Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (9781534442726)
Zayneb keeps a diary with two types of things in it. There are marvels, something that is extraordinary and wonderful. Then there are oddities, which perplex, confuse or concern. Zayneb has always been someone willing to take on the world, something that gets her in trouble at times. So of course, she is the one willing to confront her racist teacher and ends up suspended and even pulling one of her classmates into trouble along with her. Zayneb ends up leaving for Doha, Qatar, to get an early start to her spring break. On the trip there, she meets Adam. Adam also does a marvels and oddities journal, but he is harboring a deep secret. He has recently been diagnosed with MS, the same disorder that took his mother’s life. Still, he is intrigued with Zayneb just as she is with him. While they are both Muslim, they don’t see life in the same way, though they are both busy putting on fronts for one another and not showing who they truly are.
Ali takes racism towards Muslims on in a very direct way. She shows microaggressions and other forms of aggression very effectively, demonstrating how each and every day as a girl wearing a hijab, Zayneb is subtly and directly attacked and questioned. But Ali doesn’t rest there, she also shows how to combat it, giving Zayneb tons of resilience and plenty of anger. Zayneb is a wonderful character because of the depth of her passion for being an activist and standing up for herself and for others. She is simply a kick-ass character. Adam on the other hand, is quieter and protective of those he loves in a different and gentler way. He too wrestles with questions and concerns, bearing the burden so as not to bother others until he can’t handle it alone any longer. He is a great foil for Zayneb’s character.
The city of Doha is also a character in the book. It comes alive with its markets and museums, public spaces and private homes. There is a beautiful sense of the city, one that none of the characters take for granted. It is not seen as a perfect place. Zayneb still has to confront overt racism there as well.
A romance that is strengthened by a focus on racism and a firm stance on being yourself. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.
The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen (9781250191922)
Released July 30, 2019.
Fie is one of the Crow class, despised and ignored by all of the other classes. Denied the right to have a home other than the open road or any weapons to defend themselves with, they are hated because their class alone is immune to the plague. They serve to come into villages and homes, remove the plague dead and cleanse the space, firing up a funeral pyre away from town. So when Fie’s clan finds themselves caught up in royal court intrigue with the crown prince and his double, who faked their own deaths, Fie is not amused. The only people she cares about are her clan, so the two interlopers despite their charm, mean nothing to her. When an offer is made to save the Crows and give them protection though, Fie knows that she must make it truly stick and gets the prince himself to swear a Covenant oath on it. Now she just has to get them to safety in time before they are all killed.
Owen has woven an incredible world in her debut novel, which is the first in a series. I’m always impressed when an author can toss readers directly into the story with almost no exposition to help and it all works and makes sense. The world building is unique and fascinating, creating both a wide world to explore but also a microcosm of several people as they navigate their fractured and magical society. The magic too is interesting, using bones and teeth to create witchery is wonderfully gruesome and delightfully in keeping with the entire book’s themes. Particularly welcome is a deft use of LGBTQIA+ throughout the novel in the society and several characters.
The character of Fie is also compelling. She is a young woman haunted by the loss of her mother by killers on the open road. She has powers but they are in their infancy and her destiny is to become a chieftain among her people. She is armed with a biting sarcasm that lights up the story like flames, and a deep understanding of what is wrong with the world. Her connection with Tavin grows organically throughout the story and adds its own heat to the book.
A great new voice in YA fantasy, this novel is dark, bloody and compelling. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt.
Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (9781250312846)
Freddy is dating the most popular girl at school. She is exactly the person you want to date, pretty, sexy, charming, and makes you feel like the center of her world. Until you aren’t, which happens pretty often. Laura keeps on cheating on Freddy, breaking up with her, and then asking Freddy to get back together. Freddy knows that it’s not ideal and so do all of her friends. When the two girls break up again, Freddy’s best friend Doodle encourages her to see a medium (who is also a great dungeon master too) to get advice. The medium agrees with all of Freddy’s friends, break up with Laura Dean. But it’s not that easy and as their relationship heats up again, Freddy risks her friendships to continue to be with the intoxicating Laura Dean.
This graphic novel beautifully captures a captivating but toxic romantic and sexual relationship. Tamaki has created several brilliant characters who avoid any kind of stereotype and are written as individuals. In particular, I appreciated Doodle, one of the only teen characters I have seen in a novel that avoids using a cell phone. As a parent of this type of teen, it is refreshing to see a character do this so organically. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop gaming will love the DM as a medium and the use of gaming as a way to connect on multiple levels.
The art is a great complement to the story line. Filled with touches of pink, the art takes small moments and tiny focal points to tell a robust story. Just the images of Freddy’s shoes walking alone after a break up speak so beautifully of loneliness. The characters themselves are also vividly depicted in the art, from Freddy alone on her rumpled sheets to Doodle’s body language when she is being neglected.
An exceptional LGBTQ graphic novel that talks openly about toxicity in relationships and the importance of friendships. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662835)
In her second novel, Acevedo cements her place as a master author for teen readers. Emoni’s life has not been easy, getting pregnant as a freshman in high school was not part of her plan. Now as a senior, her life is filled with work, caring for her daughter, and taking care of her Abuela. There is room too for her love of cooking, but not enough room for big dreams for her future. When a culinary class is offered for the first time at her school, Emoni hesitates to apply even though she longs to. The class includes a trip to Spain, which Emoni knows she will not be able to afford, nor could she leave her daughter or ask that of her grandmother. Still, she signs up for the class. It’s not easy, learning to not improvise in the kitchen but follow the rules and recipes. She can’t add the small touches that make her cooking magic. As Emoni opens herself up to new experiences, her life begins to open in other ways too, allowing herself to find romance and new connections.
In this novel, Acevedo gifts us with a story in prose where you can see her skill as a poet shining through often, taking words and making them dazzling. The fierceness of her first book is still here, with some of the short chapters taking on issues like racism and poverty. The entire work is such an incredible read. Emoni takes up a place in your heart and mind, insisting on being heard and believed.
The portrayal of a young mother who is ferociously caring and loving of her daughter, is something not seem often in our society. Emoni stands as a character speaking for women, a teen caring not only for her daughter but also standing alongside her grandmother as they care for one another. Throughout the book, there is a strong sense of community and extended family that are supportive of Emoni and her dreams.
A stellar and important read, let’s hope this one wins more awards and attention for Acevedo. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.
Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (9781626723641)
When Miriam meets Weldon at her bookstore job, she doesn’t realize at first who he is. The grandson of the creator of the TomorrowMen comic book empire, he is wealthy and lives is California. Miriam on the other hand comes from a family without a lot of money and is trying to figure out how to leave her small town to go to college. The two of them have a connection though since it was Miriam’s grandfather who drew the first TomorrowMen comics. As the two of them navigate the perils of two families who have battled one another in court, Miriam becomes more sure of what she wants from her life. Weldon, stuck in rural Canada to get his life back on track, tries his best to be more stable and less impulsive. The two teenagers drift in and out of connection with one another but can’t seem to quite leave one another entirely. It’s Romeo and Juliet reworked to focus on modern comic geeks.
This is Hicks’ first novel, having created several comic books for children and teens. Readers who themselves identify as being “geeks” and in particular comic book geeks, will thoroughly enjoy the banter about comics, the obsessive nature of geek love, and the beauty of two geeks finding one another despite the world trying to keep them apart. The book is filled with humor and yet still offers deep emotions and a look at how one generation’s decisions echo forward to their offspring.
The book takes a look at growing up in rural Canada and has quite a few nods to Canadian life throughout the text. The desire to get out of a rural setting and move to a new place where you don’t know everyone is also an emotion that a lot of rural teens will relate to easily. Add in the appeal of comic books and a visit to Comic-Con and this is a book with a large audience who will root for the two teens.
A funny and warm look at geek love, this is a charming teen novel. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (9781250196934)
Mads has two best friends, Cat who drags her to hear bands that she’s never heard of, and her father. Every Sunday, Mads joins her father for minor league baseball games and other evenings they watch their favorite TV shows together. Mads’ mother is often left out of their father-daughter time together and as the book progresses, it looks like Mads may be headed for her parents divorcing. But it’s all about a secret that her father is keeping from her, something to do with a large check sent to Mads and a grandfather she never met. As the secrets start to be revealed, Mads begins to learn more about herself as well and just who she really wants to kiss.
This graphic novel is amazing, particularly when one sees it was written by one person and drawn by another. The entire book is one cohesive whole with art that is both playful but also emotionally rich when the story calls for it. The writing is strong and the story is complex. Venable includes religion throughout the book, allowing space for questioning beliefs, particularly around LGBTQ issues. Those themes enrich the entire graphic novel, creating tension in the family, offering honesty to replace secrets, and giving sources of pride rather than disdain. Venable doesn’t offer easy resolution to these issues and the way that they impact generations of a family.
A stellar graphic novel for teens that is filled with LGBTQ pride. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Lovely War by Julie Berry (9780451469939)
The author of the Printz Honor winner, The Passion of Dolssa, returns with another spectacular teen read. In a novel wrapped with the attention of the Greek gods Aphrodite, Ares and Hephaestus, a love story for the ages is told. The story is set during World War I and moves from England to France and directly into the trenches and fog of war. It is the story of Hazel and James, two people who found one another right before James is being shipped off to the front. Without even a kiss to say goodbye, the two are separated. Hazel joins the YMCA volunteers in France, intent to offer her music to the troops as a way of staying close to James. There she meets Colette, a Belgian girl who lost her entire family and fiance to the Germans as they razed her town. Aubrey is an African-American pianist who shares his love of music on the sly with Hazel and Colette and eventually falls hard for Colette. Still, they are in the midst of a war in the early part of the 20th century, so racism and danger is everywhere. As the couples are separated, it is clear they may never find one another again.
Berry has created a pure delight of a book. I lingered over this one, not wanting it to end and yet rather desperate to find out what happens to all of the characters. Berry creates characters who are deep and interesting. In this book, she uses music and architecture to create shared languages that bring people together. Her use of the Greek gods to tell the tale is particularly effective, giving the story a sense of dread that one of these beloved characters will be lost in the war.
Berry’s writing is exquisite. Even as she creates a quintessential romance on the pages, there is nothing fluffy about it. Each moment, each kiss, each long look filled with meaning is given space and a sense of importance. The book is written so that one feels along with the characters, understands falling in love and doing it again and again as life deals new blows.
An incredible piece of historical fiction. This is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 14-adult.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.
Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau (9781626726413)
A sweet combination of romance and baking rises to perfection in this graphic novel for teens. All Ari wants to do is leave their small town and move to the big city with his band. Unfortunately, he has to stay and help with his family’s bakery which is struggling financially. Then Ari comes up with a plan, to hire someone else to help in the bakery so that he is free to leave. That’s when Hector enters his life, a big calm guy who loves to bake just as much as Ari hates it. The two of them slowly becomes friends with romance hanging in the air, and that’s when Ari ruins it all.
We need so many more books for teens that focus on life after high school, particularly ones where the characters don’t have any real plans of what to do and aren’t headed for college. The story line here is beautifully laid out, creating a real connection between the two main characters that builds and grows. Then comes the devastating choice that Ari makes to blame Hector for an accident that they were both involved in. Panetta again allows the story to have a lovely natural pace even in this disaster, giving the reader pause about whether this is going to be a love story or not.
The art by Ganucheau is exceptional. The two characters are drawn with an eye for reality but also romance. They could not be more different with Ari light and rather dreamy and Hector a more anchoring and settled figure even in their depictions on the page. The baking scenes as they two work together are the epitome of romantic scenes, showing their connection to one another long before it fully emerges in the story.
A great LGBT graphic novel filled with romance and treats. Appropriate for ages 15-20.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan (9781547600083)
Even though they attend a high school focused on social justice, best friends Chelsea and Jasmine are sick and tired of the way that women are treated there. The two decide to start a Women’s Rights Club that focuses on girls, race, and speaking out. They convince a teacher to be their advisor and are given a school club blog to post to. They post all sorts of things online. Chelsea is a poet who loves to perform in front of audiences. Jasmine writes essays and short pieces on intersectionality and being a black girl of size. Their club starts getting attention both in and outside of their school. But the principal has some issues with their approach and the response of other students to their message. When the club is shut down, the two friends continue to raise their voices together.
Watson and Hagan have created an incredible feminist book for teens. They have incorporated the names and stories of feminists whose writing is worth checking out too, so young people inspired by this book can look further and learn more. The writing is exceptional, particularly the poetry and essays attributed to the two main characters. They cry out for justice on so many fronts that it is entirely inspiring to read.
The authors created two inspiring young women. There is Jasmine, who is grappling with being a large black girl and the constant microaggressions she faces for both her race and size. Her father is dying of cancer while she may be falling for her best male friend. Chelsea is a white girl who stands up for others, calls out for justice, but also makes big mistakes along the way. She is struggling with being a feminist but also being attracted to a boy who is paying attention to her while dating another girl officially. The two grapple with the ideals they hold dear and not being able to attain them, allowing readers to see two human teens doing their best.
Powerful and engaging, this feminist read is written with strength and conviction. Appropriate for ages 12-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.