Category Archives: Fiction

Fifteen and Change by Max Howard

Fifteen and Change by Max Howard. October 1, 2018. West 44 Books, 200 p. ISBN: 0765383756.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 500.

Zeke would love to be invisible. His mother is struggling to make ends meet and stuck with a no-good boyfriend. Zeke knows he and his mom will be stuck forever if he doesn’t find some money fast. When Zeke starts working at a local pizza place, he meets labor activists who want to give him a voice–and the living wage he deserves for his work. Zeke has to decide between living the quiet life he’s carved for himself and raising his voice for justice.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2018)
Fifteen-year-old Zeke gets a job and becomes involved with community organizers who aim to unionize local food-service workers in this novel in verse for reluctant readers. Zeke hates their lives in the city with Paul, his alcoholic mom’s abusive boyfriend, a hypocritical Christian, and he misses his old home in small-town Wisconsin. Spurred to action by the idea of making enough money for them to move back, he takes a job at Casa de Pizza, where he comes to understand the desperate circumstances many of his minimum-wage–earning co-workers face. Zeke keeps the job secret, fearing Paul will try to steal his earnings. Pagelong free-verse poems evocatively describe Zeke’s experiences and quickly propel the story forward. The dynamics between the employees at Casa de Pizza (Zeke and several others are white, Timothy is black, Hannah is originally from Oaxaca) will be recognizable to teens who’ve worked in food service. Readers will easily sympathize with the all-too-true-to-life situations with which the characters are coping—racism and sexual harassment, Zeke’s awful home life, and a co-worker’s eviction with her children among them. Though short, this story develops the characters’ personalities, sketches in the history of the labor movement, and includes a subdued romantic subplot, effectively balancing these various elements. An auspicious ending may seem a bit unlikely to some, but this novel has many appealing aspects that will draw readers in. (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Max Howard loves woods and words and finds them both in books. Max has worked lots of day jobs including pizza delivery driver, fashion show stagehand, and AP test scorer, but still finds the time to write for kids and adults. Currently, Max is writing a picture book called The Book Formerly Known As Barf. This is Max’s first novel.

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It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy

It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy. November 13, 2018. Delacorte Press, 336 p. ISBN: 9781524766436.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.7; Lexile: 740.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB meets middle school with a prank twist in this hilarious and heartwarming story about six very different seventh graders who are forced to band together after a vandalism incident.

When Theo’s photography project is mysteriously vandalized at school there are five suspected students who all say “it wasn’t me.”

Theo just wants to forget about the humiliating incident but his favorite teacher is determined to get to the bottom of it and has the six of them come into school over vacation to talk. She calls it “Justice Circle.” The six students—the Nerd, the Princess, the Jock, the Screw Up, the Weirdo, and the Nobody—think of it as detention. AKA their worst nightmare.

That is until they realize they might get along after all, despite their differences. But what is everyone hiding and will school ever be the same?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Homophobic slur, Mild language

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. Having to go to school over break stinks, but circumstantial evidence surrounding vandalism brings six unhappy seventh-graders together for a justice circle facilitated by a favorite teacher. Like The Breakfast Club, each student carries a label by which they are automatically judged (the nerd, the princess, the jock, the weirdo, the screw-up), and this experimental gathering seeks to discover not only who destroyed Theo’s photographs but why. Despite a slow start, the story becomes as much a whodunit as an examination of judging others based on assumptions. Each day, the five possible perps fill out a questionnaire, offering readers a glimpse into the characters’ personalities and thin layers of clues. Meanwhile, the six learn about each other’s backgrounds, passions, and commonalities, leading to surprising results. Told primarily via Theo’s first-person narrative, readers join him as he discovers what happened and feel his ever-changing emotions about the events. Plenty of laughs and loads of interesting introspection help drive the story. Fans of Levy’s Family Fletcher books will love that Jax is one of the suspects.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2018)
Having reluctantly agreed to exhibit his self-portraits in his school’s art gallery, seventh grader Theo is devastated when the photographs are defaced and destroyed. With trepidation he joins the five students suspected of committing the vandalism in a Justice Circle, hoping to understand how one of them could be so cruel. The suspects seem predictable types—a jock, an overachiever, a weirdo, a class clown (Jax Fletcher from Levy’s Family Fletcher books), and a stayer-below-the-radar—who are introduced in the novel’s opening pages through the first of the written assessments they are required to complete each day. As time goes on, they start to shed defensiveness, show vulnerability, and gain an appreciation for one another through their shared experience. As for Theo himself, through his introspective first-person viewpoint we see him dealing with hurt, anger, confusion, empathy, and compassion as the culprit is slowly revealed. Levy delves into sensitive topics that are both timely and of great importance to middle-school readers while also providing plenty of entertainment and humor—yoga-ball soccer, anyone?—with this winning school story. monica edinger

About the Author

Dana Alison Levy was raised by pirates but escaped at a young age and went on to earn a degree in aeronautics and puppetry. Actually, that’s not true—she just likes to make things up. That’s why she always wanted to write books. She was born and raised in New England and studied English literature before going to graduate school for business. While there is value in all learning, had she known she would end up writing for a living, she might not have struggled through all those statistics and finance classes. Dana was last seen romping with her family in Massachusetts.

Her website is danaalisonlevy.com

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Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao. November 6, 2018. Philomel Books, 384 p. ISBN: 9781524738327.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This fairy tale retelling lives in a mystical world inspired by the Far East, where the Dragon Lord and the Serpent God battle for control of the earthly realm; it is here that the flawed heroine of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns finally meets her match. An epic fantasy finale to the Rise of the Empress novels.

Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as Empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the Empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with breathtaking pain and beauty, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is filled with dazzling magic, powerful prose, and characters readers won’t soon forget.

Sequel to: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Part of Series: Rise of the Empress (Book #2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Harsh realities of war, Mild sexual themes, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Grades 9-12. Dao continues and completes her East Asian–inspired retelling of Snow White, incorporating historical, cultural, and folkloric elements for a stand-alone sequel that will likely inspire new readers to find the first volume. Princess Jade, raised by her devoted Amah in a secluded monastery, is turning 18 and is summoned back to court by her stepmother, Empress Xifeng, whose story was told in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (2017). Jade’s father, Emperor Jun, is in failing health, and the Empress wants Jade close by—not necessarily to inherit the kingdom. Wren, Amah’s granddaughter, and Koichi, son of former Ambassador Shiro on neighboring Kamatsu, are among the rebels and allies determined to see the empress’ reign of terror end and Jade established as rightful ruler. Dao’s characters are complex and intriguing; villains are admirably drawn so the reader sees their paths to unfortunate decisions. Battles, military strategy, and romance blend with stories within stories as Dao brings this richly embroidered saga to a satisfying close. A detailed and comprehensible cast of characters easily situates new readers.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2018)
A young princess finds the courage to usurp an evil queen. Upon Empress Xifeng’s dark and violent rise to power, Princess Jade was sent to a monastery to be raised in meditative simplicity. Pure-hearted Jade is the daughter of Emperor Jun’s first wife and a descendant of the Dragon King—in other words, a constant threat to her evil stepmother’s rule—and is summoned back to the Imperial City for her 18th birthday celebration. Jade quickly discovers her stepmother’s plot to poison the emperor and murder Jade using blood magic from the sinister Serpent God. Disguised as a commoner, Jade escapes with the help of her beloved Amah (nursemaid) and a handful of servants still loyal to the true heir. Thus begins a quest to save the kingdoms of Feng Lu, following crumbs from Amah’s moral tales and a legend that prophesies that “the one who reunites the relics will bring peace to Feng Lu once more.” In this sequel to A Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (2017), Dao marries Chinese history with Western folklore, which will entrance some readers, but the well-trodden paths involving forbidden poisoned apples, legendary swords, and magic invisibility cloaks will frustrate those who enjoyed the rich characterizations in Book 1, Xifeng’s descent into villainy in particular. A grand adventure for fans of fairy tales, fables, and legends coupled with the vibrant history of Chinese dynasties. (Fantasy. 12-16)

About the Author

Julie C. Dao  is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author.  Julie lives in New England.

Her website is www.juliedao.com

Teacher Resources

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix on Common Sense Media

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Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus. January 8, 2019. Delacorte Press, 336 p. ISBN: 9781524714734.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery’s never been there, but she’s heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.

The town is picture-perfect, but it’s hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone has declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.

Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she’s in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous–and most people aren’t good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it’s safest to keep your secrets to yourself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Underage drinking

 

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. McManus follows up her smash hit debut, One of Us Is Lying​ (2017), with another twisted mystery centered around wily teens. Echo Ridge is an idyllic small town in all ways but one: five years ago, homecoming queen Lacy Kildare was strangled, her body left in the presciently named Murderland theme park. The park changed its name, but the town never moved on—Lacy’s body may have been the first one to turn up, but she wasn’t the first girl to go missing. Ellery and her twin brother, Ezra, have just moved to Echo Ridge to live with their grandmother while their mom, whose own twin vanished in high school, undergoes a stint in rehab. When another girl goes missing, true-crime obsessive Ellery is determined to find the truth. But Echo Ridge is dangerous, and she and her family may be more involved than she knows. This is as much a social commentary as it is a layered mystery, and a somewhat abrupt finale won’t keep readers from speeding their way to the end.

Kirkus Reviews starred (October 15, 2018)
History threatens to repeat itself in a small town known for disappearing teen girls. When their mother is suddenly sent to rehab, twins Ellery and Ezra Corcoran are uprooted from California to live with their grandmother in Vermont. True-crime–obsessed Ellery knows the town is infamous for girls going missing. Her own aunt, her mother’s twin, disappeared 23 years ago, never to be found. Just five years ago, Lacey Kilduff was found murdered in nearby Murderland, a Halloween theme park. All eyes are on the twins as the new kids in town, and Ellery’s pulled between the popular girls and Malcolm Kelly, the younger brother of Declan, Lacey’s boyfriend and the person everyone suspects murdered her. Disturbing acts of vandalism pop up, threatening a sequel to events at Murderland. When Ellery’s nominated for homecoming queen, the threats begin to target her and the other princesses, and no matter what he does, Malcolm keeps ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time, making for an easy scapegoat. Alternating between Ellery’s and Malcolm’s perspectives, the mystery unfurls at a deliciously escalating pace, filled with believable red herrings and shocking twists. Readers will furiously turn pages until the satisfying end. Though the students are predominantly white, Ellery and Ezra are biracial (white and Latinx), and Ezra is gay. Malcolm is white, and his best friend is a bisexual Korean-American girl. Masterfully paced with well-earned thrills and spooky atmosphere worth sinking into. (Thriller. 14-18)

About the Author

Karen M. McManus earned her BA in English from the College of the Holy Cross and her MA in journalism from Northeastern University. When she isn’t working or writing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, McManus loves to travel with her son. One of Us Is Lying is her debut novel.

Her website is www.karenmcmanus.com.

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What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards

What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards. December 4, 2018. Sourcebooks Fire, 369 p. ISBN: 9781492657187.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 610.

Mallory didn’t want to leave home, but it wasn’t safe to stay. So she sleeps at her best friend’s house and spends the rest of her time at the library, doing her online schoolwork and figuring out what comes next. Because she’s not going live in fear like her mother.

Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service for a stunt he pulled, but he likes the work. And it’s the perfect escape from his parents’ pressure to excel at school, at ice hockey, at everything. Especially after he meets Mallory.

Then there is a tragic death at the library. Suddenly, what was once a sanctuary turns sinister. Ghostly footprints, strange scratching sounds, scrawled messages on bulletin boards and walls… Mallory and Spencer don’t know who or what is responsible, but one thing is for sure:

They are not as alone―or as safe―as they thought.

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Grades 9-12. Spencer’s privileged family expects him to go to college and live a life of wealth and prominence. Mallory comes from a lower-income home, where her stepfather is controlling and manipulative. Scared about the future for different reasons, the two discover their own escapes: Spencer climbs mountains (or anything else he can find), while Mallory evades her stepfather by running away. Mallory and Spencer meet under stressful circumstances, but it’s not long before they start to help each other through their problems and lead their own lives. Richards’ latest is particularly intriguing; like her previous novel, One Was Lost (2016), it also features a chilling, small-town mystery. Though both teens face difficult dilemmas, in the present and looking forward, it is likely Mallory who readers will feel for most as she tries to escape an abusive home environment. This page-turning story of teens helping each other through dilemmas will attract and inspire readers.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2018)
Two teens with different life circumstances are drawn together in this thriller featuring a mystery set in their Ohio town’s public library. When privileged, funny, and kind Spencer gets busted for breaking a library window while climbing the outside of the building, he winds up doing community service there to make amends. It doesn’t take him long to notice smart, self-possessed Mallory, who spends long hours in the library since leaving home due to the unsettling behavior of her domineering stepfather. In short chapters that alternate between the two in first-person narration, their story unfolds, blending with an eerie subplot about strange and frightening occurrences that happen largely after hours within the library. Though there’s never much doubt that they will become romantically involved, care is taken to develop both characters, including their places within their families—Spencer, adopted by loving and extremely wealthy parents, acutely feels the weight of their expectations, while Mallory’s heart-rending experience of being homeless and worrying about her mom, who’s pregnant, is poignantly told. Spencer is described as having bronze skin, which differs from his adoptive family’s pale blondness. Mallory is implied white. There is some ethnic diversity among secondary characters, including Mallory’s best friend, Lana, whose Venezuelan family is struggling following her dad’s and brother’s deportations. A taut, compelling mystery and a compassionate realistic fiction novel all in one. (Thriller. 14-18)

About the Author

Natalie D. Richards won her first writing competition in the second grade with her short story about Barbara Frances Bizzlefishes (who wouldn’t dare do the dishes.) She later misplaced her writing dreams in a maze of cubicles and general office drudgery. Natalie never forgot about Barbara or those dishes, and eventually she found her way back to storytelling, following the genre of her heart, teen fiction. When she’s not writing or shopping her manuscripts, you can probably find her wading through the towers of dog-eared paperbacks that have taken over her bedroom.

Natalie lives in Ohio with her amazing husband and their three children, who inspire her every day to stick with her dreams.  Her website is www.nataliedrichards.com.

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Lu by Jason Reynolds

Lu by Jason Reynolds. October 23, 2018. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 224 p. ISBN: 9781481450249.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.7; Lexile: 570.

Lu must learn to leave his ego on the sidelines if he wants to finally connect with others in the climax to the New York Times bestselling and award-winning Track series from Jason Reynolds. 

Lu was born to be cocaptain of the Defenders. Well, actually, he was born albino, but that’s got nothing to do with being a track star. Lu has swagger, plus the talent to back it up, and with all that—not to mention the gold chains and diamond earrings—no one’s gonna outshine him.

Lu knows he can lead Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and the team to victory at the championships, but it might not be as easy as it seems. Suddenly, there are hurdles in Lu’s way—literally and not-so-literally—and Lu needs to figure out, fast, what winning the gold really means.

Expect the unexpected in this final event in Jason Reynold’s award-winning and bestselling Track series.

Sequel to: Sunny

Part of Series: Track (Book 4)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Marijuana

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. Lu is the man, the kid, the guy. The one and only. Not only was he a miracle baby but he is albino. He’s special down to his gold chains and diamond earrings, but he feels a little less once-in-a-lifetime when his parents tell him they’re pregnant again. On top of this sobering news, he’s leading the Defenders alongside a cocaptain who isn’t pleased about sharing the title; and he’s training for the 110-meter hurdles, choking at every leap. As the championship approaches, can he prove his uniqueness one final time? As with the prior titles, the final installment in the four-book Track series is uplifting and moving, full of athletic energy and eye-level insight into the inner-city middle-school track-team experience. While it must be said that Lu has the least distinct voice of the four narrators—and given that Reynolds has proven himself to be an absolute master of voice, that is disappointing—this story is not a letdown. Virtually every subplot is a moving moral lesson on integrity, humility, or reconciliation, and Reynolds wraps up his powerful series with a surprising ending, all while scattering rewarding details about Ghost, Patina, and Sunny to let the reader truly revel in this multidimensional world as it comes to a close.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2018)
It is an eventful summer for Lu, the co-captain of the Defenders track team, whose swagger is matched only by his speed. Not only does Lu discover that he is going to be a big brother but he is also preparing for the track championship and competing in a new event—the hurdles. As he soon learns, running hurdles is not just about getting over them, but also about how you perceive them. Lu comes to realize that everyone has hurdles—some are physical (Lu has albinism), some are emotional, some are created by others, and some are self-created. As preparations for the big meet continue, Lu learns a secret about his father that has the potential to upend their close relationship, and he also must face a nemesis from his past. Will Lu clear all his hurdles? In this fourth and final installment of the Track series (Ghost, rev. 11/16; Patina, rev. 11/17; Sunny, rev. 7/18), Reynolds explores redemption and how the people we love and admire the most are not exempt from individual challenges; however, focusing on the bigger picture—family, community, teamwork—helps us to navigate and overcome what gets in our way. Reynolds takes great care in crafting multidimensional characters who face real dilemmas and demonstrate that our shortcomings do not ultimately define who we are. monique harris

About the Author

After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he gets home.

His website is www.jasonwritesbooks.com.

Teacher Resources

Lu on Common Sense Media

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Lu Publisher Page

Children of Jubilee by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Children of Jubilee by Margaret Peterson Haddix. December 4, 2018. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9781442450097.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg. Lvl: 5.9; Lexile: 740.

Kiandra has to use her wits and tech-savvy ways to help rescue Edwy, Enu, and the others from the clutches of the Enforcers in the thrilling final novel of the Children of Exile series from New York Times bestselling author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Since the Enforcers raided Refuge City, Rosi, Edwy, and the others are captured and forced to work as slave labor on an alien planet, digging up strange pearls. Weak and hungry, none of them are certain they will make it out of this alive.

But Edwy’s tech-savvy sister, Kiandra, has always been the one with all the answers, and so they turn to her. But Kiandra realizes that she can’t find her way out of this one on her own, and they all might need to rely on young Cana and her alien friend if they are going to survive.

Part of Series: Children of Exile (Book #3)

Sequel to: Children of Refuge

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Violence, False imprisonment

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Grades 4-8. The third and final title in the Children of Exile series is all fans could hope for: exciting action, thoughtful examinations of social justice and prejudice, no excessive or gratuitous violence, a logically plotted universe, and an ultimately hopeful ending. Haddix once again changes narrators, this time focusing on Edwy’s tech-savvy 13-year-old sister, Kiandra. By switching narrators in each book, Haddix gives readers the chance to see each narrator through the eyes of others, as well as hear their own clear voice. Previously portrayed as a grumpy and self-absorbed genius computer hacker, Kiandra here discovers her connection to her siblings and other beings in general, including initially terrifying alien creatures. Kiandra, her siblings, and friends are whisked through terrifying adventures that include capture, imprisonment, and forced labor. It is Kiandra’s developing empathy that saves the group, as she dares to reach out to what she believes are enemy aliens, working together to achieve freedom. Though it won’t stand alone, this finale will be tremendously popular with series fans.

About the Author

Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Illinois.

Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio, with their two children. Her website is www.haddixbooks.com

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Outwalkers by Fiona Shaw

Outwalkers by Fiona Shaw. February 26, 2019. David Fickling Books, 416 p. ISBN: 9781338277500.  Int Lvl: 5-8.

In this tense, page-turning story of survival in near-future England, Jacob must go to all lengths to find his dog and escape to freedom with a gang of rebel children.

In a frighteningly real near future England, Jacob escapes from the Academy orphanage to reenter a world that is grimly recognizable. The Coalition can track anyone, anywhere, from a chip implanted at birth. Now Jacob must fulfill his promise to his parents, find his dog, Jet, and navigate his way out of England. Their only hope is a band of children who have found a way to survive off the grid: The Outwalkers. Their rules are strict, but necessary if they’re going to get out alive…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, References to drug use and prostitution

 

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Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
In a near future, England has closed its borders, microchipped its citizens, and forced children without two parents into orphanages that are an awful lot like prisons. When 12-year-old Jake’s parents die in a car accident, he is sent to live in a Home Academy to be educated and cared for. Jake escapes to find his dog, Jet, and keep the promise he made to his parents: to flee to his grandparents’ home in Scotland. They also made him promise to keep Jet with him always. But Jake’s chip is like a beacon to the hubbers, and he has no idea how to make the long walk to the border. He meets a group of teens and children who call themselves Outwalkers who agree to take Jake with them as long as he follows the rules. Poacher, with his braided hair and black skin, and Swift, with her pale skin and hard eyes, are the leaders of the motley group. Rumors of a deadly virus and the constant threat of capture haunt their journey. Slow pacing, a vague enemy, and unoriginal plot hamper the intriguing premise. Sacrifice, loyalty, and bravery are rewarded, but Jake’s naiveté quickly becomes irritating. The book adheres to the white default, Poacher a notable exception; that he speaks in an off-putting dialect when most of the rest of the characters do not is an unfortunate detail. A dystopic near future that never manages to come to life. (Science fiction. 8-12)

School Library Journal (January 1, 2019)
Gr 5-8-Jacob Riley escapes from an Academy Home, a Dickensian orphanage in a future England ravaged by a purported virus. He plans to rescue his dog Jet and find his grandparents in Scotland. Immediately upon his escape, Jake is betrayed by former neighbors and chased by government “hubbers” who track him by means of a chip in the back of his neck. Then both Jake and Jet are rescued by a gang of “outwalkers” who excise the chip and invite Jake and his dog to join them on their way north. The gang steals and scavenges food, medicine, and clothing to survive. With skill, luck, courage, and occasional help from strangers, they brave government agents and unscrupulous adults to escape to Scotland and share information that could save England from its totalitarian nightmare. The dystopian buddy trope is well worn, yet Shaw draws such vivid circumstances and strong characters that this novel is impossible to set aside for long. The plot is detailed and exciting, and allegorical comparisons with the present day are compelling. It would be utterly inspiring but for one glaring sexist remark in which a character named Ollie “throws like a girl.” VERDICT A strong additional purchase for collections in need of futuristic, dystopian middle grade fare.-Sheri Reda,

About the Author

Fiona was born in London in 1964. Her place of birth is now a hospital broom cupboard and her first home was on a street later obliterated beneath a superstore off the Cromwell Rd. However, she passed most of her childhood as the eldest of three girls in a lovely and spacious family home near the Thames.

Living in York with her partner and two daughters, Fiona reads a great deal, cycles everywhere, grows vegetables with variable success and acquires more films than she ever gets around to watching. She is working on her fifth novel.

Her website is www.fiona-shaw.com

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Outwalkers on Amazon

Outwalkers on Barnes and Noble

Outwalkers on Goodreads

Outwalkers on LibraryThing

Outwalkers Publisher Page

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan. January 29, 2019. Scholastic Press, 336 p. ISBN: 9781338227017.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali has always been fascinated by the universe around her and the laws of physics that keep everything in order. But her life at home isn’t so absolute.

Unable to come out to her conservative Muslim parents, she keeps that part of her identity hidden. And that means keeping her girlfriend, Ariana, a secret from them too. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life at home and a fresh start at Caltech in the fall. But when Rukhsana’s mom catches her and Ariana together, her future begins to collapse around her.

Devastated and confused, Rukhsana’s parents whisk her off to stay with their extended family in Bangladesh where, along with the loving arms of her grandmother and cousins, she is met with a world of arranged marriages, religious tradition, and intolerance. Fortunately, Rukhsana finds allies along the way and, through reading her grandmother’s old diary, finds the courage to take control of her future and fight for her love.

A gritty novel that doesn’t shy away from the darkest corners of ourselves, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali provides a timely and achingly honest portrait of what it’s like to grow up feeling unwelcome in your own culture and proves that love, above all else, has the power to change the world.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Racism, Sexual assault, Islamophobia, Homophobia, Homophobic violence, Domestic abuse, Conversion therapy

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 7))
Grades 9-12. Rukhsana Ali chafes against her conservative Muslim parents and their hopes for her future. The 17-year-old has her own plans, like going to Caltech for engineering and openly being with her girlfriend, Ariana. But when her parents ultimately find out about Ariana, they’re quick to send Rukhsana to Bangladesh to be married. Can she balance fighting for the life she wants for herself without devastating her family? Khan’s moving novel brings humanity and nuance to the topics of arranged marriage and familial obligations, and her characters are beautifully fleshed out. Rukhsana’s genuine love and respect for her family and culture amplify the stakes of her choice to determine her own path, and Khan’s account of Bangladeshi traditions, food, and various aunties to dodge rings true. While some characters might initially seem very black-and-white, as Khan gradually peels away the layers of their backstories, they become more fully formed. This moving novel offers readers a deep look into Bengali traditions and dreams for a more inclusive future, with a resilient girl at the heart of it all.

Publishers Weekly (October 15, 2018)
Like many American teenagers straddling two cultures-that of their foreign-born parents and that outside their home-Seattle high school senior Rukhsana has hopes that diverge from her family’s. Though her conservative Bengali-Muslim parents expect her to attend the nearby University of Washington and to marry a young man, she has secretly applied to Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., and is a closeted-to-them lesbian. Her parents eventually give in on Caltech, but when they discover her kissing her girlfriend, Ariana, they furiously spirit Rukhsana away to Bangladesh under false pretenses. Khan skillfully depicts Rukhsana’s mix of emotions toward her family-frustration and anger, love and loyalty-as well as resentment at the differing expectations her parents hold for her and for her carefree younger brother, Aamir. Relationships ring true, including the siblings’ teasingly affectionate relationship and Rukhsana and Ariana’s struggles navigating their romance under difficult circumstances. The complicated plot and the large cast of characters, both in Seattle and in Bangladesh, occasionally overwhelm, but Rukhsana’s voice offers a steady blend of compassion and humor as she schemes-with several likable allies-to follow her dreams, perhaps at the cost of losing her family. Ages 14-up.

About the Author

Sabina Khan is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband and three daughters, one of whom is a fur baby. She writes about Muslim teens who are straddling cultures.

Her website is sabina-khan.com

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The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali on Goodreads

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali on LibraryThing

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali Publisher Page

Pulp by Robin Talley

Pulp by Robin Talley. November 13, 2018. Harlequin Teen, 416 p. ISBN: 9781335012906.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Homophobic slur, Mild language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Cigarettes, Homophobia

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Not many YA novels contain one lesbian romance, let alone four, but Talley’s newest pulls it off, while creatively spanning time and genre. In the present day, Abby Zimet is out and proud, despite chaffing against the “just friends” label newly instituted by her ex. Breakup stress is compounded by her parents’ crumbling marriage, and Abby finds escape in an unlikely place: vintage lesbian pulp fiction. So much so that researching the genre and writing her own pulp novel becomes her senior project. The book that starts her obsession is Women of the Twilight Realm, by Marian Love, passages of which intercut Abby’s narrative, along with 18-year-old Janet Jones’ story line, set in 1955. Janet’s own discovery of lesbian lit holds many parallels to Abby’s, but her closeted life offers a dramatic contrast. Talley pulls pre-Stonewall history, such as the lavender scare, the gay bar scene, and actual lesbian pulp authors, into this fun but substantive read. As Abby loses herself to her project, she eventually finds firmer footing in her own life and identity.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2018)
Two Washington, D.C., lesbian teens, 62 years apart, each discover classic lesbian pulp fiction—late midcentury paperbacks depicting a shadowy world of forbidden love. For 18-year-old Janet Jones in 1955, A Love So Strange is a revelation: She had no idea “other girls might feel the way she did.” Janet and her friend Marie, who are both assumed white, tentatively explore their growing attraction but face warnings from an African-American lesbian couple that Marie’s government job and reputation are in danger. For high school senior Abby Zimet in 2017, the world is different. She has been out to her accepting white Jewish family since ninth grade. Nursing a broken heart from the breakup with her bisexual classmate Linh, a Vietnamese-American girl, Abby turns to reading pulp novels and researching gay and lesbian life in midcentury D.C. Talley (Our Own Private Universe, 2017, etc.) adds complexity by tying Janet’s and Abby’s storylines together: Both girls write their own pulp novels, creating two additional plotlines. The books within a book are cleverly written to mimic pulp styles, and the superlative pacing will hook readers. The acknowledgments describe the author’s meticulous research and the actual historical events (e.g. the persecution of queer government employees during the Lavender Scare of the 1950s) and literature upon which the book is based. Readers familiar with D.C. may find the liberties taken with geography distracting. Suspenseful parallel lesbian love stories deftly illuminate important events in LGBTQ history. (bibliography) (Fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, their baby daughter, an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. Whenever the baby’s sleeping, she’s probably busy writing young adult fiction about queer characters, reading books, and having in-depth conversations with friends and family about things like whether Jasmine’s character motivation was sufficiently established in Aladdin.

Her website is www.robintalley.com

Around the Web

Pulp on Amazon

Pulp on Barnes and Noble

Pulp on Goodreads

Pulp on LibraryThing

Pulp Publisher Page