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.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Grown cover image

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson (9780062840356)

This gripping novel for teens takes readers into a world of high-rolling musicians and the abuse and exploitation of Black girls. Enchanted, age 17, is in high school, on the swim team and dreaming of making it big in the music industry. When she lies to her mother to get her to take her into the city for an audition, Enchanted doesn’t get the spot but does catch the attention of legendary R&B singer Korey Fields. As Korey begins to shower Enchanted with attention, her parents agree to let Enchanted leave high school and tour with Korey. What starts as a rocket to her singing career, quickly turns to a relationship with Korey. As Korey becomes more and more controlling, Enchanted finds herself unable to contact anyone for help, held against her will, and manipulated into staying. When Enchanted wakes up to find blood all around her and Korey’s body nearby, she needs to figure out what happened that night and what she did.

Jackson writes with such raw power here. She harnesses growing tensions, fear for Enchanted’s life, and reader’s horror at the situation that Enchanted finds herself in. Jackson shows how even a close and caring family can be conned into allowing their daughter to travel with an adult man and be taken advantage of. She shows how the families too are manipulated, beaten down and forced to be separated from the children they love. Readers will recognize many of the details in the book in the recent exposures of R. Kelly’s abuse of young Black girls.

Enchanted is a marvelous depiction of a seventeen year old. She is a mix of child and adult, yearning to be even more adult, to launch her life and be seen. But she is certainly still young, naive and innocent as Korey manipulates her, drawing her deeper and deeper into the world he has crafted to control her. The book is almost suffocating as their interactions become more and more abusive, leaving readers looking for a way out alongside Enchanted.

Powerful truth about Black girls and their place in the #MeToo movement. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

Parachutes by Kelly Yang (9780062941084)

Claire and Dani could not be more different from one another. Claire comes from Chinese wealth in Shanghai. When her father decides that she should go to school in the United States, she is quickly moved to California and into Dani’s house. Dani lives there with just her mother. She attends the same school as Claire, but as a scholarship student. Dani loves to debate and enjoys the attention her debate coach shows her. As the two girls navigate high school in parallel but separate social spheres, they both encounter sexual harassment and assault. Both of them shut down, lose sight of themselves, and tell almost no one what has happened. But as they get angry and refuse to be silenced, the two discover that they may just be the person the other one has needed to be their champion.

Yang tells the story of Chinese parachute students who come to the United States for high school. Their experience is fascinating and unique. Sent to a foreign country alone as a teenager, often from very wealthy families, these teens must learn in a new language and figure out a different society. There is so much to envy here, from the clothing to the handbags to the cars. The expectations for someone like Claire are huge, the pressure form her family immense, and the situations very adult.

Against that wealth and shimmer, Dani’s story is set. She is Filipino, she and her mother work as cleaners in the large homes. She goes to school with wealthy kids, but is known as a scholarship student. She is bright and ferocious, defending her friends along the way. Yet when her teacher sexually harasses her, Dani loses her voice and must regain her passion and anger to find a way forward.

The pairing of these two different girls is phenomenal, their journeys linked but separate in many ways. Powerful, wrenching and insistent, this novel is a rallying cry. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay

Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay

Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay (9781536209600)

Claire started to play the piano when her father got sick. Now after his death, it is a connection to his memory. As Claire longs to go to a school for music, she auditions to become a student of Paul Avon, a well-known and respected piano teacher in San Francisco. Her traditional Filipino mother is uncertain, but is soon charmed by Paul and manages to cover the cost of the lessons. Claire is soon practicing constantly, trying to get Paul’s approval for her playing and reach the emotional center of each piece of music. She participates in competitions and places well, but it never seems like quite enough. As Paul’s moods get more sour, he leaves Claire to watch his house while he goes on tour. When he returns though, Claire’s fantasies about playing for him and finally gaining his approval don’t work out and things turn sexual and sour between them.

Salaysay’s book is unusual and fascinating. She captures the drive and perfectionism of being a pianist who competes. She also shows the steady grooming and isolation of a young woman who is invited to the outskirts of adulthood and abused. At the same time, Salaysay also shows that sex has meaning and is nothing to be ashamed of, unless it is abusive or rape. This delicate line is kept pure throughout the book, as Claire learns about herself and what one event can do.

Salaysay’s writing is exquisite. Readers will at first be on alert about Paul and his approach, but soon will settle in just as Claire does as her playing improves. Yet throughout there are multiple points of tension for Claire and the reader. There is Claire’s falling out with her best friend, fighting with her mother, traveling to the city, and steadily becoming someone else. Yet when she is wounded and hurt, it is those same people she left behind who are there for her and help label what happened to her.

A symphony of a book, this novel encompasses music, race, sexuality and assault. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick.

Review: Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold (9780062742377)

Bisou knows the cruelty of men, having found her mother dead at the hands of her father when she was a small child. She was taken in by her grandmother, a strong woman who lives a solitary and simple life in Seattle. Bisou lives much the same way, having few friends until she starts to date. Everything changes when on the night of homecoming, she runs from her boyfriend and finds herself alone in the woods and being stalked by a wolf. When she defends herself and the wolf lies dead, she heads home. The next day she hears of a boy found dead in the woods from the same injuries as the wolf she killed. Bisou soon discovers her family history, the tale of her grandmother, and the power of being a hunter.

Arnold has taken the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and turned it forcefully on its head. Her writing is heart-pounding and fast paced yet also takes its time to create settings and characters that are vivid on the page. She takes elements of traditional societal shame and makes them part of Bisou’s power, including menstruation. The book also captures sex scenes where there is no consequences other than pleasure for Bisou, something that is so rare in teen fiction that it is noteworthy. 

Arnold’s deep look at family violence and sexual predators doesn’t pull any punches or many any excuses. Bisou instead of being the prey becomes the hunter, called out of her bed by the moon. With ties to both fantasy and elements of allegory, this novel is dark and bloody, just right to be relished by young feminists.

Strongly written, violent and triumphant, this novel is tremendous. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Review: Speak the Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, artwork by Emily Carroll (9780374300289)

The original novel Speak came out almost twenty years ago and is such a masterpiece of teen writing that I hesitated to read it in graphic novel form. Somehow though, the graphic novel captures the novel with a darkness that is beautiful and troubling at the same time. It has the same tone, the same damage on the page. Sadly it is just as relevant today during the #metoo movement as it was two decades ago.

Removing the bulk of Anderson’s skilled text had to be a gargantuan task in itself. The result is a pared down book that loses nothing of the powerful story. The imagery of trees plays throughout the book as does the use of dark and light on the page. It is a haunting and haunted book of a girl unable to speak about what happened to her. This new version will make the story more accessible for those teens who enjoy a great graphic novel rather than a great text novel. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

It’s a groundbreaking novel made into one of the most powerful graphic novels I have read. Get your hands on this one, get it into the hands of teens. Appropriate for ages 13+.

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux. 

 

Review: The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez

9781524737757_fallinnocence_HC_JK.indd

The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez (9781524737757)

When Emilia was eight years old, she was attacked in the woods near her elementary school. After the attack, Emilia identified Jeremy Lance as her attacker, a boy with special needs, who lived at the boy’s home near the school. He was a boy she had seen break a school bus window with his fists as he stared out at her. Emilia’s recovery was slow and painful. At first, she would not speak at all partly because of biting through her own tongue during the attack. She saw crows all around her, watching over her and caring for her. At times, she thought that she was a crow too. Now at age 16, Emilia is a survivor. But all of that will be tested as a man comes forward as her real attacker and Emilia’s fragile world begins to crumble.

This book is not a mystery and readers looking for that sort of survival story will not find it here. Rather this is a delicate and complex look at a girl’s survival of an attack and the way that though she has survived, she has not recovered. It is a look at a family fractured by an attack, a family that has never again found its footing. It’s a look at a brother who has been ignored, his needs set aside for Emilia to be the focus. It’s a look at a father unable to stay, needing to flee his family. It’s a look at a mother who sacrificed herself for her daughter and still things are broken and unable to be repaired.

The book has Emilia at its heart, a girl who has avoided mental health care effectively.  Readers will hope that she will find the help that she needs before the darkness becomes too much to bear. Emilia creates her own fantasy world, her own space to live in that gives her room to breathe. She faces her own demons without allowing anyone to help her, isolated though there are so many who would help her.

Delicate yet strong writing allows this book to move with Emilia’s mental state, exploring darkness and mental health. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Philomel Books.

Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee (9781481476560)

Will has discovered that walking the streets of Los Angeles helps him stop thinking about the tragedies in his life. After his father’s suicide, he is trying to find a new rhythm to his life and it seems to be filled with long walks, ones that keep him from being at home too much or visiting the places he went with his father. When Will is home, he works to perfect his father’s cornbread recipe, but nothing seems to improve it at all. Then there is the other thing that he is avoiding, his best friend Playa was raped at a party. Will has no idea how to help her or make it better. So he takes his job at the Dollar Store and turns it into a way to reach out into the world and make connections with Playa and others. Small acts of kindness that allow him to break through the walls he has placed around himself, if he dares.

This book is steeped in sadness to profound that you almost expect your skin to come away tinted with blue. McGhee captures those traumas that are so deep that one cannot deal in a normal way, but only manage to escape in whatever way is possible. In the middle of this sadness is the amazing character of Will, a boy searching for connections while refusing to see those right in front of him. A boy who sees moments of awe and humanity in people that almost bring him to his knees. McGhee shows us all of these with a tenderness that honors his pain and also brings hope.

The writing here is beautiful. Written in small bite-sized pieces accompanied by calligraphy on the opposite page done in gentle grays, these small moments are magnified and made into important life events, as they are. And yet, the importance is an everyday one, a day-by-day one. That is the hope here.

Tender, profound and tragic, this book for teens is cathartic and hopeful. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

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.