Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon (9781524718961)

Evie has always been a romantic, hooked on reading spicy romance novels. So when her parents divorce, she is left reeling even though her mother and sister seem to handling it in stride. When Evie donates her stack of romance novels, she meets a woman who gives her the power to witness a couple kissing and then see the beginning, middle and end of their relationship. All of them go to prove to Evie that relationships end with a broken heart. Evie is also directed to a small dance studio where she finds herself asked to join a competition for ballroom dancing. She is paired with X, a young man who has the policy of saying yes to everything in life and taking risks, the exact opposite of Evie. As the two of them dance together and get to know one another, romance sparks between them, but Evie may not be ready to risk heart break thanks to her visions and her parents.

Yoon fills this book with Black joy and with swoony characters straight out of Evie’s romances. At the same time, her characters are deliciously human and struggling with weighty issues that impact them on a variety of levels. It is this grounding of her characters that makes this romance so much more than fluff, instead speaking directly to the risk of falling in love, the depths of loss, and how to continue after being hurt by life.

Yoon also fills her book with marvelous dancing and the gorgeous setting of Los Angeles with all of its diversity, talent and magic. Her writing soars with dialogue between characters, sounding wonderfully human and real. Her touches of magic in everyday life add to the fun.

A winner of a teen romance just right for those looking to be swept off their feet. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Delacorte Press.

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

Cover image for The Mirror Season.

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore (9781250624123)

Ciela rescued a boy who had been drugged and assaulted at a party. At the same time the boy was assaulted, so was Ciela. After dropping him at the ER, Ciela thought she’d never see him again, until he turned up at her school that fall. As the people responsible for their assaults begin to bully Lock, Ciela starts a friendship with him without telling him what she knows. After the assault, Ciela’s world started to change. She could no longer look at a person and know what pan dulce will help them. She also saw mirrored glass everywhere, filling in puddles, replacing leaves and branches, draining the color from the world. As Ciela becomes better friends with Lock, her pan dulce powers start to return, something she thought she had lost forever. But there is still that secret between them, that Ciela knows what happened to him because she was there too. With silence all that is protecting her and Lock, how can she start to speak about what happened?

This harrowing and hauntingly gorgeous novel is so powerful. Its depiction of assault and its aftermath is filled with metaphor but also firmly grounded in what trauma does to someone. The writing is fierce and funny, insistent that the reader not look away. It’s a novel that gets into your heart, rather like a piece of mirrored glass, that burrows there and tears at you. Readers will not be surprised to read in the author’s note that McLemore has personally experience sexual assault, since the experience here is so raw and honest.

The two characters at the center of this novel are amazing. Written with truth and grit, they are both remarkable. Ciela is a brown girl who has lived unapologetically. She is queer and pansexual, making her even more of a target. Her experience is spoken about frankly in the book, the experience of a queer Latinx woman and how it is to live in America. Lock would seem to be her opposite in so many ways. A heterosexual white boy, he is just as interesting as she is somehow, even with her pan dulce magic. Lock is a tree-stealing, finger-biting boy who has been torn apart by trauma and is piecing his life back together, one crocheted mushroom at a time.

Unique characters face a shared assault in this book of trauma, friendship and a dash of magic. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon (9781534449671)

Yolanda’s family has lived on the pecan farm for generations, but they aren’t accepted by the townsfolks who call the brujas, or witches. Yolanda herself seems to have not gotten a magical gift though. Her younger sister has hers, with bees flying around her head and the ability to make plants grow and flower. It’s similar to her Wela’s gift with butterflies. Now though, Yolanda’s family is dwindling with only her sister and grandmother left. As her grandmother falls into a strange sleep, Yolanda sets out on a journey across their property. Joining her is her ex-best friend, her sister whom she also isn’t really speaking to, and a boy who may have a big crush on Yolanda. The grass has magically grown over the last few days, obstructing the view across their land, lengthening the journey to several days rather than hours, and putting real dangers in their path. They must all work together, Wela included, to complete the journey and find the answers to their family puzzle.

Impossible to summarize in any way that makes sense, this novel is a marvel of natural magic, connection to a place, and an in-depth exploration of a family. The connection to nature is evident throughout the novel both in the way that characters can work their magic with insects and plants but also through the grass that grows and the way the land stretches to create a world to explore. Throughout the book there is an intensity, a focus that allows the strange world to become solid and real.

A large part of that intensity is Yolanda herself, a character who holds grudges and demands to walk her own path, even if it’s foolish. She has lost contact with the people she had been closest to in the world, her best friend and sister, and had also lost connection with her grandfather before his death. The journey is just as much about her finding a way back to these people as it is about solving the larger family puzzle.

Strange and unique, this magical realism novel is an enticing summer read. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by McElderry Books.

Review: Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond

Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond

Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond (9781534421851)

Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, a neighborhood united by good food from many different cultures. Told in thirteen linked stories, this novel explores the power of food to connect, change, grow and even fall in love. There is the story of food that can give you courage and other dishes that can help you get revenge as long as it’s justified. There is the story of a food competition that unites a grandmother and her grandson. There is the quiet girl who knows just what pastry you need just then. There are haunting tales of sacrifice and pain. The stories bridge generations and cultures, they show a neighborhood brimming with new and old connections, and they fill the world with more than a little magic built on shared food.

More than a simple collection of short stories, these short stories are beautifully connected to one another. There are characters who appear across multiple stories long before they have their own tale told. There are restaurants glimpsed over the course of the entire novel, sharing their magic across many tales. Throughout the entire book, it is the neighborhood itself that is always consistent and full of details. Frankly, I’m not sure how this many authors managed to write such a cohesive and yet diverse set of stories. It is extraordinary!

One element of many of the stories is a sense of deep heritage that bridges generations. There are stories about grandparents and parents, about magic shared and taught, about food and the skill to make amazing meals together. Each story has mouthwatering descriptions of different foods, enough to make readers want to try something new and amazing immediately.

A remarkable short story collection about food and magic. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon Pulse. 

 

Review: Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno (9780062493644)

Georgina has grown up on the island of By-the-Sea where generations of the women in her family have lived. They are women of specific talents: her mother can brew useful potions, her sister can float slightly off the floor particularly when she’s not paying enough attention. But Georgina doesn’t have any powers at all. The sisters are getting ready for college and leaving the island for the first time in their lives. It’s an island with one special resident, a bird that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, a bird with a distinct family connection. But this year, the bird doesn’t arrive, much to the dismay of the entire island and the birding community who arrive each summer. As the search for the missing bird intensifies, tragedy strikes and soon the summer is filled with salt, magic and mystery.

This is one of those books that you fall for hard. It sweeps in with poetic language that invites readers to explore the island of By-the-Sea, breathe in the magic, taste beautifully-named ice cream flavors and linger in the autumnal graveyard for awhile. Leno lingers over the details, creating a world that is so specific, small and focused. It seeps into your pores, this story, invades you like tainted tea and asks you to believe. And you will.

The characters are all written with such care, each one unique and special. Georgina may feel like a side kick, but she is the full-on protagonist here. She is brave, smart and quite the leader when given the chance. She faces real evil on her island home, must find the perpetrator and meanwhile is in the throes of leaving her home for college while not getting any magical powers herself at all. She is complicated, exploring new romance with the hot girl who visited the island, solving a mystery, and coming into her own.

An amazing read, just right for summer. This is one that fans of magical realism are going to adore. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

 

Release by Patrick Ness

Release by Patrick Ness

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.

 

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (9780062473042, Amazon)

This debut novel combines magical realism with the hard streets of modern Detroit. Fabiola and her mother are journeying to live with family in Detroit, leaving their native Haiti behind. But while Fabiola is allowed to continue on to Detroit, her mother is held in a detention center due to issues with her papers. Now Fabiola must get used to living with her American relatives, including three cousins who are loud, fierce and not to be messed with. Fabiola struggles with the food, the culture, and getting used to a new life and school while worrying about her mother. Just as it seems that she is finding a way forward with a new boyfriend and new friends, the dangerous life that supports her family comes crashing down threatening to sweep Fabiola along with it.

Zoboi’s writing is exceptional. She has drawn on her own experience as an immigrant from Haiti in this novel, infusing it with vodou religion and spirits that both guide and haunt. As Fabiola follows the spirits to the truth about what is really happening, she risks everything that she has found to hold onto and love. This is a book that doesn’t turn away from the violence of Detroit, the guns, drugs and power struggles happening even as children die.

There are many moments in this book that a situation is so fraught with danger that it sears into the reader’s brain. Against those moments, Fabiola and her three cousins stand strong and tall. They are four amazing characters who shine on the page each so different from one another and ferociously both independent and interdependent at the same time. This is family on the page, pushing against the dangers that surround them and include them.

Beautifully written with strong characters and danger, this book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand

useless-bay-by-mj-beaufrand

Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand (InfoSoup)

When a boy goes missing on Whidbey Island, it’s expected that he’s hiding out at the Gray’s house. But Grant isn’t there. Pixie is one of the Gray quintuplets, large kids who seem to have special talents. When Pixie heads out with her scent dog, the best in the state, to find Grant, she discovers something else instead – the body of his mother. Henry, Grant’s half brother, is also part of the search. He knows the attention and problems that come with living in a very wealthy family. His family has staff that travel with them, and it could have been any of them who took Grant and killed his mother. Through the ensuing search, secrets are exposed and powers are discovered in this teen book filled with magical realism.

 

This book is great fun to read. One never quite knows when something mythical and amazing is going to suddenly happen. Those are mixed in with more mundane happenings like murder and kidnapping to create quite the setting for mayhem. Still, there is a feeling of truth through it all, of teens rising up through difficulty to heroism. There is a sense of fate and of purpose too, of destiny combined with the wonder of magic and myth.

The writing is strong and direct. It is haunted with death and pays homage to the damage of abuse and the strength of family. This book is not simple or easy, it is strung with danger and traps. The entire feel of suspense and the claustrophobic island setting combine to create a feeling of doom laced beautifully with hope and love.

A teen novel that is a compelling and vastly enjoyable read, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

when-the-moon-was-ours-by-anna-marie-mclemore

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (InfoSoup)

Best friends, Miel and Sam each have secrets that they wear both outside and inside themselves. Sam was the first person to approach Miel when she was dumped from the town’s water tower the day it was knocked down. She is a girl whose past is tied to the water, whose skirt hem is always damp. She fears pumpkins and was taken in by Aracely, a woman who can rescue people from their own heartache. Miel also has roses that grow out of one of her wrists, marking her a danger to her family. Sam has lived as a boy, serving as the son his mother never had even though his anatomy is that of a girl. At some point, he was expected to return to being a girl but Sam doesn’t know if he will ever be ready. Meanwhile the four sisters in town seek to control Miel and her roses and restore their power, but first they must discover the secret that will make her do their bidding.

Oh my word, this is a beautiful book. It is written in prose that is wildly lush, almost aromatic, so vivid that it remains in your head after you read it. From descriptions of pumpkins as a world of their own to the beautiful danger of the four redheaded sisters to the delicacy of the eggs and herbs that remove heartbreak from a person, each description is its own painting of magic. It creates a world that is ours and yet not, a world of moons and honey, roses and water, stained glass and blood.

To this beautiful and intense writing you add an understanding of the transgender experience and a willingness to write of sexuality and desire and lust for someone who is deciding how they will transition and what their terms will be. It is a book that captures that in-between moment, allows us to linger there with Miel and Sam as their love is just blooming and they are allowing themselves to explore each other in new ways.

Gorgeous, breathtaking and wise, this is one of the most magical and transcendent books I have ever experienced. Bravo for the courage it took to write this and the love that is expressed on each and every page. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.