After a failed suicide attempt, 16-year-old Vicky Cruz wakes up in a hospital’s mental ward, where she must find a path to recovery—and maybe rescue some others.
Vicky meets Mona, Gabriel, and E.M.—a clan very different from Vicky primarily because of their economic limitations—at Lakeview Hospital. There, with the guidance of their group-therapy leader, Dr. Desai, they daily delve into deep-seated issues that include anger management, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and schizophrenia. Beyond the hospital walls, Vicky’s school friends amount to zero, and her future plans are difficult to conjure. Vicky has a flawed family: Becca, her Harvard-student sister, has grown distant; Miguel, her temperamental first-generation father, married Barbara only six months after Vicky’s mother died of cancer; and collectively the two are sending Vicky’s longtime nanny, Juanita, back to Mexico. A quick first-person narration guides readers through the complexity of Vicky’s thoughts and, more importantly, revelations. From her darkest moments to welcome comedic respites to Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Stork remains loyal to his characters, their moments of weakness, and their pragmatic views, and he does not shy away from such topics as domestic violence, social-class struggles, theology, and philosophy.
Following Schneider Award–winning Marcelo in the Real World (2009), Stork further marks himself as a major voice in teen literature by delivering one of his richest and most emotionally charged novels yet
.(Fiction. 12 & up)
A teen finds that attendance and acceptance at an elite school are wildly different experiences.
Lucy Lam’s parents are ethnic Chinese immigrants to Melbourne, Australia, via Vietnam. Her father works at a carpet factory, and her mother cranks out hundreds of garments from her workshop in their garage while her baby brother (nicknamed the Lamb) plays nearby. When Lucy unexpectedly wins a competition for the inaugural Equal Access scholarship to prestigious Laurinda Ladies’ College, everyone assumes the superior education she receives there will help her lift up her family economically. As Lucy confides in a series of letters to Linh, her closest companion, however, life at Laurinda is shot through with careless luxury, countless microaggressions, and extracurricular expectations that are nearly impossible for Lucy to fulfill. Three powerful white girls known as the Cabinet seem to take Lucy under their wing, but she perceives how toxic they are to both fellow students and faculty they deem unworthy. Observing the cruelty and home lives of The Cabinet, Lucy begins to see her life in suburban Stanley—where treats from the dollar store count as fancy and her family eats dinner together on the floor using newspaper for a tablecloth—as both hopelessly shabby and something worth protecting fiercely. Lucy’s voice is highly literary, her observations keen, and her self-awareness sometimes actively painful.
A bracing, enthralling gut-punch and an essential read for teens, teachers, and parents alike.
(Fiction. 13 & up)
A touching debut chronicles the coming-of-age of three high school seniors, misfits and best friends.
Neither Dill, Travis, nor Lydia feels at home in Forrestville, a small Tennessee town named after the founder of the Klu Klux Klan. Lydia's loving, prosperous parents have given her the tools to create a popular blog and the glittering prospect of college life in New York City. Travis, on the other hand, escapes his father's drunken brutality and his own heartbreak over his soldier brother's death by retreating into a fictional fantasy world. And Dillard Early Jr. can't escape his name: his snake-handling preacher father became notorious in these parts when he was incarcerated for child porn. Some—Dill's mother among them—blame Dill for his father's conviction. Lydia is determined to realize her dreams, and she is equally determined that the boys dream, too. Dill just wants Lydia to stay. Writing in third-person chapters that alternate among the three characters, Zentner covers the whole of their senior year, with heartbreak and a hopeful conclusion. Characters, incidents, dialogue, the poverty of the rural South, enduring friendship, a desperate clinging to strange faiths, fear of the unknown, and an awareness of the courage it takes to survive, let alone thrive, are among this fine novel's strengths.
Zentner writes with understanding and grace—a new voice to savor.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
Isabelle lives with her hopelessly alcoholic mother in a series of awful apartments as she tries to take care of her little brother and sister.
She frequently changes schools and usually tries to remain unnoticed, but on her first day at her new high school she runs afoul of Ainsley, the school queen bee, who vows revenge. She also reluctantly falls for attentive Will, who, like Isabelle, Ainsley, and most of their classmates, is white. Most of Isabelle’s time is spent coping with her mother’s addiction and doing her best to raise her baby sister and brother while also holding down a part-time job and attending school. Her life has no time for romance. Her equally drunken uncle doesn’t help matters. Because she is the sole trustworthy guardian of the children, Isabelle can see no way out for herself even as she dreams of escape. She is in love with Will, but how long can that last in Isabelle’s life? Lawrence infuses Isabelle’s voice with passion even at her most hopeless, presenting a convincing portrait of the consequences of an addiction that destroys lives beyond those of the addicts. She places Isabelle in a prison from which there appears to be no escape but also gives her some supporters who, even if they cannot intervene, can help Isabelle find her strength, presenting a story that remains intense and absorbing throughout.
A teen faces down hostility, making her own decisions about loyalty, respect, and gender.
Sixteen-year-old Pen (not Penelope) has always been butch, including her habit of wearing her brother’s clothes even though her mother says it makes her look like a “punk druggy.” Old friend Colby, who accepted her gender presentation when they were 9, now insists that everyone around him prove loyalty through service: one guy procures weed, another does Colby’s homework, and Pen’s his wingman with girls. Pen’s awkward, volatile, and abrupt—and confused about loyalty—but Colby’s a real jerk. Then a girl named Blake with “crazy blond hair…and a lot of black makeup” falls for Pen, and they have a hot romance. To Colby’s menacing fury, Pen also befriends his most recent castoff, Olivia, even accompanying Olivia to her abortion. Pen’s parents say the ongoing gender persecution she endures is her own fault, castigating her in (italicized) Portuguese and broken English, making home life unbearable—until Pen decides for herself what respeito (respect) really means. The good things in her life, she realizes, are Blake, Olivia, video games, the supportive older brother who helps her leave home—and her gender identity, which (though unlabeled) is squarely in the nonbinary range. Pen’s family is Portuguese and, like most other characters, presumably white; Olivia’s “Asian” with no further designation.
A strong genderqueer lesbian character, imperfect, independent, and deserving of every cheer.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
After a snowmobile accident leaves her boyfriend in a coma, a girl must confront her memories before she can make a life-altering decision.
High school sweethearts Taylor and Scott grow distant after he moves away to attend college. Everything seems fine, though, until Taylor discovers she’s pregnant. Distraught, she considers suicide, but when she confides in Scott, he reprimands her for her selfishness. Disturbed by his response, she decides to break up with him, but he whisks her away to their favorite little snowy island in northern Minnesota and surprises her with a proposal that she can’t bring herself to turn down. Tragically, on the way back, their snowmobile crashes, leaving Scott with a fractured skull, lost in a coma. Now Taylor waits at his bedside, still undecided about the baby and with a secret engagement ring in her pocket. She can’t help but wonder if this is all her fault—did she swerve? Did she have a death wish? She can’t remember, but the process to finding out what really happened, and who Scott really was, grows increasingly complicated each day he doesn’t wake up. Ever confident in her choices and blessed with a trenchant narrative voice, Taylor makes for an engaging, strikingly unsentimental portrait of a teen girl facing tragedy head-on. Her path is fraught with all the messy, painful truths no one should face so young, and it’s both heartbreaking and beautiful in its resolution.
An intricately crafted story of teen pregnancy helmed by a bold, achingly real protagonist determined to decide her own fate.
What should a mixed-race, autistic, 16-year-old be willing to do to avoid certain death in an apocalyptic hellhole?
A comet's about to strike Earth, and the rich, powerful, or lucky have choices: they can survive in underground shelters for the decades until the planet is once again easily habitable or take to a generation ship headed to deep space. Daughter of a Dutch woman and an Afro-Surinamese man, Denise is none of the above; her family has a spot in a temporary shelter, after which they’ll be stuck in the post-comet wasteland Amsterdam (and much of the planet) will have become. Denise finds temporary refuge in a secret generation ship, but the residents jealously guard their precious resources. She's desperate to find a place on the ship for her family, but on a ship where the two choices are "usefulness or death," she worries they'll never choose her drug-addicted mother—or her autistic self. Meanwhile she seeks her sister, lost in the rubble of Amsterdam. Heroism isn't restricted to Denise, nor is she the only complex, deeply imperfect character to make selfish choices in this unbearable world. It's unsurprising that Duyvis, autistic herself, draws a superbly nuanced portrait of Denise as person (not a collection of pitiable autism tropes or cure narratives), but what makes this a winner is the nerve-wracking adventure.
Life-affirming science fiction with spaceships, optimism in the apocalypse, and a diverse cast that reflects the real world
. (Science fiction. 11-15)
Twins Clara and Hailey, 17, are as close as it gets—conjoined at the lower back, entangled internally, sharing lower body sensations—but each harbors different dreams.
Their parents, teachers at a local college, have raised and sheltered them from unwanted publicity in tiny, largely white Bear Pass, California, where the twins are expected to live out their lives. Rebel Hailey, with dyed pink hair and a butterfly tattoo (placed where Clara couldn’t feel it), dreams of art school, travel, and fellow artist Alek. Fearful Clara’s stifled her longing to study the vast universe and accepted their foreclosed future until a new student, Max, arrives to awaken new longings. Is surgical separation possible? While leavened with comfortable teen-literature tropes, this debut isn’t high-concept–fueled candy floss. The twins’ distance from “normal,” all that circumscribes their conjoined world, is ever present, and the struggle to sustain their senses of self is visceral. Profound disabilities and exceptional gifts can be two sides of a single coin. Even if the twins survive separation, the benefits and gifts attachment has given them will be lost, with no guarantee of healthy life thereafter. Readers who’ve wondered why some choose to live with a disability that might be “cured” will find plenty to ponder here. As developments in genetics reshape the medical landscape, these questions will only resonate further.
Compelling and suspenseful from Page 1; Clara and Hailey pull readers into their unique world and don’t let go.
A high school valedictorian with big plans to flee her small town gets a degenerative genetic disease.
Two months ago, 18-year-old Sammie was diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C. People with NPC usually die as children; it’s extremely rare for symptoms not to appear until adolescence, so Sammie’s timeline is unknown. NPC brings dementia and systemic physical deterioration—as Sammie edits Wikipedia to say, “Your shit is fucked.” To create a bulwark against memory loss, she documents her life on a laptop she carries everywhere, addressing it to Future Sam, who she still hopes can leave Vermont behind for NYU. Her narrative voice is sardonic, distinctive, wildly intelligent, and sometimes hilarious: her parents’ church is “angular…and white, like most of its parishioners” (including her family, presumably). Sammie’s first debacle is losing a national debate tournament due to a dementia episode smack in the middle. Fluctuations in cognitive function show in her narrative voice. She needs tooth-brushing reminder notes; she regresses in age and doesn’t recognize her youngest sister. At one point she fills three pages typing “die.” Yet over this summer that should have been pre-college, Sammie experiences romance, reconnects with a childhood friend and with her bucolic mountainside, and writes minibios about her young siblings that extend to their adulthoods, giving them the long futures that she won’t have. Readers will feel her mind and heart shifting with the illness.
After surviving a brutal attack, Amanda starts school in a new town. She plans to stay focused and get through senior year, but kind, attractive Grant causes a distraction that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for her deepest secret.
Russo has written a story that many trans teens—and adults—have been wanting: a sweet, believable romance that stokes the fires of hope without devolving into saccharine perfection or horrific tragedy. There is friction, from fear born of the violence Amanda has experienced, from dangers to girls that most boys don’t feel, but Russo hasn’t written yet another horror story that readers must endure along with its protagonist. There’s confusion, levity, awkwardness, like any teen’s story. There is friction from within Amanda. As her friend and transmother, or mentor, Virginia, says, she’s “won the genetic lottery when it comes to passing.” When they’re deciding how to spend an evening, Amanda notes that Virginia’s jaw is a little too strong, shoulders a little too wide to keep them both safe from detection. This is just one of many conflicting, confusing truths that help reflect some trans people's fear of violence and hostility in this moment in time—including the ones rightly called out when coming from others—such as the expectation of a perfect physical reflection of one's truest gender.
Above all, this is a necessary, universal story about feeling different and enduring prejudices, and it’s full of love, hope, engaging writing, and truth
. (Fiction. 13 & up)
A living icon of the civil rights movement brings his frank and stirring account of the movement’s most tumultuous years (so far) to a climax.
As chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee between 1963 and 1966, Lewis was directly involved in both public demonstrations and behind-the-scenes meetings with government officials and African-American leaders. He recalls both with unflinching honesty in this trilogy closer carrying his account from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church to his eventual break with SNCC’s increasingly radical elements. Alternating stomach-turning incidents of violence (mostly police violence)—including his own vicious clubbing on the Selma to Montgomery march’s “Bloody Sunday”—with passages of impassioned rhetoric from many voices, he chronicles the growing fissures within the movement. Still, despite the wrenching realization that “we were in the middle of a war,” he steadfastly holds to nonviolent principles. The passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act marks the end of his account, though he closes with a final look ahead to the night of Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Powell’s high-contrast black-and-white images underscore the narrative's emotional intensity with a parade of hate-filled white faces and fearful but resolute black ones, facing off across a division that may not be as wide as it was then but is still as deep.
This memoir’s unique eyewitness view of epochal events makes it essential reading for an understanding of those times—and these.
(Graphic memoir. 11 & up)
The opener to a pitch-black epic fantasy series horrifically upends the bonds of sisterhood.
Every generation, magically gifted triplet girls are born to rule Fennbirn, and it is the duty of each young queen to try to murder the others once they come of age. But this time only the elemental Mirabella has yet displayed any power, as the naturalist Arsinoe and poisoner Katherine are deemed weak and giftless. Although kindhearted Mirabella shows some reluctance to kill, both headstrong Arsinoe and abused Katherine are more than ready to employ any tactic to live...and win. Blake has constructed an insular, all-white, matriarchal society from convincing intimate details. As the personal lives, loves, and betrayals of the three queens are manipulated by their supporting factions, the intricate machinations of the plot never overwhelm the vivid, complicated characters of the queens and those closest to them; while it’s impossible not to sympathize with each, it is equally difficult to root for any of them. The omniscient third-person present-tense narration, switching every chapter among various players preparing for, scheming about, and even fleeing the upcoming ritual competition, employs sumptuous, poetic prose (if little of Blake’s trademark wit) with an odd detachment, creating a fablelike distance from even the grisly, shocking climax.
Gorgeous and bloody, tender and violent, elegant, precise, and passionate; above all, completely addicting
. (Fantasy. 14 & up)