Janna Yusuf has two major problems: the boy who assaults her at her friend’s party is well-respected in the local Muslim community, and now the boy from school she’s been crushing on likes her back.
Janna, a high school sophomore whose Egyptian mother and Indian father are divorced, is surrounded by caring friends and family, but there are things her non-Muslim friends don’t understand, and there are things she won’t tell her Muslim friends and family. It all comes to a head when her aggressor tries to publicly shame her by posting videos of her talking with her crush, a white boy named Jeremy, who, as a non-Muslim, is not considered a proper match for her…even if Janna did date, that is. As she stumbles through her social dilemmas, Janna finds out who her allies are—the everyday “saints” she’s overlooked. Finally, with the help of an unpredictable niqabi on her own mission to crush misogynists, Janna gets in touch with her rage and fights back, refusing to take on the shame that belongs on the aggressor. Ali pens a touching exposition of a girl’s evolution from terrified victim to someone who knows she’s worthy of support and is brave enough to get it. Set in a multicultural Muslim family, this book is long overdue, a delight for readers who will recognize the culture and essential for those unfamiliar with Muslim experiences.
This quiet read builds to a satisfying conclusion; readers will be glad to make space in their hearts—and bookshelves—for Janna Yusuf
. (Fiction. 12-18)
Seventeen-year-old Chris Bellows is pretty much a modern-day, white, male Cinderella. He’s at the beck and call of his WASP-y, boozy, socialite stepmom, Iris, his bitchy, attention-hungry stepsister, Kimberly, and his jock douchebag stepbrother, Buck, who has an endless supply of gross one-liners on tap. The novel opens with Chris helping his family get ready for New York City’s most elite social event, The Autumnal Ball at The Plaza. Once the steps are on their way, Chris runs into a fabulous, shade-throwing, foulmouthed African-American drag queen named Coco Chanel Jones, who, in true fairy-godmother form, decks him out in some oversized Ferragamos plus a fancy suit. Before he knows it, he’s inside the party making googly eyes at the prince of New York City society, dreamy, white J.J. Kennerly. Readers can imagine what happens next. Clawson clearly loves all of his characters, as they are eloquently drawn, with just as many reasons for readers to love them as faults. He also knows how to spin double-edged zingers that are simultaneously gross yet witty: “You’re later than my first period.” What ensues is a fast-paced, riotous, laugh-out-loud yet insightful story of secret love between two closeted gay teens, with Kimberly unknowingly serving as J.J.’s beard.
A fresh, funny, new twist on a classic fairy tale
. (Fiction. 14-18)
Sixteen-year-old Suzette was sent to boarding school when her bookish older brother, Lionel, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but now she’s back in Los Angeles for the summer.
Despite the strange looks their family attracts—Suzette and her mom are black, while Lionel and his dad are white—Lionel and Suzette were always close before Lionel’s diagnosis. With Suzette back home, Lionel confides in her that he’s going off his medication. Fearing that to divulge his secret will ruin any chance of rebuilding their bond, Suzette keeps quiet even though she feels responsible for her brother’s well-being. Simultaneously, Suzette balances her blooming feelings for Emil Choi, a sunny, biracial (black/Korean) boy with Ménière’s disease, and for Rafaela, a pansexual Latina—whom, disastrously, Lionel is also falling for. To make matters worse, Suzette is still grappling with a homophobic act that exposed her relationship with her white boarding school roommate, Iris. Suzette’s engrossing present-tense narration intertwines with sporadic—but pertinent—flashback chapters. Colbert (Pointe, 2014) sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity (“people have too many questions when you’re black and Jewish,” thinks Suzette). A vibrantly depicted Los Angeles and a rich, though at-times unwieldy cast of characters create a convincing world.
Readers will empathize with Suzette as she explores both her sexuality and the tricky line between honesty and betrayal.
Rachel’s best friend is the love of her life in this Australian import.
By the end of high school Rachel realizes her fondness for Henry, her childhood buddy, has intensified. When she and her family moved to live on the coast, she left Henry a love note, but he didn’t respond to it. After her brother, Cal, drowns, Rachel’s grief is so profound that her heart goes into lockdown. Three years since she’s seen Henry, Rachel returns, telling no one about Cal’s death. The setting is Howling Books, owned and resided in by Henry’s family. It’s a neighborhood secondhand bookstore with a room called the Letter Library, where patrons underline passages and leave letters within books. By the time Rachel begins working at Howling Books she has forsaken her love of the sea, Henry has a girlfriend, and the bookstore is in peril. Shifting between Rachel’s and Henry’s voices with interspersed chapters of found missives, this is a story of longings hidden within the heart and revealed through the pages of books. Henry and Rachel, both white, are such honest, resonate characters that readers might want to join them for a cup of coffee, lingering over long conversations replete with silliness, accented by sadness, and blooming with ideas. This journey is original, wise, and essential, because as Henry points out, “Sometimes science isn’t enough. Sometimes you need the poets.”
This love story is an ode to words and life
. (Fiction. 14-18)
Louna finds her cynicism about romance challenged when her family’s wedding business hires Ambrose.
After years facing brides with cold feet and badly behaved wedding guests, Louna has become skeptical about romance and plans on remaining single during her last summer before college. Luckily, the busy wedding schedule provides plenty of legitimate excuses for Louna to avoid opportunities to meet potential dates. That changes when satisfying a particularly fussy bridal party requires hiring the bride’s brother, Ambrose. He’s a lady’s man who typically charms more than one potential date during every social gathering. But he professes honesty about his dating motivations, expresses genuine interest in his dates, and displays a sort of oddly enchanting “aw, shucks” dismissal of his ability to reel in girls. Louna’s outwardly dismayed by his antics, but his clichéd (but adorable) gestures, such as impulsively adopting a rescue dog, begin to win her over. However, Louna’s still tormented by the unexpected death of her first love. Flashbacks to their relationship combined with the way she reluctantly accepts the need to move forward too provide a bittersweet counterpoint to the traditional rom-com storyline. Louna’s lovingly depicted gay godfather provides a bit of diversity in the otherwise apparently straight, white cast.
Romance, humor, kindhearted characters, and a touch of painful reality make this another sure bet for Dessen fans.
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.
A talented overachiever resorts to lessons gleaned from Korean pop culture in hopes of finding love.
Korean-American Desi Lee is a remarkably self-aware high school senior who finds that as long as she has “a plan—all’s well.” When she swoons for Luca Drakos, an alluring white transfer student, Desi doesn’t hesitate to share with him that she’s “school president, on varsity soccer and tennis, in five different clubs,” and “pretty much slated to be valedictorian.” Desi’s confidence knows no bounds, except when it comes to the opposite sex. Repeated attempts at wooing would-be suitors having backfired, Desi finds Luca too good to lose, so she turns to an unlikely mainstay of her home life for help: the Korean dramas her widower father has watched obsessively for years, where star-crossed lovers seem always to win in the end. (A starter guide is helpfully appended.) Previously dismissing the formulaic K dramas as the “white noise” of her life, Desi begins to study their plotlines intently, going so far as to craft 24 “K Drama Steps to True Love.” Desi’s implementation of measures such as “Be Caught in an Obviously Lopsided Love Triangle,” yields hilarious, at times unintended results, lending this teen rom-com a surprisingly thoughtful conclusion.
Plot-driven as the K dramas Goo’s protagonist seeks to emulate, her funny, engaging narrative also delivers powerful messages of inclusion and acceptance.
A clash of perspectives sparks this romantic comedy about two first-generation Indian-American teens whose parents set an arranged-marriage plan in motion, but it backfires big time—or maybe not?
In the alternating voices of her two protagonists, Menon explores themes of culture and identity with insight and warmth. Seamlessly integrating Hindi language, she deftly captures the personalities of two seemingly opposite 18-year-olds from different parts of California and also from very different places regarding life choices and expectations. Insomnia Con, a competitive six-week summer program at San Francisco State focused on app development, is where this compelling, cinematic, and sometimes-madcap narrative unfolds. Dimple Shah lives and breathes coding and has what she thinks is a winning and potentially lifesaving concept. She chafes under her mother’s preoccupation with the Ideal Indian Husband and wants to be respected for her intellect and talent. Rishi Patel believes in destiny, tradition, and the “rich fabric of history,” arriving in San Francisco with his great-grandmother’s ring in his pocket. He plans to study computer science and engineering at MIT. But what about his passion for comic-book art? They are assigned to work together and sparks fly, but Dimple holds back. Readers will be caught up as Rishi and Dimple navigate their ever changing, swoonworthy connection, which plays out as the app competition and complicated social scene intensify.
Heartwarming, empathetic, and often hilarious—a delightful read.
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)
Caroline Oresteia, a wherryman’s daughter and granddaughter, knows that she’s meant for the river—but at age 17, she has yet to hear the voice of the god at its bottom.
When pirates burn several wherries, Caro’s smuggler father is arrested. To gain back his freedom—and maybe attract the god’s attention—Caro agrees to use her father’s wherry to transport a mysterious cargo: a young man named Tarquin Meredios who claims to be a royal courier. Pompous and overbearing, highborn Tarquin sneers at both Caro and wherrymen. But as he and Caro change course from Caro’s contracted destination to one Tarquin insists on, he grows on both her and readers. Caro’s narrative voice is smart and colloquial; worldbuilding details are imparted naturally through dialogue and her reflections on it. Caro describes herself as having a mixed heritage, noting the varying shades of brown in her relatives from her mother’s side. Most of the other, presumably white characters’ skin tones are not described, with pale Tarquin’s “strange foreign coloring” a notable exception. The frogmen, descendants of the river god and a sailor’s daughter, have brownish-green skin; Fee, a taciturn female frogman, works for Caro’s father. Caro’s description of her boat home, the Cormorant, will make even readers unfamiliar with sailing feel as though they belong on the water with her.
Tolcser blends the right amount of epic fantasy, sea voyage, and romance for a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure. (Fantasy. 14-18)
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.