A young Latino man grows up in a poor neighborhood in Tampa in this debut that follows him through his sophomore year of high school.
Marcos Rivas aches for a relationship with his mom, who does nothing to protect him from her racist, white, live-in boyfriend’s physical and verbal abuse. Marcos is keenly lonely despite the company of a tight band of ethnically diverse boys that includes his kind and smart best friend, Obie, a black boy, who shocks and worries Marcos when he decides to start delivering drugs to make money; they all feel the constant weight of poverty pressing upon them. Marcos’ authentic, thoughtful, empathic internal voice makes it evident from the start that he is stretched between two worlds: one in which any expression of emotions must be concealed and another in which he feels guilty for pranking his teachers, listens both to hip-hop and to the Smiths, and is afraid of dogs. When he’s recommended for a new class at school that identifies bright students who are underachieving, he falls hard for white, punk, tough Amy, a fellow classmate. Aceves infuses the narrative with insight about class, ethnicity, and the intricacies of power between teens and adults, the vitality of Marcos and his friends holding rapt both readers who recognize their world and those who don’t.
Heart-wrenching, funny, hopeful, and not-to-be-missed.
Pulling back the curtain on the wizard of social expectations, Arnold (Infandous, 2015, etc.) explores the real, knotted, messy, thriving heartbeat of young womanhood.
When Nina Faye’s mother tells her that there is no such thing as unconditional love, that even a mother’s love for a daughter could end at any time, Nina believes her—after all, she has already seen many conditions of love at play: beauty, money, aloofness, sex. Two years later, the white, now-16-year-old not only confirms that these and more are unspoken stipulations of her relationship with her boyfriend, Seth (also white), but also finds they are part of the very fabric of cisgender girlhood that suddenly threatens to smother her. Nina’s embroiling first-person prose alternating with what are revealed to be her own short stories lifts and examines the veils that encapsulate all the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” of teenage girlhood to expose bodily function, desire, casual cruelty, sex and masturbation, miscarriage and abortion, and, eventually, self-care. Arnold interweaves myriad landscapes, from the parched affluence of California neighborhoods to the ordered sadness of a high-kill animal shelter where Nina volunteers, from the sculpted terrain of Rome’s brutalized virgin martyrs to the imperfect physicality of Nina’s own body, into a narrative wholeness that is greater than its parts.
While Nest hangs onto life after driving into a tree, Q, her sometimes-boyfriend, makes a written record of one shared day so that people will know she was loved.
When Nest is in the manic phase of the bipolar disorder she inherited from her father, she takes long walks to calm the “Chimaera” within. Three years ago, when they were 17, Nest invited Q, aka Isaac Kew, to go along with her through the city streets, instructing him to remain silent. Listening to her rapid-fire ramblings on the first 10 miles of their journey was like walking “with a girl whose own mind was a fever.” Alternating with Q’s account, Nest’s stream of consciousness, liberally sprinkled with classic love poems, reveals her intelligence and a legitimate fear of insanity. She recognizes her own vulnerability as well, pointing out that Q, “tall, strong, and white,” can walk pretty much where and when he chooses (Nest’s own ethnicity is ambiguous). As Q records their journey, he occasionally pauses to reflect on what he’s writing as Nest faces “life, death, and the horizon line.” In his second novel, Downes (Fell of Dark, 2015) subtly plumbs the depths of mental illness within the broader context of relationship and self-awareness. Told mile by mile, the story reaches an allegorical climax even as it stops midway through a day that’s both harrowing and beautiful.
An intricate, unusual love story for readers attuned to compassion.
A thoughtful and sensitive handling of a difficult topic.
Six months before starting grade 10, Maddy Malone (a white Canadian 14-year-old) is attacked by a group of boys and raped. Following the ordeal, Maddy has become a shell of herself, trying to avoid her attackers, who thus far have not said anything. Everything changes when Maddy shares an English class with two of her attackers. The uneasy silence they’ve all worked to maintain begins to crumble when the class collectively begins to write The Pain Eater, a fantasy novel about Farang, a 15-year-old girl who at birth was chosen to bear the pain of her fellow villagers. As the students manipulate the story in turn to fit their own ideas and agendas, Maddy begins to see parallels between herself and Farang—and it’s not long before her classmates also begin to catch on. When Maddy’s secret begins to unravel and her attackers threaten her to keep quiet, she must decide whether to fight or stand down. The novel never hits readers over the head with its message, but it is not an easy read. At times heartbreaking, it honestly addresses Maddy’s full range of emotions associated with the rape, from pain to crippling fear and sometimes anger. Through the device of the collectively written story and the teen characters’ responses to it, Goobie sensitively and artfully tackles the problematic way rape is perceived in society.
Powerfully written, this is not just a story about trauma, but also one of healing.
Henson’s debut novel sheds a light on white supremacy and other cloaked forms of racism.
While the events of Henson’s novel may seem too extreme to be true, they are based in reality. Sixteen-year-old Nate grew up in The Fort, a white-supremacist compound where hate and violence are preached and practiced daily. When Nate kills his abusive father in self-defense, he is sent to live with his estranged uncle. In a new town with a new alias, Nate desperately tries to come to terms with his old life and the darkness lingering inside—especially when confronted with people he’s been conditioned to hurt. In Brandon, a black schoolmate, Nate finds a true friend, but the past is calling, threatening to shatter his new existence and the safety of his friends. For many, the book will be a triggering read, but it is a necessary one—particularly when there are those too willing to deny the reality of racism. While her hand is heavy at times, Henson draws from true events to highlight what happens in white-supremacist circles, what happens to the people they target, and how white silence is also complicity. As Henson says in an author’s note, “It’s not the job of people of color to educate white folks on how they deserve to be treated and on what is and isn’t racist. This is a burden we’ve been putting on their backs for far too long.”
Especially for white readers, a timely and informative book
. (Fiction. 14-18)
With a black mother suffering from multiple mental conditions and a possibly white father who’s “N/A”—at least according to her birth certificate—15-year-old Mary B. Addison finds herself navigating the prison-industrial complex alone for allegedly killing a 3-month-old white baby.
She was placed in “baby jail” at 9 under a cloud of national notoriety spawned by her case. Now she endures unremitting bullying from the staff and the other girls at the all-female group home in Brooklyn, where she lives under house arrest; the attentions of the do-gooder white female writing coach who tries to give the young women hope through words yet “knows [their] future is grim”; and the bureaucratic obstacles to get a state ID simply to take the SAT. While in this gritty environment, Mary becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, Ted, an 18-year-old black man who is also confined in the labyrinth of the penal system but later must turn to “survival sex” to maintain his shelter. The author presents all of this as a matter of fact in Mary’s voice, not sensationally or, worse, exploitatively. Because of this, her novel effectively joins Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (2010) to become another indictment of the penal system’s decimating power beyond its bars and, more subtly and refreshingly, a pro–reproductive-justice novel.
After 15-year-old Will sees his older brother, Shawn, gunned down on the streets, he sets out to do the expected: the rules dictate no crying, no snitching, and revenge.
Though the African-American teen has never held one, Will leaves his apartment with his brother’s gun tucked in his waistband. As he travels down on the elevator, the door opens on certain floors, and Will is confronted with a different figure from his past, each a victim of gun violence, each important in his life. They also force Will to face the questions he has about his plan. As each “ghost” speaks, Will realizes how much of his own story has been unknown to him and how intricately woven they are. Told in free-verse poems, this is a raw, powerful, and emotional depiction of urban violence. The structure of the novel heightens the tension, as each stop of the elevator brings a new challenge until the narrative arrives at its taut, ambiguous ending. There is considerable symbolism, including the 15 bullets in the gun and the way the elevator rules parallel street rules. Reynolds masterfully weaves in textured glimpses of the supporting characters. Throughout, readers get a vivid picture of Will and the people in his life, all trying to cope with the circumstances of their environment while expressing the love, uncertainty, and hope that all humans share.
This astonishing book will generate much needed discussion.
(Verse fiction. 12-adult)
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.
Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.
This story is necessary. This story is important.
Debut author Williams creates an unforgettable young character who will make readers reconsider their assumptions about teen moms, in particular Latina teen moms.
Fifteen-year-old half-white, half-Dominican Mari is a fighter. Fiercely loyal and often combative, she knows exactly who she is and what she wants. And what she wants is a baby who will give her the kind of unconditional love she’s never had. But when she learns that her baby has a congenital heart defect and finds herself unsure of the support around her, she must make a choice about how she’s going to summon that fighter’s spirit for the sake of her baby and her future. Full of spot-on cultural texture and packing an emotional punch, this is an unusual take on the teen-pregnancy problem novel. Mari’s is a voice and path that are often dismissed or derided, but Williams presents her experience in a way that demands not pity but respect while also reminding readers of Mari’s heartbreaking youth and innocence at unexpected times. Even if readers don’t agree with or even like Mari, her tenacity and humanity are undeniable. The book includes a lot of Spanish (unfortunately italicized), which adds to the authenticity of the story and the high expectations of the read.
Fierce and tender—and absolutely worth reading.
(glossary of Dominican words)
Creator of an astonishingly successful webcomic—or a nonentity of a high school senior?
Eliza Mirk is an anxiety-plagued weirdo, shuffling silently through the corridors of her Indiana high school without a single friend. She’s also beloved LadyConstellation, creator of the comic Monstrous Sea, “a combination of the Final Fantasy video games and the Faust Legend.” On the Monstrous Sea forums, she’s the queen to millions of passionate fans; in school she’s “Creepy Don’t-Touch-Her-You’ll-Get-Rabies Eliza.” Eliza’s parents, athletes with no understanding of the internet age, mishandle their beloved—but frighteningly baffling—daughter. Though terrified by human interaction, Eliza finds her voice long enough to defend a new student who’s being mocked for writing Monstrous Sea fanfiction. Wallace and Eliza develop an intense, if unusual, friendship: Wallace’s selective mutism means the majority of their conversations are carried on in writing. Eliza, meanwhile, wonders if she can reveal her online identity to Wallace, one of the most well-known fans of Monstrous Sea, without destroying his feelings for her. The deepening relationship of these two white teens, interspersed with pages from the comic and Wallace’s fanfiction prose retelling of it, exposes the raw, self-absorbed pain of mental illness amid the helplessness many high schoolers experience.
A wrenching depiction of depression and anxiety, respectful to fandom, online-only friendships, and the benefits and dangers of internet fame
. (Fiction. 13-17)
Fabiola Toussaint is a black immigrant girl whose life is flipped upside down when she moves to Detroit, Michigan, from her homeland of Haiti and her mother is detained by ICE, leaving her to go on alone.
Though Fabiola was born in the U.S., she has lived in Haiti since she was an infant, and that has now left her unprepared for life in America. In Detroit, she lives with her aunt Marjorie and her three thoroughly Americanized cousins, Chantal, Primadonna, and Princess. It’s not easy holding on to her heritage and identity in Detroit; Matant Jo fines Fabiola for speaking Creole (though even still “a bit of Haiti is peppered in her English words”), and the gritty streets of Detroit are very different from those of Port-au-Prince. Fabiola has her faith to help keep her grounded, which grows ever more important as she navigates her new school, American society, and a surprising romance—but especially when she is faced with a dangerous proposition that brings home to her the fact that freedom comes with a price. Fabiola’s perceptive, sensitive narration gives readers a keen, well-executed look into how the American dream can be a nightmare for so many. Filling her pages with magic, humanity, tragedy, and hope, Zoboi builds up, takes apart, and then rebuilds an unforgettable story.
This book will take root in readers’ hearts.