Posted in Humor, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Weird Science, reimagined: You Were Made for Me

You Were Made for Me, by Jenna Guillaume, (April 2021, Peachtree Publishers), $17.99, ISBN: 9781682632956

Ages 12-17

Part Weird Science, part Wonder Woman origin story, You Were Made for Me is a fun teen rom-com that touches on topics including asexuality, bullying, male body image, and friendship. Kate Camilleri is a 16-year-old who sculpts her vision of her dream guy out of clay. When she wakes up in the morning, she discovers she’s not alone: a six-foot  tall, floppy haired hunk is laying next to her! Her creation, whom she names Guy, exists to love Katie, but she discovers a whole slew of new problems, including some friction between she and her best friend, Libby, who’s going through some relationship issues of her own, and her male best friend, Theo. All Katie wanted was the perfect first kiss! A fun romp, written in the first person from Katie’s point of view, with additional commentary from Libby, make this a fun read for middle schoolers and high schoolers alike. Good beach read for the summer!

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

H.E. Edgmon’s The Witch King: All Hail the Kings!

The Witch King, by H.E. Edgmon, (June 2021, Inkyard Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335212795

Ages 14+

Wyatt Croft is a witch on the run. Originally from the fae kingdom of Asalin, Wyatt – a transgender 17-year-old boy – escaped a past loaded with trauma and abuse, finding home and family in our world. That all changes when Wyatt’s fated mate, the fae prince Emyr, shows up and demands that Wyatt return with him to fulfill his role as Emyr’s husband and take the throne of Asalin. Wyatt reluctantly returns to Asalin, with his best friend, Briar, in tow, and learns that relations between witches and fae are heading toward revolution – and Wyatt, who’s trying to resolve his own conflicted feelings about Emyr – is right in the middle of it. An anti-fascist, queer fantasy with incredible worldbuilding and characters you’ll love – and love to loathe – The Witch King has it all: romance, high fantasy meets contemporary fiction, and a wicked sense of humor. There’s powerful storytelling throughout The Witch King: being trans isn’t at the heart of the hatred toward Wyatt; transgender and nonbinary characters are major characters in the story, but Wyatt’s being a witch is the issue. The abuse and abandonment of witches takes the place of being LGBTQ+ in our society here, allowing readers to both see a functioning society where diversity is embraced in theory, but in practice, it’s very different. Sound familiar? Revolution, reform, and the idea of burning everything down to rebuild make The Witch King one of the most readable, relevant novels you’ll read this year.

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

Ahh, Paris… Kisses and Croissants

Kisses and Croissants, by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau, (April 2021, Delacorte Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593173572

Ages 12+

Seventeen-year-old Mia has dancing in her blood: her great-great-great grandmother, according to a family legend, was one of the girls painted by the artist Degas when she danced at the Paris Opera. She lives and breathes ballet, with dreams of being accepted by the American Ballet Theatre. When she’s accepted for a summer program at Institut de l’Opéra de Paris, she’s thrilled – this could be her chance! – but she’s not expecting to have to share a room with her dance rival, Audrey. And she’s definitely not expecting Louis, a handsome young Frenchman with a Vespa, who offers to be her tour guide around Paris. As she and Louis start exploring Paris – and their feelings for each other – together, Mia has to consider what is truly most important in her life, and whether there’s room for both Louis and ballet. A YA romance with an intriguing mystery taking place in the heart of Paris, Kisses and Croissants is perfect for readers with a bit of wanderlust. There’s friendship, competition, a little splash of family strife, and the quest for perfection that drives Mia and her friends. Very readable, with very likable characters. Give this to your Anna and the French Kiss, Love & Gelato, and Isla and the Happily Ever After fans. With all the quarantining we’ve had to do lately, expect road trip romance to bring the readers this summer! Lists from author Ashlee CowlesBook Addicts Guide, and Brightly will help you pull together a great display.

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

Live, Love, Theatre: Kate in Waiting

Kate in Waiting, by Becky Albertalli, (April 2021, Balzer + Bray), $18.99, ISBN: 9780062643834

Ages 14+

The best-selling, award-winning author of Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah and the Offbeat is back with her latest YA novel! Kate Garfield and her best friend, Anderson Walker, are high school juniors who have communal crushes. It’s their thing. But when their latest shared crush from drama camp ends up as a student at their high school, things get a little uncomfortable. Matt is sweet, funny, and is a theatre fan, just like they are. He’s cast in the school production of Once Upon a Mattress as Kate’s love interest; he’s in the same drama class as Anderson, while Kate is left out. Kate and Anderson realize that this is not a usual passing crush, and have to figure out how to navigate these new waters while still maintaining their bestie status. There’s great character development here, and discussions between Kate and Anderson touch on some sensitive points like being gay, out, and Black in the U.S. South; splitting a life between homes when one’s parents are divorced, and images versus reality when it comes to “bro culture” (or, as they’re often referred to in Kate in Waiting, “f-boys”). The dialogue is wonderful, realistic, and smart; friendships withstand ebbs and flows of daily teen life. It’s just an all-around great YA novel that should be a big book this summer. Theatre kids will love the process of seeing a production come together, and teens will love the smart, funny writing that breaks your heart and puts it back together again.

Kate in Waiting has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and made the Indie Next Great Reads list.

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 Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Chronic illness, support groups, and… werewolves? Lycanthrophy and Other Chronic Illnesses

Lycanthrophy and Other Chronic Illnesses, by Kristen O’Neal, (Apr. 2021, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683692348

Ages 14+

Priya is a 19-year-old who had her dreams laid out for her – studying at Stanford and a career in medicine – until chronic Lyme disease hit during her sophomore year of college. Now, back home and coming to terms with Lyme flareups and the possibility of her dream career falling away from her, she turns to Tumblr, where she finds friends in the chronic illness support group, “oof ouch my bones”, where the group bonds over their illnesses and shared humor. In particular, she connects with Brigid, whose snark and sarcasm, along with a penchant for morbidly interesting factoids, is just what Priya needs. But Brigid disappears for a few days, and Priya decides to drive to Brigid’s home in neighboring Pennsylvania and check on her: and discovers what may be a werewolf, and that the werewolf is most likely Brigid. Now, Priya has to figure out how best to support Brigid, whose desire to change her diagnosis and lead a “normal” life, is pushing her to desperate measures.

With plenty of dark humor and a cast of characters you’ll grow to love, this is not “Fault in Our Stars” with some hair on it. The discussions of chronic illness are real and raw, but there’s plenty of dark humor and a dive into the paranormal that will satisfy anyone who’s over “sick lit”. Priya is Southeast Asian, while the author is white; I think she was quite respectful to Priya and her family. Brigid and white, and Spencer, the comic relief from animal control who ends up being a supporting character, is Asian. Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is entertaining YA with a fun plot. My teens will enjoy it.

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses has been selected for the Spring 2021 Kids Indie Next List.

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

Authors explore an explosive year in 1789

1789: Twelve Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change, edited by Marc Aronson & Susan Campbell Bartoletti, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $22.99, ISBN: 9781536208733

Ages 12+

America wasn’t the only one feeling growing pains in 1789. Marc Aronson and Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who edited and contributed to 2018’s 1968: Today’s Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change, have put together another stellar examination of a contentious year in global history with 1789: Twelve Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change. All-star authors, including Aronson and Bartoletti, Tanya Lee Stone, Steve Sheinkin, Joyce Hansen, and Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson, take on the big events and questions that rocked the world that year: what does “The Rights of Man” mean? White men? Nobles and kings? What about enslaved people and indigenous people? The Bill of Rights was ratified in the United States while France burned toward revolution; fishwives took to the streets and Marie Antoinette’s portrait artist captured the human side of an untouchable royal. Sailors mutinied, slaves told their stories, and mathematicians calculated the digits of pi. Organized into sections entitled “Exhilaration”, “Abomination”, “Inspiration”, and “Conclusions”, essays cover the excitement of change and discovery, the horror of enslavement, and the journey toward progress. It’s a truly holistic view of a pivotal year in history, and each essay broadens the reader’s world as they connect the dots to come away with a full picture of how one event can, like a snowball rolling downhill, engulf all in its path.

Publisher Candlewick offers a sample chapter on their website as well as an educator’s guide. Back matter includes comprehensive author notes, source notes, and a bibliography. 1789 has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

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 Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels for Tweens and Teens

I’m back with more graphic novels! It’s an all-consuming joy of mine; I love them all. I’ve got some newer and up-and-coming books, and some backlist that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve got books for middle grade/middle school, and I’ve got teen/YA, so let’s see what’s good!

Sylvie, by Sylvie Kantorovitz, (Jan. 2021, Walker Books US), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536207620

Ages 9-13

An autobiographical graphic novel that really hits the sweet spot for middle schoolers but will also appeal to upper elementary and high schoolers, Sylvie is the story of the author and illustrator’s life, quirks and all. She grows up in a school where her father was principal. She loves art from an early age, but her mother is focused on her pursuing a career in math or science. The book follows her family as they add more children to the family and Sylvie’s mother doggedly pushes her academically. As she grows in confidence, and seeks her father’s council, Sylvie takes control of her own future. Artwork is cartoony and friendly, and easy-to-read, first-person narration makes Sylvie readers feel like they’re talking with a friend. Discussions about racism and anti-Semitism in ’60s and ’70s France sets the stage for discussion.

Candlewick/Walker Books US has a sample chapter available for a preview.

 

Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas, by Sam Maggs/Illustrated by Kendra Wells, (Feb. 2021, Amulet), $21.99, ISBN: 9781419739668

Ages 10-14

Another middle school-geared book, Tell No Tales is a fictionalized account of pirate Anne Bonny, pirate Mary Read, and their female and non-binary pirate crew. They have a growing reputation, but a privateer is on their heels: Woodes Rogers, a failed pirate turned pirate hunter for the Crown, has sworn to wipe the stain of piracy from the seas. There are strong positive female and non-binary characters, based on characters from history, but the overall story falters, leaving readers to look for the thread in between the individual stories of Bonny’s crew, all of which are fascinating. The artwork is colorful, manga-inspired, and will grab viewers. Back matter includes a word on the real-life exploits of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, notes, and a bibliography.

Publishers Weekly has an interview with Sam Magga and Kendra Wells. 

Fantastic Tales of Nothing, by Alejandra Green & Fanny Rodriguez, (Nov. 2020, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062839473

Ages 8-13

One of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever seen, Fantastic Tales of Nothing is one of heck an epic fantasy for middle graders and tweens, and early teens. Nathan is a human living what he considers a pretty ordinary life until that fateful day when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere and meets a being named Haven and a race of shape shifters called the Volken. As the unlikely group find themselves on a quest, Nathan also learns that he isn’t that ordinary – he has mysterious power in side of him, and the fate of Nothing lies in his hands. Vivid color, breathtaking fantasy spreads, and solidly constructed worldbuilding lays the foundation for what could be a groundbreaking new fantasy series for middle graders, with nonbinary and Latinx representation to boot. Where are the starred reviews for this book?

Tales of Nothing received IndieNext Honors. The website has more information about the characters, authors, and upcoming projects.

 

Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, by Julian Peters, (March 2020, Plough Publishing House), $24, ISBN: 9780874863185

Ages 12+

Illustrator Julian Peters has taken 24 poems by some of the most recognizable names in the art form, and brought them to life using different art forms, from manga to watercolor to stark expressionist black and white.  Organized into six areas of introspection: Seeing Yourself; Seeing Others; Seeing Art; Seeing Nature; Seeing Time, and Seeing Death, Peters illustrates such master works as “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, “Annabel Lee”, by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Juke Box Love Song” by Langston Hughes. It’s a great way to invite middle school, high school, and college students to deep dive into some of the greatest works of poetry.

Marvin: Based on The Way I Was, by Marvin Hamlisch with Gerald Gardner/Adapted and Illustrated by Ian David Marsden, (Feb. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764359040

Ages 9-13

This graphic adaptation of PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Marvin Hamlisch’s biography is one I did not see coming! The legendary musician, composer, and conductor discusses his family’s flight from Hitler’s Austria and settling in America, Hamlisch’s admittance to Julliard at the age of 6, and the intense anxiety that plagued him before every performance. He tells readers about attending high school with Christopher Walken and Liza Minelli, and playing the piano for Judy Garland as a teen; about composing pop radio hits and learning to compose music for a motion picture as he went along. By the time he was 30, he’d won his first major award. Hamlisch’s voice is funny, warm, and conversational throughot, and Marsden’s realistic art has touching moments, particularly between Hamlisch and his father. A great read for theatre and music fans – this one is going to be my not-so-secret weapon.