Florian (actually Flora) is a pirate-in-training, a young girl who must disguise herself as a boy in order to survive working for the ruthless Nameless Captain. She works hard and observes closely in order to keep herself and her foolish older brother Alfie alive and under the Captain’s radar. Evelyn is royalty, a member of the Empire’s ruling class, and utterly hopeless at being a lady. When Florian and Evelyn meet on board the Dove, a pirate ship masquerading as a passenger boat, their destinies become intertwined and they pull everyone around them into their star-crossed orbit, including Rake, the Nameless Captain’s righthand man who is hiding a desperate secret; The Pirate Supreme, the noble king (or queen) of all pirates who is determined to bring the Nameless Captain to justice for all of his crimes against the Sea; and finally, the Sea Herself, a mighty, living entity who holds a stake in the survival of all of the above. Meanwhile, an international war is brewing between the island countries of the Empire that could bring a crushing end to life as Sea’s citizens know it. Easy to read, but hard to explain, this finely wrought fantasy delicately weaves themes of colonialism, gender identity, rebellion and romance into a crackerjack plot full of shadowy intrigue, dubious double crosses and grisly maritime murders. Let the Sea sweep you away to a world you could have never imagined in Maggie Tokuda-Hall‘s brilliant debut novel!
“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.”
Poor Freddy! No matter how much attention she pays to her popular, super hot girlfriend, Laura Dean, LD just keeps breaking her heart. Her friends Doodle, Eric and Buddy are tired of seeing her so upset and consoling her every time Laura Dean decides to take a powder. Freddy doesn’t know why she keeps taking Laura Dean back, but she does, even though Laura only wants to hang out on her schedule, and doesn’t really share any of Freddy’s interests or hobbies. Freddy finally writes in to Anna Vice, an internet advice columnist, in a desperate attempt to understand her rollercoaster relationship. But before Anna can write back, Laura Dean pulls a stunt that finally shows Freddy once and for all the kind of person she truly is. Now Freddy has to decide if this time, she’ll be the one doing the breaking up.
This smart, super realistic graphic novel sprung from the head of Mariko Tamaki, author of the awesome This One Summer (with Jillian Tamaki), Emiko Superstar and some terrific Lumberjanes, among many others. Tamaki’s characters are so authentic, so completely recognizable, that if you are or ever were in high school, you will recognize yourself or someone you know. It’s so refreshing to read a story with LGBTQ characters who are just living their lives like any other teenager in an accepting environment (well, as accepting as high school can be for any one!) Freddy even pokes fun at this in her email to Anna: “I’m aware that I should be grateful that I have the ability to get broken up with and publicly humiliated the same as my hetero friends. I am progress.” Rosemary Valero-O’Connell‘s pink-tinted artwork perfectly captures Freddy’s fragile feelings of love and the rose colored glasses through which she sees the world–until the truth about Laura Dean rips them off. You won’t want to miss this utterly true take on high school romance and relationships, which is out right NOW!
Amanda, or “Mads” as her friends call her, is not that into kissing. It’s usually too awkward, handsy or wet. No big deal, she has enough to fill her days without worrying about locking lips. There’s minor league baseball games and trash TV with her dad, Mass on Sunday with her mom, and after hours adventures with her best friend Cat every weekend. But then a mysterious phone call turns her comfortable world upside down. Mads discovers a hidden family secret that suddenly sheds new light on her lack of kissing enthusiasm. With Kiss Number 8, Mads begins to understand that maybe it’s not the act of kissing itself, but WHO she’s kissing that’s the problem. Author Colleen AF Venable and illustrator Ellen T. Crenshaw have hit a home run when it comes to portraying uber-realistic teen characters and their equally confused and conflicted parents. Venable’s deft dialogue sings, while Crenshaw’s eloquently drawn black and white facial expressions capture every turbulent emotion that Mads and her friends experience. This funny, poignant graphic novel about figuring out who you are while navigating parental expectations, friendship loyalties and religious beliefs should be at the top of your summer reading list!
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!
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.
Mike is a quiet guy. Minds his own business, keeps his nose clean, doesn’t rock the boat. When his dad announces that they are moving from Wisconsin to Virginia for his job, Mike just goes with the flow. His new high school in Somerdale is fine. His friends Ronald, Jared and Terry are fine. Grace Fellowship, the church his family starts attending, is fine. His art teacher is a jerk and this one bully Victor always gives him some grief. But it’s nothing he can’t handle. And then one day Mike is assigned to work on a French project with new guy Sean. Which should also be fine. But it’s not. Instead, it’s amazing. With Sean, Mike feels like he can finally be himself. The version of himself that he has pushed down for so long he had practically forgotten it existed. But when Mike and Sean dare to be themselves for just one night, the world hits back in a big way and Mike has to decide if he wants to live a “just fine” life or a messy, real life with the all the joy and pain that comes with it. This quietly powerful book, by newcomer Rafi Mittlefehldt, moved me to tears with its’ spare, poignant prose and nuanced message of self love and acceptance. Set in a conventional suburban world that we all recognize, this compelling novel is both a love story and a brutal indictment of families and communities that still don’t affirm or recognize the individuality and strength of LGBTQ teens. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2016.
Carson already knows it’s going to be a bummer summer. His aloof therapist mom has moved them from the not so mean streets of Manhattan to the boring wilds of small town Montana, where they are tasked with taking care of Carson’s dying alcoholic dad who abandoned them years ago. Carson’s feelings about his father have been on lockdown for so long that they only way he knows how to deal is by making bad puns and staying far away from anyone or anything that might make him open up. Enter Aisha, a smart, pretty African American lesbian who’s just been tossed out of her house for being gay and is looking for a couch to surf. Aisha makes Carson feel feelings that he’d forgotten he even had, and even though she’s so not interested in being his girlfriend, she just might be his first real friend. They bond over their lack of family ties and the Porcupine of Truth, a prickly craft project that represents their shared skepticism of spirituality. Their new friendship is tested when Carson discovers a box in the basement of his dad’s house that provides clues to the roots of his dad’s alcoholism and why he hit the road so long ago. Turns out Carson’s grandfather had the same case of itchy feet and Carson is determined to find out why. Armed with his grandfather’s journal, the Porcupine of Truth and $100, Carson and Aisha set out in Aisha’s Dodge Neon on a cross country journey of personal discovery that delights, saddens and surprises them both. This sweet, funny road trip of a novel is perfect for warm weather reading. If family drama, highway hijinks and realistic relationships are your thang, than throw this lime green lovely in your beach bag.
“The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?”
After spending six weeks in a teen psych ward as the result of a severe panic attack, Riley is hoping to start over at a new school. But after a first day spent dodging the questions and stares of both curious and outright cruel classmates, Riley feels completely discouraged. It seems as though it’s going to be just as hard being in the closet as gender fluid in public school as it was in private school. So Riley sits down and starts an anonymous blog as a place to put all their feelings of sadness, anger and confusion about identifying as a girl one day and a boy the next. The blog helps, as does Riley’s blossoming friendship with geek-turned-football-player Solo and a shy flirtation with the enigmatic, blue-eyed Bec. But then an internet troll starts stalking Riley’s blog, hinting that he or she knows who Riley is and where they go to school. Riley is terrified because if anyone discovers that their father is conservative Congressman Cavanaugh who is currently running for re-leection, the entire campaign could be compromised. But when Riley is forced to speak out about after being assaulted, Riley realizes that nothing is going to feel right until they finally confess to both their new friends and family about being gender fluid. Because it shouldn’t matter if Riley identifies as a boy or a girl when the most important thing Riley identifies as is human. This ground breaking debut shines a bright light on gender fluidity that is bound to educate and illuminate anyone who reads it. Riley’s biological gender is never revealed, and while that annoyed me at first, I quickly realized that my binary thinking only narrowed my imagination and the options of who and what Riley could be as a person. The more I read, the less it mattered and by the end I truly didn’t care. Riley had emerged as a fully formed character with quirks and desires and emotions, and their biological gender was the least of their multifaceted personality. For more information on transgender and gender fluidity issues, check out these resources recommended by author Jeff Garvin: Trans Lifeline, National Center for Transgender Equality and Transgender Law Center.
Almost seventeen-year-old-wanna-be-screenwriter Quinn Roberts has become very anti-social–“..which is what happens when your big sister gets killed in a car wreck, right outside the school on the day before Christmas break.” So, yeah. Now it’s summer, and things have just gotten worse. Quinn and his mom are subsisting on a steady diet of sorrow and Healthy Choice frozen dinners. Finally driven out of his house by a broken air conditioner and his concerned friend Geoff, Quinn shrugs off his grief long enough to take a shower and attend a college party where he meets a sexy older college guy named Amir who makes his heart go pitter pat. Did I mention Quinn is gay? He is, even though “I’m still not out. It just seems like a hassle to come out. I want to just be out.” Amir is a great distraction to what’s really going on with Quinn, which is a) once again, his sister and best friend Annabeth died b) the last text he sent to Annabeth was something he wishes he never had to think about again c) he is terrified to complete his application to a prestigious film program without her sarcastic but loving support. Without Annabeth’s direction, will the screenplay of Quinn’s life just die in development? This raucous dark comedy is full of author Tim Federle‘s trademark witticisms–I couldn’t stop chuckling and underlining such gems as these while I read:
“I became enamored of the idea of having my own little pool. I was going to make it in the shape of a Q, and the slash at the bottom of the Q was going to be the hot tub.”
“If you don’t know what hangover feels like, congrats. You’re smarter than I am. It’s like a sledgehammer eloped with a swing set and they honeymooned in your head.”
Sometimes Quinn’s voice is a little too frenetic as the wisecracks just keep coming hard and fast page after page with no rest in between. But what the reader quickly realizes is that Quinn has to keep quipping in order to maintain his sanity. Because once he really looks at what has happened to family and asks himself some hard questions about his part in it, there’s no going back. And there’s nothing really funny about that. While you sadly have to wait until March 2016 to experience the witty stylings of Federle’s YA debut, there’s no time like the present to check out his equally diverting Better Nate Than Ever books!
“Food tasted better in Fairfold, people said, infused as it was with enchantment. Dreams were more vivid. Artists were more inspired and their work more beautiful. People fell more deeply in love, music was more pleasing to the ear, and ideas came more frequently than other places.” For the people of Fairfold, living alongside fairies is normal, and the many blessings they receive as a result helps soften the blow when an occasional foolish tourist disappears or turns up dead. Fairfold is where Hazel and her brother Ben have grown up, with artist parents, friends who are half fey, and the eerie presence of a horned prince who slumbers eternally in a glass coffin in the woods behind their house. Along with the rest of the Fairfold locals, they think they know how to navigate the strange waters of their town, know the right charms to mutter and the wrong places to stay away from. But then someone or something smashes the unbreakable glass coffin, and everything changes. The horned prince has awakened. Sorrow is suddenly stalking the homes and schools of Fairfold. No one trusts anyone anymore, especially those who have ties to the Folk who live under the hill. And guilty Hazel knows that it’s all her fault for striking that bargain with the fey so long ago. Now she’s going to have to try and make it right the only way she can–with a magic sword and just a little help from a new friend with a hard head and a soft heart. This captivating offering from renowned fantasy author Holly Black charms and beguiles at every turn of the page. Black drops clues like breadcrumbs that lead to a “holy crap!” twist about halfway through, revealing whole new layers to Hazel’s initial quest. Black also plays havoc with gender stereotypes, giving us new and improved versions of knights, monsters and damsels in distress while still paying homage to the myths and legends of old. Boys fall in love with boys, girls fall in love with swords and heroes emerge from unexpected places. Prepare to be completely, utterly, thoroughly enthralled.
Jude and Noah are fraternal twins, and so close that they can practically read each other’s minds. Both are artists (Noah draws, Jude sews and sculpts) and in his mind, Noah knows exactly what their joined spirit looks like: “Jude and me have one soul between us that we have to share: a tree with its leaves on fire.” They know each other’s thoughts, they keep each other safe. “We were keeping each other company when we didn’t have any eyes or hands. Before our soul even got delivered.” They even facetiously divide up the world between them, trading sun, flowers and trees back and forth for favors like they are the only two people on the planet. And then the unthinkable happens. Their beautiful, kind mother, a friend and mentor to both, dies in a car accident. And just like that, according to Jude, “our twin-telepathy is long gone. When Mom died, he hung up on me. And now, because of everything that’s happened, we avoid each other–worse, repel each other.” Now gentle, oddball Noah has become shiny, brittle and popular while bright and sunny Jude has become gray and withdrawn. Then Jude finds an artist mentor with a mysterious connection to her family that just might allow her to finally truly grieve her mother’s death and find her way back to her brother.
Oh, friends, this book! This book! 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. The paragraphs sing with marvelous descriptions of the joy of making art and the disappointment of missed connections. Jandy Nelson hasn’t just given lucky readers the sun, but an ENTIRE UNIVERSE in 300+ pages. Read it, weep, and then read it again. A simply spectacular book that you absolutely must not miss for all the sun, stars, oceans and trees in the world!
“Something you should know up front about my family: we believe that Jesus is coming back…I don’t mean metaphorically, like someday in the distant future…I mean literally, like glance out the car window and, ‘Oh hey, there’s Jesus in the sky.’”
Young Aaron Hartzler accepted his parents’ literal belief in the Bible and their strict rules about what pop culture he could consume without question. But when his parents talked about the Rapture, that moment when Jesus would return to Earth and take all the Christians up to Heaven, Aaron couldn’t help but hope that Jesus would hold off until he had a chance to live a little. “There are so many things I want to do before I go to heaven, like drive a car, and act in another play, and go to the movies.” And as Aaron grew older, tasted freedom at summer camp and started to see how other people interpreted the Bible, he began to wonder if he could continue along the path his parents set him on, especially when it came to his future. “The problem is, I don’t want to surrender my talents to God. What if he makes me use them as a missionary or Christian schoolteacher? That isn’t the life I want for myself.” Soon, Aaron is questioning everything, and though he deeply loves his parents, he is beginning to find their narrow view on religion stifling. “There are all sorts of Christians with all sorts of different rules, not to mention other people who believe in other religions. What about all of the people on the other side of the world who believe as strongly in their God as we believe in our God? Are they going to hell because they were unlucky enough to be born in the wrong place?” How Aaron resolves his dual life, comes to terms with his sexual identity and manages his parents’ expectations forms the basis of this simply told true story that rings true whether you believe in the Rapture or not. Aaron Hartzler’s moving memoir about growing up in a conservative Baptist home where Jesus was considered a member of the family hit me hard in the heart muscle. Although the evangelical Christian lifestyle may seem peculiar to some, Hartzler’s physical and psychological struggles to make his family happy while still trying to follow his own dreams are universal and will be completely understood by anyone who’s ever tried to figure out where their family role ends and their individuality begins.
“When you’re Gavin and Opal’s gay kid, you always feel like someone is looking at you.” Rafe Goldberg is tired of everyone always looking at him. Ever since he came out in the eighth grade, he’s been “that gay kid.” Which would be fine, except it seems like that’s the only thing people know about him. He also happens to like soccer, “the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and taking photographs of nuns on Segways.” But all people ever seem to care about is who he wants to date. So Rafe convinces his parents to send him to an all-boys boarding school, where he plans to be “openly straight.” Instead of standing out and speaking up, he just wants to lay low and blend in. And it works…at first. But then Rafe starts to get close with Ben. Big sweet Ben who likes to talk both sports and philosophy. Rafe thinks he might be in love. But how can he admit that to Ben when he’s worked so hard to convince everyone how hetero he is? This well-executed leopard-changing-spots story realistically explores what it means to refuse labels, and makes you think extra hard about the folks who don’t have a choice when it comes to hiding part of their identity. Plus it has the sweetest love scene (for me, at least) since I read Forever. If you like this one, be sure to follow it up with Pink by Lili Wilkinson.
Although I didn’t want April to slip away without reviewing a poetry book, this is not the one I thought I’d cover. It has sat on my shelf since last fall, it’s slim spine slipping down between other books, sometimes shoved behind but always reemerging to ask the mute question, “Why haven’t you read me?” Why? Because I was afraid it would hurt. Because I was afraid it would make me cry. Because this is a collection of poetry in many forms that examines the murder of Matthew Shepard and it’s aftermath and I knew it would be an emotionally brutal read. And it was. All those things happened—my heart broke, my head ached, I cried. But I’m glad I read it. Because this is also a collection of poetry in many forms that pays tribute to a life cut short and calls on anyone who reads it to fight against the ignorance, intolerance and hatred that caused Matthew’s murder. Each poem assumes a voice of a person or object that either witnessed or was in someway touched by Matthew’s life or death. We hear from the fence he was hung on, the moon who witnessed it, the prosecutor who argued his case, the jury who decided the guilt of killers, the judge who handed down two life sentences in prison. But the poems that touched me the most were those modeled after the famous apology poem “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams. (Probably because all the apologies in the world won’t bring him back.) There’s this one, in the voice of Matthew’s heart: “This is just to say/I’m sorry/I kept beating/and beating/inside/your shattered chest/Forgive me/for keeping you/alive/so long/I knew it would kill me/to let you go” And this one in the voice of the judge who rejected the killers’ bogus defense: “This is just to say/I’m sorry/to deny/your request/to use/the gay panic defense/Forgive me/for pointing out/the obvious:/there was someone gay/and panicked that night/but that someone wasn’t you.” Author Leslea Newman has also included loads of fantastic backmatter, including a heartfelt author’s note, an annotated list of all the news sources she drew from to inform her poems and additional resources should readers want to learn more about Matthew Shepard’s life and memorial. A bittersweet and powerful collection.