Natasha and Daniel meet, get existential, and fall in love during 12 intense hours in New York City.
Natasha believes in science and facts, things she can quantify. Fact: undocumented immigrants in the U.S., her family is being deported to Jamaica in a matter of hours. Daniel’s a poet who believes in love, something that can’t be explained. Fact: his parents, Korean immigrants, expect him to attend an Ivy League school and become an M.D. When Natasha and Daniel meet, Natasha’s understandably distracted—and doesn’t want to be distracted by Daniel. Daniel feels what in Japanese is called koi no yokan, “the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them.” The narrative alternates between the pair, their first-person accounts punctuated by musings that include compelling character histories. Daniel—sure they’re meant to be—is determined to get Natasha to fall in love with him (using a scientific list). Meanwhile, Natasha desperately attempts to forestall her family’s deportation and, despite herself, begins to fall for sweet, disarmingly earnest Daniel. This could be a sappy, saccharine story of love conquering all, but Yoon’s lush prose chronicles an authentic romance that’s also a meditation on family, immigration, and fate.
With appeal to cynics and romantics alike, this profound exploration of life and love tempers harsh realities with the beauty of hope in a way that is both deeply moving and satisfying.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
In the early 1900s in Texas, the Mexican Revolution crosses the border, dividing the brown-skinned gente (people) from the white authority of the Texas Rangers.
Eighteen-year-olds Joaquín del Toro and Dulceña Villa love each other; however, after their families fall out, they must resort to keeping their relationship a secret. The del Toros own a large estate with cattle and farmland and are friendly with Capt. Munro, the local leader of the Texas Rangers. The Villas own the print shop and are publishers of El Sureño, the local periodical considered seditious by the town’s authorities. Told from Joaquín’s point of view, the novel spans three and a half years of corrupt agendas, power struggles, violence, racism, and loss. Scattered throughout are well-placed, nonitalicized Spanish words and phrases, both archival and fictional newspaper clippings, letters exchanged between hotheaded Joaquín and no-nonsense Dulceña, and Joaquín’s poetry-filled journal entries, personalizing and adding context to the overall political conflict. Far beyond a love story, the novel successfully tackles all kinds of hardship, including sexual violence and lynching; the historical conflict between the Rangers and the Tejanos feels uncannily contemporary. Women are the hidden heroes, because they must be, the hearts of both the revolution and the novel.
Pura Belpré winner McCall delivers an ambitious, sardonically relevant historical novel—a must-read, complex twist on a political Shakespearean tragedy.
(cast of characters, author’s note, further reading, sources, glossary)
(Historical fiction. 12 & up)
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)
Continuing Illuminae’s (2015) story, Kaufman and Kristoff explore what went down on Jump Station Heimdall while the spaceship Hypatia was trying to get there.
This time around, the found-footage–style collage narration (instant messages, radio conversations, video transcripts, diary pages, and the like) is framed as evidence at a tribunal investigating the activities of BeiTech Industries. The station commander’s white teenage daughter, Hanna, and her white drug dealer, Nik, avoid death and capture when a multiracial commando team of BeiTech “auditors” board Heimdall to take over its wormhole (which badly needs maintenance) for a BeiTech drone assault fleet sent to eliminate Kerenza’s witnesses. With lots of sneaking, combat, quick thinking, and the crucial help of Nik’s younger cousin Ella (a quippy, brilliant hacker disabled by a space plague she barely survived), they throw everything they have against their better-armed and -trained assailants. But the drug operation relies on mind-eating, multiheaded, predatory parasites with psychoactive venom, and with the cartel out of action, the carefully tended newborns get loose on the station, and are they ever hungry! Tension snowballs with each new small complication, resulting in a read harder to put down with each page. Despite superficial similarities (protagonists and formatting—not all final art seen) to Illuminae, forward plot motion and surprises right up to the cliffhanger ending keep this its own book.
An action-packed thrill ride and stellar head trip.
(Science fiction. 13 & up)
A group of white college students becomes entangled in the investigation of an on-campus rape.
Haley Dougherty, a freshman at MacCallum College, suffers her third concussion during a soccer match. Light and sound overwhelm her. So when her mousy roommate, Jenny James, returns to their dorm upset about a party at Conundrum, the notorious party house, she’s intrigued but too out of it to take much notice. Elsewhere on campus, Jordan Bockus brags to his housemate Richard Brandt that he got some action from a freshman at the same party. That night at Conundrum soon takes over the lives of nearly everyone involved when Jenny files a formal complaint stating that Jordan raped her. Reluctantly, both Haley and Richard are recruited as advisers to Jenny and Jordan, respectively, during the investigation, putting them on opposite sides just as a flirtation arises between them. And on top of everything else, Jenny’s fuzzy memories and Jordan’s sense of entitlement make for painfully realistic barriers to the truth. Haley’s and Richard’s alternating perspectives, related in a tightly focused present tense, create a web of good and bad intentions as the investigation lurches on. All characters are realistically flawed and human as they struggle to do what’s right. In the face of recent college rape trials, readers will be rapt and emotionally spent by the end.
An important, devastating new perspective on an all-too-timely subject.
Rani Patel, daughter of Gujarati immigrants, feels isolated for more than one reason on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1991.
Readers first meet Rani as she shaves her head following her discovery of her father’s affair with a “barely out-of-adolescence homewrecker.” That this is the traditional gesture of a widow takes on ever greater significance as the story progresses. Her mother distant, her crush on the handsome, (mostly) Native Hawaiian Pono unrequited, Rani’s only comfort is in hip-hop and the rhymes she lays down—until Mark, a hot, older haole who works at a nearby resort and patronizes her family’s convenience store, shows some interest in her slam poems and in her. When, as MC Sutra, Rani’s invited to audition for hip-hop club 4eva Flowin’, she finds community—and complication. Rani relates her tale in an energetic, often wry present-tense account that effortlessly enfolds unitalicized Hawaiian and Gujarati as well as Hawaiian pidgin and hip-hop slang; import if not exact meaning should be clear to readers, and a glossary fills in the gaps. Rap’s political side is, like Rani, “in full effect,” as she takes on some of the traditions that have critically injured her family in electric slam poems. Author Patel is a psychiatrist, and a concluding note explains that although Rani’s recovery from incest is unrealistically speedy, it can stand as a model for victims.
A powerfully particular, 100 percent genuine character commands this gutsy debut.
(Historical fiction. 14-18)
A genetically engineered killing-machine bodyguard must impersonate her charge in a dangerous galactic court.
A Diabolic is specially bred to be the ultimate bodyguard, then bonded with the one person that it will serve. As this results in the ruthless killing of any perceived threats, Diabolics have been banned—retroactively. Sidonia Impyrean, heir to an important seat in the Senate, cares so deeply for her Diabolic, narrator Nemesis, that her family fakes Nemesis’ death. When Sidonia’s heretic father angers the Emperor, Sidonia’s ordered to the Imperial Court. To protect Sidonia from being taken hostage or executed, they send Nemesis to impersonate her. Nemesis must keep her killer instincts in check to maintain the family’s treasonous deception. Expanding her worldview beyond Sidonia—whom she loves unconditionally—Nemesis falls into a world of contrasts: elites versus the masses; religious dogma versus science. While depicting a post-Earth society in which skin and hair color are malleable, the book critiques power and class structures. In a strong emotional storyline, Nemesis faces revelations about whether she has a soul (as Sidonia is convinced) or is just a killing machine, “either a perfectly acceptable Diabolic or an abomination of a human being.” In her internal crisis, she finds unlikely allies—especially a political animal she doesn’t know if she can trust in the face of such complicated intrigues.
Philosophical, twisty, and addictive.
(Science fiction. 13 & up)
Tan’s latest book is a portable gallery: each spread features an artfully illuminated sculptural scene facing a paragraph-length “explanation”—an excerpt from one of 75 Grimm fairy tales.
Tan created 50 sculptures for Philip Pullman’s Grimms Märchen (2013), a 512-page collection of familiar and lesser-known tales, available only in German. To present his menagerie to English speakers, Tan here adds more stories and art, eliciting text and an introduction from scholar Jack Zipes. Lean, powerful dialogue and descriptions accompany pieces with complex patinas, textured settings, and provocative subjects acting out their vengeance, charity, jealousy, and love. The objects, inspired by Inuit and pre-Columbian figurines, are sculpted from clay over papier-mâché and finished with acrylics, oxidized metal powder, and shoe polish. An evil queen is blood red, all sharp edges. Cinderella’s gilded face is framed claustrophobically by a rough, conical hearth. The titular story features an older brother about to kill his sibling to win their father’s favor. Readers must turn to the summaries at the back of the book to understand this entry (and others). While some will find this format useful, others will yearn for a complete narrative in context; Tan encourages readers to use this alongside Zipes’ The Complete Fairy Tales (1987).
These inscrutable, unsettling sculptures demand that viewers connect art and tale, examining their own reactions to the darkest impulses and glimpses of light within the book—and themselves.
(foreword, introduction, bibliography, afterword, annotated index)
(Fairy tales. 12 & up)
Teddy, 17, makes a promise to his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandfather, Gpa, to bring him home from assisted living before he forgets Teddy’s deceased grandmother.
An evening on the beach listening to his talented friend Corrina, adopted from Guatemala, sing and play guitar gives Teddy a rash idea for the three of them (and Gpa’s aptly named dog, Old Humper) to drive from LA to Ithaca, New York. Although Teddy is the one telling the story, the three main characters and their individual needs for the road trip are equally well fleshed out. Corrina needs to get away from her adoptive parents and try to break into the music scene. She shares a love of ’60s rock with Gpa, creating a bond that helps keep his memories alive. Gpa, a Vietnam vet who has demons of his own to put to rest, is trying to hold onto his faculties against overwhelming odds. Teddy’s voice is humorous and sincere. He flirts with Corrina and remains optimistic that things will work out despite the obstacles they encounter. At a Mexican-themed restaurant, Teddy realizes how ignorant he is of the everyday racism that Corrina encounters: “It was like my whiteness just put pirate patches over my eyes and I was blind to all the pain.”
Readers will be swept up in Kiely’s musical prose as Teddy learns about love, romance, forgiveness, and reconciliation
. (Fiction. 13-17)
Tahir’s follow-up to An Ember in the Ashes (2015) picks up right where Volume 1 left off, ratcheting up the tension (military and sexual) as well as the magic, the violence, and the stakes.
Laia (golden-eyed, dark-haired, magically gifted) and Elias (gray-eyed, “golden-brown”–skinned soldier extraordinaire) have fled Blackcliff, determined to rescue Laia’s imprisoned brother and potentially spur a Scholar rebellion, while icy, Aryan Helene, now Blood Shrike and second in power only to sadistic Emperor Marcus, must determine where her loyalty lies. Complex plots and counterplots exist in every corner, and all three main characters, but especially Helene and Elias, must constantly grapple with the cost of power and the price of victory. Powerful females in charge of their lives and their bodies abound, even if their boy-laden conversations rarely pass the Bechdel test. Tahir pulls few punches: brutal deaths occur and characters make choices that cause pain and suffering. But hope exists, and readers will be torn between the vivid, oppositional characters. Laia, shaping up to be a chosen one, ironically has the least compelling arc, but there are hints that her future will change that. Diversity exists in this Roman-Arabian fantasy world, but racial categories do not have one-to-one correspondence with our own.
An excellent continuation of a series seemingly designed for readers of the political, bloody fantasy style du jour, set apart by an uncommon world.
(Fantasy. 14 & up)