Tag Archives: realistic

Barely Missing Everything by Matt Méndez

Barely Missing Everything by Matt Méndez. MArch 5, 2019. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781534404458.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 800.

In the tradition of Jason Reynolds and Matt de la Peña, this heartbreaking, no-holds-barred debut novel told from three points of view explores how difficult it is to make it in life when you–your life, brown lives–don’t matter.

Juan has plans. He’s going to get out of El Paso, Texas, on a basketball scholarship and make something of himself–or at least find something better than his mom Fabi’s cruddy apartment, her string of loser boyfriends, and a dead dad. Basketball is going to be his ticket out, his ticket up. He just needs to make it happen.

His best friend JD has plans, too. He’s going to be a filmmaker one day, like Quinten Tarantino or Guillermo del Toro (NOT Steven Spielberg). He’s got a camera and he’s got passion–what else could he need?

Fabi doesn’t have a plan anymore. When you get pregnant at sixteen and have been stuck bartending to make ends meet for the past seventeen years, you realize plans don’t always pan out, and that there some things you just can’t plan for…

Like Juan’s run-in with the police, like a sprained ankle, and a tanking math grade that will likely ruin his chance at a scholarship. Like JD causing the implosion of his family. Like letters from a man named Mando on death row. Like finding out this man could be the father your mother said was dead.

Soon Juan and JD are embarking on a Thelma and Louise­-like road trip to visit Mando. Juan will finally meet his dad, JD has a perfect subject for his documentary, and Fabi is desperate to stop them. But, as we already know, there are some things you just can’t plan for…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Abortion, Drugs, Marijuana, Mild sexual themes, Racism, Strong language, Underage drinking, Drunk driving, Police violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 12))
Grades 10-12. Mendez’s gut-wrenching YA debut follows three narrators—Juan, JD, and Fabi—who are struggling to get by in El Paso, Texas. They each have a goal: Juan’s best shot at college is a basketball scholarship, JD dreams of becoming a filmmaker, and Fabi, Juan’s mother, just wants to make ends meet despite an unexpected pregnancy. But, as they know too well, the world is unforgiving, and troubles like sprained ankles, broken families, and lost jobs are heaped upon them. They begin to doubt if any of their hopes and dreams will ever come true, or if the lives of three brown people matter to anyone besides themselves. Mendez minces no words as he presents issues that are all too real for many Latin American communities. Although the characters are sometimes frustrating, Mendez’s attention to raw detail in plot and diction is both painful and illuminating. With its shades of social justice, this will appeal to readers of Matt de la Peña and Jason Reynolds.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2019)
Born on the poor side of El Paso, Juan and JD fight for their dreams, knowing the odds are stacked against them. Mendez (Twitching Heart, 2012) tells the touching story of two teenage buddies, their troubled families, and the injustices they endure as a result of being poor and brown. Juan wants to play college basketball. JD wants to be a filmmaker. But following a single bad decision at a party in a wealthy neighborhood, their dreams begin to fall like dominoes. In a setting of police profiling and violent streets, it becomes obvious that the pain in this community is intergenerational. The boys must cope with parental secrets—Juan’s mother never told him who his father is, and JD’s father makes him an accomplice in a dishonest affair. As they seek answers, readers see that the future is a tidal wave pushing them to the brink even as they act with courage and good intentions. Studying, working hard on the court, impressing coaches and teachers, the teens come to understand that the world has labeled them failures no matter how hard they try. In this novel with a deep sense of place and realistic dialogue, characters who are vivid and fallible add deep psychological meaning to a heart-wrenching story. At once accessible and artful, this is an important book about Mexican teens holding onto hope and friendship in the midst of alcoholism, poverty, prejudice, and despair. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Like his characters, Matt Mendez grew up in central El Paso, Texas. He is the author of Barely Missing Everything, his YA debut novel, and the short story collection Twitching Heart. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Tucson, Arizona.

Her website is mattmendez.com

Teacher Resources

Barely Missing Everything on Common Sense Media

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Trail of Crumbs by Lisa J. Lawrence

Trail of Crumbs by Lisa J. Lawrence. March 26, 2019. Orca Book Publishers, 256 p. ISBN: 9781459821217.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 650.

After moving into a dank and drafty basement suite in West Edmonton with her truck- driving father, nasty stepmother and taciturn twin brother, Ash, seventeen-year-old Greta doesn’t have high expectations for her last year of high school. When she blacks out at a party and is told the next day that she’s had sex, she thinks things can’t get any worse. She’s wrong.

While Greta deals with the confusion and shame of that night, her stepmother and father choose that moment to disappear, abandoning Ash and Greta to the mercy of their peculiar landlord, Elgin, who lives upstairs. Even as Greta struggles to make sense of what happened to her, she finds herself enjoying her new and very eccentric family, who provide the shelter and support that has long been absent from her life. Much to Greta’s surprise, she realizes there is still kindness in the world—and hope.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Marijuana, Mild language, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities, Sexual assault

 

Reviews

Booklist (February 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. Greta, 17, is already trying to deal with a recent trauma—date rape—on her own, when her father and stepmother abandon her and her twin brother, Ash, in their basement apartment. Now she has to deal with her troubles internally while externally trying to survive. Unexpected help arrives in the form of their elderly and eccentric landlord, Elgin; his tough-talking daughter, Alice; and Nate, a classmate who lives across the street. Greta and Ash eke out their existence and continue with school, a form of torture for Greta as she tries to avoid her former “in group” friends. Finally, the threads come together in an affirming resolution. Lawrence’s novel is a subtle riff on Hansel and Gretel: abandonment by parents; hope represented by a trail of crumbs to lead her out of the labyrinth of her trauma; and the cabin where the date rape occurs is like the gingerbread house, promising on the outside but concealing a threat. With realistic and appealing characters and a delicately constructed plot, this is a well-told story of strength, grace, and growth.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2019)
Fire up your Coleman lanterns: Greta needs all the light and warmth she can get in this story of abandonment, poverty, and sexual assault. Greta and her twin, Ash, have every element of a tragic life: a very wicked stepmother, a spineless and pathetic father, and being abandoned in the middle of a brutal Edmonton winter with no heat except from an oven, no food, and no rent money. As if that wasn’t enough, Greta is also suffering following a sexual assault and the subsequent ostracism and bullying by the cool kids at her high school. The cast of supporting characters in Greta’s story have enough emotional issues to keep a team of psychologists working around the clock: Greta’s withdrawn brother, an elderly, track-shorts–wearing landlord, his estranged tough-talking daughter, and a lonely neighbor kid. Greta longs to re-create a family that has only been a memory for years but still possesses enough grit to get some sense of closure and justice from those who harmed her. Nothing is candy-coated: The writing includes the blunt language one would expect in this treatment of the very important topics of sexual assault and victim blaming that will resonate with and inform readers. Main characters present as white, but names suggest some diversity among Greta’s classmates. Lawrence (Rodent, 2016) has an admirable relationship with the written word, and after many chapters of sharp edges and dark corners, readers will discover reason for hope. (afterword) (Fiction. 14-19)

About the Author

Lisa J. Lawrence grew up as a free-range kid in small towns in British Columbia and Alberta. She currently works as a writer and Spanish teacher in Edmonton, Alberta, where she lives with her husband and three children. Her first novel, Rodent, was nominated for numerous awards.

 

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The Same Blood by M. Azmitia

The Same Blood by M. Azmitia. August 1, 2018. West 44 Books, 200 p. ISBN: 9781538382523.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 620.

Twin sisters Elena and Marianella couldn’t be more different. Marianella goes out of her way to actively participate in their Puerto Rican culture, whereas Elena is embarrassed by their traditions. Marianella is also fighting a very private battle with mental illness, and takes her own life not long after their fifteenth birthday. As Elena mourns her sister, she tries to live her life without the limitations and rules Marianella set for her. When her life spirals out of control, Elena realizes the depth of her roots and the guilt of not helping her sister before it was too late.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Racism, Suicide, Underage drinking, Underage smoking

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
Puerto Rican teen Elena grapples with guilt about her twin sister Mel’s suicide in this novel in verse for reluctant teen readers. Elena doesn’t connect to her Puerto Rican identity: She straightens her hair to fit in and (while ashamed of herself for not speaking up) never defends her culture from white peers’ mockery. Conversely, Mel always wears her natural curls and revels in their heritage. By 11, Elena notices that, “The nervous feelings / came to [Mel] more often.” Six months after their quinceañera, Mel dies by suicide. Elena’s haunted—she knew Mel was suffering but didn’t do anything. Their parents hadn’t helped Mel either: Their “Papi had no patience / for her,” and Mami “told her to pray.” Evocative poems—all narrated from Elena’s perspective—connect readers to her overwhelming guilt and shame, which quickly lead to reckless drinking. Elena’s arrested for drunken driving and subsequently sent to rehab, which turns out not to be a safe space—the only other brown-skinned person is the groundskeeper and an aggressive, racial slur–slinging white boy shows up. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the lack of safe spaces for people of color to deal with mental issues isn’t fully explored, and the book ends rather abruptly. An examination of Latinx identity, family bonds, mental health, suicide, grief, and guilt that will hopefully spark much-needed dialogue. Necessary. (Verse novel. 14-18)

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Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice

Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice. February 26, 2019. Scholastic, 337 p. ISBN: 9781338298505.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 680.

Mega-bestselling author Luanne Rice returns with a ripped-from-the-headlines story of a girl who is kidnapped by her friend’s family.

Emily Lonergan’s best friend died last year.

And Emily hasn’t stopped grieving. Lizzie Porter was lively, loud, and fun — Emily’s better half. Emily can’t accept that she’s gone.

When Lizzie’s parents and her sister come back to town to visit, Emily’s heartened to see them. The Porters understand her pain. They miss Lizzie desperately, too.

Desperately enough to do something crazy.

Something unthinkable.

Suddenly, Emily’s life is hurtling toward a very dark place — and she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to return to what she once knew was real.

From New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice comes a breathless, unputdownable story of suspense, secrets — and the strength that love gives us to survive even the most shocking of circumstances.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Child abuse, Discussion of alcoholism and opioid addiction

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 8-12. After she loses her best friend, Lizzie, to cancer, Emily’s life takes a series of unimaginable turns—all at the hands of trusted adults. A deranged, suspenseful fate awaits her when she accepts a ride from Lizzie’s grieving parents, who kidnap her and try to turn her into the daughter they lost by dyeing Emily’s hair, forcing her to wear colored contacts, and imprisoning her in a room. Emily lives there in fear for 69 days, enduring the worst kind of emotional trauma and plotting her escape once her kidnappers enroll her in school. Rice has created a masterful narrative full of intrigue and heart-pounding moments that will draw in readers and allow them to experience what could happen when depression drives someone to do the unthinkable. Using flashbacks, rich descriptions, and realistic story elements, Rice weaves together a tense tale of mystery and surreal experiences. Reading like a Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010) with a YA twist, Rice’s latest doesn’t disappoint.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2018)
Nearly a year after the death of her best friend, Lizzie, 15-year-old Emily is abducted by Lizzie’s parents to fill the void in their lives. Emily wakes up in Maine, far from her Connecticut home, to find her hair dyed black and her eyes changed to green by contacts, making her look just like Lizzie. Lizzie’s mother tells her that as long as she cooperates, no harm will come to her or her family. Good behavior earns her a television and meals upstairs. Bad behavior means starvation and isolation. Emily begins to play along, determined to keep her family safe while at the same time finding a way to escape. But with Lizzie’s mother, father, and sister always watching, she fears she will be trapped in this nightmare forever. Then she meets Casey, a musically gifted boy who is legally blind. Together they come up with a plan to help Emily escape her prison. In this psychological thriller that studies the depths of grief, Emily’s empathy for her kidnappers keeps the sensationalism to a minimum by personalizing the betrayal. A preponderance of backstory slows the narrative and deflates the tension. Ultimately this is a story about love and loss threaded through with moments of a tense thriller. All main characters are Irish-American Catholics. An intriguing concept overtaken by thin characters and poor pacing. (Thriller. 12-15)

About the Author

Luanne Rice is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-two novels including THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, her first YA novel. Five of her books have been made into movies and mini-series, many have been New York Times bestsellers and two of her pieces have been featured in off-Broadway theatre productions. She divides her time between New York City and the Connecticut shoreline.

Her website is www.luannerice.net

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96 Words for Love by Rachel Roy & Ava Dash

96 Words for Love by Rachel Roy & Ava Dash. January 15, 2019. jimmy patterson, 320 p. ISBN: 9780316477789.  Int Lvl: YA.

A modern retelling of a romantic Indian legend, 96 Words for Love is a star-crossed love story perfect for fans of The Sun is Also a Star and When Dimple Met Rishi.

Ever since her acceptance to UCLA, 17-year-old Raya Liston has been quietly freaking out. She feels simultaneously lost and trapped by a future already mapped out for her.Then her beloved grandmother dies, and Raya jumps at the chance to spend her last free summer at the ashram in India where her grandmother met and fell in love with her grandfather. Raya hopes to find her center and her true path. But she didn’t expect to fall in love… with a country of beautiful contradictions, her fiercely loyal cousin, a local girl with a passion for reading, and a boy who teaches her that in Sanskrit, there are 96 different ways to say the word “love.”

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Racial microaggressions, Child trafficking

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2018)
When Raya Liston spends a month at an ashram in India, she doesn’t just find herself: She also finds true love. Seventeen-year-old Raya has a plan: major in English at UCLA and make her Indian mother and biracial (half black, other half unspecified) father proud. Spending the summer after high school at the Rishi Kanva ashram in the Himalayas with her cousin Anandi is definitely not the plan—until she receives a phone call from her dying grandmother, Daadee, saying she’s left something important for Raya and Anandi hidden on the ashram grounds. Against her better judgment, Raya leaves for the ashram, where she unexpectedly falls in love with Kiran, a budding filmmaker who breaks rules as passionately as Raya follows them. In the process of falling in love and uncovering the secrets Daadee left, Raya realizes that the real question is not what she wants to do but who she wants to be. An insightful, layered feminist retelling of the Hindu myth “Shaktunala,” the book features a diverse cast of characters who grapple with equally diverse issues in a richly drawn setting. Raya’s candor and self-reflection infuse the narration with the perfect balance of insight and momentum. Her relationship with her family is particularly refreshing: Unlike in most books about diaspora, Raya’s Indian relatives support her, guiding her through conflict rather than creating it. A beautifully crafted, truly feminist coming-of-age story featuring nuanced characters in a unique setting. (Romance. 14-18)

Publishers Weekly (November 26, 2018)
On her deathbed, Raya’s grandmother, Daadee, tells her that she’s left things that Raya and her cousin Anandi should have at a remote ashram in India, which Daadee visited in her own youth. Worried about her future and confused by her anxiety about being accepted to UCLA, Raya travels to the ashram with Anandi, hoping to find personal clarity and locate whatever Daadee left behind. At the ashram, direction comes when Raya finds two of Daadee’s adolescent journals and falls in love with Kiran, a budding filmmaker from Delhi. Loosely retelling the Indian story of Shakuntala, both Daadee, through journal entries, and Raya, through her first-person narration, draw parallels to their own lives, struggling to find balance between their goals and the sacrifices that their newfound romantic entanglements would require. Well-known designer Roy and daughter Dash write in a pop culture-laden conversational tone to convey Raya’s concerns-stress about going to college and declaring a major, curiosity about sex and a future with Kiran. Though her feelings are portrayed as valid and relevant, the book’s too-quick pace leaves them underexplored and too quickly resolved, making the overall message about trusting one’s individual journey unsatisfying. Ages 13-up.

About the Authors

Rachel Roy is the daughter of an Indian immigrant father and Dutch mother. She is mother to Tallulah and Ava. Rachel is the founder & creative director of her eponymous brand and a tireless activist for using your voice to cultivate change in the world and to design the life you wish to live. Rachel founded Kindness Is Always Fashionable, an entrepreneurial philanthropic platform to help women artisans around the world create sustainable income for their families and communities. In 2018 Rachel was named a United Nations Women Champion for Innovation, and works for the UN advocating gender equality and other critical women’s issues. In 2015, Rachel published, Design Your Life.

Her website is rachelroy.com

Ava Dash is the daughter of fashion designer Rachel Roy. She attends college, works and lives in Los Angeles. Ava works with young adults that have aged out of the foster care system as well as former sex trafficked girls in India. Inspired from her travels with her mother, Ava hopes to start a give back business that provides critical resources to educate and empower the girls she has met on her travels to India.

Teacher Resources

96 Words for Love on Common Sense Media

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96 Words for Love on Amazon

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96 Words for Love Publisher Page

Heronie by Mindy McGinnis

Heronie by Mindy McGinnis. March 12, 2019. Katherine Tegen Books, 432 p. ISBN: 9780062847195.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA

A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope.

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Criminal culture, Drugs, Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Underage drinking, Underage smoking, Accidental death by overdose

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. Senior Mickey Catalan is a talented softball catcher with a bright collegiate future ahead. She’s a little socially awkward, but she’s beginning to navigate romantic relationships while relying on the easy camaraderie with her teammates and her best friend, star pitcher Carolina. Then Mickey and Carolina are both injured in a car accident, and Mickey’s broken hip seriously jeopardizes her athletic future. Determined to play again, Mickey falls into the trap of opiate addiction in a rapid and wholly believable descent. McGinnis begins with a shocking scenario: Mickey wakes to find her fellow-addict friends dead after shooting bad drugs. The rest of the story unfolds in flashback. There’s nothing subtle here—from the double entendre title that sets the tone on—but McGinnis creates fully dimensional characters. Even the drug dealers have complex and interesting back stories. There’s also no romanticized happy ending, just the realistic portrayal of how easy it is to develop an opiate addiction and the very real consequences of addiction. A timely and important message for teens everywhere.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2018)
A compassionate, compelling, and terrifying story about a high school softball player’s addiction to opioids. A promising life can be upended in a minute. One moment star catcher Mickey Catalan, who is assumed white, is living an ordinary life, talking about boys and anticipating a winning season with her best friend, pitcher Carolina Galarza. The next moment her car is upside down in a field, and their promising softball careers are in danger. Mickey’s divorced parents and Carolina’s tightknit Puerto Rican family are rooting for them to recover before the start of the season. After enduring surgeries, they are each given opioid painkillers, yet only Mickey spirals into addiction. From the novel’s opening line, the reader awaits the tragic outcome. What matters are the details—the lying, the stealing, the fear about college scholarships, the pain confronted in the weight room, and the desperate desire to win—because they force the reader to empathize with Mickey’s escalating need. Realistic depictions of heroin abuse abound, and the author includes a trigger warning. The writing is visceral, and following Mickey as she rationalizes about her addiction is educative and frightening. Even more frightening are the descriptive passages that reveal how pleasant the drugs make her feel. By the end, readers understand how heroin can infiltrate even the most promising lives. A cautionary tale that exposes the danger of prescription medications by humanizing one victim of America’s current epidemic. (author’s note, resources) (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author who has worked in a high school library for thirteen years. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, a post-apocalyptic survival story set in a world with very little freshwater, has been optioned for film my Stephanie Meyer’s Fickle Fish Films. The companion novel, IN A HANDFUL OF DUST was released in 2014. Her Gothic historical thriller, A MADNESS SO DISCREET won the Edgar Award in 2015.

Her website is www.mindymcginnis.com

Teacher Resources

Heroine on Common Sense Media

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Heroine on Amazon

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Heroine Publisher Page

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe. January 8, 2019. Balzer + Bray, 372 p. ISBN: 9780062824110.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile:.

A hilarious YA contemporary realistic novel about a witty Black French Canadian teen who moves to Austin, Texas, and experiences the joys, clichés, and awkward humiliations of the American high school experience—including falling in love. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon, When Dimple Met Rishi, and John Green.

Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A Black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don’t bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas.

Plunked into a new high school and sweating a ridiculous amount from the oppressive Texas heat, Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs.

Yet against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris…like loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making.

But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Homophobic slur, Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Racism, Underage drinking, Cigarettes, Discussion of suicide

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Grades 9-12. For Norris Kaplan, Austin, Texas—location of his mother’s new professor gig—is the antithesis of his true home in Montreal, Canada. Gone are hockey hooligans and routinely spoken French, replaced by relentless heat and the ubiquitous orange of the UT Longhorns. Compounding these differences is the fact that Norris is a black Haitian Canadian kid stuck in cowboy country. He resolves to build a barrier of snark to keep everyone out until he can get back north, where he hopes to reunite with his estranged father. However, Norris doesn’t count on falling head over heels for the devilishly mysterious, soulful, and fiery Aarti Puri. Philippe’s protagonist is as acerbic as they come, tossing one-liners at breakneck speed. His repartee with other characters, especially his closest friends Liam and Maddie, is hilarious and engaging. These friendships are the most interesting aspect of the book, even over the love story, which has a few twists along the way. Readers looking for a diverse, fun, coming-of-age tale need not look any further than this fantastic debut.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas. Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract. Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

About the Author

Ben Philippe was born in Haiti, raised in Montreal, Qc, Canada, and now resides in New York. He is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers and holds a BA in Sociology from Columbia University. He won the 2013 Tennessee Williams Fiction Contest and his writing has appeared in Observer, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, and others. He still doesn’t have a valid driver’s license.

His website is benphilippe.com/

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The Field Guide to the North American Teenager on Amazon

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Lizzy Legend by Matthew Ross Smith

Lizzy Legend by Matthew Ross Smith. January 8, 2019. Aladdin, 240 p. ISBN: 9781534420243.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.6; Lexile:.

A basketball-loving girl makes a wish to never miss a basket in this charming middle grade novel that pushes girl power to the max!

Lizzy Trudeaux loves basketball. She doesn’t have much by way of money, but she has access to the community court, a worn ball named Ginger, and she practices constantly. After fighting to join the boy’s team at her school, Lizzy is finally given the opportunity to show off her hard-earned skills.

When she answers what she believes is another bill collecting phone call, Lizzy receives a magical wish: the ability to sink every shot. Pure Swish. Now eviscerating the competition in the boy’s league is small potatoes—she has the skills to dominate in the NBA. With the help of her BFF Toby and some viral video action, Lizzy goes all the way to the Philadelphia Bells’ starting lineup, making history and taking names. Then, just as she’s about to go face to face with her hero, the best player on the planet, things begin to fall apart. But Lizzy isn’t a quitter and she’ll play her hardest for the love of the game.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Fart shaming

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 4-7. Eighth-grader Lizzy Trudeaux falls asleep beneath a poster of LeBron James every night, and she never dreamed in a million years that she’d ever be able to actually play against him. But when a strange phone call prompts her to make a wish, she’s suddenly trading the blacktop near her home for the bright lights of a real basketball arena. She can’t miss a single shot—not even if she tries. Debut author Smith firmly roots this story of wish fulfillment in the contemporary basketball world, with all of the fast-paced excitement and chance for individual glory. Though tales of fame and fortune all too often pit BFFs against each other, Lizzy’s best bud Toby is instead along for the ride, nearly stealing every scene he’s in with his comic banter. Documentary-style cutaways to interviews with key players, along with short chapters and a balance of well-paced action and heart, give this sports story wide appeal. Hand to the kids who can’t stop arguing over Steph versus LeBron.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2018)
Lizzy Trudeaux is the best basketball player in middle school. Unfortunately, the boys’ coach denies her the chance to play with the boys because coed teams are against the rules. Lizzy and her father live under a mountain of debt and unpaid bills, but she practices on the trash-strewn court near their home every chance she gets. Collections agents call Lizzy daily (they don’t care that she’s only 13), but one odd robocall changes her life: “You have been pre-selected for one free wish.” Rather than hang up, Lizzy blurts out her secret fantasy: never to miss another basketball shot forever. After that, every shot is a “pure swish”—made without touching the net—even from 30 feet with her back turned. Her best friend, Toby, an enterprising “Buddha-shaped black boy,” fast-talks their way into the Mack Center, home of the Philadelphia Bells, where Lizzy shows off her new skills for the coach. Before she knows it, she signs a 10-day contract (she is only 13) and becomes Lizzy Legend. The narrative, broken into four “Quarters,” takes place in the not-too-distant past, with Lizzy narrating engagingly from the present. It’s ludicrous—and a whole lot of fun, with memorable secondary characters filling out the cast. The book subscribes to the white default; aside from Toby, the only people of color seem to be a Sudanese pro ball player and Spike Lee, who has a cameo. Not quite a slam dunk but an enjoyable sports fantasy nonetheless. (Fiction. 8-13)

About the Author

Matthew Ross Smith is an author and writing professor from Philly. His debut novel, Lizzy Legend (Aladdin Books/Simon & Schuster), will be published in early 2019. His second novel is forthcoming in 2020.

When not writing, he’s also the Founder and Executive Director of The Spaces Between Your Fingers Project, a nonprofit that provides free biographers for people with Alzheimer’s.

Her website is matthew-ross-smith.com/books

Around the Web

Lizzy Legend on Amazon

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Lizzy Legend on Goodreads

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Lizzy Legend Publisher Page

Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi. January 8, 2019. Balzer + Bray, 416 p. ISBN: 9780062698728.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough.

Contributors:
Justina Ireland
Varian Johnson
Rita Williams-Garcia
Dhonielle Clayton
Kekla Magoon
Leah Henderson
Tochi Onyebuchi
Jason Reynolds
Nic Stone
Liara Tamani
Renée Watson
Tracey Baptiste
Coe Booth
Brandy Colbert
Jay Coles
Ibi Zoboi
Lamar Giles

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Marijuana, Sexual assault, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Police violence, Discussion of nude photographs of minors, Cigarettes, Homophobia

Authors Panel

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. What is it like to be young and black, and yet not black enough at the same time? That’s the question explored in this poignant collection of stunning short stories by black rock-star authors, including Justina Ireland, Jason Reynolds, Nic Stone, and Brandy Colbert. The stories center on the experience of black teens, while driving home the fact that they are not a monolith; one person’s experiences, reality, and personal identity can be completely different from another’s. Family, friends, belonging, isolation, classism, and romance are among the topics that take center stage, and the stories’ teens come from a diverse array of backgrounds (e.g., economic, neighborhood, country of origin). Readers glimpse the struggles, achievements, heartaches, and joys of a host of black teens who are authentically and lovingly portrayed. From the kid with two black parents to the mixed-race kid with one black parent, all of the characters grapple with the heart-wrenching question most real-life black teens struggle with (and never should need to): Am I black enough? The additional magic of this collection is that it shirks off the literary world’s tired obsession with only depicting the struggles of black teens. With this, readers see everyday struggles as well as the ordinary yet remarkable joys of black teens that have nothing to do with the trauma of their history.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 1, 2018)
A diverse and compelling fiction anthology that taps 17 established, rising star, and new #ownvoices talents. Editor Zoboi (Pride, 2018, etc.) lays out the collection’s purpose: exploring black interconnectedness, traditions, and identity in terms of how they apply to black teens. Given that scope, that most stories are contemporary realistic fiction makes sense (Rita Williams-Garcia’s humorous “Whoa!” which dips into the waters of speculative fiction, is a notable exception). Conversely, the characters are incredibly varied, as are the narrative styles. Standouts include the elegant simplicity of Jason Reynolds’ “The Ingredients,” about a group of boys walking home from the swimming pool; Leah Henderson’s “Warning: Color May Fade,” about an artist afraid to express herself; the immediacy of Tracey Baptiste’s “Gravity,” about a #MeToo moment of self-actualization birthed from violation; Renee Watson’s reflection on family in “Half a Moon”; and the collection’s namesake, Varian Johnson’s “Black Enough,” which highlights the paradigm shift that is getting woke. In these stories, black kids are nerds and geeks, gay and lesbian, first gen and immigrants, outdoorsy and artists, conflicted and confused, grieving and succeeding, thriving and surviving—in short, they’re fully human. No collection could represent the entire spectrum of blackness, however, the presence of trans, Afro-Latinx, and physically disabled characters is missed: a clarion call for more authentic black-centric collections. A breath of fresh air and a sigh of long overdue relief. Nuanced and necessary. (contributor biographies) (Anthology. 12-18)

About the Editor

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.

Teacher Resources

Black Enough on Common Sense Media

Around the Web

Black Enough on Amazon

Black Enough on Barnes & Noble

Black Enough on Goodreads

Black Enough on LibraryThing

Black Enough Publisher Page

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman. January 8, 2019. Balzer + Bray, 288 p. ISBN: 9780062563897.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.3.

A hilarious new middle grade novel from beloved and bestselling author Gordon Korman about what happens when the worst class of kids in school is paired with the worst teacher—perfect for fans of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day.

The Unteachables are a notorious class of misfits, delinquents, and academic train wrecks. Like Aldo, with anger management issues; Parker, who can’t read; Kiana, who doesn’t even belong in the class—or any class; and Elaine (rhymes with pain). The Unteachables have been removed from the student body and isolated in room 117.

Their teacher is Mr. Zachary Kermit, the most burned-out teacher in all of Greenwich. He was once a rising star, but his career was shattered by a cheating scandal that still haunts him. After years of phoning it in, he is finally one year away from early retirement. But the superintendent has his own plans to torpedo that idea—and it involves assigning Mr. Kermit to the Unteachables.

The Unteachables never thought they’d find a teacher who had a worse attitude than they did. And Mr. Kermit never thought he would actually care about teaching again. Over the course of a school year, though, room 117 will experience mayhem, destruction—and maybe even a shot at redemption.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 4-7. Kiana, a bright kid whose mother ships her off to spend a couple of months with “Dad and Stepmonster,” never exactly registers as a student at her new middle school. But she allows the hand of fate to nudge her into the special, self-contained eighth-grade class (aka the Unteachables), along with six misfits that the school has given up on. Make that seven—why exclude Mr. Kermit? Framed during a cheating scandal two decades ago and publicly humiliated, this once-gifted, now-jaded teacher is slouching toward retirement. After he unknowingly wins his students’ loyalty, their efforts and far-reaching results on his behalf surprise everyone. The first-person narration shifts among a number of quickly sketched but vivid characters, from Kiana and her classmates to their teacher, principal, and nefarious superintendent. When the Unteachables go into action, outlandish situations tend to work out for the best, while offering the occasional disaster and plenty of laughs along the way. Korman’s latest delivers what his fans have come to expect: a well-paced story laced with humor and just as much heart.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2018)
An isolated class of misfits and a teacher on the edge of retirement are paired together for a year of (supposed) failure. Zachary Kermit, a 55-year-old teacher, has been haunted for the last 27 years by a student cheating scandal that has earned him the derision of his colleagues and killed his teaching spirit. So when he is assigned to teach the Self-Contained Special Eighth-Grade Class—a dumping ground for “the Unteachables,” students with “behavior issues, learning problems, juvenile delinquents”—he is unfazed, as he is only a year away from early retirement. His relationship with his seven students—diverse in temperament, circumstance, and ability—will be one of “uncomfortable roommates” until June. But when Mr. Kermit unexpectedly stands up for a student, the kids of SCS-8 notice his sense of “justice and fairness.” Mr. Kermit finds he may even care a little about them, and they start to care back in their own way, turning a corner and bringing along a few ghosts from Mr. Kermit’s past. Writing in the alternating voices of Mr. Kermit, most of his students, and two administrators, Korman spins a narrative of redemption and belief in exceeding self-expectations. Naming conventions indicate characters of different ethnic backgrounds, but the book subscribes to a white default. The two students who do not narrate may be students of color, and their characterizations subtly—though arguably inadequately—demonstrate the danger of preconceptions. Funny and endearing, though incomplete characterizations provoke questions. (Fiction. 8-12)

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.

Around the Web

The Unteachables on Amazon

The Unteachables on Barnes & Noble

The Unteachables on Goodreads

The Unteachables on LibraryThing

The Unteachables Publisher Page