Blake’s debut tackles the perils of privacy in the digital age.
Artistic, mixed-race (mom’s a white Southern belle; dad’s a Colombian diplomat) high school senior Anna Soler is not excited to return for her final semester at D.C.–area private school Alexandria Prep. Her jock boyfriend broke up with her over Christmas break, and on top of that she has social anxiety disorder, making social interactions difficult enough. All she wants to do is get her relationships back to normal with the friends she dropped while dating Palmer—facing the school cliques alone post-breakup would be too much. But soon cliques become the least of her worries when someone emails a list of search terms to the entire student body—searches Prep students made on their phones ranging from benign (“Jennifer Lawrence”) to exposing (“STD symptoms”) to deeply personal (“avoid rebounding with a close friend”). What starts as one leak turns into a steady stream, and soon the hacks begin to target particular students, exposing their most private secrets. Who is the hacker, and what is the motive? Will the leaks bring students together or tear them apart? With a conclusion to rival the finale of a show on Freeform, the novel is predictable and at times preachy. Nevertheless, Anna’s present-tense narration gets readers inside her anxiety, and the premise is undeniably compelling.
In an age of adult anxieties over digital privacy, this book is #relevant.
Ten teenagers are launched into “space” to entertain insatiable TV audiences in Damico’s satirical novel.
Everything on TV has already been done. Enter Chazz Young, the CEO of DV8 Productions. Chazz cooks up the idea to send 10 teens into space and to film everything. A shaky collaboration with the scientists of the National Association for the Study of Astronomy and Weightlessness and some expensive special effects result in Waste of Space. The teens aren’t actually in space, but they and viewers don’t know that. The cast checks every reality TV box, from the ambiguously “exotic” party girl to the black, gay diversity pick. As America tunes in, the teenagers overcome unrealistic space obstacles. Ratings go up, but behind the scenes, cast members are beginning to doubt they’re in space, Chazz is desperately trying to up the ante, and NASAW is working on a side project. Suddenly, all transmissions from the “ship” are stopped, and access to it is cut off. None of the teenagers (or Chazz) knows what’s going on. All they know is that they’re in trouble. Told in aired and unaired video transcripts, phone transcripts, and personal recordings, the information in this novel has been compiled by an unnamed intern-turned-whistleblower. Everything that happens is over-the-top and ludicrous but cleverly crafted, the cynicism slathered on with layers of foulmouthed geniality.
Like the TV show it’s about, nothing in this novel is as it seems, but the journey to discover the truth is out of this world.
With her best friend headed off to camp and college, Sadie Sullivan knew that the summer before her senior year was bound to be different, but she never could have imagined how different it would be.
While working at a local farm stand on the East End of the Hamptons, Sadie is brutally attacked while trying to save a baby from the back seat of her drunk and enraged father’s car. Sadie’s selfless act earns her recognition, a richly diverse new group of do-gooder friends, and a summer unlike any other. Firestone’s (The Loose Ends List, 2016) sophomore novel offers readers a refreshing, diverse cast of teens headed by mixed-race Sadie, whose mom is Persian and dad is white. They are determined to quash the internet trolls and “lizards” of the world and champion their targets. What starts with small acts of kindness soon becomes a movement, and Sadie and her crew of “unlikelies” boldly tackle everything from fat shamers to heroin dealers. While Sadie, Alice (white), Gordie (white), Jean (Haitian), and Val (Salvadoran) are “homegrown heroes,” they are also teenagers reflective of a multicultural world and deal with typical teenage problems. Though several characters are more fully developed than others, readers will find plenty to relate and aspire to as the kids attempt to better the world and confront their own struggles with love, loyalty, and friendship.
This unlikely story is likely to be a hit.
Part-Romanian, “dark as a gypsy” Willow Stephens has been raised by nannies and posh boarding schools.
Willow has everything except what she really wants: her millionaire father’s attention. Wanting to feel connected to her estranged, circus-performer mother, Willow decides she, too, will join the circus. With her gap-year savings buried deep in the lining of her bag, 17-year-old Willow reinvents herself as Frog, circus performer. When she befriends homeless street performer Suz, a “tanned skinned, yellow-dreadlocked” Australian, Willow trusts the wrong person and ends up penniless. When the young women meet again, Willow is understandably untrusting. But Suz takes Willow into her squat, feeds her, and teaches her how to juggle—and eat—fire. When the circus comes to town, Willow auditions and goes on the road, leaving lost soul Suz behind. The story never romanticizes homelessness; it’s represented as the harsh reality it is. Women in their infinite variety are celebrated: Willow sees her “thick” wrists and ankles as an asset; she recalls the golden hairs on her mother’s face as beautiful; and one of the circus members is a charismatic trans woman named Delilah. Poetically fluid descriptions of Willow’s emotions and her surroundings bolster the sometimes-uneven first-person narrative.
A beautiful and unforgettable story about a girl who learns she must lose who she thought she was before she can become who she’s meant to be
. (Fiction. 13-18)
A 17-year-old amateur vlogger must come to terms with sudden internet fame and her own sexuality in this original, compulsively funny novel.
Tash Zelenka has a major thing for Tolstoy—so much so that she and her best friend, Jacklyn “Jack” Harlow, have adapted his sprawling masterpiece Anna Karenina into a modern Web series with a modest following. When their series goes viral overnight as the result of a shoutout from a famous internet personality, Tash, Jack, and their colorful cast must contend with the overwhelming excitement and pratfalls of internet fame while maintaining a rigorous filming schedule and navigating their increasingly complicated personal lives. Tash identifies as romantic asexual but finds it difficult to articulate her feelings to her lifelong best friends, Jack and her older brother, Paul, who may have a thing for Tash. Complications ensue, but through it all, these wisecracking, oft-prickly teens remain supportive of one another in genuine and heartfelt friendship. Ormsbee’s predominantly white cast of characters represents a depth and diversity of sexualities not often featured in teen fiction, including not only a gay and a bisexual character, but a nuanced, trailblazing depiction of a protagonist who identifies as romantic asexual. Whip-smart, funny, flawed, and compassionate, these are characters readers will want to know and cheer for.
A clever, thoroughly enjoyable addition to the growing body of diverse teen literature.
Genevieve Grace’s boyfriend, Dallas Kade, is a blossoming rock star, but their relationship is starting to wilt. The two white teens leave an album launch party late one night and disaster strikes. Another driver slams into them, killing Dallas and knocking Gen into a coma. Gen wakes to find the world mourning the loss of a rising star and hating the intoxicated man that killed him. She flees reporters and police by spending the summer with her estranged father, but her surfacing memories of what really happened that fateful night loom large over her conscience. The ensuing tale of grief and forgiveness is smartly paced. Stokes doesn’t lean too hard on the mystery element, revealing the cold truth early enough to follow through with all the baggage that comes with it. Gen’s relationship with her father and stepmother is sweetly characterized, providing solid thematic reinforcement to boot. A Greek chorus in the form of the internet provides Gen and readers with updates on the chaos ensuing back home, while a hot, brown-skinned co-worker gives Gen a reason to work her way through her grief. Elliott is the weakest aspect of the book, just another muscled pensive dream guy that always says the right thing at the right time.
A sobering exploration of absolution.
A teen is unwittingly vaulted into the limelight by her old crush when his band hits the charts with a song that he seems to have written about her.
Seventeen-year-old socially awkward Natalie “Nattie” McCullough-Schwartz is most comfortable with her tightknit group of friends: extroverted Tess and the two Zachs (known affectionately as Tall Zach and Zach the Anarchist), who, with Nattie, make up the core of Owen Wister Preparatory Academy’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual Alliance. However, the unresolved events of an evening the year before, when cute, mysterious Sebastian approached her at a party, land her in a complicated scenario in which they keep exchanging somewhat flirtatious texts after the song about her debuts. At the same time, she and Zach the Anarchist also have a history that won’t seem to stay in the past. The main narrative is predictable, but this is balanced by clever dialogue and welcome subplots involving Tess coming to terms with telling her family she is gay and the OWPALGBTQIA running a disastrously funny bake sale to raise money to sponsor their school’s winter formal in order to make it more inclusive. The lead characters seem to be white, Tall Zach is Jewish and gay, and Nattie’s family has a Chinese exchange student, Sam Huang, living with them.
A light, funny romance that offers few surprises but a fair degree of satisfaction
. (Fiction. 13-18)
Teens vie for two spots in NASA’s Interworlds Agency in this fast-paced, funny caper through the near future.
NASA’s Interworlds Agency exists to explore, assess, engage, and protect Earth in the event that intelligent life forms are discovered on other planets—a real likelihood in the near-future setting of Kennedy’s previous novel, Learning to Swear in America (2016)—and they are looking for a new team to join their ranks. Rosa Hayashi and Eddie Toivonen are two teenagers from different sides of the tracks whose outside-the-box thinking lands them at the top of a pack of the best and brightest, along with another pair that serves as an understudy team due to Eddie’s “unusual test results.” The dynamic between the teens and their instructor, the long-suffering, unconventional Reg, is by turns competitive, sweet, and downright hilarious. By the time the ETs invade, the dynamic quartet makes the bold decision to bring the show to them on their own planet—a parallel version of Earth where they come face to face with slightly different versions of themselves. Mixed-race Rosa wearily rises above microaggressions by describing herself as “an American of French and Japanese descent,” Reg is black, and Eddie is a white boy from a lower socio-economic background, rounding out a diverse cast of characters whose relationships develop organically and realistically.
Likable characters and laugh-out-loud dialogue will make this a winning choice for reluctant readers and science-fiction fans alike.
(Science fiction. 13-16)
Creator of an astonishingly successful webcomic—or a nonentity of a high school senior?
Eliza Mirk is an anxiety-plagued weirdo, shuffling silently through the corridors of her Indiana high school without a single friend. She’s also beloved LadyConstellation, creator of the comic Monstrous Sea, “a combination of the Final Fantasy video games and the Faust Legend.” On the Monstrous Sea forums, she’s the queen to millions of passionate fans; in school she’s “Creepy Don’t-Touch-Her-You’ll-Get-Rabies Eliza.” Eliza’s parents, athletes with no understanding of the internet age, mishandle their beloved—but frighteningly baffling—daughter. Though terrified by human interaction, Eliza finds her voice long enough to defend a new student who’s being mocked for writing Monstrous Sea fanfiction. Wallace and Eliza develop an intense, if unusual, friendship: Wallace’s selective mutism means the majority of their conversations are carried on in writing. Eliza, meanwhile, wonders if she can reveal her online identity to Wallace, one of the most well-known fans of Monstrous Sea, without destroying his feelings for her. The deepening relationship of these two white teens, interspersed with pages from the comic and Wallace’s fanfiction prose retelling of it, exposes the raw, self-absorbed pain of mental illness amid the helplessness many high schoolers experience.
A wrenching depiction of depression and anxiety, respectful to fandom, online-only friendships, and the benefits and dangers of internet fame
. (Fiction. 13-17)
A teen discovers that winning the lottery has an inescapable downside.
Maddie’s one of nature’s caretakers, a worrier with plenty to worry about. Money’s tight at home; her unemployed dad and overworked mom fight all the time; her college-dropout brother sleeps all day. On her 18th birthday, a convenience-store clerk talks her into buying a lottery ticket, winning her a $30 million payout. Keenly aware her wealth’s unearned, Maddie’s impulse is to make generous gifts to her parents and brother. A relative she’s never met solicits investment in his real estate deal. As news of her win spreads, a popular classmate persuades her to buy a sports car from her dad, curating Maddie’s makeover and stylish do with blonde highlights. Maddie’s old friends feel discarded, but she’s overwhelmed as her generosity’s met with envy, resentment, demands, and betrayal, even from family. Money can’t fix what’s broken. Only Maddie’s friendship with Seth Nguyen feels uncorrupted. Artistic, genial, observant, confronting cultural bias with pointed humor, he’s her romantic anchor. Seth’s an American kid of Vietnamese-American, U.S.–born parents, a rarity in teen literature, but in their California region, where 20 percent of residents have Asian roots, he and white Maddie inhabit the same cultural mainstream. The romantic cover photo positions both side to, but while Maddie’s race, with her long blonde hair and fair skin, is clearly conveyed, black-haired, olive-skinned Seth's is more ambiguous—it's disappointing this Asian-American romantic hero isn't firmly announced as such.
There’s a wealth of profoundly topical, thematic territory to explore in lottery wins; this iteration, with its cast of culturally and economically diverse characters, is especially resonant.