Seventeen year old third-generation Korean-American Sunny Dae is a nerd with a capital “N.” Founder and front-man of the popular video channel “DIY Fantasy FX,” he creates home-made props for LARP use with his two equally nerdy best friends Jamal and Milo. Even though he gets picked on by bullies and ignored by his family, Sunny is fairly happy with his solid geek status. Until he meets Cirrus Soh, a beautiful and cosmopolitan new transfer student, who he is assigned to show around school. Suddenly his nerdiness seems utterly unacceptable. So when Cirrus drops by with her parents to meet Sunny at home, he shows her his older brother Gray’s old room (full of heavy metal posters and guitars on stands) instead of his own (full of supplies for his LARP props). Naturally, Cirrus thinks that Sunny is a burgeoning rock star. Naturally Sunny allows her to believe that. And naturally, that leads to all sorts of hilarious and heartbreaking complications. Now Sunny has to dress the part, learn to play the guitar and recruit his reluctant friends to be in his “band,” all to keep Cirrus from discovering that he’s really an all-out Poindexter. It’s pretty hard at first, but the longer he keeps it up, the more Sunny starts to like this metal-head version of himself. Is this who he really is? Or is Sunny lying to himself as much as he’s lying to Cirrus? David Yoon’s fun follow-up to his spectacular debut Frankly in Love is more rom-com than drama-rama, and full of his signature pitch-perfect dialogue. It’s a perfect winter break read for both nerds AND rockstars!
“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.”
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!
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.
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.
High school senior Frank Li has never had a girlfriend. His big sister Hanna made the mistake of falling in love with a non-Korean, and now his parents act as though she died. Frank knows that should his heart follow the same path, he will no doubt suffer the same fate. But since “Korean-Americans make up only 1 percent of everyone in the Republic of California, out of which 12 percent are girls my age, which would result in a dating pool with only one girl every three square miles,” Frank feels doomed to a life of celibate solitude. Enter Brit Means, Frank’s sexy Calculus classmate. Brit is hot, smart and white. Frank couldn’t be more astonished when he discovers Brit is as into him as he is to her. He also knows he can never introduce her to his racist parents. So Frank concocts a complicated scheme in which he dates Brit, but tricks his parents into thinking he’s really dating his Korean friend and neighbor Joy Song. Joy goes along with this because she’s secretly dating Wu Tang, a Chinese jock who her parents would never accept. What starts out as a bad idea gets immeasurably worse when Frank realizes that he just might actually like Joy after all. Could his fake date end up being his true love? Only time will tell, but Frank’s is running out as senior year rushes onward, college acceptances roll in, and long hidden family secrets rise to the surface.
Debut author David Yoon, husband of the writerly wonderful Nicola Yoon, fearlessly tackles issues of inter-generational race relations, privilege, and the deeply uncomfortable and often untenable situation of being stuck between two cultures, while being very, very funny. “The K in KBBQ stands for Korean. As does the K in K-pop, K-fashion or K-dramas. There’s of course no such thing as ABBQ, A-pop or A-dramas.” Frank is a smart, confused, of- the-moment teenage guy who’s just trying to understand life, love and his place in the world. “There are tribes within tribes, all separated by gaps everywhere. Gaps in time, gaps between generations. Money creates gaps…if there are that many micro-tribes all over the place, what does Korean even mean? What do any of the labels anywhere mean?” No matter who you are or where you come from, you are going to find something to LOVE about Frank Li. Coming to a library, bookstore or Kindle near you September 2019.
Ari just knows his future calling is to play in an indie pop band with his best friends, not work from the crack of dawn every day in his family’s struggling Greek bakery. But until he can convince his parents of that and scrape together enough rent money, he’s stuck at home making sourdough rolls. Then cute, tall Hector applies for an job behind the counter and suddenly baking sourdough isn’t so bad. Soon they are spending more and more time together, as Ari shows Hector the ropes and Hector grows closer and closer to Ari’s family. When the time comes for Ari to fully turn over the baking reins to Hector and take off for the club stages of big city Baltimore, he finds it’s not as easy as he thought. But before Ari can figure out what his heart is telling him, a terrible accident blows up his relationship with Hector and drives them apart. Can Ari make a new future for himself while finding his way back to Hector? This tender romance of a graphic novel, drawn with just a touch of manga and shaded in tones of turquoise blue, is sweetly reminiscent of another classic blue-tinted love story near and dear to this reviewer’s heart. Ari’s messy, tousled hair and Hector’s wide, welcoming smile won me over instantly, and I waited with bated breath for these two boys to figure out that what they were feeling was more than just a summer crush. Tasty extras include a recipe for the Kyrkos Family Bakery’s Famous Sourdough Rolls and a finger-snapping summer playlist of beachy songs from Hector to Ari. Fans of Rainbow Rowell, David Levithan and Nicola Yoon looking for a new swoon, your wait is over! Pluck this Bloom asap from your nearest library or bookstore!
David Small’s graphic memoir, Stitches, absolutely gutted me when it came out in 2009. Now he has published an equally wrenching graphic novel of small-town, 1950’s boyhood that utterly destroys, in the most cinematic and moving way possible, any nostalgic, rose-colored views of that turbulent time. Russell’s mom dumps his dad for another man, so Russell and his uncommunicative, alcoholic father leave Ohio for California, where his father hopes to bunk with his rich sister until he can get back on his feet. But Aunt June isn’t interested in her male relatives invading her clean, quiet mid-century modern home, and sends them packing pretty quick. After finally finding and renting a room from a kind Chinese couple, Russell’s father finds work at the local prison. Russell starts school and falls in with Kurt and Willie, brutal, bullying teens who smoke, drink and ogle waitresses at the town diner. As he slowly becomes accustomed to his new life, Russell finds himself confronted with a wide array of conflicting male role models. Should he be more like his drunk dad and Kurt: loud, rude and arrogant? Or is he more like like Mr. Mah, his gentle landlord who practices tai chi in the backyard or Warren, the quiet neighbor boy who lives with his grandma and loves all animals? Over the course of one long, savage summer, Russell finds himself mentally and physically tested by all these different versions of manhood as he tries to discover which one fits him best. Small’s evocative panels, full of frowning, sneering faces, dead pets and interior shots of dim, empty rooms grimly foreshadow Russell’s long, tragic journey to self acceptance. Deeply sad, but never despairing, Small’s work luminously captures the dark side of adolescence in a way that still manages to be forgiving. Coming to a library or bookstore near you September 2018.
Ballers Nasir and Bunny have always been tight, as close as brothers. They play basketball together at Whitman High, and even the fact that Bunny is a far better player doesn’t break their bond. But then Bunny (so nicknamed “Because I got hops,”) is recruited by snooty private school St. Sebastian’s, and just like that, their connection is broken. Now on opposing teams, Nasir and Bunny have stopped speaking to each other. Then Nasir’s troubled cousin Wallace steps into the middle of this silent feud and makes it even worse. Turns out Wallace has some serious gambling debts that need to be paid, debts so big he and his grandma are about to get thrown out of their apartment because of the money he lost. So Wallace starts pressuring Nasir to get some dirt on his ex-friend Bunny that Wallace can use to influence his high school basketball bets. Nasir knows it’s wrong, but shouldn’t Bunny pay for leaving him and Whitman behind? Told in alternating chapters between Nasir and Bunny, this timely, tragic tale of love and basketball is chock full of riveting game and relationship drama that perfectly illustrates and underscores the racial, class and community struggles that are playing out across urban high schools all over America. You won’t be able to stop turning pages until the final buzzer sounds!
Jules, a smart and savvy senior at the exclusive and expensive Fullbrook boarding school, has had it up to here with the rampant sexism that is allowed to flourish on campus. This year, she’s on a mission. She’s going to make “Fullbrook Academy women-first for once,” and forget all about last year. Last year when Ethan Hackett cheated on her. Bax, a bewildered, Midwestern transfer student who just wants to play hockey, is really disturbed by the macho bro-culture at Fullbrook. But he hopes if he just keeps his head down and his eyes shut, he can make it through the season and forget all about last year. Last year when he ruined someone’s life forever. Jules and Bax both need a friend and ally, and they find one in each other. After a raucous, drunken secret party in the woods near the school where Jules and Bax each separately come face to face with sexual assault, they decide that enough is enough. It’s time to confront and dismiss the traditions that Fullbrook has held dear for far too long. Traditions that hurt. Traditions that scar. Together with Jule’s best friend Javi and Bax’s crush Aileen, they plot a way to send everyone at school a message they can’t ignore. What they didn’t count on was not being believed. Not being heard. Tradition may be strong. But they are stronger…
This searing, imperative tale of speaking truth to power by Brendan Kiely, co-author of All American Boys conscientiously tackles issues of classism, homophobia, racism and sexism in a way that feels immediate, raw and sadly all too true. Tradition will challenge all readers to think more deeply about the circumstances and situations they accept as “normal,” and question the sanctioned status quo. A significant #timesup title for our turbulent age.
Three star-crossed teens find their way back to love, family and acceptance in Gayle Forman‘s fate-full new novel. When troubled rising pop star Freya takes a tumble off a low bridge in Central Park and concusses a good looking stranger, she has no idea that the random accident will change the course of her life. When depressed tourist Nathaniel is nailed from above by a gorgeous half Ethiopian, half Jewish girl, he feels like he’s either falling in love or suffering from a head injury (and it’s probably a little of both). When broken-hearted Harun witnesses the girl crash land on the boy by the bridge, his first response is to run. He already has enough on his plate between losing his boyfriend and trying to come out to his devout Muslim family. He doesn’t need the added drama of playing good Samaritan to two complete strangers. But then he recognizes Freya. His ex-boyfriend’s favorite singer. Could she possibly help him find his way back into James’ good graces? His decision to help aligns their stars and sets each one on the road towards their destiny. On their own, they are lost, but together they will find their voice, their courage and their identities again. This heartfelt tearjerker, perfectly populated with diverse characters suffering from and solving problems both unique and universal, will leave you gasping, crying and eventually, smiling. Nobody does the Feels like Forman. Find it, read it, and then share it with anyone you love who might be feeling lost.
Will’s older brother Shawn was shot and killed two days ago: “Blood soaking into a/T-shirt, blue jeans, and boots/looks a lot like chocolate syrup/when the glow from the streetlights hit it./But I know ain’t/nothing sweet about blood.” Reeling with anger and grief, Will attempts to follow the unspoken Rules of his neighborhood: 1) No crying. 2) No snitching. 3) Revenge. ‘They weren’t meant to be broken/They were meant for the broken/to follow.” While his mother sleeps, Will sneaks out of his apartment with his brother’s gun, determined to hunt down the person who killed Shawn and close the circle of vigilante justice. But Will finds his mission delayed when the elevator annoyingly keeps stopping on each floor. His irritation quickly turns to confusion and fear when he realizes exactly who is getting on the elevator with him. In a kind of bizarro, Dickens Christmas Carol scenario, Will is visited floor by floor by the spirits of folks in his life who have died from gun violence–from his school yard crush to the father he never knew. Trapped in the elevator and surrounded by death, Will has to decide by the ground floor if he’s still ready to trade in his future in order to avenge his brother. This suspenseful nail-biter of a novel is written entirely in free verse, which makes it move at the speed of lightning while also giving dreadful pause on each page. Rising YA star Jason Reynolds (who’s just been long listed for the 2017 National Book Award) has penned a provocative page turner about family, tradition and the cycle of violence that will stick in your throat and lodge in your heart for days to come. Landing in a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2017.
High school senior Justyce McAllister is feeling the heat of being an African American man in 2017. The news is full of stories of unarmed black men being shot by white cops. He’s arrested by a police officer for just walking down the street, when all he was doing was trying to keep his drunk ex-girlfriend from getting behind the wheel of her car. He gets dragged into a frustrating racial argument in his Societal Evolution class with classmates who believe in “colorblindness.” Disgruntled students at his exclusive private school suggest that the only reason Justyce got into Yale was to “fill a quota.” On top of all that, he’s also fighting a strong attraction to his debate partner Sarah Jane, who is smart, funny….and white. Life is becoming beyond complicated, so Justyce seeks out the wisdom of the one person he thinks might understand what he’s going through: Martin Luther King. In a series of poignant letters to Dr. King, Justyce tries to understand why “things aren’t as equal as folks say they are” and how he can keep moving forward when it seems like the whole system is bent on pushing him back. The writing helps, a little. But when Justyce’s world explodes at the end of a gun, his belief in MLK’s philosophy is shattered. Will he answer violence with violence or will he find the strength to rise above and be like Martin? Nic Stone’s debut novel reads like a timely fictional primer of the issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, galvanized by the frank and authentic dialogues that take place between Justyce, his friends and teachers like Dr. Dray, who teaches Societal Evolution. The topical, provocative discussions that take place in Dr. Dray’s class immediately took me back to the heated arguments that reverberated in Ms. Lemry’s Contemporary American Thought class in Chris Crutcher‘s YA classic Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. Like Crutcher before her, Nic Stone is writing about the issues a new generation of teens care about in a raw voice that is undeniably true. You won’t be able to look away. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2017.
Che’s sister ten-year-old Rosa isn’t like other little girls. She’s not afraid of anything, not heights or strangers or big dogs. She thinks it’s funny when someone gets hurt. She doesn’t make friends, she uses them. She wonders what it would feel like to kill something bigger than a bug. Che knows this because he is the only one Rosa confides in. Che is tired of listening to Rosa’s constant lies. He’s tired of trying to anticipate what terrible thing she might do next. But mostly he’s tired of his parents pretending nothing’s wrong. Because something is very wrong with Rosa. And now that their family has moved to New York City, Rosa has a whole new world to explore, new friends to exploit, new lies to tell. Che just wants to focus on boxing and getting a girlfriend, but he’s afraid to leave Rosa alone. Che tries again to tell his parents that Rosa isn’t right. But they just don’t want to hear anything bad about their darling, blue-eyed daughter. Now Che can only watch helplessly as Rosa’s deadly new plans unfold, and pray that she doesn’t target him next! Justine Larbalestier’s chilling modern take on The Bad Seed is utterly unputdownable. I downed this intense characterization of psychopathy in a little under 24 hours, and I have no doubt you’ll do the same when you snatch up this suspenseful tome about the terrifying toxicity of family secrets at your local library or bookstore!
Travis isn’t laughing much this summer. He lives in a trailer with his beloved grandma, who has terminal cancer. His grandpa is high all the time on his grandma’s medicinal marijuana. He searches the streets weekly for his mother, a homeless drug addict, and dreams of giving her all his saved landscaping money for a down payment on an apartment. When he’s not working, he’s performing endless basketball drills to prove to Coach that he’s not just a former juvie with an anger management problem, but a dedicated baller who deserves to be on the varsity team in the fall. Basketball and his best friend Creature are the only things that keep Travis going when everything else is falling apart. Then Travis meets Natalie. And for a moment, his life seems to be taking a turn for the better. But kids like Travis and Creature know that there’s no guarantees in a world where grandmas suffer, dads disappear, moms care more about drugs than their children, and Mr. Tyler down the street can get away with calling Creature, “a dirty coon.” But they’re going to do their best, not only to survive, but thrive. Even if that means shooting free throws eight hours a day, or pissing on Mr. Tyler’s porch when he’s not home. Because like Natalie, who ‘s fighting her own personal demons, says, “This is the part where you laugh. You just have to. When things are so shitty that there’s nothing you can do, there’s no other way to react.” It’s a pleasure to read a story about down-and-out teens that subverts stereotypes and provides an in-depth and heartbreaking look at how addiction fractures families. While this fresh novel will probably make you cry more than laugh, its a strong testimony to the power of hope and the resilience of the human spirit.