Tag Archives: realistic fiction

Takedown by Laura Shovan

Takedown by Laura Shovan. June 19, 2018. Wendy Lamb Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9780553521429.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.2; Lexile: 610.

“You’re only as good as your partner.”

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who are die-hard mat heads, it’s in your DNA. She even has a wrestling name: Mickey. Some people don’t want a girl on the team. But that won’t stop her. She’s determined to work hard, and win.

Lev is determined too–he’s going to make it to the state championship. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome. But at the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner—a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mickey and Lev work hard together, and find a way to become friends. But at States, there can only be one winner.

This warmhearted, engaging novel by the author of the highly praised The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary explores competition among athletes, how it influences family and friendships, and what happens when one girl wants to break barriers in a sport dominated by boys.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination

 

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 15))
Grades 3-6. Along with best friend Kenna, Mikayla is joining her first traveling wrestling league. Preferring to wrestle under the name Mickey, she’s angry when the coach of the Eagles, the team her brothers wrestled with, declares he won’t accept girls, and Kenna admits that she wants to join the drama club instead. With limited options, Mickey joins the Gladiators team. Lev, a Gladiator, is determined to make it to state championships this year and plans to train hard. However, he feels his goals are hampered when Coach pairs him with Mickey—a girl! Shovan has written a sports book that will appeal to all genders and non-sports-fans alike, who will be drawn into Mickey’s struggle to be seen as a wrestler (not a “female” wrestler) and Lev’s grappling with the realization that wrestling may not be his true passion. As the chapters alternate between the characters’ perspectives, readers will quickly become invested, particularly when the tweens’ goals eventually merge and they discover that a true wrestler is anyone with the courage to step on the mat.

Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2018)
Sixth-graders Lev and Mikayla are both wrestlers. They narrate in their own voices in alternating chapters, often overlapping in time and perspective, allowing readers into their thoughts and concerns, for they are wrestling with middle school friendships and family dynamics as well as on the mat. Mikayla believes that her divorced father spends all his time on her big brothers’ wrestling practices and tournaments. If she joins a team, maybe he will value her more. The prejudice of her brothers’ coach forces her on to a different team, the Gladiators. There she meets Lev, who reluctantly becomes her training partner. Lev is haunted by his failure last year to make the state tournament and is determined to get there this year. Lev is Jewish, and his best friend is a Chinese boy who loves music. Mikayla is a white Christian whose best friend is a biracial brown girl who loves to work with theatrical makeup. Their diversity is treated matter-of-factly, accepted as part of what makes them unique. Although the jargon of wrestling is not always clearly defined, readers will find the action exciting. The characters, both adults and children, are well-developed and likable. Not everything is wrapped up neatly, but there are some twists that will satisfy readers. Mikayla and Lev are winners. (Fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Laura Shovan’s debut middle-grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel and a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry, as well a Nerdy Book Club award. Her son’s experiences as a member of a travel wrestling team were the inspiration for Takedown. Laura and her family live in Maryland, where she is a longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Her website is laurashovan.com/

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Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. August 28, 2018. Dial Books, 316 p. ISBN: 9780525552963.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 710.

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Mild language, Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Grades 8-11. Darius Kellner has more than his share of teen troubles to manage: racist bullies, clinical depression, complications with his father, and feeling like a misfit. So he does not expect much when his family travels to Iran to visit his maternal grandparents. Darius is a keen observer of life and very much aware of his emotional mechanisms. He is loving, sensitive, and a connoisseur of tea: steeping, drinking, sharing with family. He views the world through analogies to Star Trek and the Lord of the Rings trilogy in ways that are sometimes endearing and other times cumbersome. The trip to Iran opens new places of tenderness as Darius connects with people, places, and history that feel simultaneously familiar and new. But most significant is his friendship with Sohrab, which is tinged with an intimacy that suggests it is something more than platonic. This is a refreshing bildungsroman and an admirable debut novel that will leave readers wanting more. Hand to readers of Sara Farizan’s Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel​ (2014) and soul-searching teens.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2018)
Sophomore Darius Kellner doesn’t fit in at his Oregon high school, where he’s bullied by Trent Bolger and his “Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy.” But Darius also doesn’t fit comfortably in his own life due to clinical depression, confusion about his half-Persian heritage, and constant awareness of his white “Übermensch” father’s disappointment in him. Darius has only met his mother’s family over Skype, but when the news comes that his grandfather is dying, the family embarks on an extended trip to Iran. Here the book ripens into an exploration of understanding one’s identity—both personally and culturally. When Darius meets his grandparents’ neighbor Sohrab, a Bahá’í young man, in Yazd, a tender and natural friendship begins. Unlike the “Level Seven Awkward Silences” he shares with his stern father, the teen feels comfortable and safe with this virtual stranger: “I could be silent with Sohrab. That’s how I knew we were going to be friends.” Khorram’s debut novel is an affectionate portrait of Iran: the food and aromas, the rich traditions and eclectic culture; the somewhat choppy first-person narrative also explains Farsi phrases and their complex etymology. As Darius’s palpable discomfort begins to give way, readers will understand that home can be more than the physical place you live, and that people who make you feel at home can come into your life unexpectedly.

About the Author

Adib Khorram is an author, a graphic designer, and a tea enthusiast. If he’s not writing (or at his day job), you can probably find him trying to get his 100 yard Freestyle under a minute, or learning to do a Lutz Jump. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person.

His website is adibkhorram.com/

Around the Web

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Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp

Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp. September 18, 2018. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 320 p. ISBN: 9780374306502.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken will offer today’s teen readers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future.

The contributing authors are awardwinners, bestsellers, and newcomers including Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, William Alexander, Corinne Duyvis, Marieke Nijkamp, Dhonielle Clayton, Heidi Heilig, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Kayla Whaley, Keah Brown, and Fox Benwell. Each author identifies as disabled along a physical, mental, or neurodiverse axis―and their characters reflect this diversity.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. The 13 stories in this brilliant anthology feature teenagers with physical disabilities, mental illness, anxiety disorders, or autism. The authors of the stories are all people with various disabilities as well, and the stories themselves cover a range of genres. In the realistic “Britt and the Bike God,” by Kody Keplinger, a girl with retinitis pigmentosa rides the “stoker,” or back seat, of a tandem bicycle in her father’s biking club, and she’s both thrilled and horrified when her crush, a boy she thinks of as the “bike god,” is assigned to be her “captain.” Katherine Locke’s “Per Aspera Ad Astra” features a girl with agoraphobia who must overcome her disorder to save her planet. An abandoned carnival is the setting for the creepy “The Leap and the Fall,” by Kayla Whaley, with a protagonist in a wheelchair who must summon the will to rescue a friend, while Dhonielle Clayton’s advice columnist heroine in “Dear Nora James, You Know Nothing of Love” learns to not let her irritable bowel syndrome control her life. The stories feature wide variety and high quality, but most important, none of the teens at the center of the stories are defined by their disabilities. Teens disappointed by the lack of nuanced depictions of disability in YA fiction will cheer for these compassionate, engaging, and masterfully written stories.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2018)
Thirteen realistic, fantasy, and science-fiction stories starring disabled teenagers. These tales feature teens with different mental illnesses and physical, sensory, and intellectual disabilities, but all share common threads: no overcoming disability, magical healing, or disability-as-metaphor; just kids shaped by their bodies and minds, their experiences, and the worlds they inhabit. The #ownvoices tales (all by disabled authors) feature a few standouts. Schneider Award winner Francisco X. Stork’s (Disappeared, 2017, etc.) protagonist is a cognitively disabled Mexican immigrant who hears voices and who makes a friend. Dhonielle Clayton’s (The Belles, 2018, etc.) heroine, a black girl with gastrointestinal disease, pens an advice column. William Alexander (A Festival of Ghosts, 2018, etc.) offers a cane-using Latinx boy with chronic pain who accidentally animates the spirit of Richard III. Disability drives the plots at different levels: Corinne Duyvis’ (On the Edge of Gone, 2016, etc.) cursed wish-granter, a 17-year-old girl who likes girls, may not even be noticeably autistic to some neurotypical readers, while the anxiety of Katherine Locke’s (The Spy with the Red Balloon, 2018, etc.) programming heroine might prevent her from saving her city during an extraplanetary attack. Heidi Heilig’s (For a Muse of Fire, 2018, etc.) heroine has mania and depression in ancient China, where her condition is seen as bad fate. For intersectional representations of disabled kids leading complex lives—sometimes painful, sometimes funny, never sentimentally inspirational—a vital collection. (Anthology. 13-17)

About the Editor

Marieke Nijkamp is the #1 New York Timesbestselling author of This Is Where It Ends. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and geek. 

She currently resides in her home country, the Netherlands. Her website is www.mariekenijkamp.com/

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Unbroken on Amazon

Unbroken on Barnes & Noble

Unbroken on Goodreads

Unbroken Publisher Page

Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle

Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle. September 4, 2018. Blink, 256 p. ISBN: 9780310765707.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

It all started with the accident. The one that caused Sophie’s dad to walk out of her life. The one that left Sophie’s older sister, Meredith, barely able to walk at all.

With nothing but pain in her past, all Sophie wants is to plan for the future—keep the family business running, get accepted to veterinary school, and protect her mom and sister from another disaster. But when a hurricane forms off the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and heads right toward their island, Sophie realizes nature is one thing she can’t control.

After she gets separated from her family during the evacuation, Sophie finds herself trapped on the island with the last person she’d have chosen—the reckless and wild Finn Sanders, who broke her heart freshman year. As they struggle to find safety, Sophie learns that Finn has suffered his own heartbreak; but instead of playing it safe, Finn’s become the kind of guy who goes surfing in the eye of the hurricane. He may be the perfect person to remind Sophie how to embrace life again, but only if their newfound friendship can survive the storm.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

School Library Journal (July 1, 2018)
Gr 9 Up-Sophie March’s family is immediately and forever changed after a car accident that left her older sister, Meredith, with a brain injury-a tragedy that was too much for her dad to handle. It is now up to independent Sophie and her selfless mom to care for Meredith and run their horse farm on the barrier islands of North Carolina. As if this isn’t enough to deal with, old friend and first crush Finn Sanders has moved back to the neighborhood-having forgotten how he ditched Sophie two years prior for their date to the school dance-and a hurricane is looming, making evacuation vital. Mom and Meredith head for the mainland while Sophie is detained by a flat tire. Finn happens by and gives Sophie a lift, but their escape is short-lived when Finn wrecks, leaving them trapped to ride out the storm alone. They find shelter in evacuated homes where they are forced to rely on each other for survival and have nothing but time to learn more about the other’s painstaking journeys since they last spoke. Hoyle’s beautifully descriptive writing envelops readers, and Sophie’s first-person account will ring true with teens who are surrounded by complications and faced with life-changing decisions.

About the Author

McCall Hoyle writes honest YA novels about friendship, first love, and girls finding the strength to overcome great challenges. She is a high school English teacher. Her own less-than-perfect teenage experiences and those of the girls she teaches inspire many of the struggles in her books. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with her family and their odd assortment of pets—a food-obsessed beagle, a grumpy rescue cat, and a three-and-a-half-legged kitten. She has an English degree from Columbia College and a master’s degree from Georgia State University. She lives in a cottage in the woods in North Georgia where she reads and writes every day.

Her website is mccallhoyle.com

Around the Web

Meet the Sky on Amazon

Meet the Sky on Barnes & Noble

Meet the Sky on Goodreads

Meet the Sky Publisher Page

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo. May 8, 2018. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 323 p. ISBN: 9780374304089.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 670.

From the author of I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a laugh-out-loud story of love, new friendships, and one unique food truck.

Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?

With Maurene Goo’s signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking, Smoking

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 15))
Grades 9-12. Sixteen-year-old Clara Shin loves her untethered L.A. life, where she lives with her young Korean Brazilian dad. But when a prom prank turns into a brawl, her punishment is the worst she can imagine: working all summer on her dad’s hot, cramped food truck, KoBra, instead of vacationing in Mexico with her mom. As if that weren’t bad enough, overachiever and perennial enemy Rose Carver must also work on the truck as punishment for her part in the scuffle. Clever strategies by Dad lead Clara and Rose to see each other less as adversaries and more as friends. Meanwhile, a Chinese boy named Hamlet expresses interest in Clara and helps her realize that perhaps her old self isn’t the one she wants to embrace going forward. Flip, hip narrator Clara may seem a tad unlikable at first, but readers can’t help but get caught up in her bumpy coming-of-age journey, applauding her increasing attachment to KoBra and her drive to help facilitate her dad’s dream of opening a restaurant. With massive amounts of humor, heart, and soul, this love letter to L.A. and its diversity is a celebration of friends, family, and food trucks.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2018)
A spirited teenager learns about the meaning of love, friendship, and family. When spunky Clara Shin, the daughter of two Brazilian immigrants of Korean descent, is forced to make up for a school prank by taking a summer job working in her father’s food truck alongside her nemesis, Rose Carver, a perfectionistic, overachieving classmate who looks like a “long-lost Obama daughter,” she thinks it’s the end of her summer. Clara’s insouciant and rebellious demeanor hides profound feelings of rejection over her glamorous mother’s decision to leave the family when Clara was 4 to jaunt around the world as a social media influencer. Clara is most comfortable hanging out with a crowd of kids who are similarly rebellious and disengaged, but a budding romance with earnest Chinese heartthrob Hamlet Wong, who works in a neighboring food truck, and a developing friendship with Rose, who has never had a BFF, teach Clara that there’s an upside to taking risks and letting people get close. When Clara feels hurt by her father’s negative reaction to a well-intentioned surprise, she takes off on an adventure that ultimately opens her eyes to all the good things that await her back home. Clara’s personal growth during this summer of change is realistic and convincing. Snappy dialogue and an endearing cast of characters bring to life this richly-drawn portrait of multicultural LA. (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Maurene Goo grew up in a Los Angeles suburb surrounded by floral wallpaper and piles of books. She studied communication at UC San Diego and then later received a Masters in publishing, writing, and literature at Emerson College. Before publishing her first book, Since You Asked, she worked in both textbook and art book publishing. She also has very strong feelings about tacos and houseplants and lives in Los Angeles.

Her website is www.maurenegoo.com

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The Way You Make Me Feel on Amazon

The Way You Make Me Feel on Goodreads

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We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss. May 8, 2018. Greenwillow Books, 408 p. ISBN: 9780062494276.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 670.

Luke and Toby have always had each other’s backs. But then one choice—or maybe it is a series of choices—sets them down an irrevocable path. We’ll Fly Away weaves together Luke and Toby’s senior year of high school with letters Luke writes to Toby later—from death row.

Best friends since childhood, Luke and Toby have dreamed of one thing: getting out of their dead-end town. Soon they finally will, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, never looking back. If they don’t drift apart first. If Toby’s abusive dad, or Luke’s unreliable mom, or anything else their complicated lives throw at them doesn’t get in the way.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Smoking, Criminal culture

 

Reviews

Horn Book Magazine (July/August, 2018)
When best friends Luke and Toby were kids, they tried to fix up a crop duster they found abandoned in the woods outside their rural North Carolina town, fantasizing it could one day fly them out of their troubled lives. When they got older, the plane became a hangout spot and refuge–when Toby’s dad beat him or Luke needed to escape the one-bedroom apartment he lived in with his neglectful mom and much younger brothers. Now that they’re high school seniors, the real escape plan is only a year away, when Toby will follow Luke to Iowa on a wrestling scholarship. Yet before readers learn any of this, the novel opens with Luke’s first letter to Toby from death row. With Luke’s letters as interludes, a third-person narrative flashes back to their senior year, focusing on a significant week in the boys’ lives. Everything fits together as readers start to understand the severity of Toby’s abuse, the depth of Luke’s loyalty (and stifled rage), and the complexities of their dynamic–especially once the boys’ respective love interests enter the scene. The outcome will surprise no one, which is, of course, the point: the reading experience is not about learning what put Luke in prison but when it will happen and how. Bliss stokes this tension, evoking the dread of death row and the claustrophobia of a dead-end town, a life you need to escape from. In this truly tragic story there is profundity at every turn, and readers up for heartbreak will come away understanding more about loyalty, empathy, and redemption. katrina Hedeen

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 1, 2018)
From death row, a young man navigates prison and writes to his best friend in this powerful work of realistic fiction. A poignant story of loyalty, abuse, and poverty is woven throughout a narrative that alternates between flashbacks to Luke and Toby’s senior year of high school (presented from their perspectives in the third person) and the present-day experience of Luke’s incarceration (told in first person through his letters to Toby). This structure allows the novel to build a slow and gripping tension as it progresses, revealing the horrific events that led to Luke’s arrest only at the very end, as the other details of the boys’ lives naturally unfold. Both are seemingly white. The two struggle to guard their friendship fiercely even as Toby becomes sexually involved with a likable but troubled young woman and Luke falls for a different girl. The two have been lifelong friends, supporting each other through family struggles—Toby’s with a physically abusive father and Luke’s with a neglectful mother who leaves him playing a parental role to his two younger brothers. Readers will easily empathize with quiet, tightly controlled Luke, who’s college-bound on a wrestling scholarship, and goofy, self-effacing Toby. This compassionate and beautifully rendered novel packs an emotional punch. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Bryan Bliss is the author of No Parking at the End Times. He holds master’s degrees in theology and fiction and – shockingly – found a professional job that allows him to use both of those degrees. His political philosophy degree, however, is still underutilized. His nonfiction has been published in Image Journal, along with various other newspapers, magazines, and blogs. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children, both of whom wish he wrote books about dragons. Or wizards.

His website is www.bryanbliss.com.

Around the Web

We’ll Fly Away on Amazon

We’ll Fly Away on Goodreads

We’ll Fly Away on Publisher Page

How You Ruined My Life by Jeff Strand

How You Ruined My Life by Jeff Strand. April 3, 2018. Sourcebooks Fire, 304 p. ISBN: 9781492662020.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 660.

A new hilarious novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and Stranger Things Have Happened.

Rod’s life doesn’t suck. If you ask him, it’s pretty awesome. He may not be popular, but he and his best friends play in a band that has a standing gig. Yeah, it’s Monday night and they don’t get paid, but they can turn the volume up as loud as they want. And Rod’s girlfriend is hot, smart, and believes in their band―believes in Rod. Aside from a winning lottery ticket, what more could he ask for?

Answer: A different cousin. When Rod’s scheming, two-faced cousin Blake moves in for the semester, Rod tries to keep calm. Blake seems to have everyone else fooled with good manners and suave smile, except Rod knows better. Blake is taking over his room, taking over his band, taking over his life! But Rod’s not about to give up without a fight. Game on. May the best prankster win…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 13))
Grades 8-11. Rod is pretty satisfied with his life. Sure, his dad left, but he’s got a fun band and a great girlfriend. Then his mom announces that Rod’s cousin, Blake, is coming to stay for three months. Rod’s not thrilled about sharing his room for a semester, but he supposes it could be worse—and as soon as he picks up Blake from the airport, it is. Entitled, lazy Blake is a pain in the ass, but only to Rod; in front of everyone else, he’s completely charming. After a few days of this gaslighting, Rod’s starting to go a little crazy. But even if no one else believes it, he knows Blake is trying to take over his life, and Rod is about to start fighting back. Strand (Stranger Things Have Happened, 2017) imbues Rod’s downward spiral with plenty of wacky humor, and if Rod’s outbursts are a bit overly dramatic at times, readers will be too busy sympathizing with him to care. A family drama guaranteed to keep readers laughing.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
Two cousins trapped under the same roof engage in psychological warfare.Rod may not be very popular or live in a big house, but he has a tight group of friends, an up-and-coming band, and a perfectly sweet girlfriend. His dad abandoned the family, but Rod is close to his mom, a waitress. All in all, plenty to be thankful for. However, when his wealthy cousin Blake’s parents go on a three-month around-the-world cruise, guess who shows up for an extended visit? Blake and Rod get off on the wrong foot, and the pair’s conflict quickly devolves into a battle of wills and mutual sabotage. As Blake, with his high-handed arrogance, systematically chips away at Rod’s sanity, readers will howl with laughter, cringing as the author twists the screws at perfectly placed intervals. The resolution is a tad disappointing, but Rod’s narration is amusing, with a playful awareness of literary convention that makes for a breezy read. The tertiary characters are thin, particularly Rod’s band mates (readers may have trouble telling them apart), but the book aims for laughs, and it earns them. All major characters are assumed white. A well-paced comedy that doesn’t quite stick the landing. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Jeff Strand lives in Tampa, Florida, and doesn’t believe in voodoo. But he still thinks you should carry a doll around, go up to people you don’t like, and chuckle while you jab it with pins, just to make them squirm.

His website is www.tinaconnolly.com.

 

Around the Web

How You Ruined My Life on Amazon

How You Ruined My Life on Goodreads

How You Ruined My Life Publisher Page

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert. April 10, 2018. Disney-Hyperion, 361 p. ISBN: 9781484726020.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 890.

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father’s closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there’s much more to his family’s past than he ever imagined.

Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family’s blessing to pursue the career he’s always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny’s lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can’t stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.

When Danny digs deeper into his parents’ past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Homophobic slurs, Suicide

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (March 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 14))
Grades 9-12. When Danny Cheng’s father loses his job, his parents’ carefully constructed life starts to break apart. His father settles into a depression, and his mother becomes more manic. Both worry constantly about money and Danny’s safety. At the same time, Danny has problems of his own. He keeps deep secrets from those closest to him—about how he might be responsible for the death of his friend, Sandra, one year before, and about his true feelings regarding his best friend, Harry. As Danny struggles to make sense of his parents’ strange behavior, he uncovers evidence of secret lives, of names abandoned, and of a sister he thought had died long ago. Using the metaphor of quantum entanglement—that objects brought together will continue to act in concert even if they are taken apart—Gilbert effortlessly times characters’ present actions with key revelations about their past. With grace and respect, Gilbert manages to address the existential quandaries of both second-generation American teens and their immigrant parents who must make profoundly life-changing choices to give their children the best life possible. The result is both exhilarating and tortuous—Gilbert methodically lays bare her characters’ secrets as if she was slowly pulling a cloth off a fine painting.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 1, 2018)
Family, art, love, duty, and longing collide in this painfully beautiful paean to the universal human need for connection. Cupertino, California, high school senior Danny Cheng has a tight circle of friends, adoring parents, and a full scholarship to his dream school, the Rhode Island School of Design. But lurking just beneath the surface are secrets and tensions that threaten to tear apart everything he holds dear. Closeted Danny has kept hidden his longtime attraction to his best friend, Harry Wong, who is in a serious relationship with Danny’s close friend Regina Chan. Some of his parents’ oddities also turn out to be more than just eccentricity; they are hiding something dark from their past. Danny knows he had an older sister who died in China, but little beyond that. He stumbles across a mysterious file of papers, but his parents refuse to explain. Meanwhile, some in Danny’s circle of school friends are struggling with demons of their own. Gilbert paints a vivid portrait of a largely Asian-American community, diverse in terms of socio-economic status, ethnicity, and religious faith. While the topics dealt with may be heavy, the book is suffused with the warmth of the characters’ love for one another. Imperfect in their human frailty and noble in their desire to do the best they can, they are universally recognizable and sympathetic. Exquisite, heartbreaking, unforgettable—and, ultimately, uplifting. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Kelly Loy Gilbert believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to complex, broken people. She is the author of Conviction, a William C. Morris Award finalist, and lives in the SF Bay Area.

Her website is www.kellyloygilbert.com

Teacher Resources

Picture Us in the Light Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

Picture Us in the Light on Amazon

Picture Us in the Light on Goodreads

Picture Us in the Light Publisher Page

Class Action by Steven B. Frank

CLass Action by Steven B. Frank. April 3, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9781328799203.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.2; Lexile: 720.

NO. MORE. HOMEWORK.

That’s what sixth grader Sam Warren tells his teacher while standing on top of his desk. He’s fed up with doing endless tasks from the time he gets home to the time he goes to sleep. Suspended for his protest, Sam decides to fight back. He recruits his elderly neighbor/retired attorney Mr. Kalman to help him file a class action lawsuit on behalf of all students in Los Angeles. Their argument? Homework is unconstitutional.

With a ragtag team—aspiring masterchef Alistair, numbers gal Catalina, sports whiz Jaesang, rebel big sister Sadie and her tech-savvy boyfriend Sean—Sam takes his case to federal court. He learns about the justice system, kids’ rights, and constitutional law. And he learns that no matter how many times you get knocked down, there’s always an appeal…until the nine justices have the last say.

Will Sam’s quest end in an epic fail, or will he be the hero who saves childhood for all time?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Sixth-grader Sam has had it with homework. He has a valid point; he has so much homework he has no time to play the piano or build a treehouse with his dad. His friends can’t pursue their interests in cooking, math, or sports, and his sister, Sadie, and her high-school friends constantly sacrifice sleep for their studies. Sam and Sadie recruit the widowed, retired attorney who lives across the street to file a class-action suit to abolish homework on behalf of all school-age children in Los Angeles. When their fight goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the scope of the suit spreads to all students in America. Sam and his friends learn about the legal system, including the Supreme Court decisions that have bearing on their cause. Frank, himself a middle-school teacher, gets his characters just right, and the ongoing focus on the issues surrounding homework keeps the narrative centered, even as the premise goes over the top. Sam makes a compelling case in this funny, engaging, and thought-provoking story.

Horn Book Magazine (May/June, 2018)
“Twenty-five math problems, an endangered species report, and a language arts packet—action verbs versus linking, can you feel the joy?” To Sam Warren, doing homework is a Sisyphean task: “We come to school, we work all day, we go home, we work all night. Then we wake up and do it all over again.” He has no time for things he wants to do—have fun, play with friends, build a tree house with his father. What would any angry sixth grader do in such a situation? Take a case to the Supreme Court! With the help of his elderly retired-lawyer neighbor, Sam and his classmates put together a case that becomes Warren v. Board of Education. It is granted class-action status, and they’re off (in a very quick route) to the Supreme Court, where Sam’s older sister Sadie ends up arguing the case. Though hardly credible, it’s entertaining, and readers will learn much about constitutional law and specific cases having to do with the legal rights of students. There’s even a hint at a possible next volume in which the constitutionality of standardized testing will be challenged. Back matter includes a glossary of legal terms and a lengthy appendix listing the Supreme Court cases mentioned in the book. dean Schneider

About the Author

Steven Frank is the author of The Pen Commandments (Pantheon/Anchor Books), a guide to writing that Booklist called “funny, inspiring, personal, moving, and often hilarious.” His middle grade short fiction and plays have appeared Weekly Reader’s Writing and Read Magazines. He is also a beloved middle school teacher at Le Lycee Francais of Los Angeles, where his students often intentionally misbehave because he punishes them with fun writing assignments.

His website is www.stevenbfrank.com.

Around the Web

Class Action on Amazon

Class Action on Goodreads

Class Action Publisher Page

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