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 Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

My Name is Layla: spot on story about learning struggles

My Name is Layla, by Reyna Marder Gentin, (Jan. 2021, Touchpoint Press), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1952816086

Ages 10-15

Hitting right in the middle school hard-to-read spot, My Name is Layla is the story of 12-year-old Layla, an eighth grader living with her single mother and older brother, who has a secret: she has a hard time reading. The letters move on the page; she has to fight to focus, and it takes longer than the turnaround time to complete an assignment. When a new English teacher, Mr. McCarthy, sees her potential, Layla is terrified: she can’t have promise, can she? The teacher has to be imagining things! As parent-teacher conferences draw closer, Layla’s fear over her grades and her learning struggles being discovered, and she makes a choice that has big repercussions for herself, her family, and her relationship with her best friend. My Name is Layla is a realistic portrayal of a young woman living with dyslexia. Supporting characters all feel real, with back stories and realized lives off-page. Good for YA collections and middle school collections.

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

Aven’s back in Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus!

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling, (Sept. 2019, Sterling), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4549-3329-8

Ages 9-14

Dusti Bowling gives readers more of the unsinkable Aven, her family, friends, and life at Stagecoach Pass in the follow-up to 2017’s Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (which also happens to be one of my favorite middle grade books ever). Aven, a middle grader born with no arms; her best friends, Connor, a boy with Tourette’s and Zion, a boy with weight problems, formed a tight-knit group of kids who could lean on each other, strengthen one another, and – because what are friends for? – drive one another nuts. Insignificant Events is a brilliant novel with characters that become part of you the first time you meet them, so to learn that Dusti Bowling was giving us another book about Aven and Company was just the news myself, and so many other readers, needed.

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus changes the game on Aven and her friends once more. Just in time to start high school, Connor’s moved away and makes a new friend. A new female friend. Trying not to let jealousy get to her, she works on affecting indifference, but a cruel prank by some of of the Mean Boys (yep, they exist, and you know exactly who they are) in school devastates Aven, sending her into a PTSD-like spiral of anxiety and depression. Lando, Zion’s older brother, seems interested in Aven, but she can’t imagine – especially while continuing to be bullied by the creep that pranked her – that he’d be interested in her, which makes her more miserable. There’s a subplot where Aven wonders about her father while trying to find Henri’s – the ice cream man at Stagecoach Pass – family as his dementia gets worse, that put my emotions through the ringer.

There’s so much taking place in Momentous Events. Aven and her friends are struggling with adolescence and the things that come with it; namely, shifting friendships, crushes, and first relationships. Aging, death, and family – especially when you know there are family members “out there” somewhere – take up huge parts of Aven’s thinking and feelings here. A new friend on the scene introduces Aven to fictional punk rock band Screaming Ferret, which gives her a new outlet for her feelings and makes me very happy; each chapter begins with a Screaming Ferret lyric, giving readers a heads-up as to what Aven’s mood may be for that chapter.

There are no downsides to Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus. Dusti Bowling gives readers – yet again – incredible characters with messy lives; lives that we recognize, challenges we can understand, sympathize with, and appreciate; and she does it with humor, care, and feeling.

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus has a starred review from Kirkus and is the follow-up to the award-winning book, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. Author Dusti Bowling’s website includes free downloads of cactus bookmarks, teaching resources, and activity guides. Educator Tara Bardeen has created an educator’s guide for Momentous Events, available as a free pdf.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Gork the Teenage Dragon serves up scaly green goodness

Gork the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson, (July 2017, Knopf), $24.95, ISBN: 9780375413964

Recommended for readers 14+

Gork’s a dragon, but don’t even think about mentioning Smaug to him. He’s not happy at all with the way dragons are portrayed in Earth fiction, and he’s here to set the record straight. So begins the story of Gork: teenage dragon, student at WarWings Academy, orphaned on Earth during his parents’ mating mission and raised by his scientist grandfather, Dr. Terrible.

Starting off on Crown Day – the day dragon and dragonette cadets at the Academy agree to be mating partners – Gork has one goal in mind: to get the luscious Runcita Floop to wear his crown and agree to be his queen. The problem? His nickname is Weak Sauce, his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious (if you’re a gamer, think of Will to Power as a CON/DEX/overall attractiveness level) and he’s got a bad habit of fainting when he’s scared. If Runcita says yes, she and Gork will go off in his spaceship and find a planet to conquer together. If Gork can’t sea the deal, he’s doomed to be a slave.

Gork has a heck of a day ahead of him: Dean Floop – his intended’s father – hates him; his sadistic grandfather is on the run from the Dean, he’s being hunted down by a group of WarWings cadets that have murder on their minds, and the Trenx, a fellow cadet who had similarly low ratings, has seemingly blossomed overnight. Before the day is out, Gork will have to survive and learn some hard truths about his family. He’d better keep his best friend – a robot dragon named Fribby – by his side.

Gork is an out-there novel. It’s a page-turner, and Gork is an endearing first-person narrator, if a bit single-minded in focus. He’s obsessed with mating, but he is a teenager, after all. He refers a lot to his “scaly green ass” a lot, which gets tedious. Gork’s story uses fantasy to tackle some very real points: bullying, friendship, self-esteem, and falling in love. It’s a much deeper novel than the title “teenage dragon”encompasses; it’s a fantasy, a YA romance, and a coming of age story.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me, plus an interview with author Philippa Dowding


One great thing about being able to have my own little corner of the blogosphere is discovering all these great, smaller publishers I may never have discovered before. I hope that by sharing these books, authors, and publishers with you,that you enjoy discovering them, too.

Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me is the sequel to 2014’s The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden. It’s the continuing story of a teenage girl who discovers that she’s got an incredible gift – but there are always strings attached, and being able to fly comes with some pretty big strings. It’s a fun tale of magical realism, family, and friendship, and you don’t need to have read the first one to pick up the second; the book fills you in on the basics that you need to know to enjoy the story. I enjoyed visiting Gwendolyn, Everton and their friends; they’re characters you genuinely like and want to see good things happen for them. The supporting characters are all strong and empathetic; I especially love Gwendolyn’s headstrong younger sister, Christine.

If you’ve got readers who enjoy a little bit of magic in their daily lives – Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is a great read-alike here – add the Night Flyers series to your bookshelves.

9781459735279Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me, by Philippa Dowding, (Oct. 2016, Dundurn Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781459735286

Recommended for ages 10-14

I was lucky enough to have author Philippa Dowding put together a fun Q&A for this post. Read and enjoy!

philippa_dowdingThe 5 Questions No One Has Asked Me About This Book – Yet!, by Philippa Dowding

1.    What’s your new book about?
Everton Miles is Stranger than Me (Dundurn Press), is a sequel to my 2014 title, The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden, which was nominated for the OLA Red Maple award in 2015. In the first book, Gwendolyn, my 14-year-old protagonist, wakes up one morning on the ceiling of her bedroom, which is odd, but doesn’t particularly shock her. Floating around is just another weird thing that seems to be happening to her during puberty. As the story develops, however, she realizes she’s part of a larger community of Night Flyers, and that her dead father was a Night Flyer, too.

In the new sequel, I pick up where we left off: Gwendolyn has one year to decide whether or not she will become a Night Flyer forever. As she enters grade nine, she has all the problems of a regular teenager, PLUS she’s also part of this magical community of Night Flyers, which imbues everything with a sense of wonder, and a little darkness too, frankly. Everton Miles shows up at the beginning of school, a grade older, much cooler than her, and surprise, surprise … he’s a Night Flyer, too! The two mismatched teenagers are thrown together, and as Gwendolyn discovers more about the death of her father, she and Everton have to face Abilith, a fallen Rogue Spirit Flyer, kidnap, and the unspeakable horror of the Shade, together. Gwen discovers that with the help of Everton Miles, her community, and The Night Flyer’s Handbook, she might actually survive grade nine!

2.    The series is called The Night Flyer’s Handbook. Why did you choose that as a series name?
Part of the new story is built around an 800-page book, The Night Flyer’s Handbook, that Gwendolyn’s mentor, Mrs. Forest, hands her. It’s quite hilariously the exact opposite of the flimsy 3-page brochure for the Less-than-Willing-Reader that Gwen received in book 1, (which ended up being entirely unhelpful). The much larger Handbook is intended to help her understand her new life as a Night Flyer, if she chooses to become one forever. Gwen isn’t a great reader, and finds the book daunting just to look at, but she does slowly read it, as the story progresses.

I’ve been both an academic and a copywriter in my life, and have written probably thousands of brochures, as well as a few academic papers in university. I thought it would be fun to introduce a tiny taste of academic-style writing into the story, since it couldn’t be more different from the useless 3-page brochure Gwen gets in book one. The Handbook has hilariously earnest chapter headings, like “Enemies and Entities,” or “History and Hysteria.”

Here’s a sample: “There appears to have been spirited rejection of the medieval European Night Flyer population, and as Professor Gertrude L. Lisquith (N.F., PhD, Oxford), concludes in her lengthy and definitive 1963 study, The Dialectic Presented by the Earliest Records of Night Flying/Non-Witch Identified Populations in Medieval England, France, Germany and Belgium, (Oxford University Press, pp. 816–865), although Night Flyers most likely existed before 1437, we have virtually no written record of them…”

Gwen finds it mystifying, but she doesn’t give up. The Handbook also has illustrations by a mythical 15th century illustrator, “T. Bosch,” who is a fictional, lesser-known relative to Hieronymus Bosch. As Gwen’s story progresses, and she eventually finishes the enormous Handbook, she realizes that it actually does help her, and is a valuable tome about her Night Flyer community. The message? You can still find the answers to life’s questions in books!

3.    The teenagers in the story build a beautiful bottle garden with thousands of recycled glass bottles. Where did you get the idea for a bottle garden?
I was reading an article about wind catchers. There’s a low-tech wind-maker people create, using plastic bottles with the ends cut off, poked neck-first into plywood, which catches the breeze. This led to more reading about what to do with bottles, and I was astonished to discover the beauty of glass bottle garden sculptures.

One of the characters in both books, Mr. McGillies, is an old bottle collector. He has a fairly large role in Everton Miles is Stranger than Me, so I wanted to do something useful with all the bottles he hoarded on his property, plus I wanted to show that teenagers are remarkably resourceful, and beauty can pop up in the most unusual ways. I also wanted a tip of the hat to recycling.

Search “glass bottle sculpture” on the web, you’ll be amazed!

4.    You HAVE to choose a favourite character from the book. Who is it, and why?
Abilith the Rogue, hands down. He was fascinating to write, and who doesn’t love creating a brilliant, powerful, menacing sociopathic antagonist, a fallen outcast from a race of immortals? For more about Abilith the Rogue, you can follow my blog tour this week, the schedule is on my blog:

5.    What are you publishing next?
I have a middle-grade series with Dundurn Press called Weird Stories Gone Wrong, so I am currently expanding on those three books, hopefully there will be two more in the next year. I’m also considering a third book in The Night Flyer’s Handbook series, so stay tuned on that!


Enjoy a book trailer for The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden right here!


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

Kill the Boy Band takes aim at fandom

boyybandKill the Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky, (Feb. 2016, Point), $17.99, ISBN: 9780545867474

Recommended for ages 14+

Four super fangirls stalk their boyband favorites with disastrous results in this insanely funny dark comedy.

The Ruperts are the boy band of the moment, and our narrator – who takes on the names of ’80s teen movie heroines – and her three (mainly online) friends have a plan to be near them, securing a room in the same hotel as the boys. When one of the girls encounters her favorite Rupert (they all have the same first name) at the ice machine, she overreacts and the girls find themselves with an unconscious boy bander in their hotel suite. And things get crazier from there. Each girl has a different agenda, and before the day is over, there are going to be some ugly revelations and even uglier circumstances.

Kill the Boy Band is at once a laugh-out loud black comedy in the vein of Pulp Fiction and Fargo and a scathing look at fandom and fangirl culture. Ms. Moldavsky takes aim at the culture that expects us to destroy our idols, even as we worship them. She looks at the long-established culture of loathing popstar girlfriends, celebrity stalking, and what happens when you find out that the man behind the curtain really isn’t Oz at all.

As a Duranie who was a teenager during the social media-bereft ’80s, Kill the Boy Band made me laugh and cringe, often at the same time. With boy band and fandom culture at an all-time frenzy now, teens will recognize themselves (hopefully, not too much) or laugh in recognition of someone they know. There’s a great whodunit that will keep readers guessing until the very last page – and maybe even after. You’ll laugh, and you’ll think – it’s a great book to have a discussion group with.

Great addition to collections with a thriving teen population that’s plugged in. This should be a good summer read. For older teens, consider introducing them to Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band for a look at pre-online fandom culture.

Kill the Boy Band has been selected as an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.

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

Dumplin’ – Finally, a healthy, body-positive teen!

dumplinDumplin’, by Julie Murphy (Sept. 2015, Balzer & Bray), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062327185

Recommended for ages 13+

Willowdean Dickson is a fat girl. That’s not an insult, by the way – she’ll tell you she’s a fat girl, but she’s not bothered about it. She wishes everyone else would get a grip, though, especially her mom, who also coordinates the local annual beauty pageant, which is THE event of the year.

Will, as she likes to be called, is mourning the death of her Aunt Lucy, who was like a second mother to her. Lucy, who was morbidly obese, died in her early 30s from a massive heart attack, so that’s not helping keep Will’s mom – who calls her Dumplin’ – off her case.

The thing is, she’s confident. But when her co-worker, the gorgeous new kid, Bo, takes notice of her, she feels different. She can just imagine what everyone will say about her if they see her and Bo together, and that really stresses her out. To get back some of her confidence and pay tribute to Lucy, Will decides to enter her the big beauty pageant, which spurs a few girls at school to join her. Girls that would never have had the guts to try before. Now, Will finds herself at odds with her best friend, Ellen, and the unofficial leader of this revolution. Dolly Parton, save us!

Told in the first person in Willowdean’s voice, Dumplin’ is brilliant. Will is sarcastic and self-assured, and really, really hates this lack of confidence that hits her just as the gorgeous guy takes notice of her. There’s Dolly Parton, making out under the Texas stars, and drag queens, along with a heroine that everyone should aspire to. Crank up Jolene, sit back, and enjoy this book.