Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt (9781452172880)
This verse novel takes a heartfelt look at a high school romance between two girls. Beginning with a fire being set, the book then takes readers back to the beginning as Kate and Tam first notice one another. Kate is a cheerleader with a perfect ponytail. She is angling to be squad captain, but when she agrees to fill in as mascot at the first few games, she discovers she loves being in costume and being funny. Her mother though has high expectations for Kate and isn’t amused. Tam is a tall volleyball player who moves through life being exactly who she is, never veering from that. Her mother is supportive and warm, sometimes too much so. When Kate and Tam admit what they feel for one another, it feels easy and simple, but it’s not for everyone else.
Holt’s verse is expertly written. She gives each of the main characters their own unique voice and feel. Their words at times dance and overlap with one another on the page, but the characters are distinct from one another always. Holt also adds in a Greek chorus of sorts, watching along with the reader and commenting on the story in just the right tone and verse. Holt gives the romance time to really grow, not jumping forward quickly to a full relationship, but allowing them time to linger in liking one another first. It’s a tender way to explore a new relationship on the page.
I love any LGBTQIA+ book for teens that allows love to win in the end. This book is full of hope, brimming with acceptance even as it explores having family members who don’t understand. It is not saccharine or sweet, offering clear reality but also managing to surround our protagonists with the support they need.
A book to cheer for! Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Chronicle Books.
Frankly in Love by David Yoon (9781984812209)
Frank Li’s parents expect him to date only Korean-American girls. They make racist comments about all other races, even though Frank’s best friend Q is black. So when Frank breaks the rules and starts dating Brit, a white girl, he has to come up with a cover story. That’s where Joy comes in, she is a fellow Korean-American also caught in her families rules and she is also dating a non-Korean. So the two of them create a system where they pretend to date one another while actually dating other people. It’s the perfect plan until it falls apart as Frank learns what love is. Meanwhile, Frank’s family faces health issues and violence. Frank realizes that while his family may never understand him, he loves and needs them in his life.
Yoon has created one of the hottest YA titles of the fall. To my delight, it’s popular for a reason. Yoon’s frank exploration of racism both societal and within one family is refreshingly honest, not ever ducking away from difficult and deep conversations. The interplay of that and other serious topics with an almost rom com escapade of fake dating makes for an intoxicating mix.
Frank Li (whose name is a delight) is a wonderful protagonist. He is immensely smart and not overly naive. His personal take on his heritage and culture grows and changes throughout the novel in an organic way. There are no easy answers offered here, no final moment of clarity. Instead it is all about growth and the ability to understand one another and find connection, even after it has been damaged or severed.
A great teen novel that is a marvelous mix of romance and depth. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Putnam.
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (9780062290137, Amazon)
No one knows that Eliza, a senior in high school, is the creator of the immensely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She spends her days at school working on art for the comic and trying to be invisible. Then a new boy, Wallace, comes to her school. He has the looks of a football player, but doesn’t seem to say much at all, instead spending his time writing. Eliza soon learns that he is a major fan of her webcomic. As their friendship grows and starts to turn into a romance, the two of them do most of their communicating through texts, online chat and written notes. Eliza has to decide whether to share her secret of being the creator of Monstrous Sea with Wallace or whether she can stay anonymous much longer.
Zappia’s writing is completely captivating. She writes with a lovely confidence, telling the story of an introverted young creator with grace and understanding. Her characters are deeply human, struggling with real trauma and finding their safe place in communities online where they can be authentic and original. She speaks to the power of art and creativity in your life, making something that you can’t stop creating and having others find value in it too. Still, there is a tipping point where fans’ expectations can become too much and overwhelm the creative process. Zappia shows how mental distress can be dealt with and progress forward can be made, slowly.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about this book, though there are many great elements is Zappia’s portrayal of introverts. There is a coziness here, a feeling of safety in the pages, as if they are forming a critical spot for introverts to bloom, just like an online community. The book shows how introverts may be awkward but are also incredibly creative, thoughtful and deep people who just need their home and dog to recharge sometimes, alright often. The book allows Eliza and Wallace to steadily use online tools to communicate and learn about one another, building their relationship with honesty and humor.
Get this in the hands of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (InfoSoup)
The award-winning Jillian Tamaki returns with a collection of comics that she has been serializing online for the last few years. Set in a boarding school for magical mutant teens, this graphic novel is filled with an engaging mix of fantasy, science fiction and teen angst. Various characters appear in different strips. There is the self-absorbed lizard-headed Trixie who mourns her lack of a modeling career. Marsha is unable to speak about her crush on Wendy, her best friend. Everlasting Boy continues to both escape to death but also embraces what makes life amazing. Other characters appear with moments of touching nuance juxtaposed against others that produce laughter because of how real they are.
Tamaki completely captures what it feels like to be a teenager, magical or not. She twists in the superhero and magical tropes, cleverly playing against the Avengers and Harry Potter experiences into something more realistic and heartfelt. Even in her most fantastical moments, she creates universal themes. Riding brooms becomes a chance to look up someone’s skirt. Magic wands are the key to removing pimples. It’s all a beautiful mix of reality and fantasy.
I deeply appreciate a book that embraces gay and lesbian characters this clearly. Not only is Marsha a main lesbian character grappling with how to come out to her best friend, but there are two male friends who are clearly attracted to one another and act on it. Throughout there is also a sense of connection to the world, the deep depression of high school, and capturing fleeting moments in time.
Teens will love this book and those who play D&D will find a world where they fit right in effortlessly. This graphic novel was love at first sight for me and I’m sure it will be for many kids who are outsiders in high school. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe
When Sadie heads to a new school once again, she comes up with a grand plan. She orders a medical bracelet online and pretends to have a severe peanut allergy. Using this strategy, she does make some friends, including finding a boyfriend. However, the fake peanut allergy continues to be a problem, especially if she slips up and just eats a chip cooked in peanut oil. As it becomes more and more a focus of her life, she thinks about telling the truth to her friends. But it’s too late to come clean, because they would hate her for lying to them. This graphic novel steadily counts down to the disaster that readers will know is coming, creating tension laced with humor.
Halliday has created a character that we can all relate to. Sadie lies to make friends, her strange solution to being the new girl actually works. Sadie is insecure and as she grows in self-esteem the trap she finds herself in starts to tighten. She is a wonderful imperfect character, scolding her new boyfriend, lying to her mother, and of course lying to everyone at school. But through it all, she is likeable and universal.
Hoppe’s illustrations are done in black and white lines with Sadie’s sweater being a pop of red against the more subtle coloring. His drawings are fresh feeling and dynamic, often going for the laugh especially when the drama gets thick.
Perfect for those teens who enjoy Raina Telgemeier’s books, this graphic novel is filled with humor and tension. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
The author of the award-winning Smile returns with another graphic novel that captures the turmoil and thrill of being a teen. Here the focus is on high school theater. Callie loves theater, but not being an actress, instead her passion is set design and working behind the scenes. This year she gets her big chance with the production of Moon over Mississippi as the main set designer. She has a big vision, the question is whether she can pull it all off. In particular, the cannon scene proves very challenging, but Callie knows she just has to have the cannon really fire on stage. In the meantime, Callie is getting to know two handsome twins who are also interested in theater, enjoying her friendship with the other stage crew members, and dealing with lots of drama onstage and off.
Telgemeier has created a graphic novel that both actors and those behind the scenes will love. It is great to see a book focus on the efforts that it takes to really get a show running, rather than just who gets to be in the spotlight. The story is welcoming and inclusive, just like any great theater crew. There are gay characters, crushes on both the right and wrong people, mistakes on stage, and much more to love. She has captured high school without being fanciful at all.
As with her previous book, Telgemeier’s art has a combination of empathy and humor. She laughs along with her characters and never at them. It’s a crucial difference that makes her books all the more laudable and readable.
Highly recommended, this is one for the Glee fans and also for all of those teens who work behind the scenes rather than dreaming of time on stage. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.