Those we love most can provoke a wide range of emotions in us; feelings of love often become intertwined with anger, hurt, and disappointment. These warring emotions can result in truly potent works. For tweens, many of whom are starting to see the world not in black-and-white but in shades of gray, these books can be eye-opening. Parents make mistakes—sometimes unforgivable ones. Beloved older siblings let us down. Conversely, seemingly harsh loved ones are sometimes more open-minded than we realize. Books can help kids grapple with complex feelings; they’re also a powerful mirror for young people feeling insecure that their families don’t look like everyone else’s. These new and forthcoming novels are relatable, reassuring, deeply honest tributes to the ties that bind.
Kita, the protagonist of Sherri Winston’s Shark Teeth (Bloomsbury, Jan. 16), wants to believe that her mother has turned her life around after regaining custody of Kita and her younger siblings. But the 12-year-old Black girl fears the worst as Mama begins to behave erratically. Winston has drawn a sharply nuanced, empathetic portrait of a family in crisis. Kita is torn between love for her mother and resentment; she yearns for a more carefree existence but also feels obligated to be the strong authority figure her siblings need. Winston imbues her work with hope but never sugarcoats tough realities.
The sibling bond at the heart of Crystal Allen’s Between Two Brothers (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, Jan. 23) feels unshakable. But 13-year-old Isaiah lashes out in rage when his older brother, Seth, skips out on a competition the two had planned to enter together. After Seth gets into a devastating car accident, Isaiah is riddled with guilt, especially when he learns that Seth may never fully recover. Balancing honesty and tenderness, this is a compelling tale about a young Black teen realizing that his life may have radically changed, but one thing remains the same: his love for his brother.
Parents just don’t understand is the unspoken refrain of Hena Khan’s Drawing Deena (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, Feb. 6). Pakistani American Deena’s anxiety manifests in physical ways, from teeth clenching to nausea. Her parents wonder what a girl her age could possibly be worried about, so the seventh grader attempts to keep her troubles to herself, though she frets about her parents’ fights and money issues. This gentle, heartfelt novel sees Deena follow her passion for art and learn to open up; readers will be reassured to see that her parents may not be perfect, but they’re understanding and supportive nonetheless. (Read an interview with the author.)
The protagonist of Sara Zarr’s Kyra, Just for Today (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, March 5) is used to shouldering heavy loads. When Kyra, 12, begins to suspect that her mother, a recovered alcoholic, has relapsed, she’s hesitant to ask for help, instead convincing herself that if she does everything right, things will get better. Zarr deftly captures Kyra’s turbulent, often conflicting emotions: her joy in spending time with her mother, her anger at being forced to grow up far too soon, and her uncertainty in not knowing what the future will bring.
Mahnaz Dar is a young readers’ editor.