Tag Archives: Fiction

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. February 5, 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books, 208 p. ISBN: 9781524738112.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.0.

Four determined homeless children make a life for themselves in Padma Venkatraman’s stirring middle-grade debut.

Life is harsh in Chennai’s teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. Very quickly, eleven-year-old Viji discovers how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. Fortunately, the girls find shelter–and friendship–on an abandoned bridge. With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts. And while making a living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves and no longer dependent on untrustworthy adults. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities, Violence

 

Book Talk

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 11))
Grades 5-7. In India, 11-year-old Viji and her 12-year-old sister, Rukku, run away to Chennai after their violent father strikes out at them. Unprepared for living on the streets, they befriend two homeless boys: Arul, who lost his family in a tsunami, and Muthu, who escaped from a so-called school where he was confined and forced to work. Together they pick through garbage dumps for glass and metal scraps to sell, sleep on an abandoned bridge, and form their own family. Rukku’s intellectual disability has made her dependent on Viji, who gradually learns that her sister is more capable than she had thought. When Rukku and Muthu fall ill, Viji makes tough decisions in hopes of saving their lives and later must cope with her grief before she can move on. The four children and their tight-knit relationship are portrayed with conviction and finesse. Written in the form of a letter from Viji to her sister, the affecting narrative transports readers to a faraway setting that becomes vivid and real. Although the young characters face unusually difficult challenges, they nevertheless find the courage they need to move forward. The author of A Time to Dance (2014), Venkatraman offers an absorbing novel of love, loss, and resilience.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2018)
Venkatraman’s middle-grade debut tackles sisterhood, chosen families, and loss. Eleven-year-old Viji and her sister, Rukku, flee their abusive father after he breaks Amma’s arm and kicks Rukku. They find themselves, overwhelmed, in the big city of Chennai, where they are temporarily employed by kind Teashop Aunty, who offers them bananas and vadais, and fall in love with a puppy, Kutti, who becomes their constant companion. The sisters meet Muthu and Arul, two boys who live under an abandoned bridge, and join them; Viji tells Rukku elaborate stories to reassure herself and her sister that they will be OK. Soon, Viji finds herself telling the young boys her stories as well; in return, the boys show the girls how to earn money on the streets: by scavenging for resalable trash in a very large garbage dump Muthu calls “the Himalayas of rubbish.” When tragedy strikes, it is this new family who helps Viji come to terms. Craftwise, the book is thoughtful: Venkatraman employs the second person throughout as Viji writes to Rukku, and readers will ultimately understand that Viji is processing her grief by writing their story. Viji’s narration is vivid and sensory; moonlight “slip[s] past the rusty iron bars on our window”; “the taste of half an orange…last[s] and last[s].” The novel also touches on social justice issues such as caste, child labor, and poverty elegantly, without sacrificing narrative. A blisteringly beautiful book. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Padma Venkatraman was born in Chennai, India, and became an American citizen after attaining a Ph.D. in oceanography from The College of William and Mary. She is also the author of A Time to Dance (IBBY selection, ALA Notable, CCBC Choice, Notable Books for a Global Society winner, and South Asia Book Award Honor Book), Island’s End (ALA Best Book of the Year, ALA/Amelia Bloomer List selection, and CCBC Best Book), and Climbing the Stairs (Julia Ward Howe Award, Bank Street Best Book, YALSA BBYA selection, Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and CCBC Choice).

Her website is www.padmavenkatraman.com

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Following by Jeffry W. Johnston

Following by Jeffry W. Johnston. February 5, 2019. Sourcebooks Fire, 256 p. ISBN: 9781492664611.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Rear Window meets Serial in this riveting new thriller from Edgar Award-nominated author that follows Alden as he tries to solve a crime only he believes was committed.

Alden likes to follow people. He’s not trying to be a creep, he just wants to be an investigator someday, and it’s good practice.

But spying on people comes with risks, like when Alden sees popular Greg Matthes seemingly murder his girlfriend, Amy, one night in the bad part of town.

But the facts aren’t adding up, especially because Amy may be alive. Now Alden has to figure what he could have seen… and what secrets Greg is hiding.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. High-school junior Alden has always fancied himself an amateur detective: “It’s important work. You never know about people; what they show on the outside is often not what’s on the inside. You’ve gotta watch for those brief moments when the hidden part slips out.” After Alden’s parents are killed during a mass shooting, investigating suspicious leads is all he can think about. Curiosity gets him in hot water when he follows popular senior athlete Greg to a secluded area behind the high school and witnesses what he thinks is Greg murdering his girlfriend, Amy. When Amy turns up at school unmistakably not murdered, Alden has to reshape his theories. Guided by his best friend (and daughter of the local police chief) Charlie, Alden walks a fine line between sticking to his convictions and making a false police report. Johnston’s (The Truth​, 2016) latest is a slow-burn thriller that veers in surprising directions, with a final twist no one will see coming. Teasing chapter endings and engaging characters will propel readers forward.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
Practicing his investigative techniques, aspiring detective Alden follows golden boy Greg to an abandoned ball park at the edge of town where he believes he witnesses a murder. In an update to the fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” Alden is the guy spotting crime and anonymously informing the police in order to assuage the guilt he feels around the death of his parents during a mass shooting at a fair. He is obsessed with the need to prevent the mayhem he feels exists around him. But is this crime real? Greg, a senior and popular athlete at their high school, is dating pretty, red-haired Amy—and now Alden thinks he has murdered her. Alden’s best friend, Charlie, is the daughter of the chief of police and for a time becomes involved in trying to prove or disprove the crime that Alden believes was committed. A junior, Alden lives with an uncle who is trying to be a parent but lacks experience; this side plot adds to the overall picture of Alden’s isolation. There are minimal physical descriptions beyond hair color, and main characters follow a white default. Little in the characterization or writing make this stand out, but Alden’s motivation rings true, and his vulnerability is appealing. A twisty mystery. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

I write young adult mysteries and thrillers. My first two novels, FRAGMENTS and THE TRUTH, were both Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers selections by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). FRAGMENTS was also a 2008 Edgar nominee by the Mystery Writers of America for Best Young Adult Mystery and THE TRUTH was a 2017 In the Margins Top 10 Book Award winner. My new teen thriller, FOLLOWING, is out in 2019. Besides also publishing numerous short stories and articles covering various genres and subjects, I have been a film and theatre reviewer.

His website is jeffrywjohnston.com.

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Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. January 15, 2019. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 384 p. ISBN: 9781481465809.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.8.

This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Criminal culture, Discrimination, Mild language, Racism, Adult alcohol abuse

 

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Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 8))
Grades 4-8. Her dad is an alcoholic with a gambling problem who never pays the rent, so her family keeps getting evicted from their homes. But that’s not the only reason Genesis hates herself. Mostly it’s because she is dark-skinned, and she wishes she were lighter. Genesis tries multiple ways to lighten her skin and help her family, both with disappointing results. Only after she learns to appreciate herself for who she is does everything else starts to fall into place. The “year in the life” style of this story gives readers an opportunity to look into someone’s day-to-day, observing experiences that might be quite different from or similar to their own. This lengthy debut includes many common tropes—the inspirational teacher, the group of best friends, the mean girls—but its final message is powerful and challenges Genesis to define her life on her own terms, not society’s. Genesis comes out stronger in the end, and the reader who sticks with her story will hopefully feel the same.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2018)
Thirteen-year-old Genesis Anderson is a black girl who has been dealt a heavy hand in life. She’s had to move several times because her family keeps getting evicted thanks to her alcoholic, gambling father, who defaults on the rent. Genesis hates her circumstances, and even more, she hates the skin she’s in. Dark-skinned like her father—who takes no pride in their resemblance, especially when he’s drunk and mean—Genesis wants nothing more than to look like her light-skinned mother. With kids calling her names (Charcoal, Eggplant, Blackie) and a chiding grandmother who spouts backward colorist ideologies, it’s no wonder. Genesis desperately wants to be accepted, even causing herself physical pain to change the look of her skin and hair in order to attain it. But Genesis has a talent that demands that she stand out. With the help of her chorus teacher, Genesis discovers a way to navigate the pain she carries. With smooth and engrossing prose, debut novelist Williams takes readers through an emotional, painful, yet still hopeful adolescent journey. Along the way she references accomplished black activists, athletes, artists, and, notably, musicians such as Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James, all in a way that feels natural and appropriate. This book may bring readers to tears as they root for Genesis to finally have the acceptance she craves—but from herself rather than anyone else. It’s a story that may be all too familiar for too many and one that needed telling. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Alicia Williams is a graduate of the MFA program at Hamline University. An oral storyteller in the African-American tradition, she is also a kindergarten teacher who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Genesis Begins Again is her debut novel.

Teacher Resources

Genesis Begins Again Reading Guide

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Thicker than Water by Natasha Deen

Thicker than Water by Natasha Deen. January 29, 2019. Orca, 144 p. ISBN: 9781459821989.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: 3.2; Lexile: 450.

Zack Bernard has a thing for crime shows, especially the forensic-investigation kind. So when his friend Ella goes missing, Zack can’t help piecing together what he thinks is concrete evidence that could lead to her whereabouts. The problem is, it’s all pointing toward his dad. He knows his dad is lying about not having seen Ella because Zack saw them together at the mall the day she disappeared. What he doesn’t know is why. With the help of his friend Ayo, Zack tries to solve the mystery himself to avoid having to make the ter-rible choice between losing someone close to him and betraying his family.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2018)
When his friend goes missing, Zack Bernard realizes her disappearance is not the only mystery. The story focuses on Zack, a West Indian–Canadian teen living in Toronto who’s a fan of true-crime shows and plans to become a detective. When his friend Ella Larson disappears, Zack can’t let the police be the only ones investigating—especially because he knows something the police don’t: Zack saw Ella with his guidance-counselor father at the mall and, later, getting into his car. Afraid to jeopardize his father’s job, Zack withholds this information. Zack’s dad refuses to talk to him about what he saw, his friend Ayo Mohammed thinks he needs to respect the confidentiality of his father’s records, and they both think Zack should let the police handle everything. But his gut instinct says something terrible happened to Ella, and Zack’s going to do everything he can to find out what it is even if he finds out something he didn’t want to know. A challenge with hi-lo books is displayed with this title: The plot is too complex for the format, forcing an overly tidy and sanitized conclusion to the central mystery. However, readers will definitely keep turning the pages; Zack’s and Ayo’s immigrant families provide some subtle characterization for each of them. For reluctant readers with a taste for crime, this title should scratch the itch. (Mystery/thriller. 12-18)

School Library Journal (February 1, 2019)
Gr 8 Up-This continuing series follows teenagers dealing with transitions. Logan is a photographer reeling from the recent death of her mother in The Unbroken Hearts Club. When she and her best friend Cole begin attending bereavement meetings hosted by her father, she is forced to confront her loss, as well as her possible feelings for Cole. Aspiring criminologist Zack’s best friend goes missing in Thicker Than Water-and all signs point to Zack’s father being involved, all while his parents’ marriage falls apart. In The Bodyguard, Ryan, known as “Replay,” is a star football player who dreams of becoming a filmmaker. To raise the money to apply to film school, he begins working as a bodyguard to Markus, an Estonian exchange student with dark secrets tied to online gambling. Readers will be enticed by the edgy themes and compelling stories of adolescents following their dreams. VERDICT Written at a third and fourth grade reading level, these novels are distinguished by multidimensional characters and briskly paced plots. © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.

About the Author

Natasha Deen’s family moved from Guyana, South America to Canada to escape the country’s political & racial violence. She loved growing up in a country of snow & flannel, but often felt out of place. Thank goodness for books that showed her being different could also mean being awesome. Natasha lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her family where she spends A LOT of time arguing with her cats and dogs about who’s the boss of the house.

Her website is www.natashadeen.com

Teacher Resources

Thicker than Water Teacher’s Guide

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Cool Day in the Sun by Sara Biren

Cool Day in the Sun by Sara Biren. March 12, 2019. Amulet Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781419733673.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Holland Delviss wants to be known for her talent as a hockey player, not a hockey player who happens to be a girl. But when her school team is selected to be featured and televised as part of HockeyFest, her status as the only girl on the boys’ team makes her the lead story. Not everyone is thrilled with Holland’s new fame, but there’s one person who fiercely supports her, and it’s the last person she expects (and definitely the last person she should be falling for): her bossy team captain, Wes.

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

 

Reviews

Booklist (February 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 11))
Grades 8-11. Holland has always had to prove she was talented enough to play with the guys. Now, as a member of her high school’s boy’s hockey team, that means giving 100 percent on the ice, and trying to ignore any disapproving comments. Keeping her head in the game wouldn’t be so tough if the cocaptain Wes wasn’t always on her case. But when they bond over a love of ’80s music, she starts considering breaking her “no dating teammates” rule. Biren​’s (The Last Thing You Said, 2017) latest is a fun read that simultaneously puts the reader into the hockey world as an insider and an outsider. Holland and her teammates are introduced in a swirl of nicknames and maneuvers, while her struggle to feel completely at home is explored poignantly. Though what it means to be the girl on a boys team is a constant theme, it’s a last-act gut punch that really puts a spotlight on what female athletes have to deal with. A must-read for anyone who has had to defy expectations.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2019)
It’s not easy being the only girl on the boys’ varsity hockey team. It’s especially difficult when your arrogant team captain calls you a nickname you hate, townspeople are free with their opinions about how you shouldn’t be allowed to play with the boys, and your journalism teacher is riding you hard about the articles you’re producing. Holland isn’t having a great time of it, and when that same arrogant team captain turns out to be the piece that’s been missing in her life—well, love doesn’t exactly make things any easier. Now, in addition to having to prove herself over and over in terms of her hockey skills, she also has to prove that she isn’t getting special favors because she’s dating the captain. A fun romp of a teen romance via an exciting hockey season, this book has all the right ingredients—a spunky, multifaceted main character, a love interest who turns out to be a decent individual, and plenty of internal and external conflict. Some of the lines feel a little timeworn, but overall the plot whips along with verve, driven by fully embodied characters who chase after love like they’re chasing after a puck. The cast presents as white and includes a gay partnership. A teenage love story steamy enough to melt the ice in the rink. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Sara Biren lives just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and their two children. A true Minnesotan, she is a fan of hockey, hotdish, and hanging out at the lake. She enjoys seeing live bands, watching movies with her family, and drinking coffee. Her love of cheese knows no bounds.

Sara is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Duluth, on the shores of beautiful Lake Superior, and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Her website is www.sarabiren.com

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Spin by Lamar Giles

Spin by Lamar Giles. January 29, 2019. Scholastic, 400 p. ISBN: 9781338219210.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Even in murder, the music lives on.

When rising star Paris Secord (aka DJ ParSec) is found dead on her turntables, it sends the local music scene reeling. No one is feeling that grief more than her shunned pre-fame best friend, Kya, and ParSec’s chief groupie, Fuse — two sworn enemies who happened to be the ones who discovered her body.

The police have few leads, and when the trail quickly turns cold, the authorities don’t seem to be pushing too hard to investigate further. But nobody counted on Paris’s deeply loyal fans, ParSec Nation, or the outrage that would drive Fuse and Kya to work together. As ParSec Nation takes to social media and the streets in their crusade for justice, Fuse and Kya start digging into Paris’s past, stumbling across a deadly secret. With new info comes new motives. New suspects. And a fandom that will stop at nothing in their obsessive quest for answers, not even murder…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. During Charleston’s 2018 YALLFest author panel, Giles pointed to music fandoms like Beyoncé’s Beyhive as his inspiration for Spin. These create the perfect launchpad for his explosive, gripping novel that will leave readers on the edge of their seats. Giles blends a clear love of hip-hop with the juiciness of fandoms and the gripping, heart-stopping thrill of a good murder mystery. ParSec is the stage name of 16-year-old Paris Secord, a talented up-and-coming DJ on the local music scene. When Paris is murdered, her newfound fame is cut short. Paris’ best friend Kya and her most adoring fan, Fuse, are shaken to the core by her death. They both suspect the other of murdering Paris, and public accusations between them explode into scandal—until they discover that Paris had a major deal brewing and there may have been a third party who would have wanted her dead. Kya and Fuse are determined to unearth Paris’ killer but may lose their lives in the process, because whoever killed DJ ParSec is intent on remaining anonymous. Spin delivers everything you could want in a book: lush, complex characters; a spine-chilling plot; a vividly drawn world; and, best of all, hip-hop. It’s a music genre and a lifestyle that doesn’t see rep in YA books nearly enough, and Giles delivers it in style.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2018)
Two African-American teens who dislike each other find themselves working together to solve the murder of a mutual friend.Kya Caine and Fatima “Fuse” Fallon were both in the orbit of Paris Secord, aka DJ ParSec. Kya and Paris were friends from their neighborhood, while Fuse’s skill with social media made her the ideal person to promote this music among #ParSecNation fans. On the night Paris is murdered, both girls happen on the scene within minutes of each other; her death is a blow, and their shock and pain run deep. When they are briefly kidnapped by #DarkNation, a group of violent, extreme fans, they put their differences behind them to find the killer. The young women come from different worlds: Kya, the daughter of a hardworking single parent, resents upper-middle-class Fuse. But the drive to find answers before #DarkNation or the killer strike again propels them. They agree on the likely culprit and know their best chance of proving their guilt will occur during the high-energy commingling of everyone touched by the rising star and her music in an upcoming memorial concert. This is genre fiction at its best: a taut mystery with rich characterization and a strong sense of place. Social realities, such as class and family dynamics, add depth. The depiction of the grassroots music scene that feeds hip-hop and keeps it cutting edge is seamlessly woven into the narrative. Not to be missed. (Mystery. 12-18)

About the Author

L. R. Giles hunts monsters. When he catches them, he locks them in stories. His work has been featured in the Dark Dreams anthology series, he’s won the prestigious Virginia Commission for the Arts Fiction Fellowship, and he was a Top 10 Finalist in the international SciFi Now/Tor UK War of the Words competition. He resides in Chesapeake, Virginia with his wife.

Her website is www.lamargiles.com.

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29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz

29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz. December 18, 2018. Inkyard Press, 395 p. ISBN: 9781335541543.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

How many dates will it take to find The One?

Jisu’s traditional South Korean parents are concerned by what they see as her lack of attention to her schoolwork and her future. Working with Seoul’s premiere matchmaker to find the right boyfriend is one step toward ensuring Jisu’s success, and going on the recommended dates is Jisu’s compromise to please her parents while finding space to figure out her own dreams. But when she flubs a test then skips out on a date to spend time with friends, her fed-up parents shock her by shipping her off to a private school in San Francisco. Where she’ll have the opportunity to shine academically—and be set up on more dates!

Navigating her host family, her new city and school, and more dates, Jisu finds comfort in taking the photographs that populate her ever-growing social media account. Soon attention from two very different boys sends Jisu into a tailspin of soul-searching. As her passion for photography lights her on fire, does she even want to find The One? And what if her One isn’t parent and matchmaker approved?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Racial insensitivity

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Grades 7-10. Ji-su has gotten used to the pressure her parents put on her to excel in school, but the summer before her senior year they’ve pushed into her personal life, arranging matchmaker-organized dates (seons) so she can meet the perfect guy to complement her perfect future. But when they suddenly send her from her ultracompetitive South Korean high school to one in San Francisco, Ji-su’s dating life gets even more complicated. 29 Dates is a sweet, unique take on the high-school rom-com. Ji-su’s parade of suitors allows the novel to consider any number of dynamics and types before zooming in on the all-important endgame pairing. The details of Ji-su’s life in South Korea and in the U.S. are intricately woven into the story in a way that makes the book feel cinematic and inviting. This latest by de la Cruz is perfect for fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2014), or those who love classic rom-coms and are looking for the next great narrative convention.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
A South Korean high school student spending her senior year in the United States navigates a new school, dating, and college pressures. Ji-su, who is enduring a succession of blind dates set up for her by her ambitious parents through a matchmaker, suddenly finds herself attending a private school in San Francisco, something her parents hope will help her stand out when she applies to college. Although she is heartbroken to leave behind her beloved besties, Euni and Min, she soon makes new friends, including Filipino-American heartthrob Austin; popular, high-achieving Korean-American Dave; and confident, friendly, Lebanese-American Hiba, who becomes a close friend. Ji-su continues going on arranged blind dates in California but also experiences feelings of attraction toward both Austin and Dave, all while applying to (and waiting to hear from) highly competitive colleges. The conceit of the book—following Ji-su through 29 blind dates over the course of her senior year—helps the plot move along swiftly and introduces readers to a wide variety of Korean boys with different personalities and interests, helping to break stereotypes about Asian males. Characters of a range of ethnicities populate the book, and the cultural details about life in Korea are realistically drawn and impressive in their accuracy. A surprise ending brings the story to a satisfying close that will thrill fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2014). A surefire hit wherever lighthearted romances are popular. (author’s note) (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Authors

Melissa de la Cruz grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from The Convent of the Sacred Heart. She majored in art history and English at Columbia University (and minored in nightclubs and shopping!).

She now divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, where she lives in the Hollywood Hills with her husband and daughter.  Her website is www.melissa-delacruz.com/

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The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away by Ronald L. Smith

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away by Ronald L. Smith. February 19, 2019. Clarion Books, 224 p. ISBN: 9781328841605.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.4.

Twelve-year-old Simon is obsessed with aliens. The ones who take people and do experiments. When he’s too worried about them to sleep, he listens to the owls hoot outside. Owls that have the same eyes as aliens—dark and foreboding.

Then something strange happens on a camping trip, and Simon begins to suspect he’s been abducted. But is it real, or just the overactive imagination of a kid who loves fantasy and role-playing games and is the target of bullies and his father’s scorn?

Even readers who don’t believe in UFOs will relate to the universal kid feeling of not being taken seriously by adults that deepens this deliciously scary tale.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Mild language, Verbal abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Grades 5-7. Smith (Hoodoo, 2015) continues to be one of the most distinct and impressive voices in middle-grade speculative fiction right now. Twelve-year-old Simon’s longtime obsession with aliens comes to a head when his parents take him camping over the summer. After a terrifying encounter with an owl leaves him with memory loss and a small, mysterious wound on his stomach, Simon worries that he’s been abducted and implanted with an alien tracking device. Peppered with moments of reflection and insight, Simon’s piercing narration strikes a delightfully conspiratorial tone as he confides in, and at times speaks directly to, the reader. Smith plants a seed of dread and suspense early on that grows and grows, right up until the very last page. The unexpected ending simultaneously wraps up the story line, leaves the reader satisfied, and furthers the book’s propensity to blur genre lines. This is an unassuming, stand-alone story that sneaks up when least expected, and it will be hard to forget.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2018)
A young boy gets more than he bargained for while researching conspiracy theories about the government and UFOs in Smith’s latest. Twelve-year-old, biracial Simon is a quirky kid. He lives on an Air Force base, he reads and writes high fantasy stories, and he believes in aliens. Not just any aliens, but “Grays”—the large-headed, spindly-fingered visitors of Roswell fame. Most of the information that Simon can find is from supposed coverups of the Grays’ frighteningly hostile abductions of humans—theories that sound perfectly rational until he says them out loud, especially to his disapproving parents. But theory bleeds into reality when Simon encounters a bright light and a large owl in the woods, leaving him with an odd scar and a jumble of fragmented memories. Simon’s parents worry for his mental health as Simon himself spirals in his search for explanations, certain that the Grays are trying to communicate and that their message is not so friendly. A theme of liminality runs through the narrative as Simon’s interests, including his own writing, explore the limits of black-or-white human concepts and the gray areas where those binaries break down—gray like invading aliens; both black and white like Simon. A stilted conclusion and unnecessary epilogue propped up by platitudes about special children who can save humanity mar an otherwise terrific alien thrill. A middle-grade X-Files primer, a great ride until it stumbles at the finish line. (Science fiction. 10-13)

About the Author

“I grew up on Air Force bases and have lived in Japan, Maine, Alabama, Michigan, South Carolina, Delaware, Washington, DC, Illinois and a bunch of other places I don’t remember. After reading Ray Bradbury’s R is for Rocket and Eleanor Cameron’s Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet I fell in love with books.

I haven’t stopped reading since.”

His website is www.strangeblackflowers.com

Around the Web

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away on Amazon

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The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away on Goodreads

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away on LibraryThing

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away  Publisher Page

¿Quién es Carmen Sandiego? (Who in the World is Carmen Sandiego?) by Rebecca Tinker

¿Quién es Carmen Sandiego? (Who in the World is Carmen Sandiego?) by Rebecca Tinker. January 29, 2019. HMH Books for Young Readers, 256 p. ISBN: 9781328526816.  Int Lvl: 5-8.

Based on the Netflix original series with a foreword by Gina Rodriguez. For decades, people have asked the question: Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? But just who is this infamous and elusive globe-trotting criminal? 

A skilled thief on a mysterious mission, Carmen Sandiego is endlessly pursued by ACME and Interpol. But the woman in the red fedora is always one step ahead! In this novelization, based on the Netflix animated series, Carmen shares her own backstory for the first time ever. Now, it’s time to find out…. Who in the world is Carmen Sandiego.

Potentially Sensitive Areas:Criminal culture; Violence

 

Video Trailer

 

Teacher Resources

Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Character Page with Printables

Around the Web

Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on Amazon

Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on Barnes and Noble

Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on Goodreads

Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on LibraryThing

Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Publisher Page

Bloom by Kevin Panetta

Bloom by Kevin Panetta. January 29, 2019. First Second, 368 p. ISBN: 9781250196910.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. Ari is sick of working at his dad’s bakery, and he can’t wait to get out of his dead-end beach town and move to the city with his band. He knows his dad will need help, though, so he tries to at least find a replacement before he leaves forever. Enter Hector, the adorable cooking-school dropout who’s in town cleaning out his late grandma’s house and is absolutely perfect for the job. Over baking, deliveries, and languorous summer fun, Hector and Ari get closer, and Ganucheau’s perfectly languid artwork, rendered in arcing brushstrokes and a minimal palette, beautifully showcases the quiet, everyday moments that draw them together. Her montages of baking are particularly lovely—the panel edges in these scenes transform into soft, organic shapes accented with sentimental flourishes—and it’s clear that she’s paid careful attention to the motions and techniques of making bread and cakes. When disaster strikes and the future of the bakery is called into question, Ari has to face some hard truths about himself. A quiet, earnest romance with warmth and depth.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2018)
Summer love rises between two boys in a bakery. High school may have ended, but Ari is stuck with sourdough starter at his family’s bakery instead of summer gigs in the city with his band. As his family’s money grows tighter, Ari feels tethered in place. His friends start to drift toward their own futures. But the future of their band—and their friendship—drifts toward uncertainty. Under the guise of recruiting another baker to take his place, Ari hires Hector. A culinary student in Birmingham, Hector has temporarily returned home to find closure after his Nana’s passing. The two grow close in more than just the kitchen. Ari, who hates baking, even starts to enjoy himself. But will it all last? Panetta and Ganucheau’s graphic novel debut is as much a love story between people as it is with the act of baking. Ganucheau’s art, in black ink with varying shades of blue, mixes traditional paneling with beautiful double-page spreads of detailed baking scenes, where the panels sometimes take on the shape of braided loaves. The romance between Ari and Hector builds slowly, focusing on cute interactions long before progressing to anything physical. Ari and his family are Greek. Family recipes referenced in the text code Hector as Samoan. Delicious. A tender blend of sugary, buttery, and other complex flavors that’s baked with a tremendous dash of heart. (recipe, production art) (Graphic novel. 13-adult)

About the Authors

Kevin Panetta is a comic book writer. He has worked on books for properties like Steven Universe, Regular Show, Bravest Warriors, and WWE. Kevin came to writing after years dedicated to comics as a reader, retailer, and convention organizer. He lives in Washington, DC, with his cool wife and two cool dogs.

His website is kevinpanetta.com/

Savanna Ganucheau is a comic artist living in Australia, with a BFA in film from the University of New Orleans. In addition to creating the popular webcomic George and Johnny, Savanna’s artwork has appeared in notable publications including Jem and the Holograms, Adventure Time Comics, and Lumberjanes.

Her website is srganuch.carbonmade.com

Around the Web

Bloom on Amazon

Bloom on Barnes and Noble

Bloom on Goodreads

Bloom on LibraryThing

Bloom Publisher Page