Tag Archives: realistic fiction

The First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez

The First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez. August 22, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780425290408.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.2; Lexile: 670.

From debut author and longtime zine-maker Celia C. Perez, The First Rule of Punk is a wry and heartfelt exploration of friendship, finding your place, and learning to rock out like no one’s watching.

There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school–you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malu (Maria Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.

The real Malu loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malu finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!

Black and white illustrations and collage art throughout make The First Rule of Punk a perfect pick for fans of books like Roller Girl and online magazines like Rookie.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Online))
Grades 4-7. In her story of seventh-grader Malú, debut author Pérez harnesses the spirit of School of Rock and gives it a punk rock spin. Malú isn’t happy about her recent move to Chicago, because it meant leaving her dad (her parents are amicably divorced) and his record store behind. She tries to assume a brave punk attitude, but she can’t help being anxious on her first day of school, especially when she gets on the wrong side of the class mean girl. When Malú learns about the upcoming Fall Fiesta talent show, she decides to form a band, with the hopes of finding “her people” in the process. While this plan hits a few snags, it results in friendships and a Mexican punk mentor. Like any good riot grrrl, Malú finds a creative outlet in making zines, several of which appear in the novel and call attention to Malú’s passions, heritage (she is half Mexican), and private concerns. Pérez delivers an upbeat story of being true to yourself and your beliefs, that tweens will rally behind.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
Malú wants to be totally punk at her new middle school, but her Mexican-American mother would prefer she learn to be a proper señorita. Twelve-year-old María Luisa O’Neill-Morales, aka Malú, loves punk-rock music, hanging out at her father’s indie record store, and making zines. She doesn’t love moving from her home in Gainesville, Florida, to Chicago for her professor mother’s two-year appointment at a university. Although she loves both of her amicably divorced parents, Malú—who favors Chuck Taylors and music T’s—feels closer to her laid-back, artsy white father than her supportive but critical academic mother, whom she calls “SuperMexican.” At Malú’s new majority-Latino school, she quickly makes an enemy of beautiful Selena, who calls her a “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside) and warns her about falling in with the class “weirdos.” Malú does befriend the school misfits (one activist white girl and two fellow “coconuts”) and enlists them to form a band to play a punk song at the Fall Fiesta. Middle-grade readers will appreciate the examples of Malú’s zines and artwork, which delightfully convey her journey of self-discovery. The author surrounds the feisty protagonist with a trio of older women (including her mom, her best friend Joe’s tattooed, punk-loving mother, and his humorous Abuela) who help her embrace being Mexican and punk. A charming debut about a thoughtful, creative preteen connecting to both halves of her identity. (Fiction. 9-13)

About the Author

Celia C. Pérez has been making zines inspired by punk and her love of writing for longer than some of you have been alive. Her favorite zine supplies are a long-arm stapler, glue sticks, and watercolor pencils. She still listens to punk music, and she’ll never stop picking cilantro out of her food at restaurants. Originally from Miami, Florida, Celia lives in Chicago with her family and works as a community college librarian. She owns two sets of worry dolls because you can never have too many. The First Rule of Punk is her first book for young readers.

Her website is celiacperez.com

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Too Shattered for Mending by Peter Brown Hoffmeister

Too Shattered for Mending by Peter Brown Hoffmeister. September 12, 2017. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 384 p. ISBN: 9780553538076.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 680.

“Little” McCardell is doing all he can just to keep it together after the disappearance of his grandfather “Big” and the arrest of his older brother, JT. He’s looking out for his younger cousin, trying to stay afloat in school, working in the town graveyard for extra cash, and in his spare time he’s pining after Rowan–the girl JT was dating until he got locked up. When the cops turn up asking questions about Big, Little doesn’t want to get involved in the investigation–he’s already got enough to deal with–but he has no choice. Especially not after the sheriff’s deputy catches him hunting deer out of season and threatens to prosecute unless he cooperates.

Soon Little finds himself drowning in secrets, beholden to the sheriff, to JT, to Rowan, and to Big’s memory, with no clear way out that doesn’t betray at least one of them. And when Little’s deepest secret is revealed, there’s no telling how it could shatter their lives.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Suicide, Physical abuse

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Online))
Grades 9-12. As in This Is the Part Where You Laugh (2016), Hoffmeister’s latest depicts a teenager trying to endure his relatives and life in poverty. Sixteen-year-old Little is trying to survive after his grandfather Big disappears. He looks after himself and his cousin while also controlling romantic feelings for his brother’s girlfriend, Rowan. Believing Little knows something about the disappearance, police continually try to glean information from him. It’s not long before Little is smothered in the secrets of others, all of whom want his loyalty. This is a raw and gritty book depicting someone attempting to thrive in harsh conditions. It is deliberately paced only until one becomes accustomed to the structure, wherein sporadic flashbacks provide information about what happened to Big, and readers begin to put the pieces together to understand what occurred. Hoffmeister’s Mexican heritage is reflected through the main character. A compelling new work by Hoffmeister.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2017)
When 16-year-old Little McCardell’s grandfather disappears, it is up to him to clean up the mess that’s left behind. Hunger, violence, drugs, and hopelessness haunt the citizens of his impoverished Idaho town. But Little is determined to break free from his family’s legacy. Desperate to find stronger roots, he even begins learning Spanish in hopes of feeling closer to his estranged Mexican father. He is determined to graduate and find a way to care for his young cousin, but his dyslexia is a constant battle. When an obsessed sheriff’s deputy begins asking questions about his grandfather’s whereabouts, Little must dig for information or risk becoming entangled in a dangerous world. Drugs, abuse, child pornography, casually crude language, drinking, and rape orient readers to the ample challenges that Little faces. But the unfolding mystery, lyrical language, and empathy for the characters make Hoffmeister’s a story worth investing in. Little’s determination, passion, and genuine love for the broken people in his life keep this narrative from falling into despair. Short chapters, a sparse setting, and evocative characters combine to create a story that is more than the sum of its parts. Proof that even in the darkness, there can be light. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Peter Brown Hoffmeister is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Graphic The Valley, the memoir The End of Boys, the nonfiction text Let Them Be Eaten By Bears, and the forthcoming YA novels This Is The Part Where You Laugh and Too Shattered For Mending (Random House, Knopf).

A former troubled teen, Hoffmeister was expelled from three high schools, lived for a short while in a Greyhound bus station, was remanded to a recovery and parole program, and completed a wilderness experience for troubled teens. He now runs the Integrated Outdoor Program, serving teens of all backgrounds, taking them into wilderness areas to backpack, climb, spelunk, orienteer, and whitewater raft.

He lives with his wife and daughters in Eugene, Oregon. His website is www.peterbrownhoffmeister.com

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Too Shattered For Mending on Amazon

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Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. September 19, 2017. Roaring Brook Press, 330 p. ISBN: 9781626726352.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 840.

Moxie girls fight back!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Vivian’s mom was a rebel. In the nineties, she followed her favorite punk-rock bands across the Pacific Northwest and championed the Riot Grrrl movement. When Vivian’s father died a few months after Vivian was born, her mom returned home. Vivian, raised in East Rockport, Texas, where high-school football stars are king and their bad behavior is excused by a blind-eyed administration, is a mild-mannered good girl. But when she witnesses a sexist incident in class, she is disturbed. One trip to a copy store later, and Moxie is born: an anonymous, Riot Grrrl–inspired zine that contains both a diatribe and a call to action. These actions start small, but as more girls become involved, the movement grows, protesting everything from an unfairly enforced dress code to sexual harassment. The novel’s triumphs—and there are many—lie in the way the zine opens Vivian’s eyes to the way girls are treated, and to the additional roadblocks that her classmates of color face. Though the novel presents plenty of differing opinions, it never once pits girl against girl, and Vivian struggles with how to navigate a burgeoning relationship with a well-intentioned boy who doesn’t always understand what she’s fighting for. From an adult perspective, some of the ripped-from-the-headlines issues might seem like old news, but for teens like Vivian, who are just discovering how to stand up—and what to stand up for—this is an invaluable revelation.

Booklist starred (July 2017 (Online))
Grades 9-12. Vivian’s mom was a rebel. In the nineties, she followed her favorite punk-rock bands across the Pacific Northwest and championed the Riot Grrrl movement. When Vivian’s father died a few months after Vivian was born, her mom returned home. Vivian, raised in East Rockport, Texas, where high-school football stars are king and their bad behavior is excused by a blind-eyed administration, is a mild-mannered good girl. But when she witnesses a sexist incident in class, she is disturbed. One trip to a copy store later, and Moxie is born: an anonymous, Riot Grrrl–inspired zine that contains both a diatribe and a call to action. These actions start small, but as more girls become involved, the movement grows, protesting everything from an unfairly enforced dress code to sexual harassment. The novel’s triumphs—and there are many—lie in the way the zine opens Vivian’s eyes to the way girls are treated, and to the additional roadblocks that her classmates of color face. Though the novel presents plenty of differing opinions, it never once pits girl against girl, and Vivian struggles with how to navigate a burgeoning relationship with a well-intentioned boy who doesn’t always understand what she’s fighting for. From an adult perspective, some of the ripped-from-the-headlines issues might seem like old news, but for teens like Vivian, who are just discovering how to stand up—and what to stand up for—this is an invaluable revelation.

About the Author

I’m an English teacher, writer, wife, and mom who writes books for and about young adults.

My favorite things include chocolate, pepperoni pizza, and this super hilarious 1980s sitcom about four retired women called The Golden Girls. I can basically quote every episode.

I live in Texas with my husband, son, and dog!

When it comes to what I read, I love realistic young adult fiction (duh), creative nonfiction, super scandalous tell-all memoirs and unauthorized biographies, and basically anything that hooks me on the first page. My website is www.jennifermathieu.com

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Moxie on Amazon

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Sled Dog School by Terry Lynn Johnson

Sled Dog School by Terry Lynn Johnson. October 3, 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 198 p. ISBN: 9780544873315.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.0; Lexile: 660.

Eleven-year-old Matt is struggling in school and he has to set up his own business to save his failing math grade. But what is he even good at? The only thing he truly loves is his team of dogs, and so Matt’s Sled Dog School is born. Teaching dogsledding should be easy, right? But people, just like dogs, can be unpredictable. And sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is admit they need help.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2017)
To fulfill a school project, an 11-year-old boy starts a sled dog school with unexpected results. Matt lives off the grid in Michigan with his parents and younger sister and wishes his family were more mainstream. His stay-at-home father knits and does pottery, and Matt is derisively called “Smokey” by his classmates for his woodstove-smoke smell. Matt is also doing poorly in math class even though he solves practical problems easily outside of school. One thing Matt does love about his life is the sled dogs his family raises and runs. For a school extra-credit project designed to teach business and accounting skills, Matt starts Sled Dog School. His two clients, both about his age, have vastly differing abilities and personalities. Tubbs, blithely uncoordinated, nonetheless has an enthusiastic personality, and his approbation of Matt’s family life makes Matt begin to see it with more appreciative eyes. Overachiever Alex is intelligent and naturally adept, but she is condescending—until a crisis brings all three together. Themes of friendship and problem-solving are slipped effortlessly into the funny and fresh plot, and authentic off-the-grid details bring the story to life. Everyone in the story appears to be white. A tale of loyalty and friendship—with a strong dose of validation for readers who learn from doing rather than books—that hits all the right notes. (Fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Terry Lynn Johnson writes outdoor adventures.

Terry’s writing is inspired by her own team of eighteen Alaskan huskies. Her passion for adventure has provided her with a rich background to write from.

When she’s not writing, Terry enjoys hiking, snowshoeing, and kayaking. She works as a Conservation Officer (Game Warden) in Whitefish Falls, Ontario.

Her website is www.terrylynnjohnson.com

Teacher Resources

Sled Dog School Curriculum Guide

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Everything All At Once by Katrina Leno

Everything All At Once by Katrina Leno. July 25, 2017. HarperTeen, 368 p. ISBN: 9780062493095.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

24 dares. 3 weeks. Take the leap.

Lottie Reaves is not a risk taker. She plays it safe and avoids all the ways she might get hurt. But when her beloved aunt Helen dies of cancer, Lottie’s fears about life and death start spiraling out of control.

Aunt Helen wasn’t a typical aunt. She was the author of the bestselling Alvin Hatter series, about siblings who discover the elixir of immortality. Her writing inspired a generation of readers. She knew how magical writing could be, and that words have the power to make you see things differently.

In her will, Aunt Helen leaves one writing project just for Lottie. It’s a series of letters, each containing mysterious instructions that are supposed to get Lottie to take a leap and—for once in her life—really live. But when the letters reveal an extraordinary secret about the inspiration for the Alvin Hatter series, Lottie finds herself faced with an impossible choice—one that will force her to confront her greatest fears once and for all.

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

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (June 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 19))
Grades 9-12. Cautious, predictable Lottie has always had a plan for her life, but it gets thrown to the wind when her beloved and wild Aunt Helen passes away and leaves her 24 letters containing instructions that lead to secrets, love, and self-discovery. Aunt Helen isn’t just the source of entertaining summers and happy memories; she’s also the best-selling author of the most popular children’s books of all time, the Alvin Hatter series. Spurred on by tasks as harmless as “don’t be afraid to let yourself cry” and as reckless as “do something you’re not supposed to do,” Lottie discovers her aunt’s extraordinary secret past that inspired her books, and she rushes headfirst into a love that comes with major strings attached. Scattered with insightful excerpts from the Alvin Hatter series, Leno’s (The Lost & Found, 2016) latest novel borrows some narrative inspiration from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (2013) and a little magic from Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting (1975) to create a truly captivating tale about grief and the affirming power of self-examination.

Kirkus Reviews (May 1, 2017)
When Lottie’s favorite aunt dies, she leaves behind a wave of grief—and a mysterious series of letters.High school senior Lottie Reaves isn’t the only one mourning her beloved aunt Helen after she succumbs to cancer—Helen is the record-selling author of the Alvin Hatter series, which follows the adventures of two immortal siblings and has achieved J.K. Rowling–level fame. But it turns out that Aunt Helen had a surprise in store for Lottie—24 letters with a sequence of challenges to help her get through her grief and fight her anxious tendencies…as well as a secret she’s never revealed. As Lottie completes the missions with her best friend, Em, younger brother, Abe, and mysterious not-quite-boyfriend Sam, she learns more about her aunt, herself, and the natures of life, death, and time than she ever expected. Excerpts from Alvin Hatter books give readers a taste of the books that captured the world, and diversity is seamlessly integrated throughout the book— mixed-race Lottie has a Peruvian mom and a white dad, and her white best friend is a lesbian with an unaccepting mother. Lottie’s anxieties are discussed in a gentle yet candid manner, and her close-knit relationship with her family members is refreshing and realistic. A charming and sophisticated take on handling grief with a mystical twist ending that is sure to engage teens nostalgic for the magic of reading Harry Potter or Tuck Everlasting for the first time. (Fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Katrina Leno is the author of Everything All at Once, The Lost & Found, The Half Life of Molly Pierce, and Summer of Salt. In real life, she lives in Los Angeles. But in her head, she lives on an imaginary island off the coast of New England where it sometimes rains a lot.

Her website is www.katrinaleno.com

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Everything All at Once on Amazon

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The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller. July 11, 2017. HarperTeen, 372 p. ISBN: 9780062456717.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

Matt hasn’t eaten in days. His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal, but Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger…and he isn’t in control of all of them.

A darkly funny, moving story of body image, addiction, friendship, and love, Sam J. Miller’s debut novel will resonate with any reader who’s ever craved the power that comes with self-acceptance.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Smoking, Marijuana, Eating disorders, Self-harm, Homophobic slurs, Homophobia, Bullying

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 18))
Grades 9-12. Miller’s heartfelt debut novel tackles difficult subjects with a bold mix of magical realism, tender empathy, and candor. Matt, 16, lives in a rural upstate New York town with a single mother who slaughters hogs at the local processing plant. Matt is desperate because his beloved older sister, Maya, has left home, supposedly to record an album with her punk band, although he fears she’s met a worse fate at the hands of a group of high-school bullies led by handsome Tariq, an object of desire for both Matt and Maya. Feeling powerless, Matt realizes he can maintain control over one thing: the calories he consumes. As he restricts his food intake, Matt feels his other senses sharpen to the point where he believes he has superpowers, hearing and seeing other people’s thoughts, and influencing others with his own commands. Matt is delusional and anorexic, but he’s also an admirably strong character who is out and proud, brilliant, creative, and determined to survive. It’s not always easy to find novels with troubled gay male protagonists who aren’t doomed, and Miller’s creative portrait of a complex and sympathetic individual will provide a welcome mirror for kindred spirits.

Kirkus Reviews starred (May 1, 2017)
A bullied gay boy harnesses trippy, starvation-induced powers to avenge the disappearance of his beloved sister. Gay, Jewish, white, self-deprecating Matt hates his name but hasn’t changed it because honesty is the best policy. And he is honest, quickly establishing that he has suicidal thoughts and homicidal reveries and his family is at the bottom of the financial food chain. That forthright tongue isn’t fully reflective though, refusing to admit that his body dysmorphia and calorie counting = eating disorder. When he discovers that extreme starvation heightens his senses, the world around him begins to clarify (he can follow scents like a hound and read minds like a clairvoyant as his body slowly degenerates). Convinced that a triptych of king bullies, one of whom is dark and dreamy Middle Eastern Tariq, on whom he hates having a massive crush, is responsible for the disappearance of his older sister, Matt focuses his supernatural gift on them, hoping both to find his sister and to systematically destroy the high school ruling class—even if Tariq might secretly be into him. In first-person journal format, Matt schools readers on the art of starving as he toes the line between expiration and enlightenment, sparing no detail of his twisted, antagonistic relationship with his body. Matt’s sarcastic, biting wit keeps readers rooting for him and hoping for his recovery. In his acknowledgments, Miller reveals the story’s roots in his own teen experiences. A dark and lovely tale of supernatural vengeance and self-destruction. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Sam J. Miller’s debut novel The Art of Starving, rooted in his own adolescent experience with an eating disorder, was called “Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless and powerful… a classic in the making” by Book Riot. His second novel, Blackfish City, will be published by Ecco Press in 2018. A finalist for multiple Nebula Awards along with the World Fantasy and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards, he won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award.

Her website is www.samjmiller.com

Around the Web

The Art of Starving on Amazon

The Art of Starving on Goodreads

The Art of Starving on JLG

The Art of Starving Publisher Page

The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner. September 12, 2017. Bloomsbury USA, 256 p. ISBN: 9781681195483.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.1.

Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Allusions to domestic abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 4-7. Learning that Dad has (once again) canceled his plans to visit isn’t exactly a surprise to 13-year-old Zig. But after a year without seeing his father, it’s a major disappointment. Zig spends his free time geocaching with friends. Soon, with little money for food and none for rent, he and his mother move into a homeless shelter. He avoids telling even his best friend, Gianna, about their situation. When his teacher schedules a class visit to the shelter, Zig dreads discovery, but more painful is his mother’s eventual revelation that his father is in prison. Messner creates a sympathetic character in Zig, whose narration reflects his believable unwillingness to take his father off a pedestal throughout most of the novel. Within the story, Messner gently overturns some stereotypes about homeless shelters and their residents. The narrative flows well and sweeps readers along, though the conclusion ties up loose ends too quickly and neatly. Still, readers hoping for a happy ending will not be disappointed. A companion book to The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z (2009).

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
Following the precise coordinates of geocaching doesn’t yield the treasure Kirby Zagonski Jr. seeks: his missing father. Geeky eighth-grader Kirby can’t understand why his mother won’t call his dad after their generous landlady dies and they’re evicted for nonpayment of rent. Though his parents have been divorced for several years and his father, a wealthy developer, has been unreliable, Kirby is sure he could help. Instead he and his mother move to the Community Hospitality Center, a place “for the poor. The unfortunate. The homeless.” Suddenly A-student Kirby doesn’t have a quiet place to do his schoolwork or even a working pencil. They share a “family room” with a mother and young son fleeing abuse. Trying to hide this from his best friends, Gianna and Ruby, is a struggle, especially as they spend after-school hours together. The girls help him look for the geocaches visited by “Senior Searcher,” a geocacher Kirby is sure is his father. There are ordinary eighth-grade complications in this contemporary friendship tale, too; Gianna just might be a girlfriend, and there’s a dance coming up. Kirby’s first-person voice is authentic, his friends believable, and the adults both sometimes helpful and sometimes unthinkingly cruel. The setting is the largely white state of Vermont, but the circumstances could be anywhere. Middle school worries and social issues skillfully woven into a moving, hopeful, STEM-related tale. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Kate Messner is a former middle-school English teacher and the author of E. B. White Read Aloud Award winner The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. and its companion, The Exact Location of HomeSugar and IceEye of the StormWake Up MissingAll the AnswersThe Seventh WishCapture the FlagHide and Seek; the Marty McGuire chapter book series; the Ranger in Time chapter book series; and several picture books. She lives on Lake Champlain with her husband and two kids. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves hiking, kayaking, biking, and watching thunderstorms over the lake.

Her website is www.katemessner.com

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What I Lost by Alexandra Ballard

What I Lost by Alexandra Ballard. June 6, 2017. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 400 p. ISBN: 9780374304638.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 590.

What sixteen-year-old Elizabeth has lost so far: forty pounds, four jean sizes, a boyfriend, and her peace of mind. As a result, she’s finally a size zero. She’s also the newest resident at Wallingfield, a treatment center for girls like her—girls with eating disorders. Elizabeth is determined to endure the program so she can go back home, where she plans to start restricting her food intake again. She’s pretty sure her mom, who has her own size 0 obsession, needs treatment as much as she does. Maybe even more. Then Elizabeth begins receiving mysterious packages. Are they from her ex-boyfriend, a secret admirer, or someone playing a cruel trick?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Strong sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (June 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 7-10. Debut author Ballard details exactly what 16-year-old Elizabeth loses as she strives for perfection and eventually learns to accept herself. Elizabeth has achieved her ultimate goal, being a size zero, by starving herself. Yet her achievement results in her being placed in a psychiatric facility and forced to lose what she’s come to think of as her “perfect” size. Puzzling packages soon start arriving for Elizabeth that bring out painful memories, and she wonders how, or if, she will survive anorexia to return to her normal life. Ballard’s tender novel is one of recovery and acceptance. She enters into the complex world of teenagers and the sensitive issues they deal with on a daily basis, clearly depicting how teens can succumb to medical conditions such as anorexia. Deliberate pacing makes the story a little difficult to get into during the first few chapters, but readers will gradually fall deeper and deeper into the story. A heartfelt account that shows a lot of promise from a new author.

Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2017)
A young woman struggles with anorexia in this debut. High school junior Elizabeth has dropped to a dangerous 90 pounds before being sent to Wallingfield Psychiatric Facility by her worried parents. She’s unsure what to expect and is somewhat ambivalent about her treatment—she doesn’t want to get better if it means that she has to gain weight. However, as this engrossing and heartfelt novel progresses, Elizabeth finds that the enforced, monitored meals and various therapy groups at Wallingfield are at once sources of shame, frustration, and hope. Vivid descriptions of the panic and visceral disgust she experiences at the prospect of eating juxtapose well with the account of her progress as she begins to confront just how profound the effect her mother’s disordered relationship with food and body image has had on her. That some of this account is noticeably expository finds compensation in Elizabeth’s well-developed character. Elizabeth develops supportive friendships with several girls at the center, and a romantic subplot with a boy she knows from school adds an appealing layer to the first-person, confessional narrative. The ethnicities of the main characters are not specified, though mention is made of a friend of Elizabeth’s standing out as the only Indian student at school, suggesting that the community is predominantly white. Readers will root for the novel’s likable main character and gain some understanding of the complexity of her illness at the same time. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Alexandra Ballard has worked as a magazine editor, middle-school English teacher, freelance writer, and cake maker. She holds master’s from both Columbia (journalism) and Fordham (education) and spent ten years in the classroom, beginning in the Bronx and ending up in the hills of Berkeley, California, with her husband and two daughters. What I Lost is Alexandra Ballard’s debut novel.

Her website is www.alexandraballard.com.

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The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale

The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale. May 30, 20176. HarperCollins, 336 p. ISBN: 9780062656742.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.7; Lexile: 640.

A heartfelt and voice-driven novel with just a touch of magic, Emily Gale’s The Other Side of Summer is perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead.

Ever since her brother Floyd died, Summer’s world has been falling apart. Her mom is a ghost of her former self, her older sister is angry all the time, and her dad wants to move the family to Australia. It seems like the only thing unchanged in their lives is Floyd’s guitar, which was returned to the family perfectly unharmed by the bombing that killed him.

Once Summer arrives in Australia, she feels even further away from Floyd than before. Until she works up the courage to play his guitar. When she plays, something amazing—perhaps even magical—happens. Summer starts to feel less alone. But even with a little magic on her side, only Summer will be able to find her way through her grief to whatever the other side may bring.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Terrorism

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2017)
Summer’s family is blown apart when her brother, Floyd, is killed in a bombing in London, and their anguish surges anew when Floyd’s cherished guitar is delivered to their house afterward.In a prescient moment, Summer says the instrument is “a sign of a different, unexpected ending.” With it, Summer hears Floyd’s voice; it also draws the spirit of a boy named Gabe. As Summer struggles to get to the other side of her grief, she narrates her trajectory in three parts over the course of 18 months that include a move from England to Australia. Part 1 represents loss. Summer’s agony is tangible and her descriptions, searing. Her dad’s face is “as unreadable as an old gravestone;” her mum, suffering depression, is a “whispery ghost.” In Australia, the family starts to heal. It’s there that Gabe appears to Summer. She can’t tell if he is a ghost or from the realm of dreams or how she can help him. This mystery propels the action in Part 2. Summer’s discoveries not only allow her to aid Gabe, but also to reconstruct important moments in Floyd’s last days. The reason for the bombing is not explained, nor is there an easy path through sorrow, but Part 3 brings resolution. Summer’s family is white, but the full cast appears to be multiethnic. A bittersweet, hopeful coming-of-age story complicated by loss, saved by love, that ends with a song. (Fiction. 10-14)

School Library Journal (May 1, 2017)
Gr 5-8-When 13-year-old Summer’s brother Floyd dies in a bombing, her family members have difficulty coping. Her mom is depressed and barely leaves her bedroom, her older sister Wren is dark and angry, and her dad wants to move the family from London to Melbourne, Australia. Summer, her dad, and her sister make the move to Australia while her mom stays behind. Summer feels alone, angry, and even further removed from her memories of her brother until she discovers sheet music of Floyd’s and works up the courage to play his Ibanez Artwood guitar, his prized possession, which was returned to the family unharmed after the accident. When Summer is near the guitar, she can speak to her brother in her head. When she begins to play, a mysterious boy named Gabe appears. Summer’s efforts to figure out Gabe’s story, and his possible connection with her brother, bring her mourning family together. Gale realistically portrays how grief impacts each member of a family differently and explores the challenges of losing someone and struggling to find them again in a new and different way. VERDICT Fans of Rebecca Stead will gravitate to this heartfelt and beautiful tale that fits perfectly in the gray area between middle grade and young adult.-Sarah Polace, Cuyahoga Public Library System, OH

About the Author

Emily Gale is a book-nerd who has worked in the children’s & YA book industry for nearly twenty years. In London she worked as an editor for Penguin and Egmont, and later as a freelance manuscript consultant and pre-school book writer. In Melbourne she’s worked with literary agent Sheila Drummond, finding new children’s and YA authors; she has reviewed for Bookseller and Publisher, been a judge in the YA category of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, and spent several happy years at independent bookshop Readings as a children’s buyer, during which time she was instrumental in establishing the Readings Children’s Book Prize.

Her website is www.emilygalebooks.com

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The Cholo Tree by Daniel Chacon

The Cholo Tree by Daniel Chacon.  March 31, 2017. Arte Publico Press, 24172 p. ISBN: 9781558858404.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 700.

“Do you know what a stereotype you are?” Jessica asks her son. “You’re the existential Chicano.” Fourteen-year-old Victor has just been released from the hospital; his chest is wrapped in bandages and his arm is in a sling. He has barely survived being shot, and his mother accuses him of being a cholo, something he denies.

She’s not the only adult that thinks he’s a gangbanger. His sociology teacher once sent him to a teach-in on gang violence. Victor’s philosophy is that everyone is racist. “They see a brown kid, they see a banger.” Even other kids think he’s in a gang, maybe because of the clothes he wears. The truth is, he loves death (metal, that is), reading books, drawing, the cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz and the Showtime series Weeds. He likes school and cooking. He knows what a double negative is!

But he can’t convince his mom that he’s not in a gang. And in spite of a genius girlfriend and an art teacher who mentors and encourages him to apply to art schools, Victor can’t seem to overcome society’s expectations for him.

In this compelling novel, renowned Chicano writer Daniel Chacon once again explores art, death, ethnicity and racism. Are Chicanos meant for meth houses instead of art schools? Are talented Chicanos never destined to study in Paris?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Discrimination, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Criminal culture

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2017)
Boxed in by societal prejudices, a young Chicano struggles to find his identity.Split into two separate periods, Chacón’s insightful novel portrays the trials of Victor Reyes, a death metal–loving, artistic teen who’s seemingly ill-fated in life. In the book’s first half, 14-year-old Victor recovers from a shooting—he was dead for a hair over 2 minutes—that leaves him with a fuzzy memory. Almost everyone, including his mom, believes he’s a cholo, a gangbanger destined for trouble. Though Victor tries his best to mend his relationship with his mom, he frequently ends up in incriminating situations. Meanwhile, Victor meets and falls for a feisty part-Mexican, part-Indian girl. The story moves at a meandering pace, which Chacón uses to sketch in disjointed details. Victor’s first-person narration doesn’t stand out in any particular way, but each of the diverse supporting characters features a distinct, if stereotypical, voice to fill in that void. The novel’s second half focuses on 17-year-old Victor, a senior succeeding in school and love. A supportive teacher helps him refine his artistic goals, pushing him to apply for art school. But Victor’s anger and past won’t let him go, and soon he’s knee-deep in the cholo life. Overall, the author employs a well-worn redemption arc, and the often clunky, self-conscious narration doesn’t really help to make it feel fresh: “They looked sort of geeky cool, like journalism students, the kind of kids that YA novels are written about.” A well-meaning, awkward cautionary tale. (Fiction. 14-18)

School Library Journal Xpress (July 1, 2017)
Gr 8 Up-This collection of short stories captures the liminal spaces inhabited by Victor Reyes Jr., a Mexican American/Chicano Fresno teenager who is caught between the dangerous allure of the streets and his creative aspirations. At times, the choice between becoming another “cholo” stereotype and going down another path eludes Victor. The gravity of the streets often proves to be beyond Victor’s control. For example, the chain of events that lead to Victor being shot-and, as a result, dead for 2.2 minutes before regaining life-start from adolescent posturing over girls. Victor and his buddy Equis scrap with a group of boys who are part of a gang and have access to guns. Though Victor is an ordinary witty, imaginative teenager with a knack for drawing, at times he seeks danger. Freddy, an older friend who witnessed Victor’s shooting, invites him to tour Fresno City College. A love interest, along with Victor’s teacher Mr. Garcia, offers him outlets and spaces for his intelligence and artistic talents. Chacón breathes life into Victor in these scenes, and the youth becomes someone to root for. After multiple disappointments, Victor sinks headlong into street life and starts seeing the elusive ghosts of living-dead people and reckons with a past that seems to transcend him. He cannot shake off the doomed destiny of gang life. Chacón has written a classic and powerful underdog story about a brown teen building the self-efficacy to see his worth and achieve his dream. VERDICT Recommended for high school classroom libraries and YA collections; will appeal to reluctant readers.-Lettycia Terrones, Los Angeles Public Library

About the Author

Daniel Chacon is author of five books of fiction and editor of A Jury of Trees, the posthumous poems of Andrés Montoya. He is co-editor with Mimi Gladstein of The Last Supper of Chicano Heroes: The Selected Works of José Antonio Burciaga.

Chacon is recipient of the Pen Oakland Fiction Award, a Chris Isherwood Foundation Grant, the Hudson Book Prize, and The American book Award.

Her website is www.danielchacon.net

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