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 Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels, Life Stories

I’ve been really loving the graphic novels coming out this year. Lots of life stories have found their voices in the pages of graphic novels; it’s a trend I’m enjoying, because the artwork really helps bring a person’s story to full, visual life, with little nuances and nods to things not always easily described with just words. Shades of grey; pops of color; a flash of a poster in a teen’s room: these are all things that a graphic novel can illustrated and communicate much more easily and quickly, reaching visual readers who may otherwise not experience the full breadth of a story. Here are some great lives I’ve read about recently.

Frankie, by Rachel Dukes, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549306884

Ages 12+

This is the sweetest book! Cartoonist Rachel Dukes is the Lucy Knisley of pet parenthood, as she chronicles life with her cat, Frankie. Rachel and their spouse, Mike, find the cutest black and white kitten outside their door, and Rachel is in love. Inspired by Rachel’s webcomic, Frankie is a series of vignettes in pet parenting, with comics taken from their webcomic and with some new material. Cat-lovers and pet-lovers will all recognize moments like Frankie choosing Rachel’s backpack over a snuggly new bed; the conversations we have with our furry friends; the nicknames we give them, and many, many, bedtime moments (what is it about sneezing in our faces as they settle in on our chests?). Frankie is adorable and full of personality that comes shining through the page. Rachel’s artwork is fun and expressive, silly and upbeat: it’s just what so many of us need to read these days! Each vignette has a name that pet parents will relate to, including moments like “Language Barriers”, “The Box”, “Night Song”, and “Cuddles”. Rachel includes a section on Quick Tips for Aspiring Cat Parents. Talk up to your readers who love Chi’s Sweet Home and Pusheen, and visit Rachel’s Frankie website for adorable downloadables! See more of their artwork on Rachel’s Instagram, and read more of their comics and buy some swag by clicking here, at MixTape Comics.

Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces, by Valérie Villieu/Illustrated by Raphaël Sarfati, (Apr. 2020, Humanoids Inc.), $17.99, ISBN: 9781643375342

Ages 12+

Visiting nurse Valérie Villieu tells the story of Josephine, a patient that touched her heart, in this aching and quietly lovely story that examines the bonds between patient and nurse while it gives readers a look at the unsettling treatment of the elderly by overwhelmed social workers and home health aides. Josephine, an Alzheimer’s patient, lives alone in a Paris apartment when Valérie is assigned to her. While Josephine is at first resistant to Valérie’s help, the two eventually find common ground in humor. As Valérie strives to learn more about her charge, she discovers that Josephine is a playful, charming woman who enjoys conversation. Valérie expresses her frustration at an overloaded health care system, which leaves an elderly woman in the care of a conservator who just isn’t able to keep up with their caseload – a relatable, upsetting issue. Josephine’s lapses are creatively envisioned in fractured panels, where she’s swept away on her bed, or thrust into the middle of a chaotic panel. The colors are muted shades, giving the story a quiet dignity, even as we ache, seeing Josephine increasingly lost in her own world. A beautiful story of connection and a painful memoir of Alzheimer’s from a caregiver’s point of view, Little Josephine is gorgeous storytelling. Back matter includes an author’s note on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, (May 2019, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781549304002

Ages 14+

Gender Queer is illustrator Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e/em/eir)’s autobiography. Assigned female at birth but never quite feeling that designation fit, Kobabe journals em’s journey through fandom, identity, and sexuality; finally coming to the discovery that nonbinary and asexual are the best descriptors. From a rustic childhood, through puberty, high school, college, and grad school, we walk with Maia through years of introspection and self-discovery. Written as a journal, readers will hopefully see themselves, or gain an understanding of others as Kobabe describes the trauma of body dysmorphia and gynecological exams; appreciate em’s supportive family, and come away with sensitivity and compassion. Have this available for readers who identify as nonbinary or asexual. There are some strong resources to keep available for asexual and nonbinary readers, including Queer Books for Teens, and booklists from YALSA, Book Riot, GoodReads, and Tor. Author Jeanne G’Fellers has an excellent author webpage, including The Enby Booklist, containing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with a non-binary focus. There is a lesson plan available for Gender Queer through Diamond Bookshelf.

Gender Queer has a starred review from School Library Journal, is a 2020 ALA Alex Award Winner and a 2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book.

Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger’s, Adulting, and Living a Life in Full Color, by Julie Dachez, (Oct. 2020, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620107669

Ages 12+

From her opening dedication: “This comic is dedicated to you. You, the deviants. People who are ‘too much like this’ or ‘not enough like that’, Julie Dachez creates a safe, welcoming space for readers delving into her graphic novel, revealing what life is like for a person living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Twenty-seven-year-old Marguerite loves staying home with her books, her little dog, her purring cats, and her soft pajamas. Within her silent apartment, they form her “cocoon”. She’s stressed by commuting to her job, but relies on routines to usher her through her day. Coworkers don’t seem to understand her. Her boyfriend is frustrated because she doesn’t want to go to parties and socialize as he does. As she searches for answers to her anxiety, she discovers that she is not alone: there is a community of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and their experiences are there, online for Marguerite to read. No longer in the dark and alone, she begins a search for the right therapist, and the resources she needs to advocate for herself.

Julie Dachez’s black and white artwork skillfully uses reds and yellows to communicate Marguerite’s stressors and anxiety: loud conversations and everyday noise; panels are bathed in red to denote stressful moments in Marguerite’s day, when her defenses are running low, gradually fading back to black and white as she separates herself from social situations to recharge. Her red sneakers are the sole point of red that provide a reassuring, routine constant. Back matter includes a history of autism, information on Asperger’s Syndrome, and a list of resources for further reading (incuding children’s books!). A good book to have in your collection; consider also purchasing Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women, a nonfiction graphic novel by Dr. Sarah Bargeila and illustrated by Sophie Standing.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Young Adult/New Adult

Essential Guides to Gender and Sexuality for Your Shelves

I’ve been working on my teen nonfiction and graphic novel collections lately. I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels and thinking about what’s currently on my shelves (lots of superheroes, lots of Big Two titles) and what I need more of (more indies, which I’d started right before the shutdown; more nonfiction and classics getting the graphic treatment). I read the Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns a couple of years ago, and was really happy with the no-nonsense, yet fun, explanation and the small, portable format. I did some wandering and found more Quick and Easy Guides from Limerance Press, the Oni Press imprint that includes sex education, and gender and sexuality studies comics. These are all good books to have available in your new adult/young adult graphic novel collections.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, by Mady G and JR Zuckerberg, (Apr. 2019, Limerance Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620105863

Ages 16+

Gender and sexuality explained by a series of adorable cartoon characters, including Iggy, a snail, who serves as a guide to other snails while his “dad”, Bowery, a queer educator, hangs out with students at a campfire, and forest creatures called The Sproutlings. Well-explained and illustrated sections on the big questions What is Queer?; What is Gender Identity?; What’s Gender Expression?; What Does Dysphoria Mean?; What is Asexuality?, and What Does It Mean to Come Out?, give detailed and easy-to-understand information. A Relationship Basics section encourages readers to be proud, safe, and engage in self-care, and there are empowering activities, including how to make a mini zine, at the end. There’s a list of further resources that would be good for you to add to your own references resources list, too.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, by A. Andrews, (May 2020 2019, Limerance Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620106945

Ages 16+

Snarky, self-described “totally queer, totally complete, incomplete paraplegic cartoonist” A. Andrews is our guide to embracing and enjoying disabled bodies. Andrews points out the sobering facts: disabled people are less likely to receive adequate sex education and sexual healthcare, are more likely to experience sexual trauma and stigma surrounding sex and sexuality, and deal with countless microagressions and misconceptions. The book defines disability and debunks the biggest (and craziest) myths about disabled bodies, and offers the best ways to communicate about sex. The book includes writing prompts to get readers thinking and speaking; a Goofus and Gallant way of what to say – and NOT to say – to a disabled person; and quick, helpful tips for self-care and having the best sexual experience possible. Important for everyone to read, with realistic cartoon artwork that depicts a diverse range of bodies, A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability contributes a great deal to the self-care, self-love conversation.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent, by Isabella Rotman & Luke Howard, (Oct. 2020, Limerance Press), $7.99, ISBN: 9781620107942

Ages 16+

Finally, we have an upcoming guide to consent, which is a HUGE word to know. Sargent Yes Means Yes, decked out in a dress uniform, gets in between a young couple to explain consent: what it is, nonverbal cues people use when they may feel bad about not giving consent, and how to communicate – verbally and nonverbally – with your partner(s) to create the best experience for each of you, together. There are helpful phrases, input from sexual educators, and red flags to watch out for (read: GUILT AND EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION ARE NOT WAYS TO GET CONSENT). There’s an important section on the ability to give consent, and about the age of consent, which can provide some uncomfortable moments for teens and college students just under the age of consent and dating someone just over the age of consent. Be informed, be safe, be responsible, and have fun. There’s a checklist to share with your partner(s) to get an idea of what flips your switches, too.

The artwork in each of these books is consistent; created by different illustrators, it’s got a nice sense of continuity with realistic cartoon characters (only Queer and Trans Identities has non-humanoid characters) and I appreciate the conversational tone that communicates so much information in a comfortable, real talk way. I hope my high school and college kids will find what they need here.

Posted in Teen

Wild Beauty – beauty can hide ugly secrets

Wild Beauty, by Anna Marie McLemore, (Oct. 2017, Macmillan), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250124555
Recommended for readers 13+

Teen Estrella Nomeolvides and her cousins live on the beautiful Californian garden property, La Pradera, for generations. Known as “las hijas del aire”, they are bound to the land, forming beautiful flowers that create breathtaking gardens, but the gift is a curse: every man loved by a Nomeolvides woman disappears. Just… dissipates. The cousins are all in love with the same woman, Bay Briar, and pray to the gardens to keep her safe from vanishing; instead, a young man they call Fel appears, thrust forth by the garden. Fel has choppy memories of his past, and Estrella takes it on herself to help him recover his memories. What none of them realize is that Fel’s memories – Fel’s past – is inextricably linked to the ugly truth behind a Pradera.

There is a lot going on in Wild Beauty. There are several subplots that intertwine with the main story, all moving toward the revelations at the end. Beautifully written, with fully realized characters, Wild Beauty can be confusing – there were characters and subplots that took me a few re-reads to fully get my head straight – and the story tends to meander, which may frustrate some readers. Readers familiar with magical realism will recognize this and press on. There’s beautiful imagery, gender identity and fluid sexuality, and a respect for Latinx heroines and matriarchal family structures.

Wild Beauty has starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Bust Magazine has a great write-up on the book and the author.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

An Unkindness of Ghosts is sci-fi worthy of Octavia Butler

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon, (Oct. 2017, Akashic Books), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-588-0

Recommended for readers 16+

The HSS Matilda is a massive spaceship, carrying what may well be the last of humanity through the stars, in search of a new, promised land in the wake of Earth’s ruination. Over time, the decks have become segregated by race and wealth, with the lower decks living with and suffering under abysmal conditions and treated like workhorses. Aster is a curious, angry young woman determined to find out what happened to her mother – why would she commit suicide when Aster was born? She also assists the ship’s Surgeon General, Theo, with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of medicine and herbology. All the while, she’s waiting and planning for a day when rebellion will come – and with a tyrannical Lieutenant about to rule, that day will come soon.

If you’ve read Octavia Butler, you will love An Unkindness of Ghosts. Rivers Solomon examines gender, sexuality, and social class using a starship and a narrative that moves smoothly between the third person and first person, giving us deeper insight into the characters and Matilda’s society. Aster is abrasive and inconsistent, yet surgically logical; almost detached, but passionate, all at once. Her friend, Giselle, is given to bouts of anger and aggression. Theo, the Surgeon, turns to religion to cope, yet struggles with his own sexuality and his family line. An Unkindness of Ghosts is a fascinating study of our own society and an exciting new work of science fiction. Solomon has created an intense, brutal world within the walls of the Matilda. I’m excited to read more from them.

An Unkindness of Ghosts received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Foreword Reviews.

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

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.