Tag Archives: realistic fiction

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

Windfall  by Jennifer E. Smith. May 2, 2017. Delacorte Press, 417 p. ISBN: 9780399559396.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

Alice doesn’t believe in luck–at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday–just when it seems they might be on the brink of something–she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.

At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.

As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

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Booklist (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
Grades 9-12. Luck isn’t something that 18-year-old Alice is familiar with. When she was 9, her parents died just months apart from each other, and Alice moved to Chicago to live with her aunt and uncle. Alice honors her parents by volunteering and dreaming of Stanford, though her longing to return to California is tempered by her close relationships with her cousin Leo and her best friend, Teddy, whom Alice secretly loves. On Teddy’s eighteenth birthday, Alice jokingly buys him a lottery ticket—and he wins. Teddy, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his single, overworked mother, seems like the luckiest guy in the world. But as much as Alice wants to believe that this newfound wealth won’t change him, a rift grows between them. Smith, no stranger to romance (Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, 2015) crafts another thoughtful story about a girl on the brink of major change. Alice’s struggles are relatable, and her feelings for Teddy ring true. Particularly well-developed secondary characters put the finishing touches on this lucky find. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: When it comes to teen romance, Smith is quickly becoming one of the big dogs; an extensive marketing and publicity campaign will only increase the buzz.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2017)
When the lottery ticket Alice gives to Teddy, the boy she’s secretly loved for years, wins him a fortune, they discover money really does change everything. Orphaned at 9, Alice has grown up in Chicago with a loving family: her dad’s brother, Uncle Jake; his Latina wife, Aunt Sofia; and their son, Leo. Uncle Jake—white and fair, like Alice, is a painful reminder of her dad. Struggling to live the life she believes her parents would have chosen, remembering them as passionate altruists, Alice tutors an orphaned foster child and volunteers at a soup kitchen, refusing emphatically when Teddy, who is also white, tries to share his winnings with her. For years, since his gambling-addicted father wiped out their savings, Teddy and his mother have shared a cramped apartment. Generous and impulsive, spending lavishly, Teddy enjoys his new fame. Leo, who feels unjustifiably blessed, having lucked out with great parents (they even made coming out as gay easy), views Teddy’s win as just compensation for a bad-luck childhood, whereas Alice refuses to see good or bad fortune as anything but random. Now, unable to prevent the changes fortune brings, she must learn to weather them. While the feel-good ending feels forced—a shoe that doesn’t quite fit—this compelling read, gracefully told, raises issues seldom explored in popular fiction. How can we rationalize life’s inequalities? What do we owe, and to whom, when blessed with good fortune? Smart and entertaining, as to be expected from Smith. (Fiction. 12-17)

About the Author

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of seven novels for young adults, including The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and her work has been translated into thirty-three languages. She lives in New York City.

Her website is www.tinaconnolly.com.

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Restart by Gordon Korman

Restart by Gordon Korman. May 30, 2017. Scholastic Press, 243 p. ISBN: 9781338053777.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.5; Lexile: 730.

Chase’s memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is–it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Bullying

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 14))
Grades 4-7. Recovering after a fall, Chase regains consciousness in a hospital bed surrounded by complete strangers—including his mother and brother. After he returns to school, he struggles to regain what amnesia has erased, but what he learns isn’t reassuring. His two old buddies from the football team are bullies. The kids he wants to hang out with now, like those in the video club, were often their victims, and they’re understandably wary of the new Chase. If he regains his memory, will he become the jerk he was before? Chapter by chapter, the very readable first-person narration shifts among seven students, giving readers access to many points of view. Their reactions to the changes in Chase’s outlook vary according to their personalities and their prior relationships with him. The characters are well drawn, and the scenes in which Chase befriends an elderly veteran at an assisted facility are nicely integrated into the novel. A talented storyteller, Korman shows bullying, regret, and forgiveness from various perspectives and leaves readers with ideas to ponder.

Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2017)
Will a bully always be a bully? That’s the question eighth-grade football captain Chase Ambrose has to answer for himself after a fall from his roof leaves him with no memory of who and what he was. When he returns to Hiawassee Middle School, everything and everyone is new. The football players can hardly wait for him to come back to lead the team. Two, Bear Bratsky and Aaron Hakimian, seem to be special friends, but he’s not sure what they share. Other classmates seem fearful; he doesn’t know why. Temporarily barred from football because of his concussion, he finds a new home in the video club and, over time, develops a new reputation. He shoots videos with former bullying target Brendan Espinoza and even with Shoshanna Weber, who’d hated him passionately for persecuting her twin brother, Joel. Chase voluntarily continues visiting the nursing home where he’d been ordered to do community service before his fall, making a special friend of a decorated Korean War veteran. As his memories slowly return and he begins to piece together his former life, he’s appalled. His crimes were worse than bullying. Will he become that kind of person again? Set in the present day and told in the alternating voices of Chase and several classmates, this finding-your-middle-school-identity story explores provocative territory. Aside from naming conventions, the book subscribes to the white default. Korman’s trademark humor makes this an appealing read. (Fiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Korman wrote his first book, “This Can’t be Happening at Macdonald Hall”, when he was 12 years old, for a coach who suddenly found himself teaching 7th grade English. He later took that episode and created a book out of it, as well, in “The Sixth Grade Nickname Game”, wherein Mr. Huge was based on that 7th grade teacher.

Korman moved to New York City, where he studied film and film writing. While in New York, he met his future wife; live in Long Island with their three children.

He has published more than 50 books.

His website is gordonkorman.com.

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10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac. February 28, 2017. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9780399556258.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 560.

Think positive.
Don’t worry; be happy.
Keep calm and carry on.

Maeve has heard it all before. She’s been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom—the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through—is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver.

Vancouver brings a slew of new worries, but Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, her very pregnant stepmom insisting on a home birth, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen. Will she be able to navigate through all the chaos to be there for the people she loves?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Alcohol, Name-calling, Homophobia, Drug addiction

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2016)
A white teen with severe anxiety struggles to manage her mental health and finds joy in a budding relationship with a new girlfriend. Most people worry, but Maeve has always done so to the extreme. With her severe anxiety and panic disorder, she is constantly working to balance her spiraling, catastrophizing thoughts—without the help of any medication. When her mom decides to spend six months in Haiti, Maeve is forced to move to live with her father and his family in Vancouver, disrupting her otherwise relatively stable life. In Vancouver, Maeve feels she has plenty to be anxious about: from her pregnant stepmother’s home-birth plan to the possibility her father might start drinking and using again. But when already-out Maeve meets Salix, a violin-busking “friend of Dorothy,” and their mutual attraction grows, she begins to find unexpected happiness in Vancouver. Mac crafts a beautifully awkward and affecting budding relationship between Maeve and Salix—one that neither miraculously cures Maeve nor leaves her entirely unchanged. With Maeve, Mac provides a realistic portrayal of the ways that anxiety can affect all relationships and permeate every aspect of life—demonstrated at times with humor through sardonic obituaries regularly composed by Maeve throughout the first-person narrative. With Maeve, Mac delivers a character who’s heartwarmingly real and sympathetic, and her story provides a much needed mirror for anxious queer girls everywhere. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Publishers Weekly (December 12, 2016)
Everyone tells Maeve that things will be fine, but they don’t know what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder, to visualize possible disasters constantly. Spending six months in Vancouver with her father and stepfamily is terrifying for nearly 17-year-old Maeve-she could die on the way, for one thing. Even after arriving safely, she finds cause for worry. Her father may be drinking again, the home birth her pregnant stepmother is planning is risky, and being around Salix-the girl she likes-is nerve-racking. But to Maeve’s surprise, Salix likes her. Even more surprising: when some of Maeve’s fears come to pass, she’s upset, but not helpless. Mac (The Way Back) is good at showing how a dread-filled mind works and how Salix, whom Maeve sees as wholly confident, also has to fight nerves. Mac’s not interested in villains: there is no evil stepmother, no homophobia. Instead, the struggles are internal, like Maeve’s anxiety and her father’s relapse, and relational, as people try to forgive and be honest with each other. The result is a low-key but affecting story. Ages 14-up. (Feb.)

About the Author

I live with my partner and two children in East Van, overlooking the shipyards and with a great view of the crows flying home to roost.

Or:

When Carrie Mac was born, her right eye gawked off in one direction while her left eye looked the other way. Well meaning adults thought she was a changeling and so they wrapped her up and put her on the porch for the fairies to take back, please and thank you. It was snowing. It was dark. No fairies came. The same well meaning adults decided she’d catch her death out there. So they brought her in and kept her after all.

She’s read millions of books, and has sat happily at the feat of a legion of storytellers. She is equally fascinated by disaster and grace. car wrecks, hurricanes, plagues, and genocides on the one hand, small and stunning everyday miracles on the other. She sometimes wishes she were a pirate. She’d often wished she’d run away and joined the circus when she had the chance. She spends a great deal of time in the company of her imagination, and when she isn’t, she’s wide eyed and awed by this planet and the people running amok all over it. Her website is www.carriemac.com.

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Bang by Barry Lyga

Bang by Barry Lyga. April 18, 2017. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 304 p. ISBN: 978316315500.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

One shot ruined his life. Another one could end it.

Sebastian Cody did something horrible, something no one—not even Sebastian himself—can forgive. At the age of four, he accidentally shot and killed his infant sister with his father’s gun.

Now, ten years later, Sebastian has lived with the guilt and horror for his entire life. With his best friend away for the summer, Sebastian has only a new friend—Aneesa—to distract him from his darkest thoughts. But even this relationship cannot blunt the pain of his past. Because Sebastian knows exactly how to rectify his childhood crime and sanctify his past.

It took a gun to get him into this.

Now he needs a gun to get out.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Accidental shooting of an infant; Suicidal thoughts; Cyberbullying; Islamophobia

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 7-10. Fourteen-year-old Sebastian lives in the past: when he was four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four-month-old sister. This haunts him, leading to obsessive self-hate and suicidal feelings. He is waiting, in fact, for the voice in his head to tell him it’s time to effect his end. That time seems imminent as his past and future seem to come together, faster and faster—until he meets Aneesa. The two become friends, bonding over a YouTube channel they create that features Sebastian making pizzas. As time passes, Sebastian finds himself falling in love and feeling a strange emotion: hope. “For her,” he thinks, “For her, yes, I could stay.” But does he deserve happiness, and what might happen if she doesn’t return his feelings? Lyga manages his intensely emotional material well, creating in Sebastian a highly empathetic character, though his voice seems far too sophisticated for a 14-year-old. Nevertheless, the psychology that drives his decisions is acutely observed, and his story is highly memorable.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 1, 2017)
Ten years ago, when he was just 4, Sebastian accidentally killed his infant sister with his father’s unattended handgun. Now a teen, he struggles to cope with the far-reaching effects of this horrific experience. Though on the surface they’ve moved on with their lives, Sebastian and his family are still lost in their grief. His father moved out many years before, and Sebastian and his mother have eked out a daily routine, but anguish underpins their every move. When his lighthearted, wealthy, white best friend, Evan, leaves for summer camp, Sebastian thinks that the time is almost right to end his own life, as he’s long planned. However, the auspicious arrival of a new neighbor, Aneesa, changes things for him in ways he couldn’t have predicted. Rich characterization anchors this explosive novel, from white Sebastian’s likable, brainy, but at-times acerbic intensity to Aneesa’s upbeat, intelligent kindness. Aneesa is Muslim—her dad is Turkish-American—and she and Sebastian discuss everything from Islamophobia to their families to how to turn his pizza-making hobby into a YouTube Channel. If such details as Sebastian’s love of all types of antiquated pop culture seem odd to some teens, they are rooted in his deep desire to turn time back, and there will be others who appreciate these genuine quirks. Regardless, readers will root for him to find some sort of peace. Heartbreaking and brutally compelling. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Barry Lyga is a recovering comic book geek. According to Kirkus, he’s also a “YA rebel-author.” Somehow, the two just don’t seem to go together to him.

When he was a kid, everyone told him that comic books were garbage and would rot his brain, but he had the last laugh. Raised on a steady diet of comics, he worked in the comic book industry for ten years, but now writes full-time because, well, wouldn’t you?

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl is his first novel. Unsoul’d is his latest. There are a whole bunch in between, featuring everything from the aftermath of child abuse to pre-teens with superpowers to serial killers. He clearly does not know how to stick to one subject.

His website is www.barrylyga.com.

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Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence by Alice Osman. March 28, 2017. HarperTeen, 496 p. ISBN: 9780062335715.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl.

I just wanted to say—we don’t.

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying. When she’s not studying, she’s up in her room making fan art for her favorite podcast, Universe City.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As. But no one knows he’s the creator of Universe City, who goes by the name Radio Silence.

When Frances gets a message from Radio Silence asking if she’ll collaborate with him, everything changes. Frances and Aled spend an entire summer working together and becoming best friends. They get each other when no one else does.

But when Aled’s identity as Radio Silence is revealed, Frances fears that the future of Universe City—and their friendship—is at risk. Aled helped her find her voice. Without him, will she have the courage to show the world who she really is? Or will she be met with radio silence?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Underage drinking; Cyberbullying

 

Book Trailer

Excerpt

Reviews

Booklist starred (March 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 13))
Grades 8-11. “I was study machine Frances Janvier. I was going to Cambridge . . . Uni, job, money, happiness. That’s what you do. That’s the formula,” Frances mulls to herself as she spends an uncomfortable evening with friends, trying to relax and enjoy herself. Not that there’s much chance of relaxation or enjoyment, ever. Frances is a superstressed British teen, and the only thing she really loves is drawing and Universe City, a mysterious YouTube podcast with a haunting voice and a story that echoes her pain. Anonymous narrator Radio Silence describes a bleak world, seemingly a university campus that he or she is trying to escape. When Frances is invited to add her online fan art to the podcast, the story moves into high gear. Turns out the creator is neighbor Aled Last, twin brother of Frances’ former friend Carys. What emerges is an intense, highly engaging, well-plotted story of relationships, explorations into gay and bisexual identities, family trauma, a straitjacketlike education system, and, mostly, kids yearning to be their truest selves despite it all. Though a companion title to Oseman’s Solitaire (2015), this story stands alone and features believable characters in a unique setting. Readers this side of the pond will enjoy the school system comparisons and identify with the stress their witty, cyberworldly peers undergo as they hang on for dear life.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
Two teens connect through a mysterious podcast in this sophomore effort by British author Oseman (Solitaire, 2015).Frances Janvier is a 17-year-old British-Ethiopian head girl who is so driven to get into Cambridge that she mostly forgoes friendships for schoolwork. Her only self-indulgence is listening to and creating fan art for the podcast Universe City, “a…show about a suit-wearing student detective looking for a way to escape a sci-fi, monster-infested university.” Aled Last is a quiet white boy who identifies as “partly asexual.” When Frances discovers that Aled is the secret creator of Universe City, the two embark on a passionate, platonic relationship based on their joint love of pop culture. Their bond is complicated by Aled’s controlling mother and by Frances’ previous crush on Aled’s twin sister, Carys, who ran away last year and disappeared. When Aled’s identity is accidently leaked to the Universe City fandom, he severs his relationship with Frances, leaving her questioning her Cambridge goals and determined to win back his affection, no matter what the cost. Frances’ narration is keenly intelligent; she takes mordant pleasure in using an Indian friend’s ID to get into a club despite the fact they look nothing alike: “Gotta love white people.” Though the social-media–suffused plot occasionally lags, the main characters’ realistic relationship accurately depicts current issues of gender, race, and class. A smart, timely outing. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Alice Oseman was born in 1994 in Kent, England. She completed a degree in English at Durham University in 2016 and is currently a full-time writer and illustrator. Alice can usually be found staring aimlessly at computer screens, questioning the meaninglessness of existence, or doing anything and everything to avoid getting an office job.

Her website is www.aliceoseman.com.

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Just a Girl by Carrie Mesrobian

Just a Girl by Carrie Mesrobian. March 28, 2017. HarperCollins, 304 p. ISBN: 9780062349910.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 700.

Senior Rianne Hettrick-Wynne has had her share of hookups and parties in small-town Wereford, Minnesota. Now volleyball season is over and her once-solid friendships are unraveling, while an all-of-a-sudden relationship with Luke Pinsky is weirdly becoming serious. Add to that the possibility of getting kicked out of her house, and Rianne is desperate to make a plan that doesn’t include going to college or working at Planet Tan for the rest of her life.

At the same time, her divorced parents have started cohabiting again without any explanation, making Rianne wonder why they’re so intent on pointing out every bad choice she makes when they can’t even act like adults.

That’s not the only question she can’t answer: How is it that Sergei, a broken-English-speaking Russian who makes his own vodka, is the only one who seems to understand her? And why, when she has Luke, the most unattainable boy in Wereford, all to herself, does she want anything but?

Perhaps most confounding is the “easy girl” reputation that Rianne has gotten stuck with by doing the same things that guys do without judgment or consequence. If they’re just being guys, then why can’t Rianne just be a girl?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Drugs; Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 10-12. Rianne’s spent her whole life in Wereford, a small, nothing town in the Midwest, living with her divorced mom, getting up to mild trouble with her friends, casually sleeping around, and not trying terribly hard in school. By the time senior year rolls around, she still doesn’t have any plans for her future, and she finds herself in a relationship with notorious playboy Luke Pinsky, who’s kind of loyal and sweet, if oblivious to her needs. But when she meets Sergei, a 25-year-old Russian man who’s studying agriculture at the community college, she’s immediately entranced by his assured worldliness and, later, the confident way he touches her, which she keeps a secret from everyone, especially Luke. When she’s faced with making a definitive choice about her future, can she decide between what she truly wants and what’s been deemed “good”? Mesrobian is at her best plumbing the depths of what happens between big choices and elevating those potent moments of transition, and she does that beautifully here. Rianne’s rich inner life, especially when it’s at odds with what’s expected of her, is captivatingly full of meaningful, compelling drama, and Mesrobian’s frank, realistic depiction of teenage sexuality is a particular bright spot. There’s nothing simple about being just a girl, and this resonant, thoughtful novel makes that abundantly, stunningly clear.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2016)
A high school senior whose mother has given her an ultimatum that she must leave home immediately after graduation struggles to decide what she will do next. Bright and tough but at times self-loathing, Rianne stumbles into a serious relationship with her hook-up buddy, Luke, during their last few months of school. However, she also has several electrifying sexual encounters with Sergei, a Russian student studying at a nearby college. Despite enjoying a small, tightknit group of friends, Rianne has had to deal with being labeled a slut, and while she recognizes it for the unfair double standard it is, she is still shamed by it. The alcohol- and pot-fueled hangouts that make up a lot of the social scene in their small Minnesota town will ring true to rural teens. Rianne is a complex, conflicted character, and her third-person narrative voice keeps her at a bit of a remove even as she grapples intensely with her thoughts. All of the central characters are white with the exception of Rianne’s friend Kaj, who is Hmong-American, and each is interesting in his or her own right. The unexpected ending may leave some readers wondering, but it’s not a surprise that this slice-of-life novel leaves things slightly ambiguous. An authentic, smart read for older teens. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Carrie Mesrobian teaches writing to teens in Minneapolis, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, was named a Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, in addition to being nominated for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award. She has also written Just a Girl, Perfectly Good White Boy, and Cut Both Ways.

Her website is www.carriemesrobian.com.

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American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi. February 14, 2017. Balzer + Bray, 324 p. ISBN: 9780062473042.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 690.

The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Underage drinking; Marijuana usage; Drug dealing

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
Grades 9-12. Zoboi’s stunning debut intertwines mysticism and love with grit and violence to tell the story of Fabiola Toussaint, a Haitian teen adjusting to her new life in Detroit. Fabiola’s dream of a better life with her aunt and cousins in America snags when her mother is detained at the U.S. border. Forced to continue alone, she must also confront the reality that her new neighborhood is every bit as dangerous as the one she left behind in Port-au-Prince. Drugs, gangs, and violence pervade the status quo, but thanks to her cousins’ tough reputations, Fabiola can find her footing. Zoboi, who emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti, brings a nuanced portrayal of that culture to the narrative. Evocative prose, where Fabiola calls on voodoo spirits, informs and enriches her character, while standing in counterpoint to her hard-as-nails cousins. Zoboi pulls no punches when describing the dangerous realities of the girls’ lives, but tender moments are carefully tucked into the plot as well. This story is many things. It is a struggle for survival. It is the uncovering of one’s bravest self. And, most significant, it is the coming together of a family. One or two scenarios strain credibility, but the characters’ complexities ultimately smooth over any bumps. Fierce and beautiful.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2016)
Fabiola Toussaint is a black immigrant girl whose life is flipped upside down when she moves to Detroit, Michigan, from her homeland of Haiti and her mother is detained by the INS, leaving her to go on alone. Though Fabiola was born in the U.S., she has lived in Haiti since she was an infant, and that has now left her unprepared for life in America. In Detroit, she lives with her aunt Marjorie and her three thoroughly Americanized cousins, Chantal, Primadonna, and Princess. It’s not easy holding on to her heritage and identity in Detroit; Matant Jo fines Fabiola for speaking Creole (though even still “a bit of Haiti is peppered in her English words”), and the gritty streets of Detroit are very different from those of Port-au-Prince. Fabiola has her faith to help keep her grounded, which grows ever more important as she navigates her new school, American society, and a surprising romance—but especially when she is faced with a dangerous proposition that brings home to her the fact that freedom comes with a price. Fabiola’s perceptive, sensitive narration gives readers a keen, well-executed look into how the American dream can be a nightmare for so many. Filling her pages with magic, humanity, tragedy, and hope, Zoboi builds up, takes apart, and then rebuilds an unforgettable story. This book will take root in readers’ hearts. (Fiction. 14 & up)

About the Author

Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and immigrated to the U.S. when she was four years old. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she was a recipient of the Norma Fox Mazer Award. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three children. American Street is her first novel.

Her website is www.ibizoboi.net.

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. March 7, 2017. Riverhead Books, 231 p. ISBN: 9780735212176.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Discrimination; War; Violence; Strong sexual themes; Drugs; Alcohol

 

Author Interview

Moshin Hamid on The Booklist Reader

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2016)
Hamid (Discontent and Its Civilizations, 2014, etc.) crafts a richly imaginative tale of love and loss in the ashes of civil war. The country—well, it doesn’t much matter, one of any number that are riven by sectarian violence, by militias and fundamentalists and repressive government troops. It’s a place where a ponytailed spice merchant might vanish only to be found headless, decapitated “nape-first with a serrated knife to enhance discomfort.” Against this background, Nadia and Saeed don’t stand much of a chance; she wears a burka but only “so men don’t fuck with me,” but otherwise the two young lovers don’t do a lot to try to blend in, spending their days ingesting “shrooms” and smoking a little ganga to get away from the explosions and screams, listening to records that the militants have forbidden, trying to be as unnoticeable as possible, Saeed crouching in terror at the “flying robots high above in the darkening sky.” Fortunately, there’s a way out: some portal, both literal and fantastic, that the militants haven’t yet discovered and that, for a price, leads outside the embattled city to the West. “When we migrate,” writes Hamid, “we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” True, and Saeed and Nadia murder a bit of themselves in fleeing, too, making new homes in London and then San Francisco while shed of their old, innocent selves and now locked in descending unhappiness, sharing a bed without touching, just two among countless nameless and faceless refugees in an uncaring new world. Saeed and Nadia understand what would happen if millions of people suddenly turned up in their country, fleeing a war far away. That doesn’t really make things better, though. Unable to protect each other, fearful but resolute, their lives turn in unexpected ways in this new world. One of the most bittersweet love stories in modern memory and a book to savor even while despairing of its truths.

Booklist starred (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
In an unnamed city with strict social mores, young Nadia is a rebel, an atheist who chooses to live and work independently. In religious and unassuming Saeed she finds the perfect companion. As the two fall in love, their romance is tinged with a sense of urgency and inevitability as the city falls to militia, and basic freedoms and food quickly become rarities. When the situation turns dire, Saeed and Nadia decide to migrate as thousands already have and cobble together every last bit of their savings to find safe passage out. Caught in the whirlpool of refugees from around the world, Saeed and Nadia are tossed around like flotsam, the necessity of survival binding them together more than any starry-eyed notion of romance ever could. If at times the story of refugees facing no easy choice feels derivative, Hamid (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, 2013) smooths over such wrinkles with spellbinding writing and a story of a relationship that sucks its own marrow dry for sustenance. The concept of the door is a powerful, double-edged metaphor here, representing a portal leading to a promised land that when closed, however, condemns one to fates from which there is no escape.

About the Author

Mohsin Hamid is a Pakistani author best known for his novels Moth Smoke (2000), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013). His fiction has been translated into over 30 languages, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, featured on bestseller lists, and adapted for the cinema. His short stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, and the Paris Review, and his essays in the Guardian, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. Born in 1971, he has lived about half his life, on and off, in Lahore. He also spent part of his early childhood in California, attended Princeton and Harvard, and worked for a decade as a management consultant in New York and London, mostly part-time.

His website is www.mohsinhamid.com.

Teacher Resources

Exit West Discussion Questions

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Exit West Publisher Page

Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr

Gen & Dixie by Sara Zarr. April 4, 2017. Balzer + Bray, 288 p. ISBN: 9780062434593.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table, and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.

When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Drugs; Underage drinking

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
Grades 9-12. Though she does reasonably well in school and stays out of trouble, Gem doesn’t have it easy. She is constantly on her mother’s case to be a more responsible parent, which puts her at odds with her sister, Dixie, who enables their mother in more ways than one. When their estranged dad shows up, Dixie is enchanted and Gem is wary, but when they discover a backpack full of money he’s left in their room, Gem and Dixie ditch their phones, run away, and spend a few days—and a few thousand dollars—figuring out what to do next. But will the money really provide Gem the independence she so desperately craves? In this illuminating, graceful novel, Zarr demonstrates how privation can reverberate through many areas of a teen’s life, and nicely emphasizes that problems don’t need to be violent or catastrophic in order for one to ask for help (which, thankfully, Gem eventually does). In addition to the powerful portrayal of poverty, Zarr teases out a moving story of sisters navigating their relationship. In Gem’s measured, worried voice, readers will discover a gulf of difference, even resentment, between the sisters, as well as a deep, affectionate solidarity in their unique circumstances. With a vivid, well-rounded cast of characters, including the adults, and a poignant portrayal of family dynamics, Zarr’s frank, resonant story is both bittersweet and triumphant.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2017)
Two sisters attempt to sort out their relationship, which is badly strained by years of living with their troubled and neglectful parents. Seventeen-year-old Gem struggles to get enough to eat each day, eventually resorting to bumming spare change off other students at her Seattle high school. Meanwhile, her 14-year-old sister, Dixie, for whom Gem served as protector when they were younger, is able to charm and flirt her way into free sandwiches, cellphones, and more. Despite their drastic outward differences, neither has any sense of safety or well-being in their tenuous living situation with their mom, who, like their absent dad, battles a substance-use disorder. When their dad suddenly returns, their lives are upended yet again, and a situation arises in which both sisters face many hard decisions. Tough, earnest, angry Gem narrates in a matter-of-fact, confessional tone, filling in the heartbreaking back story of her poor, white family in a pair of brief essays she writes at the behest of her school’s kind, supportive psychologist. Gem’s prickly, agonizingly real internal monologues quickly bring readers into her corner, and her messy, layered interactions with Dixie are heart-wrenching. As the unpredictable turns of events progress, Gem’s quietly growing convictions about her own future are hard-won and nuanced. A poignant and smart family drama with broad appeal. (Fiction. 14 & up)

About the Author

Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of five novels for young adults, most recently The Lucy Variations, and co-author with Tara Altebrando of Roomies. She’s a National Book Award finalist and two-time Utah Book Award winner. Her novels have been variously named to annual best books lists of the American Library Association, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, the Guardian, the New York Public Library, and the Los Angeles Public Library and have been translated into many languages. She is a MacDowell Colony Fellow and has served as a judge for the National Book Awards. Sara lives in Salt Lake City with her husband.

Her website is www.sarazarr.com.

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Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy

Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy. March 28, 2017. Algonquin Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9781616206291.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

“Ever wish that you could just fly away?”

When fifteen-year-old Lucy Willows discovers that her father has a child from a brief affair, a eight-year-old boy who lives in her own suburban New Jersey town, she begins to question everything she thinks she knows about her home and her life. How could Lucy’s father have betrayed the entire family? How could her mother forgive him? And why isn’t her sister rocked by the news the way Lucy is?

As her father’s secret becomes her own, Lucy grows more and more isolated from her friends, her family, and even her boyfriend, Simon, the one person she thought understood her. When Lucy escapes to Maine, the home of her mysteriously estranged grandfather, she finally begins to get to the bottom of her family’s secrets and lies.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Drugs

 

Author Interview

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
Grades 7-10. When Lucy learns about Thomas, her half brother, she feels betrayed by her dad’s infidelity and her parents’ secrecy. Lucy finds solace in a new relationship with her friend’s older brother, Simon. Meanwhile, her curiosity about Thomas—who lives mere blocks away in her New Jersey town—motivates her to cross paths with him. She freaks out after meeting him, and takes an impromptu trip to visit her grandfather (who is estranged from Lucy’s dad) in Maine. They enjoy several days together before he suffers a ministroke and Lucy’s dad arrives. The first-person narration emphasizes Lucy’s intense reaction to finding out about her father’s other child. This YA debut suffers from an overload of story—a family drama, a romance, a road trip, and a renewed intergenerational relationship. Other flaws include occasional awkward phrasing, a random musing about race that doesn’t fit the overall tone, and a road trip that drags the pace. Strengths of the book include Lucy’s realistic response to her dad’s revelation, as well as other personal connections, and McCarthy’s fame as an actor will add interest.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2017)
Fifteen-year-old Lucy’s world is rocked when her father confesses to her and her sister that they have a half brother, the result of a brief affair. Though their mother has been aware of the existence of Thomas, who’s 8 and lives in their same New Jersey town, for many years and has made her peace with her husband’s infidelity, Lucy reels when she learns about him. Her realistically described reaction of fury and indignation builds until she finally embarks on an impulsive road trip without telling her parents, ending up at her larger-than-life grandfather’s house in Maine. This family drama is appealingly narrated in Lucy’s wry, confessional voice, and a romance she stumbles into with her friend’s stoner brother is sweetly fumbling and awkward. All the major characters seem to be white; musings about the ethnicities of various people Lucy encounters while on her clandestine trip, including a passage in which she wonders whether her own implicit bias might be at play in an interaction she has with a black man, underscore her new determination to seek out answers to questions that have gone unasked in her sheltered upbringing. A poignant, character-driven coming-of-age novel that, despite a too-tidy ending, will appeal broadly to teen readers. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Andrew McCarthy is the author of the New York Times bestselling travel memoir, The Longest Way Home. He is an editor at large at National Geographic Traveler magazine. He is also an actor and director. He lives in New York City with his wife, three children, two fish, and one dog. Just Fly Away is his first novel.

His website is www.andrewmccarthy.com.

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Just Fly Away on Amazon

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