The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

This prequel to the super popular Hunger Games Trilogy reveals the diabolical origins of Panem president Coriolanus Snow, and how he evolves into the tyrannical despot we love to hate. (Note: this post assumes pre-knowledge of the Hunger Games books and/or movies. If you have no clue what those are, click here) Coriolanus Snow was once just an eighteen year old boy, desperate to keep his genteel poverty a secret. The Snows were a powerful family before the war. But now with both his parents dead, and the unpaid taxes on the family’s penthouse building up, he needs a miracle to keep himself, his cousin and grandmother alive. Enter Lucy Gray, a sly and talented tribute from District 12. The government has decided to assign promising Academy students as mentors to the tributes of the 10th Hunger Games, and Coriolanus is tasked with guiding Lucy. Since she is small and young, he doesn’t have high hopes for her at first. But as the two of them start to strategize, he begins to admire, and then fall for her beautiful singing voice and strong will to live. He even convinces the powers that be to add betting privileges, along with food and water pledges to the bare-bones Game structure in order to help Lucy survive longer. Is it possible for Coriolanus to win the Games and Lucy too? Perhaps, but devotees of the series know it won’t be easy. There is no room for love or mercy in the brutal Capitol of Panem, where the snakes don’t just come in reptile form! While this tome was a bit too bleak for me during our current crisis, fans will likely be gratified by the grimly satisfying ending.

Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder

What do you do when you find out that your mom and best friend is dying of cancer? Weep with sadness? Rage at the unfairness of it all? Yes, and sometimes even write a stunningly good graphic memoir about it. Now ten years after Tyler Feder‘s mom died during her sophomore year of college, she has written a frank, poignant and even funny road map of how to navigate being in the “dead mom club.” Tyler Feder’s mom Rhonda was awesome. She had a signature pixie hair cut, made amazing Halloween costumes and birthday decorations, and loved perfumed hand lotion and scary carnival rides. Feder’s choice to render her sad family history in a soft pastel pink palette helps soften the blow of seeing effervescent Rhonda lose her dark mop of hair and descend into sickness. With the benefit of healing time, Feder is even able to seed her story of grieving with gentle humor. There’s tips on “how to make a good cry a great cry,” “Dead Mom: The App,” and a “My mom died young reaction Bingo board.” The section on the family sitting shiva after Rhonda’s death is my favorite, where Feder lovingly details the strangeness of her terrible new state of motherlessness, but how friends and family helped her through. Good for both a cry and a laugh, Dancing at the Pity Party is perfect for anyone who’s ever lost a loved one, or loves someone who has.

Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

It happens quickly. One spring day, everything in Anaya’s hometown of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, is fine. The next, jagged, coarse black grasses start growing everywhere, choking out the all the local vegetation and emitting a poisonous pollen that makes people sneeze and cough. Anaya’s father, a botanist with the Ministry of Agriculture, suspects the terrible plants may be biologically engineered weapons. But if so, who unleashed them? Because it’s not just Salt Spring Island that’s infected, it’s the entire globe. All across the world the black grass is growing and morphing, turning into killer lilies that shoot bullet-like seeds, and buried flesh-eating pods that lurk beneath the soil, ready to open and swallow down unsuspecting souls in a single gulp. Anaya’s dad believes he knows a way to destroy the killer grass. But he has to travel to a remote island in order to create the antidote. Meanwhile, Anaya and her friends Petra and Seth have discovered that the bizarre plants don’t seem to make them sick the way they make everyone else. In fact, they seem impervious to the grasses’ deadly pollen and acid sap. And suddenly the Canadian military is very interested in their surprise immunity. What does it all mean? Where did the killer grass come from? Why are three random Canadian teenagers immune to this global terror? And can Anaya’s dad find the cure before being eaten alive? While some of these questions are answered, many more are raised in this jaw-dropping, bio-horror series opener by master of suspense Kenneth Oppel. For those of you who prefer to immerse yourself in books that reflect our current situation instead of escape it, this page-turning, fast-paced pandemic thriller is for you. I flew through it, gasped at the cliff-hanging ending, and then rejoiced when I saw that I only had to wait until this fall to see what happens next. Run, don’t walk to your nearest e-reader or local library website to give this Bloom a sniff (just don’t get too close!)

The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith

It is 1945, and Japan is struggling to sustain their military might in the face of advancing American troops. Taro, a young Japanese pilot, has just joined a unit of kamikaze, pilots who volunteer to fatally “body-crash” their planes into American warships. Hana, a school girl and seamstress, is a member of the Nadeshiko unit, young women who are assigned to wait on and tend to the kamikaze pilots at the local military base until the day they are assigned to take their last flights. Hana has sadly become used to seeing the doomed young men come and go, and tries not to become attached. But when Taro arrives at the barracks with his violin case, Hana finds herself smitten with the young musician and his music. Every day that bad weather keeps Taro’s plane grounded is another chance for their love to bloom. Each of them has sworn to do their duty for their families, their country and their people. Can true love flourish even in the face of certain death? This utterly compelling and richly detailed historical fiction is the inspired work of Sherri L. Smith, author of Flygirl, one of my all time favs. While her research wowed me as librarian, it’s Smith’s beautifully imagined forbidden love story that really made me swoon. By showcasing a culture where the deepest of feelings can be conveyed by a look, a song, or a weighted silence, Smith has inadvertently crafted the perfect social distance romance for our quarantined times.

Go With the Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann

High school sophomores and best friend group Abby, Brit, Christine and Sasha have had it up to HERE with the empty tampon dispensers in their school’s bathrooms. What’s a girl supposed to do if she forgets her essential supplies? Isn’t it the school’s responsibility to stock these vital necessaries used by 50% of the population? Activist minded Abby thinks so, so she launches a giant demonstration to draw attention to the issue. There’s only one problem–she brings her friends into it without asking their permission, putting them all at risk for suspension. Can Abby do an abrupt about-face and win back her best buds’ trust, while still holding the school accountable for supporting menstrual rights? This sweet, funny graphic novel was inspired by the creators wish to normalize periods and stop them from being such a taboo topic. But it’s also a delightful friendship story, full of secret crushes, awkward flirting and the highest of high school drama. If you grew up reading Raina Telgemeier or Shannon Hale, you’re going to love Go with the Flow. Period! (hee hee!)

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

Adunni has a lot to say: about her beloved mother’s untimely death, her drunk father’s plan to sell her away as a third wife to a taxi driver, and her secret dream to someday graduate from college and become a teacher. The problem is, no one wants to hear from the fourteen year old daughter of a unemployed Nigerian widower. So Adunni is going to do whatever it takes to make her voice LOUDING so that no one will ever be able to dismiss her again. And if that means running away, or taking a job in a mansion where the Big Madam beats her, then so be it. She’s not afraid to work and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself. Luckily, her verve and nerve catch the attention of a few folks who are in a position to help, like the kind hearted chef in Big Madam’s kitchen, and Big Madam’s neighbor who knows what it’s like to have her opinion silenced. Adunni may get her louding voice sooner than she thinks!

This stunning debut, written in Adunni’s unique and vibrant first person voice, may have been published adult, but it’s going to be popular with any teen who’s ever dreamed big or who knew in their heart that they were better than the limited circumstances life had handed them. Dare’s nuanced depiction of Nigerian society and class reminded me of Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. And although it’s a completely different setting, Adunni also reminded me Judith, the bright young protagonist of Edith Summers Kelley’s 1923 novel Weeds, about a smart Appalachian girl who tries to rise above her means. Adunni is completely unforgettable and I can’t wait for you to meet her! While most schools and public libraries are closed at the moment, The Girl with the Louding Voice is available as an e-book and on audio. Stay home, wash hands, and read books!

Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

In 1727, a group of men and boys set out on a fowling mission from the island of Hirta, which is part of the St. Kilda archipelago. Every summer, males from the village are rowed out and dropped off on a nearby “stac” or small uninhabited rocky island, to catch, kill and preserve enough seabirds to sustain the village through the winter. They were supposed to stay there for only a few weeks. But as the weeks turn into months and no boat comes, they can only assume the worst–that the world has ended and somehow they have been left behind. It is up to Quilliam, a level headed boy of middling years, to comfort the younger children with stories and challenge the adults to act against mad “Minister” Cane, who has deemed himself priest, judge and jury over everyone. Cane also happens to own the only tinderbox , and exploits his power ruthlessly. But even in the darkness, there is humor and hope as the boys make a raft, give each other honorific titles, and share what supplies they have left. Who will survive the coming winter and dwindling food supply? And what has happened to their village? Has the world really ended? The reason why no one comes to rescue the fowling crew until nine months later is actually sadder and more devastating than any writer could ever make up. In this lyrical and enlightening novel based on true events, McCaughrean, a 2008 Printz winner and 2020 Printz finalist for THIS book, seems to be channeling all our fear and anxiety about being separated, while giving us unforgettable characters who maintain their hope, no matter what. As we all hunker down and and settle into online learning and social distancing, you will either want to read books that reflect and help you cope with our new reality, or enable you to escape it altogether. This title definitely falls under the first category, so read it for inspiration on how other folks coped with unprecedented situations, and keep washing those hands!

The King of Crows by Libba Bray

CONCLUDING-BOOK-IN-A-SERIES-SPOILER ALERT! This is the LAST book in the Diviner series, if you have not read books 1, 2 & 3 STOP NOW and go treat yourself. If you are prepared to wade into the multi-layered plot of book 4, then carry on!

The Diviners have overcome great odds to come together in order to defeat the slippery and scary King of Crows. But they are losing their mojo and their mentors. Uncle Will has been murdered by the terrifying Shadow Men, and Sister Walker’s been arrested. Having discovered slick businessman Jake Marlow is keeping the door between the living and the dead open with his terrible Eye gadget, fueled by Diviner energy (poor Sam!) Evie, Henry, Jericho, Ling, Memphis, Isiah and Theta decide to confront him at Sarah Snow’s memorial in Times Square and make him see that the Eye spells nothing but destruction. But before they can, Jake Marlow places a bounty on their heads, and now everyone is looking for the Diviners. They scatter with a hasty plan to meet up in Bountiful Nebraska, where a girl named Sarah Beth has appeared in a vision to Isiah, asking for the Diviner’s help. On their far-flung, split-up travels to Bountiful, Ling and Jericho follow a band of all-female barnstormers; Evie, Theta, Sam and Isiah join the circus; while Memphis and Henry get stuck in a flood along the Mississippi River. And always at their heels: the dead. The hungry, angry ghosts who do the King of Crows’ bidding. Who will win the final showdown between the army of dead and the army of Diviners? Only this crackerjack of a conclusion can tell, and does, in great epic sweeps of twentieth century American history and folklore. Action-packed and utterly decadent, this last volume satisfies on all accounts, and was well worth the wait. I’ll say no more, and leave it up to you to enjoy!

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace Fleming

Charles Lindbergh, the famed aviator who was the first person to cross the Atlantic in an airplane in 1927, is often considered an American hero. Biographer Candace Fleming delves into his questionable and contradictory character, revealing a single-minded loner who, despite his bravery and mechanical genius, often found himself on the wrong side of history because of his outlier politics.

A self taught pilot and engineer, Lindbergh rose to fame after he successfully flew from New York to Paris in a single engine, canvas and wood constructed airplane called The Spirit of St. Louis (so named because the nine investors who provided the money for the plane were St. Louis- based businessmen.) That flight turned him into a huge celebrity. Along with the cash prizes and lucrative consulting contacts, it also set Lindbergh up for life financially. His fame and money were what undoubtedly led to his first child being kidnapped and held for ransom, a sad and shocking chapter of his life that ended in tragedy. As he aged, Lindbergh became enthralled by and involved in movements that are now seen as dangerous and deeply wrong, including eugenics and Nazism. His less extreme but still polarizing anti-immigrant rhetoric and “America First” beliefs are shared by many mainstream political organizations today. Although Lindbergh became a staunch environmentalist towards the end of his life, helping to save endangered species and eco-systems, he never quite admitted that many of his earlier stances were elitist and inhumane. Fleming saves the most shocking revelations of Lindberg’s life for last, telling a story of family secrets so melodramatic, it almost seems made up.

Fleming’s account is balanced, based on piles of research and Lindbergh and his wife Anne’s own diaries. She makes no judgements but just shares the facts, written in her clean, approachable prose and organized into short, fast paced chapters. I didn’t particularly like Lindbergh while I was reading about him, but I was fascinated by the larger-than-life events that shaped him. Though his politics were very problematic, there is no denying his life was unusual enough to grab any biographer’s interest. I’m just glad it snagged Candace Fleming’s! Coming to a library or bookstore near you February 2020.

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

I am seriously sports adverse. You might even call me allergic. So, it turns out, is award winning and all around awesome graphic novelist Gene Yang. That’s why he was surprised to find himself writing a graphic memoir about, well, basketball.

Gene didn’t even know much about The Dragons, the basketball team at Bishop O’Dowd Catholic high school where he taught math. But when he starts hearing his students talking about how this is the year for the Dragons, he senses a story. And what a story it is! Gene finds himself caught up, just like the rest of the school, in the drama of the Dragon’s 2014 basketball season. A team that always makes it to the California State Championship, but never seems to seal the deal, the Dragons are determined to win this year, and Yang invites himself along for the ride. Interspersed between the personal stories of the individual players, their charismatic coach Lou Ritchie, and fast paced season games, are captivating chapters on the origins of basketball and famous games and players from basketball history. (I can’t even believe I wrote that last sentence.) Each time a character makes a major decision, in basketball or in life, Yang shows them taking a step: across a line, across a street, or into the future. It’s a quiet, yet powerful visual that underscores the fact that the most monumental changes are often initiated by the smallest act. Suspense builds not only as readers race to the end to see if the Dragons will win State, but also to see what happens to Mr. Yang, who’s undergoing his own personal crisis regarding his calling as a teacher and an artist.

I have always been an unabashed fan of Gene Yang, and I’m clearly not the only one. I think everything he creates is outstanding. Each book is better than the last, and I think, how can he possibly top THIS one? By making a person with NO sports gene CARE ABOUT BASKETBALL AND BAWL LIKE A BABY THROUGH THE WHOLE LAST CHAPTER, that’s how. I don’t care who you are or what you like to read, you will love this book. Coming to a library or bookstore near you just in time for March Madness, 2020.

The Language of Fire: Joan of Arc Reimagined by Stephanie Hemphill

We’ve all heard the story of Joan of Arc: French teen girl hears voice of God telling her to save France from the English, chops off hair, learns to wield a sword and ride a horse, fights in a bunch of battles, gets captured by the enemy, and is burned alive as a heretic. But in The Language of Fire, Hemphill, master of the verse novel (Your Own, Sylvia, Wicked Girls) has unmasked the mythical martyr and revealed the stubborn, scared girl who challenged the religious patriarchy and led a skeptical country out of war.

In 1425, Joan, or Jehanne as she called herself, was only thirteen when she claimed to hear God command her to deliver France from English oppression. France and England had been fighting for almost a hundred years over the succession of the French crown, and now Jehanne believed she was being summoned by God to help put the rightful French king on the throne. There was only one problem. Who was going to follow an illiterate peasant girl with no knowledge or experience into battle? With utter sincerity and innocent piety, Jehanne slowly convinces powerful knights and land owning dukes that she is telling the truth. Impossibly, she manages to build an army large enough to challenge the occupying English troops and inspire the true French heir to come out of hiding.

Using spare free verse, Hemphill illustrates Jehanne’s short, intense life, full of the highest highs and the lowest lows imaginable. The greatest impression I was left with at the end of this book was how much the men who ruled Jehanne’s world were afraid of her. Afraid of a poor, young girl who might know more than they did, who was more favored by God than they were. And because she dared to question their authority–not for herself, but for the God she believed in–she lost her life. A detailed author’s note describes what Hemphill condensed or changed from the historical record, a chronology of the Hundred Years’ War, and a list of further reading.

Top 10 Titles of the DECADE!

Though I have not posted nearly as much as I hoped to this year, I simply cannot miss the opportunity to wax poetic about what my RR Top Ten Titles from 2010-2019 are. For those of you keeping score at home, this is my SECOND decade post, I also posted my top ten books from 2000-2009. (THAT’S how long Reading Rants has been around–this blog is about a million in dog years.) Last time, I focused on what I thought were the most under appreciated titles, but this time I want to explore how these 10 books have earned their shelf space in the YA canon, are relevant to teens today and possess the staying power to stick around well into the next decade.

2010: Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi

With climate change reform at the top of our list of national and global priorities, Ship Breaker is more relevant than ever. Both a riveting adventure and a grim environmental warning, this story of a orphan scavenger trying to survive in a future world decimated by hurricane and flood has grit and hope in equal measure. A perfect companion to Greta Thunberg’s TED Talk.

2011: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Though it suffers from headless girl cover syndrome, Libba Bray’s outstanding satire of teenage pageant contestants stranded on a island after their plan crashes en route to the Miss Teen Dream contest, was way ahead of it’s time. As I wrote back in 2011: “…as the days go by and no plane or ship appears, the girls…start to ask each other questions like, why do girls always seem to say “sorry” whenever they happen to express a strong emotion or feeling? And what does “act like a lady” mean anyway? They begin to think, “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.” Beauty Queens brilliantly foreshadowed the current #MeToo movement that has all of us questioning long standing gender stereotypes, the male gaze and outmoded beauty norms.

2012: Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Monument 14 makes my list because it is simply my best, never-fail recommendation. I have never had a student return this story of 14 kids trapped in a Wal-mart store in Colorado while the apocalypse rages outside, without them raving about it and demanding the sequel (of which there are two more) It has fast-paced action, unrequited romance, non-stop suspense, and zombies of course. It’s just a perfect, all-around package for any one looking for an immersive, satisfying read about the collapse of modern civilization. I haven’t stopped hand selling and replacing worn out copies of it since I read it back in 2012, and I don’t think I ever will. How this has not been made into a Netflix our limited HBO series, I DON’T KNOW.

2013: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Honestly, I can’t say it better now than I did in 2013: “While this exceptional work will no doubt help gazillions of readers understand the complexity behind religious wars and personal freedoms, it can also be appreciated as a swiftly paced adventure peopled with men, women and gods who bring this fascinating period of Chinese history to bloody life. I was blown away by both the richly illustrated package and the timeless message. Read them in the order the title suggests, (first Boxers, then Saints) and then pass them along to everyone you know.” Arguments over religious freedoms and differences are still tearing us apart in 2020, so we need Yang’s GN masterpiece now more than ever.

2014: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You the Sun still feels fresh as it is one of the only YA novels I’ve ever read that perfectly encapsulates what it means to be an artist, live an artistic life and what it feels like when that artistic passion is lost. Plus the writing is just so, so lovely. In 2014 I wrote: I’ll Give You the Sun is the most delicious, word-juicy tome I have ever read. I underlined so many gorgeous sentences and passages that the pages of my copy are practically phosphorescent with highlighter. You’ll want to squeeze it like an orange in order to get every golden effervescent drop into your brain.” and I still stand by that!

2015: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

All American Boys is the powerful collaboration between authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely that provides profound perspective around a situation that has become terribly familiar to anyone reading current headlines: the beating (or shooting) of an African American man by a white police officer. Looking at the situation from all angles and taking into account many nuances that the news often fails to address, Reynolds and Kiely created a novel that has given schools, families and students a way to discuss and process America’s complicated racial issues. While we’re not much closer to solving the problem, this book continues to help us try.

2016: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

“This beautiful, devastating novel may have been published for an adult audience, but the powerful, precise prose reads like a timeless classic that should be experienced by everyone over the age of 14. I have no doubt that this book will find it’s way onto hundreds of high school reading lists and college syllabi by the end of next year, alongside the writings of Toni MorrisonFlannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson.” (2016) Plus, Pulitzer Prize Winner. So, ’nuff said.

2017: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

I said in 2017, “This innovative thriller that starts at the end, and ends at the beginning, is exquisitely executed. Each meticulously plotted detail leads the reader deeper and deeper into a dizzying labyrinth of truth, lies and shocking consequences.” Fraud scored 5 starred reviews, and I think it’s hire-wire plotting and complicated antiheroine will continue to find friends, especially when recommended to mystery and thriller fans. Plus it’s homage to the classic The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith doesn’t hurt! 

2018: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevado

Take a look at all the gold on that cover–that tells you that The Poet X is going to be in print for a long, long time. It is hands down one of the best books I’ve ever read, and pretty much everyone else in the world agrees. This “arresting portrait of a young poet coming into her own” won every major (and minor) award out there, including the Prinz Award, the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal. And I’m pretty proud of the fact that one of it’s many starred professional reviews (for The Horn Book) was mine!

2019: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Dear Frankly in Love, while I can’t predict the future, I’m pretty sure that your subtle, funny, compassionate portrayal of  “inter-generational race relations, privilege, and the deeply uncomfortable and often untenable situation of being stuck between two cultures” is going to speak to readers for years to come. While you are in some ways an of-the-moment book, being published during a #weneeddiversebooks period of growing representation of authors of color, you also have all the hallmarks of a classic. You are both popular and literary, are serious but don’t take yourself too seriously, and packed with fully rounded characters that embody universal themes that anyone can relate to. In short, you are the perfect book to round out this decade, and to set the bar high for the next one!

2019 Top Five

Dear Teen Peeps,

Did the fall get away from me or what? No post since September lets you know this has been my busiest school year ever. Non-stop lessons for my middle school students on digital literacy, news bias and trolling, plus my own writing projects have left me with precious little time to post about my favorite books. But I do have them! Like in 2018, I haven’t read nearly as much YA as I wanted to/should have, so here is a leaner, meaner list of my top five best YA reads of 2019. Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites of the books I read this year. Also, since I am lucky enough to get paid to review in publications other than this lovely blog, I reviewed some of my beloveds elsewhere, like the New York Times and The Horn Book Magazine, a professional publication for librarians and other people who still dig kids and YA lit. Click on the title to go right to the review and happy New Year!

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Lovely War by Julie Berry

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevado

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks

It’s “seasonal” friends Deja and Josiah’s last night working at the local pumpkin patch, and their nostalgic feelings are running high. For four years, they’ve worked together at the Succotash Hut, bonding over corn and lima bean stew. Now they’re seniors, and it’s time to trade gourds for college textbooks. But Josiah has one last wish to fulfill before the pumpkin patch is in his rearview mirror forever: introduce himself to Marcy, the mysterious Fudge Shoppe Girl who he’s been crushing on for the last four falls. Deja is more than willing to help him in this quest, especially as it means making the rounds of the patch’s many delicious snack stands. But there are several obstacles standing between Josiah and his true love, including an escaped billy goat named Buck, a candy apple-stealing middle school hooligan who keeps targeting Deja’s treats, and his own confusing emotions. By the time the tired twosome finally track down Marcy, they discover that things have shifted between them, and what each of them thought they wanted has changed over the course of one last memorable journey around the pumpkin patch. This charming autumnal-themed graphic novel is brimming with light romance, cute banter and of course, pumpkin-flavored treats. Fans of Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks will be pleased by their timely, tasty collaboration that is destined to both steal hearts and whet appetites!

Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi

Eleanor and Park meets Taylor Swift in super cool Vice News correspondent Mary H.K. Choi’s sophomore novel. Pablo Neruda Rind (“Rind like India. Not, like, mind.”) is a twenty year old college dropout working in an upscale New York City bodega. He struggles to make rent while hosting an Instagram account that poses sneakers with offbeat snacks, and assiduously avoids questions about his finances from his Korean doctor mom and Pakistani playwright dad. When Carolina Suarez, aka Leanna Smart, international pop idol, stops by his store to stock up on sour gummies, sparks fly. Pablo is instantly smitten. But the fragile thread of their starcrossed connection threatens to snap under the weight of his student debt, her mega-fame and their shared indecision about the future. As romance gives way to reality, Pablo and Lee are forced to “adult,” even as Pablo laments, “Most days I can barely human.” Choi’s pithy, juicy dialogue and diverse, complicated characters impeccably embodies the anxiety, creativity and social media savvy of the modern youth scene. The portrayal of Pablo’s nontraditional, mixed race family and his place in it is also particularly well done. Packed with current fashion, food and gaming references that will either date or immortalize it, Permanent Record is a funny and deeply felt love letter to New York, international snack foods and family ties.