Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma

dani noir
Thirteen-year-old Danielle Callanzano knows that real life isn’t like the movies. If it was, she wouldn’t be stuck in her boring upstate New York town suffering the after effects of her parents’ recent divorce with no one to call and no cell reception even if she did. (Her best friend Maya moved to Poughkeepsie three months ago.) Luckily, the Little Art movie theater’s theme this year is “Summer of Noir,” so Dani can escape the pain of her mom’s depression and her dad’s deception by sneaking into Theatre 1 and watching Rita Hayworth slink her black and white way across the screen. But the thing about movies is that they end, and when they do, Dani is right back to having to deal with her feelings. Until she notices the mysterious girl in the polka-dot tights who seems to be hanging around the projection booth of the Little Art–the projection booth where cute, seventeen-year-old Jackson works. Jackson is dating Dani’s beloved older babysitter Elissa, but the girl in the polka-dot is definitely NOT Elissa. Determined to find out if Jackson is cheating on Elissa the way her father cheated on her mom, Dani launches her own investigation, trusting no one to tell her the truth. “If there’s anything I’ve learned from noir movies it’s that everyone lies about something. And if you lie about one thing, what’s to say you didn’t lie about it all?” The only problem is that if you don’t trust anyone, it’s pretty hard to make friends. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Dani has to decide if solving the mystery is worth alienating her neighborhood peeps in the process. Instead of asking, “What would Rita Hayworth do?” Dani needs to ask herself some hard questions about privacy, friendship and forgiveness. Because “this is what’s happening in my real life, right now, the one I’m living. I don’t want to miss a thing…” This delightful debut novel had me at hello, with Dani’s snarky and endlessly quotable narration that begged to be Twittered. I had to restrain myself from tweeting lines like “Rita Hayworth would have eaten Jessica Alba alive,” or this astute observation of a femme fatale: “A femme fatale would have a sleek black phone…she’d set the ringer to silent. And she’d get calls all the time, but she’d rarely answer. What femme fatale would?” I welcome this original voice with open arms, and I can’t wait to see what Nova Ren Suma does next!

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

When she was a little girl, Grace was dragged off the tire swing in her Minnesota backyard one winter by a starving wolf pack who had every intention of having her for dinner. But one yellow-eyed male stopped the feeding frenzy and saved Grace’s life. So instead of being afraid of the wolves, she becomes their defender, especially the amber-eyed one she calls her own. Flash forward: Grace is a junior in high school when one of her classmates is attacked and killed by the pack. Armed, angry townsmen head into the woods to get rid of the wolves once and for all, and Grace throws her self into their line of fire in an attempt to save her wolf. Imagine her surprise when a bullet grazes the animal and he turns into a stunning young man named Sam right before her eyes. She acts quickly, saving his life as he saved hers all those years ago, and soon a passionate romance blossoms between them. Sam reveals to Grace that the pack are actually werewolves, who remain human for the most part as long as the weather is warm, but are forced to succumb to their wolf state when the temperature drops. To make matters worse, as the seasons turn, the pack remain as wolves for longer and longer periods of time until they stop becoming human altogether. Sam is eighteen years old, and knows that this is his last year as a human. Once he turns again, he will stay a wolf for the rest of his life. The shock of being shot caused Sam to revert to his human state, but the weather is growing frostier by the day, and despite all her efforts to keep Sam warm, Grace is terrified that she will lose her first love to his wolfish nature forever. Meanwhile, there are two renegade wolves on the loose who are determined to return Sam to the pack even if they have to kill Grace to do it. Can Sam protect Grace from their murderous means in his weakened human condition? Can Grace find a way to defy the laws of nature and keep their love from growing cold? Twilight fans, HERE is the worthy successor to your fav series. There is abundant romance, a little sex (mostly off page), a gorgeous, swoon-worthy boy, some suspenseful fight scenes and best of all, a strong, smart heroine who puts passive Bella to shame. I have to admit I rolled my eyes a little over Sam’s near-perfection (a song-writing literary werewolf who loves Rilke’s poetry and can read it in the original German? REALLY?), but even cynical old me got a little misty on the last page, which may be my favorite ending in recent history. A lovely Fall-into-Winter book for now, and a great romance anytime.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

calpurnia tate
In 1899 Texas, girls are expected to know how to knit, sew, cook and clean in order to make some lucky man a good wife. But Calpurnia Virginia Tate, the only daughter in a family of six rowdy brothers, couldn’t be less interested in the domestic arts. “I had never classified myself with other girls. I was not of their species; I was different.” Instead of stitching away on samplers for her hope chest, Callie Vee prefers tromping around in the woods and wading in the creek with her blustery grandpa, a Civil War veteran and amateur naturalist. Together they collect various & sundry samples of flora & fauna, even discovering a new species of hairy vetch. As Callie discovers the wonders of the natural world, she begins to consider becoming a scientist, especially after reading Mr. Darwin’s controversial book  The Origin of the Species. But is there room in Callie’s proscribed society for that oddest of creatures, a female scholar? Callie begins to notice all the ways in which men are encouraged to dream big while women are expected to limit their hopes to hearth and home. When she asks why her sibs get paid for some chores while her labor comes free, older brother Lamar scoffs, “Girls don’t get paid. Girls can’t even vote. They don’t get paid. Girls stay home.” As the new century looms large, with it’s astonishing new inventions of telephones, automobiles and Coca-Cola, it begins to dawn on Callie that these amazing technological investigations are for men alone. “I was expected to hand over my life to a house, a husband, children…There was a wicked point to all the sewing and cooking they were trying to impress upon me…My life was forfeit. Why hadn’t I seen it? I was trapped.” Can Callie draw inspiration from the intrepid female innovators who came before: Mrs. Curie,  Miss Anning, Miss Kovalevsky, Miss Bird? Or is she doomed to a lifetime of darning and dusting? This delightfully detailed read, full of fascinating facts about nature and biology and imbued with all the excitement and optimism people felt as they entered a new age, is far deeper than its sweet and gentle cover implies. Like A Northern Light’s sassy little sister, ECT explores themes of feminism, racism, and gender roles with equal aplomb. And, it’s just a really, really good STORY. Anyone who ever dared to dream beyond their means are bound to get along splendidly with Miss Calpurnia Tate.

Stitches by David Small

If you think your parents are awful, they are probably peaches compared to the folks that raised Caldecott award winner artist David Small. This gut wrenching graphic memoir of selected events from Small’s Detroit-based childhood and adolescence chronicle his survival of his parents’ loveless marriage, a botched surgery on his throat that left him scarred and voiceless, and the burning of all his favorite books by his vindictive mother. Through it all, Small maintained hope through his artwork. His sketchbook became a welcome escape from his chilly home life and silent school days, a portal to another world–just like Alice’s rabbit hole. Small was very influenced by Alice in Wonderland, and even portrays the therapist who ended up saving his life when he was a teen as the benevolent White Rabbit. In spare prose and stark panels, employing images that are startling, dream-like and reminiscent of classic cinema, Small takes you on an insightful and poignant journey through his own personal hell and eventual redemption. In the end Small perseveres, becoming an artist against all odds and with no support from his family. While this book is for everybody, it is especially for the somebody whose family has made them feel insignificant. Because as the inspiring author and illustrator demonstrates in this terrible, wonderful GN, even if you’re Small, you can still walk TALL. If you end up loving this gripping graphic memoir as much as I do, try the equally engrossing Blankets by Craig Thompson.  Until then, enjoy this awesome book trailer narrated by the author himself.

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

In the summer of 1995, D, Neeka and our unnamed narrator (we’ll just call her “Me”) are trying to figure out what it means to be “grown” in their Queens, NY neighborhood while the music of their idol, Tupac Shakur, provides the soundtrack to their unusual friendship. Neeka and Me have lived on the same block forever, but D just appears one day, a foster kid with the wrong kind of shoes and the wrong color eyes. D likes to “roam,” taking the subway and bus to new neighborhoods, meeting people and gathering experiences. Neeka and Me are suspicious of her at first, but soon D’s sweet half smile and easy demeanor win them over. Something clicks between them and before they know it, they are “Three the Hard Way.” D convinces them to venture off the block, slipping out from under the watchful eyes of their mothers and into everyday adventures. They share pizza, secrets, and the pain that comes from worrying about their favorite rapper who seems to understand exactly how they feel yet can’t keep him self out of harm’s way. Ironically, D and Tupac slip out of Neeka and Me’s life around the same time, and the girls realize that while they loved them both, they didn’t really know either of them at all. For D, all that mattered was that Neeka and Me cared about her, and she cared about them. “I came on this street and y’all became my friends…I talked about roaming and y’all listened. I sat down and ate with your mamas and it felt like I was finally belonging somewhere.” When the time comes to say goodbye, they all understand that their lives are better for having known each other. This gentle story about faith, friendship and family being the people you chose will sit quietly in your heart and head long after the last page is turned.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Robot Girl meets Ghost Boy. Robot Girl falls for Ghost boy (sort of). Ghost Boy holds Robot Girl at arm’s length due to emotional trauma suffered since childhood. Robot Girl understands until she doesn’t. How long before Ghost Boy disappears or Robot Girl has had enough? In this unconventional love story, Cindy Sherman wanna-be Beatrice (aka Robot Girl) finds herself drawn to caustic, pale-to-the-point-of Albino Jonah (aka Ghost Boy), an angry loner at her new Baltimore school. Bea, forced to move her senior year because of her dad’s job, is wondering if she’s becoming a robot because she feels nothing as she observes the disintegration of her parents’ marriage. Jonah, withdrawn to the point of hermit-ism since the death of his twin brother, refuses to have anything to do with the classmates who dubbed him Ghost Boy, because of his tendency to, well, haunt the halls without ever interacting with anyone. These two oddballs end up bonding over their shared love of a melancholy late night radio show called Night Lights where a group of lonely callers phone in their secret hopes, fears and insecurities. Not only have Bea and Jonah found each other, but they have found a tribe in the Night Lights and for the first time they both feel as though they finally belong. All is well until other boys at school start paying more attention to Bea, and Jonah discovers a horrifying secret about the death of his brother. Both of these things begin to wear on the fragile cloth of their unique relationship. Can a Robot Girl find true love with a Ghost Boy? Or is her heart too hard and his too insubstantial? I know I am in true love with this idiosyncratic little book and do not hesitate to dub it one of the best YA debuts of the year. It is moving and funny with whip smart dialogue and reminds me in the best possible way of the most under appreciated of John Hughes’s movies, Some Kind of Wonderful. Bea and Jonah were just so INTERESTING, with their meaningful conversations about everything from John Waters films to the mental state of Icelandic hairdressers, that when I finished the book I was just SICK about the fact that they weren’t real. Everyone, everyone, EVERYONE should read it because, like it or not, we all have a little Robot Girl or Ghost Boy deep down inside. Check out this Entertainment Weekly article about more “Quirky Love” on film, and this awesome video of author Natalie Standiford on the guitar with fellow YA rockstars Libba Bray, Daniel Ehrenhaft and Barnabas Miller in their cover band Tiger Beat.