Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Political Memoir: Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator

Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator, by Sofia Warren, (June 2022, Top Shelf Productions), $24.99, ISBN: 9781603095129

Ages 14+

New York State senator Julia Salazar first found herself on Brooklyn cartoonist Sofia Warren’s radar in 2018 when the then 27-year-old was a Democratic Socialist running for state senate. Her grassroots campaign inspired and motivated followers, including Sofia Warren. When Salazar won the election, Sofia Warren asked the newly minted state senator if she could chronicle the first year of her tenure; Salazar accepted, and Radical was born. Radical chronicles what happens after the balloons and confetti have been cleaned up and it’s time to get to work. Salazar, whose main focus was affordable housing, had a team of community organizers going up against wealthy landlords and entrenched ways of doing things: the twenty-something Socialist and her followers had their work cut out for them. Sofia Warren spent a year traveling with and speaking to Salazar and her team in order to create an honest portrait of a state senator’s first year in office: traveling to and from Albany; meetings, meetings, meetings; angry public meetings, staff disagreements, gaining and losing ground, all on the way to create legislation. The beginning of the story reads similar to an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez memoir; something the author is aware of, and Radical will appeal to AOC followers and anyone interested in the inner workings of grassroots politics. Excellent for high school and college courses.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Adora and the Distance

Adora and the Distance, by Marc Bernardin/Illustrated by Ariela Kristantina, (March 2022, Dark Horse), $14.99, ISBN: 9781506724508

Ages 12+

Like I said, I read a HUGE backlog of graphic novels while I had my little break, so be prepared for some “If you didn’t read it, it’s new to you!” posts. This time, I’ve got Adora and the Distance, by television writer-producer and comic book author Marc Bernardin. Set in a high fantasy world, Adora is a young woman of color living in a world full of adventure: there are pirates, ghosts, a royal family, and a malevolent entity known as The Distance. The Distance devours and destroys, and Adora, connected to The Distance, must leave her home on a mission to stop it.

The artwork is stunning. The colors, the shading, the depth, bring this book to life in a reader’s hands. The story builds to an incredible conclusion that made the world come to a halt around me as I took it all in. Adora and the Distance is a father’s love letter to his daughter in the best way he could reach her; the best way to let her know he sees her. Adora and the Distance is a story of autism, you see; Marc Bernardin’s author’s note at the end of the book  explains his impetus for creating this epic tale. Adora is smart, brave, and full of love.  There’s humor, adventure, family, and forgiveness all here, bound into this story that connects a father to his daughter.

Put Adora and the Distance in your distributor cart, and get it on shelves for your readers. Give it to parents, educators, and caregivers.

Posted in gaming, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Tabletop Tuesdays with Carcassone

Next up, we have Carcassone. My library system’s gaming committee sent our first bin of games over, so I have 10 copies each of Carcassone and 10 of 7 Wonders. I’m still trying to work out 7 Wonders, so we played Carcassone.

I initially brought the game home to playtest with my kids, so I’d be able to figure out modifications, if necessary, for my younger kids, but this was pretty straightforward out of the box, so let’s go.

Carcassone, Z-Man Games (2000)
Ages 7+ (the box says 7+; for my library kids, I’d go 8-10+)
Play time: 45-60 minutes
Number of players: 2-5

Carcassone has been around for over 20 years; it’s won awards; it’s been translated into 22 languages; it’s got expansions. It’s considered, according to Wil Wheaton, to be “one of the four pillars of classic European-style board gaming”; Settlers of Catan, Alhambra, and Ticket to Ride forming the other 3 pillars. It’s a tile-laying game that’s surprisingly straightforward to play and teach.

The Plot: You and your fellow players are creating the French medieval city of Carcassone. To do this, you’ll turn over tiles to reveal different parts of the landscape, and you must create and claim your lands.

Medieval gerrymandering? No, it’s Carcassone! (my photo)

There are rules all players must adhere to: roads (those squiggly beige lines) must connect to other roads. Cities (the walled brown areas) must connect to other parts of the cities. Meeples (the cute little blue guys you see in the above photo) claim different areas as you build them. There are five groups of Meeples: green, red, blue, black, and yellow. Choose your color, and start building. As you play each tile, use your Meeples to claim area. Meeples placed on roads are highwaymen, for those folx who love a bad guy; claim the cities and be a knight; lay your Meeple down on the green areas to be a farmer; claim a monastery (the pointy buildings in the center of the photo) and be a monk. Each of these areas get scored differently:

  1. Putting your meeple on a road claims that road, but you do not score points until the road is complete. It has to lead from somewhere to somewhere. Each tile your road touches is worth one point; my road above leads from one monastery to another, and touches 5 tiles, so that’s 5 points.
  2. Putting your meeple on a city means you’re a knight protecting that city. You do not score points until the city has been completed. See my Meeple above, next to the monastery? That city touches 3 tiles; those tiles are worth 2 points each, so my Knight has 6 points. See that larger city toward the left hand side of the picture? That is a much bigger city, AND has several shields. Those shields are worth an additional 2 points per shield, so that city, which was still under construction when I took this picture, is worth 22 points: 16 points because it spreads across 8 tiles, plus 6 points for the 3 shields within.
  3. Monasteries get 1 point for every tile enclosing them in the area – basically, monasteries get 9 points; they’re surrounded by 8 tiles, and the monastery makes 9.\
  4. Farms are big points, because farmers are scored by the number of completed cities that touch their fields. Start Your Meeples has an excellent way to describe scoring farm points, and I highly recommend this article. Farmers get 3 points for each city.

As you complete your areas, you take your Meeples back, ready to guard (and rob) the next area of the burgeoning city. Use the scoreboard to keep track of your scores.

Okay, a couple of observations during gameplay. You will inadvertently help your opponents sometimes, depending on the tile you draw. My son and I, on our first couple of plays, initially thought we could undercut one another by placing tiles that didn’t connect to anything, to block progress. Don’t do that! After reading more blogs and watching several gameplay videos, we figured out that Carcassone is kind of cooperative, kind of not in that way. Think of it like you’re building a map. It needs to make sense at the end of the day.

Play the short game and the long game for best use of your Meeples! Can you build a 2-tile city? YES. Don’t get hung up on only building gigantic cities, because I promise you, it will bite you on the backside. Ditto for starting roads that have no end. If, toward the end of the game, you have no Meeples to place, you get no points for tiles laid! Make that 3-tile road; build that 2-tile city; get your Meeples and keep going.

Wil Wheaton calls the River Expansion a great way to get beginners used to the process of laying tiles, and he’s right. There are 12 river tiles that must be played first, and you can’t put Meeples on the river, so it’s just a nice, easy way to start the game; scoring goes as usual, and we got into the swing of things without stressing where to place Meeples by doing this. I didn’t play the Abbots part of the expansion yet, though, so if you have played it and want to share your thoughts, PLEASE do.

After a few plays at home, my son and I got into a good rhythm of gameplay, and I was easily able to show our library’s after-school coordinator and one of our children’s librarians how to play. I’m looking forward to reporting back on how the kids took to it this coming Tuesday!

All in All: A fun, creative game that guarantees you’ll never play the same game twice. Easy to explain to younger kids; I think our middle graders and middle schoolers are going to be a strong group for this game, and I feel like the few teens I get (hopefully more, by this summer!) will be into this. As popular as Carcassone is, I’ve yet to meet more than a handful of folx who’ve actually played it (kind of like me, with Settlers of Catan).

If you’d like to watch gameplay videos, I highly recommend Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop episode and Watch It Played’s Carcassone episode, both of which I’m embedding here. Both YouTube accounts are great for learning gameplay for a wealth of different games and are worth subscribing to the feeds.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Greatest Thing takes a real look at adolescence, art, and anxiety

The Greatest Thing, by Sarah Winifred Searle, (Feb. 2022, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250297235

Ages 13+

A fictionalized memoir, The Greatest Thing follows Winifred as she starts the school year after her two closest friends go to a different school. Winifred is talented, creative, and plagued by anxiety. Uncomfortable with her body, she engages in habits like “tricking” her body into “forgetting it was hungry by making it sick”. When she meets new friends April and Oscar, her world opens up: the three friends love art and also deal with self-esteem and anxiety; together, the three find their voices by creating a zine, Gutterglimmers. Eventually, Winifred – with the help of her supportive mom – seeks help, and starts finding comfort in real life as well as the pages of her zine. Filled with helpful instructions on making a zine, and positive portrayals of nonbinary and pansexual characters, The Greatest Thing provides an honest and raw look into adolescent anxiety and depression, and the role art can play in working through emotions and feelings. If you haven’t purchased this book for your YA graphic novels collections yet, you really should.

Visit Sarah Winifred Searle’s website and seem more of her artwork and learn about more of her books.

Posted in Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Reputation is a Regency-era Mean Girls

Reputation, by Lex Croucher, (Apr. 2022, St. Martin’s Griffin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250832832

Ages 16+

Georgiana Ellers is a 19-year-old young woman living with her aunt and uncle in Regency-era England. Her parents have rather unceremoniously left her in their care, selling their home and moving to the shore under the guise of her mother needing to look after her health. Resigning herself to the boredom and stress of society parties at the elbow of her ton-conscious aunt, Georgiana is delighted when she meets Frances Campbell – a somewhat scandalous member of society’s in-crowd, who immediately takes Georgiana under her wing. Frances and her crowd are given to wild partying, spending copious amounts of money, and spending an improper amount of time in the company of the opposite sex. Georgiana loses herself in the abandon of it all, but she feels like she’s falling just short of fitting in most of the time. She also falls hard for one of the young men on the fringes of the group, Thomas Hawksley, but he tends to pull back from the wilder group antics.

This book is riding high on the Bridgerton wave, and with good reason: it packs all the glamour of Regency-era Britain, with Shonda Rimes’s diverse additions making for a more exciting, interesting experience. Reputation certainly doesn’t overlook the issues rampant in Britain at the time; a biracial central character certainly experiences her share of side glances and comments. An LGBTQ+ subplot running through the main story, and there are themes of consent, agency, and social class.

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

The Epic Mentor Guide: Smart advice for young women, from women who’ve been there

The Epic Mentor Guide: Insider Advice for Girls Eyeing the Workforce from 180 Boss Women Who Know, by Illana Raia, (March 2022, Forefront Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781637630495

10-18

Imagine being a high school or college student and having access to a think tank of successful women. What would you want them to tell you? Illana Raia, founder of the mentorship platform Être, has taken note of questions that young women have asked and gotten answers, all collected here. Whether it’s asking about successful traits or resilience when someone refuses to get your name right; how engineering can get you a job at LEGO, or being the first attorney at Etsy, tweens and teens will find answers here. The women are a diverse group, chosen from all areas: sports, technology, medicine, finance, entertainment, and more. Celebrities like Tyra Banks and Hoda Kotb are in here, as are brand executives from Nike, Spotify, and Disney. The questions run from getting noticed by college admissions and what makes a standout LinkedIn profile to diversity and inclusion, how to break into an industry, and when to be patient versus when to push forward.  The design is eye-catching, with bright orange pages breaking up the white spaces; answers are thoughtful and run from sound-bite briefs to longer, thought-out responses. Most respondents include social media information, for readers to follow. A good choice for career collections and guidance collections.

 

Check out this interview with author Illana Raia, courtesy of BooksForward!

  • Who were your mentors? 

I’ve been so fortunate to have tremendous mentors throughout my career! My grandmother graduated from law school in 1936, and watching her in court when I was young made me sure I wanted law school. Professors I had at Smith College and The University of Chicago Law School lit the way forward, and my first mentor when I practiced mergers & acquisitions was the youngest partner my law firm had ever made. But the women I have met since founding Être, leaders in their fields and founders in every sense of the word, have mentored me in ways I can never repay.

  • What inspired you to start Être, and how did this book come about?

When I was practicing law and my daughter was in middle school, I realized she did not know what I did every day. More than that, she did not know what my group of ridiculously accomplished friends did every day! I started Être (which, in French, means to be), to bring young girls face to face with inspiring role models. This book came about after we started being invited into companies to meet female leaders. I was blown away by the questions the girls were asking! Moreover, the women we met answered every question with such candor, wit and wisdom that all I could think was Every girl should be doing this. So I kept a list of questions asked at company visits, and then added a survey and an email Q&A, asking girls across the globe what they wanted to know about the work world. What happened next was astounding. As fast as the questions came in I started reaching out to women in the relevant companies or industries – and their answers did not disappoint! Over the course of the next year, a virtual conversation ensued between girls eyeing the workforce and the women already there.

  • What types of questions did you get from today’s girls?

The questions we received were substantive and specific in nature: How can I become an animator at Pixar? Can TikTok be used for networking? How did you land an interview with SpaceX? Do cover letters even matter? Am I allowed to ask about inclusion in an interview? What’s one thing no one knows about working at Google?  I think the authenticity of the questions was a huge reason these women answered; they remembered what it felt like on their first day at work, and told us repeatedly I wish I’d had this when I was starting out!

  • What are some of your favorite pieces of advice in the book?

I love how TheSkimm founders, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg talked about avoiding the trap of expectations, and hearing about what astronauts like Anna Fisher (the first mom in space), Cady Coleman and Jennifer Scott Williams want today’s girls in STEM to remember. I loved reading that celebrity make-up artist Steph Aiello was encouraged by Tyra Banks to pursue her dream despite a physical disability, in part because Tyra Banks is also in the book (talking about why we should over-prepare for meetings)! The idea that even the mentors have mentors thrilled me. I was moved by what icons like Lilly Ledbetter said about salary negotiations, what Sudi Green said about getting a sketch on SNL and what Dawn Porter said about leaving the law to make movies with Oprah. Every time I flip the book open, I find a new favorite!

  • How does “The Epic Mentor Guide” build a pipeline for girls into the workforce?

The book is building a pipeline by following the same model I used to build Être – we go where the girls ask to go, so they can find answers to their questions. The companies in this book represent brands the girls already love, platforms they use constantly, and organizations where they see themselves working someday. Add to that the fact that every woman in the book offered her preferred social media handle so girls can follow her in real time and in real life. When an exec at LinkedIn said connect with me, or a pop musician wrote DM me or a federal judge gave girls her email, I knew that we were creating more than a static collection of mentor advice. This is a pipeline that will grow with today’s girls.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Wave: A girl rides life’s ebbs and flows

Wave, by Diana Farid/Illustrated by Kris Goto, (March 2022, Cameron Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781951836580

Ages 10-14

Ava is a 13-year-old Persian-American girl who loves to surf, hang out with her friends, and read poetry by Rumi. She’s about to graduate eighth grade and looks forward to the summer until her mother, a prominent doctor, signs her up to volunteer at the hospital, in hopes that Ava will be inspired to follow a career in medicine. Frustrated by her distant father and her mother’s expectations, Ava’s world begins to fall apart when Phoenix’s – her best friend – cancer returns. Ava processes her feelings and emotions through the music of the ’80s, and the story, told by Ava in the first person through free verse, is a heart-breaking, resonant, gorgeous story. Blackwork illustrations throughout present Wave as a peek into Ava’s journal, making the experience of reading it personal. Ava experiences racism, grief and loss, anxiety, and frustration and communicates it all through spare, lyrical verse; readers will see themselves and their friends in her words. Set in the mid-1980s, music and mixtapes are wonderful touchstones, particularly through the music and mixtapes; references to the 1970s Iranian cultural revolution provide historical context and make Ava, her mother, and her extended family fully realized characters.  Ask your readers to create their own Spotify playlists that they’d share with a friend or family member. Ava’s and Phoenix’s mixtapes are included in the back matter, as are endnotes, information about Rumi, and lyrics. A gorgeous book.

Have a copy of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis available to booktalk to readers interested in learning more about the Iranian revolution and its impact on the women of Iran. Visit author Diana Farid’s webpage for more information about her books, her poetry, and essays.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Okoye gets her day! Ibi Zoboi gives Okoye to the People

Okoye to the People, by Ibi Zoboi, (March 2022, Marvel Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781368046978

Ages 12+

I am SO excited for this novel to hit shelves. Okoye has been one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe; played by actress Danai Gurira, who also plays Michonne, one of my favorite characters from The Walking Dead. Now that I’ve got my fangirling out of the way, let’s get to it.

Many readers and MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe!) fans have come to know Okoye over the last several years, thanks to her role in the Black Panther and Avengers movies. She’s a Wakandan general and member of the Dora Milaje, the elite, all-female, group of warriors that protect the King of Wakanda and serve as the country’s special forces. Okoye to the People begins when Okoye is a new member of the Dora Milaje, chosen for her first assignment: join Captain Aneke and King T’Chaka (father of T’Challa, the Black Panther from the MCU and comics) on a trip to New York to meet with the head of a nonprofit organization, No Neighborhood Left Behind. Arriving in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Okoye realizes that Wakanda means nothing to New Yorkers, but she also sees gentrification all around her and a group of people struggling to keep their way of life. Drawn to a group of teens in Brownsville, she learns that No Neighborhood Left Behind isn’t everything the head of the organization claims it is, and that her secret plans for Brownville could extend to Wakanda, if left unchecked.

Ibi Zoboi brilliantly writes about problems faced in communities of color within the scope of a Marvel Black Panther novel: gentrification and the history of colonization; race; economics, and the African Diaspora. Her characters are real; they reach out from the page and demand to be seen and heard, and the action is incredible, entwined with sinister intrigue thanks to an all-too familiar storyline about an organization whose good intentions are skin-deep. Ibi Zoboi’s existing body of work, the popularity of Black Panther and the MCU, and the novel’s empowered teens and strong female characters make this a do not miss.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

We Can Be Heroes embraces young women’s power in the aftermath of a school shooting

We Can Be Heroes, by Kyrie McCauley, (Sept. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062885050

Ages 12+

When Nico Bell pulled the trigger of that gun, so many lives were changed: but the problems were there long before that day. Told in third- and first-person narration, in prose and verse, We Can Be Heroes is the story of Cassie, killed in a school shooting by her ex-boyfriend; her two best friends, Beck and Vivian, and a town split down the middle. Bell is a town named for and financed by Bell Firearms; the Bell family has a sociopolitical grip on the town because they write the checks that keep it going. Nico Bell, heir to the Bell company and poster boy for toxic masculinity, kills his girlfriend, Cassie, in a murder-suicide when she tries to escape their abusive relationship. Beck and Vivian, Cassie’s best friends, never much liked one another, but bond over the chance to give Cassie the voice she didn’t have in life by painting murals featuring women from Greek myths: women whose voices were lost, taken by monsters and men. A podcaster focuses on the case as the murals achieve viral status on social media, and Cassie’s story unfolds, shedding light on ugly shadows in the town and the Bell family. Cassie appears as a ghost, bringing Beck and Vivian together and to guide them in their mission; her story is told in first person verse.

Changing narratives and playing with narrative structure – prose, transcript, and verse – keep this already arresting story moving. I loved the use of Greek myth to tell Cassie’s story; women’s stories through history. We Can Be Heroes explores grief and loss, trauma, and unchecked privilege. Small moments, like Cassie’s excitement over music released after her death are poignant, even when played for a chuckle. A subplot involving Beck and her grandfather adds further depth. A thoughtful look at real issues facing teens today that highlights the importance of listening to women’s stories.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Pixels of You considers friendships between AI and human

Pixels of You, by Ananth Hirsh & Yuko Ota/Illustrated by J.R. Doyle, (Feb. 2022, Amulet Paperbacks), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419749575

Ages 14+

The team behind 2016’s graphic novel, Lucky Penny, are back with a story about AI, humans, and the relationship that forms between one pair. Indira is a human artist, a photographer, who’s been cybernetically augmented after a car accident took one of her eyes at the age of 10. Fawn is the first human-presenting AI, also a photographic artist, who interns at the same gallery as Indira. The gallery owner puts them together on a project after the two have a very public disagreement over their work, the gallery owner – their mentor – puts them to the ultimate test: work on a project together, or leave the gallery. Period. At first, the collaboration is forced, grudging, but slowly, as the two artists get to know one another, a friendship forms, allowing each to see the world through the other’s eyes. Largely illustrated in shades of rose and violet, black pages with white text that record key moments in AI/Human history capture the reader’s attention and act as chapter heads, giving readers an idea of what may lie ahead. The characters are hard to get to know in the first pass – the story is interesting, but hard to connect to at first; I felt like I “got” them better as I went on in the story. I re-read the book, and the knowledge I’d gained from the first pass definitely helped me feel more for the characters from the outset, so you may want to give a solid booktalk on what’s going on in human history – touch on the paranoia that exists between humans and AI, for starters – at the time the story is set, to give tweens and teens more context to build on. There’s a slow-burn sapphic romance subplot that’s so subtle, some readers may not pick up on it for a while, but it is a satisfying close. Fawn’s robot parents are a surprise hit in the story. Give this one a shot. Talk about perspective, and how photography factors into the story of “seeing” others. I think it’ll find a dedicated audience.