Tag Archives: friendship

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. March 27, 2018. Arthur A. Levine Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9780545946179.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.9.

The letter waits in a book, in a box, in an attic, in an old house in Lambert, South Carolina. It’s waiting for Candice Miller.

When Candice finds the letter, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, after all, who left Lambert in a cloud of shame. But the letter describes a young woman named Siobhan Washington. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. Grandma tried and failed. But now Candice has another chance.

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues in the letter. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the summer ends?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Discrimination, Violence, Alcohol, Vandalism, Name-calling


Book Trailer

Author Interview


Booklist (February 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 11))
Grades 5-7. From the author of The Great Greene Heist (2014) comes the exciting adventure of two kids searching for a hidden treasure. Candice’s summer has been the worst, until she finds a letter in her grandma’s attic that led to her grandma being driven out of their town of Lambert, South Carolina. The letter offers clues about the untold history of a young African American woman named Siobhan Washington and about a secret game of tennis. Candice teams up with Brandon, the boy next door, and dives into the hidden history of Lambert to finish what her grandma started. Following each new discovery, Johnson reveals a key moment in the past that uncovers a secret love and a great injustice. While Candice works through her parents’ divorce and moving, Brandon deals with being bullied by a boy from school. The mystery offers them a way to seek justice for Candice’s grandma, but it also helps them deal with their own struggles. A dazzling and emotional read that deals with serious topics such as bullying, racism, and divorce.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2018)
Summer is off to a terrible start for 12-year old African-American Candice Miller. Six months after her parents’ divorce, Candice and her mother leave Atlanta to spend the summer in Lambert, South Carolina, at her grandmother’s old house. When her grandmother Abigail passed two years ago, in 2015, Candice and her mother struggled to move on. Now, without any friends, a computer, cellphone, or her grandmother, Candice suffers immense loneliness and boredom. When she starts rummaging through the attic and stumbles upon a box of her grandmother’s belongings, she discovers an old letter that details a mysterious fortune buried in Lambert and that asks Abigail to find the treasure. After Candice befriends the shy, bookish African-American kid next door, 11-year-old Brandon Jones, the pair set off investigating the clues. Each new revelation uncovers a long history of racism and tension in the small town and how one family threatened the black/white status quo. Johnson’s latest novel holds racism firmly in the light. Candice and Brandon discover the joys and terrors of the reality of being African-American in the 1950s. Without sugarcoating facts or dousing it in post-racial varnish, the narrative lets the children absorb and reflect on their shared history. The town of Lambert brims with intrigue, keeping readers entranced until the very last page. A candid and powerful reckoning of history. (Historical mystery. 8-12)

About the Author

Varian Johnson is the author of several novels for children and young adults, including The Great Greene Heist, which was an ALA Notable Children’s Book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2014, and a Texas Library Association Lone Star List selection, and To Catch a Cheat, another Jackson Greene adventure and a Kids’ Indie Next List pick.

He lives with his family near Austin, Texas. His website is www.varianjohnson.com.

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This Tiny Perfect World by Lauren Gibaldi

This Tiny Perfect World by Lauren Gibaldi. February 27, 2018. HarperTeen, 304 p. ISBN: 9780062490070.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

A contemporary “clean teen” coming-of-age story about a small-town girl who opens her eyes to life’s endless possibilities

When Penny wins a scholarship to a prestigious theater camp, she thinks it’s the start of a perfect summer. But when she arrives at camp, Penny is thrust into a world of competition and self-doubt. And as she meets new friends, including Chase, a talented young actor with big-city dreams, she begins to realize that her own dreams may be bigger than she ever imagined.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes


Author Interview (2015)

Video Review


Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Life in small-town Florida holds few surprises for Penny. She has the steady company of her best friend, the reliable affection of her boyfriend, and a place to work at her dad’s restaurant. It seems a fluke when she’s chosen for an exclusive theater camp, since Penny adores acting but has little onstage experience. But Penny flourishes. She catches the attention of handsome, worldly Chase, who encourages her to take risks as an actor and exposes her to new experiences. Consequently, Penny dares to wonder if her future might extend beyond the familiar faces and places of her little town. The depiction of Penny’s hometown life realistically mixes the comfort of dependable friendships with the disappointment of limited opportunities. In contrast, Penny’s experiences at camp constantly challenge her to take risks with her artistic expression and in her social life. Theater buffs will enjoy the descriptions of Penny’s acting classes and her audition scenes. The focus on self-discovery makes this a worthy recommendation for fans of Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More (2013).

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2017)
A summer theater program changes Penny’s expectations for life after high school.Penny’s grown up in a tiny Florida town, embracing a future that everyone assumes will include inheriting her family’s diner and marrying her high school sweetheart, Logan. Attending a summer theater camp, on scholarship, before her senior year feels more like self-indulgence than career preparation. However, several of Penny’s pre-camp reflections already foreshadow changes on the horizon. First she describes a companionable silence with Logan as “mostly” comfortable and then moments later boldly concludes that her friendships will never change because “we have it all planned out—our futures here. Together.” So it’s not entirely surprising when her more-cosmopolitan theater friends’ dreams of acting in the big cities make Penny’s pre-determined small-town future begin to feel dull. Nevertheless, Penny’s wracked with guilt about viewing the family’s legacy as a burden, and bridging the gulf between Penny’s and Logan’s future expectations bids to be a difficult—and unresolved—feat. Gibaldi sensitively develops Penny’s desire for both independence and the safety net of Logan’s love, although secondary storylines—especially Penny’s father’s new romance—occasionally feel underdeveloped. Penny is depicted on the cover as white, and the lack of racial markers points to a mostly white cast. Penny’s conflict about her future is believable, and readers facing similar choices should find much that is recognizable. (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Lauren Gibaldi is a public librarian who’s been, among other things, a magazine editor, high school English teacher, bookseller, and circus aerialist (seriously). She has a BA in Literature and Master’s in Library and Information Studies.

She lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband and daughter.  Her website is laurengibaldi.com.

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Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala. March 6, 2018. Harper, 215 p. ISBN: 9780061284922.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 960.

In the long-anticipated novel from the author of the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation, a revelation shared between two privileged teenagers from very different backgrounds sets off a chain of events with devastating consequences

On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.

When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

In the tradition of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s AmericanahSpeak No Evilexplores what it means to be different in a fundamentally conformist society and how that difference plays out in our inner and outer struggles. It is a novel about the power of words and self-identification, about who gets to speak and who has the power to speak for other people. As heart-wrenching and timely as his breakout debut, Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala’s new novel cuts to the core of our humanity and leaves us reeling in its wake.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Anti-gay attitudes and conversion therapy



Booklist starred (December 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 7))
When Harvard-bound, Washington, D.C., prep-school senior Niru’s parents discover the gay-dating app his best friend, Meredith, downloaded for him on his phone, everything blows up in his face like he knew it would. Although his Nigerian parents are fiercely loving, they are but bound by their faith, his father especially so, to reject Niru’s queerness and seek religious therapy for his “condition,” both locally and in their ancestral home. In his third book, Iweala—author of the multiple-award-winning novel Beasts of No Nation (2005) and Our Kind of People (2012), a nonfiction book about people living with AIDS in Nigeria—delivers with immediate poignancy Niru’s struggles between rejecting his parents’ constrictions and yearning for them; between embracing his sexuality and believing there’s a cure for it, and that it should be cured at all. Through Niru’s narration, which forms the bulk of the book, he, his parents, and his brother, who’s away at college but a constant presence in Niru’s thoughts, become full and realistically nuanced characters. A later shift in narration allows a different and perhaps more complete picture of Niru, which Iweala also handles elegantly. Portraying cross-generational and -cultural misunderstandings with anything but simplicity, Iweala tells an essential American story.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2018)
Iweala’s second novel, after Beasts of No Nation (2005), is a coming-of-age tale about immigrant identity and sexuality in America.Niru, an ambitious teenager, is in his senior year at a private high school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Driven by his demanding Nigerian parents, he strives for success in both sports and academics. As he prepares to attend Harvard next year, trains to impress his track coach, and struggles to make a space for himself among his mostly white peers, he deftly reconciles his conflicting identities as the son of wealthy Nigerian immigrants and as an American teenager. There’s turmoil rippling beneath his life’s surface, though. When his closest friend, the attractive Meredith, tries to hook up with him, he panics and admits to himself that he’s attracted to men. Meredith excitedly tries to help him embrace his sexuality, but Niru’s impulses are unacceptable to his conservative Christian parents. After discovering flirtatious conversations with men on the boy’s phone, Niru’s father, Obi, takes him back to Nigeria to “cure” his son of what he considers “sinful nonsense.” The scenes of Niru’s clashes with his father are the most affecting moments in the novel: by depicting the fervor and violence of Obi’s anger about Niru’s queerness, Iweala does a stunning job of depicting the danger that many black youth face in trying to honor their sexual identities. Despite trying to suppress his desires and simplify his family life, Niru meets the seductive Damien. The two begin a tentative and tender relationship, but this is not a triumphant novel about Niru’s embracing his sexual identity. Instead, Iweala gives us a novel of keen insight into the mental and emotional turmoil that attends an adolescent’s discovery of his sexuality. Unfortunately, the book seems to lose steam toward its conclusion. Niru’s relationship with Damien is not explored as fully as it could be, while the implications of his parents’ pressure aren’t entirely untangled. The novel resolves with the sudden and disjunctive insertion of another character’s perspective, sabotaging the development of Niru’s own subjectivity. This is a deeply felt and perceptive novel that does not fulfill its promise.

About the Author

Uzodinma Iweala is the acclaimed author of Beasts of No Nation, which received the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Public Library Young Lions 2006 Fiction Award, and the 2006 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. In 2007, Iweala was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists.

A graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, he lives in New York City and Lagos, Nigeria.


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The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott. October 17, 2017. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Books, 217 p. ISBN: 9780374305505.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.1; Lexile: 630.

Owen and his best friend, Sean, are both eleven years old. They’ve lived on Cape Cod all their lives, and now that they’re a little older, they’ll finally be free to spend some time on their own. But Sean’s mother has a different idea–she hires a babysitter to look after Sean. Paul is in his twenties, and a well-liked guy from church.

Paul starts doing things that just feel wrong. Because they’ve always been as close as brothers, Sean tells Owen, and no one else. What’s not certain to Owen is what he should do. Sean warns him not to tell anyone what is happening. But if Owen doesn’t tell, could something even worse happen to Sean?

This harrowing and sensitively told tale of child abuse is a must-read for anyone who might ever be called upon to help a friend in need.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Sexual abuse of a child, Allusion to male genitalia, Allusion to attempted suicide



Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
During the summer between fifth and sixth grades, Owen’s best friend is exploited by an adult male babysitter. Narrator Owen Todd is 11, white, living with his parents and 5-year-old sister in a small town on Cape Cod. His father is co-owner with Owen’s uncle of a go-kart business, and his mother makes crafts and volunteers “a couple of places.” Sean Huff, Owen’s best friend from kindergarten, is also white, but he’s diabetic, shorter than Owen, and frequently sits out their baseball games on the bench, and his parents are separated. Sean’s mother has engaged a young white man from their church to “babysit” Sean while she works at a new job in Provincetown. Paul behaves oddly with Sean, failing to close the bathroom door while urinating and, later, “accidently” showing Sean a picture of a naked boy on his cellphone. Sean later reveals to Owen that Paul’s behavior has become aggressive—and includes other men. Abbott handles this escalation with care, demonstrating the ways that a predator can isolate and intimidate a victim. Sean is so wounded and terrified that he convinces Owen he will kill himself if Owen breaks his confidence. Owen acts at last, with a bit of rash courage, but the end of the story is only partly happy. A horror story based on reality, believably and sensitively constructed in the voice of the young protagonist. (author’s note) (Fiction. 10-14)

Publishers Weekly (August 28, 2017)
Fifth grade has just ended, and 11-year-old Owen is ready for go-kart racing, baseball, and trips to Cape Cod’s beaches with his best friend Sean. But the summer takes a horrifying turn after Owen learns that Sean is being sexually abused by Paul, a 20-something man from church who Sean’s working mother hired to babysit him, because of her son’s diabetes. As the abuse escalates and video cameras get involved, Owen is desperate but afraid to help his friend; Sean has sworn him to secrecy, not wanting the abuse to become public, and has threatened to kill himself if Owen tells anyone. Abbott (the Copernicus Legacy series) nails the casually jokey relationship between Owen and Sean, the way that it is slowly poisoned by what’s happening (“Every time I get dressed or undressed I think of what Sean told me”), and how trapped and powerless both boys feel. It’s a difficult, important, and possibly lifesaving story of children forced into terrible situations, as well as what real loyalty and friendship look like. Wishing books like this weren’t necessary doesn’t make them less so. Ages 10-14. Agent: Erica Rand Silverman, Stimola Literary Studio. (Oct.)

About the Author

Tony Abbott is the award-winning author of more than a hundred books for young readers, including FiregirlThe Postcard, and the Secrets of Droon series.

Abbott was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1952. His father was a university professor and had an extensive library of books which became one of Abbott’s first sources of literature. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Connecticut where he went through elementary school and high school.

Abbott attended the University of Connecticut, and after studying both music and psychology, decided to study English and graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. He attended the workshops of Patricia Reilly Giff to further develop his writing after college.

He lives in Connecticut with his family. His website is www.tonyabbottbooks.com

Teacher Resources

The Summer of Owen Todd Teacher’s Guide

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Just Friends by Dyan Sheldon

Just Friends by Dyan Sheldon. February 13, 2018. Candlewick Press, 288 p. ISBN: 9780763693541.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Can chasing the wrong girl lead down the right path? Witty as ever, best-selling author Dyan Sheldon maps the agonizing distance between “like” and “love.”

Josh has never really thought twice about girls before. He’s usually too busy watching old movies with his friends Sal and Carver, petitioning for more vegetarian options in the school cafeteria, or flailing in yoga class with his best friend Ramona. But when new girl Jena Capistrano walks into school, Josh loses his heart faster than he’s ever lost his balance on a double downward dog. Not that he has any real aspirations, of course: he knows Jena is completely out of his league. And then, against all odds — they become friends. The closer they get, the more infatuated Josh becomes, and the more he wonders if just maybe Jena might like him back. There’s only one way to find out. But it’s not exactly easy to put your heart on the line.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language



Booklist (November 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 6))
Grades 7-10. Josh Shine is hardly in the cool crowd, and he likes it that way. He’d rather play his guitar, watch old movies with his buddies, and hang out with Ramona, his other best friend. Enter new girl Jena Capistrano, and Josh thinks it’s love at his first sight. Alas, Jena is also now the new best friend of Queen Bee Tilda Kopel, enough to quash any thought of romance. But miracles do happen, and Jena and Josh become friends. Josh struggles to stay in the friend zone, but sometimes he gets an inkling that Jena feels more than friendship. He knows that the only way to find out is to ask her, but he’s afraid to take the risk. Josh is a sympathetic, likable character, and his circle of off-kilter friends complements him well. The narrative breaks free of the typical plot of an “uncool” boy winning the heart of a popular girl by exploring the dynamics of relationships and what participants really want. Funny, sweet, and refreshing, this is a teen romance with substance.

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2017)
Unrequited love is always a painful trip, especially if you’re a teenager who falls pretty far outside the popular crowd.Josh Shine is excellent at math, short, and outspoken—which means he doesn’t get along well with the popular people at his school. When he first sees Jenevieve Capistrano, he can’t imagine what Jena would ever see in him, but once they start serendipitously talking after her dad finds him in a tree, it turns out they have more in common than is evident at first glance. A comfortable friendship ensues, but Josh wants more—he just doesn’t know how to tell her. It’s hard for Josh to be her fallback friend, and it’s hard for his real friends to watch him bend over backward to please her. Descriptions give the impression of a mostly white cast of characters sharing the narrative, which bounces disconcertingly from point of view to point of view. While there is no new ground being explored in this book, Sheldon again proves herself adept at conveying the confusion and gnawing self-doubt that characterize the lives of teenagers, who are all trying to see themselves and one another as clearly as they can. A fairly sweet addition to a fairly crowded genre. (Fiction. 12-15)

About the Author

Dyan Sheldon is the author of many novels, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, which was made into a major motion picture. Her other books include The Crazy Things Girls Do for Love, One or Two Things I Learned About Love, and The Truth About My Success.

Dyan Sheldon was born in Brooklyn, New York, and now lives in North London. Her website is www.dyansheldon.co.uk

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Checked by Cynthia Kadohata

Checked by Cynthia Kadohata. February 6, 2018. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 416 p. ISBN: 9781481446617.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.9; Lexile: 760.

Hockey is Conor’s life. His whole life. He’ll say it himself, he’s a hockey beast. It’s his dad’s whole life too—and Conor is sure that’s why his stepmom, Jenny, left. There are very few things Conor and his dad love more than the game, and one of those things is their Doberman, Sinbad. When Sinbad is diagnosed with cancer, Conor chooses to put his hockey lessons and practices on hold so they can pay for Sinbad’s chemotherapy.

But without hockey to distract him, Conor begins to notice more. Like his dad’s crying bouts, and his friend’s difficult family life. And then Conor notices one more thing: without hockey, the one thing that makes him feel special, is he really special at all?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Violence



Booklist starred (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 5-8. “Hockey is in my soul,” says Conor, whose father actually played in the NHL for three weeks. Conor’s Japanese American mother died when he was two, but his recently divorced dad completely supports Conor’s devotion to the sport, though it means driving him to private lessons that aren’t easy to afford on a policeman’s salary. A stable, reliable kid, 11-year-old Conor is shaken when he learns that his dog, a Doberman named Sinbad, has cancer and requires expensive treatment. To save money, Conor gives up lessons and starts doing odd jobs for neighbors, but hearing his father cry at night makes him wonder if he’s still asking too much. Immediately engaging, this perceptive novel focuses on the intricacies of Conor’s day-to-day life, while exploring his unusually close relationships with Dad and Sinbad, his attempts to cope during a period of ongoing crisis, and the alternate universe that is the ice during lessons, practices, and games. Even when the story begins to veer toward drama, it soon returns to everyday routine. Yet, the first-person narrative becomes increasingly absorbing throughout the novel, as the characters reveal themselves more fully. Kadohata offers a vivid, memorable portrayal of a boy within his family, his sport, and his gradually broadening world.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
An 11-year-old elite hockey player struggles with multiple real-world issues while sidelined from pursuing his dream of playing in the NHL.Conor MacRae, who is half-white, half-Japanese, and wise beyond his years, lives with his dad, Keith, a white cop, and his dog, Sinbad. Conor’s mom died many years ago, and he is estranged from his Japanese grandparents. When Sinbad is diagnosed with cancer, the treatments are so costly that Conor cuts back on ice time to help save money. The list of adult responsibilities that Conor manages is formidable for such a young boy, and the more time he spends off the ice, the more he notices the tougher parts of life. Kadohata weaves a parallel between Sinbad’s cancer and a concussion Conor suffers in the second half of the book, with boy and dog functioning at less than 100 percent. The dog is not only companion and protector, but a beloved comfort in a tough world, a relationship as tenderly realized as that between Conor and his dad. The Korean traditions of his best friend, Jae-won, highlight Conor’s distance from his Japanese heritage. As the season progresses, Conor grows in maturity and strength, learning more from mistakes than successes. Strong readers will enjoy a robust identity story that takes an unvarnished look at life. Zorat’s chapter-head illustrations help set the tone. Best for dog lovers, hockey fans, and elite athletes. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Cynthia Kadohata is a Japanese American writer known for writing coming of age stories about Asian American women.

She spent her early childhood in the South; both her first adult novel and first children’s novel take place in Southern states. Her first adult novel was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Her first children’s book, Kira-Kira, won the 2005 Newbery Medal. Her first published short story appeared in The New Yorker in 1986.

Her website is www.cynthiakadohata.com

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Checked on Amazon

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A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen. January 9, 2018. Harry N. Abrams, 336 p. ISBN: 9781419725418.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 700.

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.

Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Corporal punishment



Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 8-12. Spencer has been able to see directly into Hope’s bedroom window from his own since she moved to town the summer before seventh grade. From that vantage, they’ve been in the right place to fall for each other, but never at the right time. That hasn’t kept Spencer from annotating, in detailed, drawn taxonomies, their ever-changing relationship throughout middle and high school: Hope as the only girl who likes to climb trees with him. Hope as the one person who doesn’t make fun of his Tourette’s. Hope as the object of his affection when she’s dating other people, but who is emotionally unreachable when she isn’t. In this sincerely charming account of one friendship in flux over the course of six years—eons in adolescence—the pair wrestle with their relationship. Simple summer crush? Tireless support through family strife and personal illness? Lovelorn confidante? Through sparkling prose (and Spencer’s clever doodles), Allen depicts how debasing unrequited love can feel, and just how consuming that connection can be when shared at long last.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Two teens chronicle six years of their unpredictable relationships.Despite his habit of sorting people into categories, Spencer Barton, an awkward white boy with Tourette’s syndrome, doesn’t fit in anywhere. He doesn’t share his father and older brother’s love of hunting, and his tics make him a bully magnet. But when Hope Birdsong, a “magical” white girl, moves in next door, she becomes his—protector? Friend? Girlfriend? As they grow up in the insular Georgia town of Peach Valley, Spencer details their amorphous, contentious, on-and-off relationship from ages 13 to 19. His self-deprecating narrative, supplemented with snarky flow charts, alternates with Hope’s pensive text messages and handwritten letters to her older sister. As Spencer and Hope navigate their feelings for each other, their relationships with friends and family—tinged with parental disappointment, sibling rivalry, and grief—evolve. The long time frame occasionally condenses important events, resulting in some clunky expository dialogue and abrupt character development. However, fast-forwarding also allows Spencer and Hope to reflect (albeit somewhat heavy-handedly) on their maturing views of love, sex, friendship, disability, racism (at the expense of a briefly featured black secondary character), and loss. The ending provides closure, but it feels rather neat after the lessons learned from their messy ups and downs. Patient readers will want to follow Spencer and Hope’s tangled relationship just to see where it finally ends up. (Romance. 13-18)

About the Author

Rachael Allen is the author of 17 First Kisses and The Revenge Playbook. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, two children, and two sled dogs.

Her website is rachaelallenwrites.blogspot.com


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Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake. March 6, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9780316515467.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.3.

When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 4-7. Ivy Aberdeen is not in a good place. She’s lost her house to a massive tornado, her mother seems to barely notice she exists (because of the new twins), and her sister is being really mean. In the aftermath of the storm, Ivy and her family must decide what to do, and one solution means leaving Ivy with a new family until their house can be rebuilt. But when she begins to develop romantic feelings for a girl in her class, and her private notebook of sketches goes missing, everything starts to unravel. Blake (How to Make a Wish, 2017) brings Ivy and her family to life in her examination of familial connections, friendships, art, and first-time crushes, which is poignantly set against a background of destruction and displacement. This necessary and emotionally complex addition to the body of middle-grade literature offers readers a positive, complex, and courageous portrayal of burgeoning sexuality and relationships within the world of junior high.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2017)
Twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen finds comfort in drawing; she keeps a private sketchbook the way other kids her age keep written diaries.After a tornado destroys her home, her notebook, filled with things Ivy isn’t ready to talk about or trust with anyone, goes missing, and she feels the last bit of her world drop out from under her. The images are telling; there can be no doubt that the white girl with the “coiling mane” of wild strawberry-blonde hair is 12-year-old Ivy or that she’s holding hands with a dark-haired white girl in every picture. When her drawings begin turning up in her school locker, Ivy’s biggest fear comes true: someone knows her secret. The mystery person encourages Ivy to come out, but whom can she trust? Is she even ready? Blake’s (Suffer Love, 2016) first middle-grade novel is characterized by rich, descriptive prose. The tornado scene is filled with breathtaking urgency as Ivy and her family run for safety, and the descriptions of Ivy’s contradictory and confusing feelings capture the heartbreaking difficulty of a non-normative early adolescence filled with questions of identity and belonging. Most characters are assumed white; the black lesbian who owns the inn where the Aberdeens stay after the storm and who steps in as a surrogate mother while Ivy’s own is occupied with insurance and a sick baby, is engaged to a brown-skinned Latina. Ivy’s story is no mere niche-filler in LGBTQ middle-grade realism—it’s a standard-setter. (Fiction. 8-14)

About the Author

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and watching Buffy over and over again on Netflix with her friends. She’s the author of the young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars, as well as the middle grade novel, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World. Her website is www.ashleyherringblake.com

Teacher Resources

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World Book Club Guide

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Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World on Amazon

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World on Goodreads

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World Publisher Page

Hunger: A Tale of Courage by Donna Jo Napoli

Hunger; A Tale of Courage by Donna Jo Napoli. February 13, 2018. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9781481477499.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine this haunting novel from the award-winning author of Hidden and Hush gives insight and understanding into a little known part of history—the Irish potato famine.

It is the autumn of 1846 in Ireland. Lorraine and her brother are waiting for the time to pick the potato crop on their family farm leased from an English landowner. But this year is different—the spuds are mushy and ruined. What will Lorraine and her family do?

Then Lorraine meets Miss Susannah, the daughter of the wealthy English landowner who owns Lorraine’s family’s farm, and the girls form an unlikely friendship that they must keep a secret from everyone. Two different cultures come together in a deserted Irish meadow. And Lorraine has one question: how can she help her family survive?

A little known part of history, the Irish potato famine altered history forever and caused a great immigration in the later part of the 1800s. Lorraine’s story is a heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive story of one girl’s strength and resolve to save herself and her family against all odds.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Starvation, Death



Booklist starred (December 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 8))
Grades 6-9. It’s one thing to read that many Irish people died of starvation during the 1840s potato famine. It’s another thing entirely to watch it happen through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl. Lorraine awakens one morning to hear her father shouting in the field. Overnight, the potato plants’ leaves have blackened. The family rushes to salvage the few wholly or partly edible spuds—their inadequate winter’s food supply. Renting their land from an English landlord who ignores their plight, they are barely surviving, while throughout the country, families turned off their farms die of starvation, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. In this vivid narrative, Lorraine befriends the landlord’s lonely, capricious daughter, who sometimes gives her food, but doesn’t believe or even understand that starvation and death stalk Lorraine, her little brother, their parents, and their neighbors. The first-person narrative portrays Lorraine’s family and community with realistically drawn personalities and relationships as well as fine-tuned ethical dilemmas, while sketching in the backdrop of the wider catastrophe. The back matter includes a glossary of Irish terms, a source bibliography, and a discussion of Irish history through 1851. A somber but uplifting historical novel that views a national tragedy through the lens of a moving personal story.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2017)
A family struggles to survive the Irish Potato Famine in 1846.Following the onset of the blight that caused massive crop failure the previous summer, 12-year-old Lorraine hopes that her family’s efforts on their small tenant farm in County Galway will put enough food on the table to get through winter. Their freshly planted spuds rot practically overnight, though, and Lorraine, her little brother, Paddy, and their Ma and Da join neighbors in a fight to stay alive. Napoli shows her considerable talent for drawing readers into her protagonist’s world through Lorraine’s frank, first-person account of her circumstances. The narrative, like Lorraine, is grounded in the natural world. While foraging meager greens for the family’s supper, Lorraine encounters a girl on the grounds of the English landlord’s manor. Miss Susanna is the pampered landlord’s daughter who tells Lorraine that “you Irish are irresponsible, having children you can’t take care of” and that they are to blame for their own starvation, even as she shares some of her doll’s picnic. Miss Susanna serves as stand-in for the English attitude toward the Irish. Her imperious attitude—giving orders to Lorraine and ignoring the obvious poverty of the tenant farmers—is set against Lorraine’s story, giving young readers a lens through which to understand the history of oppression. The author makes it clear in endnotes that it’s worth noting the similarities to the plight of modern-day refugees. Although the publisher aims this book at teens, Lorraine’s age suggests a middle-grade audience, and there’s nothing about the content or the sophistication of storytelling that skews the age up. A worthy introduction to an important slice of history. (map, glossary, bibliography, timeline) (Historical fiction. 9-13)

About the Author

Donna Jo Napoli is both a linguist and a writer of children’s and YA fiction.

Donna Jo has five children. She dreams of moving to the woods and becoming a naturalist. She loves to garden and bake bread.

She lives outside Philadelphia. Her website is www.donnajonapoli.com.

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Hunger: A Tale of Courage on Amazon

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Hunger: A Tale of Courage Publisher Page

The Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O’Connor

The Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O’Connor. March 6, 2018. Oni Press, 152 p. ISBN: 9781620104507.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 300.

What happens when you can finally get everything you ever wanted?

Willow Sparks and her best friend Georgia Pratt are at the bottom of the social ladder at Twin Pines High School, just trying to get through each day relatively unscathed. But when Willow finds a mysterious book that allows her to literally change her life, it feels like her luck is finally turning. As she becomes more and more popular with each entry into the book, her old life, including her friendship with Georgia, seems miles away. Yet as Willow will discover, every action has a reaction, and the future has unusual—even dangerous—ways of protecting itself

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Underage drinking, Bullying



Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Relentlessly bullied by the popular clique, the titular protagonist discovers an unexpected way to change her future.Plagued with tragically uncool hair and unfortunate acne, Willow Sparks certainly is not a member of the popular crowd. However, her two best friends, Georgia and Gary, are loyal, and together the trio navigates the social atrocities of their high school. While at her job at the local library, Willow finds herself cornered by her mean-girl nemeses and, after a violent episode, unearths a secret library within the library that’s filled with unusual books. She finds a mysterious tome bearing her name that allows her to write her own future—but with devastating effects. While the semi-Faustian trope certainly is not new, O’Connor’s graphic-novel spin on it is fun and captivating. Her art is expressive and deftly captures all the angst and action through a cinematic lens. However, as Willow’s self-conceived plans unravel, the plotting goes with it, leaving the strong beginning floundering through a hasty resolution. While Willow is fully fleshed out, the secondary characters—including best friend Georgia and Willow’s librarian boss—are frustratingly not as well-developed. Despite these quibbles, O’Connor’s offering is an enjoyable and quick dip into the dark side of wish fulfillment. Main character Willow is white, as is Gary, and Georgia is Asian. An intriguing and incisive plot that starts promisingly but ultimately falls flat. (Graphic fantasy. 12-16)

Publishers Weekly (November 20, 2017)
Willow Sparks just wants to get through high school without students in popular cliques harassing her and teachers embarrassing her. After bullies show up at the library where she works and push her down a flight of stairs, she discovers a secret underground wing-and a book with her name on it. By writing in the book, she can reshape her future, and soon she’s ditching her best friends Georgia and Gary to hang out with the cool kids. The pale lavender-gray coloring of O’Connor’s two-tone cartooning fits the eerie, brooding atmosphere of this magic-inflected cautionary tale. But although O’Connor’s talents as an artist aren’t in question-the torments that Willow and her friends face in gym class, school bathrooms, and elsewhere feel painfully real-the overall story is rushed and too-tidily resolved. Even considering the influence of the magical book, the speed with which Willow drops her friends is jarring, and their own subplots get short shrift (Georgia is moving out of town, and Gary is nervously starting to come out to family and friends). It’s an intriguing story that doesn’t have enough space to reach its full potential. Ages 13-up. (Feb.)

About the Author

Tara is a cartoonist currently residing in the New Jersey wilderness. When she’s not drawing comics, she’s teaching them. She drinks way too much tea and coffee, and on any given day there’s a 90% chance that every meal she had was cereal.


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The Altered History of Willow Sparks on Amazon

The Altered History of Willow Sparks on Goodreads

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