A sheltered girl seeking her missing mother teams up with an ambitious young crime lord in a dangerous gambling city.
Seventeen-year-old Enne Abacus Salta, a proper white girl from conservative Bellamy, arrives in New Reynes clutching a guidebook to the notorious City of Sin. She is in search of her missing adoptive mother, Lourdes Alfero, a white woman known for her genderfluid style of dress. Enne quickly learns that saying her name is a bad idea—Lourdes has been moonlighting for years as a renegade journalist loyal to the Mizer kings who were overthrown and executed during a rebellion 25 years prior. Desperate, she seeks help from the Iron Lord, the bisexual Levi Glaisyer, dark brown–skinned with bronze-and-black curls. He is struggling to pay for a scheme gone bad lest he be sent to participate in the deadly Shadow Game. Complex worldbuilding and large cast introductions initially cause things to drag, but the guidebook serves as an efficient expository device. A positive take on sexuality and sex work is expressed in a nongraphic manner. While the largest plot twist is all too predictable, the relationship between Enne and Levi simmers, and dangers pile up to an exciting climax.
Readers will eagerly wish for a sequel that will allow them to revisit New Reynes.
Basketball provides the backdrop for a friendship pushed to its limits in this tale told from the alternating perspectives of two teen boys growing up in a tough inner-city neighborhood reminiscent of Camden, New Jersey.
Biracial Nasir and African-American Bunny had been best of friends until last summer, when Bunny, Whitman High’s star basketball player, is recruited away to private, suburban St. Sebastian’s and its high-powered basketball program. The once-prideful reputation that he garnered winning for the home team, à la real-life Camden legend Dajuan Wagner, turns to insult, rage, and anger as his former classmates question whether Bunny is preparing to leave them and the neighborhood behind for good. After losing Bunny, Nasir begins to build a relationship with his perennially troubled black cousin Wallace, a wayward child who needs much more support than the world has afforded him and who lashes out frequently in numerous exhausting ways. Meanwhile, the lightning-smart Keyona, Bunny’s girlfriend and biggest remaining Whitman fan, hopes to rekindle the friendship between Bunny and Nasir. By and large avoiding upfront race talk, Ribay makes his point by drawing characters of color full of complexity and contradiction. A genuine touch of Filipino flavor—Nasir’s mom grew up in the Philippines—demonstrates that one can step beyond reductive black/white–only portrayals of inner-city neighborhood life.
A well-executed book featuring complex, diverse characters we rarely meet—a real winner for its heartbeat, compassion, and integrity.
Family, art, love, duty, and longing collide in this painfully beautiful paean to the universal human need for connection.
Cupertino, California, high school senior Danny Cheng has a tight circle of friends, adoring parents, and a full scholarship to his dream school, the Rhode Island School of Design. But lurking just beneath the surface are secrets and tensions that threaten to tear apart everything he holds dear. Closeted Danny has kept hidden his longtime attraction to his best friend, Harry Wong, who is in a serious relationship with Danny’s close friend Regina Chan. Some of his parents’ oddities also turn out to be more than just eccentricity; they are hiding something dark from their past. Danny knows he had an older sister who died in China, but little beyond that. He stumbles across a mysterious file of papers, but his parents refuse to explain. Meanwhile, some in Danny’s circle of school friends are struggling with demons of their own. Gilbert paints a vivid portrait of a largely Asian-American community, diverse in terms of socio-economic status, ethnicity, and religious faith. While the topics dealt with may be heavy, the book is suffused with the warmth of the characters’ love for one another. Imperfect in their human frailty and noble in their desire to do the best they can, they are universally recognizable and sympathetic.
Baroque artist and feminist icon Artemisia Gentileschi is given voice in a debut verse novel.
Only 17, Artemisia is already a more gifted painter than her feckless father. But in 17th-century Rome, the motherless girl is only grudgingly permitted to grind pigment, prepare canvas, and complete commissions under his signature. So when the charming Agostino Tassi becomes her tutor, Artemisia is entranced by the only man to take her work seriously…until he resorts to rape. At first broken in body and spirit, she draws from memories of her mother’s stories of the biblical heroines Susanna and Judith the strength to endure and fight back the only way she can. Artemisia tells her story in raw and jagged blank verse, sensory, despairing, and defiant, interspersed with the restrained prose of her mother’s subversive tales. Both simmer with impotent rage at the injustices of patriarchal oppression, which in the stories boils over into graphic sexual assault and bloody vengeance. While the poems (wisely) avoid explicitly depicting either Artemisia’s rape or subsequent judicial torture, the searing aftermath, physical and mental, is agonizingly portrayed. Yet Artemisia’s ferocious passion to express herself in paint still burns most fiercely. Unfortunately, those who lack familiarity with the historical facts or context may emerge from this fire scorched but not enlightened. McCullough’s Rome is a white one. A brief note in the backmatter offers sexual-violence resources.
Nonetheless, an incandescent retelling both timeless and, alas, all too timely.
(Historical fiction. 14-adult)
The story of Lizzie Borden, creatively reimagined and set in the 21st century.
Present-tense narrator Lizbeth Borden lives with her father and stepmother in the Borden Bed and Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts. The white 17-year-old’s life isn’t easy: her emotionally and physically abusive parents have convinced the devoutly Catholic Lizzie that she’s too fragile to survive without them. Lizzie’s intense sense of Catholic guilt prevents her from pushing back, and her older sister’s escape from their toxic home makes Lizzie’s plight all the more painful. Lizzie is mentally and physically ill; she suffers from depression and anxiety and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a chronic condition aggravated by her period. The illness makes her do strange, inexplicable—and sometimes horrific—things she can’t remember doing. Enter Bridget Sullivan, the B&B’s new maid, a lovely white girl with an Irish accent. Lizzie is attracted to her from the moment she shows up on the Bordens’ doorstep. Bridget is everything Lizzie isn’t: well-traveled, sexually liberated, and free from shame and self-doubt. As the girls’ romantic relationship deepens, Bridget’s belief that Lizzie can be more than just her “father’s silly little girl” gives Lizzie the strength to disobey her parents and the power to take control of her own life. In this page-turner, Ius adroitly combines fact and hypothesis to explore one of the most notorious and unsolved murder cases in U.S. history.
Startling, visceral, and heartbreaking.
In a world where wealth—the titular munmun—determines physical size and people range from littlepoor (rat-small) to bigrich (10 stories tall), three tiny teens set out to scale up; a wild ride ensues.
Rendered a paraplegic by a cat who bats her about like a rat, Warner's mother orders him to take his sister, Prayer, to law school and help find her an upscale husband. Warner’s skeptical—they’re illiterate, for one thing. Usher, a literate friend with palsy who’s smitten with Prayer, joins them. Trouble starts when they accept a ride from a middlerich man and end up in his model-train layout. Worse is to come. Prayer’s looks, Usher’s smarts, and Warner’s ability to shape Dreamworld (a place accessible only in deep sleep, where all are of equal scale) fail to prevent disaster. Offered a home and education by a politician, Warner insists Prayer be invited, too. They’re hardworking and motivated, but some littlepoor deficits prove intractable. Warner’s distinctive voice and language compel readers to pay attention to this detailed world. Wealth rather than skin color (orange, ruby, plum, gray) confers status. Bankers Scale Up those who’ve acquired wealth and Scale Down those who’ve lost or (rarely) relinquished it. Literally embodied in the characters, income inequality becomes a horrific reality; economic theories and realpolitik sangfroid are juxtaposed with their real-world consequences. Angry and the victim of his best impulses, Warner’s no superhero. Superpowers and soothing bromides won’t mend his broken, fragile world; pull the right thread and it might unravel.
Brilliant, savage, hilarious, a riveting journey through a harsh world that mirrors our own.
(Dystopian fantasy. 12-17)
A girl with the ability to freeze and rewind time finds herself at the center of a web of conspiracies.
Sixteen-year-old Alex Manning is a spinner, someone born with a genetic mutation giving her the ability to freeze and rewind time. Spinners are taken from their parents shortly after birth and housed in Centers where they are closely monitored and protected from a public that fears their abilities. Alex’s chief source of satisfaction derives from her work with the police department, which makes use of spinners’ skills to help them solve crimes. She is determined to help her handler, Agent Ross, uncover the crime lord he is hunting before she runs out of time herself; the maximum spinner life span is 20, and Alex is already experiencing her first bouts of time sickness, signaling that her death is less than a year away. When Ross offers Alex the opportunity to take part in a risky and illicit experimental treatment that promises to extend her life span, she agrees. The fast-paced plot is complicated not only by the criminal investigation, but also by a shocking secret Alex uncovers along the way. Alex is assumed white. A likable, multiethnic supporting cast and a whiff of endearing romance round out this promising debut.
A twisty and satisfying page-turner.
Grief, regret, and loneliness form the backdrop of a family’s life following a suicide, but a path for healing reveals itself in the form of a magical red bird.
Fifteen-year-old Leigh Chen Sanders, daughter of an Irish-American sinologist father and a Taiwanese pianist mother, is in love with her best friend, Axel Moreno. The two have much in common: as well as sharing a passion for art, he is half Filipino and half Puerto Rican and also stands out in their racially homogeneous school. However, a rift has opened between them since their first kiss coincided with the day Leigh’s mother took her own life. Now left alone with a distant, judgmental father, Leigh is directed by a red bird she is convinced is her mother to visit her estranged grandparents in Taiwan. There, she seeks out places that were meaningful to her mother and uncovers long-hidden family secrets. The Taiwanese setting is enticingly portrayed, and the magical realism of the bird spirit offers transportive flashback journeys into the family’s history. The stigma of mental illness and the terrible loneliness of not being accepted form the heart of this emotionally honest tale, but the device of having Leigh express her feelings in terms of color is distracting and adds little to the story.
An evocative novel that captures the uncertain, unmoored feeling of existing between worlds—culturally, linguistically, ethnically, romantically, and existentially—it is also about seeking hope and finding beauty even in one’s darkest hours.
(author’s note, resources)
Poetry helps first-generation Dominican-American teen Xiomara Batista come into her own.
Fifteen-year old Xiomara (“See-oh-MAH-ruh,” as she constantly instructs teachers on the first day of school) is used to standing out: she’s tall with “a little too much body for a young girl.” Street harassed by both boys and grown men and just plain harassed by girls, she copes with her fists. In this novel in verse, Acevedo examines the toxicity of the “strong black woman” trope, highlighting the ways Xiomara’s seeming unbreakability doesn’t allow space for her humanity. The only place Xiomara feels like herself and heard is in her poetry—and later with her love interest, Aman (a Trinidadian immigrant who, refreshingly, is a couple inches shorter than her). At church and at home, she’s stifled by her intensely Catholic mother’s rules and fear of sexuality. Her present-but-absent father and even her brother, Twin (yes, her actual twin), are both emotionally unavailable. Though she finds support in a dedicated teacher, in Aman, and in a poetry club and spoken-word competition, it’s Xiomara herself who finally gathers the resources she needs to solve her problems. The happy ending is not a neat one, making it both realistic and satisfying. Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance.
Poignant and real, beautiful and intense, this story of a girl struggling to define herself is as powerful as Xiomara’s name: “one who is ready for war.” (Verse fiction. 14-18)
Dylan is about to carry out the “biggest running-away-from-home plan ever”: he’s going to hike the Appalachian Trail.
The white teen will be 18 in six months, and by the time he completes the hike from Georgia to Maine, he’ll be an adult who can live on his own terms and avoid being sent to a special school. The trail—all 2,190 miles of it—will be a safe place to hide until then. Along the way Dylan crosses paths with a widower and Appalachian Trail veteran called Rain Man and a lone young woman called Ghost. Both are enigmas to Dylan: why is the white older man giving away all of his wife’s hiking gear, and why does white girl Ghost bury notes off-trail along the way? Dylan feels responsible for his accountant father’s fatal heart attack, and he sees his chance to atone if he can save Rain Man and Ghost from their respective griefs. Dylan, who experiences sensory dysfunction and has trouble paying attention and behaving appropriately in school and difficulty understanding facial expressions and emotions, recalls his supportive father in flashbacks throughout his hike as he learns to face the fact that he may have to go home, whether he’s ready or not.
A sensitive, funny, and sometimes awkwardly romantic story of survival and self-awareness.
A self-driving car plugged into its teenage passengers’ electronic footprints takes them on a road trip based on what it thinks they want.
Reckless William’s disregard for his own safety helps him win a prototype luxury car, the Driverless Autonomous, and an all-expenses-paid road trip for him and three friends the summer before college. His companions are neighbor and friend Christina, best friend Daniel, and Daniel’s girlfriend, Melissa—or, in team-role terms, tech genius Christina (a dark-web denizen and hacker), muscle Daniel (headed to play basketball at Princeton), and fixer Melissa (a gorgeous girl whose passion and ambition are overlooked because they’re directed toward fashion). William is the wild card, and Otto the car is the brains. But each vividly drawn teen’s mature, serious secrets can draw them into conflict with one another—and no secret is safe from Otto’s electronic surveillance. While they make unpleasant discoveries about themselves and one another, Otto—difficult to control from the get-go—learns from them, developing a personality based on their input, reflecting the flaws of the characters and of humanity in general. The road trip is punctuated by drinking games, (consensual, responsible, off-page) sex, laser tag at an abandoned asylum, physical threats, car chases, and more, and along the way they grapple with questions of whom to trust. Aside from biracial (Guatemalan and white) Christina, the characters seem to be white.
A high-tech, twisted Breakfast Club for the social media age.
(Science fiction. 15-adult)
A warrior must ally with her enemies in this vivid debut.
In the five years since her brother Iri was lost in battle against the Riki, 17-year-old Eelyn and her best friend, Mýra, have become fierce Aska warriors, eager for revenge. Unlike the terrifying, unpredictable Herja raids, the fighting season repeatedly pitches the mountain-dwelling, Thora-worshipping Riki against the fjord-settling, Sigr-worshipping Aska. Distracted in battle, Eelyn is captured by the Riki and is taken as a dýr (slave). Violent and angry, Eelyn is slow to trust and slower to show affection, yet she is a sympathetic and heart-rending protagonist. Unlike the slew of lethal (but tormented) young ladies populating young adult literature, Eelyn is an unapologetic warrior, mercifully neither anachronistic nor modern-minded. Although the era and location are not specified, the language, rugged geography, weapons, and religion suggest a pre-Christian Nordic world and white characters. Action and aftermath are graphic and brutal, anchored in rich details. Young’s staccato prose matches her fierce fighters, but the raw emotions and rapid pacing belie a well-honed voice and taut narrative.
A rousing saga and moving coming-of-age tale, perfect for those who appreciate the wild and the wildlings, strong female protagonists, and cinematic battles.
(Historical fantasy. 14-adult)
For two American teens, a summer trip to Europe turns out to be far more complicated than they ever expected.
Avery doesn’t want to go to Spain with her dad—she’ll fall behind in soccer and he’ll just be working all the time. When she finds out that he’s already chosen a “friend” to accompany her—Kayla, an older girl she used to play with as a little kid—the summer feels even more doomed. But for Kayla, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime, a huge gift her family could never afford. In Spain, the two white girls struggle to find their places among the locals and their language class friends as a jaw-dropping revelation changes their relationship forever. It takes a near tragedy to make them realize that while they might not have chosen this path, how they move forward is their choice. Through chapters told in alternating points of view, Haddix offers a fully realized portrayal of teen girls dealing with the vagaries of their parents’ lives. Spain forms a vivid backdrop to the girls’ confusion and revelations, and Avery and Kayla are each so completely sympathetic that it’s hard to choose whom to root for when they’re at war.
The trip to Spain you wouldn’t wish on anyone, except in the form of this terrific book.