Sugiura debuts with an angst-y coming-of-age narrative set at the intersections of identity, family, and first love.
Sixteen-year-old Japanese-American Sana Kiyohara doesn’t like to rock the boat, biting her tongue over such secrets as her resentment of her conservative and casually racist mother, her suspicion that her father’s in a yearslong affair, and an unrequited crush on her white childhood friend Trish. Things change, however, when Sana’s father moves the family from predominantly white Wisconsin to much-more-diverse California. Sana finds a world of camaraderie as she becomes friends with Vietnamese-American Elaine and Hanh and Chinese-American Reggie and bonds with (and eventually dates) Mexican-American and fellow poetry nerd Jamie. But finding support and unburdening some secrets only leave room for those left unspoken to grow, and soon Sana’s suspicions about her father and the flawed logic of her mother’s worldview spill over into her other relationships until she is confronted with just how much she does not know. The graceful complexity of this first-person narrative is an accomplishment in itself. Sana is a fully realized protagonist with faults and unacknowledged privilege alongside her nuanced experience of identity and “model minority” racism. Sugiura thoughtfully explores intersecting issues of race, immigrant-family relationships, queer romance, and, less explicitly, class dynamics without implying the significance of one over the others.
Well-paced, brimming with drama, and utterly vital.
Tom Grendel battles unruly neighbors and honors family history, all with an eye on the girl next door, in this witty debut novel and homage to Beowulf.
The white Jewish teen actually likes his home in the “retirement mecca” of Lake Heorot in Virginia. Since his mother’s unexpected death, the older ladies in the community bake Tom casseroles, and he mows their lawns and gathers their oral histories. More important, it’s been a quiet community for Tom and his widower father, Aaron, an Iraq War vet who suffers from PTSD. But when white local newscaster Ellen Rothgar moves in and her son, Rex, and nephew, Wolf, begin to hold loud, all-night parties that trigger Aaron’s PTSD, Tom vows to rid the neighborhood of these thugs. A fine blend of quirkiness and raw emotion ensues as Tom and his neighbors wage war against one another, using fog machines, artisanal pigs, and other outlandish ammunition. Assisted by his spunky older sister and Ed, a Korean-American friend who waits tables at a knockoff American Girl cafe, Tom also hopes to save Rex’s sister, Willow, in the process. Just as in the original epic, this loyal teen confronts his own identity and memories, particularly those of his mother. He wonders if he can really know a person. Can anyone? Deep and uproarious all at once, this doesn’t require familiarity with the source material for readers to have a fine time with it.
A clever spin on a weighty classic.
When two teen gamers meet IRL, they go on a quest to get to know each other.
A pale, thin, formerly-dying-but-now-in-remission boy named Dylan is standing in front of his best friend, Arden. They’ve spent countless nights playing, chatting, laughing, and flirting in World of Warcraft, and though they’ve never actually met offline, she invites him in. Through WoW, the awkwardness of the unplanned real-life meeting melts away. The next morning, after hearing Arden arguing with her father, Dylan invites her on a real quest to the Mojave Desert, and to his surprise, she agrees, and they’re off. When he first lays eyes on her, Dylan is struck by Arden’s beauty—pale skin, dark curls, tall and lean—but banishes further thoughts. He’s gay, and she’s a girl. But as they move in and out of familiarity and tension, Dylan gets over himself and makes it clear he’s into her. She’s wary at first—she’s trans and checks that he’s not confused about her—but she admits she’s into him, too. Short paragraphs in Dylan’s hyperaware present-tense narration draw readers in. Harrison treats her characters with love and kindness, even when they’re not kind to themselves, making for a sweet, sincere romance, perfect for smartasses who cringe at the genre.
This book is a triumph, allowing honesty, excitement, humor, and heart to step over gender and sexuality constraints and tell a beautiful story.
It’s the end of high school, and Shabnam Qureshi has lost her best friend and has no summer job, but the summer quickly becomes unforgettable when she finds herself falling in love.
Pakistani-American Shabnam does many things wrong, including kissing an obnoxious white boy in a party game after he disses her best friend with a bigoted joke, being ashamed of her great-uncle for his religious/ethnic appearance, and lying about her great-uncle’s experience during Partition—a lie that, in a satisfying twist of poetic justice, haunts her. Still, by the time she falls head over heels for Jamie, a white college student in town for the summer, readers can’t help but feel protective of Shabnam. When she finds the guts to reconnect with her fascinating best friend, Farah, things really get interesting. In this relationship with another Pakistani-American girl, readers catch a glimpse of the diversity among Muslims. Shabnam is decidedly secular, at times sounding anti-religion, as when she tries to convince Farah not to wear the hijab. Farah, however, feels “too Muslim for the non-Muslims, but not Muslim enough for the Muslims.” Even as Shabnam and Farah make this satisfying trek back to friendship, Shabnam learns to relate to her parents, exploring Urdu poetry and Sufism, two of her father’s interests, which are likely to interest readers as well.
Populated by complicated characters who are so well described readers will feel they might bump into them on the street, Karim’s second novel delivers on its title’s promise.
A teen soldier teams up with an enemy android to end an interplanetary war.
During a practice for her Masada Run, Genesis soldier Noemi (a human of Latin American and Polynesian ancestry) discovers an Earth ship abandoned during the last war. The reference is purposeful: it’s a suicide mission to damage the Gate between Earth and Genesis in order to stave off Earth’s offensive. Abel (a mech with artificial intelligence and self-awareness, modeled after his white creator) has waited alone on that ship for 30 years. Abel’s far more advanced than his task-oriented peers, with a (delightfully passive-aggressive) personality of his own, and he wants to return to his “father” but is programmed to recognize Noemi as his new superior and obey her. Using Abel, Noemi realizes she can destroy the gate and save her fellow soldiers’ lives, so she tears across the universe on the desperate, long-shot mission. Abel discovers the changes the past 30 years have wrought: Earth’s environmental degradation makes new homes like pristine Genesis necessary, but Earth leadership can’t be trusted not to destroy them too. Meanwhile, Noemi also learns the fuller picture and connects with people from different walks—including Abel, who she begins to suspect is more than a machine. Nuanced philosophical discussions of religion, terrorism, and morality advise and direct the high-stakes action, informing the beautiful, realistic ending.
Intelligent and thoughtful, a highly relevant far-off speculative adventure.
(Science-fiction. 12 & up)
Marital and martial matters collide when brides and spies become ensnared in a treasonous plot.
A matchmaker’s apprentice, 16-year-old Sage Fowler accompanies a bevy of noble brides on their way to the quinquennial Concordium. Not a bastard—despite her botanical name—but an orphaned poor relation, the unmarriageable, white Sage cannily observes servants and ladies until her spycraft catches the attention of the military and the mysterious, “dusky”-complexioned Ash Carter. The brides’ escort of royal soldiers (and incognito royalty) provides protection…and also seeks to stop an impending revolt by disgruntled nobles and a raid by desperate—if one-dimensionally barbaric—Kimisar bandits. Soon, Sage and the soldiers must save the brides, the prince, and the kingdom. As indicated by cuisine and clothing, Demora is a pre-industrial, vaguely European nation bound by marriage and divided by class. Sage is a clever, contrary female protagonist who remains realistic and likable, while her fellow protagonist Ash is enigmatic enough to require a second read. Debut author Beaty overcomes a pedestrian fantasy premise and built world through her complex characterization, deftly layered adventure story, and balanced blend of political maneuvering, romantic interludes, and action scenes. This is one series opener that really merits a sequel.
Both epic and intimate, a semi–old-fashioned alternative to the wave of inexplicably lethal superheroines and their smoldering love triangles.
Wein’s fans will revel in the return of Julie Beaufort-Stuart, the co-narrator of Code Name Verity (2012).
Billed as a prequel to that Printz Honor book, this is no mere back story to Julie’s role in World War II but a stand-alone mystery. The 15-year-old white minor noble returns from boarding school in the summer of 1938 to the Scottish country estate of her late grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn. Her luggage lost, Julie dons “a mothy tennis pullover which left my arms daringly bare and a kilt that must have been forgotten some time ago by one of my big brothers….I was David Balfour from Kidnapped again, the way I’d been the whole summer I was thirteen.” After a blow to the head leaves her unconscious, Julie becomes tangled up in a web of events that includes a missing antiquities scholar, a body found in a river, and the theft of the family’s heirloom river pearls, all seemingly connected to a band of Travellers with ancestral ties to Strathfearn reaching back as far as Julie’s. Well-developed characters highlight the class differences that Julie chafes against while struggling with her family’s place in a changing world. Her plainspoken, charming narrative voice establishes her own place with the same strength of character, on a smaller scale, that she showed in Code Name Verity.
Another ripping yarn from a brilliant author.
(Historical fiction. 13-adult)
Living in a technologically advanced near-future Brooklyn, 17-year-old Kyla Cheng, better known as Kyle, has it all: top grades, popularity, three fabulous best friends, and the attention of Mackenzie Rodriguez. But in one click, she risks losing everything when a video of her and her English teacher having sex surfaces. Even though Kyle knows the video is fake, no one else seems to believe her. As the views reach astronomical heights and Kyle ascends to internet infamy, her only option is to figure out how to take down the video—with or without the help of her friends. A key player in this mystery is the pervasive nature of technology and social media, which has boomed to encompass all aspects of life in the future. Wang brilliantly balances the complexity of lives lived online, teenage relationships and insecurities, and the double standard of slut shaming. In this world, and reflecting demographic projections, most people are multiracial, a fact which is sometimes strangely emphasized. A classmate who has two white parents is mockingly styled “Aryan Audra”; Kyle herself is half Chinese, half French.
A thought-provoking, entertaining read, Wang’s debut illustrates a future that is easily conceivable.
(Science fiction. 14-18)
It’s 1714 Great Britain, and a rebellion is brewing.
James Stuart lives in exile, and George of the German House of Hannover is about to ascend the throne. Jenna’s family, Scottish stonemasons, are Jacobites secretly working to return James to the throne in accordance with the divine right of kings. Alex, Lord Pembroke, has a duty to support George I’s government as inheritor of his father’s seat in the House of Lords. His father, the Duke of Keswick, has hired the masons to build a garrison to imprison and execute Jacobites—but Jenna’s family has other plans for the structure: to aid the rebellion. Jenna and Alex inevitably meet and fall in love, but if Alex discovers Jenna’s secret, her life, and those of her family, will be forfeit. Third-person narration alternates between Jenna and Alex, but it’s Jenna’s freethinking that will pull readers in. Her most prized possession is a copy of Newton’s Principia; she’s been taught to speak the King’s English rather than with the broad Scottish accent of her family; and she has the freedom to choose her life’s path during a time when women had very few choices. The cast, unsurprisingly, is an all-white one.
An intriguing exploration of the intersection of politics, religion, and customs of the period—historical fiction at its best.
(Historical fiction. 13-18)