Posted in geek, geek culture, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

Fandom, friends, and the real world: Zoe Rosenthal is Not Lawful Good

Zoe Rosenthal is Not Lawful Good, by Nancy Werlin, (Apr. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536214734

Ages 13+

High school senior Zoe Rosenthal is a planning machine, bullet journal set for stun. She and her boyfriend, Simon, are the definition of power couple: they’re researching college choices to attend together (so many color-coded spreadsheets); she’s working to save money while he volunteers for a local politician and envisions a socially just career in political science, and then they’ll marry, have their 2.5 kids, and live happily ever after. All she has to do is sneak off to Dragon Con for a season premiere of her secretly favorite show, Bleeders. It’s great science fiction, which Simon poo-poos as “ridiculous”. She should be watching Very Serious Documentaries, not wasting time on genre “garbage”. But once at DragonCon, she falls in love with fandom and meets a group of “Bloodygits” – the Bleeders fandom – that may just be the best thing that ever happened to her. A story of how fandom is always there to catch you when you fall, Zoe Rosenthal is Not Lawful Good is filled with great little pop culture and fandom winks and nudges. Zoe and her fellow supporting characters are all pretty well realized, and encompass a diverse cast. Author Nancy Werlin is a National Book award finalist, Edgar award winner, and NYT bestselling author who not only gets fandom, she enjoys it; she sees how it brings people together. Give to your fandom fic fans; the readers who loved The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love  by Sarvenaz Tash (2016), Ashley Poston’s Once Upon a Con series, and Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek (2017).

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

Independence and Danger: Rosie Loves Jack

Rosie Loves Jack, by Mel Darbon, (March 2021, Peachtree Publishers), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-289-5

Ages 13+

Set in the United Kingdom, we meet Rosie, a 16-year-old girl with Down syndrome who loves her boyfriend, Jack. Jack’s temper gets him into trouble and gets him sent away to a school in Brighton; Rosie’s father hopes this marks the end of Rosie’s and Jack’s relationship, but Rosie is determined to see Jack, and she’s determined to keep her independence. She discovers that Jack’s been writing postcards to her because he smashed his phone in a rage, but her father’s been holding them from her. Angry and set on finding Jack, Rosie runs away, Jack’s postcards and an address of his school guiding her toward their reunion. But the world is dangerous for a young teen girl, and Rosie discovers that not only can people be cruel to someone different, they can be predatory. At times uncomfortable, always consuming, Rosie Loves Jack is an engrossing story that gives readers a strong, smart heroine in Rosie. Readers will identify with Rosie’s struggles with well-meaning, but fearful parents, who may take what they see as extreme measures in the interest of protecting their daughter. They’ll understand the all-consuming love Rosie and Jack have for one another that sends Rosie out into the world, unattended, on a search for him, and the love postcards he sends her give her strength and guide her through some awful scenarios. They’ll see how dehumanizing people can be when encountering someone with special needs. A strong book to consider for a reading group. Rosie emerges as the most realized character, with supporting characters not as fleshed out, but keep her journey moving forward. Publisher Peacthree has a discussion guide on Rosie’s book detail page, as well as an author Q&A, where author Mel Darbon talks about her inspirations for both Rosie and Jack.

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

Elvin Link, doodler, sketch artist… and THAT kid?

Elvin Link, Please Report to the Principal’s Office!, by Drew Dernavich (July 2021, Square Fish), $7.99, ISBN: 9781250791702

Ages 8-12

Fifth grader Elvin Link is a doodler. He doodles on everything, everywhere, including his desk, which clearly looks cooler as a rocket ship… despite what the custodian and his teacher think. While he’s scrubbing down the desk, an incident involving a teacher’s glasses, an ill-fated ice cream cone, and a schoolyard collision lands him back in the principal’s office, this time, as a sketch artist. He’s so good at it that the principal brings him back in shortly after, to solve a school mystery! Meanwhile, the school bully, who specializes in wedgies, has his sights set on Elvin. Elvin has to navigate his twin sisters, one of whom has a crush on the bully, keep his best friend out of trouble, and cover his rear end: literally. For readers who loved Timmy Failure and, yes, that other illustrated diarist, Elvin Link: Please Report to the Principal’s Office is an insta-read. Award-winning New Yorker artist Drew Dernavich creates a likable, laugh-out loud funny character with Elvin and his best friends and family members are equally fun to spend time with. The book is laid out like a journal, with Elvin’s doodles and opinions throughout. He’s got the Wimpy Kid snark with a slightly more generous personality, and the black and white illustrations and added back matter will have your library kids asking when the next book is coming out. (Hey, Mr. Dernavich, when is that happening?)

Released in hardcover last July, Elvin Link is coming to paperback this July and is a good fit for your middle grade shelves.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Meet Dominguita!

Dominguita Melendez is a third grader who loves books! When her abuela (grandmother) has to move to Florida to live with her sister, Dominguita comes up with a way to share their mutual loves of books with one another: by finding adventures in all the books her abuela left her. Definitely Dominguita is a great intermediate series for kids – there’s an adventure that introduces them to classics titles in every book, and sets those stories on city streets, where kids can see themselves and even think about recreating their own favorite books.

Knight of the Cape (Definitely Dominguita #1), by Terry Catasús Jennings/Illustrated by Fátima Anaya, (March 2021, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534465039

Ages 6-9

Dominguita misses her abuela and her best friend, both of whom have moved away. She spends her recess time reading in the schoolyard until the school bully makes fun of her, her choice of reading – Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes – and tells her girls can’t be knights. Incensed, Dominguita is determined to become a knight AND have her brother Rafi write about her adventures to share with Abuela! She and Rafi put together an outfit worthy of a knight, and transforms into Dom Capote: Knight of the Cape! Along her travels, she gains a steed (the local stray dog, Roco) and a companion, Pancho Sanchez, who sees through her grand plans to keep things real. In this wonderful re-imagining of Don Quixote, a young girl uses her creativity and her love of books to see herself in her own stories, based on the classics. Dom is fun, likable, and smart; all of the characters receive backgrounds with a foundation to build future adventures, and black and white illustrations add visual reference for readers. A great new series to introduce to intermediate readers.

 

Captain Dom’s Treasure (Definitely Dominguita #2), by Terry Catasús Jennings/Illustrated by Fátima Anaya, (March 2021, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534465060

Ages 6-9

Dominguita and her friends, Pancho and Sarah, are back in their second adventure! This time, inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Dom goes from Dom Capote to Captain Dom and discovers a treasure map on a trip to the library! After some quick research, Dom and her friends discover that the map is linked to a robbery that happened in her neighborhood back in 1967 – a mystery that she and her friends need to solve and put things to rights! But a boy Pancho refers to as “Juan Largo” (Long John) has been following them around, saying he’s there to be a babysitter… a story that the group finds a lot of holes in. Can Dom and her friends find the treasure and save the day, or will Long John beat them to it? While it’s not necessary to read these books in order, it’s much more fun to see the progression of the characters from the first story to the second. The action unfolds with parallels to Treasure Island, and gives us an idea as to what the next adventure will be. Kids are going to love getting to know these characters and figuring out the mysteries with them. How much fun would a kids’ book club be, using Dom’s adventure as a jumping-off point for young reader versions of the featured classics?

Psst… All for One is due in August and Sherlock Dom is coming in November. You may want to start booktalking The Three Musketeers and Sherlock Holmes now.

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

A young journalist looks for The Leak

The Leak, by Kate Reed Petty/Illustrated by Andrea Bell, (March 2021, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781250217950

Ages 8-12

It starts at the dentist’s office. Ruth, an aspiring young journalist, is frustrated when her dentist scolds her for not brushing and flossing, and scoffing when she insists that she does. Shortly after the dentist visit, she and her friend Jonathan go fishing, only to discover dead fish and a thick, oily sludge by the water. Ruth decides to investigate and report her findings, with the help of her brother’s girlfriend – an intern at the New York Times – and finds herself on the radar of the local country club owner and the power company. Dealing with frenemies, a middle school crush, and finding herself thrust into the spotlight and being intimidated by people who have a lot to lose, Ruth has to choose between personal and journalistic integrity or getting out of the way of controversy. A brilliantly done story about freedom of the press, pollution, and integrity, readers will cheer Ruth on. Artwork is vivid and characters are expressive. This is the kind of art my library kids love; it’s super middle grade friendly and has so much to say. The dialogue keeps pace with the action and readers will get to challenge themselves by wondering what they would do in a similar situation. Give this to readers along with Kayla Miller’s Act and Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone for a surefire primer in activism.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Deadman’s Castle and a family on the run

Deadman’s Castle, by Iain Lawrence, (March 2021, Margaret Ferguson Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780823446551

Ages 9-12

Twelve-year-old Igor and his family have been on the run for years. When he was five, his father saw a terrible crime; ever since, they’ve been leaving homes in the middle of the night, creating new identities never settling in one spot, as a man his dad refers to as The Lizard Man hunts them down. But when they settle in yet another town, Igor is tired of running. He wants to be a normal middle school student. He wants to go to school, have friends, go to sleepovers – and he’s more and more worried that The Lizard Man may be a construct of his father’s imagination. But what if it’s not? Deadman’s Castle is is a solid psychological mystery that will keep readers turning pages – I finished this in the course of a day rather than put it down – as they, like Igor, discover new secrets with each turn of the page. It’s intense at some points, taut at others, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This one has an easy booktalk: “You think your parents are overprotective? Igor can’t have a computer, video games, or even a cell phone because his father is convinced a bad guy is going to track him and his family down using them! And no, he isn’t allowed to come to the library to use them, either.” (Because I know that’s what at least one of my wisecrackers would come up with.)

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

New chapter book series: Twig and Turtle

I received review copies of the first two books in the new chapter book series, Twig and Turtle, from Pixel+Ink toward the end of last year and just sat down to read them, as I get my TBR self together. They are SO much fun! You don’t need to read them in order, but you’ll certainly want to read them all.

Twig and Turtle: Big Move to a Tiny House (Twig and Turtle #1), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Oct. 2020, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950226

Ages 5-7

Sisters Twig and Turtle were living with their parents in a big home in Boston, but their parents decided to live more authentically, so they sold everything and moved their family to a tiny house in Colorado, where they can pursue their real interests. Dad’s a comic book artist, mom’s a photographer, and Twig and Turtle are navigating their new lives in a tiny home. In this first Twig and Turtle adventure, the sisters are adjusting to a new school and making new friends, but Twig is also worried about Bo, her uncle’s dog who’s been living with her grandmother. She loves Bo, but Bo – a great dane – has been making a ruckus and the neighbors are getting fed up, so she may need to rehome Bo – and Twig is so upset! Mom and Dad say there’s no room for Bo in their tiny new home, but maybe another solution will present itself? Twig and Turtle presents an interesting new take on moving and settling into a new home, new school, and new neighborhood. Twig is a third grader, Turtle is a first grader, and Turtle seems easier and quicker to acclimate than does Twig. The relationships between the girls and the girls and their parents is positive and optimistic. A fun new series; I’m always on the lookout for good chapter books for my intermediate readers and this fits the bill nicely. With Ivy and Bean coming to an end, this will be a nice new realistic fiction series to booktalk.

 

Twig and Turtle: Toy Store Trouble (Twig and Turtle #2), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Oct. 2020, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950257

Ages 5-7

The second Twig and Turtle story centers on the new toy store opening in the neighborhood, which gets the kids all excited: especially since there’s a contest to name the new store, and the grand prize winner will also get to choose a toy of their own! Twig and Turtle are excited to win: they were only allowed to pick five toys each to take with them when they moved, but Twig is worried; Mom has already told them that for every new toy they receive, they need to choose one to part with. What if Twig doesn’t want to part with any of them? Toy Store Trouble looks at tough decisions kids have to make, and the solutions they can come up with when given time to think things through. The book also features thrift store shopping and trade-ins, so it’s a nice nod to stepping away from “fast fashion” and consumer culture.

 

Twig and Turtle: Quiet Please! (Twig and Turtle #3), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Feb. 2021, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950455

Ages 5-7

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s just come out, so I wanted to make sure to include it here. The family is starting to chafe against tiny house living, especially when Twig is participating in a school read-a-thon while the rest of the family is living in the same space! One of Twig’s classmates is able to log more reading time, so she starts staying up way past her bedtime to keep up, making Mom and Dad realize that there need to be some changes made.

The Twig and Turtle series has black and white illustrations throughout, and is a nicely written series that looks at a different way of living than we normally see. I think the kids will enjoy this one.

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

YA graphic novel roundup

These three graphic novels, all sent to me by Drawn & Quarterly for review, are smart additions to your young adult bookshelves. One of the biggest challenges in my graphic novels section in the YA area is making sure to strike a balance between the Marvel/DC/Image/superhero trades that circulate like wildfire, and building a strong graphic novel collection in the same fashion as I would build a middle grade or college fiction collection. There’s great literary fiction out there, and while middle grade is certainly experiencing a renaissance of graphic novel material these days, there is great stuff for your teens and young adults, too. Also not to be missed is the growing trend toward graphic autobiographies and memoirs – Mira Jacob’s Good Talk made a splash when it pubbed in 2018 – which makes for layered storytelling and allows readers to see subtlety in facial expressions, lighting, and details that may miss emphasis with merely written words.

Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics are two houses I turn to, time and again, for graphic novels for my T/YA/Adult shelves. of I hope you will, too.

Perfect Example, by John Porcellino, (Feb. 2021, Drawn and Quarterly), $19.95, ISBN: 9781770464681

Ages 16+

Perfect Example is the author John Porcellino’s look back at the time between the end of high school and beginning of college. John P, as he’s known through the book – seriously, there are at least 3 guys named John in this – moves through house parties, hanging out with friends, a kinda-sorta girlfriend, and depression. It’s not something he can easily shake, and it rides on his shoulder through the book. Mr. Porcellino expertly captures the malaise and going-through-the-motions feel of depression fog of depression in his story, and the back matter, where he recounts his “resume and relevant information”; a biographical sketch. Black and white illustrations throughout are unfussy. Add Perfect Example to your shelves for its realistic look at lingering depression. John Porcellino’s a zinester whose website includes links to his Patreon, his books – most notably, King Cat, and his social media.

 

Okay, Universe: Chronicles of a Woman in Politics, by Valérie Plante/Illustrated by Delphie Côté-Lacroix, Translated by Helge Dascher, (Dec. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $21.95, ISBN: 9781770464117

Ages 13+

Valérie Plante’s fictional memoir of taking on the male-dominated political scene to become the first woman elected Mayor of Montreal, Okay, Universe introduces us to Simone Simoneau, a wife and mother who decides that she’s “hit a plateau” at her job; when her community volunteering leads to the chance to run for municipal office. The story follows her through the relentless door-knocking, hand-shaking, and life juggling she undertakes on her path to the election. The story calls out gender inequality, from graffiti on her campaign posters to her mother praising Simone’s partner, Hugo, for “helping” rather than “doing his share”. The book focuses on Simone’s dedication to community service and the betterment of the quality of life for everyone, as well as her dedication to her family, and how hard that balancing act can be. The artwork is colorful, and readers will love reading this birds-eye view of entering the political arena.

 

The Contradictions, by Sophie Yanow, (Sept. 2020, Drawn and Quarterly), $24.95, ISBN: 9781770464070

Ages 16+

A fictionalized account of author Sophie Yanow’s life as a student abroad in Paris, The Contradictions introduces us to Sophie, a queer student studying art in Paris because she liked Paris’s comics. Lonely and looking for connection, she meets two New York students, one of whom is Zena, an anarchist-activist-vegan who shoplifts for her basic needs. The two decide to head out on a hitchhiking trip to Amsterdam and Berlin, where they dabble in couch surfing, drugs, and exploring. The book captures the time in college when an individual is still figuring themself out, trying on new ideas, and exploring the world around them. The black and white artwork is simple and uncluttered, with dialogue being the main point. This won’t be everyone’s book, but those who like road tripping memoirs should give this a look. The Contradictions was a webcomic from 2018-2020, and is an Eisner award winner. It also has a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Booktalk this Book: Dress Coded

Dress Coded, by Carrie Firestone, (July 2020, GP Putnam), $17.99, ISBN: 9781984816436

Ages 9-13

I’ve been killing myself with anticipation over this book since I received the early galley last year. I finally put everything else aside and finished this in a day, because it’s that good. Told in short chapters and including podcast transcripts, text messages, and letters, Dress Coded is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like being a young woman in middle school today. Molly Frost is fed up: fed up with her vape-addicted brother, who’s wreaked havoc on her family; fed up with feeling invisible at school, and fed up with the school’s dress code, which seems hardwired solely to embarrass and harass female students of a certain body type. It all blows up the day her friend Olivia is humiliated by the dean and principal for wearing a tank top at school and refusing to take her sweatshirt off her waist to put it back on – a reason that makes itself clear as the story progresses. Several of Molly’s friends have been “dress coded” for similar offenses, and the humiliation and frustration are far greater than the suspected offense. Molly starts a podcast, Dress Coded, where girls speak up about their dress coding experiences and the mental and emotional fallout from run-ins with staff. The podcast grows into a movement to remove the dress code, and Molly, at the center of it, finds the power within her to stand up to her brother and the school bully, and the ability to help other girls find their voice. A primer in middle school activism and a scathing indictment of how women’s bodies are weaponized and sexualized from a young age, Dress Coded is simply essential reading. Please, educators, put this on your summer reading lists!

Dress Coded is author Carrie Firestone’s middle grade debut. I can’t wait to see what else she’s going to give my middle graders. The book is a Booklist Editors’ Choice Selection, a Texas Lone Star Reading List Selection, and a Rise: Feminist Book Project Selection. It has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Submit your own dress coding story at Carrie Firestone’s author webiste, and learn about her other books, workshops, and author inspiration, too.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Fairy tale meets the half pipe: Beauty and Bernice

Beauty and Bernice, by Nancy Viau, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764355806

Ages 8-12

I continue my quest to read down my TBR and feature great backlist for your readers advisory and your booklists. This time out, I’ve got another Nancy Viau book, Beauty and Bernice. Twelve-year-old Bernice Baransky is a skater girl. She’s a grunge-loving whiz on a skateboard, on the verge of middle school, and she’s got a crush on fellow skater Wyatt – not that she can do anything other than nod when he calls her “Dude”. Enter Odelia, a new transplant to the neighborhood, who appears dressed in princess gowns and decides to make Bernice her new best friend and project. She’s determined to teach Bernice her guide to the “Social Graces”, with lessons on hygiene, posture, and manners, and Bernice reluctantly goes along for the ride, teaching Odelia that she can let loose a little, herself. Both spend a summer learning about one another while volunteering with Smile Academy, a summer camp for children with Down syndrome. A kind story that brings a little everyday magic to realistic fiction, this has some surprises that will make readers smile. The subplot with the girls volunteering – and encouraging their friends to help – with the Smile Academy gives nice depth to the characters and allows for Bernice’s character growth.  If you have skater fans, sell the detailed discussions on skateboarding.