An Afghani-Australian teen named Mina earns a scholarship to a prestigious private school and meets Michael, whose family opposes allowing Muslim refugees and immigrants into the country.
Dual points of view are presented in this moving and intelligent contemporary novel set in Australia. Eleventh-grader Mina is smart and self-possessed—her mother and stepfather (her biological father was murdered in Afghanistan) have moved their business and home across Sydney in order for her to attend Victoria College. She’s determined to excel there, even though being surrounded by such privilege is a culture shock for her. When she meets white Michael, the two are drawn to each other even though his close-knit, activist family espouses a political viewpoint that, though they insist it is merely pragmatic, is unquestionably Islamophobic. Tackling hard topics head-on, Abdel-Fattah explores them fully and with nuance. True-to-life dialogue and realistic teen social dynamics both deepen the tension and provide levity. While Mina and Michael’s attraction seems at first unlikely, the pair’s warmth wins out, and readers will be swept up in their love story and will come away with a clearer understanding of how bias permeates the lives of those targeted by it.
A meditation on a timely subject that never forgets to put its characters and their stories first
. (Fiction. 12-17)
Sixteen-year-old Suzette was sent to boarding school when her bookish older brother, Lionel, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but now she’s back in Los Angeles for the summer.
Despite the strange looks their family attracts—Suzette and her mom are black, while Lionel and his dad are white—Lionel and Suzette were always close before Lionel’s diagnosis. With Suzette back home, Lionel confides in her that he’s going off his medication. Fearing that to divulge his secret will ruin any chance of rebuilding their bond, Suzette keeps quiet even though she feels responsible for her brother’s well-being. Simultaneously, Suzette balances her blooming feelings for Emil Choi, a sunny, biracial (black/Korean) boy with Ménière’s disease, and for Rafaela, a pansexual Latina—whom, disastrously, Lionel is also falling for. To make matters worse, Suzette is still grappling with a homophobic act that exposed her relationship with her white boarding school roommate, Iris. Suzette’s engrossing present-tense narration intertwines with sporadic—but pertinent—flashback chapters. Colbert (Pointe, 2014) sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity (“people have too many questions when you’re black and Jewish,” thinks Suzette). A vibrantly depicted Los Angeles and a rich, though at-times unwieldy cast of characters create a convincing world.
Readers will empathize with Suzette as she explores both her sexuality and the tricky line between honesty and betrayal.
Estrella and her four cousins have been told anyone they love too deeply will vanish, so what happens if they all fall for the same young woman?
McLemore’s latest original fairy tale follows the Nomeolvides (“Forget-Me-Not”) women, of implied Mexican descent: for generations, they’ve tended the gardens of La Pradera, a beautiful property set in an undisclosed location (and time period). Although they possess inexplicable abilities to grow flowers with their bare hands, Estrella, Azalea, Calla, Dalia, and Gloria pay a price for their magic. Their elders have warned them that if they love someone, he will eventually disappear. They must also never permanently leave the grounds, or they will die. When the cousins realize, to shared horror, that they are all in love with wonderful Bay Briar—heiress to La Pradera—they pray for her safety by scattering treasured offerings in the magical garden’s dark pond. The next day, Estrella discovers the garden has given something back: a mysterious Spanish-speaking young man, in century-old clothes, with nothing more than a half-ripped label spelling “FEL.” The women speculate that Fel, who can remember nothing about his past, is one of their predecessor’s missing lovers. As Estrella bonds with the sensitive and attentive Fel, she begins to question the rules governing the Nomeolvides women’s lives, the legendary curse keeping them tied to this garden, and the nature of love. A garden is the perfect setting for McLemore’s plush, sensuous prose, which unspools the story with delicious languor.
Part mystery, part love story, this evocative, lush novel is a delight for sophisticated readers.
(Magical realism. 13-adult)
A clash of perspectives sparks this romantic comedy about two first-generation Indian-American teens whose parents set an arranged-marriage plan in motion, but it backfires big time—or maybe not?
In the alternating voices of her two protagonists, Menon explores themes of culture and identity with insight and warmth. Seamlessly integrating Hindi language, she deftly captures the personalities of two seemingly opposite 18-year-olds from different parts of California and also from very different places regarding life choices and expectations. Insomnia Con, a competitive six-week summer program at San Francisco State focused on app development, is where this compelling, cinematic, and sometimes-madcap narrative unfolds. Dimple Shah lives and breathes coding and has what she thinks is a winning and potentially lifesaving concept. She chafes under her mother’s preoccupation with the Ideal Indian Husband and wants to be respected for her intellect and talent. Rishi Patel believes in destiny, tradition, and the “rich fabric of history,” arriving in San Francisco with his great-grandmother’s ring in his pocket. He plans to study computer science and engineering at MIT. But what about his passion for comic-book art? They are assigned to work together and sparks fly, but Dimple holds back. Readers will be caught up as Rishi and Dimple navigate their ever changing, swoonworthy connection, which plays out as the app competition and complicated social scene intensify.
Heartwarming, empathetic, and often hilarious—a delightful read.
In Murphy’s (Dumplin’, 2015, etc.) third novel, a teenage girl navigates the complexities of romance and identity.
Ramona “Blue” Leroux—6 foot 3, white, blue-haired, and gay—has always known who she is and where she is (or isn’t) going. Living in a trailer in post-Katrina Eulogy, Mississippi, Ramona does her best to save and provide for her dad, older sister, Hattie, and soon-to-be niece. One of only three queer kids in town, she’s always been sure she’s attracted to women, and Ramona feels lucky that her coming-out experience was nothing more than “a blip.” But this year, everything is changing. She’s losing her sister to the coming baby and to Hattie’s irresponsible, irritating baby-daddy, who has squeezed into their trailer. Her summer fling with closeted, white out-of-towner Grace may not withstand distance. And then Ramona’s black childhood best friend, Freddie, unexpectedly moves back to Eulogy, and, as they reconnect through their shared history and a passion for swimming, she is surprised to find her desires and feelings for Freddie growing deeper. Ramona’s first-person narration is tender and compelling, and the love she feels for the diverse cast of secondary characters is palpable. Murphy beautifully incorporates conversations about identity and diversity—including the policing of Freddie’s black body, heteronormative expectations, and diverse sexualities (Ramona’s white friend Ruth identifies herself explicitly as homoromantic demisexual)—with nuance and care.
An exquisite, thoughtful exploration of the ties that bind and the fluidity of relationships, sexuality, and life.
Fifteen-year-old Daria is determined to fight against her mother’s party-planning for the extravagant Sweet 16 she doesn’t want, but the battle she is not prepared for comes when she discovers family secrets that turn her world upside down.
Daria is proud of her Iranian culture but wants no part of the posh Beverly Hills Persian community. She finds solace with the Authentics, her small, diverse group of friends who have proven to her that they are real, and she nurses resentment toward the Nose Jobs, a group of pretentious Persian princesses led by her former best friend, Heidi. When Daria begins researching her family history for a school project, she makes some unexpected discoveries that challenge her senses of herself and her family. She loses trust in her parents and turns to her friends, but even they fall short of her standards of complete honesty. Having fallen for a Mexican guy her parents would never approve of adds excitement and romance but also brings her crisis to a boiling point. The ferociously authentic Daria is a memorable protagonist, narrating in a trenchant, self-aware past tense that carries readers through her personal cultural minefield. Her gay brother and his husband are but one small detail that celebrates the complexity of and diversity within modern American Islam.
Full of surprises both cultural and emotional, and narrated in the strong voice of a memorable protagonist, this is a tale of integrity, identity, family, love, and sacrifice that is sure to satisfy.
An extraordinary, ordinary day in the life of Adam Thorn.
Seventeen-year-old, tall, white, blond, evangelical-raised Adam begins his day buying chrysanthemums for his overbearing, guilt-inducing mother. From the get-go, some readers may recognize one of many deliberate, well-placed Virginia Woolf references throughout the narrative. He goes on a long run. He has lunch with his bright, smart-alecky best friend, Angela Darlington, who was born in Korea and adopted by her white parents. In a particularly uncomfortable scene, he is sexually harassed by his boss. He also partakes in a 30-plus–page act of intimacy that leaves little to the imagination with his new boyfriend, Linus, also white. The scene is fairly educational, but it’s also full of laughter, true intimacy, discomfort, mixed feelings, and more that elevate it far beyond pure physicality. Meanwhile, in parallel vignettes, the ghost of a murdered teenage girl armed with more Woolf references eerily haunts the streets and lake where she was killed. Her story permeates the entire narrative and adds a supernatural, creepy context to the otherwise small town. What makes these scenes rise above the mundane is Ness’ ability to drop highly charged emotion bombs in the least expected places and infuse each of them with poignant memories, sharp emotions, and beautifully rendered prose so moving it may cause readers to pause and reflect.
Literary, illuminating, and stunningly told
. (Fiction. 14-18)
A powerful and riveting account of an American couple in love when that love was ruled illegal in many American states.
In the early 1950s a boy and a girl in rural Virginia fell in love and got married. Her family was “descended / from African slaves. / And their owners.” He was white. Their love was scorned and against the law in their state. The couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, alternate and sometimes join together to tell their stories in beautifully rendered free verse. Love, children, marriage, jail, flight to Washington, D.C., long court battles, and final unanimous vindication in 1967 from the Warren Supreme Court fill the pages, detailing every particle of their strong feelings for each other and the equally strong bigotry of the local sheriff and state judicial system. Full-page photographs of school segregation and civil rights demonstrations clearly set the time frame. Excerpts from court decisions, period headlines, and quotations from Dr. King strengthen the learning curve for readers. Strickland’s blue-, gray-, and yellow-toned illustrations have a strong retro feel and tenderly reinforce the written words.
A song of love vs. a cacophony of hate—all in a beautiful model of bookmaking.
(timeline, bibliography, credits and sources)
(Historical verse fiction. 11-18)
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.