Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli. April 24, 2018. Balzer + Bray, 343 p. ISBN: 9780062643803.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended

Part of Series: Creekwood (Book 2)

Sequel to: Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda

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

 

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 9-12. Leah Burke takes center stage in this sequel to Albertalli’s Morris Award–winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015). It’s senior year, and Leah’s friends can’t stop talking about college, prom, and long-distance relationships. Simon and Bram are as cute as ever, Leah’s got college lined up, and goofy Garrett obviously has a crush on her. But Leah can’t quite get into it. She feels like a third wheel (even at home, now that her mom is dating someone new); she doesn’t really care about prom; and when her friend and bandmate says something racist, Leah’s content to just break up the band and get on with her life. Plus, she’s nursing a wicked crush on her friend Abby, and she’s worried that if she does anything about it, she’ll blow up their whole friend group—let alone the fact that no one knows she’s bi. Albertalli has a fantastic ear for voice, and it’s beautifully on display in Leah’s funny, wry, and vulnerable first-person narrative. She gets to the core of Leah’s hang-ups about money, her body, her place among her friends, her reluctance to let anyone get too close, and her perfectionism without a trace of heavy-handedness, and she leavens the poignant emotional growth with snarky teen banter, hilarious mishaps, and swoonworthy (but never saccharine) romance. Everything Albertalli already did so well in Simon, she’s improved upon here, and fans of the first book will be utterly smitten with Leah.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2018)
Leah Burke is perched on the precipice of change in the final months of senior year, before everyone in her diverse friend group scatters off to become their college selves. Leah, Simon Spier’s best friend in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015), takes center stage in this sequel. She knows she’s bisexual, but she’s only out to her mom, not her friends, not even to Simon, who is gay. Leah’s cynical and socially awkward but also confident in herself. She’s unapologetically fat. She’s a talented artist and a ripper on the drums. She’s also fierce when called for. When a white friend implies that their classmate Abby Suso only got accepted to her college because she is black, Leah, also white, calls out her bias directly (Abby is not present for this conversation), sparking a nuanced subplot on racism and white allyship. Mostly, though, senior year is characterized by Leah’s aching crush on Abby, the oh-so-beautiful and oh-so-straight girlfriend of Leah’s good friend Nick. When the prom-scene ending finally arrives, even the most Leah-worthy cynics will be rooting for her. With complex characters, authentic dialogue, and messy-but-beautiful friendships, this sequel is more than capable of standing on its own.   A subversive take on the coming-of-age romance that will leave readers feeling like witnesses to a very special moment in Leah’s life and filled with gratitude for sharing it. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction.

Her website is www.beckyalbertalli.com.

Around the Web

Leah on the Offbeat on Amazon

Leah on the Offbeat on Goodreads

Leah on the Offbeat Publisher Page

Advertisements

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst. March 13, 2018. Knopf Publishing, 419 p. ISBN: 9781101874561.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the winner of the Man Booker Prize, a masterly novel that spans seven transformative decades as it plumbs the complex relationships of a remarkable family.

In 1940, David Sparsholt arrives at Oxford to study engineering, though his sights are set on joining the Royal Air Force. Handsome, athletic, charismatic, he is unaware of his powerful effect on others—especially on Evert Dax, the lonely and romantic son of a celebrated novelist who is destined to become a writer himself. With the world at war, and the Blitz raging in London, Oxford exists at a strange remove: a place of fleeting beauty, of secret liaisons under the cover of blackouts. A friendship develops between David and Evert that will influence their lives for decades to come.

Alan Hollinghurst’s sweeping new novel evokes across three generations the intimate relationships of a group of friends brought together by art, literature, and love.  We witness shifts in taste and morality through a series of vividly rendered episodes: a Sparsholt holiday in Cornwall; eccentric gatherings at the Dax family home; the adventures of David’s son Johnny, a painter in 1970s London. Richly observed, emotionally charged, this dazzling novel of fathers and sons, of family and legacy, explores the social and sexual revolutions of the past century, even as it takes us straight to the heart of our current age.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Brief but explicit description of pornography

 

Author Interview

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
It begins in the early years of WWII at Oxford, where a quartet of friends are spending their last days as students before joining the conflict. They are Freddie Green, a budding memoirist; Peter Coyle, a would-be artist; Evert Dax, whose father is a famous author; and beautiful David Sparsholt. The novel, notable for its sophistication, then follows the lives of the four over the course of decades, concluding in the near present. Freddie will become a writer, as will—like his father—Evert; Peter will die early in the war, while David will found a wildly successful engineering and manufacturing firm. A very public indiscretion will become known as the Sparsholt Affair and give the novel its title. In the meantime, David and his wife have a son, Johnny, who will grow up to become a successful portraitist and the protagonist of the later parts of the novel. Their brilliantly realized milieu is the world of art and literature and, for Evert and Johnny, who are gay, the evolving world of gay society and culture in Britain. Superlatives are made to describe this extraordinary work of fiction; characterization, style, mood, tone, setting—all are equally distinguished. Hollinghurst is especially good at evoking yearning, and, indeed, his novel will inarguably leave his readers yearning for more.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2018)
A man’s inability to be honest about his sexuality has scandalous, and brutally public, consequences for several generations. At the outset of this novel, in 1940, all the gay men and at least one straight woman in a literary club at Oxford are infatuated with beautiful David Sparsholt, a first-year engineering student who initially seems oblivious to the attention. One student, Evert Dax, the son of famous, inexplicably bestselling novelist A.V. Dax, is determined to bed Sparsholt. (Ostensibly straight Freddie Green, whose memoir about his years at Oxford makes up the first section of the novel, claims Sparsholt has a “dull square face.”) Sparsholt’s straight bona fides (he has a girlfriend) soon come into thrilling question. The students watch warily at night for German bombs in the World War II–era opening of the novel, which soon transitions to 1966, when Sparsholt’s 14-year-old son, Johnny, lusts after Bastien, a French exchange student who’s living with his family. Johnny is the heart of the story, and in the ensuing sections taking place over many decades he gives Hollinghurst the opportunity to track the vast, transformative changes in gay life since David Sparsholt attended Oxford. Johnny is a fascinating character: a painter who is sensitive, proudly bohemian, sometimes rejected in love, and still eager for love at an advanced age, but always calmly aware of who he is and the dangers of trying to be someone else. It’s a lesson he learned from his father’s arrogant belief that he could skirt the restrictive, heterosexual mores of pre–sexual liberation England. If this plot sounds like it couldn’t possibly have been the work of a Man Booker Prize–winning author, part of Hollinghurt’s (The Stranger’s Child, 2011, etc.) bold talent in this novel, as in his previous work, is to make it evident that lust, sex, and who does what with whom in the bedroom (and even how) are fitting, and insightful, subjects of literary fiction. A novel full of life and perception; you end the book not minding that the actual Sparsholt affair gets just the barest of outlines.

About the Author

Alan Hollinghurst is an English novelist, and winner of the 2004 Booker Prize for The Line of Beauty.

He read English at Magdalen College, Oxford graduating in 1975; and subsequently took the further degree of Master of Literature (1979). While at Oxford he shared a house with Andrew Motion, and was awarded the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1974, the year before Motion.

In the late 1970s he became a lecturer at Magdalen, and then at Somerville College and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. In 1981 he moved on to lecture at University College London. In 1997, he went on an Asia book tour in Singapore.

In 1981 he joined The Times Literary Supplement and was the paper’s deputy editor from 1982 to 1995.

He lives in London.

Teacher Resources

The Sparsholt Affair Reading Guide

Around the Web

The Sparsholt Affair on Amazon

The Sparsholt Affair on Goodreads

The Sparsholt Affair Publisher Page

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. February 13, 20187. First Second, 288 p. ISBN: 9781250159854.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 360.

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Transphobia

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 7-12. Frances, a seamstress living in Paris at the turn of the century, causes quite a stir when she designs a daring, avant-garde ballgown for a count’s daughter, who blithely asks to be dressed “like the devil’s wench.” Though the countess is displeased, her daughter is enchanted, and so is the crown prince, Sebastian, who immediately hires Frances with an unusual request: he wants her to make him a wardrobe of bold, glamorous gowns. Secrecy, of course, is paramount, but Frances loves having the freedom to design the dresses of her dreams, which are making quite a name for the prince’s au courant alter ego, Lady Crystallia. Wang’s buoyant, richly colored artwork beautifully envisions Frances’ designs against an already captivating background. It’s not that the de rigueur fashions are ugly or boring—rather, everything is beautiful—but Frances’ ensembles stand out stunningly. As Lady Crystallia gains notoriety, and Frances gets closer to meeting her idol, a designer of ballet costumes, elements of Frances’ designs trickle subtly into the wider fashion world. But fame brings attention, and Seb’s worries about being exposed surpass his loyalty to his friend. Though the conclusion is perhaps too rosy given the suggested time period, that’s an easy quibble to forgive, thanks to the gorgeously dense artwork, lively sense of movement, effervescent fashions, sweet romance, and heartwarming denouement.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2017)
Once upon a time, there was a prince who felt fabulous only in exquisite gowns. Prince Sebastian’s parents, like fleets of fairy-tale progenitors before, are myopically focused on getting their kid hitched. Rendezvous with potential brides rattle Sebastian, and not just because he’s only 16 and averse to icky matrimony. It’s because he dresses in couture gowns and is petrified of facing what a reveal would mean to his parents and potential wife. Weary of donning his mother’s duds, he hires Frances, a seamstress with an avant-garde flair. Their friendship quickly evolves as she harnesses her talent and he becomes empowered to make public appearances as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. When Lady Crystallia becomes a fashion plate du jour—and secrecy verges on revelation—Sebastian and Frances are at a crossroads: can they remain true to themselves, each other, and the world? Wang’s linework has as much movement and play as Crystallia’s frocks, and her palette seamlessly wanders from petit-four brights to the moody darks of an ombre swatch. This is preindustrial Paris, so the cast is white, with the only otherness being class differentiation. Sebastian’s story shouldn’t be taken as a testament to how easy it is for one to reveal one’s true self to one’s parents, particularly if one is LGBTQIAP: Sebastian meets acceptance far too easily, particularly for such a public figure in such a conservative age. Sebastian’s summation of Frances’ aesthetic underscores the ultimate blueprint: fantasy and drama. A biblio bias-cut whose shimmer is welcome despite its optimistic shortsightedness. (Historical graphic fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Jen Wang is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Los Angeles. She is the co-author of the New York Times Bestselling graphic novel IN Real Life (First Second) with Cory Doctorow, Koko Be Good (First Second), and The Prince and the Dressmaker (First Second/February 2018). Her work has also appearred in Los Angeles Magazine, Hazlitt, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Portland Mercury. She is the co-founder and organizer of the annual festival Comic Arts Los Angeles. Her website is www.jenwang.net

Around the Web

The Prince and the Dressmaker on Amazon

The Prince and the Dressmaker on Goodreads

The Prince and the Dressmaker Publisher Page

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis. January 30, 2018. Balzer + Bray, 336 p. ISBN: 9780062659002.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 500.

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Bullying, Domestic abuse, Homophobic language and attitudes

 

Author Facts

Video Reviews

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Evan Panos lives two lives: in one, he’s a high-school senior, a talented artist, and the best friend and tennis partner of Henry Kimball. In the other, he’s the son of two Greek immigrants, and while his mother’s disappointment in and anger towards him often turns violent, his mild-mannered father avoids and deflects. In both lives, Evan struggles with his sexuality, fighting a maybe-reciprocated attraction to Henry and keeping the secret from his devoutly Christian mother. Afraid that someone will realize the extent of the abuse, Evan isolates himself and hides his art in a nearby monastery, endangering both his friendships and his chance at becoming a real artist. But everyone has a breaking point, and Evan is rapidly approaching his. This poignant, sometimes explosive debut was based in part on the author’s life, and occasionally stilted dialogue and a few pacing issues don’t keep it from ringing true. A powerful read for anyone, but for those living a double life like Evan’s, it will be invaluable.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Mother really doesn’t know best in this tale of a closeted gay teen from a devout Christian household.Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos excels at conformity. His peers might notice him more if they knew his secret: during summer Bible camp, Evan kissed a boy for the first time. Evan’s strict mother ensures that this “evil” secret stays obscured with prayer and physical and emotional abuse. Through art, secret trips to the nearby monastery, and one-on-ones with his dad at Dunkin’ Donuts, Evan finds pockets of safety. But as his romantic feelings for his best friend, Henry, blossom, the tension between Evan and his mother escalates. Readers will wonder if it really will get better but can rest assured that hope is on the horizon. Surmelis’ own-voices debut wisely uses a first-person, present-tense voice to keep readers in the moment with Evan as he lives through his trauma. Though back story adds complexity to Evan’s villainous mother, she still reads as two-dimensional. In a cast of majority white, Midwestern peers, Evan’s immigrant Greek family is a welcome addition—both to the story and to realistic queer fiction for teens. Readers may need tissues (or doughnuts) to make it to the end. Another heartbreaking novel that pits religion and sexuality against each other, but with an important, culturally specific perspective. (author’s note, resources) (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Angelo Surmelis was raised in Greece until he immigrated to Illinois at the age of five. He currently lives in Los Angeles. An award-winning designer, Surmelis has been featured on over fifty television shows, including the Today show and Extra, as well as in magazines such as InStyle, TV Guide, and Entertainment Weekly. He has worked as a host on networks like HGTV and TLC.

His website is www.angelohome.com.

Around the Web

The Dangerous Art of Blending In on Amazon

The Dangerous Art of Blending In on Goodreads

The Dangerous Art of Blending In Publisher Page

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

 

Reviews

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.

 

Around the Web

Speak No Evil on Amazon

Speak No Evil on Goodreads

Speak No Evil Publisher Page

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

 

Reviews

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

Around the Web

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

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson. February 6, 2018. Simon Pulse, 448 p. ISBN: 9781481498548.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth.

This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.

As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all—that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes.

 

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. Elena was the product of a virgin birth, but it wasn’t a miracle; just garden-variety, statistically improbable, yet no less possible, parthenogenesis. What is a miracle, however, is her ability to heal people, which she discovers when her crush gets shot right in front of her. Healing powers are pretty cool, but whenever Elena heals someone, several other people disappear in a beam of golden light. Compounding the problem, a chorus of bossy voices, which appear in a variety of objects, tell Elena that she should heal as many people as possible, because the ones who disappear are being saved from a terrible future. With crackling banter and vivid characters, Hutchinson offers readers an enjoyably weird, poignantly philosophical exploration of friendship, duty, and free will. There’s lots to like here: Elena’s relationship with her best friend, Fadil (a devout Muslim boy), is refreshingly, unquestioningly platonic, and Hutchinson touches on such important topics as sexuality, mental illness, and grief in a lighthearted yet sincere and sensitive way. And, especially for a book addressing such tough topics, it’s often just plain funny. While the overarching premise sounds a bit like an ethics-class thought experiment (in a good way!), Hutchinson always keeps the story firmly grounded in Elena’s relationships and, more important, her believable growth, particularly when it comes to her own faults. Surreal, brainy, and totally captivating.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
A coffee chain is the unlikely setting of a miracle healing that sets in motion events that herald a coming apocalypse. Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza was the product of a virgin birth. While unkind classmates taunt her with the nickname “Mary,” there is a scientific explanation for her existence: parthenogenesis. Essentially a clone of her half-Cuban, half-white mother, she also hears voices emanating from inanimate objects. When Elena saves the life of her longtime crush, Freddie, after she is shot at a Starbucks, she discovers the trade-off: with each healing, random people disappear from Earth, beginning with the shooter himself. Freddie, whose race is not described, struggles with depression and has mixed feelings about her role as the involuntary recipient of a miracle cure even as the two embark on a rocky flirtation. Elena must decide whether to listen to her best friend, Fadil, a devout Muslim boy who believes her powers are God-given; the clamoring voices speaking through a My Little Pony, Lego Gandalf, and other objects that tell her she is destined for greatness; or her own doubt-ridden conscience. Fantasy fans who desire intricate technical explanations may be disappointed at what is left unexplained, but the story is about faith, after all, and readers who appreciate relationship-driven novels will have much to savor. Elena’s bisexuality is refreshingly unproblematic—simply another aspect of her nature that is accepted by those around her—an echo of the deft treatment of differences among the diverse cast of characters. A creative and original tale shot through with quirky humor that entertains while encouraging readers to ponder questions of free will and social responsibility. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Shaun is a major geek and all about nerdy shenanigans. He is the author of We Are the Ants, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, The Deathday Letter, fml, and the editor of the anthology Violent Ends.

He currently lives in South Florida with his dog and watches way too much Doctor Who.

His website is www.shaundavidhutchinson.com.

Teacher Resources

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza on Amazon

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza on Goodreads

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza Publisher Page

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus: A true Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater. October 1, 2017. Farrar Strauss Giroux, 320 p. ISBN: 9780374303235.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Racial slur, Graphic description of recovery from burns, Detailed description of a hate crime

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 7-12. Slater handles the sensitive subject matter of adolescence, hate crimes, the juvenile justice system, and the intersection of race and class with exemplary grace and emotional connection. Sasha, a genderqueer teen riding the 57 bus, was asleep when Richard Thomas, an African American teen, decided to play a prank by playing with a lighter by her skirt. But the skirt caught fire. Sasha spent grueling amounts of time in a hospital burn unit, and Richard spent the rest of his high-school career mired in a long trial and awaiting sentencing. In this true-crime tale, Slater excels at painting a humanistic view of both Sasha and Richard, especially in the aftermath of the crime. Readers will enjoy that Sasha’s life is completely developed, while other readers may have a few unresolved questions surrounding Richard’s upbringing. Ultimately, this book will give readers a better understanding of gender nonbinary people and a deep empathy for how one rash action can irrevocably change lives forever.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2017)
In the fall of 2013, on a bus ride home, a young man sets another student on fire.In a small private high school, Sasha, a white teen with Asperger’s, enjoyed “a tight circle of friends,” “blazed through calculus, linguistics, physics, and computer programming,” and invented languages. Sasha didn’t fall into a neat gender category and considered “the place in-between…a real place.” Encouraged by parents who supported self-expression, Sasha began to use the pronoun they. They wore a skirt for the first time during their school’s annual cross-dressing day and began to identify as genderqueer. On the other side of Oakland, California, Richard, a black teen, was “always goofing around” at a high school where roughly one-third of the students failed to graduate. Within a few short years, his closest friends would be pregnant, in jail, or shot dead, but Richard tried to stay out of real trouble. One fateful day, Sasha was asleep in a “gauzy white skirt” on the 57 bus when a rowdy friend handed Richard a lighter. With a journalist’s eye for overlooked details, Slater does a masterful job debunking the myths of the hate-crime monster and the African-American thug, probing the line between adolescent stupidity and irredeemable depravity. Few readers will traverse this exploration of gender identity, adolescent crime, and penal racism without having a few assumptions challenged. An outstanding book that links the diversity of creed and the impact of impulsive actions to themes of tolerance and forgiveness. (Nonfiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Dashka Slater has written many books, including Baby ShoesThe Sea Serpent and Me, which was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Escargot, and Dangerously Ever After. She is also an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in NewsweekSalon, The New York Times Magazine, and Mother Jones. 

She lives in California. Her website is www.dashkaslater.com

Teacher Resources

The 57 Bus Discussion Guide

Around the Web

The 57 Bus on Amazon

The 57 Bus on Goodreads

The 57 Bus on JLG

The 57 Bus Publisher Page

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

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta. October 10, 2017. Candlewick Press, 421 p. ISBN: 9780763691646.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Debuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.

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

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. All theaters have their ghosts, but death is another matter. Death is exactly what Zara Evans encounters when she comes to the Aurelia Theater. New to professional theater, Zara has nevertheless been cast as Echo in the Greek tragedy Echo and Ariston, a role she’s always coveted. The legendary—and difficult—director Leopold Henneman, who claims to have visions, helms the production, and he demands excellence, something that’s easier said than done when members of the cast and crew start dying and people start saying the theater is haunted. As tragedies, both onstage and off, roll through the Aurelia, Zara grows close to Eli Vasquez, the assistant lighting designer. The two girls’ friendship blossoms into romance, and for Zara, it’s a light in a world that grows darker by the day: curse or no curse, there is something wicked in the Aurelia. With timeless, literary prose, Capetta spins a tale that is haunting indeed. Part love story and part mystery, this eerie offering studded with intriguing, secretive characters is beautiful and strange.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
What do you do when all your dreams come true? What happens if those dreams have a nightmarish edge? Capetta explores the consequences of soured dreams in her latest.When 18-year-old Jewish Zara is cast in her dream roll of Echo in a Broadway production of the Greek tragedy Echo and Ariston, she believes all her hopes are falling into place. It seems even so when she falls unexpectedly for 19-year-old Latina lighting designer Eli (short for Eliza). Yet, amid the thrill of the stage and new romance, signs of cracks in the facade begin to appear. Almost as soon as she arrives in New York City to begin rehearsals, mysterious deaths begin to occur, and eventually Zara herself is in danger. Capetta deftly shifts the tone of the third-person-limited narrator in each chapter to highlight the distinct personalities and motives of the main characters. The style tries to balance the novel between a literary romance and a psychological thriller, occasionally faltering. The suspenseful plot can become tangled in metaphor, hampering the action, especially at the climax. Nevertheless, this tale will appeal to older teen audiences and likely some adults who enjoy their thrillers steamy, with more than a dash of romance.A twisted tale of theater, conspiracy, and romance that, like its protagonist, sometimes struggles with a minor identity crisis. (Romantic thriller. 14-adult)

About the Author

Amy Rose Capetta studied theater at the Stella Adler Studio as a teenager before spending four years in a Shakespeare troupe. Echo After Echo is her first book with Candlewick Press.

Amy Rose Capetta lives in Michigan. Her website is amyrosecapetta.com.

 

Around the Web

Echo After Echo on Amazon

Echo After Echo on Goodreads

Echo After Echo on JLG

Echo After Echo Publisher Page