Within the walls of the Nameless City, there are the conquerers and the conquered. The city is re-named each time it is taken over, but none of the names last for long, and none of the conquerers ever ask the citizens what they want. Kaidu, the bookish son of one of the current conquerers, is in training to become a warrior, which isn’t going so well. Rat, a conquered native, is a streetwise orphan who lives by her wits and is always hungry. They strike up an uneasy alliance when Kai sneaks out of his dormitory to explore the busy city on his own and soon becomes lost. Rat shows him the way home and reluctantly agrees to teach him her patented mode of getting around town quickly–by racing over rooftops–in exchange for food. It turns out that Kai is a much better runner (and friend) then he is fighter, and the two discover they have more in common than they ever would have thought. But when Rat gets wind of a plot that could help drive Kai and his kind from the Nameless City, she has to decide if her new friendship is worth more than her city’s freedom. Kai and Rat’s kinetic, shy-high exploits and hotly competitive relationship are expertly depicted by amazeballs graphic novelist Faith Erin Hicks in breathless panels that ooze with color. This cross-cultural adventure (which seems to be set in or inspired by medieval China) feels contemporary and fresh, despite it’s historical-ish frame. If you dig Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, don’t hesitate to take a trip to the Nameless City (the first in a new series).
Stubborn, hard working high school seniors Crystal and Amber know what it’s like to make sacrifices. They have done without their whole lives, since their gambling addicted mom spends her paycheck on lottery tickets instead of groceries and their lazy stepdad spends more time passed out on the couch than he does working his pizza joint job. So when one sister accidently gets pregnant, they know that they have no one to turn to but each other. When Natalie is born, the sisters swear to stick together and raise her no matter what. They manage to stay in school by using the services of the school run daycare, while Crystal pumps gas and works on cars at the local garage and Amber washes dishes at their aunt’s bar. It’s hard but they’re making it work until Crystal’s head is turned by a guidance counselor who suggests she apply to a vocational college in another state with a special car restoration program. At first, Crystal scoffs at the idea. After all, “People like me work at gas stations their whole lives, go to cruise-ins with their cars and join softball leagues for fun.” But then she decides to apply just to see what happens, and to her great shock, gets in. Now she has to choose between staying in Portland with her sister and helping with Natalie or following her college dreams to Kansas. As the day of her final decision draws closer, Crystal struggles to justify her choice and to keep hidden a devastating secret that could destroy her relationship with Amber and Natalie forever. This solidly written, utterly realistic novel that details the day-to-day life of one working class white family on the brink of change is full of piss, vinegar and heart. There are so many engrossing particulars that pulled me in as a reader that are worth mentioning, but among my favorites were how Crystal had to use her junkyard dog Bonehead as a poor woman’s alarm system and let him sleep in her muscle car each night so it wouldn’t get stolen, and how Crystal and Amber hid their mom’s lottery winnings in small bills throughout the house so she wouldn’t spend it all at once. This family and their all-too-real problems stole my heart—and it will steal yours to when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2016.
Anyone who has ever picked up a pen and dreamed of creating their own graphic novel is bound to be inspired by graphic novelist Sara Varon‘s latest charming short comic collection. Originally published in 2003, these eighteen vignettes are now accompanied by personal notes that detail her inspiration and who the different characters symbolize, giving a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the artist. Everything from the divine (the process of beekeeping!) to the mundane (a day in the life series) are represented here, along with all the in between stuff: friendship, heartbreak, and lots of and lots of eating delicious things. If you like food, animal folks and fun, or have an interest in the creative process (which is lovingly detailed in each and every story) then you are going to want to wrap yourself up in Sweater Weather.
Noah Keller, a pretty ordinary kid except for his “Astonishing Stutter,” is stunned when he comes home from school one day and his parents announce they are leaving their hometown of Oasis, Virginia and heading to one of the grimmest places on earth in 1989: East Berlin behind the Berlin Wall. While his mother explains that the family is going to Germany for six months so that she can study German children’s speech problems for her graduate degree, Noah is suspicious. If his mother is just conducting research, why do they all have to change their names? Why aren’t they allowed to talk about anything serious within the walls of their new apartment? And why can’t he go to school with other East German children? The less information his parents share, the more Noah’s doubt grows until he decides to investigate the strict boundaries of his new world on his own. With the help of his downstairs neighbor Claudia (who he dubs “Cloud”) Noah begins to ask some questions whose answers may put his entire family in terrible danger. Because in Noah’s new reality, no one is who they seem. Who are Noah’s parents, really? Who is Claudia? And how can Noah find out the truth without hurting everyone he loves? This unusual, fable-like mystery, set in the near past and chock full of fascinating facts about the claustrophobic, formally Communist East Berlin will captivate readers with it’s intriguing premise and cryptic characters. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2016.
In 1241 medieval France, the all-powerful Catholic Church doesn’t take kindly to anyone who questions its authority. So when Dolssa de Sigata, an eighteen year old noblewoman begins healing people by channeling the divine energy of Jesus, who she calls her “beloved,” the Church hands down a death sentence: she and her mother are to be burned at the stake as heretics. But just as Dolssa is about to be thrown on the pyre, her ropes are miraculously loosened and she is told to “RUN!” Believing she has just been saved by her beloved, Dolssa flees into the countryside, only to sicken and starve as she has no idea how to live outside the walls of her villa. Enter Bottile, a bawdy barmaid/matchmaker who finds Dolssa on the side of the road and brings her back to her tiny seaside home of Bajas, where she hides Dolssa in the tavern she runs with her two sisters. As the gentlewoman begins to heal under the peasant’s tender care, the Church dispatches a team of priests and even a knight to find Dolssa and bring her back to be burned. Once Dolssa regains her strength, she wants to help those who have helped her. But when word of her miracles reaches the Church, their retribution is swift and it may be that instead of helping, Dolssa has doomed the entire village of Bajas to suffer her fiery fate. This delicious doorstop of a historical fiction is chock full of mystery, suspense, romance and setting details that will make your mouth water and your nose fill with the smell of roasted fish, sun-ripened grapes and sea salt. Frantic to find out what would happen to sweet Dolssa and saucy Bottile, I raced through the pages but look forward to going back and savoring the fascinating medieval vocab and spot-on historical detail. A thorough author’s note at the back will help you appreciate both, as will a character list, glossary and bibliography. Honestly, I was SHOCKED at how geeked-out I became about female heretics in medieval France! And I think you will be too when The Passion of Dolssa wings its way to your nearest library, bookstore or e-reader April 2016.
Has a book ever changed your life? When her English teacher hands Nanette The Bubblegum Reaper, an out of print novel about a disillusioned teen named Wrigley who decides to “quit” society, she quickly becomes obsessed with it, underlining sentences and memorizing passages that seem to speak directly to her. Then her teacher arranges a meeting between Nanette and Nigel Booker, TBR’s reclusive author, and Nanette is hopeful that Booker will explain some of the book’s cryptic symbolism. But the old curmudgeon refuses to discuss the novel at all, and instead introduces Nanette to Alex, a teenaged poet who’s just as obsessed with TBR as she is. Together they start breaking the rules of society that don’t make sense to them, just like Wrigley does in the book. Alex goes after middle school bullies in order to protect his young friend Oliver and Nanette, a star soccer player with college scholarship prospects, suddenly quits the team senior year. At first they are exhilarated by their own daring, but they end up paying a price for their rebellion that lands Alex in reform school and propels Nanette in a terrifying direction that she’s not sure she’s brave enough to explore. Is she strong enough to reject society’s expectations of her? Armed with her copy of TBR and a playlist of Pat Benatar music, Nanette’s about to find out. This latest offering from the author of The Silver Linings Playbook is a fresh, smart take on the tolls of teen angst and will appeal to lovers of The Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You and The Fault in Our Stars. Or, basically anyone who loves philosophical books, or books about books, or books about being in love or books about loving yourself. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you May 2016.
It’s the middle of winter in 1977 upstate New York, and seventeen year old Nick has decided he’s OVER being a burnout banger. So he ditches his pot-smoking friends, trades in his ratty concert tees for a shirt and tie and memorizes his new mantra: STAND OUT. STAND UP. STAND BY. STAND FAST. When his best friend makes a break for Florida, he makes a tentative plan to join once he has the cash. He starts logging serious hours at his crappy convince store job, but at a minimum wage of $2+ an hour, he’s hardly making any bank. Just as it looks like his beach dream may not come true, he is seduced by a Joan Jett look alike named Dawn who convinces him to dip back into the druggie world for one last big score. If Nick can pull it off, he will make enough for both he and Dawn to ride south into the sunset. Can he convince Dawn’s unstable drug lord boyfriend to trust him long enough to steal his stash AND his girl? This slow-burning thriller is full of twists and tension, with a setting that really captures the white 1970’s in rural/suburban America. I felt like I knew Nick and his crew pretty well, as they resembled the guys I stood next to at the school bus stop and watched trade cigarettes in the art and shop rooms at school. If you’re not entirely sure what I’m talking about, check out these 1970’s film gems about being a kid and teen back in the day and read SNOW JOB when it hits the library and bookstore shelves March 2016.
“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.
It is 1945 and WWII is coming to a messy, brutal end. Germany is being squeezed by the Allies on both sides (British and American troops from the west, Russian troops from the east) and panicked civilians and refugees are desperate to escape the war torn country. Joana, a young Lithuanian nurse haunted by the loss of her family, is trying to save anyone who crosses her path, no matter how impossible their circumstances may be. Florian, a Prussian assistant curator, is traveling to the coast with a precious object that if discovered, could topple the entire Third Reich. Emilia, a sixteen year old Polish girl, is looking for a savior even as she hides a secret that could either ruin or redeem her, depending on who she trusts with the truth. And Alfred is a vain young Nazi in training, trying to hide his cowardliness behind a gruff curtain of superiority, even as he finds his slim grip on sanity slipping away. These four young people find their fates intertwined when they all board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German refugee transport ship that is supposed to carry them to safety. But the unlucky Gusloff is torpedoed by Russian submarines and sank on January 30th, 1945. Over 9000 people perish. Who among the four fleeing teens survives the icy waters and overcrowded lifeboats to start a new life in a new land–if any? Award-winning author Ruta Sepety‘s historical fiction could not be more timely as countries around the world wrestle with the question of how to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria today. Told in four intense, original voices, this masterful and heartrending tale about a little known WWII tragedy will help readers empathize with the plight of refugees throughout history. Don’t miss this boat when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you February 2016.
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.