Tag Archives: realistic fiction

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. September 4, 2018. Katherine Tegen Books, 330 p. ISBN: 9780062696724.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Based on interviews with young women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, this poignant novel by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani tells the timely story of one girl who was taken from her home in Nigeria and her harrowing fight for survival. Includes an afterword by award-winning journalist Viviana Mazza.

A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Rape, Violence



Booklist starred (June 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 19))
Grades 8-12. The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped girls from the country’s villages in the early to mid-2010s and kept them captive as slaves or wives in the forest. Based on interviews with some of the girls who were taken, this story follows one such girl in a fictionalized account of real-life events. Never named, the narrator reveals her life leading up to her capture—one marked by relatable experiences, such as harboring crushes and watching movies with friends, and a bright future—which makes the abduction all the more heart-wrenching. Nwaubani uses short chapters, ranging from a few sentences to no more than two pages, to emphasize the youth and innocence of the narrator and the terrible acts she and the other kidnapped girls must endure. It is, unsurprisingly, a difficult read that elicits great sympathy and horror, but it is a necessary story to educate readers on what can happen in the world. Nwaubani’s novel is an excellent choice for classroom reading and for those who don’t wish to turn a blind eye to injustice. A substantial afterword by journalist Viviana Mazza shares actual stories of some of the victims, along with more detailed information on the Boko Haram kidnappings. Poignant and powerful, this is a story that will be hard for any reader to forget.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2018)
The unnamed young Nigerian narrator of this novel, with a loving family and academic aspirations, is kidnapped by Boko Haram along with many other girls and women from her village. On the day the terrorists came and destroyed her village, they murdered her father and brothers, sparing only the one brother young enough to be taught their way of life. The story chronicles her cheerful, promising life before her abduction as well as the suffering and abuse she endures after being forced to part with her dreams of getting a university scholarship, becoming a teacher, and having her own family. It traverses the girl’s life from dutiful Christian daughter and loyal friend to becoming a slave under her kidnappers’ radical rule—and pays tribute to the fortitude and grace it takes to not only survive such an ordeal, but to escape it. Nigerian author Nwaubani (I Do Not Come to You by Chance, 2009, etc.) smoothly pulls readers into this narrative. Her words paint beautiful portraits of the joy, hope, and traditions experienced by this girl, her friends, and family with the same masterful strokes as the ones depicting the dreadful agony, loss, and grief they endure. A heavy but necessary story based on the horrendous 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 Chibok girls, described in an afterword by Italian journalist Mazza. A worthy piece of work that superbly and empathetically tells a heartbreaking tale. (afterword, references, resources) (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is a Nigerian writer and journalist. The author of the award-winning novel I Do Not Come to You by Chance, Adaobi has had her writing featured in the New York Times, the Guardian, and the New Yorker.

Her website is www.adaobitricia.com

Teacher Resources

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree on Common Sense Media

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Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree on Amazon

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Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree Publisher Page


Olor a Perfume de Viejita (The Smell of Old Lady Perfume) by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

Olor a Perfume de Viejita (The Smell of Old Lady Perfume) by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez. September 18, 2018. Cinco Puntos Press, 320 p. ISBN: 9781941026960.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.7; Lexile: 730.

Chela Gonzalez, the book’s narrator, is a nerd and a soccer player who can barely contain her excitement about starting the sixth grade. But nothing is as she imagined-her best friend turns on her to join the popular girls and they all act like Chela doesn’t exist. She buries herself in schoolwork and in the warm comfort of her family. To Chela, her family is like a solar system, with her father the sun and her mother, brothers, and sister like planets rotating all around him. It’s a small world, but it’s the only one she fits in.

But that universe is threatened when her strong father has a stroke.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (September 1, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 1))
Grades 4-6. As she starts sixth grade, 11-year-old Chela is straddling two borders, the figurative one between childhood and adolescence and the real one that divides Ciudad Juarez from El Paso. Chela is devastated when her new classmates in Texas laugh at her accented English and jeeringly call her a Juaranota. Then her best friend, Nora, abandons her to join a clique of popular girls. These problems pale, however, after her beloved father suffers a stroke and can no longer work. Her grandmother comes to help (it is her perfume that pervades the household), but fear and worry surround the family. Martinez’s highly episodic first novel is a quiet story that is, perhaps, a bit too predictable, filled with such coming-of-age staples as mean girls, popularity contests, first romances, sibling rivalries, and more. However, readers will also find the book’s loving portrayal of Chela’s family, its nicely realized setting, and its artful exploration of the problems of assimilation, to be both engaging and heartfelt. —Michael Cart

Horn Book Guide (Spring 2009)
Chela Gonzalez is highly anticipating sixth grade. She’s especially excited about being part of the A-class, the only all-English class in her El Paso school. But when her father has a stroke, Chela’s year grows complicated and painful. Short, well-crafted chapters offer perceptive glimpses into life on the border, the dynamics of middle-grade girls, and a family in turmoil.

About the Author

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez grew up in El Paso, Texas. She learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns for her father. She went on to graduate from college and moved to Chicago to become one of the city’s youngest non-profit executives.

Her website is claudiaguadalupemartinez.com

Around the Web

Olor a Perfume de Viejita  on Amazon

Olor a Perfume de Viejita on Barnes and Noble

Olor a Perfume de Viejita  on Goodreads

Olor a Perfume de Viejita  Publisher Page

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen. September 11, 2018. Wendy Lamb Books, 288 p. ISBN: 9781524768355.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.7; Lexile: 620.

Twelve-and-three-quarter-year-old Felix Knutsson has a knack for trivia. His favorite game show is Who What Where When; he even named his gerbil after the host. Felix’s mom, Astrid, is loving but can’t seem to hold on to a job. So when they get evicted from their latest shabby apartment, they have to move into a van. Astrid swears him to secrecy; he can’t tell anyone about their living arrangement, not even Dylan and Winnie, his best friends at his new school. If he does, she warns him, he’ll be taken away from her and put in foster care.

As their circumstances go from bad to worse, Felix gets a chance to audition for a junior edition of Who What Where When, and he’s determined to earn a spot on the show. Winning the cash prize could make everything okay again. But things don’t turn out the way he expects. . . .

Susin Nielsen deftly combines humor, heartbreak, and hope in this moving story about people who slip through the cracks in society, and about the power of friendship and community to make all the difference.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Brief mentions of marijuana and drugs, Theft, Allusions to masturbation, Allusion to an adult sexual relationship



Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 4-7. At almost 13, Felix is used to a little spontaneity in his life. He’s watched his mom, Astrid (he calls her Astrid—her idea), hop from job to job and guy to guy, and since Felix’s grandma died, they’ve moved a lot. When they get evicted and have to live in a van for a while, Felix believes Astrid when she says it’s temporary. Even if Astrid has trouble finding a job, Felix has a backup plan: his favorite game show is hosting a junior edition, and he’s actually freakishly good at trivia. He’s going to audition and win enough money so that he and Astrid will never have problems again. But living in a van—and keeping it a secret from his friends at school—is starting to take its toll on Felix. Canadian Nielsen (Optimists Die First​, 2016) infuses her erstwhile hero’s first-person narrative with humor. Though Felix’s wry observations keep things from getting too dark, this is also a straightforward look at the circumstances that can lead to homelessness. Clear-eyed and heartfelt.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2018)
A summer “adventure” in a Volkswagen pop-top van turns into a long-term living situation for twelve-year-old Felix and his loving but irresponsible mother Astrid. Unable to afford an apartment in Vancouver, the two set up housekeeping in Astrid’s ex-boyfriend’s van, moving from parking lot to street corner to abandoned garage as opportunities present themselves, more or less managing to keep up a façade of respectability. This is assisted by Astrid’s flexible sense of morality (“it’s important to note that she has levels of lies, and rules surrounding each. Sort of like the Church of Scientology and their levels of Operating Thetans, her rationales don’t always make a lot of sense”) but hampered by her bouts of depression, known in the family lexicon as “slumps.” Felix starts at a new school, where he reconnects with his childhood friend Dylan and meets Winnie Wu, who is introduced as a stereotypical overachiever but develops beyond the initial caricature. When Felix learns that his favorite game show is hosting a junior tournament, he decides its cash prize will solve all his problems and, with his friends’ help, sets out to win. Felix is a compelling narrator, engaging both as he keeps a wry sense of humor about his family’s worsening situation and when he realizes he can no longer rely on the adults in his life. Nielsen’s eye for detail (Felix’s Swedish grandmother gave him a tomte to watch over the house; now named Mel, the figure keeps watch from the dashboard) helps bring the story to life.

About the Author

Susin got her start feeding cast and crew on the popular television series, Degrassi Junior High. They hated her food, but they saw a spark in her writing. Nielsen went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit TV show. Since then, Nielsen has written for over 20 Canadian TV series. Her books have been translated into multiple languages.

She lives in Vancouver with her family and two naughty cats. Her website is www.susinnielsen.com

Around the Web

No Fixed Address on Amazon

No Fixed Address on Barnes and Noble

No Fixed Address on Goodreads

No Fixed Address Publisher Page

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Summer Blue Bird by Akemi Dawn Bowman. September 11, 2018. Simon Pulse, 375 p. ISBN: 9781481487757.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile:.

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence


Video Review


Booklist starred (June 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 19))
Grades 7-12. For Rumi Seto, creating music with her younger sister, Lea, was everything. But when Lea dies in a car accident, Rumi’s life is over, too. Beset by survivor’s guilt, she is plagued by the knowledge that Lea was the outgoing, perfect daughter who was closest to their mamo (mother). When Mamo sends Rumi to live with Aunt Ani in Hawaii, Rumi plunges into bottomless grief, constantly reminding herself that Mamo abandoned her because she loved Lea more. Rumi also mourns the loss of music and feels unable to recapture what she had with Lea, until she meets the two “boys” next door: lovable teen surfer Kai Yamada, who offers easygoing friendship, and gruff 80-year-old George Watanabe, who understands the pain that consumes her. Strengthened by their honest and individual outlooks on life, Rumi plumbs her courage to complete her and Lea’s unfinished song and find the will to live again. Rumi’s narration, fueled by raw and intense emotions, will leave readers breathless. Memories of Lea are smartly unfurled, allowing fascinating glimpses into the sisters’ bond. Bowman, whose Starfish (2017) was a Morris Award finalist, proves again that she isn’t afraid to dive headlong into challenging issues, such as asexuality, grief, resentment, and forgiveness. This beautiful story sparkles as its complex characters dare to find footholds in the seemingly inescapable dark.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 1, 2018)
Music helps a Washington state teenager overcome guilt and grief after the death of her beloved younger sister. After a car accident that takes the life of Rumi Seto’s younger sister, Lea, Rumi feels guilt about surviving and is certain that her mother wishes Rumi had died instead. With her mother checked out and blank with sorrow, an angry, hardened Rumi is sent to stay with her Aunty Ani in Hawaii, where she meets a host of local characters, including Kai, a charismatic half-Korean/half-Japanese boy. Rumi also spends some time with Mr. Watanabe, her aunt’s gruff elderly neighbor, who has dealt with his own tragedy. Eventually, as Rumi is able to find her way back to the music she and Lea had shared and write the song that she believes she owes her sister, she becomes able to fully grieve. She also makes a discovery that helps reconcile her with her mother. Rumi’s mother is half-Japanese/half-Hawaiian, and her estranged father is white. Accurately reflecting the setting, the book is populated with a host of hapa (biracial) and Asian- and Pacific Islander–American characters. One subplot follows Rumi as she becomes comfortable with her aromantic and asexual feelings. Convincing local details and dialogue, masterful writing, and an emotionally cathartic climax make this book shine. A strikingly moving book about teenage grief. (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish and Summer Bird Blue. She is also a Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in Scotland with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix.

Her website is www.akemidawnbowman.com

Around the Web

Summer Bird Blue on Amazon

Summer Bird Blue on Barnes and Noble

Summer Bird Blue on Goodreads

Summer Bird Blue Publisher Page

Nate Expectations by Tim Federle

Nate Expectations by Tim Federle. September 18, 2018. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 192 p. ISBN: 9781481404129.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.4; Lexile:.

Third time’s a charm! Nate Foster returns home to Jankburg, Pennsylvania, to face his biggest challenge yet—high school—in this final novel in the Lambda Literary Award–winning Nate trilogy, which The New York Times calls “inspired and inspiring.”

When the news hits that E.T.: The Musical wasn’t nominated for a single Tony Award—not one!—the show closes, leaving Nate both out of luck and out of a job. And while Nate’s cast mates are eager to move on (the boy he understudies already landed a role on a TV show!), Nate knows it’s back to square one, also known as Jankburg, Pennsylvania. Where horror (read: high school) awaits.

Desperate to turn his life from flop to fabulous, Nate takes on a huge freshman English project with his BFF, Libby: he’s going to make a musical out of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. (What could possibly go…right?) But when Nate’s New York crush ghosts him, and his grades start to slip, he finds the only thing harder than being on Broadway is being a freshman — especially when you’ve got a secret you’re desperate to sing out about.

Sequel to: Five, Six, Seven, Nate!

Part of Series: Better Nate Than Never (Book #3)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Name calling



Booklist (August 2018 (Online))
Grades 6-9. Drummed off of Broadway and forced to go crawling back to Pennsylvania, freshman Nate Foster is worried that high school won’t be as fabulous as the Big Apple, that his parents won’t be as supportive as his theater family, and that he’ll miss kissing his boyfriend. Yet as in the first two books in this entertaining series, readers will see a determined and resilient young man, and when Nate and his best friend turn a dull English assignment into a musical version of Great Expectations, his show-biz magic brightens the existence of his fellow students. Just as one character prophetically warns, “Charm can get you far in Times Square. But be careful back home,” this final act set in Nate’s hometown isn’t quite as charming as the high bar set in the series’ earlier NYC adventures, yet it’s satisfying and has some great one-liners (“Sometimes I feel like I’m three life choices away from having a signature wig line”). If you know the difference between a cast album and a soundtrack, this is the book for you!

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 1, 2018)
Attention theater nerds! Nate Foster has returned for one last encore. Sadly, Nate’s return is not off to a promising start. His world is breaking apart. The not-really-a-hit E.T.: The Musical did not pick up any Tony nominations, and as Broadway babies know, this usually signals the end of most musical runs. As the show enters its final days, Nate must come to terms with returning home to Jankburg, Pennsylvania, saying goodbye to his aunt and NYC–guardian, Heidi, and leaving his crush (and make-out buddy) Jordan, the star of the show. Things may not be completely bleak, however. Once home, Nate is reunited with his best friend, Libby, and begins his new quest: high school, where his adventures include self-discovery, musical theater (duh), crushes, and coming out. Federle is in fine form here, and readers will laugh out loud at Nate’s adventures (and dramatics). The storyline may have matured along with Nate, but the tone is still fresh, irreverent, and over-the-top. Some subplots may be a skosh unrealistic—such as Nate’s near-total acceptance in his new school—but readers will likely forgive a point or two as the teen thespians mount a musical adaptation of Great Expectations. As enjoyable as Nate may be, the standout character of the book is Libby, whose Tina Fey–like humor and Oprah-like efficiency will have readers in stitches. An exceptional swan song for a beloved character. (Fiction 10-14)

About the Author

Tim Federle is an award-winning writer whose works include the New York Times notable books “The Great American Whatever” and “Better Nate Than Ever,” the global bestseller “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist,” and the Tony-nominated Broadway musical “Tuck Everlasting.”

A native of San Francisco who grew up in Pittsburgh, Tim now divides his time between New York City and the internet.

His website is www.TimFederle.com

Around the Web

Nate Expectations on Amazon

Nate Expectations on Barnes and Noble

Nate Expectations on Goodreads

Nate Expectations Publisher Page

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas. August 21, 2018. Feiwel & Friends, 219 p. ISBN: 9781250129987.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 930.

Whip-smart, hilarious, and unapologetically honest, Rachael Lucas’s The State of Graceis a heartwarming story of one girl trying to work out where she fits in, and whether she even wants to.
“Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules for life and mine got lost.”
Grace is autistic and has her own way of looking at the world. She’s got a horse and a best friend who understand her, and that’s pretty much all she needs. But when Grace kisses Gabe and things start to change at home, the world doesn’t make much sense to her any more.
Suddenly everything threatens to fall apart, and it’s up to Grace to fix it on her own.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Underage drinking


Author Interview


Booklist (August 2018 (Online))
Grades 8-11. Grace, a 15-year-old with high-functioning autism, feels as if she is the only one on the planet who didn’t get a handbook of how life works. She does her best to avoid any kind of attention, although some of her teachers are unsympathetic. She is also a natural target for resident mean-girl Holly, who has issues of her own. Grace is content with her best friend Anna and her horse, Mabel, but when Gabe comes along and kisses her at a party, nothing is quite the same, and Grace’s life starts to spiral out of control. Meanwhile, her father is away for his work, and her mother has taken up with a former school friend named Eve, whose negativity and possessiveness is having a poisonous effect. Still, the people around Grace have faith in her, and she starts to develop faith in herself. Strong, fascinating Grace honestly articulates her meltdowns and gaffes in her first-person narrative, and if the characters around her seem less rounded, it only makes her shine brighter.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2018)
For British teen Grace, life with Asperger’s syndrome, as she describes it, feels “like walking in step, but with someone trying to trip you up—and you’re juggling at the same time, with people pelting more and more balls at you.” Her loving mother, her reliable best friend, and her beloved horse, Mabel, provide a support system, but the unpredictability of high school tests even her sturdiest routines. In a distinct and endearingly sarcastic voice, Grace tells the story of her tenth-grade year. She faces disruptive changes at home (her parents may be splitting up) and at school, where teachers are skeptical about her need for accommodation, and peer relationships become more nuanced and complex. Increased social demands prove especially exhausting. Loud parties are terrifying, crowds are suffocating, and a trip to the bowling alley is “sensory hell”—but she sees the benefits when classmate Gabe starts paying her special attention. Their relationship blooms into a sweet, hopeful sort-of romance that inspires Grace to take more social risks; some of her ideas prove unwise—in a particularly cringe-making scene, Grace brings her horse to a public beach—but most come to tender resolutions. This gentle, sensitive slice-of-life story seamlessly weaves Grace’s unique neurological worldview with the universal angst of coming-of-age. jessica tackett macdonald

About the Author

Rachael Lucas lives and works in a Victorian house by the seaside in the northwest of England with her partner (also a writer) and some of their six children, as well as an ever-expanding collection of animals.

She is the author of the Carnegie nominated and critically acclaimed The State of Grace and several adult novels, including the UK top ten bestseller, Sealed with a Kiss.

Her website is rachaellucas.com.

Around the Web

The State of Grace on Amazon

The State of Grace on Barnes and Noble

The State of Grace on Goodreads

The State of Grace Publisher Page

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak. October 9, 2018. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 544 p. ISBN: 9780375945595.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 650.

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge–for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

Written in powerfully inventive language and bursting with heart, Bridge of Clay is signature Zusak.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Underage smoking, Domestic abuse, Sexual harassment, Homophobia


Book Trailer


Booklist starred (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 10-12. Here are the five Dunbar brothers: reliable Matthew, the oldest and the eloquent narrator of this extraordinary book; incorrigible Rory; Puck, with a pair of fists; Henry, who—with a talent for making money—knows the odds; Clay, the fourth son and protagonist, is “the best of us,” according to Matthew; and youngest Tommy, the animal collector. Their mother is dead, and their father has fled, until, one day, he returns to ask for help building a bridge. Only Clay agrees to help, and their bridge quickly assumes symbolic value. Zusak (The Book Thief, 2006) offers up a narrative that is really two stories: one of the present, the story of the bridge and of Clay’s love for the girl across the street; and the second of the past, occupied by the boys’ childhood and stories that Clay loves—The Iliad, The Odyssey. The tone is sometimes somber and always ominous, leaving readers anxious about the fates of these characters whom they have grown to love. Zusak pushes the parameters of YA in this gorgeously written novel: a character has scrap-metal eyes; rain is like a ghost you could walk through. In the end, it always comes back to Clay, that lovely boy, as a neighbor calls him. A lovely boy and an unforgettably lovely book to match.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2018)
Years after the death of their mother, the fourth son in an Australian family of five boys reconnects with his estranged father. Matthew Dunbar dug up the old TW, the typewriter his father buried (along with a dog and a snake) in the backyard of his childhood home. He searched for it in order to tell the story of the family’s past, a story about his mother, who escaped from Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall; about his father, who abandoned them all after their mother’s death; about his brother Clay, who built a bridge to reunite their family; and about a mule named Achilles. Zusak (The Book Thief, 2006, etc.) weaves a complex narrative winding through flashbacks. His prose is thick with metaphor and heavy with allusions to Homer’s epics. The story romanticizes Matthew and his brothers’ often violent and sometimes homophobic expressions of their cisgender, heterosexual masculinity with reflections unsettlingly reminiscent of a “boys will be boys” attitude. Women in the book primarily play the roles of love interests, mothers, or (in the case of their neighbor) someone to marvel at the Dunbar boys and give them jars to open. The characters are all presumably white. Much like building a bridge stone by stone, this read requires painstaking effort and patience. (Fiction. 16-adult)

About the Author

Markus Zusak is the author of six books, including The Book Thief, which spent more than a decade on the New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into more than forty languages.

Zusak’s books The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, I Am the Messenger, and The Book Thief have received numerous honors including literary prizes and readers’ choice awards.

In 2013, The Book Thief was adapted to film by Twentieth Century Fox. In 2014, Zusak received the American Library Association’s Margaret Edwards Award, for his body of work.

Markus Zusak grew up in Sydney, Australia, and still lives there with his wife and two children.

Around the Web

Bridge of Clay on Amazon

Bridge of Clay on Barnes and Noble

Bridge of Clay on Goodreads

Bridge of Clay Publisher Page

The Opposite of Innocent by Sonya Sones

The Opposite of Innocent by Sonya Sones. September 4, 2018. HarperTeen, 272 p. ISBN: 9780062370310.  Int Lvl: YA.

Poignant and chilling by turns, The Opposite of Innocent is award-winning author Sonya Sones’s most gripping novel in verse yet. It’s the story of a girl named Lily, who’s been crushing on a man named Luke, a friend of her parents, ever since she can remember.

Luke has been away for two endless years, but he’s finally returning today. Lily was only twelve when he left. But now, at fourteen, she feels transformed. She can’t wait to see how Luke will react when he sees the new her. And when her mother tells her that Luke will be staying with them for a while, in the bedroom right next to hers, her heart nearly stops.

Having Luke back is better than Lily could have ever dreamed. His lingering looks set Lily on fire. Is she just imagining them? But then, when they’re alone, he kisses her. Then he kisses her again. Lily’s friends think anyone his age who wants to be with a fourteen-year-old must be really messed up. Maybe even dangerous. But Luke would never do anything to hurt her…would he?

In this powerful tale of a terrifying leap into young adulthood, readers will accompany Lily on her harrowing journey from hopelessness to hope.

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



Booklist (August 2018 (Online))
Grades 9-12. It seems like Lily’s always been in love with Luke, her dad’s handsome, young business partner. Now that she’s 14, imagine her excitement knowing that Luke, who has been away, will return to her hometown and stay with her family until he gets his own place. Lily’s fevered crush on Luke will pull in romance fans right away, but they will notice, well before Lily does, that something about his attentions isn’t right. In her signature verse style, Sones weaves a pulse-quickening tale of sexual abuse from a young victim’s view, made all the more compelling by her innocence and thrill at first “love” as Luke gradually becomes more controlling. By the time Lily recognizes Luke’s menace, she feels hollowed out and trapped—a portrait of suffering that will break readers’ hearts. Friends try to help, but she can’t bring herself to reveal the depth of the crisis. When she does find a way to make that call for help, readers will be able to breathe again. A chilling portrait of predatory abuse.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
A young woman is sexually abused by a close family friend in this latest novel in verse from veteran poet Sones (Saving Red, 2016, etc.). Fourteen-year-old Lily has long harbored a crush on her father’s friend Luke and is thrilled to learn that he is going to stay with her family upon his return from a research trip to Kenya. She fervently hopes that he’ll see she is no longer a little kid, “Now / I feel more like a butterfly— / a butterfly who can’t decide / which wings to wear.” Initially, Lily is thrilled when he seems to be returning her interest, but this gives way to palpable dread and shame as he pushes her into progressively more threatening situations. Factors that often play into sexual abuse emerge within this harrowing story, including Luke’s grooming of Lily from a young age and his use of threats to keep her from telling anyone. She becomes isolated from her best friends, Rose and Taylor, and she is already accustomed to her father’s hurtful emotional absence from her life. While realistic, these details sometimes feel a bit rote. All of the main characters seem to be white by default; Luke is English, Taylor is gay, and a caring teacher of Lily’s is described as having brown skin. A quick moving and emotionally charged but ultimately underdeveloped novel that explores an important subject. (Verse novel. 14-18)

About the Author

Sonya Sones has written five YA novels-in-verse: To Be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based on an Untrue Story)Stop PretendingOne of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, and its companion, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. Her books have received many honors, including a Christopher Award, the Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award, and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination. But the coolest honor she ever got was when What My Mother Doesn’t Know made it onto the American Library Association’s list of the Top 100 Most Banned Books of the Decade (to see why, see p.46).

She lives near the beach in southern California, and only tells the occasional fib.  Her website is www.sonyasones.com

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Someone I Used to Know by Patty Blount

Someone I Used to Know by Patty Blount. August 7, 2018. Sourcebooks Fire, 384 p. ISBN: 9781492632818.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 630.

From the award-winning author of Some Boys comes an unflinching examination of rape culture that delves into a family torn apart by sexual assault.

It’s been two years since the night that changed Ashley’s life. Two years since she was raped by her brother’s teammate. And a year since she sat in a court and watched as he was given a slap on the wrist sentence. But the years have done nothing to stop the pain.

It’s been two years of hell for Derek. His family is totally messed up and he and his sister are barely speaking. He knows he handled it all wrong. Now at college, he has to come to terms with what happened, and the rape culture that he was inadvertently a part of that destroyed his sister’s life.

When it all comes to head at Thanksgiving, Derek and Ashley have to decide if their relationship is able to be saved. And if their family can ever be whole again.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Rape, Sexual assault, Strong language, Underage drinking, Violence



Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Online))
Grades 9-12. As a freshman, Ashley was raped by one of her brother’s teammates during a traditional, but unconventional, “scavenger hunt.” “Sex with a virgin” was the top point-getter on Victor’s card, so he targeted Derek’s little sister. Now, two years after a trial in which Derek lobbied the court to give Victor a light sentence because it was just a game—and “justice” acquiesced—​Ashley continues to experience myriad debilitating triggers. Away at college, Derek struggles with his role in the ordeal and as a participant in a toxic culture he hadn’t realized he was part of. Through alternating points of view, Ashley and Derek work separately to heal themselves as their relationship and family crumbles and to influence and educate others. By not concentrating on the act itself, Blount effectively uses Ashley’s reactions, introspection, and victim-impact statement to carry the story’s emotional load. Despite being pedagogic, the book clearly emphasizes that rape culture’s pervasiveness can only be mitigated by reexamining society at large. Realistic and relevant.

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2018)
Blount’s (The Way It Hurts, 2017, etc.) latest, a loose sequel to Some Boys (2014), again looks at the aftermath of rape, this time with a focus on secondary survivors. Told with flashbacks through the alternating perspectives of a brother and sister two years after one of his teammates raped her to gain points in a scavenger hunt, this sometimes-didactic all-tell, no-show story has a clear purpose and ultimately hits some genuine emotional notes. High school junior Ashley is a fierce survivor who turns to blogging and activism to fight her anxiety attacks; her older brother, college freshman Derek, joins a men’s anti-rape group and finally gets it. Romance plays a significant role in character growth, and while the stated authorial intent was to show the effect of Ashley’s rape on the whole family, the novel mostly plays out as two parallel narratives which pull together into a family drama only at the end. Characterization and polish take a back seat to message, and some of the dialogue is weak. However, the messaging in Derek’s story is important: Toxic masculinity creates rape culture, and nice boys who do nothing to stop it are part of th

About the Author

Patty Blount grew up quiet and a bit invisible in Queens, NY, but found her voice in books. Today, she writes smart and strong characters willing to fight for what’s right. She’s the award-winning author of edgy, realistic, gut-wrenching contemporary and young adult romance. Still a bit introverted, she gets lost often, eats way too much chocolate, and tends to develop mad, passionate crushes on fictional characters. Let’s be real; Patty’s not nearly as cool as her characters, but she is a solid supporter of women’s rights and loves delivering school presentations.

Her website is www.pattyblount.com

Teacher Resources

Rape Crisis Resources

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Game Changer by Tommy Greenwald

Game Canger by Tommy Greenwald. September 11, 2018. Harry N. Abrams, 304 p. ISBN: 9781419731433.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.1.

Thirteen-year-old Teddy Youngblood is in a coma fighting for his life after an unspecified football injury at training camp. His family and friends flock to his bedside to support his recovery—and to discuss the events leading up to the tragic accident. Was this an inevitable result of playing a violent sport, or was something more sinister happening on the field that day?

Told in an innovative, multimedia format combining dialogue, texts, newspaper articles, transcripts, an online forum, and Teddy’s inner thoughts, Game Changer explores the joyous thrills and terrifying risks of America’s most popular sport.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language



Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 5-8. Freshman football player Teddy Youngblood, 13, is seriously injured during a practice session before the upcoming football season. Teddy’s family, friends, and neighbors are distraught about it—it may be Teddy’s favorite sport, but it just put him into a coma. Soon, rumors begin circulating around town that Teddy’s accident was not an accident; rather, there is something suspicious afoot. Worried, Teddy’s family and friends clamor to find the truth behind the accident. Greenwald’s latest takes a fresh approach, telling the story through multiple characters and an almost free-verse style that combines inner thoughts, texts, social media feeds, newspaper articles, interview transcripts, and dialogue. Example: “Can you squeeze my hand? / Oh man / Oh man that’s perfect / Great job, Ted / Look at that.” The format presents no barrier for readers, who will rapidly adapt. Reminiscent of Mike Lupica’s Lone Stars (2017), Greenwald’s novel entertains while exposing readers to the potential risks and consequences inherent in the sport of football. Overall, a strong entry into Greenwald’s bibliography and an interesting, innovative read.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
A young athlete lies in a coma while his family and community try to determine the cause of his injury. Thirteen-year-old Teddy Youngblood collapsed following an intense football practice. At first, the focus is on his injury and the concerns of his family and friends for his recovery. Counselors are brought in to help them with the trauma. The coach’s daughter, Camille, makes a social media page to encourage positive thoughts, but some of the posters hint that something other than a tough hit at practice caused his injury. The doctors encourage family and friends to talk to Teddy, and readers learn much through these comments. Teddy’s family is at odds. His mother, who lives apart, did not want her son to play football, while his dad supported his sports involvement. Also interspersed are Teddy’s thoughts as he lies in the hospital: “This is what life is / Life is football / Football is life.” This nontraditional narrative, using conversations, interview transcripts, text messages, hospital reports, and other documents, skillfully peels back the elements of the mystery. The issues of football’s violence are presented, but the book’s real strength is the depiction of the culture behind it. There are few descriptions to indicate the ethnic makeup of the characters (Teddy’s eyes are described as blue), implying the white default. The story will resonate with those on both sides of the debate about the role of youth football in society, and the unusual storytelling technique sets it apart from most sport fiction. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Tommy Greenwald is the author of the Crimebiters! series, about a group of friends and a (possibly) superhero crime-fighting vampire dog, and the Charlie Joe Jackson books, a middle-grade series about the most reluctant reader ever born.

Tommy is also the Co-Founder of Spotco Advertising, a theatrical and entertainment advertising agency in New York City, and the lyricist and co-bookwriter (with Andrew Lippa) of JOHN & JEN, a 1995 musical which was revived off-Broadway in 2015.

His website is tommygreenwald.com/

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