The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co, vol. 1) by Jonathan Stroud

Harry Potter meets Scooby Doo in this delightful romp through ghost-ridden London, that was originally published in 2013, and that I took much too long to pick up. In this alternate universe, London is besieged by ghosts, both benign and malevolent, that disrupt everyday life and require constant supernatural maintenance. These tenacious shadows can only be dispatched by young folks, who have both the imagination to see them and the physical capability to do whatever it takes to vaporize them. Enter Anthony, Lucy and George, otherwise known as Lockwood & Co., a three- member, teenaged “psychic investigations agency” who make up in style what they lack in numbers. In this introductory volume, Lucy and Anthony bungle a tricky assignment, which leaves them in monstrous debt and almost out on the street. Luckily (or perhaps not) they are enlisted by a well known and wealthy iron magnate to cleanse his famously haunted country house of ghosts. This job is so big it would not only wipe our their debt, but also allow them to grow their small but scrappy business. But why does this titan of industry want them instead of one of the more established agencies? Too worried about the bottom line to wonder, Anthony, Lucy and George take the case. After all, they just have to make it through the night, and their bill is paid. But what awaits them on the other side of the Red Room door just might have Lockwood & Co joining the ranks of the restless dead before they even have a change to lay down their salt circles! This rollicking tale is full of fun wordplay and genuine scares. And if you fall for Lockwood & Co, there are four more books in the series, enough to distract you all mask-wearing-summer long.

All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson

“Navigating in a space that questions your humanity isn’t really living at all. It’s existing. We all deserve more than just the ability to exist.”

Thirty-three year old writer and activist George M. Johnson‘s powerful coming of age story is both a deeply personal narrative and a robust rallying cry in support of Black queer youth. Johnson recounts specific memories from his childhood and adolescence, and uses each story as a jumping off point to discuss topics ranging from toxic masculinity and gender identity, to the lack of sex education resources for LGBTQ youth. These chapters are interspersed with letters to specific family members who helped support him, including his mom and brother. Not all the memories are joyful. Johnson also writes about the deaths of close family members and beloved friends, and one of the letters isn’t to a nurturing mentor but to a trusted cousin who molested him when he was a child. But through every memory and letter, Johnson emphasizes the right of queer, Black youth to be proud of who they are and to demand their universal right to be seen and heard. By telling his personal story in frank, vulnerable detail, Johnson has created a mighty mirror for LGBTQ teens to see themselves and not only feel known, but loved and accepted.

“It’s time for the world to let queer Black boys unpack their shit. Smile, Black boys.”

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Seventeen-year-old Enchanted Jones has big dreams. While she hopes to snag a competitive swimming scholarship for college, her true passion is singing. She knows all the classic R & B hits by heart, but writing her own songs is what gets her through the long days of school and babysitting her younger siblings, while both her parents work to keep her and sister Shea in private school and expensive lessons. So when she meets twenty-eight-year old mega-singer Korey Fields at an audition, Enchanted is, well, enchanted when he hears her voice and invites her and her parents to his next sold out concert. Then Korey asks for her number, and soon they are texting everyday. He promises to give her private singing lessons, help her record her own songs, even release an EP. Enchanted feels like she is falling in love, even though she knows he’s too old for her. But can something that feels so right be that wrong? She finds herself lying to her family, missing school and even breaking up with her best friend over Korey. But things really come to a breaking point after her parents reluctantly agree to let her go on tour with Korey, who’s loving attention turns possessive and then terrifyingly violent. Enchanted is trapped. Korey has cut her off from her friend and family, how can she escape when he’s taken over every aspect of her life? Enchanted will have to draw on her inner warrior mermaid and the spirit of her tough-as-nails Grandma in order to find her way back to herself and uncover the horrific truth about Korey Fields.

Award-winning author Tiffany D. Jackson writes repeatedly in her letter to readers that “this book is not about R. Kelly.” Still, it’s hard to read Enchanted’s story and not think of men like R. Kelly or Dr. Luke. Raw, revealing and heartbreaking, Grown shines a powerful and unflinching spotlight on predatory male behavior, showing it for what it is: sick, wrong and indefensible. Because there is no such thing as a “romantic relationship” between an adult and an underaged child, and the outcomes of these tragic encounters are never the young person’s fault. As Jackson concludes in her letter, “…he knew better.” You will NOT want to miss this gripping, righteous read that is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2020.