What would it feel like to wake up normal? It’s a question most people would never have cause to ask—and the one 14-year-old Adam Spencer Ross longs to have answered.
Life is already complicated enough for Adam, but when Robyn Plummer joins the Young Adult OCD Support Group in room 13B, Adam falls fast and hard. Having long assumed the role of protector to those he loves, Adam immediately knows that he must do everything he can to save her. The trouble is, Robyn isn’t the one who needs saving. Adam’s desperate need to protect everyone he loves—his broken mother, a younger half brother with OCD tendencies, and the entire motley crew of Room 13B—nearly costs him everything. Adam’s first-person account of his struggle to cope with the debilitating symptoms of OCD while navigating the complexities of everyday teen life is achingly authentic. Much like Adam, readers will have to remind themselves to breathe as he performs his ever worsening OCD rituals. Yet Toten does a masterful job bringing Adam to life without ever allowing him to become a one-dimensional poster boy for a teen suffering from mental illness.
Readers be warned: like Augustus Waters before him, Adam Spencer Ross will renew your faith in real-life superheroes and shatter your heart in equal measure.
(Fiction. 12 & up)
Thrash chronicles one monumental summer at an all-girls' camp where she experienced her gut-wrenching first love.
Every summer, Maggie, an Atlanta native, attends Camp Bellflower, an all-girls' camp in Kentucky, complete with tents, shooting, and Civil War re-enactments that have been a camp tradition for nearly 100 years. The summer that she turns 15, however, she falls in love for the first time. She meets Erin, a 19-year-old counselor who studies astronomy and plays guitar. Her summer is filled with the usual camp melodrama, although along with the everyday banalities, Maggie must try to hide what she's feeling toward Erin. Rumors thrum throughout the camp about girls who are whispered to be lesbians, leading to their eventual ostracism; Maggie, though honest with both herself and a confidante, tries to avoid her own social exile. Thrash perfectly captures all the feelings of an adolescent first love: the insecurities, the awkwardness, and self-doubts along with the soaring, intense highs of proximity. Thrash's remembrances are evinced with clear, wide-eyed illustrations colored with a dreamily vibrant palette. She has so carefully and skillfully captured a universal moment—the first time one realizes that things will never be the same—that readers will find her story captivating.
A luminescent memoir not to be missed.
(Graphic memoir. 13 & up)
A Mexican-American girl and a black boy begin an ill-fated love in the months leading up to a catastrophic 1937 school explosion in East Texas.
The powerful story opens with the legendary school explosion in New London and then rewinds to September 1936. Naomi has begrudgingly left behind her abuelitos in San Antonio for a new life with her younger half siblings, twins, and their long-absent white father, Henry. Now a born-again Christian, Henry struggles to atone for his sins. The siblings struggle to fit into the segregated oil town, where store signs boast "No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs." The precocious twins read better than half the senior class, and dark-skinned Naomi is guilty of not only being Mexican, but also of being "prettier than any girl in school." Their one friend is Wash, a brilliant African-American senior from the black part of town. Pérez deftly weaves multiple perspectives—including Henry and "the Gang," the collective voice of the racist students—into her unflinchingly intense narrative, but the story ultimately belongs to Naomi and Wash. Their beautifully detailed love story blossoms in the relative seclusion of the woods, where even stepfathers can't keep them apart. But as heartbreaking events unfold, the star-crossed lovers desperately hope that any light can penetrate the black smoke cloud of darkness spreading around them.
A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism.
(Historical fiction. 14 & up)
It’s not easy being normal when the Chosen One goes to your high school.
High school senior Mikey Mitchell knows that he’s not one of the “indie kids” in his small Washington town. While they “end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling or when the Alien Queen needs the Source of All Light or something,” Mikey simply wants to graduate, enjoy his friendships, and maybe, just maybe, kiss his longtime crush. All that’s easier said than done, however, thanks to his struggles with anxiety, his dreadful parents, and the latest group of indie kids discovering their “capital-D Destinies.” By beginning each chapter with an arch summary of the indie kids’ adventures before returning to Mikey’s wry first-person narration, Ness offers a hilarious—and perceptive—commentary on the chosen-one stories that are currently so popular in teen fiction. The diverse cast of characters is multidimensional and memorable, and the depiction of teen sexuality is refreshingly matter-of-fact. Magical pillars of light and zombie deer may occasionally drive the action here, but ultimately this novel celebrates the everyday heroism of teens doing the hard work of growing up.
Fresh, funny, and full of heart: not to be missed.
(Fantasy. 13 & up)
In a small town in North Carolina, a close friendship between two eccentric high schoolers breaks apart, leaving a rift.
Lula and Rory have always had two things in common: their outcast status and their love of the 1990s paranormal TV series The X-Files. Rory is generally overlooked by his classmates. Lula's "weird girl" moniker comes from her being both bookish and outspoken and taking after her equally headstrong grandfather. Rory, who is out to Lula as gay, nevertheless keeps secret his illicit relationship with his middle-aged boss, Andy, an equivocal divorcé who continually deflects Rory's questions about their future. One night, after one of Rory and Andy's many fights, Lula discovers the relationship and confronts Rory. Later that night, she disappears. The void left by Lula's disappearance is palpable and leads both estranged friends down surprising paths. Rory narrates the first half of the book and Lula, the second, and both voices are crisply and intimately drawn. Minor characters are equally vibrant, particularly Walter, Lula's rugged but kind stepfather, and Seth, the school's unexpectedly wholesome and gentle quarterback. The X-Files, the details of which both Lula and Rory lovingly recount, provides a strong common language and set of symbols throughout.
Same-sex dating is tricky when your dad is a right-wing political figure. Then there’s that whole robot-fueled terrorist attack thing threatening to directly strike at any second.
In the not-so-distant future, robotics enthusiast Lee Fisher is the closeted son of the ultra-conservative U.S. president. With only one kiss under his belt, Lee has earned his nickname, Walk-In (as in closet). His father has a strict moral agenda to steer the country back to ancient ideals, proselytizing the dangers of technology; indeed, Lee's mother was murdered by an “artificially conscious” robot named Charlotte who is now plotting a terrorist attack. Lee, tailed by the Secret Service and scrutinized by the media, wants to keep a low profile. When svelte, charismatic, Chilean Nico Medina arrives at Lee's stuffy prep school, the stakes change. Lee decides to explore romance even if Nico might not be who he says he is—and even if Charlotte has Lee in her cross hairs. Many au courant topics are challenged: equal rights, conservative closed-mindedness, terrorism, global acceptance of same-sex couples, the stickiness of coming out. From a first-person perspective, Lee fumbles from self-deprecation to self-confidence. As varied as his opinions are of himself, so too is the landscape, mixing technology with gothic settings à la Poe and Stoker.
Gothic, gadget-y, gay: a socially conscious sci-fi thriller to shelve between The Terminator and Romeo and Juliet.
(Science fiction. 12-17)
Biracial Alex, 16, high school baseball star and pride of her white, adoptive father and coach, sidesteps thinking about her parentage and racial identity, lying to finesse uncomfortable issues—but hiding her adoptive status from Reggie, an attractive, black player on an opposing team, troubles her.
At dinner, her younger sister, Kit, demolishes their parents’ insistence that they don’t (and shouldn’t) see race. Kit brings Alex a letter from her black birth father, one their parents have kept secret, feeling Alex is too young to read them. (The gentle content suggests the adoptive parents’ motives for withholding them may be mixed.) Forced to confront long-suppressed questions, Alex seeks to locate, nail down, and inhabit the unitary, undivided identity expected of her, but she gradually realizes the jigsaw pieces of her identity, drawn from different puzzles, may never fit neatly in one harmonious whole. Visiting a black hair salon isn’t a joyful marker of identity reclaimed (“finally someone knows what do with my hair!”); it’s just another ordeal. Her hair reflects her mixed heritage and requires treatment as such. Reggie and Kit want to know Alex for who she is, but how, when she doesn’t know herself? Gibney, herself transracially adopted, honors the complexities of her diverse, appealing characters. Transracial adoption is never oversimplified, airbrushed, or sentimentalized, but instead, it’s portrayed with bracing honesty as the messy institution it is: rearranging families, blending cultural and biological DNA, loss and joy.
An exceptionally accomplished debut.
Trying to escape their broken worlds, two teens fall in love with devastating results.
The story begins with the first meeting between Random Boy and Forgotten Girl. They are never given proper names, and their labels indicate their template relationship—“insert your name here,” Jaskulka seems to invite readers. Forgotten Girl and Random Boy write their first-person free-verse poems in notebooks—this is the structure of the narrative—sharing their doubts, fears, hopes and needs as they fall in love and hope to erase the pain of their home lives. Readers learn that Forgotten Girl’s father has recently abandoned her, and Random Boy’s father physically abuses both Random Boy and his mother. Eventually the love between Random Boy and Forgotten Girl teeters into obsession and then worse. “As much as he loves / is as hard as he hits, / which makes the pain / reassuring / in a sick way.” Why Random Boy begins abusing Forgotten Girl and why she stays with him (ultimately getting herself out) is told with such complete believability that the descent seems almost foregone, given the wounds that each has brought to the relationship. Jaskulka’s narrative explores the hows and whys of an abusive teenage relationship with heartbreaking honesty, and her delicate touch renders the dark story even more powerful.
A lovingly realized Depression-era Seattle becomes the field of play for the latest round in the titular, age-old game.
In February 1920, Love and Death choose their newest pawns as infants: Love’s is Henry, a white boy of privilege (though influenza and grief rob him of much of it); Death’s is Flora, the soon-to-be-orphaned daughter of African-American jazz musicians. In spring of 1937, the game begins. Flora sings in—and actually owns part of—the family’s nightclub, but her heart is in the skies, where she flies a borrowed biplane and dreams of owning her own. Henry, a talented bass player, is poised to graduate from the tony private school he attends on scholarship with his best friend, Ethan, whose family took him in upon his father’s suicide. They meet when Henry and Ethan visit the airstrip where Flora works; the boys are in pursuit of a story for Ethan’s newspaper-magnate father. Brockenbrough’s precise, luscious prose cuts back and forth among the four protagonists, according each character equal depth, with Ethan playing a heartbreaking supporting role. The contrast between the youthful excitement of ardent Henry and pragmatic Flora and the ageless, apparent ennui of the immortals gains nuance as readers come to understand that Love and Death are not without their own complicated feelings.
Race, class, fate and choice—they join Love and Death to play their parts in Brockenbrough’s haunting and masterfully orchestrated narrative.
(Magical realism. 12 & up)
Two best friends discover love during their last few months of high school.
Dave and Julia have always been thick as thieves. Before starting high school, the pair concocted a list of things they promised to never do in order to fight becoming high school clichés. Now it's the end of their senior year, and Julia has decided to take out the Nevers list and break the rules, one at a time. Meanwhile, Dave has decided to set aside his longtime crush on Julia and date the sporty Gretchen. Sparks fly, hearts are broken, and love is found in this charming rose-colored depiction of the last few months of school. Peppered throughout this love story are amusing asides involving substitute-teacher seduction and prom escapades, but its beating heart lies in the friendship and romance between Dave and Julia, a pair of teens who are genuine, emotional, and sometimes too clever for their own good. There is a kernel of truth in every cliché, and Alsaid cracks the teen-lit trope of friends becoming lovers wide open, exposing a beautiful truth inside. He also perfectly captures the golden glow of senioritis, a period when teens are bored and excited and wistful and nostalgic all at once. Everything is possible in this handful of weeks, including making up for squandered time.
A good romance is hard to come by. This is a great one.
Dominic Hall is “a caulker’s son, a tank cleaner’s grandson” in the river town of Tyneside in northern England…but the boy dreams of writing.
It’s in Dom’s blood to work in and “breathe the bliddy fumes” of the hellish shipyards. Is it pure snobbery, then, to aspire to the exalted, creative life his artist friend, Holly Stroud, lives with her fancy, wine-drinking father? Dom is torn. Maybe he wants to be more like Vincent McAlinden, the black-souled bully who initiates him into “scary ecstatic afternoons” of killing helpless creatures for fun, thieving and brutal fighting that ends in kissing. Is Dom a “tender innocent” or a “brute”? Is God a sentimental comfort, as he is to the silent tramp, Jack Law, or is he a cruel joke, a “creamy shining bloody body” suspended lifelessly by thin cords at the local Catholic church? As they grow up from bairns, Dom and Holly are tightrope walkers, literally and figuratively, trying to find their balance, hoping the inevitable falls aren’t too painful.
The award-winning Almond poetically plumbs the depths of his 1950s and ’60s childhood to explore themes of violence, war, God, creativity, beauty, death, art, the soul, our animal selves, whether we ever grow up or can really know each other…in short, life.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
A gay teen comes out to friends, family and classmates after his secret correspondence with another boy is discovered.
Ever since he discovered a post about being gay on his school's unofficial Tumblr, Simon has been corresponding with its author, an anonymous gay classmate who calls himself Blue. Their conversations, which readers see interspersed with prose chapters written from Simon's point of view, are heartfelt, emotionally intimate and increasingly flirtatious—enabled, perhaps, by the fact that neither boy knows the other's identity. Simon is impulsive, full of heart and not always as careful as he should be. When he leaves himself logged into Gmail at the school library, a boy named Martin reads Simon's emails with Blue and uses the threat of outing Simon to insinuate himself into a relationship with one of Simon’s female friends. Simon's social landscape is carefully and seemingly effortlessly drawn. Through light and often humorous detail, readers see clearly not only each individual character, but also the complex set of group dynamics at play in Simon's loving family and circle of friends. While Simon is focused on Blue, other characters go on journeys of their own, and the author is careful not only to wrap up Simon's story, but to draw attention to the stories the romance plot might overshadow in lesser hands.
Funny, moving and emotionally wise.