Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (9780316561365)

In a world where the upper classes are part human and part animal, the Paper Caste or fully human people are the most oppressed. Every year eight girls from that Paper Caste are chosen to become the king’s consorts. This year though, there are nine girls, after Lei is seized from her family and brought to the royal court. At the court, Lei is forced to train to be pleasing for the king. Meanwhile she is desperately looking for information about her mother who was taken by force several years earlier. But things are about to get even more difficult for Lei as she refuses the King’s advances and then falls in love. But what can one young woman do in a world that is stacked against her? She can find the fire of revenge.

In her debut novel for teens, Ngan has created a swirling world of scents, colors and textiles. It is a world of incredible beauty with an Asian flair that is intoxicating and quickly immerses the reader deeply inside. From the bathing tubs with their steam to the opulence of the court, this setting demonstrates that there is beauty that contains endless dangers. Ngan does not shy away from the brutality of the life of a Paper Girl, creating a book that is both mesmerizing and violent. People triggered by rape and domestic violence should be cautioned.

Lei is a heroine who transforms right before the readers’ eyes into something much stronger and much more dangerous. She is a young woman stolen from her family filled with hope about her mother’s fate. She becomes more hardened in some ways and yet at the same time falls in love with another of the Paper Girls and becomes softer and more open. It is a powerful convergence for her, creating a woman willing to risk everything for those she loves.

The first in a series, this fantasy novel is a mix of LGBTQ, romance and vengeance that is entirely tantalizing. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Jimmy Patterson Books.

 

Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (9780062795250)

When Arthur and Ben meet for the first time, it’s perfect. However, neither of them get each other’s numbers. With Arthur in New York City for just the summer, they have a limited time find one another again in a huge city. Thanks to some expert sleuthing online by friends, a flyer in a specific coffee shop, and the universe helping them out, they manage to meet once more. But what if it’s not actually meant to be? Arthur has never had a boyfriend before, and Ben has just broken up with his first serious boyfriend. Arthur tries a little too hard, and Ben doesn’t quite try hard enough particularly when it comes to being on time. Could it be that they just aren’t mean to be together after all?

The pairing of these two master authors is beautifully done. There is no clear line where one author’s voice begins and the other ends, instead the voices of the two characters meld and create a cohesive experience. The humor in particular is skillfully done with both Arthur and Ben having distinct personalities, voices and senses of humor. New York City itself is a backdrop to their summer together and becomes almost a character of her own. From subway rides to tourist traps to Broadway shows to coffee shops, the city shows her own magic throughout the book.

The entire novel reads like a movie with scenes playing out visually and the dialogue snappy and quick. The book has strong secondary characters as well who are vibrant and entirely their own people. In particular, the two sets of parents are well drawn and it’s great to see everyone supporting their gay kids. Additionally, the depiction of gay sex focuses on consent, pleasure and is entirely positive.

A humorous, honest and heartfelt novel that offers a gorgeous look at the ups and downs of relationships through the eyes of a gay couple. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by HarperTeen.

Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (9781250178138)

An amazing graphic novel for teens, this book offers romance, space travel, and boarding schools all in one incredible package. It is the story of Mia, a girl who doesn’t have a lot of friends at the boarding school she attends. But one girl catches her attention, Grace, a new girl who needs help figuring out how to make her way at the school. Soon the two girls are a couple, but Grace has a secret that she refuses to share with Mia until suddenly Grace is gone. Now Mia works in space repairing buildings with a small team. She gets close with the others until she finally reveals why she joined the crew.

Walden is the author of Spinning, which was an impressive graphic memoir about coming out. Here, she weaves a complex tale in a universe entirely her own. The universe she has created is populated entirely by women, something that is slowly realized by the reader rather than being specifically mentioned or explained. The result is an LGBT universe that includes a very special depiction of a transgender character as well.

The art here is simply amazing. The universe unfolds on the pages, done in a limited color palette but incorporating dreamlike moments, staggering rock formations, crumbling abandoned buildings and fish-like space craft. It is entirely Walden’s creation, unique and unlike anything else.

An impressive graphic novel both for its content and its art. This one is unique and incredibly beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

Review: Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles

Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles

Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles (9781524766283)

Explore diversity in a variety of ways in this anthology for teens that offers fresh takes on life. The anthology includes work from thirteen young adult authors. Short stories, a one-act play and a graphic story are all part of the collection. The authors are some of the best writers at work today as you can see from the cover image above. The collection is rich in diversity and voices, featuring stories about race, coming out, death, spray paint and making your mark on the world.

Giles, who is cofounder of We Need Diverse Books, has edited this collection very well. The group of contributors is astounding, each new story shining with their skill and voice. The quality is exceptional and the range of stories leads you from one type of diversity to another, exploring finding your way in a world that stands against you.

Strong writing, great stories and a call to action will make this collection a popular one. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.

 

Review: Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

An entire neighborhood of children steadily join together into one epic summer of fantasy fun built entirely out of cardboard. The book begins with The Sorceress, a boy who finds great power and identity in an evil sorceress character who uses magic and a sibling minions to try to take over the world. She is battled by the girl next door who dresses as a knight with a large sword to save the world. As more children join in, they take on characters who speak to what they need in their lives and to who they are deep inside. There are roaring creatures, a rogue, a prince, a huntress, and many more. Even the neighborhood bully ends up joining in as part of the epic final battle of summer.

Filled to the brim with diverse characters, this graphic novel is something very special. There are characters of different races and cultures, and LGBTQ characters. Written by several different authors who all drew on parts of their own childhood, the book speaks in a variety of voices that really feel like a neighborhood of children. There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening.

The art is bright and colorful, filled with family dynamics that are clearly felt deeply by the children in the book. Some stories like The Sorceress are told mostly in images while others have speech bubbles. This book embraces the fantasy motif and has a dynamic mix of superhero and classic fantasy elements that come together into one great adventure.

This one belongs in a every public library. Make sure to have some boxes on hand to build your own castles and creations. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (9781328778239)

Mara and her twin brother Owen have always been close. But when Owen gets drunk at a party and is accused of rape by his girlfriend Hannah, Mara is horrified. Though she doesn’t want to believe it, Mara sees signs that her brother isn’t telling the truth. Meanwhile Mara is dealing with Charlie, her ex-girlfriend, who seems to have quickly found a new girlfriend. Mara starts to find comfort with Owen’s best friend, Alex. At the same time, Mara is facing her own secrets about sexual assault and must decide who to trust with something she has never told anyone about for three years. As all of this collides in Mara’s life, she emerges as a fierce survivor but not before the book takes a deep look at perpetrators, lies and victim blaming.

Blake writes with a searing voice in this book. Some passages blaze on the page, ripping right through the reader with their honesty and their cry for justice. In other parts, the truth is just as present but is filled with grief and loss, a haunted realization that things will not be the same. Throughout though, there is the power of female friendships, of young women standing together and standing up for one another. It will never be enough to erase the trauma of rape, but it is enough to speak for hope and a future beyond the assault.

Blake beautifully portrays a bisexual protagonist who clearly is attracted to both men and women. Mara does not wear bisexuality as a label or as a token gesture, instead it is part of the heart of the book. Mara’s ex-girlfriend Charlie is genderqueer and exploring what that means in terms of pronouns and coming out to her parents. Charlie is a great genderqueer character, beautifully blending both genders at times, at others angry at her voice, and still others feeling like nothing fits. At the same time, she is Mara’s anchor and rock, the safe place that Mara returns to as chaos envelopes her.

Fierce and angry, this novel about sexual assault and the power of survivors. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

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

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

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

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

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.