Tag Archives: Identity

Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice

Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice. February 26, 2019. Scholastic, 337 p. ISBN: 9781338298505.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 680.

Mega-bestselling author Luanne Rice returns with a ripped-from-the-headlines story of a girl who is kidnapped by her friend’s family.

Emily Lonergan’s best friend died last year.

And Emily hasn’t stopped grieving. Lizzie Porter was lively, loud, and fun — Emily’s better half. Emily can’t accept that she’s gone.

When Lizzie’s parents and her sister come back to town to visit, Emily’s heartened to see them. The Porters understand her pain. They miss Lizzie desperately, too.

Desperately enough to do something crazy.

Something unthinkable.

Suddenly, Emily’s life is hurtling toward a very dark place — and she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to return to what she once knew was real.

From New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice comes a breathless, unputdownable story of suspense, secrets — and the strength that love gives us to survive even the most shocking of circumstances.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Child abuse, Discussion of alcoholism and opioid addiction

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 8-12. After she loses her best friend, Lizzie, to cancer, Emily’s life takes a series of unimaginable turns—all at the hands of trusted adults. A deranged, suspenseful fate awaits her when she accepts a ride from Lizzie’s grieving parents, who kidnap her and try to turn her into the daughter they lost by dyeing Emily’s hair, forcing her to wear colored contacts, and imprisoning her in a room. Emily lives there in fear for 69 days, enduring the worst kind of emotional trauma and plotting her escape once her kidnappers enroll her in school. Rice has created a masterful narrative full of intrigue and heart-pounding moments that will draw in readers and allow them to experience what could happen when depression drives someone to do the unthinkable. Using flashbacks, rich descriptions, and realistic story elements, Rice weaves together a tense tale of mystery and surreal experiences. Reading like a Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010) with a YA twist, Rice’s latest doesn’t disappoint.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2018)
Nearly a year after the death of her best friend, Lizzie, 15-year-old Emily is abducted by Lizzie’s parents to fill the void in their lives. Emily wakes up in Maine, far from her Connecticut home, to find her hair dyed black and her eyes changed to green by contacts, making her look just like Lizzie. Lizzie’s mother tells her that as long as she cooperates, no harm will come to her or her family. Good behavior earns her a television and meals upstairs. Bad behavior means starvation and isolation. Emily begins to play along, determined to keep her family safe while at the same time finding a way to escape. But with Lizzie’s mother, father, and sister always watching, she fears she will be trapped in this nightmare forever. Then she meets Casey, a musically gifted boy who is legally blind. Together they come up with a plan to help Emily escape her prison. In this psychological thriller that studies the depths of grief, Emily’s empathy for her kidnappers keeps the sensationalism to a minimum by personalizing the betrayal. A preponderance of backstory slows the narrative and deflates the tension. Ultimately this is a story about love and loss threaded through with moments of a tense thriller. All main characters are Irish-American Catholics. An intriguing concept overtaken by thin characters and poor pacing. (Thriller. 12-15)

About the Author

Luanne Rice is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-two novels including THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, her first YA novel. Five of her books have been made into movies and mini-series, many have been New York Times bestsellers and two of her pieces have been featured in off-Broadway theatre productions. She divides her time between New York City and the Connecticut shoreline.

Her website is www.luannerice.net

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The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr. February 12, 2019. Philomel Books, 336 p. ISBN: 9780399547041.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Ella Black has always had dark inclinations. She’s successfully hidden her evil alter ego from her family and friends, but Bella is always there, ready to take control and force Ella to do bad things. When Ella’s parents drag her out of school one afternoon and fly across the globe to Rio de Janeiro with no believable explanation, Bella longs to break free–and so does Ella. Because for all that her parents claim to be doing what’s best for her, Ella knows there is something going on that they’re not divulging, and she is determined to find out what.

Once in Rio, Ella learns a shocking truth about her family that gives way to a mission through the streets and beaches of Brazil in search of her authentic self. But the truth has many layers, and as Ella uncovers more and more about her own history, she struggles to come to terms with just where it is that she came from.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Sexual assault, Strong language,

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2018)
Ella Black is a 17-year-old English girl with a dark side she hides from everyone. Lately Ella finds it harder and harder to hide Bella—Bad Ella—or the Monster, as she dubs her alter ego. Her parents show up one day at school saying that they all have to go away at once, to Rio de Janeiro, with no explanation. Ella fears that they have found out her secret or that she is terminally ill. But the truth, which she finds out after doing some snooping, is something she had never imagined. Heartbroken and tormented by the secret she discovers, Ella runs away from her parents and ends up in the favelas of Brazil, where she confronts her previous assumptions about the residents. Questioning all she thought she knew about her life, her family, and herself, she learns how to survive while living on the streets. Ella changes her appearance—purple hair makes her noticeable—but how long can she keep herself hidden from those determined to find her? Barr (The One Memory of Flora Banks, 2017, etc.) employs devices such as repetition and sentences broken down into a single word per line that quickly become stale, and the novel drags on for too long. A predictable storyline with lackluster tension, insufficient character growth, and an insta-love romance make this story fall short of being an engaging psychological thriller. An interesting premise with an anticlimactic and disappointing ending. (Thriller. 14-18)

About the Author

Emily Barr worked as a journalist in London, but always hankered after a quiet room and a book to write. She went travelling for a year, writing a column in the Guardian about it as she went, and it was there that she had an idea for a novel set in the world of backpackers in Asia. This became Backpack, which won the WH Smith New Talent Award. She has since written eleven more adult novels published in the UK and around the world, and a novella, Blackout, for the Quick Reads series. Her twelfth novel, The Sleeper, is a psychological thriller set on the London to Cornwall sleeper train.

In 2013 she went to Svalbard with the idea of setting a thriller in the Arctic. The book that came out of it was The One Memory of Flora Banks, a thriller for young _adults

Her website is www.emilybarr.com.

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Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden

Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden. January 8, 2019. Bloomsbury YA, 272 p. ISBN: 9781681198071.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In a searing historical novel, Tonya Bolden illuminates post-Reconstruction America in an intimate portrait of a determined young woman who dares to seize the opportunity of a lifetime.

As a young black woman in 1880s Savannah, Essie’s dreams are very much at odds with her reality. Ashamed of her beginnings, but unwilling to accept the path currently available to her, Essie is trapped between the life she has and the life she wants.

Until she meets a lady named Dorcas Vashon, the richest and most cultured black woman she’s ever encountered. When Dorcas makes Essie an offer she can’t refuse, she becomes Victoria. Transformed by a fine wardrobe, a classic education, and the rules of etiquette, Victoria is soon welcomed in the upper echelons of black society in Washington, D. C. But when the life she desires is finally within her grasp, Victoria must decide how much of herself she is truly willing to surrender.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. In her follow-up to Crossing Ebenezer Creek​ (2017), Bolden explores what happened to those who survived that journey, through the character of Essie, a young black woman in 1880s Savannah, Georgia. When presented with the chance to start over, Essie becomes Victoria and moves to Baltimore to learn how to become a society lady, eventually ending up living the good life in Washington, D.C. Though she vows to say goodbye to her past, Victoria finds it’s easier said than done. The novel’s short introductory chapters give background to her story and invite readers into Victoria’s life, but their nonlinear arrangement can be hard to follow. Only after several flashbacks and flash-forwards does the book finally settle in real-time narration. The story, as described in Bolden’s author’s note, seeks to illuminate “an often-neglected aspect of black history: the black middle class and black aristocracy of the past.” The rich descriptions of people and life in early America will fascinate readers as the book introduces them to this widely overlooked population in history.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 1, 2018)
In 1880s Savannah, an African-American girl seizes the opportunity to enter a different life. Essie has many questions about the life she’s lived with her mother, her “aunties,” and the white men who visit, feeling closer to their cleaner, Ma Clara—but tough as life is, she knows it’s better than the times of slavery. It is Ma Clara who urges Essie’s Mamma to send her to school. When she leaves home for a housekeeping job, her mother furiously accuses Essie of snobbery, revealing that Essie’s father was a white Union soldier. At the boardinghouse, Essie does her tasks and delights in reading books from the parlor. A guest, Dorcas Vashon, takes an interest in Essie, offering her the chance to start a new life in Baltimore. The lessons that will turn Victoria, Essie’s new chosen name, into a member of the emerging African-American elite are demanding. She meets noteworthy figures such as Frederick Douglass, falls in love, and wonders if she can marry without revealing her past. This unique work seamlessly weaves aspects of black history into the detailed narrative. Essie’s desire for a life she can be proud of is palpable; as Victoria, she emerges as a fully realized character, a product of all her experiences. The depiction of Washington, D.C.’s African-American elite is rich and complex, never shying away from negatives such as colorism and social climbing. A compelling and significant novel. (Historical fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Tonya Bolden is a critically acclaimed award-winning author/co-author/editor of more than two dozen books for young people. They include Finding Family which received two starred reviews and was a Kirkus Reviews and Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year; Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl, a Coretta Scott King honor book and James Madison Book Award winner; MLK: Journey of a King, winner of a National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children; Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book, CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and winner of the NCSS Carter G. Woodson Middle Level Book Award. Tonya also received the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC’s Nonfiction Award. A Princeton University magna cum laude baccalaureate with a master’s degree from Columbia University, Tonya lives in New York City.

Her website is www.tonyaboldenbooks.com

Teacher Resources

Inventing Victoria on Common Sense Media

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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

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Royal Pain by Raelyn Drake

Royal Pain by Raelyn Drake. August 1, 2018. Darby Creek, 96 p. ISBN: 9781541525672.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: 3.9; Lexile: 810.

When Noah’s grandfather dies, he finds out that there is much more to this mysterious side of his family than he’s ever known–Noah belongs to the royal family of the European country of Evonia. He must decide whether he wants to take on royal responsibilities or keep living a normal life–but if Noah’s grandmother has anything to say about it, he’ll stick around for true love. Perfect for reluctant readers, this coming-of-age story is laced with romance, mystery, and escapist fun.

Part of SeriesSuddenly Royal

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2018)
Seventeen-year-old Noah’s life is turned upside down when his grandfather dies, forcing his family to move to his mother’s home country, where she must assume her duties as part of the royal family. In Evonia, Noah must endure elaborate table manners, a never-ending itinerary of royal duties, and his grandmother’s matchmaking efforts. He is miserable in his new role until he meets Tori, a dynamic and beautiful girl who shares his passion for archaeology. When he learns that he is in line to assume the throne, he is faced with the most difficult decision of his life. The other titles in this reluctant reader series feature other teens forced to Evonia to assume their royal duties. In Becoming Prince Charming, by Loren Bailey, 17-year-old Mason discovers that being a slacker holds little charm for his new hardworking royal friends. In Royal Treatment by K.R. Coleman (Truth or Dare, 2017, etc.), 16-year-old Grace must trade in her blue hair and nose ring for updos and royal jewels, but she maintains her individuality when it comes to romance. In Next in Line by Vanessa Acton (Vortex, 2017, etc.), Carly, a high school junior, discovers she is a princess and only two places from the throne. In these stories linked only by location and familial ties, the focus is on individuality, personal responsibility, and moral character. Diversity is lacking, but the focus on family dynamics as more than angst-y teenager versus clueless parents is refreshing. Romance is present but limited to chaste kisses and some hand-holding. Formulaic plots and flat characters detract from the otherwise entertaining series, but readers who dream of one day being whisked away from their ordinary lives to a world of opulence will gobble these stories up. High-concept, easy-to-read romances with feel-good messages. (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Raelyn Drake enjoys chai tea, tai chi, and coming up with more than two items for lists. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and rescue corgi mix, Sheriff.

 

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Someday by David Levithan

Someday by David Levithan. October 2, 2018. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780399553066.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: 4.1; Lexile: 720.

Teenage witch Cam isn’t crazy about the idea of learning magic. She’d rather be no witch than a bad one. But when a trio of her mother’s wicked witch friends decide to wreak havoc in her high school, Cam has no choice but to try to stop them.

Esmerelda is the mean girl of the witches. Valda likes to drop anvils on people’s heads. And Malkin—well, Malkin is just plain terrifying. Their idea of fun is a little game—they each pick a student from Cam’s high school and compete to see who can make their teen the most miserable. But Cam suspects one of the witches may have an ulterior motive…which means someone at school could be in worse danger yet.

Now Cam’s learning invisibility spells, dodging exploding cars, and pondering the ethics of love potions. All while trying to keep her grades up and go on a first date with her crush. If the witches don’t get him first, that is.

Can’t a good witch ever catch a break?

Sequel to: Another Day

Part of Series: Every Day (Book #3)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Discussion of domestic abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Here is the third thought-provoking novel about Levithan’s intriguing character A, the 16-year-old boy (or is he a boy?) who wakes up each day in a different body. As before, he is in love with a girl named Rhiannon, but, given his here-today-gone-tomorrow condition, he wonders how anything could come of his love for her. Accordingly, he has cut off contact and she misses him terribly so she—in concert with Nathan, whose body A had once occupied—begins to search for him. Unfortunately, someone else is also searching for him: X, a psychopath who had previously occupied the body of the evil Reverend Poole, who is now dead. Happily, Rhiannon and Nathan find A first and he and Rhiannon reconnect. But there is much to think about in their reunion. What does the word relationship mean for them? Can they maintain their connection? A also questions his condition of being, the ethics of occupying someone else’s body, and whether or not there are others like him (there are, and Levithan takes readers inside their lives). Things become even more complicated when X, whose condition is identical to A’s, finally tracks him down. Like the other two books about A, this is a novel of ideas that challenges readers to wonder if someday there will be another novel about these wonderful characters. One hopes so.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2018)
In Every Day (rev. 11/12) and Another Day (rev. 7/15), we learned that A wakes up each morning in a different person’s body. Someday alternates between A’s point of view and the perspectives of those affected by A (love interest Rhiannon; former “host” Nathan) as well as other “body travelers”—including X, who inhabited Reverend Poole in the earlier books. X has learned to game the system, controlling how long he stays in each new body and treating the bodies’ original inhabitants with disregard, at best. (Though A is gender-neutral, X identifies as male even on days he presents as female.) X’s creepy quest for power adds tension without sacrificing the series’ emphasis on character; the more-considerate A offers insights into each day’s host. The presence of multiple body travelers also brings perspective on how the traveling works and how it intersects with personal identity. Some preachiness combined with an “Equality March” on Washington make the continued themes of people’s commonalities and the need for understanding of differences easy to spot, but at the same time, suspense makes it easy to keep turning pages.

About the Author

David Levithan (born 1972) is an American children’s book editor and award-winning author. He published his first YA book, Boy Meets Boy, in 2003. Levithan is also the founding editor of PUSH, a Young Adult imprint of Scholastic Press.

His website is www.davidlevithan.com/

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In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira. March 6, 2018. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 384 p. ISBN: 9780374305314.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 880.

The author of the beloved Love Letters to the Dead returns with a parallel story of a mother and daughter each at age seventeen. Marilyn’s tale recounts the summer she fell in love and set out on her own path. Angie’s story is about her search for her unknown father.

This sweeping multi-generational love story introduces readers to mother-and-daughter pair Marilyn and Angie. To seventeen-year-old Angie, who is mixed-race, Marilyn is her hardworking, devoted white single mother. But Marilyn was once young, too. When Marilyn was seventeen, she fell in love with Angie’s father, James, who was African-American. But Angie’s never met him, and Marilyn has always told her he died before she was born. When Angie discovers evidence of an uncle she’s never met she starts to wonder: What if her dad is still alive, too? So she sets off on a journey to find him, hitching a ride to LA from her home in New Mexico with her ex-boyfriend, Sam. Along the way, she uncovers some hard truths about herself, her mother, and what truly happened to her father.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Marijuana, Racism, Police violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 9-12. Angie has never known her father, so she doesn’t know that her athleticism is an echo of his own. She does know that he is black; one glance in the mirror confirms that. Her white mother, Marilyn, says that Angie’s father died in a car accident. But a series of discoveries leads Angie to believe that he might actually be alive and living in Los Angeles. So Angie embarks on a secret mission to discover the truth. As Angie’s quest to find her father unfolds, alternating chapters flash back to the doomed romance between Marilyn and Angie’s father, James. Although the lovers share a genuine connection, their relationship is strained by the racist disapproval of Marilyn’s uncle. Both stories are engaging, packed with cultural references from their respective periods. But the most poignant aspect of the story is Angie’s need to connect with the African American side of her family. Like Shannon Gibney’s See No Color (2015), this novel offers a thoughtful examination of racial identity, which will likely be relevant to many teens.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
Mother and daughter move through parallel journeys separated by time but connected by introspection in Dellaira’s (Love Letters to the Dead, 2014) latest. Told in alternating voices and timelines, this narrative explores two young women’s searches for completion. Marilyn Miller, 17 in the late 1990s and dreaming of the freedom of college, must contend with her mother’s plans for her to become a rising star in Hollywood. Stretched to the breaking point between the promise of self-determination and the weight of her mother’s hopes, Marilyn, a blonde white girl, finds relief and unexpected romance with her enigmatic black neighbor, James. Fast-forward 18 years to meet Angie Miller, Marilyn and James’ biracial daughter, who has lived her entire life believing her father was dead. When she discovers that her mother has lied about this, Angie journeys to Los Angeles with her ex-boyfriend Sam (also biracial, with a white father and Mexican mother) to find the missing pieces that have distanced her from Sam. Exploring the dynamic tension between identity and relationships, and the realities of violence and racism (although less so white privilege), the separate narratives converge to tell one family’s story of pain and loss, love and forgiveness. Time jumps occasionally disrupt cohesion, and readers unfamiliar with the ’90s may find Marilyn’s narrative irksomely referential, but overall, this is a compelling intergenerational tale. Achingly vibrant. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Ava Dellaira is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. She believes this book began when she bought her second album ever—Nirvana’s In Utero—which she listened to on repeat while filling the pages of her journal. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California, where she works in the film industry and is writing her second novel.

Her website is avadellaira.com.

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Vanilla by Billy Merrell

Vanilla by Billy Merrell. October 10, 2017. Scholastic, 320 p. ISBN: 9781338100921.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Vanilla and Hunter have been dating since seventh grade.
They came out together,
navigated middle school together,
and became that couple in high school
that everyone always sees as a couple.

There are complications and confusions, for sure.
But most of all,
they love each other.

As high school goes, though,
and as their relationship deepens,
some cracks begin to show.

Hunter thinks they should be having sex.
Vanilla isn’t so sure.

Hunter doesn’t mind hanging out with loud, obnoxious friends.
Vanilla would rather avoid them.

If they’re becoming different people,
can they be the same couple?

Falling in love is hard.
Staying in love is harder.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Underage drinking, Smoking, Strong and pervasive sexual themes, Online pornography

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Hunter and Vanilla have been boyfriends since middle school, but, now 17, their relationship has begun to fray. Ostensibly this is because Hunter is ready for sex, while Vanilla is not. But perhaps there’s something deeper here that the reader will learn along with the two boys. Merrell’s first novel—in verse, of course, Merrell being an accomplished poet—is a sometimes melancholy exercise exploring the enigmatic face of love and its various meanings. The two boys, though alike at first in their love, are two different people—Vanilla being a shy introvert, Hunter an outgoing though sensitive poet. Their story is told in alternating first-person voices, although in the book’s second half, a third voice is added to swell the duet to a chorus: that of a flamboyantly gay boy named Clown, who is, at first, Vanilla’s bête noire, teasing and making fun of him. But, like Vanilla and Hunter, he changes. A strength of Merrell’s thoughtful book is how he dramatizes the many changes the boys go through in terms of their fluid relationships and growing maturity. An important part of this is their evolving sexuality, a process not without surprises and satisfactions. The book is, in sum, a feast for those hungry for character-driven literary fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2017)
Falling in love was the easy part for Hunter and Vanilla…staying together’s the challenge.“You two have been married / since the seventh grade,” says their in-your-face queer classmate Clown. Hunter and Vanilla progressed slowly from being friends to being a couple, and now, at 17, everyone thinks of the two white boys as inseparable. Clown and another aggressively gay classmate regularly throw sexually charged, all-male parties for The Gang. The boys don’t usually attend though Hunter seems to want to. He’s ready to take their relationship beyond kissing and petting; Vanilla is not. Merrell’s debut novel for young adults explores the rocky relationship of the duo in minute emotional detail from both boys’ perspectives as well as from the outside through Clown’s eyes—which gives readers a more nuanced view of gender-fluid Clown as well. Different typefaces indicate the point-of-view character for each free-verse poem as they remember the early days of their relationship and coming out and as they fumble through first romance and new sexual-identity issues. The verse is at times beautiful, touching, and though-provoking but at other times feels merely like prose broken into short lines. It presents a mature and frank (though not explicit) picture of a relationship struggling to survive. Tighter construction might have added more punch to the poetry, but teens will identify with the quest for identity and ground in that most groundless of times. (Verse fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Billy Merrell is the author of Talking in the Dark, a poetry memoir published when he was twenty-one, and is the co-editor (with David Levithan) of The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, which received a Lambda Literary Award.

Merrell is also a contributor to the New York Times-bestselling series Spirit Animals, and has published fiction, poetry, and translations in various journals and anthologies. Born in 1982, he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and received his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his husband, author Nico Medina.  His website is talkinginthedark.com

Around the Web

Vanilla on Amazon

Vanilla on Goodreads

Vanilla on JLG

Vanilla Publisher Page

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. October 10, 2017. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 286 p. ISBN: 9780525555360.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Author Interviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. It’s here: the eagerly awaited new novel by John Green, and—not to milk the suspense—it’s superb. High-school junior Aza has an obsessive fear of being infected with the bacteria Clostridium difficile (“C. diff”), which can be fatal. Her fear has become obsession, plaguing her with “intrusives,” thoughts that take over her mind, making her feel that she is not the author of her own life. She does, however, have a life: her father is dead; her mother is a teacher; her best friends are Mychal, a gifted artist, and Daisy, a well-known Star Wars fan-fiction author. To their trio is added Davis, whom Aza had known when they were 11. Davis’ billionaire father has decamped, pursued by the police, leaving Davis and his younger brother parentless (their mother is dead) and very much on their own. How will the friends cope with all this? And how will Aza cope with her own problems? Green, a master of deeply felt material, handles all of this with aplomb. With its attention to ideas and trademark introspection, it’s a challenging but richly rewarding read. It is also the most mature of Green’s work to date and deserving of all the accolades that are sure to come its way.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Nerdfighter Green’s latest takes readers through Indianapolis and the human biome.Aza Holmes doesn’t feel like herself. But “if half the cells inside of you are not you, doesn’t that challenge the whole notion of me as a singular pronoun…?” When a local billionaire—and the father of her childhood friend, a white boy named Davis—disappears, Aza (who seems to be white) and her BFF, Daisy Ramirez (who is cued as Latina), plot to find him and claim the reward, amid rumors of corruption and an underexplored side plot about semi-immortal reptiles. The story revolves around anxious Aza’s dissociation from her body and life. Daisy chatters about Star Wars fan fiction (and calls Aza “Holmesy” ad nauseam), and Davis monologues about astronomy, while Aza obsesses over infection, the ever present, self-inflicted wound on her finger, and whether she’s “just a deeply flawed line of reasoning.” The thin but neatly constructed plot feels a bit like an excuse for Green to flex his philosophical muscles; teenagers questioning the mysteries of consciousness can identify with Aza, while others might wish that something—anything—really happens. The exploration of Aza’s life-threatening compulsions will resonate deeply with some, titillate others, and possibly trigger those in between. Aza would claim that opinions about this book are unfairly influenced by “the gut-brain informational cycle,” which makes it hard to say what anyone else will think—but this is the new John Green; people will read this, or not, regardless of someone else’s gut flora. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

John Green is the award-winning, #1 bestselling author of Looking for AlaskaAn Abundance of KatherinesPaper TownsWill Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan), and The Fault in Our Stars. His many accolades include the Printz Medal, a Printz Honor, and the Edgar Award. John has twice been a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and was selected by TIME magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. With his brother, Hank, John is one half of the Vlogbrothers  and co-created the online educational series CrashCourse.

John lives with his family in Indianapolis, Indiana.  His website is johngreenbooks.com

Around the Web

Turtles All the Way Down on Amazon

Turtles All the Way Down on Goodreads

Turtles All the Way Down on JLG

Turtles All the Way Down Publisher Page

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet. September 2, 2016. Candlewick, 400 p. ISBN: 978763688035.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.1; Lexile: 850.

Noah Keller’s ordinary, everyday American life is smashed to smithereens the day his parents tell him his name isn’t really Noah, his birthday isn’t really in March, and his new home is going to be East Berlin, on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It’s 1989, and everywhere all around countries are remaking themselves, but in East Germany the air is full of coal smoke, secrets, and lies. It’s not safe to say anything out loud in the apartment. It’s not safe to think too much about where you came from or who you used to be.

It’s also about the least likely place in the world for a kid from America with a lot of secrets of his own (and an Astonishing Stutter) to make a friend.

But then Noah meets Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives one floor down with her terrifying grandmother. Something has happened to her parents—but what?

Armed with a half-imaginary map and a shared fondness for codes and puzzles, Noah and Cloud-Claudia have to find their way in a world where walls—and the Wall—are closing in.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination; Violence

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 1))
Grades 5-8. Life just got really weird for fifth-grader Noah Keller. In fact, he just got a brand new life—including a new home (East Berlin), name (Jonah Brown), and age (10)—and he’s not happy about any of it, though a severe stutter makes it difficult for him to express his dismay. His parents lay all this on him after school one day while driving straight for the airport. In 1989, few people are allowed extended visits to East Germany, but Mrs. Keller’s research into speech pathology has granted them a six-month stay. A long list of rules accompanies this bewildering trip, including “don’t draw attention to yourself” and not to forget that “they will always be listening.” Nesbet gives readers a glimpse into life behind the Iron Curtain, but her intriguing premise soon languishes from the frequent intrusion of “Secret Files,” which feel like mini history lessons. Noah’s friendship with his neighbor Claudia is genuinely touching, and some truly tense scenes unfold as secrets are revealed and readers witness events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2016)
A sudden adventure to East Germany changes Noah’s life forever—literally, as he assumes a new name and family history.Swooped up by his parents after school one day, fifth-grade stutterer Noah must dump his backpack on the way to the airport and learn his “real” name and history so that his mother can take a sudden opportunity to conduct research in East Berlin. The white American boy becomes “Jonah” and experiences the world behind the Iron Curtain in 1989 with the help of a new German friend, Claudia, also white. Nesbet (The Wrinkled Crown, 2015, etc.) ventures from fantasy into a new genre and unpacks her story slowly, sometimes ponderously, by inserting “secret files” from an omniscient narrator who explains much of the context required to appreciate the history in the fiction. There is intrigue involving the reported death of Claudia’s parents and Noah’s suspicions about his own mother’s story, but the suspense and character development are bogged down by slow pacing. Noah’s stutter effectively portrays him as the misunderstood outsider, but his photographic memory becomes purely plot device as Nesbet unravels a belatedly thrilling ending. Her author’s note reveals the personal history behind the novel, suggesting a labor of love that does show in the carefully crafted details and effective scene-setting. While not fully absorbing, Nesbet’s detail-rich novel offers tenacious readers an interesting window into the fall of the Iron Curtain. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Anne Nesbet is the author of the novels The Cabinet of Earths, A Box of Gargoyles, and The Wrinkled Crown. Her books have received starred reviews and have been selected for the Kids’ Indie Next List, Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best list, and the Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year list. An associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Anne Nesbet lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Her website is www.annenesbet.com.

Teacher Resources

Cloud and Wallfish Discussion Guide

Around the Web

Cloud and Wallfish on Amazon

Cloud and Wallfish on JLG

Cloud and Wallfish on Goodreads