The 17-year-old son of a troubled rock star is determined to find his own way in life and love.
On the verge of adulthood, Blade Morrison wants to leave his father’s bad-boy reputation for drug-and-alcohol–induced antics and his sister’s edgy lifestyle behind. The death of his mother 10 years ago left them all without an anchor. Named for the black superhero, Blade shares his family’s connection to music but resents the paparazzi that prevent him from having an open relationship with the girl that he loves. However, there is one secret even Blade is unaware of, and when his sister reveals the truth of his heritage during a bitter fight, Blade is stunned. When he finally gains some measure of equilibrium, he decides to investigate, embarking on a search that will lead him to a small, remote village in Ghana. Along the way, he meets people with a sense of purpose, especially Joy, a young Ghanaian who helps him despite her suspicions of Americans. This rich novel in verse is full of the music that forms its core. In addition to Alexander and co-author Hess’ skilled use of language, references to classic rock songs abound. Secondary characters add texture to the story: does his girlfriend have real feelings for Blade? Is there more to his father than his inability to stay clean and sober? At the center is Blade, fully realized and achingly real in his pain and confusion.
A contemporary hero’s journey, brilliantly told.
(Verse fiction. 14-adult)
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)
Placing her daughter for adoption left a hole in Grace’s heart; her adoptive parents can’t fill it, and her birth mother’s unreachable—then Grace learns she has siblings.
Maya, 15, a year younger than Grace, was adopted by wealthy parents 13 months before their biological daughter, Lauren, arrived. Joaquin, nearly 18, a survivor of 17 failed foster-care placements and one failed adoption, is troubled when his current foster parents express a wish to adopt him. Grace reaches out, and the siblings soon bond. All—Maya especially, standing out in a family of redheads—are grateful to meet others with dark hair (only Joaquin identifies not as white but Latino) and weird food preferences (French fries with mayo). Still, each keeps secrets. Maya discusses her girlfriend but not her mother’s secret drinking; Joaquin edits out his failed adoption; Grace, her pregnancy and daughter’s birth. It hurts that her siblings have zero interest in tracking down the mom who gave them away, yet Grace persists. Chapters alternate through their third-person perspectives, straightforward structure and syntax delivering accessibility without sacrificing nuance or complexity. Family issues are neither airbrushed nor oversimplified (as the ambiguous title suggests). These are multifaceted characters, shaped by upbringing as well as their genes, in complicated families. Absent birthparents matter, as do bio siblings: when their parents separate, Lauren fears Maya will abandon her for her “real” siblings.
From the first page to the last, this compassionate, funny, moving, compulsively readable novel about what makes a family gets it right.
Chelsea Marchand does not care about politics, law, or Oxford University.
This is an unfortunate circumstance, given that her father, Dr. Peter Marchand, is running for prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago and would like her to study law in England. Chelsea wants to pursue her dreams at the Writers’ Corner at Georgetown University, not shuffle along her father’s campaign trail. A chance meeting while waiting for test-prep classes at the Clark Centre introduces Chelsea to Kyron Grant, a handsome student footballer. Kyron understands living with a difficult father. Although his father is not physically present, Grafton Walters’ influence fills every space in his home. The two cultivate a friendship, on the edge of something more, when the sudden, gruesome murder of one of Walters’ employees uncovers family secrets for both Kyron and Chelsea. The future of their relationship unclear, Kyron and Chelsea search for an escape from the sins of their fathers. Gibson’s debut effortlessly captivates. The characters saunter in and out of focus like a well-choreographed dance, Chelsea and Kyron alternating narration in vivid, distinctive voices. None take up more time than necessary, and all shine in their moments. Scenes between Kyron and his father are especially compelling. The island dialect gives the story a tangible dimension; the smell of sea breeze is almost palpable.
A beautiful, gently woven reflection on family, choices, and the power of perception.
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.
Fifteen-year-old Steffi Herrera feels the beat of jazz in her soul, but is that enough to sustain her against her classmates’ relentless bullying?
Returning home from school, she overhears jazz emanating from a window and follows the sound to the retirement-home room of Alvar, nearly 90 and a former jazz musician. These two unlikely friends gradually reveal their stories, Steffi of her music and Alvar of his experiences as a country boy trying to make his way in the jazz world of World War II Stockholm. Steffi’s father is Cuban; her Caribbean roots make her stand out in her small Swedish town, where she’s a lightning rod for her brutal classmates, who insult her, spit on her, and otherwise make her life at school a torment. Achingly talented, she withdraws into her music but suffers nonetheless, her misery blended with her older sister’s, confused by wakening lesbian feelings. Inviting transitions smoothly shift readers into diffident Alvar’s parallel story, as he acquires jazz band experience and tries to find a way to make attractive, charming Anita fall in love with him. A deliberate pace enhances the carefully nuanced progress of Alvar’s relationship with Anita but also with her latter-day alter ego, Steffi, although the aging musician’s connection with her is as a desperately needed mentor. The translation from Swedish is smooth, and the culture, though different, will feel recognizable and relevant to American readers.
Sensitive and deeply moving: outstanding.
Three college-bound Latino teens navigate their ways through senior year in El Paso.
Born to white parents, Salvador was adopted at the age of 3 by a gay, Mexican-American man and embraced by his extended family. His closest friends are Sam, an extroverted girl with a drama-filled life, and Fito, a gay boy who for all intents and purposes is homeless. Sal tries to maintain a calm, controlled life, but when a student hurls the word “faggot” at him, he responds quickly with his fists. He starts to wonder if he’s inherited violent tendencies from his biological father, whom he never knew. In dialogue-rich prose, Sáenz explores Sal’s internal struggles with his churning emotions during a year of life-changing events: “all of a sudden I felt like I was living my life in a relay race and there was no one else to hand the baton to.” Journallike chapters of varying lengths are prefaced with spare titles—“WFTD = Comfort”; “Me. Alone. Not.” The well-constructed pacing of the novel, with its beautifully expansive prose punctuated by text messages between Sal and Sam, demonstrates the author’s talent for capturing the richness of relationships among family and friends.
The author of Printz Honor–winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012) offers another stellar, gentle look into the emotional lives of teens on the cusp of adulthood.
After two sisters commit suicide, the boy next door traces the notes one left behind for him.
Ben Lattanzi, a white teen toiling in small-town Massachusetts, receives a letter from Mira Cillo seven days after she and her sister, Francesca, died. They were found at the bottom of the quarry lake, tangled together. Compounding the tragedy, their cousin Connie Villela had passed away only months before. In her letter, Mira tells Ben that everyone wanted to touch her and Francesca and that by going to the seven locations he touched her, he’ll discover the truth. Ben, known as sensitive due to a public childhood trauma, becomes enamored with the notion of reconnecting with Mira, whom he briefly dated but long adored. Soon he realizes the story Mira wants to tell isn’t about her—it’s about her sister and the months leading to their fatal fall. Mira, Francesca, and Connie, all white, were bonded by shared blood and would do anything for each other. Through a haze of longing, Ben finds out just what that means as he pieces together Mira’s last messages. Told through both Ben’s and the girls’ perspectives, the mystery unfolds with aching precision—both Ben’s grief and the sisters’ pain can be acutely traced as they grow. Even though the truth can be seen before it’s revealed, the girls’ secrets pack a gut punch that lingers.
A gender-nonconforming 17-year-old and her crew explore desire in a small town.
The only daughter of a preacher and an artist, Elizabeth “Billie” McCaffrey likes to buck convention and is warmly loved in return by members of the Hexagon, the tightknit group of four boys and one other girl she hangs with in largely white Otters Holt, Kentucky. Ever the instigator, Billie encourages the Hexagon to experiment with an aging microwave that results in nearly burning down the youth room of her father’s church. Brought even closer to the boys she’s been collecting “like baseball cards since third grade” and her beloved friend, Janie Lee, as they perform community service to atone for their transgressions, Billie soon realizes their high jinks barely mask awakening desire as the friends begin to explore new dimensions of their relationship. “I do not know what type of love we are—history, future, or infinity—but we are love all the same,” says Billie, wanting nothing of her group’s emotional intimacy to change while she questions her sexual orientation and tests the uncharted waters of physical attraction. With singing prose and a rollicking plot, Stevens presents a rich palette of characters daring to brave familial and societal expectations to become what they’re meant to be.
A spirited, timeless tale of teen self-discovery in those tense, formative high school moments, captured with grace, lyricism, and insight.
Sixteen-year-old Jade dreams of success beyond her neighborhood despite the prejudices that surround her.
For two years, Jade has been a scholarship student at a predominantly white private high school where she is one of few African-American students—the only one from her “bad” neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Jade’s mom struggles to make ends meet. At school, Jade has many opportunities, steppingstones to move beyond her neighborhood someday, maybe even travel the world. But sometimes these opportunities and her white guidance counselor make Jade feel like a charity case. Junior year brings yet another opportunity that leaves Jade feeling judged and pitied: the Woman to Woman mentorship program, which promises a full college scholarship to mentees. Jade’s mentor, Maxine, is both well-intentioned and also black, but she’s from a wealthy family. Jade chafes against the way Maxine treats her as though she needs to be saved. Through Jade’s insightful and fresh narration, Watson presents a powerful story that challenges stereotypes about girls with “coal skin and hula-hoop hips” who must contend with the realities of racial profiling and police brutality. Jade’s passion for collage and photography help her to find her voice and advocate not only for herself, but for her community.
A timely, nuanced, and unforgettable story about the power of art, community, and friendship.
(Fiction. 12 & up)