Moon has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful sister, Star. Now Star is a Fotogram influencer, making enough money to have bought their family a new house. Their mother is ecstatic with Star but has always had problems showing any sort of love to Moon. Star has been offered a seat on a tour bus of influencers traveling the nation for the summer, and Moon is sent along as her photographer, a role she has played for years. Moon will also be the tour’s “merch girl,” manning the booth that sells items for the influencers to all their fans. Moon has been planning her escape to college after the summer and pockets her money for the meal plan to help pay for board at college, deciding to live off peanut butter and grilled cheese on the bus. But she hadn’t planned on Santiago, an impossibly gorgeous guy who is the grumpy and rude brother of the owner of Fotogram. He’s also the other person doing merch sales. It’s hate at first sight, at least until Santiago starts to share his talent with food and Moon starts to question everything that her mother has ever told her.
Incredible writing, a fresh plot and lots of character growth make this teen novel a pure joy to read. Gilliland has real skill with dialogue, making all of the conversations seem natural and realistic but also clever and sharp-witted. Throughout the book there are wonderful slow reveals of information, such as how Moon actually got her scar (she did not fall out of a tree). The nature of Moon’s relationship with her sister and mother is honest and painful, each moment scalpel sharp and devastating, even when Moon herself doesn’t realize how bad it is.
Moon is a magnificent Latina protagonist. She is not waif-thin nor muscular, moving through her life with wobbly and jiggly bits that she struggles to love. She is herself a gifted earth artist and someone with a deep and meaningful connection to nature. One that often leaves her covered in insects like luna moths, ladybugs and dragonflies, something her mother considers a curse. Moon is complex, acerbic, funny and immensely vulnerable, just like the novel itself.
One of the best of the year, this is a book to fall for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon (9780063088092)
In New York City in the heat of summer, there is a sudden blackout citywide. Caught in the darkness are several groups of Black teens who all find themselves heading to the same party. There are couples who have already broken up and find themselves the only safe way to get back home. There are pairs who are not yet together but find themselves trapped on the stopped subway system. There are people in one relationship and longing for a new one that is right there. Told in loosely-linked short stories, these stories all tell the joyous tale of young Black love in the dark.
Written by six award-winning Black female authors, these stories are a summer delight to read. The authors have their own unique voices that all come together into a single book that really sings. Cleverly, one story bridges across the entire book, following one couple’s long walk across the city together. Each story shows romance in a different light and different stage, showing how even waning romance can be the beginning of something new and amazing.
In all of the stories, the characters are interesting and well written. They have personalities that stand out against the crowd of characters, taking the spotlight for a time and then allowing it to move on. The writing throughout is skilled, creating a book that is romantic, funny and a tribute to New York City herself.
A testament to the talent of the writers, this book is a great summer read. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
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.
Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a plan. She just needs to survive high school and then she can leave her small island and become the real person she keeps secret from everyone. She has a group of friends, but she’s different from them. Her family has fallen apart with her father leaving, her mother sad and her little brother raging. Morgan is about to have another huge secret to keep. When Morgan meets Keltie, she rediscovers someone she met as a child. With a kiss, Morgan allows Keltie to take on a human form and leave her seal form behind. The two become close friends, but Morgan is worried about people seeing them touching or together at all. Keltie though has something she hasn’t told Morgan either. As the secrets pile up, Morgan has to see if she has the courage to live as the person she truly is before it’s too late.
From the author of The Witch Boy trilogy comes this magical sea breeze of a graphic novel that is just right for summer beach reading. The twist on a traditional selkie tale is lovingly created, offering moments of real connection, beauty and pain. Morgan is closeted and pretending to be everything she is not. It’s great to see that as she moves into her truth, she becomes better connected with her family as she shares things with them. The setting of the novel is a large part of the story with the seaside, the island and the seal nursery just offshore.
The illustrations show that setting with detail, inviting readers down to the beaches, out to the seals, deep underwater, and onto the rocks. They are drenched in summer sun, tantalizing moonlight, and the blue greens of the sea.
Beautiful, aching and full of LGBTQIA magical fantasy romance. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Liana and Amado are trying to survive Cuba’s el período especial en tiempos de paz—the special period in times of peace, in the 1990s. The time period when the Cuban government’s strict rules after the collapse of the Soviet Union threw the population into famine. Liana avoids the summer labor she has been assigned to, even though she opens her family to retribution. She spends her days instead with a dog she met, a special singing dog who helps bring her together with Amado. Amado is the brother of a prisoner, which already puts his family under additional scrutiny. He wants to follow in his brother’s pacifist footsteps as the mandatory military service looms in his future. As Liana and Amado come together, they must find a way to help one another survive starvation while seeing if they can have any future together at all.
Engle is the master of the verse novel, weaving her incredible poetry into tales of Cuba. This time, her focus on a period of starvation in Cuba is particularly exceptional. She creates a beautiful romance between two people (and a special dog) in the midst of such political upheaval and danger. The romance is captivating but it is the state of Cuba itself that creates the energy and horror in the story. From people dying of starvation to political imprisonment to casting yourself on the water to try to reach America. There are no easy decisions here, all ways lead to death or prison.
As always, Engle’s books are captivating. Her writing is marvelous, building the romance from tentative first meetings to real love and connection in an organic and honest way. The characters themselves are beautifully drawn. Similar in their situation, they find themselves reacting in very different ways that drive them apart. Their plans for the future seem disparate but could just be the way they can survive and be together after all.
Tense and horrifying, this poetic look at starvation in Cuba is riveting. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Growing up in 1950s San Francisco isn’t simple for a Chinese-American girl who loves to dream of working on math that will send people into space. Even her best friend isn’t interested in the same things as Lily is. As Lily becomes more aware of her sexuality, she soon realizes that she is queer. She’s particularly intrigued by a male impersonator in San Francisco. As her love of math draws her closer to a white classmate at school, she realizes they may have even more in common. Soon the two teens are heading out to a club together to watch that same male impersonator that Lily was dreaming about. But remember, it is the 1950s and Chinese girls are not allowed to be gay, so Lily is risking a lot. It’s the time of McCarthyism too, so Lily’s family is threatened by the fear of Communism when her father’s papers are taken away. Lily must find a way to navigate the many dangers of being Chinese, queer and young.
Lo’s writing is so incredible. She creates a historical novel that makes the historical elements so crucial to the story that they flow effortlessly along. She avoids long sections of exposition about history by building it into the story in a natural and thoughtful way. That allows readers to feel Lily’s story all the more deeply while realizing the risks the Lily is taking with her family and friends. Lo also beautifully incorporates San Francisco into the book, allowing readers to walk Chinatown and visit other iconic parts and features of the city.
As well as telling Lily’s story, Lo shares the stories of Lily’s aunt and mother. They took different paths to the present time, making critical decisions about their careers and marriages. These experiences while straight and more historical speak to Lily’s own budding romance and finding of people who support her as she discovers who she is. They remove the simple look at who her mother could be been assumed to be and make her a more complex character.
Layered and remarkable, this book speaks to new, queer love and shows that intersectionality has been around forever. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
The conclusion to the amazing Cursebreakers series, this book could not have higher expectations surrounding it. What at first was a twist on Beauty and the Beast has created its own tremendous fantasy world filled with an evil enchantress, a lost brother, a girl stolen from her world to become a princess in another, a prince who is also beastly, and a new queen who must find the respect of her people. Told in alternating points of view, the novel takes us into each person’s perspective. There is Harper, who can barely look at her once-beloved Rhen but has been learning to use a sword and defend herself. Rhen, who regrets what he was forced to do but remains terrified of the magic that flows in his brother. Grey, who now lives in a nearby monarchy and is steadily learning to use his magic, probably to attack his brother. Lia Mara, the new queen who must find her own way without using the bloodshed that kept her mother in power. As war between the two kingdoms nears, the tension builds as romance and magic mingle to create a great read.
Kemmerer has managed to keep a marvelously tight rein on this series which easily could have spiraled out of control with its many protagonists, complex world building and fantasy elements. She manages to keep it focused on what brought Harper, Rhen and Grey together from the very beginning, making sure that readers remember that, see what has been lost along the way, and then offers a possibility, a hopeful way forward.
The book is in turns heart-breaking, hopeful and horrifying. The swirl of emotions works for each of the characters, each caught in their own situation, dependent upon one another, hoping they can do better than those who came before. The world itself is so strongly built from the enchantress’s curse to the castles themselves to the villages and towns that make up the kingdoms. It all clicks together into a unit that is unusual to see done so solidly in teen fantasy.
If you are a fan of the series, this one will not disappoint. If you haven’t read them yet, what are you waiting for? Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Nala plans to spend her summer sampling new ice cream flavors and bingeing on Netflix. Since it’s her cousin’s birthday, she agrees to go to an open mic night for Inspire Harlem, a local teen activist group that her cousin is part of. The MC at the event is Tye Brown, who is handsome and funny, just the type of person that Nala wants to have as a boyfriend. Unfortunately, Nala starts off by telling him a few small lies, like that she is an activist too, that she works at a nursing home and that she’s a vegetarian too. As Nala and Tye spend their summer together, growing closer together, Nala’s lies become larger. Tye tries to help Nala with her nonexistent job at the nursing home her grandmother lives in. He also tries to change her even further, giving her gifts to help with her presentation skills and a water bottle so that she can be more green. Can lies turn into love? Can Nala find a way to be herself before she loses everything?
Watson once again writes a book that reads beautifully and easily while grappling with real issues. Here she focuses on what happens when a girl is willing to not be herself for a guy. While Nala’s lies are concrete, young women will also recognize how they may have disguised their true selves for a boy to like them more. The book is about liking yourself enough to stand in your own truth, not hide, and to be that person no matter who you are with. And if it doesn’t start that way, how to get back to that strong center and let it guide you.
Beautifully, Nala is a plus-sized girl who is not ashamed of her size, who likes cheese, meat and ice cream, and who is able to gain the attention of the cutest guy in the group. Time is spent thinking about her makeup and hair, but not her weight. It’s vital for Nala to be a strong person in this book, a girl you would not think would lie to get a boyfriend. She must find her way back to pride in herself, love for who she is, and a sense that she deserves the best.
Big-hearted, this novel tells the deep truth to young Black women through a series of lies. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Join a band of brave heroes who adventure through dungeons and then take on more sinister threats above ground. There is Rose, the pun-flinging pink cat mage. June is the quieter dog healer who keeps the entire group alive. Goro is the big green creature who serves as the muscle. Finally, Jeremy is the frog with a sharp sword and a vendetta against The Baron. After finding a strange plant, our heroes must figure out how it is being used by The Baron to potentially take over the world. As they work through the threats and puzzles, the group steadily reveal themselves to the reader. Goro misses his boyfriend Horse Boy and Jeremy seems to be far more royal than he first appeared. Meanwhile, there is some romantic heat between Rose and June that plays out throughout the book.
Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating. There is plenty of action for those who love that aspect of gaming, but really where this book shines is in the character development, just like any great D&D campaign. The inclusion of LGBT elements and full-on romance is marvelous. It’s a book sure to make everyone feel included in gaming, dungeons and even fancy dances.
The art is bright and dashing while the writing adds the joy of puns as well as moments that will have you laughing out loud. The two together make for a book that is a fast read because the action gallops along and readers will want to know what happens to these characters that they love.
Full of action, romance and humor, this is a dungeon worth crawling for. Appropriate for ages 10-14.