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’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.
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.
Monday Charles and Claudia Coleman are the best of besties. They dress alike, dance alike, and since their names alphabetically come one right after the other on class lists, even always sit together in classes at their Washington D.C. middle school. Monday helps Claudia conceal her dyslexia, while Claudia’s home is a quiet place for Monday to hang out when her own house full of siblings feels too chaotic. They talk about every thing from boys and sex to Go-Go music and dance moves. So when Monday doesn’t show up to the first day of eighth grade, Claudia knows something’s wrong. Monday never misses school. Claudia calls her phone, but it’s disconnected. She drops by Monday’s house, but Monday’s mom just yells at her and slams the door. She tries reporting Monday’s absence to her parents, police and teachers, all to no avail. The only person who seems to know something is April, Monday’s older sister. But she refuses to admit that anything is wrong, saying only that Monday is visiting their aunt or father. Where is Monday? What has happened to her? Why won’t anyone help Claudia find her? As the days and then months pass and Claudia tries desperately get anyone to care about her best friend, she begins to uncover disturbing clues that Monday may have been hiding secrets darker than Claudia can even imagine. This harrowing, ripped-from-the-headlines story was inspired by #missingDCgirls and the media’s apparent lack of concern for black and Latino teenage girls who go missing. Tiffany D. Jackson seamlessly weaves timely themes about the damaging effects of gentrification on traditionally black neighborhoods and the dangers of overlooking the signs of mental illness throughout this ominously enigmatic page turner. Read it, weep, then become inspired to learn more about these critical issues.
Happy Halloween! While many of you are looking forward to candy, there is no greater treat to me than a good book. So instead of candy corn, I’m treating you to this tasty review that will tickle your brain instead of your sweet tooth!
Aza is trapped. Not down a well or in a dungeon, but in the claustrophobic spiral of her own obsessive thoughts. She worries about germs and bacteria. She worries about sweating too much. She worries that the scab she keeps opening up on her finger will get infected, and the infection will spread and eventually kill her. She worries that her medication doesn’t really work. She worries that all her worries mean she’s crazy. So when eccentric local billionaire Russell Pickett disappears under questionable circumstances and Aza’s exuberant best friend Daisy insists that they try and find him so they can claim the hundred thousand dollar reward, Aza feels a little relief at being able to focus on something other than her uncontrollable thoughts. But trying to solve the mystery introduces a whole new set of complications into Aza’s life, including an inconvenient crush on Pickett’s son, her former schoolyard friend Davis. Davis is the first person Aza’s ever told the truth about the scab on her finger: “that the pressing of my thumbnail against my fingertip had started off as a way of convincing myself that I was real.” Aza worries that if she can’t control her thoughts, maybe that means she isn’t really in control of anything and maybe, just maybe she doesn’t even exist. Instead of pulling away, Davis only grows more interested in Aza, until she’s less worried that he likes her and more worried about his bacteria mixing with hers when they kiss. Can Aza find a way to manage her anxieties and relationships in a way that will allow her to feel alive instead of just living? This deeply personal novel is by master heart-tugger and brain-bender John Green, so expect no easy answers. What you can expect is a realistic and compassionate examination of what it’s like to live with OCD, a fair amount of Star Wars fan fiction, facts about tuataras and clever, rapid-fire dialogue. Because like I said, this is a John Green novel. And he does cerebral, unconventional YA like no one else. Both superfans and John Green neophytes should also check out these interviews about the book and this adorbs morning show clip:
“I had known Noe for only ten minutes, but already I could feel that protecting her would give me a purpose, give my tortured energy somewhere to go…I could be a normal human as long as I was interacting with Noe.” Shy, awkward freshman Annabeth found a best friend and savior in Noe, a vivacious gymnast whose social capital kept them both afloat through high school. Now it’s senior year and their solid friendship is starting to falter. Even though she would much rather be camping or hiking, Annabeth joins the gymnastics team and reluctantly strikes up a bantering relationship with Noe’s boyfriend Steven just to keep Noe close. But Noe continues to pull away, spending more time with the “gym birds” and deciding to apply to a different college. As Annabeth struggles with the legacy of a brutal family secret, a possible eating disorder and the consequences of one romantic night, she realizes she needs a real friend to help her get through it. But after closing herself off for so long, can Annabeth find the strength to trust someone new? This character-driven, emotionally intense tale about the slow uncoupling of a friendship will hit way too close to home if you’ve ever lost a BFF to time, distance, or someone else. Hilary T. Smith has only written two novels, and each one is a complex, lyrically written examination of a human being struggling to understand her place in the world against huge emotional odds. Prepare to be devastated, in the best way possible.
An unnamed girl in an anonymous city tells the story of her and her Ma, a homeless addict who tries to stay clean for her daughter but never quite succeeds. The girl and Ma move from tent to alley to abandoned building, constantly dodging the frightening Authorities in their official yellow vests. They are finally able to make a home in the overgrown and forgotten Castle, an old abandoned mill on the edge of the city. There, they set up a stopgap bedroom, ramshackle living room and even a makeshift kitchen. The girl feels safe, even though Ma says she must never go outside in case she is seen by the Authorities. So she spends her days reading school books Ma has brought home, spying on faraway apartments with her old binoculars and talking to the Caretaker, an old man who has also made his home in the shadow of the Castle. Then the ghost shows up, a mysterious presence that reminds the girl of the one terrible night Ma left her alone before they came to the mill. Haunted by her own bleak memories, the girl must find a way to remember what happened that night so she can save Ma and herself from the ghost and their own grim futures. This eerie, gritty debut blends suspense, survival and magical realism into a satisfyingly spooky stew that will keep readers guessing until the very last page. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you June 2017.
Sixteen year old Starr Carter has to navigate two different worlds that couldn’t be further apart: Garden Heights, the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she and her family live, and Williamson, the pricey, mostly white prep school she attends. She is pulled in one direction by her loving but strict family and culture, and the opposite direction by her wealthy school friends and white boyfriend Chris. “…I never know which Starr I should be. I can use some slang, but not too much slang, some attitude, but not too much attitude, so I’m not a ‘sassy black girl.’ I have to watch what I say and how I say it, but I can’t sound ‘white.’ Shit is exhausting.” Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air character and Tupac Shakur‘s music are her touchstones as she tries to make peace between her two selves, but she often feels totally overwhelmed with the burden of keeping them separate. When her unarmed childhood friend is Khalil is gunned down right in front of her by a white police officer, Starr’s worlds collide in the worst possible way. Suddenly she is in the spotlight, fighting to defend Khalil’s memory and reputation at home and in front of a grand jury, while feeling angry and exposed at school when her clueless classmates stereotype Khalil as a “a drug dealer and a gangbanger” who “was probably gonna end up dead anyway.” The simmering conflict spirals out of control when the police institute a curfew, tanks roll past Starr’s front door, and Garden Heights becomes a battle zone. Tired of trying to unite her double life, Starr finds her true north when she confronts the police who are trying to block her and her friends from protesting with the strongest weapon of all: her voice. “Everybody wants to talk about how Khalil died…But this isn’t about how Khalil died. It’s about the fact that he lived. His life mattered. Khalil lived! You hear me? Khalil lived!” Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas‘s debut novel is a searingly honest, painfully real examination of racism, police violence, code switching, and the importance of love and family in the face of crisis. Some readers will come away with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what it means to grow up African American in this divided country, while others will find comfort and validation in seeing themselves on the page and being authentically seen. A vital read for all that is coming to a library or bookstore near you February 2017.
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.
This is a book about black holes and bright suns and multiverses. There are pink headphones, red neck ties and vinyl records. Someone has to stay and someone ends up leaving. There are no car chases, but there’s plenty of kissing and one fist fight. Poetry and physics are discussed, along with a smattering of philosophy. Kurt Cobain is mentioned and so is Eddie Vedder. Karaoke is performed, laws are broken and a grown man weeps. (You might, too. I know I did.)
This is a book about taking chances, stepping up and dreaming big: “We are capable of big lives. Why settle? Why choose the practical thing, the mundane thing? We are born to dream and make the things we dream about.” It is about coincidences and regret. It’s about being Korean and being from Jamaica and being all too human. It’s about practical Natasha and idealistic Daniel, and how they fell in love one NYC day despite being in the wrong place at the worst possible time. But mostly, happily, crazily, it’s a book about hope. This stunning new heartbreaker of a novel from the author of Everything, Everything brilliantly turns the tired old cliche of “love at first sight” upside down and asks the provocative question, can you scientifically make someone fall in love with you? Look for the surprising answer in a library, bookstore or e-reader near you November 2016.
“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!
Jack Hurd is a thoughtful twelve year old who lives and works on a farm with his devoted parents. Joseph Brook is a troubled fourteen year old from an abusive home who’s already done time for trying to kill a teacher. The two meet when Jack’s folks agree to take Joseph on as a foster child. Even though Joseph has a bad rep, Jack likes him right away. Sensitive cow Rosie moos her happy moo whenever he’s near, and Jack knows, “You can tell all you need to know about someone from the way cows are around him.” Luckily, Jack’s parents feel the same way. After having to fight his way out of tight spots his whole life, Joseph has finally found a family that’s willing to fight for him. Which is good, because teenage Joseph is already the father of a baby girl named Jupiter. And if he ever wants to see her again, he’s going to need all the love the Hurd family has to spare, and then some. But when it comes to babies, laws and red tape, sometimes love isn’t enough. Friends, this weeptastic tear jerker by award winning author Gary Schmidt nearly undid me with it’s spare prose, empathetic characters and heartbreaking plot. If you’re the type of reader who chooses books based on their ability to cause you to break down in sobs, then you’ll want to run, not walk and nab this wonderful weeper from your nearest library, bookstore or e-reader November 2015.
Matt hasn’t been doing so well since his mom passed away from cancer. Once a stellar home chef, now he can barely look at his mom’s recipe book. Instead he orders take-out, worries that his dad is drinking too much, and listens to Tupac’s “Dear Mama” over and over. When Matt is gently encouraged by his neighbor and local funeral director Mr. Ray to take a job at the funeral home assisting with services, he is shocked to realize that instead of “reliving my mom’s funeral everyday,” the job is actually helping him heal. “I liked watching other people deal with the loss of someone, not because I enjoyed seeing them in pain, but because, somehow it made me feel better knowing that my pain isn’t just mine. That my life isn’t the only one that missing something it will never have back.” It’s at a funeral that Matt meets Love Brown, a girl who has lost everything but still manages to see the sun behind the rain. A girl who truly understands how he feels. And that’s when the Boy in the Black Suit learns to stop grieving and start living (and Loving:) again. This heartfelt story of devotion and mourning by the author of When I Was the Greatest will feel comfortingly familiar to anyone who’s ever fallen in love or lost a beloved someone. (And honestly, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep the Kleenex handy.)
“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.
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.)
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!