Tag Archives: realistic

Love & Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves

Love & Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves. May 15, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 352 p. ISBN: 9780316436724.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 890.

A darkly funny debut for fans of Becky Albertalli, Matthew Quick, and Ned Vizzini about a nineteen-year-old girl who’s consumed by love, grief, and the many-tentacled beast of self-destructive behavior.

Freshman year at Harvard was the most anticlimactic year of Danny’s life. She’s failing pre-med and drifting apart from her best friend. One by one, Danny is losing all the underpinnings of her identity. When she finds herself attracted to an older, edgy girl who she met in rehab for an eating disorder, she finally feels like she might be finding a new sense of self. But when tragedy strikes, her self-destructive tendencies come back to haunt her as she struggles to discover who that self really is. With a starkly memorable voice that’s at turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants brilliantly captures the painful turning point between an adolescence that’s slipping away and the overwhelming uncertainty of the future.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Smoking, Marijuana, Eating disorders, Alcohol abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 12))
Grades 9-12. Danny and Sara had a plan—best friends forever, stretching from kindergarten to old age, with a stint at college in between. But when Danny gets into Harvard, the plan derails, and so does the girls’ joined-at-the-hip status. However, this is only part of the reason Danny can’t tell Sara the truth about her freshman year: struggling with classes, developing an eating disorder, and going through a treatment program that introduced her to the girl she just can’t get out of her head—and who seems to pop up when she’s least expected. Gonsalves’ debut is a pitch-perfect take on what happens when the future you imagined doesn’t live up to expectations, and every misstep seems to unravel the person you thought you’d become. A heartbreaking twist raises the stakes of Danny’s transformative personal journey, but the struggle of holding on to an old friendship while discovering a new version of yourself should resonate with any reader. This genuinely funny novel about some harrowing topics manages to balance humor and pathos perfectly. Readers who connected with J. J. Johnson’s Believarexic (2015) or Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving (2017) will want this book, as will the many John Green fans who crave intelligent stories that occupy both shadow and light.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2018)
When the life plan she’d laid out implodes, a college freshman finds herself having to regroup.On the surface, snarky protagonist/narrator Dandelion “Danny” Berkowitz seems destined to succeed: The attractive, upper-middle-class high school valedictorian has returned home from Harvard for the summer, ready to reconnect with her popular, equally overachieving, tennis-obsessed best friend, Sara. Unbeknownst to Sara or anyone else in their circle of friends, however, Danny spent second semester at a clinic undergoing in-patient treatment for an eating disorder and anxiety. Along with the internalized fear of failure both teens wrestle with privately, Sara has been saving face by keeping secrets of her own, spelling tragic consequences for their friendship. A turning point comes when Danny enters a romantic relationship with a mutual female friend without telling Sara, who then makes insensitive remarks about another girl who is a lesbian. Gonsalves juggles multiple serious adolescent challenges with operatic verve—eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual awakening and orientation, mental health, grief—and the resulting bildungsroman proves engaging and enlightening, particularly in her realistic depiction of compulsive behaviors related to food. All characters are assumed white. A feel-good debut sure to interest teens looking to feel better about not feeling so great. (author’s note, resource list) (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Florence graduated from Dartmouth College in 2015 with a major in philosophy. Upon getting her diploma, she promptly abandoned Kant and after numerous jobs and internships pursued her lifelong dream of becoming a novelist.

Her website is www.florencegonsalves.com/

Around the Web

Love & Other Carnivorous Plants on Amazon

Love & Other Carnivorous Plants on Goodreads

Love & Other Carnivorous Plants Publisher Page

Advertisements

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. April 17, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 224 p. ISBN: 9780316262286.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.9; Lexile: 360.

Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.
 
Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.
Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.
Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Discrimination, Drugs, Bullying

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 11))
Grades 5-8. Jerome, a young black boy gunned down while playing in a park with a toy gun, invites readers to bear witness to his story, to the tragedy of being dispatched simply because of a policeman’s internalized prejudice masquerading as fear. One day at school, while he and his new friend Carlos are being bullied, Carlos pulls out a toy gun to scare their attackers. Afterward, he gives it to Jerome so he can have a chance to play with it, to pretend that he is in charge. But when he is shot in the back while running from the police, his soul leaves his body and he becomes one of the army of ghost boys hoping to communicate with those still consumed with racial bias. While looking in on the preliminary court hearing, Jerome realizes that the police officer’s daughter can see and talk to him, and together they try to understand how the world around them could be so cruel. Rhodes (Sugar, 2013; Towers Falling, 2016) beautifully weaves together the fictional and the historical—Jerome comes across the ghosts of real-life individuals like Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin—in this gripping and all-too-necessary novel about police brutality, injustice, and the power of bearing witness to the stories of those who are gone.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
In a story that explicitly recalls the murder of Tamir Rice, Jerome, a 12-year-old black boy killed by a white Chicago cop, must, along with the ghosts of Emmett Till and others, process what has happened and how. With the rising tide of today’s Movement for Black Lives, there has been a re-examination of how the 1955 murder of Emmett Till became the fuel for the mid-20th-century civil rights movement. With this narrative in mind, Rhodes seeks to make Till’s story relevant to the post-millennial generation. Readers meet Jerome, who’s bullied at his troubled and underfunded neighborhood school, just at the time that Latinx newcomer Carlos arrives from San Antonio. After finding that Carlos’ toy gun may help keep the school bullies at bay, Jerome is taken by surprise while playing in the park when a white arriving police officer summarily shoots him dead. The police officer’s daughter, Sarah, is the only character who can truly see the ghost boys as they all struggle to process that day and move forward. Written in nonlinear chapters that travel between the afterlife and the lead-up to the unfortunate day, the novel weaves in how historical and sociopolitical realities come to bear on black families, suggesting what can be done to move the future toward a more just direction—albeit not without somewhat flattening the righteous rage of the African-American community in emphasizing the more palatable universal values of “friendship. Kindness. Understanding.” A timely, challenging book that’s worthy of a read, further discussion, and action. (Fiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Jewell Parker Rhodes has always loved reading and writing stories. Born and raised in Manchester, a largely African-American neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh, she was a voracious reader as a child. She began college as a dance major, but when she discovered there were novels by African Americans, for African Americans, she knew she wanted to be an author. She wrote six novels for adults, two writing guides, and a memoir, but writing for children remained her dream.

Her website is www.jewellparkerrhodes.com/children/

Teacher Resources

Ghost Boys Reading Guide

Around the Web

Ghost Boys on Amazon

Ghost Boys on Goodreads

Ghost Boys Publisher Page

The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz

The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz. April 1, 2018. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 298 p. ISBN: 9781492655411.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.4; Lexile: 710.

Superfudge meets The Lemonade War in this funny, heartwarming series debut about change, adventure, family, and of course, doughnuts.

Tristan isn’t Gifted or Talented like his sister Jeanine, and he’s always been okay with that because he can make a perfect chocolate chip cookie and he lives in the greatest city in the world. But his life takes a turn for the worse when his parents decide to move to middle-of-nowhere Petersville―a town with one street and no restaurants. It’s like suddenly they’re supposed to be this other family, one that can survive without bagels and movie theaters.

His suspicions about his new town are confirmed when he’s tricked into believing the local general store has life-changing chocolate cream doughnuts, when in fact the owner hasn’t made them in years. And so begins the only thing that could make life in Petersville worth living: getting the recipe, making the doughnuts, and bringing them back to the town through his very own doughnut stand. But Tristan will soon discover that when starting a business, it helps to be both Gifted and Talented, and It’s possible he’s bitten off more than he can chew…

Part of Series: The Doughnut Fix (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 15))
Grades 3-6. Tristan and his sisters can’t believe it when their parents announce that they’re moving from the best city in the world (New York) to barely-a-town Petersville. The only good thing he’s spotted there so far is the general store’s sign reading, “Yes, we do have chocolate cream doughnuts!” Suddenly, Tristan wants a doughnut more than anything in the world, but he’s crushed to learn the store’s owner, Winnie, no longer makes them. Having a chef for a mom, Tristan has grown up baking, and he is sure he could make and sell Winnie’s once-famous doughnuts. The catch? Winnie only agrees to hand her recipe over when Tristan can show her a viable business plan. As Tristan works on his plan (from sourcing ingredients to getting a business license), he finds friendship and a place in his new community. Janowitz accurately portrays the chaotic emotions moving can trigger in this sweet, relatable story. Tristan’s doughnut endeavor will hold wide appeal as a pleasure read, and may inspire young foodies or entrepreneurs to think beyond the lemonade stand.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2018)
Tristan’s family has always loved living in New York City, but all that is about to change.Dad announces that they are moving to a dilapidated, purple house on a hill on the outskirts of the very small town of Petersville in upstate New York. Baby sister Zoe is frightened and confused. Jeanine, two years younger than Tristan and a math genius in gifted and talented classes, is appalled and worried about her educational prospects. Tristan is devastated, for he is a city kid through and through. Because they won’t be starting school for several months, their parents tell Jeanine and Tristan they must complete a project. Jeanine selects a complicated scientific and mathematical study that allows her to remain uninvolved with people. Tristan, who loves to cook, like his chef mom, decides to start a business making and selling the supposedly mind-blowing chocolate-cream doughnuts once famous in Petersville but now no longer made. His business plan leads to adventures, new friends, and a sense of acceptance. Tristan is a charmer; he’s earnest, loving, wistful, and practical, and he narrates his own tale without guile. But he is the only character so well defined—next to him, the supporting cast feels flat. The family is described as Jewish early on, but their Judaism is kept well to the background; the people of Petersville are white by default. A bit disjointed and episodic, but Tristan is a likable companion. (recipes, business plan, acknowledgements) (Fiction. 8-10)

About the Author

Jessie grew up in New York City and still lives there with her family.

She started making up stories before she was old enough to write them down. She still has one that she dictated to her mother. It’s basically Star Wars but takes place on a planet called Denkofa. Eventually, she came up with more original material. Her debut middle grade novel The Doughnut Fix,  is not at all like Star Wars, but there are doughnuts.

Her website is www.jessiejanowitz.com/

Around the Web

The Doughnut Fix on Amazon

The Doughnut Fix on Goodreads

The Doughnut Fix Publisher Page

Tradition by Brendan Kiely

Tradition by Brandan Kiely. May 1, 2018. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9781481480345.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 710.

Prestigious. Powerful. Privileged. This is Fullbrook Academy, an elite prep school where history looms in the leafy branches over its brick walkways. But some traditions upheld in its hallowed halls are profoundly dangerous.

Jules Devereux just wants to keep her head down, avoid distractions, and get into the right college, so she can leave Fullbrook and its old-boy social codes behind. She wants freedom, but ex-boyfriends and ex-best friends are determined to keep her in place.

Jamie Baxter feels like an imposter at Fullbrook, but the hockey scholarship that got him in has given him a chance to escape his past and fulfill the dreams of his parents and coaches, whose mantra rings in his ears: Don’t disappoint us.

When Jamie and Jules meet, they recognize in each other a similar instinct for survival, but at a school where girls in the student handbook are rated by their looks, athletes stack hockey pucks in dorm room windows like notches on a bedpost, and school-sponsored dances push first year girls out into the night with senior boys, the stakes for safe sex, real love, and true friendship couldn’t be higher.

As Jules and Jamie’s lives intertwine, and the pressures to play by the rules and remain silent about the school’s secrets intensify, they see Fullbrook for what it really is. That tradition, a word Fullbrook hides behind, can be ugly, even violent. Ultimately, Jules and Jamie are faced with the difficult question: can they stand together against classmates—and an institution—who believe they can do no wrong?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Smoking, Discussions of rape

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 12))
Grades 9-12. Meet two teens who become friends at a misogynistic, patriarchal private school, even as they are both drowning in secrets. Jamie Baxter, a football-player-turned-hockey-player, needs to keep it together for one last year or else miss his last shot at a scholarship. Meanwhile, Jules Devereux is trying to be a bold feminist in a school where girls are told to “not make a scene.” Their secrets spill out when a teen party goes horribly wrong, and Jamie has to decide if he will support Jules in her time of need, thereby breaking a long-standing tradition of silence. Kiely bravely explores rape culture and how it intersects with class and privilege, along the way making his characters speak to those in privileged positions “in a language they cannot ignore.” Kiely, coauthor with Jason Reynolds of All American Boys (2015), takes on an important, sensitive topic that should help connect readers to burgeoning social-justice movements; readers will find themselves rooting for the world not as it is, but as it might yet be.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2018)
A prestigious prep school enforces toxic masculinity.James Baxter is a scholarship kid intent on keeping his head down and not rocking the boat at highly acclaimed Fullbrook Academy. Meanwhile, Jules Devereux doesn’t mind ruffling feathers if it means changing a few minds. Together, the high school seniors unearth a vile, sexist ritual and the accompanying rot that has spread throughout Fullbrook’s culture. As Jules discovers her agency, James learns the first rule of being an ally: actively listening. The author’s plotting is loose, resulting in a novel that winds here and there, eschewing forward thrust in favor of a true exploration of the social dynamics at play. The novel avoids sermonizing, embedding themes in character arcs so well that every feminist argument emerges as a natural part of the story. Readers will find many aspects of the real world reflected in Fullbrook’s campus, beginning with institutions that have turned a blind eye to questionable and sordid practices because that’s the way things have always been done. As more organizations are subjected to scrutiny, this novel is a timely road map for those looking to find their places in this rapidly changing world. All major characters are white. A thoughtfully crafted argument for feminism and allyship. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Brendan Kiely received an MFA in creative writing from The City College of New York. His writing has appeared in Fiction, Guernica, The AWP Writer’s Chronicle, and other publications. Originally from the Boston area, he now teaches at an independent high school and lives with his wife in Greenwich Village.

His website is www.brendankiely.com

Teacher Resources

Tradition Reading Guide

Around the Web

Tradition on Amazon

Tradition on Goodreads

Tradition  Publisher Page

Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell

Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell. March 13, 2018. Razorbill, 320 p. ISBN: 9780448494265.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 660.

The autumn morning after sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper loses her virginity, she wakes to a loud, persistent knocking at her front door. Waiting for her are two firemen, there to let her know that the moment she’s been dreading has arrived: the enormous wildfire sweeping through Orange County, California, is now dangerously close to her idyllic gated community of Coto de Caza, and it’s time to evacuate.

Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, as Audrey wrestles with the possibility of losing her family home, she also recalls her early, easy summer days with Brooks, the charming, passionate, but troubled volunteer firefighter who enchants Audrey–and who is just as enthralled by her. But as secrets from Brooks’s dark past come to light, Audrey can’t help but wonder if there’s danger in the pull she feels–both toward this boy, and toward the fire burning in the distance.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Marijuana, Arson, Animal abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. The morning she’s evacuated from her Orange County home to escape an approaching fire, Audrey Harper is already nearing the brink of collapse. After what seemed like the perfect summer romance with her boyfriend, mysterious, brooding Brooks, the autumn has left her with too many questions about who Brooks really is—and who she’d be without him. Unfolding over the course of a single day, the narrative manages to mix the ticking-clock tension of the approaching, unforgivable fire with flashbacks that pull back the curtain on a mystery without slowing the pace. First-time author Ezell has perfectly captured the disquieting feeling inherent to the dawning realization of an undesirable truth. She avoids assigning Audrey’s multilayered pain a neat set of labels or causes, allowing the character space to explore them. This is a gripping novel about finding out who you are under the worst circumstances, and still maintaining hope that your new sense of self will carry you through to better times.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
The Sunday morning after she loses her virginity, white 16-year-old Audrey Harper is home alone when the evacuation order arrives.A wildfire rages in the nearby canyons, and it’s spreading, moving toward the gated Orange County community where she lives with her mother, father, and 13-year-old sister. Audrey’s boyfriend, Brooks, a volunteer firefighter, is creepily euphoric about the prospect of fire; he seems to look forward to it. As Audrey acts to save some of her family’s most cherished belongings, including her sister’s secret pet kitten, and to find a safe place to wait out the fires, she reflects on her sometimes-rocky relationship with Brooks. The story is deftly punctuated with flashbacks of the past several months—from Audrey’s meet-cute with Brooks to falling in love to their ill-fated three-month “anniversary”—showcasing events leading up to the present. As the story moves forward, and the fire moves closer to home, Audrey discovers Brooks hasn’t told her the whole truth about his past. Is he the tortured soul he’s led her to believe he is, or is he a manipulative liar? Clues throughout hint at the fire’s origins; observant readers will have it figured out in no time. Audrey is aware that her gated community is “painfully whitewashed and lacking in diversity”; to that end, characters are assumed white. A decently entertaining story of love, loss, and hope. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

A Southern California native, Heather Ezell was evacuated for a fire at the age of three and subsequently grew up with an obsessive fear of wildfires. She has been chasing reprieve from California’s heat ever since–from the Rocky Mountains to Interior Alaska. Heather graduated from Colorado College with a degree in English literature and creative writing, and she currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where she writes, practices amateur ballet in the forest, and obsesses over the weather.

Her website is www.heatherezell.com

Around the Web

Nothing Left to Burn on Amazon

Nothing Left to Burn on Goodreads

Nothing Left to Burn Publisher Page

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. May 8, 2018. Nancy Paulsen Books, 240 p. ISBN: 9780399544682.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.9; Lexile: 600.

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Book Talk

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 15))
Grades 4-6. Pakistani Amal loves going to school and looks forward to becoming a teacher in the future. She only becomes aware of nuances in gender roles and the lack of opportunities afforded to girls after her father tells her that she must take care of the household while her mother recovers from childbirth. Amal hopes to continue her schooling once her mother is well, but that goal drifts further away when an accidental encounter lands her in a humongous heap of trouble. In order to spare her family from incurring further wrath and unfair consequences, Amal becomes an indentured servant to the odious Khan family. Readers will find that a little perseverance and a heart filled with hope can eventually surmount a harsh reality. Saeed fills her prose with lush descriptions of Pakistani life, while still managing to connect with readers whose surroundings and experiences will be starkly different. Hand to any reader who struggles with definitive gender roles, norms, and expectations held in place by societal structures.

Publishers Weekly (March 12, 2018)
Saeed (Written in the Stars) infuses this true-to-life story of unjust power dynamics in a poor Pakistani village with a palpable sense of dread regarding the fate of the inquisitive, industrious, poetry-loving titular character. Twelve-year-old Amal is troubled by her parents’ obvious distress that her newborn sibling is yet another girl, and she is vexed that her responsibilities as eldest daughter require her to run the household while her mother is bedridden. Amal unleashes her frustration on the wrong person when she talks back to Jawad Sahib, the wealthy landowner, who demands she work off her debt for the insult . Amal’s experience navigating an unfamiliar social hierarchy in the landlord’s lavish estate exposes her to pervasive gender inequities and unfair labor practices, like being charged for room and board but receiving no pay. While her growing indebtedness makes it unlikely she will ever leave, Amal’s ability to read grants her a dangerous opportunity to expose the landlord’s extensive corruption, if she dares. Saeed’s eloquent, suspenseful, eye-opening tale offers a window into the contemporary practice of indentured servitude and makes a compelling case for the power of girls’ education to transform systemic injustice. Ages 10-up

About the Author

Aisha Saeed also wrote Written in the Stars, and is a Pakistani-American writer, teacher, and attorney. She has been featured on MTV, the Huffington Post, NBC and the BBC, and her writings have appeared in publications including the journal ALAN and the Orlando Sentinel. As one of the founding members of the much talked about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping change the conversation about diverse books. Aisha lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and sons.

Her website is www.aishasaeed.com

Teacher Resources

Amal Unbound Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

Amal Unbound on Amazon

Amal Unbound on Goodreads

Amal Unbound Publisher Page

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira. March 6, 2018. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 384 p. ISBN: 9780374305314.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 880.

The author of the beloved Love Letters to the Dead returns with a parallel story of a mother and daughter each at age seventeen. Marilyn’s tale recounts the summer she fell in love and set out on her own path. Angie’s story is about her search for her unknown father.

This sweeping multi-generational love story introduces readers to mother-and-daughter pair Marilyn and Angie. To seventeen-year-old Angie, who is mixed-race, Marilyn is her hardworking, devoted white single mother. But Marilyn was once young, too. When Marilyn was seventeen, she fell in love with Angie’s father, James, who was African-American. But Angie’s never met him, and Marilyn has always told her he died before she was born. When Angie discovers evidence of an uncle she’s never met she starts to wonder: What if her dad is still alive, too? So she sets off on a journey to find him, hitching a ride to LA from her home in New Mexico with her ex-boyfriend, Sam. Along the way, she uncovers some hard truths about herself, her mother, and what truly happened to her father.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Marijuana, Racism, Police violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 9-12. Angie has never known her father, so she doesn’t know that her athleticism is an echo of his own. She does know that he is black; one glance in the mirror confirms that. Her white mother, Marilyn, says that Angie’s father died in a car accident. But a series of discoveries leads Angie to believe that he might actually be alive and living in Los Angeles. So Angie embarks on a secret mission to discover the truth. As Angie’s quest to find her father unfolds, alternating chapters flash back to the doomed romance between Marilyn and Angie’s father, James. Although the lovers share a genuine connection, their relationship is strained by the racist disapproval of Marilyn’s uncle. Both stories are engaging, packed with cultural references from their respective periods. But the most poignant aspect of the story is Angie’s need to connect with the African American side of her family. Like Shannon Gibney’s See No Color (2015), this novel offers a thoughtful examination of racial identity, which will likely be relevant to many teens.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
Mother and daughter move through parallel journeys separated by time but connected by introspection in Dellaira’s (Love Letters to the Dead, 2014) latest. Told in alternating voices and timelines, this narrative explores two young women’s searches for completion. Marilyn Miller, 17 in the late 1990s and dreaming of the freedom of college, must contend with her mother’s plans for her to become a rising star in Hollywood. Stretched to the breaking point between the promise of self-determination and the weight of her mother’s hopes, Marilyn, a blonde white girl, finds relief and unexpected romance with her enigmatic black neighbor, James. Fast-forward 18 years to meet Angie Miller, Marilyn and James’ biracial daughter, who has lived her entire life believing her father was dead. When she discovers that her mother has lied about this, Angie journeys to Los Angeles with her ex-boyfriend Sam (also biracial, with a white father and Mexican mother) to find the missing pieces that have distanced her from Sam. Exploring the dynamic tension between identity and relationships, and the realities of violence and racism (although less so white privilege), the separate narratives converge to tell one family’s story of pain and loss, love and forgiveness. Time jumps occasionally disrupt cohesion, and readers unfamiliar with the ’90s may find Marilyn’s narrative irksomely referential, but overall, this is a compelling intergenerational tale. Achingly vibrant. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Ava Dellaira is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. She believes this book began when she bought her second album ever—Nirvana’s In Utero—which she listened to on repeat while filling the pages of her journal. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California, where she works in the film industry and is writing her second novel.

Her website is avadellaira.com.

Around the Web

In Search of Us on Amazon

In Search of Us on Goodreads

In Search of Us Publisher Page

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan. March 20, 2018. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 462 p. ISBN: 9780316463997.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 670.

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. Leigh shatters after her mother’s suicide—who wouldn’t?—but when a huge, beautiful red bird appears and calls her name in her mother’s voice, she doesn’t think she’s hallucinating; she’s sure the bird is actually her mother, and not “some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap.” When the bird brings Leigh a box of letters and photos from her mother’s childhood in Taiwan, she convinces her white father to take her to Taipei to meet her mother’s estranged parents for the first time. There she digs into her family’s past, visiting her mother’s favorite places and keeping an eye out for the bird, which grows ever more elusive the longer Leigh searches. In Leigh’s strong, painterly voice and with evocative, fantastical elements, Pan movingly explores grief and loss, as well as Leigh’s meaningful search for connection to her secretive mother and her exploration of the many facets of her identity. Particularly laudable is Pan’s sensitive treatment of mental illness: Leigh learns many heartbreaking things about her mother’s life, but those moments are never offered as explanations for suicide; rather, it’s the result of her mother’s lifelong struggle with severe, debilitating depression. Dynamic, brave Leigh emerges vividly in Pan’s deft hand, and her enthralling journey through her grief glows with stunning warmth, strength, and resilience.

Horn Book Magazine (May/June, 2018)
“My mother is a bird,” declares Leigh, a mixed-raced (hun-xie) Taiwanese American teen. She has seen her mother reincarnated as a large red bird and knows that Mom is trying to guide Leigh in understanding the reasons for her tragic suicide. (Leigh also must contend with the crushing guilt of kissing her best friend, Axel, on the day Mom died.) Leigh travels to Taipei to stay with her maternal grandparents, with whom she can barely communicate. There she embarks on a fervent and grief-stricken odyssey riddled with insomnia and confusion, piecing together her mother’s past by lighting magical incense sticks that allow her to witness fragments of others’ memories. Pan portrays Leigh as a talented visual artist, telling her story with a vividness punctuated by a host of highly specific hues: a “cerise punch” to the gut, “viridian spiraling” thoughts, a heart “bursting with manganese blue and new gamboges yellow and quinacridone rose.” Some readers might be put off by the abundant imagery, but it—along with the threads of Taiwanese mysticism and her mingling of ghosts (gui) with the living—creates a hypnotic narrative. roxanne hsu Feldman

About the Author

Emily X.R. Pan currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, but was originally born in the Midwestern United States to immigrant parents from Taiwan. She received her MFA in fiction from NYU, where she was a Goldwater Fellow. She was the founding editor-in-chief of Bodega Magazine, a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Djerassi, and is co-creator of FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology.

Her website is exrpan.com.

Teacher Resources

The Astonishing Color of After Discussion Questions

Around the Web

The Astonishing Color of After on Amazon

The Astonishing Color of After on Goodreads

The Astonishing Color of After Publisher Page

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk. March 6, 2018. Delacorte Press, 336 p. ISBN: 9781524715892.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 810.

Told from three diverse points of view, this story of life and love after loss is one Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give , calls a “stunning, heart-wrenching look at grief that will stay with you long after you put it down.” 

We’ve lost everything…and found ourselves.

Music brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death might pull them apart.

Autumn always knew exactly who she was: a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan has always turned to writing love songs when his real love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan is a guy who can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger who’s struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking, Suicide, Marijuana, Alcohol abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 7))
Grades 9-12. Autumn, Shay, and Logan have something in common: the loss of a loved one. Autumn’s best friend, Tavia, has died in a car wreck; Shay’s twin sister, Sasha, has died of leukemia; and Logan’s erstwhile boyfriend, Bram, has died of an apparent suicide. The three teens are further linked by their love of music, though each reacts to the various deaths in individual, at first unhealthy, ways. Autumn obsesses, Shay has panic attacks, and Logan drinks heavily. Despite these differences, all three have one common coping mechanism: they cry. Boy, do they cry. Gallons of tears are shed in this novel, too many, really, since their quantity tends to mitigate their impact. That quibble aside, Woodfolk has done an exemplary job of character creating and building. Her three co-protagonists are fully realized, empathetic individuals for whom readers will care. They grow and change believably as they begin to find ways to deal with their grief, and the resolutions of their emotional crises are lucid and deeply satisfying, as, ultimately, is this fine first novel.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2017)
Isolated by three untimely deaths, a diverse assortment of teen millennials seeks healing in friendship and music. Shy Autumn, a Korean-American adoptee, was stunned when her best friend, Tavia, a lively Latinx extrovert, died in a one-car accident returning from a party. Autumn’s guilt over having skipped the party to hang out with Tavia’s brother, Dante, threatens to derail their dawning romance. Bram died months after he’d left Logan for Latinx Yara, a girl. In pain, blocked emotionally and creatively, Logan, a white, singer/songwriter, self-medicates with alcohol. Black identical twins Shay and Sasha were close until leukemia took Sasha’s life. Shay was a strong student and runner; now panic attacks prevent her from focusing on school or the music fan site the two started, on which they’d promoted a once-promising, now-defunct band called Unraveling Lovely—made up of Logan, Dante, and Sasha’s boyfriend, Rohan. Their intersecting stories chart how the void left by death reshapes relationships among survivors: friends, parents, children. Sasha’s long illness defined her three-person family; now Shay and her mother must remake their connection. For Logan, Yara proves an unexpected ally. While Shay and Logan have strong, distinctive voices, Autumn’s agony—with her shorter emotional journey and narrative arc—is less convincing. (That her adopted status might affect her reaction to loss is suggested but unexplored.) All cherish images and voices of those lost, preserved in digital media, but the sensitively wrought narrative braid argues that only the living can comfort and heal. An ambitious debut from a writer to watch. (Fiction. 14-17)

About the Author

Ashley Woodfolk graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in English and her life-long love of books led her straight to the publishing industry. She’s a member of the CBC Diversity Committee and markets books for children and teens. In her abundance of “spare” time, she writes contemporary YA. Indie movies, beer, books, and burgers are a few of her favorite things. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and pit bull puppy, Winnie. The Beauty That Remains is her debut novel.

Her website is www.ashleywoodfolk.com.

Around the Web

The Beauty That Remains on Amazon

The Beauty That Remains on Goodreads

The Beauty That Remains Publisher Page

American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda by Gloria Chao. February 6, 2018. Simon Pulse, 311 p. ISBN: 9781481499101.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 780.

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Body humor, Graphic descriptions, Mention of child abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. For Mei, age 17 doesn’t involve prom dates. Instead, she’s a hopeful medical student at MIT, exactly as her parents planned. Mei strains against the expectations of her traditional Chinese parents, especially after they disowned her brother for choosing love over familial duty. At first, dance is the secret indulgence she must hide from them, but soon it graduates to a cute Japanese (read: unsuitable) boy and even worse—contact with her ostracized brother. She comes to understand her culture to be both a source of pride and a prison sentence, and she must find the strength to empathize with her parents, who are just as trapped by expectations. Vibrant, complex, and refreshing, this book crafts a nuanced view of growing up in a family beholden to centuries of tradition. Chao is meticulous in showing the wrinkles of a Chinese upbringing, especially in the face of an individualistic American society. Chao’s also wickedly funny; she’s not afraid of placing Mei in embarrassing situations to show readers what she’s made of. Moreover, Chao devotes a generous amount of effort to fleshing out Mei’s mother, transforming her from antagonist to someone with whom Mei learns to identify. A soulful and hilarious debut.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2017)
A Taiwanese-American girl finally starts to experience life beyond her overbearing parents.Mei, a 17-year-old freshman at MIT, has followed her parents’ plans so far. Now all she has to do is get into a good medical school, become a doctor, and marry a nice Taiwanese boy. But with some distance from her parents (living in the Boston suburbs, they still demand to see her at weekly check-ins), Mei starts to buckle under the weight of their expectations and the truths she discovers about herself: she’s a germophobe who can’t stomach the thought of medical school. She really, really likes Darren, a Japanese-American classmate. Unfortunately, a thinly drawn cast of characters (an old friend appears in just one chapter to make a point) and heavy-handed first-person reflections (“She didn’t know anything about them, my situation, how hard it was to straddle two cultures”) sometimes read more as a book about cultural stereotypes and self-discovery than a compelling, fully fleshed novel. Awkwardly specific and quickly dated cultural references such as a Facebook check-in and an explanation of the term “hack” jar readers from the narrative. Nonetheless, Chao’s inclusions of an Asian male romantic interest, a slightly nontraditional Asian female lead (size 8 with a big nose and “man-laugh”), and casual Mandarin dialogue are welcome and will appeal to uninitiated readers. A worthy story that stumbles. (author’s note) (Fiction. 12-17)

About the Author

Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. American Panda is her debut novel and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.

Gloria currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out.

Her website is gloriachao.wordpress.com.

Around the Web

American Panda on Amazon

American Panda on Goodreads

American Panda Publisher Page