Fifteen-year-old Steffi Herrera feels the beat of jazz in her soul, but is that enough to sustain her against her classmates’ relentless bullying?
Returning home from school, she overhears jazz emanating from a window and follows the sound to the retirement-home room of Alvar, nearly 90 and a former jazz musician. These two unlikely friends gradually reveal their stories, Steffi of her music and Alvar of his experiences as a country boy trying to make his way in the jazz world of World War II Stockholm. Steffi’s father is Cuban; her Caribbean roots make her stand out in her small Swedish town, where she’s a lightning rod for her brutal classmates, who insult her, spit on her, and otherwise make her life at school a torment. Achingly talented, she withdraws into her music but suffers nonetheless, her misery blended with her older sister’s, confused by wakening lesbian feelings. Inviting transitions smoothly shift readers into diffident Alvar’s parallel story, as he acquires jazz band experience and tries to find a way to make attractive, charming Anita fall in love with him. A deliberate pace enhances the carefully nuanced progress of Alvar’s relationship with Anita but also with her latter-day alter ego, Steffi, although the aging musician’s connection with her is as a desperately needed mentor. The translation from Swedish is smooth, and the culture, though different, will feel recognizable and relevant to American readers.
Sensitive and deeply moving: outstanding.
Three college-bound Latino teens navigate their ways through senior year in El Paso.
Born to white parents, Salvador was adopted at the age of 3 by a gay, Mexican-American man and embraced by his extended family. His closest friends are Sam, an extroverted girl with a drama-filled life, and Fito, a gay boy who for all intents and purposes is homeless. Sal tries to maintain a calm, controlled life, but when a student hurls the word “faggot” at him, he responds quickly with his fists. He starts to wonder if he’s inherited violent tendencies from his biological father, whom he never knew. In dialogue-rich prose, Sáenz explores Sal’s internal struggles with his churning emotions during a year of life-changing events: “all of a sudden I felt like I was living my life in a relay race and there was no one else to hand the baton to.” Journallike chapters of varying lengths are prefaced with spare titles—“WFTD = Comfort”; “Me. Alone. Not.” The well-constructed pacing of the novel, with its beautifully expansive prose punctuated by text messages between Sal and Sam, demonstrates the author’s talent for capturing the richness of relationships among family and friends.
The author of Printz Honor–winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012) offers another stellar, gentle look into the emotional lives of teens on the cusp of adulthood.
Sixteen-year-old Jade dreams of success beyond her neighborhood despite the prejudices that surround her.
For two years, Jade has been a scholarship student at a predominantly white private high school where she is one of few African-American students—the only one from her “bad” neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Jade’s mom struggles to make ends meet. At school, Jade has many opportunities, steppingstones to move beyond her neighborhood someday, maybe even travel the world. But sometimes these opportunities and her white guidance counselor make Jade feel like a charity case. Junior year brings yet another opportunity that leaves Jade feeling judged and pitied: the Woman to Woman mentorship program, which promises a full college scholarship to mentees. Jade’s mentor, Maxine, is both well-intentioned and also black, but she’s from a wealthy family. Jade chafes against the way Maxine treats her as though she needs to be saved. Through Jade’s insightful and fresh narration, Watson presents a powerful story that challenges stereotypes about girls with “coal skin and hula-hoop hips” who must contend with the realities of racial profiling and police brutality. Jade’s passion for collage and photography help her to find her voice and advocate not only for herself, but for her community.
A timely, nuanced, and unforgettable story about the power of art, community, and friendship.
(Fiction. 12 & up)
The discovery of a skeleton connects the lives of two teens, a century apart, with the brutality and terror of the 1921 Tulsa race riots.
After 17-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton in an outbuilding on her family’s property in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she sets out to investigate. Almost 100 years earlier, in Jim Crow–era Tulsa, 17-year-old Will Tillman finds himself at the center of violence and lawlessness on the night whites looted and burned Greenwood, a thriving African-American community within the city. In all, 35 blocks and nearly 1,300 homes and businesses were destroyed; 8,000 black Tulsans lost everything they owned; and at least 300 people died. Will is white and Osage. Like Will, Rowan is biracial (African-American and white). She comes from a wealthy family and must face her own class privilege as well as uncomfortable parallels between the century-old murder mystery she’s trying to solve and present-day race relations in her community and the nation as a whole. Alternating narration chapter by chapter between Rowan and Will, Latham presents a fast-paced historical novel brimming with unsparing detail and unshakable truths about a shameful chapter in American history. For more than 50 years, Tulsa’s schoolchildren didn’t learn about the race riot, and many outside of Tulsa remain unaware today. This masterfully told story fills this void.
An unflinching, superbly written story about family, friendship, and integrity, set during one of America’s deadliest race riots.
(Mystery/historical fiction. 14-18)
“If only lonely were a more accurate word. It should sound much less pretty.”
It’s December in New York, and college freshman Marin is in her dorm room, contemplating a solitary monthlong stay after everyone else has left for winter break. Her single respite will be a brief visit from her best friend, Mabel. Marin is dreading the stay for reasons that are revealed in flashbacks: she fled San Francisco without informing anyone after the sudden death of her beloved Gramps, who raised her. Over the course of three days, secrets about Gramps, Marin’s long-dead mother, and the girls’ complicated relationship are revealed in short, exquisite sentences that evoke myriad emotions with a minimum of words. “I must have shut grief out. Found it in books. Cried over fiction instead of the truth. The truth was unconfined, unadorned. There was no poetic language to it, no yellow butterflies, no epic floods.…The truth was vast enough to drown in.” A surprise arrival at story’s end leads to a tearful resolution of Marin’s sorrow and a heartfelt renewal of her relationship with Mabel and her family. Mexican-American Mabel speaks Spanish, while an absence of markers indicates Marin is likely white.
An elegantly crafted paean to the cleansing power of truth.
(Fiction. 12 & up)
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.
When her friend and partner, the sailor Henry Koskela, is wrongfully imprisoned for murder, Sally Jones works for years to free him.
The ape Sally Jones, who can understand speech, respond with nods, write slowly, and play chess, tells her tale by typing on an old Underwood typewriter. It’s the tale of the murder of Alphonse Morro, but it’s far from simple. When Koskela goes to prison for killing Morro (whose body’s not found) after Morro lied to Koskela about the cargo he and Sally Jones were to transport (guns—not roofing tiles), Sally Jones eventually finds a safe place to stay with singer Ana Molina and her musical-instrument–repairing landlord, Luigi Fidardo. Thus begins a continent-spanning quest filled with betrayal and intrigue and engineering and music. Set in the very early years of the 20th century, Wegelius’ award-winning novel won Sweden’s August Prize for best novel for youth, as did his first book about Sally Jones, not yet published in the United States, and features a complex mystery, an intricately constructed narrative, and deep characters. It has enough adventures for a trilogy at least, but the pacing is slower than modern American adventure novels. Sally Jones is a compelling narrator, and the detailed illustrations by the author add much (and depict a largely white human cast).
Short attention spans need not apply, but committed, careful readers will be richly rewarded.
(Mystery. 10 & up)
The violence and romance of Arthurian legend practically pop off of the pages of Anderson (Symphony for the City of the Dead, 2015, etc.) and Offermann’s (Well of Witches, 2016, etc.) striking graphic-novel adaptation of Chretien de Troyes’ epic poem.
After hearing tales of a magical spring in a far-off kingdom, Yvain—a young knight of the Round Table—leaves Camelot to defeat the spring’s guardian and thereby claim glory. After killing the kingdom’s lord in combat, Yvain later falls in love with his widow, the beautiful Lady Laudine, whom he marries. Yvain’s subsequent, selfish decision to abandon his new wife and adult responsibilities for the glory of questing drives this story of hubris and redemption. The author and illustrator weave the richness of human complexity into their interpretation of the medieval poem, crafting three-dimensional knights and ladies who feel heartbreakingly real. Offermann’s illustrations are glorious medieval tapestries come to life, and her finely etched pencil lines highlight the white characters’ angular features and draw attention to their eyes, which are mirrors for their turbulent emotions. Anderson uses the format’s sparseness of text to maximum effect, fashioning a thought-provoking narrative that reflects the grandiosity of Arthurian England while never relinquishing the human element at the core of this story. His perceptive rendering of gender politics within the court is one of the tale’s most intriguing features.
A compulsively readable and eminently enjoyable retelling that breathes new life into an old classic.
(author’s, illustrator’s notes)
(Graphic fantasy. 12-adult)
Hampton Court curator Worsley’s debut novel for teens digs into the danger that lies just beneath the glamour of Henry VIII’s court.
Newly trained maid-in-waiting Elizabeth Camperdowne is sent to court to find a rich husband and save her father, Lord Anthony, from financial ruin. Wild-natured, red-haired white Elizabeth and her “luxuriantly plump and sloe-eyed” cousin Katherine Howard arrive at court in time for the lecherous Henry’s marriage to wife No. 4, Anne of Cleves, whom they will attend. After Henry sends Anne into exile for failing to consummate their marriage, the narrative proceeds to follow Katherine’s rise from mistress to fifth wife and her subsequent execution for adultery. Elizabeth, the fictional narrator, must remain vigilant; one wrong move can cost her her life, but she does have a choice, which gives her more power than she thought she possessed. She can seize the opportunity to save her family by becoming the king’s mistress, or she can risk everything to be with the man she loves, bastard-born page Ned Barsby. The novel is a satisfying blend of fact and artistic liberty: the women’s duties as maids of the court are drawn from history, but Katherine’s illicit lover is an amalgam of her two real-life lovers. The retention of British spellings and the inclusion of lesser-known customs of the period add further authenticity.
Exhilarating, romantic, and illuminating; has the potential to turn casual readers into Tudor history buffs.
(Historical fiction. 15 & up)
A gritty, hard-hitting, and honest portrayal of one young woman’s difficult journey to putting the pieces of her life back together after serving in the Iraq War.
More a crossover book for adults than one strictly for teens, this black-and-white graphic novel will slap some reality into readers who believe in the glamour of war. Liz, the white protagonist and a former military working dog handler, returns from Iraq after having her leg shattered, sustaining another injury that leaves a scar across most of her torso, and losing Ender, her German shepherd, to an IED. While the half-hearted welcome from the people in her Mayberry-like New Hampshire town makes her feel mildly appreciated, the fallout from PTSD, sexual violence she experienced while in the Army, blackout drunkenness, and an inability to trust anyone for any length of time leads to a downward spiral. Flashbacks accost her often, coming most predictably in vehicles, putting herself and others in danger. Only with the help of Jack, a Vietnam veteran, and Brutus, an aggressive stray dog she rescues from a roadside, does she begin to have hope. The story’s strong language, graphic depiction of war, and Liz’s unpredictable behavior make this an emotionally taxing read, but the ups and downs also effectively give readers a sense of Liz’s trauma.
A nuanced and skillfully composed snapshot of one woman’s postwar struggle to live
. (Graphic novel. 14 & up)
This intense memoir paints a dark picture of growing up in Israeli-occupied Palestine, where “we are made to live with no land, no country, no rights, no safety, and no respect for our dignity.”
The author, a poet, picks up in 1971, where her earlier memoir, Tasting the Sky (2007), left off. She recounts her years from second grade through high school, dividing the book into five sections based on their different homes in Palestine. Told in a first-person, present-tense voice, the episodic narrative deftly combines personal and political events. Evocative details convey her family’s everyday life, in which her father’s despair looms large. A memorable chapter recounts his threat to kill himself by crashing his truck; the whole family insists on accompanying him on the ride. As she grows older, Barakat feels embattled as a Palestinian surrounded by soldiers and hampered as a girl by societal restrictions. Starting in seventh grade, she connects to the larger world through pen pals and then through an eminent magazine editor who encourages her writing. A top student, Barakat grows in knowledge and also compassion, evident when she tutors her strong-willed mother, who returns to high school. A pervasive sense of loss informs much of her childhood, with a growing realization that no promising future exists for her or her siblings in Palestine.
Seventeen-year-old Che thinks his 10-year-old sister, Rosa, might be worse than that. Rosa lies and manipulates others, steals, and tortures bugs—all for her own entertainment and curiosity—and her extreme behavior is increasing. Che’s parents don’t believe his claims about Rosa, so when they move to New York City, he has one goal: protect the city from his psychopathic little sister. As Che presents his research on sociopathy and personality disorders via conversations with Rosa, readers witness her malicious behavior, threats, and lies firsthand. Not one to shy away from tough subject matter, Larbalestier addresses issues related to gender, sexual orientation, religion, identity, and race with tact. Though narrated by an Australian white male, diversity abounds in the novel, effortlessly sharing the pages with the riveting plot as it builds to a frightening climax. Che is in love with his “very dark-skinned” boxing mate, a girl named Sojourner (who also happens to have two moms). In a particularly brilliant set piece, Leilani, who’s part Korean and a lesbian, and Elon, an androgynous black character, force Che to contemplate his interracial relationship by addressing the fetishization of black women.
This dark thriller is the 1956 film The Bad Seed meets 2016; readers will be simultaneously terrified when Rosa’s present and afraid to let her out of their sight.
(Thriller. 14 & up)