The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding
Abby has always seen herself as more of a sidekick than the heroine of a story. She has a glamorous best friend who is clearly the lead. And after all, Abby is plus size, crazy about fashion and gay. Abby has landed a coveted summer internship at her favorite local boutique, but she has to share it with a girl from her class, Jordi, whom she barely knows. Abby has her eyes on landing some free dresses as well as a job at the boutique next year, but she didn’t plan on falling for Jordi along the way. In fact, her entire summer is entirely different than she had planned. Her best friend is absent thanks to her boyfriend and Abby finds herself helping a boy named Jax with his dad’s app by ranking the best burgers in LA. Abby lives her life in bright colors and pink hair, but when others compliment her she can’t see the truth in what she says, until her whole summer comes tumbling down.
Spalding’s writing is entirely fresh. She writes characters who are anything but stereotypical. She gives her characters zinging senses of humor. She makes eating a pleasure for her female characters rather than something to be ashamed of or avoided. Through all of this, she also tackles being a plus size girl, self-esteem issues, how to figure out if someone you like is also gay, and how eating burgers can lead to an unlikely friendship with a jock who drives a BMW.
It was the romance here that will sweep readers off their feet. From the initial moments of noticing someone else to the first kiss to the joy of continued kissing and being girlfriends. It is all presented as a traditional rom-com format, something that teen lesbian books need more of. Add in the wonderful cover and you have a book just right for rainbow-filled summers.
A joy of an LGBT read that will give you all the feels. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Sky Pony Press and Edelweiss.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (9780316515467)
Ivy’s family is displaced from their home when it is destroyed by a tornado. Ivy manages to save her pillow and her book of drawings, which have pictures of girls holding hands and looking into one another’s eyes. But at the emergency shelter at the school, she loses her drawings. Her family moves into a room at a Bed and Breakfast, but there are six of them in that single room and there seems to be no room for Ivy with her busy older sister and infant twin brothers. Then at school, someone starts to return her drawings to her one-by-one in her locker. Could it be June, the girl that Ivy has a crush on? Or maybe her best friend’s boyfriend who has talked to Ivy about her art? The drawings come with notes encouraging Ivy to talk to someone about her feelings, but will Ivy have the courage to do that?
Blake has created a middle-grade book that is warm and beautifully supportive. She shows being gay as just a piece of who Ivy is and twists her feelings about her sexuality up with how she fits in her family in general and the struggles of middle school friendships. Using Ivy’s art as a platform for her self expression works very well, and her artistic vision is presented as the way she sees the world as a whole.
Ivy’s complicated relationship with her family is presented with honesty, showing a family struggling to handle the loss of their home, young babies, busy lives and still manage to care for everyone. Ivy is shown as a creative and thoughtful character who struggles with telling people the truth, not just about her sexuality but also about her feelings in general.
A strong middle-grade novel about sexuality, families and friendship. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (9781338129304)
Released March 27, 2018.
Caroline lives on Water Island near St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. At age twelve, she has had enough bad luck to last a lifetime. She sees things that no one else can see, everyone at her small school hates her, and her mother has left. When a new girl starts attending Caroline’s school, Caroline is surprised to discover that Kalinda is willing to be friends with her. Caroline believes that Kalinda can see the same spirits that she can, so there is hope when the two girls start to search for Caroline’s mother together. But when Caroline starts to have deeper feelings for Kalinda, their friendship may be doomed before they solve her mother’s mystery.
Callender beautifully wraps this book in the setting of the U.S. Virgin Islands, making sure that readers know exactly where they are. Caroline takes a boat to school and back, knows the history of her small island and how slaves escaped to freedom there, and sees her father’s abandoned boat as a symbol of their capsized life without her mother. Throughout the novel there is mysticism present with Caroline’s visions that appear out of nowhere, including a woman that she isn’t sure is good or bad. The book is layered and complex, about many things and about life itself at its heart.
Caroline is equally complex. Reader will identify and empathize with Caroline even while she is prickly toward others. Caroline is confused and hurt, rejected by most of those around her and wary of building trust with others only to be tricked. Yet she is engaging, smart and interesting. An important element to this book is the friendship between Caroline and Kalinda and the way that friendship turns into a crush on Caroline’s part. This is gently shown and then dramatically plays out when others discover how Caroline feels.
Brilliant writing, a unique and wonderful heroine and lots of turmoil make this a gem of a read. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis (9780062659002)
Evan Panos has been dealing with physical and emotional abuse from his mother since he was five years old. Now at almost 18, he is simply trying not to let his different worlds collide. At summer Bible Camp, he has his first kiss with a boy, who then comes to his small town to visit, something that makes Evan very nervous in case his mother discovers the kiss. Then there is his long time best friend, Henry who has suddenly become very hot over the summer. Evan pours his emotions into his art and his notebooks where he meticulously documents his mother’s abuse, his father’s inability to step in, and his own isolation and fear. As his mother becomes even more suffocating and cruel, Evan has to find a way forward that will allow him to survive and maybe even fall in love.
Surmelis grew up in a very similar strict Greek family as a gay boy who was shunned for being who he was from a very young age. The writing here is strong and powerful, particularly during the scenes of abuse, the way that time slows down and then rushes forward again, the terrifying switches from kindness to cruelty and violence, the warning signs far in advance that still don’t allow the abuse to be avoided. It is chilling, violent and gut wrenching.
The character of Evan is multidimensional and complex. The extensive secrets he is hiding and the horrible abuse could have defined him as a character, but instead they serve to show even more clearly his intelligence, artistic nature and ability to forgive. Even as his mother is hurling insults at him, readers will know who he really is and will never question him the way that he questions himself. He is a vital character, one who survives and moves forward despite being trapped for so long.
An important look at the abuse suffered by gay teens at the hands of their families, this teen novel is riveting. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston (9781101994979)
Set in a world slightly in the future, this teen novel explores what might have happened if the British Empire had continued to be in power. Canada is part of the empire and the United States is a struggling land of revolutionaries and poverty. When Victoria-Margaret is allowed to have one year of freedom and visit Canada incognito, she discovers new friends, plenty of balls and parties, and a new understanding of the empire she will one day govern. One of her new friends is Helena, who doesn’t know who Victoria-Margaret actually is and who is also keeping her own secrets from Margaret and her beau, August, who also has troubles to occupy his time. As the three of them head into the Canadian country to spend time at their families’ lake homes, the truth must eventually be shared in between newfound love, country dances and letter writing.
Johnston, author of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, has created a novel that could have been entirely frothy and filled with dresses, dances and divas. Instead it is a book that explores many aspects of life from honesty to family honor to the truth of who someone actually is, deep inside. Set in the near-future, the book also has a computer that finds genetically beneficial matches for people. For Helena, this computer reveals that she is actually intersex. That fact almost topples Helena, but as she lives with it for awhile she finds herself exploring new parts of her personality and of romance.
Written with grace, this novel for teens is a lovely introduction to alternative history science fiction. The flair of the debutante season, the touches of British life throughout the realm, and the pressure on all three teens to find proper matches create a whirl of a novel. The two female lead characters are refreshingly different from one another and yet make ideal friends. There is a quiet to them both, an introspective quality and also a merriment and delight in simple pleasures.
A great book for fans of The Crown and Victoria, get this into their hands. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton Books for Young Readers.
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (9780374303235)
This nonfiction book for teens looks at two sides of a hate crime in Oakland, California. It took place on a bus where an asexual student, Sasha, was riding. They (the pronoun they use) were reading at first and then fell asleep on the public bus. A white teen, they went to a small private school in town and lived in a middle-class neighborhood. They were wearing a gauzy skirt at the time. It was a skirt that caught the eye of Richard and his friends. Richard, a black teen, attended a public high school and was newly back in the community after being in juvenile detention. Without even considering the impact of his actions, Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire. What was meant to be a prank turned into a hate crime and potential life imprisonment.
This internationally known crime is given voice by the people who lived it in this nonfiction book. Written with such care and compassion for both sides, the book made me weep with both the fact that asexual and gender nonconforming teens and people face this type of attack and also the fact that African-American teens are charged as adults and face huge sentences as a result. Slater dances what seems at times to be an impossible line, showing the humanity on both sides of the story, explaining the facts that impact the lives of the people involved, and offering an opportunity to look deeply into a case rather than reading the headlines.
There is such humanity on these pages. It will remind everyone that there are different sides to incidents like these, that rushing to judgement is not helpful, that forgiveness has power, and that people, especially teenagers can learn from mistakes and grow from them if given a chance. Written like a novel, the book has dashingly short chapters and features the voices of the two teens whose lives changed in a moment.
The skill evident in this book is remarkable. This is the nonfiction book that teen readers today need. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Release by Patrick Ness (9780062403193)
Adam is facing one big day, but it’s about to get even stranger and more important than he can imagine. He can’t seem to get over his last boyfriend, Enzo, who treated him poorly and then dumped him. Tonight is Enzo’s going-away party, and Adam is taking his current boyfriend, Linus, who he can’t quite fall in love with. Meanwhile, Adam manages to find out his saintly brother has gotten his girlfriend pregnant, get groped by his horrible boss, and spend time with his best friend, Angela who has news of her own. Will Adam be brave enough to just let go?
Threaded throughout the realistic story is another more mythical tale of a murdered girl, an ancient queen, and a faun who guides and guards them both. Their tale starts out startlingly different but along the way weaves itself into Adam’s world and life too, offering a tangible link to the wonder of belief and the question of what reality really is.
Ness has created a fantastic novel that celebrates a day in the life of a teenage boy who is lost and yet also found on the same day. Ness deftly shows the impact on religion and beliefs, tearing Adam’s family into pieces. He also offers one of the best gay sex scenes in teen novels today. The entire book is gorgeously written and full of playful touches that make the book all the more real and deliciously fun.
A successful and sexy mix of LGBT realism and magic, this novel is a delight. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (9780316349000)
Suzette has been in New England at boarding school for the last school year. Now she has returned back home to her family in Los Angeles. She has missed the city itself, but even more so she has missed her stepbrother, Lionel. Lionel has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and during the summer decides to stop taking his medication. He starts dating a girl that Suzette also finds compelling and interesting, but Suzette worries that the girl isn’t good for Lionel. Meanwhile, Suzette is dealing with discovering that she is bisexual, having had her first relationship with a girl while at board school that did not end well. Back at home, she begins to date Emil, a longtime friend of her family. Suzette is the only one who knows of Lionel stopping his medication and the secret becomes a problem as Lionel reaches a crisis.
Colbert has created a beautiful novel that speaks to the complexities of mental illness. The reaction of friends is well drawn, showing how people pull away from those diagnosed with mental illness and yet want to talk about them too. Lionel is a great character, someone the reader and Suzette gravitates to and yet someone who is battling a mental illness profoundly and pushes people away. He is in turns riveting and maddening.
Suzette’s character is the center of the novel and she is wonderfully crafted. An African-American protagonist who has converted to Judaism when her mother married Lionel’s father, she is someone who has to make choices about what she shares about herself and what battles she decides to engage in. Suzette is just discovering her bisexuality and even hesitates to label herself that way at first. The depiction of sexuality in the book and sex is handled with honesty and without bias. It’s lovely to see it handled that way with both girls and boys.
A very special book for teens, this book is diverse and filled with moments of triumph and pain. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (9780525429982)
The author of the popular Roller Girl returns with a book about Impy, a girl who has been homeschooled until this year. Impy has grown up with her parents working at the Renaissance Faire and this year she is also starting work as a squire at the faire for the first time. Public school though is different than Impy thought and though she quickly makes friends, they may not be the right group for her. As Impy starts to make bad decisions at school and at home, her life starts to fall apart. Still, Impy is a knight in training and has people around her to help put her back on the path to being a hero! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Dials Books)
Spinning by Tillie Walden (9781626727724)
This memoir graphic novel shares a look at a girl’s life in ice skating, moving to a new city and discovering oneself as an artist. It is also a look at knowing that you are gay and finally coming out to those around you. But most of all, it’s about loneliness and the need to connect and find people around you who love and support you. Throughout the book there is an aching loneliness that pervades the story. The memoir is beautifully unstructured, events passing the way that days in a life do. They are filled with moments, some small and some critical. Walden shares them all, showing an incredible skill for storytelling and art as a young author. Get this into the hands of Lucy Knisley fans. Appropriate for ages 12-15. (Review copy provided by First Second)
Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9780545741705)
Sunny is headed for middle school in this graphic novel that shows her returning home after her summer with Gramps in Florida. Her older brother Dale is now at boarding school and Sunny can’t figure out how to connect with him at all even when he comes home to visit. Set in the mid-1970’s, the book is filled with the pop culture of those times like Jiffy Pop popcorn, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Gilligan’s Island and TV dinners. This second book in the Sunny series tells the story of a family struggling with handling drug abuse but also the small moments that make up a life. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)