THIS BOOK.

This book is a powerful and incredibly nuanced look at racism, police brutality, privilege, profiling, and so much more. The thing I kept writing in my notes was “it’s all so very complicated.” And, of course, it IS—you don’t need to know anything about the plot specifics to look at the list of topics it touches on to know it’s complicated. But Justyce’s thoughts, his experiences, the moves he makes/considers/rejects are all so VERY complex. I was completely wrapped up in this story, which I read in one sitting. There is not just one “incident” in this book. Justyce is handcuffed and assaulted by a cop when he’s seen helping his drunk ex-girlfriend into her car in the middle of the night. He’s seen an endless stream of stories in the news about unarmed black kids wrongfully arrested and/or killed, but he never thought it would happen to him. As Justyce says, he’s not “threatening” like some of the kids he’s seen on the news can be/look (his thoughts, not mine). It’s an eye-opening experience, one that prompts him to begin writing letters to Dr. King as he tries to work out his thoughts and works to begin to really see more of what is going on all around him.

There are other incidents that change the way Justyce sees things: his best friend Manny’s cousin, Quan, is charged with murdering a cop. His classmate Jared (and others, but Jared is the worst) spouts off endlessly about how color-blind America is and how everyone here is equal. There are intense classroom conversations about race, police, equality, and privilege that lead Justyce to some new thoughts and to see his peers in different lights. Justyce seeks solutions and ways to handle things like classmates seeing nothing wrong with wearing blackface, dressing up as KKK members for Halloween, and completely being oblivious to their own privilege. Justyce grapples with the trauma of his profiling arrest through all of this—it’s never far from his mind. His best times are with Manny or with Sarah-Jane, who is Jewish and his debate partner (and who he is totally crushing on—but, like everything else, that’s complicated).

The story really ramps up when, partway through, Manny and Justyce encounter an angry, racist, off-duty cop while blaring their music at a stoplight. What happens here, and after, is heartbreaking, profoundly moving, and often incredibly infuriating. This stunning debut is captivating, raw, and immensely readable. I would love to see this used in classrooms or book clubs and hear the conversations it would generate. This important and thoughtful look at racism, and many issues stemming from and surrounding racism, should be in all teen collections.  A must-read. I can’t wait to see what else Nic Stone writes. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781101939499
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/17/2017