Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina


It’s the summer of 1977 in Queens, New York and situations both inside and outside seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez’s life are threatening to explode. Outside the tiny apartment Nora’s single mom works day and night to hold onto, it is the hottest summer on record. Arsonists are setting random fires around the city that are keeping the firemen like Nora’s best friend Kathleen’s dad busy day and night. There is a serial killer on the loose calling himself “The Son of Sam” who murders young couples in their cars and sends terrifying letters to the newspapers that give Nora nightmares. A city-wide blackout encourages a wave of crime that causes tempers to flare and feelings of fear and racism to flourish. Meanwhile, closer to home, Nora’s younger brother Hector, always a troublemaker, seems to be getting worse. A violent drop-out with a drug addiction, Hector rages at Nora, physically strikes their mother and rarely comes home at night. Nora is worried that he is possibly one of the city’s destructive arsonists. But she stuffs her misgivings deep inside, afraid of what telling the truth will do to her already fractured family. “How can you make people understand about brothers who hit and spit? How do you explain why you listen at your own door before going in? How do you explain that it’s not only parents who beat kids, but sometimes the other way around, too?” Nora longs to ask her father for help, but he has a new family in Manhattan and only calls on holidays to hear good news, not problems. The only bright spot in Nora’ life is her blossoming romance with her deli co-worker Pablo. His dreamy good looks and positive attitude give Nora hope. But when Hector takes his brutality to a new level and her mother loses her factory job, Nora pulls away from Pablo, afraid to draw him into her family drama. She’s never felt so alone, and wishes her mother didn’t always expect her hold everything together. “Shouldn’t she be able to take better care of us? Isn’t that what adults are supposed to do? Take care of their kids? Shield them from stuff? Pay bills? Why is everything the other way around for us?” Can Nora learn to ask for the help she needs before her entire world combusts? The novel takes it’s title from a well known disco song, but while Nora escapes to the club to forget her problems, the music can’t save her. I have deep love for Meg Medina’s books because they are set in my beloved Queens (my neighborhood of Forest Hills gets a shout out for it’s historical Tudor houses and because it was sadly a notorious site of one of the Son of Sam murders) and her teen characterizations are spot on. The feelings she conveys are honest and authentic, and her descriptions of NYC back in the day will make the 70’s come alive for you. Nora is a complex, original character who will bring your summer to its knees when you get your hands on this hotter than hot novel in March 2016.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock


Ruth would do anything to get out of Gran’s “old person smelling” house, but the results are disastrous when cute Ray Stevens offers a sleepover with benefits. Dora wishes she had a place she could call home because no matter how kind Dumping’s parents are, she can never forget that she is a guest in their house due to her father’s inability to stay away from the bottle. Dumpling always wears a red ribbon on the end of her braid for luck, but it doesn’t save her from what fate has in store. Alyce is torn between the two worlds of professional ballet and commercial fishing, and making a choice means disappointing one of her divorced parents. Hank is forced to take his two younger brothers on the run in order to find out where he truly belongs. This group of disenfranchised Alaskan teens living on the edges of their white, Athabaskan and Inupiat communities in the 1970’s end up coming together in complicated and unexpected ways that will delight and surprise readers. Based on the debut author’s own experiences growing up in Alaska, this character-rich, poetically-written, all-ages read will be available at a library, bookstore or e-reader near you February 2016.

A Big Dose of Lucky by Marthe Jocelyn



It’s not easy being a sixteen year old orphan in 1964 Ontario. But it’s even harder when you’re a brown-skinned girl who’s just lost the only home you’ve ever known. When the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls goes up in smoke one terrifying night, Malou is thrust out into the wide world with just $138, a shopping bag full of used clothing and a hospital bracelet with the words, “Baby Fox.” With her only clue being the hospital address, Malou boards a bus to the tiny town of Parry Sound, where she hopes to solve the mystery of her birth. She quickly finds a room to rent and a cleaning job to pay for it, but it’s rough being on her own for the first time in her life. “Alone is a hard thing to be. There is not enough inside my own head to fill all the hours it would take to live alone. Especially without books.” As she starts investigating her background, Malou begins noticing and meeting other teenagers in town who look an awfully lot like her. Soon Malou finds herself entangled in an local secret that is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined. I tore through this fast paced and plotty novel in about twenty four hours, completely engaged by Malou’s singular voice and the riddle she is trying to solve. If you find yourself in a reading slump, this captivating historical identity mystery is the perfect antidote!

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella



Audrey is missing out on her life. Ever since her ex-friends Tasha, Natalie and Izzy launched a bullying campaign that gave her an acute case of Social Anxiety Disorder with a side order of Depressive Episodes, Audrey has been wearing dark glasses and rarely leaving the house. Dr. Sarah has assured Audrey that her “condition is fully treatable,” but Audrey isn’t so sure. The only time Audrey feels safe is when she is alone in a darkened room watching sitcoms. If she wasn’t being so entertained by her mother’s crazy crusade against her brother Frank’s video gaming habits, she’d probably forget how to laugh. Then Frank brings home his gaming partner, Linus, who’s sweet, cute and intrigued by Audrey’s dark glasses. They embark on the most adorable courtship ever, which mostly involves passing notes and touching the tips of their shoes together. Then Linus challenges Audrey to go out to Starbucks with him. Audrey is torn–should she stay home where no one can ever hurt her again? Or should she trust Linus and face the caffeinated crowd at Starbucks? Audrey thinks she can do anything as long as Linus is there to love and support her. But it’s only when she takes her anxiety into her own hands that the glasses come off and her life REALLY begins to turn around. This delightful oddball romance comes from the pink pen of British Confessions of a Shopaholic author Sophie Kinsella. I have always hugely enjoyed and recommended the Shopaholic series, so I was thrilled to see SK try the YA thing. The results are touching, funny and completely Kinsella. For another atypical romance, take a look at OCD Love Story or try some of these other British funnies.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson



In this raucous medieval-ish fantasy turned upside down and sideways, Nimona is a sassy shape shifter who offers her slick sidekick services to professional villain Ballister Blackheart. In turn, she wants nothing more than to take out a few good guys. But that’s not the kind of villain Blackheart is. In fact, he’s kind of…kind, more like a Robin Hood than Sheriff of Nottingham. So when Nimona’s unstoppable powers attract the attention of the deadly Director of the mysterious Institute, Blackheart does his best to keep things from getting too heated between Nimona and the Institute’s champion, Ambrosius Goldenloin. But for sad and terrible reasons of her own, Nimona is out for blood, and soon Blackheart finds himself trapped between his arch enemy and his closest ally, no longer able to tell which is which. This inventive graphic novel was originally a web comic that earned oodles of raves, all heartily well deserved. Stevenson’s small scale art and text is packed with big universal truths about corruption, morality and heroism while also delivering some hardcore giggles along the way. You’ll find yourself wanting a Nimona of your own after finishing this delightfully subversive tome.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon



“My disease is as rare as it is famous. It’s a form of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency…basically I’m allergic to the world…I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years.” Biracial teen Maddie believed she had gotten used to her sanitary, white-walled world. She had learned to accept the limits of her sterile existence, her only friends being her mother, her nurse Carla, her books and the Internet. She could even forget sometimes that the tropical flowers and plants in the heated sunroom were all made of plastic. But then tall, acrobatic Olly moves across the street and opens up a whole new world to Maddie right outside her vacuum-sealed door. At first he just throws rocks at her window and holds up silly messages in his. But then they graduate to emails and share their deepest secrets: Maddie tells Olly about her disease and Olly confesses his own troubling situation–his father is abusive and his whole family suffers from his angry outbursts.  Soon email is not enough, and Madde convinces Carla to help her sneak a throughly decontaminated Olly into the house when her mother isn’t home. Before long they are holding hands and even kissing like two normal teenagers in love. Maddie knows this blissful experience can’t last forever. What if her mother finds out? What if she gets sick? But how can she possibly go back to her life the antiseptic way it was before? Now that she realizes everything she is missing, everything she has is no longer enough. “I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.”  This modern day Romeo & Juliet story is already #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, which doesn’t surprise me one iota. Managing to strike both an unconventional and classic tone, this slow burning romance drops two shocking bombshells in a row, leaving readers lovesick one moment and stunned the next. ALL the things are in Everything, Everything and you won’t be able to stop turning the perfectly paced pages until you find out what fate has in store for these two star-crossed lovers. Enjoy–I envy anyone reading it for the first time!

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray


SPOILER ALERT: Before launching into this luscious sequel of epic proportions, please do yourself a BIG favor and read the utterly delicious first book in this planned four volume series. And if you’re already a fan of the fabulous paranormal Roaring Twenties tome, then by all means, READ ON! Picking up right where The Diviners left off, Evie is now enjoying superstardom as the “Sweetheart Seer” of WGI radio, streetwise Sam is working alongside steadfast Jericho and Evie’s Uncle Will at the Museum of the American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, BFF entertainers Theta and Henry are playing the nights away at the Ziegfeld Follies and secret poet Memphis runs numbers during the day while working on love poetry for Theta after hours. Though they seem happy and busy on the surface, each continues to come to uncomfortable terms with the hidden abilities they have discovered within themselves. While exercising his dream walking talent to try and connect with his lost love Louis, Henry runs into Ling Chan, a Chinese/Irish teen who uses dreams to confer with the dead. Together they discover a seductive netherworld where a vengeful ghost is tapping into the dreams of innocent New Yorkers, causing them to fall into a deadly sleep from which they never wake. The ghost’s presence is tied to an old, bricked over subway station that was recently excavated. Once her bones are stirred, the veiled woman covered in blood and her army of soul sucking phosphorescent zombies haunt the train tunnels and only Ling and Henry have the clues to solve the mystery of her death and lay her spirit to rest. Meanwhile, on the romantic front, Sam and Evie embark on a news worthy romance that may or may not be the real deal, Theta and Memphis encounter the difficulties of interracial dating in the era of KKK parades and the Eugenics movement, while Jericho struggles with who to give his heart to PERIOD. As the story climbs inexorably to a tension-filled conclusion, the rag tag band of friends begin to realize that a greater evil than the previous Pentacle Killer and present Hungry Ghost is afoot and that they will need to reveal their clandestine supernatural skills to each other if they ever hope to win against it.

SO. MUCH. HERE. TO. LOVE, so I will spare you too many gushy particulars and just say that as a librarian I was delighted that Ling did research on the abandoned subway station at the Seward Park library with the help of fictional librarian Mrs. Belpre, and as a New Yorker I appreciated what seemed like a heartbreaking reference to 9/11 when the 1920’s train entrances were papered with handmade signs of people who have gone missing since the subway ghost started haunting. Finally, I laughed aloud with nerdy glee when the historically real Carl Jung made an appearance to talk dreams with Evie and Theta. Author Libba Bray’s ability to infuse a paranormal thriller with such nuanced and layered themes of bias, identity, and culture and how they are all integrated messily into the fabric of our collected American history is completely amazeballs. This rich, detail-packed second book does not disappoint with its deepening of the characters and relationships we came to know and love from the first book, and tantalizing hints of the horror to come, including additional references to the mysterious Project Buffalo and the enigmatic crow-coated man in the stovepipe hat. While it was definitely worth the wait, it’s going to be hard drumming our nail bitten fingers as we anxiously anticipate the next chapters in the newly formed Diviner crew’s supernatural adventures. Coming to a library, bookstore, e-reader or pillow near you August 25 2015.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz



In 1911 rural Pennsylvania, fourteen year old bookworm Joan Skraggs is done with letting her domineering farmer father dictate the direction of her life. After he refuses to give her the egg money she’s earned, shames her in front of her beloved teacher and burns her only books, Joan takes the money her dead mother sewed into the skirts of her childhood doll and takes the train to Philadelphia. There she has the good fortune of finding a job as a hired girl with the wealthy Rosenbach family and tastes real freedom for the very first time. Of course, she still works her fingers to the bone, but now there are afternoons off, new hats to be bought with her hard earned salary, and an entire home library to explore. But with these little luxuries come a whole new batch of problems. There are bewildering new rules to follow in the Rosenbach’s formal Jewish household. Malka, the elderly servant she works under is difficult and easily offended. And finally, what about school? Joan longs to return to her education, but now that she’s passed herself off as eighteen to gain employment, how can she ever go back? Because Joan has big dreams of being a teacher like her mother wanted. And cleaning houses isn’t going to cut it. “The truth is, most of the time I don’t think of myself as the hired girl…After all, I’m not going to be a servant all my life.” Can Joan escape the tight constraints of her narrowly defined station? Or will she find a way to break free of her hired girl status and make her mother’s dream come true? This delightful homespun tale, comprised entirely of Joan’s earnest, unintentionally funny journal entries, is powerfully reminiscent of old and new classics like Little Women and A Northern Light. This ode to the power of the written word and the strength and ingenuity of women past and present is as warm, witty and wise as all of award winning Laura Amy Schlitz‘s other works, and I predict that lovely sepia cover will be sporting a bright medal or two come January ’16. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2015.

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby



Normandy Pale’s life is…complicated. She and her two best friends have embarked on a truth telling crusade where they ask people at their arts high school the one burning question everyone wants to know about them. As you might imagine, this sometimes puts them into some fairly uncomfortable and occasionally hilarious situations. Normandy’s older sister Keira is an eccentric genius who publishes the Diana Chronicles, which is an exaggerated, unflattering comic version of Normandy’s family– another fairly uncomfortable and NOT always funny position to be in. Now the intensely private Keira has laid a pretty hardcore truth on her right as Normandy begins developing “like like” feelings for one of her best friends. How is Normandy supposed ask people the truth when her own sister is begging her to keep an awful secret and her crush has no idea how she feels? Normandy may want the truth, but she just may not be able to handle it! This wickedly sly, smart read could only come from the ever fertile brain of Canadian author Susan Juby. Full of funny footnotes and sardonic scribbles, this utterly original read is ripe pickings for fans of John Green, My So Called Life or Degrassi High. If you’re looking to fill your beach bag with intelligent laughs this summer, then this is the book for you!

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen



Sydney has always lived in the shadow of her older brother Peyton. Bigger than life Peyton has always more confident, more charismatic, more EVERYTHING than Sydney. “I was used to being invisible…I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother or smart and dynamic like my friends.” But when Peyton’s bad boy antics climax in a drunk driving accident in which he paralyzes another teen, Sydney is thrust into the spotlight. Suddenly it seems like everyone knows what her brother did and are silently judging her and her family. So she isn’t too upset when her brother’s costly legal defense forces her parents to trade her private school for public. At least at Jackson High she can escape some of the scrutiny that comes from being Peyton’s sister, and distance herself from her brother’s creepy ex-addict friend Ames. It’s at Jackson that she meets bold Layla and her dreamy musician brother Mac, and embarks on a journey of self discovery that includes, but is not limited to:  taking lessons in French fry etiquette, riding a secret carousel, donning the image of a mysterious saint, standing up to her take-no-prisoners-mom, and falling deeply in love. It is only when the worst happens that Sydney is able to uncover the best of herself. This latest offering from Sarah Dessen will be no doubt embraced by her legion of devotees, while new fans will quickly be drawn into her polished, quietly powerful orbit by her trademark Everygirl heroine and quirky secondary characters who steal both scenes and hearts in every chapter. As for me, seasoned Dessen reader that I am, this will always be the book where I discovered that Sarah Dessen LOVES THE REAL HOUSEWIVES FRANCHISE AS MUCH AS I DO. Sydney’s preferred method of escape  is to watch a reality TV show that is clearly based on the RH. And the particulars were just WAY too detailed for Dessen to just have a passing knowledge of Kyle, NeNe and Bethany. That alone was worth the price of a hardcover 🙂

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black



“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.

Dime by E.R. Frank




“When I don’t have anything to read, I feel like a tortoise without a shell or a boat without an anchor. There is nothing to hide under. Nowhere to stop and rest. When I don’t have a book, there is nowhere good or interesting to be, there is nobody to care about, nothing to hope for, and nothing to puzzle over.” Fourteen year old Dime’s life with Daddy, L.A. and Brandy can sometimes feel hopeless. If it wasn’t for her books, she would never be able to imagine her way out of the life of prostitution that Daddy has forced her into. If not for Scout, Mandy, Charlie, Katniss and other characters from her favorite novels, Dime would drown in a sordid sea of dirty alleyways, anonymous hotel rooms and Daddy’s black silk sheets. She wouldn’t be able to withstand the loneliness of never being able to tell anyone the truth, or the fear that Daddy will actually kill her someday. Sometimes she wishes she was dead. But her books give her the strength to go on. Until Daddy brings home Lollipop, who is only eleven years old, can’t read and whose only understanding of life outside a hotel room comes from Nickelodeon.  And Dime realizes that stories aren’t enough. Now she has to leave her imaginary worlds in order to save someone in her all too real world. And if she’s very, very lucky, Daddy won’t realize what Dime is up to until it’s too late. Dedicated readers of this blog know E.R. Frank is one of my very favorite authors, and even though it has been ten long years since her last novel, her writing is just as rich and raw as ever. Dime’s brutal story is beyond sad, and often difficult to read. But her haunting voice and her abiding faith in the power of books make her absolutely unforgettable. Dime’s devastating story is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you May 2015. To read more about teen sex trafficking and what you can do to help (or get help), check out LOVE146, Womenslaw.org and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

 

Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona



Pakistani American teenager Kamala Khan wishes she could just be like everyone else. She’s tired of the kids at school making fun of her culture and her Muslim parents’ strict rules. “Why do I have to bring pakoras to school for lunch? Why am I stuck with the weird holidays? Everyone else gets to be normal. Why can’t I?” But one night, after sneaking out to a party that her parents forbid her to attend, her wish to be someone else comes true in a way she could never have imagined. When Captain Marvel, Iron Man and Captain America appear to her in a sea of fog and ask who she wants to be instead of Kamala Khan from Jersey City, she quickly replies, “Right now? I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated.” In other words, she wants to be like Captain Marvel herself. But when the fog clears and her wish is granted, Kamala discovers that her new shape shifting abilities have made her life more complicated, not less. While she does manage to pull off a pretty heroic rescue, she also accidentally destroys her school locker room when her “embiggen” powers get away from her. “What does it mean to have powers? To be able to look like someone I’m not? What if I don’t fit into my old life anymore? Like it’s a pair of pants I’ve just outgrown? Would I still be Kamala?” As Kamala struggles to answer these questions, she and her friends are drawn into a battle with shady villain known only as “The Inventor.” Does Kalmala have what it takes to bring down the Inventor? Maybe…if she learns to believe in herself as much as she does her beloved Captain Marvel Carol Danvers. “I’m not here to be a watered-down version of some other hero…I’m here to be the best version of Kamala.” This fresh, funny, thought provoking graphic novel featuring a realistic teen who turns the superhero stereotype upside down makes a terrific read alike to Gene Yang’s equally awesome Shadow Hero.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

When Meg commits suicide, Cody is stunned. “…even though Meg was my best friend and I have told her everything there is to tell about me and I assumed she’d done the same, I’d had no idea. Not a clue.” What could possibly have caused cool, smart, indie-music loving Meg to take her own life? After inheriting Meg’s laptop and reading through all her old email, Cody uncovers a sinister trail of messages that lead straight to an online suicide encouragement group called The Final Solution. She begins to dig deeper into the Internet world of suicide support, with the reluctant help of Meg’s last crush Ben, who ended their relationship shortly before Meg ended her life. As the two of them try to get over their instant dislike of each other and understand Meg’s actions, they discover a different, sadder Meg than the one they knew. They also realize that they just might be falling strangely, awkwardly, bizarrely in love. This heartbreaking, heartfelt ten hankie read combines elements of romance and psychological thriller in a way that is pure Gayle Forman nirvana. Her buttery prose goes down so easy that you don’t realize you’re crying until you see the tears splash across the screen of your e-reader. Cody is a tough, angry outsider that anyone who’s ever lost someone will recognize while Ben is the wounded bad boy you want to kiss and slap across the face at the same time. I can’t stop thinking about them and you won’t be able to either as soon as you beg, borrow or check out a copy from your mom, best friend or local library. (And if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please check out these suicide prevention resources and then go find a parent, friend or teacher and tell them how you’re feeling. There’s always help, please don’t be afraid to ask.)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson



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!