Leila “Lulu” Saad is about to graduate from high school with her three best friends by her side, but things get messy and senior year becomes a little more complicated than expected.
Lulu just wants to be an Iraqi-American living a normal teenage life in Houston, Texas. But that’s not possible when your (presumably white) Catholic mom is from Louisiana and her family has been openly hostile since your maternal grandmother, the matriarch of the family, passed away. It’s hard when your Muslim dad is from Iraq and you’ve grown up as an Arab-American Muslim who drinks and frequents all the latest parties but still fasts during Ramadan. Navigating high school is tough enough with graduation, boys, gossip, family, and friends, but Lulu also has to deal with Islamophobia at school, a war that threatens her family thousands of miles away, an incident in which sexual boundaries are overstepped, and the cross-cultural puzzle that every child of immigrants must learn to piece together in their own way. Lulu’s stubbornness and desire to make both her worlds meld lands her in isolation from both family and friends. Safi’s debut novel offers Arab and Muslim readers a teenager they can relate to as they too learn to navigate racial and religious tensions in a predominantly white society.
Delightful and funny but still giving voice to serious issues of sexual consent and xenophobia.
When Fairmount Academy is rocked by three apparent suicides in the span of a week, it is up to one young Wiccan to conjure up the truth.
Mila Flores dwells on the fringes of Fairmount society: Mexican-American, overweight, and Wiccan, she does not fit the school’s mold for social climbers. The one saving grace has been her friendship with fellow outcast Riley, the white daughter of local funeral home owners—until Riley is found drowned, the third apparent suicide in a row. Mila is sure that Riley would not have killed herself, and when a mysterious grimoire lands on her doorstep complete with a spell to raise the dead, she is sure she has found her answer. Despite the warnings of white, middle-aged lesbian Toby, the local Wiccan shop owner and her would-be mentor, Mila proceeds with the spell, which inevitably goes wrong. Mila must then confront her own fallibility and poor judgment. Toby serves as a valuable corrective for Mila’s mistaken approach to the Wiccan religion; take the depiction of neo-pagan spellwork here with a healthy dose of protective salt. Superlative pacing and writing that flows well make this title stand out.
A well-paced undead romp that would be even more enjoyable without the ties to a specific faith.
Former best friends (and crushes) rediscover each other on a backpacking trip in Bennett’s (Alex, Approximately, 2016, etc.) charming romance novel.
It’s the summer after junior year, and anxious, risk-averse Zorie Everhart uncharacteristically agrees to join popular classmate Reagan and her friends on a luxury glamping vacation in northern California, figuring she can still manage to meet up with fellow astronomers to witness a meteor shower on a nearby mountain. On the day of departure, Zorie realizes with dread that her neighbor Lennon Mackenzie is going too. Zorie (who’s white and being raised by a Korean-American stepmother) and Lennon (who has two white moms and an Egyptian-American biological father) were once inseparable but haven’t really talked since the incident at homecoming when he broke her heart. Lennon—a horror fanboy, amateur herpetologist, and music aficionado—turns out to also be a veteran hiker. When irresponsible behavior and a night of emotional confrontations leads the group to abandon the pair, they take a multi-day journey to reach the star-gazing party by themselves. The two have lots of literal and figurative ground to cover, and eventually resolve and move past old hurts. The author authentically explores serious subjects such as grief, betrayal, divorce, and loss—but there’s also plenty of humor, geeky asides, and a healthy portrayal of consensual sex between mature teens.
A sweet and surprisingly substantial friends-to-more romance.
After her father gambles the family into debt, Willie traverses a desert crawling with the undead to find him.
Willie, a white teen, lives with her Pa, younger brother Micah, and 7-year-old twin siblings in Glory, a small town fenced off from the surrounding desert. Her mother passed away from the sickness that turns people into shakes—zombie analogs. Shakes roam the desert, and their disease spreads easily; only hunters and barbed wire keep them in check. One day hunters arrive at Willie’s door looking for her gambling Pa—he’s stolen $400, and if it’s not returned, it’s on Willie and her siblings. Willie’s full of gumption, so it isn’t long before she’s decided to go after her Pa. She sets off with a couple of hunters, bluffing that she can pay their full fee. Danger comes at them from all sides—shakes, hunters, heat, and dust storms pummel them along the way. And though Willie thinks she’s risking an awful lot venturing into the shake-filled desert, she has no idea of the unthinkable surprises in store. Die-hard fans of the zombie genre will find a new, carefully hewn setting to sink their teeth into and a gritty protagonist to root for. Tropes abound, but an audacious climax and Willie’s nerves of steel elevate this suspenseful adventure.
A refreshing genre-bender.
A spirited teenager learns about the meaning of love, friendship, and family.
When spunky Clara Shin, the daughter of two Brazilian immigrants of Korean descent, is forced to make up for a school prank by taking a summer job working in her father’s food truck alongside her nemesis, Rose Carver, a perfectionistic, overachieving classmate who looks like a “long-lost Obama daughter,” she thinks it’s the end of her summer. Clara’s insouciant and rebellious demeanor hides profound feelings of rejection over her glamorous mother’s decision to leave the family when Clara was 4 to jaunt around the world as a social media influencer. Clara is most comfortable hanging out with a crowd of kids who are similarly rebellious and disengaged, but a budding romance with earnest Chinese heartthrob Hamlet Wong, who works in a neighboring food truck, and a developing friendship with Rose, who has never had a BFF, teach Clara that there’s an upside to taking risks and letting people get close. When Clara feels hurt by her father’s negative reaction to a well-intentioned surprise, she takes off on an adventure that ultimately opens her eyes to all the good things that await her back home. Clara’s personal growth during this summer of change is realistic and convincing.
Snappy dialogue and an endearing cast of characters bring to life this richly-drawn portrait of multicultural LA.
Mysteries abound on the moors—and not all of them are of this world.
When Charlotte Brontë’s best friend, Jane Eyre, is offered a job with the Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits, Charlotte is dismayed that Jane takes a position as a governess at Thornfield Hall instead. So Charlotte decides that she’s the right person for the job, even if she can’t see ghosts like Jane can. Nevertheless, she persists, joining her brother and his mentor, Alexander Blackwood, in serving the Society by trying to recruit Jane. Jane, however, has fallen in love with her employer and has no interest in leaving. A domino line of events follows the two white women and friends as they find love, work, ghosts, and strengths they never suspected. Hand, Ashton, and Meadows (My Lady Jane, 2016) offer up a fantastical, tongue-in-cheek plot that manages to both poke fun at and hold in high esteem the novel that provided the inspiration. A healthy dose of feminism and logic offers a contemporary perspective, often through the character of a ghost named Helen who isn’t afraid to call out Rochester’s patriarchal absurdities—even though most people can’t hear her. A passing familiarity with Jane Eyre is beneficial but not necessary for enjoying this book. Reader, it delighted.
A fun, supernatural mashup of different literary novels that shines on its own merit.
Fighting the undead is a breeze for Jane, but the fight for freedom? That’s a different story.
The Civil War is over, but mostly because the dead rose at Gettysburg—and then started rising everywhere else. Now the dangerous task of killing these shamblers rests on black people and Native Americans taken from their homes and forced into combat training schools at a young age. Jane McKeene, a black teen born to a white mother, is nearly finished with her training. She’s fierce with a scythe but longs to find her way home to her mother. However, her plan is thwarted when she and her friends run afoul of a corrupt mayor and are sent to a Western outpost called Summerland. Sinister secrets lurk beneath the surface there, and the more Jane discovers, the more determined she is to escape, especially as the shamblers keep multiplying. All the classic elements of the zombie novel are present, but Ireland (Promise of Shadows, 2014, etc.) takes the genre up a notch with her deft exploration of racial oppression in this alternative Reconstruction-era America. It’s no coincidence that the novel will prompt readers to make connections with today’s racial climate.
With a shrewd, scythe-wielding protagonist of color, Dread Nation is an exciting must-read.
(Historical fiction/horror. 14-adult)
A white supremacist terrorist group targets a teenage witness.
Avid cyclist Jake, a white teen from a working-class family, happens upon a plot by a white nationalist group, the Sons of Paine, that blows up an airplane. He escapes, but with a head injury that compromises his memory. Before he can recall that fateful day, Jake must dodge the terrorists’ assassination attempts—luckily his wealthy, black girlfriend, Laurissa, is not only loyal, but a skilled action heroine. Their adorable romance has some friction rooted in their racial and socio-economic differences: Laurissa’s mother isn’t crazy about her children dating white people, and Jake sometimes needs racial realities pointed out to him. The story is narrated by Jake and Sons of Paine teen operative Betsy, who hangs out on white-supremacist web forums. The organization wishes to restore America to what they believe is its lost purity by triggering a war against Muslims; to this end, they commit their crimes dressed in Middle Eastern garb. The Sons of Paine infiltrate the FBI investigation in order to frame Jake, forcing him to rely on his wits to uncover the truth before it’s too late. One FBI agent is Muslim. The book implicitly condemns Islamophobia but avoids directly engaging with why people harbor such beliefs or how to rehabilitate them.
Entertaining as a popcorn action flick but politically superficial.
The first term at university is a time for making new friends, falling in love, attending parties, playing quidditch, shedding old relationships, and maybe even attending a lecture or two.
Luke and Phoebe were at school together before arriving in York; while Phoebe has had a crush on Luke for ages, he’s barely been aware of her existence. Luke and his longtime girlfriend are now separated, both by the miles and his confused feelings. Phoebe, meanwhile, cannot believe her luck as circumstances repeatedly throw them together, making her adolescent dream of a relationship with dishy Luke a real possibility. But the waters are muddied when Luke joins the soccer team: He’s uncomfortable with the misogynistic group texts that are deeply embedded in the team culture—but not enough to risk his standing with posh captain Will by doing anything about it. As the students and their respective social circles get to know one another, they learn that part of growing up is embracing even the gloriously messy, uncomfortable parts of life. While the Americanization of some vocabulary is jarring in this oh-so-English novel, it is marked by a refreshing absence of mean girl drama, well-rounded and caring boy characters, fluid writing, expert pacing, and genuine humor. Main characters, other than Phoebe’s Iranian-British friend, are assumed white, with ethnic diversity in background characters.
Full of heart, this is David Nicholls’ One Day for teens.
Working at her favorite boutique and falling in love, a girl enjoys a lush Los Angeles summer—until things become complicated.
Pink-haired Abby Ives, age 17, has landed an internship at Lemonberry, a small store that includes plus-sizes in its snazzy, creative clothing designs. Abby runs her own plus-size fashion blog and is serious about a career in the industry, but her personal life is in less good shape: She’s never kissed a girl and worries she never will. Along comes Jordi Perez, photographer and unexpected co-intern at Lemonberry, who falls hard for Abby’s adorably awkward, chatty, gorgeous self. Their blissfully heady romance is a balm to Abby’s insecurities about being fat. Her mom, a food blogger who substitutes mashed cauliflower for hamburger buns and nutritional yeast for cheese, believes she needs to lose weight if she wants to lead a happy life and be pretty—but Abby has already achieved both. Yet issues of privacy and consent (photographic, not sexual) threaten this love story. Title notwithstanding, a subplot involving a food app and a hamburger quest offers little to chew on, but fans of colorful fashion and romance will be well-satisfied. Abby is white; Jordi is Mexican-American.
Funny, full of heart, and refreshingly free of a weight-loss arc.
A challenge unlike any she has experienced before awaits Jade this summer—staying in one place long enough to possibly fall in love.
Jade is the quintessential contemporary white hipster—vegan, independent, and just the right amount of nerdy. Her 17 years have been spent on the road while her mom’s successful rock band tours the globe. Rather than going to the same school with the same people, Jade has been home-schooled, exploring new cities and constantly making new friends. All that changes when Jade decides to stay in California with her aunt for a summer. To her mother she frames the decision as an opportunity to experience normal teen life, but her ulterior motive is to track down the father she’s never met. She is responsible, quietly confident, and accustomed to freedom; meeting gorgeous and slightly mysterious Quentin, who is also white, leaves the typically unflappable Jade flustered. As the two enjoy a protracted and playful summer flirtation, Jade can’t shake the feeling that there is something that Quentin isn’t telling her. Ancillary to the love drama are several subplots about family relationships, particularly fathers and daughters. Jade and Quentin are empathetic and enjoyable characters. Though their burgeoning relationship is the central story, Jade’s close connection with her unwaveringly supportive mother is perhaps the more interesting.
Potentially weighty explorations of relationships and responsibility are managed with a light touch in this pleasant romance.
Aspiring filmmaker Twinkle Mehra fills her journal with entries addressed to her favorite female movie directors, among them Mira Nair, Sofia Coppola, Nora Ephron, and Ava DuVernay.
Shy, 16-year-old Twinkle received the journal as a gift from her unconditionally supportive (and highly eccentric) dadi, or paternal grandmother, who urged her to use it to express her innermost heartfelt thoughts. Twinkle navigates film school aspirations, which she believes are unattainable due to her working-class family’s financial situation; an unrequited crush on Neil Roy, a half white, half Indian boy who is the big man on campus; a changing relationship with her former best friend, Maddie Tanaka, who is now hanging out with a wealthy, cool crowd; and an unexpected and confusing relationship with fellow film geek Sahil Roy, Neil’s awkward and less-noticeable identical twin brother. Twinkle sees embarking on a project for a local film festival with Sahil as a way to become close to Neil, realize her romantic ambitions, and thus improve her social standing at school. When she begins receiving admiring emails signed only “N,” she assumes her mystery fan to be Neil; however, Sahil has long had his eye on Twinkle— and the true identity of her anonymous fan becomes a tantalizing mystery.
Menon’s (When Dimple Met Rishi, 2017) sophomore effort is a charming and sophisticated rom-com that outshines her previous outing.
A collection of Asian myths and legends in which beloved stories of spirits, magic, family, love, and heartbreak are combined with elements from modern teens’ lives.
In this anthology, Asian authors from a variety of backgrounds retell some of their cultures’ favorite myths and legends. It begins with a more traditional Filipino myth, retold by Roshani Chokshi, of a beautiful guardian spirit associated with Mount Makiling who falls in love with a human and loses her heart. Lori M. Lee changes a well-known Hmong children’s folktale into a story of deception and androids. Pulling common elements from a Korean epic, E.C. Myers creates a tale filled with traditional magical beings and online role-playing games. After each short story, the author gives background information about their inspiration as well as a description of the original tale. Words and names from the different languages that are reflective of their cultures are integrated into each retelling. The tone of the stories varies from eerie to heartwarming to tragic, and with such a variety of emotion and experiences to explore, nearly any teen can find something to relate to. The editors and authors have pulled together to create an incredible anthology that will keep readers on the edges of their seats, wanting more.
A marvelous anthology of retold Asian myths and legends tying the traditional and modern together and accessible to all teens of all backgrounds.
(Mythology and folklore. 14-18)
Lula Mortiz tries to save her boyfriend, Maks, by cheating Death; however, Lady de la Muerte is not so easily bested.
Some months after Lula and her family have returned from their ordeal in Los Lagos (Labyrinth Lost, 2016), the Mortiz family tries to find its way to a new normal. Normal for a bruja, that is. Falling back into high school life isn’t easy, though, and Lula’s sinmago boyfriend simply can’t understand what she has been through. Unable to cope with this “new” Lula, Maks breaks up with her on the way to the last soccer game of the year, leaving her devastated. But when a freak accident kills everyone involved—except Lula, who is saved by her magic—the Mortiz sisters cast a canto to heal Maks, with devastating results. Magic always comes with a price, often a string of unintended consequences. The choice to save Maks, though well-intended, spurs a supernatural chaos, throwing the entire order of the world out of balance. Lula and her sisters must put a stop to the wheels they put in motion, resulting in an epic adventure to save not just Maks and the city they love—but Lady de la Muerte herself. Even readers new to the series will leave this world mostly satisfied and excited about where the Mortiz sisters will go next
An exciting read with a wonderful Latinx feel woven throughout