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Young Adult Novel Review – Something Close to Magic

 

SOMETHING CLOSE TO MAGIC

Written by Emma Mills

(Atheneum BYR; $19.99, Ages 12+ )

 

Something Close to Magic cover

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

If you enjoy food and fantasy, Emma Mills’s Something Close to Magic will satisfy those cravings. In seventeen-year-old Aurelie’s world, people avoid magic because there are supposedly too many bad consequences: eating food prepared magically is said to later increase your hunger twofold. Once Aurelie seemed to have abilities and studied the supernatural at school. Now she’s alone in the world, serving unending days in an unpaid apprenticeship. Magic is far from her mind until a dashing stranger named Iliana walks into Basil’s Bakery and stirs things up. Iliana is a Finder (bounty hunter) and needs Aurelie’s abilities as a Seeker to help locate the people she’s tracking.

The teens soon set off on an adventure along with Quad (a troll who often steals the show with her clever lines delivered in a deadpan manner) and Prince Hapless (who seems to live up to his surname—assigned to royalty according to their personality traits). All four main characters are delightful in their unique ways. The story’s twists take the reader to interesting places as we peel back layers of deception. I appreciated how the budding romance with Prince Hapless plays out. Quad may be my all-time favorite troll!

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Young Adult Fantasy – A Hunger of Thorns

 

A HUNGER OF THORNS

 by Lili Wilkinson

(Delacorte Press; $19.99, Ages 14+)

 

 

A Hunger of Thorns cover

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Be swept away by a lush, witchy tale about forbidden magic and missing girls who don’t need handsome princes to rescue them. Perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood.

REVIEW:

Lili Wilkinson’s A Hunger of Thorns is a fairy tale and coming-of-age story for today’s teens. Maude, a daughter of witches, lost her magic four years ago when she got her period. She’s a talented storyteller: “telling a story felt exactly like doing magic—reaching for invisible threads and weaving them together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.” But now that she can no longer pull mettle and animate objects, the fragile hold she had over her unruly BFF, Odette, crumbles. When Odette goes missing, Maude knows how these stories work: she must be a hero and save her.

Though lovingly raised by her grandmothers, Maude still aches to know what really happened when her mother went “bad” and the details surrounding her death. Witches have their magic controlled, directed toward inane things like making enchanted stockings that will not run or self-heating instant dinners. Maude’s world, of course, has a handsome prince and a terrifying beast (the Tatterdemalion), however, both are reimagined into something unexpected.

In this carefully crafted story, females are told how to act, what’s right and what’s wrong, and what happens when you push or break those societal boundaries. Wilkinson’s characters are complex and likable which made me root for them as they’re pressured to be neat and presentable, to lead a mundane life seemingly for the greater good. But what of our true natures? As the dedication says, this book is for “every good girl who has a wild girl inside.” An amazingly creative tale about finding forgotten things and remembering who we once were.

Listen to a sample by clicking here.

 

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Young Adult Book Review – Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay

 

YOUR PLANTATION PROM IS NOT OKAY

Written by Kelly McWilliams

(Little, Brown BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

 

Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay cover

Starred ReviewBulletin of the Center for Children’s Books  

 

High school senior Harriet Douglass has grown up on the Westwood Plantation in Louisiana.  Her parents spent years converting the former plantation into a museum that tells the stories of generations of enslaved people who lived and suffered there. Although Harriet’s mother succumbed to cancer, Harriet and her father continue to maintain the plantation and provide educational programs to help visitors gain insight into America’s painful history with slavery and race.

Nearby Belle Grove Plantation has just been purchased by soap opera actress Claudia Hartwell and her social media influencer daughter, Layla. Claudia’s plans are to turn Belle Grove into a romantic venue for weddings and other events, completely disregarding the horrific history behind the plantations. Harriet is angry and disgusted by the attempt to romanticize history at the expense of those who toiled and suffered on them.

Layla and Harriet first meet at school when Layla defends Harriet from a white teacher’s microaggressions. Harriet is surprised by Layla’s awareness of the subtle discrimination and cautiously begins a tentative friendship. When Layla comes up with a plan to publicly pressure Claudia into canceling a celebrity wedding at Belle Grove, Harriet agrees to assist. The plan, using social media, is successful in shaming Claudia, but fails to stop the wedding. And lands both girls in trouble. Later, when the school decides to hold its prom at Belle Grove, Harriet feels betrayed when Layla, desperate for her mother’s attention, refuses to help. Harriet turns to her old friend, now boyfriend, Dawn, who uses his film and social media skills to help Harriet strip away plantation romanticism and tell the real story of what happened in the lives of the enslaved.

Harriet, tough but vulnerable, struggles with grief and mental health issues stemming from her traumatic final meeting with her mother. Her PTSD includes rage and subsequent blackouts. Fearful she could hurt someone, she has turned away from many of her friends. Through counseling, Harriet learns to control her rage and begins to realize that her old friends can be valuable allies in her campaign to end romanticizing plantation life through the stories of the enslaved.

In Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay, Kelly McWilliams has written a powerful and wide-ranging book that not only explores the complex issues stemming from systemic racism but sympathetically and realistically treats grief and mental health.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Young Adult Fantasy Novel Review – Midnight Strikes

 

MIDNIGHT STRIKES

by Zeba Shahnaz

(Delacorte Press; $19.99, Ages 14+)

 

 

Midnight Strikes cover

 

 

I’m a sucker for Cinderella books, but Zeba Shahnaz’s YA, Midnight Strikes, is so much more than that. Seventeen-year-old Anaïs relives her night at the royal Anniversary Ball again and again but it’s not her glass slipper she loses, it’s her life! At the stroke of midnight, the palace explodes killing the royals and most everyone at the party. Anaïs wasn’t happy to be there in the first place, teased for being a provincial outsider, brought to Ivarea to fulfill her parents’ dream and marry up. Now she’s stuck reliving this nightmare, finally realizing she has to figure out what’s behind it all and that she can’t do it alone. It takes reaching out to those who snub her and maybe even joining forces with the Prince known as Leo the Lush to begin understanding the attack on the palace and why she’s in this time loop.

This clever tale with its many Chapter Ones kept me turning pages, wondering how Anaïs would spend another doomed evening. Her awful predicament was moving yet, as she begins to crack from the stress, we see sides of Anaïs that certainly aren’t the hero she at first seems cast to be. The story’s layers will keep you hooked as you experience the urgency and also the weariness of this repetition. A thrilling modern-day fairy tale set in a kingdom with discontent commoners conspiring a revolution is much more complex than just having two stepsisters and an evil stepmother to contend with. The Fairy Godmother element is creatively reworked as is the happily-ever-after ending with the handsome prince.

 

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Young Adult Novel – Dear Medusa

 

DEAR MEDUSA

 by Olivia A. Cole

(Labyrinth Road; $18.99, Ages 14+)

Dear Medusa cover of mc teen Alicia

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

Olivia A. Cole’s YA novel in verse, Dear Medusa, shows what it’s like to be made into a monster when, in fact, you’re the victim—just as Medusa was. Sixteen-year-old Alicia Rivers dreads school where she’s branded the slut because she hooks up with random guys after being sexually abused by a popular teacher. This secret burns her up since she has no one to turn to: she’s quit the track team, her BFF dumped her, and her family is too self-involved. Avoiding where it happened leads to cutting classes which spirals into detention and thoughts of staying forever at a dead-end job; there doesn’t seem to be a way out.

Abuse is a tough subject to navigate but Cole captures raw, realistic feelings and offsets them with the beauty of hope as Alicia finds new friends and maybe even a girlfriend. Many issues are brought to mind, such as how we’re so connected yet can also feel hopelessly lonely, or how women sometimes tear one another down, then at other times choose to stand together.

This book examines what it’s like to be judged by how we dress or act. In the section titled, “Wolves love bus stops,” Alicia remembers what she was wearing the first time she took the bus alone and how men reacted: “Standing by the telephone pole that day, / staring at my phone, / I transformed without knowing. / Girl into rabbit, soft furred thing with belly / exposed, ripe for fangs.” Ultimately, it’s about accepting ourselves, rather than letting other people’s perceptions turn us to stone.

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Young Adult Book Review – The Island

 

THE ISLAND

by Natasha Preston

(Delacorte Press; Paperback Original $12.99, Ages 12+)

The Island cover dark skies above rollercoaster on island

 

 

The Island is the latest YA thriller from New York Times’ best-selling author, Natasha Preston. Six teen influencers are invited to spend an exclusive weekend at a not-yet-opened amusement park island resort. The main character is seventeen-year-old Paisley who posts about crime; her knowledge of that topic may be helpful when, one by one, the eleven people on this remote island begin to disappear. Then a storm and power outage hit. The influencers are trapped there along with the island’s staff, the strange billionaire owner, and a killer. Spur-of-the-moment friendships and alliances form as the kids are chased through ghoulish amusement park rides. With links to the outside world broken, it’s all about surviving the weekend retreat when surely someone’s parents will realize these usually online kids aren’t just out of touch but in dire trouble.

This fast-paced read will keep you guessing who’s committing the gruesome murders. Being trapped on Jagged Island feels like the ultimate escape room—without any place to escape to! The Island was hard to put down because I kept trying to figure out the killer’s identity and motive, especially as fewer and fewer people were left. The conclusion surprised me.

 

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Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2023 – Some Kind of Hate

 

 

STBA 2023 blog tour logo

 

AN INTERVIEW

WITH

SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD HONOREE

SARAH DARER LITTMAN

 

 

 

SCHOLASTIC DESCRIPTION:

Declan Taylor is furious at the world. After winning state as a freshman starting pitcher, he accidentally messes up his throwing arm. Despite painful surgery and brutal physical therapy, he might never pitch again. And instead of spending the summer with his friends, Declan is forced to get a job to help his family out. On top of that, it seems like his best friend, Jake Lehrer, is flirting with Declan’s crush and always ditching him to hang out with the team or his friends from synagogue.

So Declan ends up playing a lot of Imperialist Empires online and making new friends. It’s there he realizes he’s been playing with Finn, a kid from his class. Finn is the first person who might be just as angry as Declan. As the two spend more time together, Finn also introduces Declan to others who understand what it’s like when the world is working against you, no matter how much you try. How white kids like them are being denied opportunities because others are manipulating the system. And the more time Declan spends with Finn, the more he sees what they’re saying as true. So when his new friends decide it’s time to fight back, Declan is right there with them. Even if it means going after Jake and his family. And each new battle for the cause makes Declan feel in control of his rage, channeling it into saving his future. But when things turn deadly, Declan is going to have to decide just how far he’ll go and what he’s willing to sacrifice.

In a stunning story set against the rise of white nationalism comes an unflinching exploration of the destruction of hate, the power of fear, and the hope of redemption.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: Welcome to the blog, Sarah. I’m thrilled to discuss your STBA 2023 honor book Some Kind of Hate. How does it feel to be recognized twice now by the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee? Has that changed your life in any way? 

Sarah Darer Littman: It’s three times! My first book, Confessions of a Closet Catholic won the Older Readers award in 2006, and my third book, Life, After, was also a Sydney Taylor Honor Book in 2011.

It means the world to me to have my books honored in this way.

I’ve noticed a difference winning the honor this year vs. earlier in my career because it was announced as part of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I think it’s raised the profile of the awards within the wider children’s literature community and that’s a good thing.

And now for a funny story – winning the Sydney Taylor Award in 2006 had a hand in my meeting my husband, Hank, to whom Some Kind of Hate is dedicated.

We are both fans of the singer/songwriter Jill Sobule and were on her fan listserv, Happytown, which was a fun community of interesting people. When Confessions won the award in 2006, I wrote an off-topic post telling my fellow Happytowners about it. Hank saw the post and thought “Littman … she sounds like a nice Jewish girl.” He googled me and found my website and my blogs and thought I was cute and funny – but he couldn’t tell if I was single or divorced. He thought about emailing me, but worried that I might think he was a creeper. Like most female writers, I’ve had weird emails and dm’s from a lot of randos over the course of my career.

I was going through a very difficult divorce at the time, and wouldn’t have been in the headspace to meet him then, so it was a good thing he held off.

Fast forward to September of that year – I finally had a trial date for my divorce and I logged onto the Jewish dating website, JDate, to “window shop.” I had no intention of starting to actively date yet, but wanted to get an idea of what kind of fish were out there when I was ready to dip my toes back into the dating sea.

Hank wouldn’t have come up in any of my searches because he was a little younger than me and didn’t have kids. I figured anyone who was in that situation would probably want kids, and I was happy with my son and daughter.

But in his profile, Hank had posted about how someone on JDate had said to him “You live in Boston so you must be a liberal, and like Ann Coulter I hate all liberals,” marveling that anyone would write that to another person on a dating app.

After Ann Coulter’s unforgivable comments about the 9/11 widows, (she went on the following year to talk about how us Jews need to be ‘perfected’) I felt compelled to respond, so I wrote him a private message saying that he’d dodged a bullet. I didn’t sign it, and didn’t expect to hear back from him.

The following day, I received a long email, beginning with: “Dear Sarah, I bet you’re wondering how I know your name …” and proceeded to tell me about how he’d been interested in me nine months earlier!

Our first date was a Jill Sobule concert at Joe’s Pub in NYC in October 2006, and we celebrated our 10-year anniversary in 2016 by getting married.

So thank you, 2006 ST Committee, JDate, and Jill Sobule. I guess I should also thank Ann Coulter for being so hateful that I felt compelled to respond to Hank’s profile.  Love really does win!

GRWR: The release of Some Kind of Hate is significant in that, as you mention in your Author’s Note, antisemitism has been on the rise in both the U.S. and worldwide. Was it that increase that planted the seed for this novel, a particular incident, or was this story something you had already been thinking about as the intolerance, scapegoating, and violence in our society toward minorities or the “other” have grown this past decade?

SDL: Yes, it certainly was part of the inspiration, and a reason why I felt compelled to write this novel when I did.

Many of my YA novels focus on the intersection of teens and technology – an area that fascinates me because being “a woman of a certain age” I grew up without it. I often wonder if I would have survived to adulthood if I’d grown up in the social media age. It’s not that I’m a Luddite – I just view technology as a TOOL, one of many we have as humans to work with to find solutions to the real problems that we face in our society and around the world.

Unfortunately, we’ve been fed the Silicon Valley myth that technology is THE SOLUTION, rather than a tool, and these companies have been making insane amounts of money with no accountability for the damage they do, or their unethical behavior Think Facebook’s experimentation with manipulating emotions through the timeline, and how that led to Cambridge Analytica’s use of it to influence the 2016 election.

I use the analogy of a hammer. A hammer can be used to build, but it can also be used to break and destroy. It’s important that we view technology within that framework, rather than buying the Silicon Valley narrative that it is the solution to every problem.

 

GRWR: Thank you for putting the note in the beginning of Some Kind of Hate about how hard it was to research and write such a disturbing topic, and how some readers might feel discomfort reading it. I felt compelled to read on because I wanted to understand the mindset of hate that Declan, Finn, Charlie, and Ronan felt. Becoming immersed in the world of Stafford’s Corner where the protagonists live, I identified with the Jewish characters who on any given day could be crossing paths with the extremists in your story and have absolutely no idea of the potential threat they posed. Yet at the same time, I appreciated the eye-opening insights into the roots of antisemitism that the book offered. I hope the education coupled with the positive example conveyed through Jake and Arielle, and Kayleigh to speak up, since silence is complicity, will resonate with young readers. What has been the response of your teen audience?

SDL: It’s been enlightening for many non-Jewish readers who have been blissfully unaware of the fact the kind of microaggressions their Jewish friends face, or how we have to hire armed guards and spend a fortune hardening our places of worship, just to be able to pray safely.

But it’s also helped readers understand why young people are drawn to extremism, and hopefully to recognize some of the dog whistles that we hear all around us – including from some members of Congress.

One of the most important things I learned from research and from interviewing former extremists is that most young people aren’t drawn to these groups by the ideology – at least initially. It’s because they have a lack in their lives, and they’re seeking community, identity, and purpose.

That’s made me think about ways that we can help young people find those things based around seeking love and understanding of our common humanity, rather than hatred and fear of the other.

 

GRWR: Since this novel delves deep into the scary world of white-supremacist militias and radicalization from online gaming that causes the rift between Declan and his best friend Jake who is Jewish, how did you remain grounded as you researched it and met many former extremists who shared their experiences with you?

SDL: The truth is I didn’t. I struggled to maintain my mental health while working on this book, particularly when lurking in some of the NeoNazi and Christian Nationalist chatrooms on Telegram. I found I could only do that for short periods because it was like being sprayed with toxic firehose of hate.

Having a supportive husband and good friends, who reminded me to step away when it got to be too much, was critical to surviving the process.

 

GRWR: I cried several times over the course of the book, sometimes as I read Declan’s chapters. I initially thought I would not want to read Declan’s perspective as he descended into the dark world of conspiracy theories and antisemitism. But it was his voice, his despair and his skewed perceptions, that kept me gripped. I needed to see if he could escape the world of hate he’d entered. Is his voice an amalgamation of all those men and boys you interviewed for the novel? Was it a challenge to create and write a character like Declan’s?

SDL: I’m not sure I’d call him an amalgamation, but I certainly drew on what I learned in the interviews and readings I did to create him. What was important was trying to figure what it was specifically that precipitated his vulnerability to these ideas. An impulsive decision with lasting consequences, one that put the future he’d imagined for himself in jeopardy was the key to breaking open his motivations. By layering that on top of the Gilded Age levels of economic inequality we see in our country today, combined with the way social media algorithms work, Declan’s journey becomes understandable, even if the ideas he comes to believe are horrifying.

GRWR: I have always loved novels written with dual POVs. Can you explain the pros and cons of writing a novel this way and why ultimately you chose Declan Taylor and Jake Lehrer to tell this story?

SDL: A big part of why I’m a writer is because I’m fascinated by what makes people believe, act, and behave the way they do.

First person seems to be my natural voice, but it’s limiting because what the reader knows is framed by that character’s perceptions and biases.

By writing in first person but with multiple POVs, the reader experiences the world along with each character. It allows us to see how each character’s actions are interpreted and misinterpreted by the other characters in the story, and how the same incident can look completely different when viewed through another character’s emotional lens.

A big part of the difficulty I had writing this book was figuring out who should tell the story. When I sold the book on proposal in summer 2020, it was from dual POVs, with a boy and a girl character as the main characters.

I was teaching full-time as a special appointment at WCSU that year, so by the end of the year, I’d only written 20K words, which for me is about a third of the first draft. But I’d continued researching in between teaching and grading and moving house and pandemic anxiety and trying to find the time to write. The additional research made me realize that misogyny is a big vector of radicalization for many young men. So, in January 2021, I asked my editor if I could switch it to two male POVs because I felt that was the best way to tell the story. She thought we should try to keep a female POV, so I rewrote it from three POVs – Declan, Jake, and Kayleigh. But when that was finished, it was clear that Kayleigh’s POV wasn’t adding enough on its own, and we could achieve what we needed to through her conversations with the two other characters. At that point, I went back and rewrote it from Declan and Jake’s point of view, and it worked much better.

It was also important to me that we had two male points of view because there is so much conflicting and frankly disturbing information being put forward for young men about what it means to “be a man.” If you’ve never heard of Andrew Tate, for example, prepare to be horrified by how a toxic combination of misogynistic content and algorithms is influencing young boys, and the effect teachers are seeing in school.

For research, I watched a bunch of videos by self-styled “alpha males,” which had some decent advice about personal hygiene, and how to dress well, but fell apart when they started talking about women. I watched so many bearded, muscled men telling young men and boys “what women want,” which bore absolutely ZERO resemblance to anything that most women want. You know, like to be treated like fully actualized human beings, to be listened to and respected, to be paid equally for doing the same job, to have control over medical decisions involving our bodies, to be recognized for the invisible labor that seems to fall on our plates even when both partners are working. What we want shouldn’t be all that difficult to understand.

So many aspects of our society prevent young men from understanding this, including the unfortunate tendency in our society to label books as “boy books” and “girl books” and believing that it’s okay for girls to read “boy books” but that it’s not okay for boys to read “girl books.”

I was at a school visit in the Midwest years ago, and in between the first and second presentations the media specialist said that she was glad she’d had me speak to the mixed audience because originally, she’d planned to have me only speak to the girls because I write “girl books.”

After taking a deep breath, I explained that I don’t write “girl books” – I write “thinking human being” books. I asked her what message it sends to boys – and to girls – when girls are required to listen to male authors, but boys are exempt from listening to female authors. We’re giving kids a message that female voices are less important, that male voices are the ones that matter. I explained that if we’re doing that in elementary and middle school, what’s going to happen as young people grow up and move into the workplace?

Ask any woman who has been talked over in a meeting …

 

GRWR: Something said by Jake’s mom, the local synagogue president, particularly resonated with me after Jake described Declan’s new online gaming friends’ antisemitic and Islamophobic remarks. “It never stops with just hating us. Scratch an antisemite and you’ll find a whole bunch of other hatreds, too. Basically, people choose to hate the idea of us as a substitute for facing their fears of change in society and the world.” You’ve mentioned in interviews and in the book how it’s often not the ideology of these right-wing hate groups that lures recruits in, but rather the sense of “community, identity, and purpose.” Can you please speak to that issue since it seems to be at the heart of more than antisemitism? And how does anyone targeted by this misguided hate find a way to forgiveness?

SDL: I wanted to make sure that we don’t put the burden on those who were targeted to be the vehicle of redemption for the people who targeted them.

But I also know from life experience that holding on to anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Don’t get me wrong – righteous anger when there is injustice can be energizing, and an important catalyst for change. But it’s also exhausting and ultimately corrosive.

I wanted to include Jewish teachings about the stages of forgiveness because they recognize that like grief, anger is something we overcome bit by bit – and that moving between the different stages might take work on our part, even when we were the wronged party.

Change is unsettling. Change is frightening. And when we perceive that it’s impacting us in a negative way, it’s much easier to blame someone else than to take a good hard look in the mirror and figure out how to adapt.

Bad actors take advantage of this. They seek to weaponize fear of the other to consolidate power. It’s important for people to learn how to recognize how divisive rhetoric and propaganda work. When we see something on social media that raises a strong emotion, we must pause and think who benefits from that provoking that emotion and fact-check before sharing it.

 

GRWR: Declan’s parents and his twin sister Kayleigh are unable to wrest Declan from the militia’s cult-like clutches and watch him spiral downward. I thought it was important that you included the people who toward the book’s end listened to and helped Declan own up to his culpability. They provided readers with hope. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are still used to foment hate and antisemitic conspiracy theories such as those claimed by Holocaust deniers. Jake’s father explained that The Protocols have been proved to be fake, more than once, by historians and in different courts of law. How do we guide individuals we know who are easily swayed by such propaganda to consider more reliable sources?

SDL: I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. A good start would be to train media specialists in every school and to ensure information literacy skills are incorporated across all subject areas.  Part of the reason I included the debate scene in Mr. Morrison’s class was that when you’ve convinced yourself that the media is controlled by nefarious sources, it’s easy to discount information that contradicts the narrative.

It takes patience and persistence to overcome such beliefs. An adult non-fiction book I recommend reading is Eli Saslow’s Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist. It’s about how attending New College of Florida and experiencing kindness and pushback against his ideas helped bring R. Derek Black, the son of Stormfront founder Don Black, out of white nationalism. Reading it also puts Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s placement of extremists like Christopher Rufo on the Board of Trustees there in a deeper context.

I also highly recommend that people sign up for Rumorguard from the News Literacy Project. They send out up-to-the-minute alerts about misinformation that is circulating on social media. They also have a great educational project called Checkology.

 

GRWR: Part of the reason Some Kind of Hate is so engrossing is how believable secondary characters are as well as the setting (it takes an hour bike ride to see the whole place). People have jobs, go to school, play sports (baseball and soccer being the two prominent ones), and even hang out at the local café. I’ve probably spent time in a place like Stafford Corners where the supermarket cashier resents summer visitors and the local economy is closely tied to a big corporation or manufacturer. Did you spend time traveling and people-watching to absorb the atmosphere of the kinds of towns where such “other” anger and hostility are born?

SDL: As an author, I’m always people watching – and listening. I also drove through rural areas of the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states while I was researching and writing and revising this book, and saw places where beautiful old houses are crumbling into disrepair, where barns are collapsing, where the shopfronts on main streets are mostly empty or boarded up, and where abandoned factories stand like the ghosts of our industrial past. Places where the opioid epidemic hit hard, and where the sense of decay and despair hang heavy in the air. When you spend time in those areas, it’s not hard to understand why people are looking for answers, for something or someone to blame.

 

GRWR: Are you working on a new novel, one that allows you to take a break from the heavy subjects explored in Some Kind of Hate?

SDL: Waiting to hear on a proposal for a twisty novel that I’m co-writing with a friend. It isn’t exactly light, but not as personally painful as Some Kind of Hate. I’m exploring other genres and am hoping to get back to writing funny to balance out the dark subjects!

 

GRWR: Thank you, Sarah, for your thoughtful, eye-opening answers. I hope our readers will visit Turning the Page Books: https://www.turningthepagebooks.com/book/9781338746815 to purchase Some Kind of Hate and then come back and reread this interview again.

 

  • Click here for the Sydney Taylor Book Award official page.

  • The STBA blog tour 2023 schedule can be found here.

  • Watch Sarah discuss her novel on YouTube here.

  • Buy Some Kind of Hate here.

AUTHOR BIO:

Sarah Darer Littman Photo Credit Cate Barry Photographs
Author Sarah Darer Littman Photo Credit Cate Barry Photography

Website: https://sarahdarerlittman.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahdarerlitt/

Sarah Darer Littman is the critically acclaimed author of 19 middle grade and young adult novels, including Some Kind of Hate (2023 Sydney Taylor Honor) Backlash (Winner of the Iowa Teen Book Award and the Grand Canyon Reader Award) and Confessions of a Closet Catholic, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. As well as writing novels, Sarah teaches in the MFA program at Western CT State University, and at the Yale Writers’ Workshop. She is also an award-winning columnist.
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Best New Hanukkah Books for Children and Teens 2022

 

BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS

~A ROUNDUP~

 

 

I’m happy to say this year I’ve received more review copies of new Hanukkah books for children than any previous year! Not only do these books approach the holiday from fresh new angles, but they’ve made the holiday more accessible for non-Jewish readers who want to learn about this joyful Jewish celebration. Enjoy the super selection and be sure to share these books with family and friends.

 

 

HANUKKAH NHanukkah Nights cover menorah picture child sleepingIGHTS
Written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $8.99, Ages 1-5)

I had a huge grin on my face as I read this beautiful board book because while the concept is so simple, it is gorgeously executed and a treat to read. Using bold black as the background like one of those scratch-away kits, Hoffman has cleverly employed a variety of techniques to depict the candle flames. These include drip, scrape, stamp, crisscross, sponge, spatter, doodle and brush. She shares a brief rhyming description along with a new color for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. A different night equals a different spread and flame style.
“1 light. Special night.”

“2 lights. Happy nights.”

Spare, stunning, and VERY shareable!  I hope your children love this as much as I did. If they feel inspired to reproduce the designs using the back matter spread, Hoffman describes how to achieve the looks so be sure to have plenty of Kraft paper available this Hanukkah.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

MENDEL’S HANUKKAH MESS UP
Written by Chana and Larry Stiefel
Illustrated by Daphna Awadish
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Star Review – School Library Journal

Things never seem to go as planned for Mendel despite loving the Hanukkah holiday. What can be botched up does get botched up. He’s kind of a mash-up of Amelia Bedelia and The Chelm stories. With this top of mind,  Mendel takes a back seat so to speak, and keeps out of harm’s way until his trusting Rabbi asks him to drive the Mitzvah Mobile. His job: spread the word about the big Hanukkah bash and perform “the greatest good deed of the holidaysharing the miracles of Hanukkah for all to see!”

Mendel manages quite well to start with and he’s overjoyed at his success. With his spirits soaring, he doesn’t see the bridge overpass and smashes the menorah, much to his dismay. “Oy! I’m stuck!” Mendel’s disappointment is palpable in a mix of humorous and meaningful text alongside charming and lively illustrations. Even though the police and the tow truck arrive on the scene, it is the reporter from the local news who gives Mendel a powerful platform. On the spot, he draws inspiration from his Rabbi’s words and explains the miracle of Hanukkah and how “we each have a spark to light up the world.” And miraculously, as the damaged truck is towed away, the lights from the menorah glow brightly. Back at his synagogue, Mendel’s congregation is exuberant and when he gets invited to light the giant menorah at City Hall, you can just imagine who at last feels proudest of all! If you’re looking for a timeless tale sure to bring smiles to the entire family, Mendel’s Hanukkah Mess Up delivers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel 

 

Ava's Homemade Hanukkah cover girl making menorahAVA’S HOMEMADE HANUKKAH
Written by Geraldine Woberg
Illustrated by Julia Seal
(Albert Whitman & Co; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

In this unique artistic story that gave me ideas for making my own menorah, readers are introduced to a family whose tradition is to create their own menorahs each year. These aren’t just any menorahs. They are menorahs that say something important about each person. This year Ava is old enough to join in the fun, but she worries her ideas won’t measure up to the others.

As the story begins, Ava tells her pet rabbit, Maccabee, named after the brave Maccabees and the oil that lasted eight nights, why Hanukkah is celebrated, and how the bunny got its name. Lined up on the table is a tin Hanukkah menorah that Ava’s mom was given by the army during her first Hanukkah away from home. Pop-Pop’s Hanukkah menorah has corks that float in jars of oil that he cherishes because he is proud that his traditions were different from his childhood friends. Author Woberg takes the reader through each family member’s story, while Seal’s warm illustrations show Ava and Maccabee listening.

The brown-haired pig-tailed girl gathers floor tile, green wire from flowers worn in her hair, and a small twig that fell from her special tree, all to be used for her menorah. She even gathers a friendship pin given to her by a friend. And the best item to be placed on her menorah is the toy rabbit resembling Maccabee. The menorah is complete when Ava uses markers to write the letters of her Hebrew name.

This is a great story to read to children at home or at religious school before beginning their own menorah creation. What a wonderful project for kids and a lovely tradition to begin! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Hanukkah in Little Havana cover with kids on car tripHANUKKAH IN LITTLE HAVANA
Written by Julie Anna Blank
Illustrated by Carlos Velez Aguilera
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99; Ages 4-9)

A young girl narrator explains how each December a crate of fresh-picked oranges, plucked from her grandparents’ Miami backyard, is usually delivered as a Hanukkah gift to her family’s Maryland home. But this year no box arrives. Then, out of nowhere at midnight one December day, the girl and her younger sister are roused from their sleep by their parents in another strange occurrence. The sisters are tired and confused as they are placed in the backseat of the family car with their sweet dog and cat alongside them. When they wake at dawn to unfamiliar road signs and radio ads “Chile Today, Hot Tamale!” they wonder: Are they awake or dreaming? But their parents’ “laughing eyes” hold the exciting clue.

Julie Anna Blank’s first picture book takes the reader on an enjoyable Hanukkah journey to Miami’s Little Havana where the girls happily pick grapefruit, tangerines, and oranges with sun-kissed grandparents, Nonna and Nonno. Carlos Velez Aguilera’s colorful illustrations depict happy faces dancing the salsa and grating potatoes for homemade latkes. The parents’ surprise trip definitely replaced the sadness of not receiving the box of fruit, and the surprise was made better when they were able to spend it with the whole family.

This original take on the Hanukkah story teaches kids about almendrikas pastries and browned bunuelos. The smiles on the family’s faces beautifully depict the happiness of eight days of light and love. The back glossary breaks down the Spanish words. Bunuelo is a fried pastry and is a Hanukkah treat in South America and the Caribbean. Almendrikas is a little almond in Ladino. It was a fun read to learn about the diversity of the Jewish holiday and how it is celebrated with foods from different cultures. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 The Boston Chocolate Party cover children at HarborTHE BOSTON CHOCOLATE PARTY
Written by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
Illustrated by Fede Combi
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 5-8)

I adore historical fiction stories where I can learn something new and The Boston Chocolate Party is no exception. Not only does this story illustrate how hot chocolate became popular in America, but it also introduces readers to the Sephardim. These were Jews who fled persecution in Spain and Portugal and came to America via the Netherlands. Many settled in New York and in Newport, Rhode Island where they found religious freedom.

This interesting Hanukkah (or Janucá in Spanish) story introduces readers to Joshua and his father, a wealthy merchant. They await his father’s ship transporting chocolate beans that will be turned into hot cocoa. With the British taxing tea and making it unaffordable, hot chocolate will become a popular and affordable alternative. Meanwhile, at home, on the first night of Hanukkah, Joshua is missing his best friend Isaac. The lad’s mom, now a widow, has relocated the family to Boston to seek work. The artwork is richly detailed and helps bring this story to life. I especially liked Combi’s depictions of the old oil menorahs both Joshua and Isaac’s families had. The scenes of chocolate making and old Boston beautifully conveyed the era when the story took place.

Joseph’s father has plans to send his assistant to Boston with a bag of beans. “He’ll show shopkeepers how to make delicious
hot chocolate and let them taste it for themselves.” Of course, Joshua wants to go to visit Isaac, but his father lets him send a letter instead. Readers get a glimpse the next day of Joshua’s family making chocolate to be stored for the winter. Then the assistant returns with word that the chocolate was a hit. Joshua’s father must now go to Boston “with a supply of beans and chocolate-making tools.” Once again Joshua asks to accompany his father and, with support from his mother, gets the go-ahead. Father and son will travel to Boston and spend the final few nights of Hanukkah with Isaac and his family.

After celebrating Janucá with Isaac’s family and realizing their dire financial predicament, Joshua proposes that a shed outside could be turned into a chocolate house where locals could sample the delicious chocolate. As everyone prepares for opening day, another party is just getting underway— the Boston Tea Party. Angry colonists dump tea into Boston Harbor to protest the high taxes levied by the British. This historic event, we learn in back matter, occurred on the last night of Hanukkah, December 16, 1773. The significance of the Boston Tea Party taking place on the last night of Hanukkah brings to mind the fight for freedom centuries before by the brave Maccabees. Info about What Was the Boston Tea Party?, What Is Hanukkah?, Who Were America’s First Jews?, and two recipes shared in the back matter should not be missed. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Eight Nights of Flirting cover couple in snowEIGHT NIGHTS OF FLIRTING
by Hannah Reynolds
(Razorbill; $19.99, Ages 12 and up)

Star Review – School Library Journal

You definitely do not have to be Jewish to enjoy this irresistible young adult rom-com set in a snowy Nantucket during winter break. The main character, 16-year-old Shira Barbanel, is determined to make her great uncle’s assistant, Isaac Lehrer, her boyfriend. The only problem is she has no experience and is convinced everything, even kissing, requires practice. But how to get it?

Adding to the frustration of her novice status in the romance department, Shira and her ex-crush, dreamy Tyler Nelson, also on the island, are thrown together during a snowstorm. This sets the titular eight nights of flirting in motion when in exchange for giving shelter to Tyler at her grandparents’ Golden Doors estate, Shira makes a bargain with him: flirting lessons for her from Mr. Popularity in exchange for an introduction to her media mogul great uncle for him.

Not only do romantic tensions run high between Tyler and Shira as she begins to learn what it takes to win a heart, but Shira also gets more than a glimpse of the real Tyler Nelson. Turns out he’s not just the blonde hair, blue-eyed pretty boy she thought was so shallow. As their friendship develops, they find a box hidden under a loose attic floorboard that may be a clue to a Barbanel ancestor’s secret passion.

With Tyler seeming to be more of a hook-up type of guy and Shira looking for something more committed, can Isaac fit the bill? Or was he someone she pursued for all the wrong reasons? When at last Shira realizes that being true to herself attracts friends and makes a former foe fall for her, readers will feel as happy as the new couple. Engaging and visually rich, Eight Nights of Flirting—I can easily see this as a filmwill lift your spirits and warm your heart on even the coldest winter nights so grab a hot cocoa and indulge. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Hanukkah

J is for Januca coverJ IS FOR JANUCÁ
Written by Melanie Romero
Illustrated by Cassie Gonzales
(Baby Lit/Lil’ Libros; $19.99, Ages 4-10)

From the Publisher:

Introduce your little ones to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or Janucá, and how illuminated candles remind us of miracles!

Grab your dreidels and start frying your latkes – the Festival of Lights is fast approaching!

This alphabetical hardcover delves into each letter of the Spanish alphabet to bring to life the many items – from aceite and bendiciones to kugel and tierra – that shed light on the miracle of Hanukkah. Observe families lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel, hearing the Hanukkah story, and indulging in latkes and sufganiyot for eight precious nights.

This holiday hardcover is Cassie Gonzales’s debut as a children’s book illustrator; her colorful illustrations honor the palette and importance of Hanukkah. Parents will appreciate this bilingual English-Spanish hardcover due to the celebration of Hanukkah, but also for the cultural, religious, and historical symbolism behind the Jewish holiday that occurs around the same season as Christmas and holds a special meaning in the multicultural Latin-Jewish community.

 

 Ruby Celebrates! The Hanukkah Hunt coverRUBY CELEBRATES! THE HANUKKAH HUNT
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

From the Publisher:

Ruby and her family celebrate Hanukkah in a brand-new way.

Ruby’s cousin Avital is sad because her mom is going to be away on a work trip during Hanukkah. To help make sure Avital still has a happy holiday, Ruby plans an enormous eight-night treasure hunt. But will she be able to think up a good enough surprise for Avital to discover on the final night?

 

Tizzy the Dizzy Dreidel cover spinning dreidel on keyboardTIZZY THE DIZZY DREIDEL  
Written by Allison Marks and Wayne Marks 
Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli 
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99, Ages 4-9)

From the Publisher:

Tizzy the dreidel has a problem. Spinning makes her dizzy. But with encouragement from a little girl, Tizzy bravely sets out on an eight-day spinning Hanukkah adventure all around the house!

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Halloween Books Roundup by Christine Van Zandt

 

CHILDREN’S HALLOWEEN BOOKS ROUNDUP 2022

 

Halloween Clip Art of witch full moon and pumpkins

 

 

 

Creepy Crayon coverCREEPY CRAYON! (Creepy Tales! series)
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Brown
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8 )

Starred Review – Kirkus

Aaron Reynolds delights us with book three of the Creepy Tales! series featuring his beloved Jasper Rabbit. In Creepy Crayon! Jasper’s not-great day gets a boost when he finds a bright purple crayon—with a crazy grin on its face! Soon, the crayon is helping Jasper zoom his grades up to straight As. Cool, right? Maybe . . . until the crayon takes BFF to the next level.

As in the first two books, Peter Brown’s art is a perfect blend of funny and spooky: Crayon’s glowing antics contrast with the lurking shadows. Kids will love the hilarious expressions on Jasper’s face.

Flawless interplay between text and high-contrast art make this author and illustrator duo New York Times best-sellers. Fans will appreciate the can-you-spot-them references to Creepy Carrots! and Creepy Pair of Underwear! We own this outstanding three-book series and do not tire of them; they’re a fit for Halloween or any day you need some funny bunny in your life.

 

Crimson Twill Witch in the City coverCRIMSON TWILL: Witch in the City (book one, series)
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 7-9)

The chapter-book series opener, Crimson Twill: Witch in the City, by Kallie George will bewitch you with its main character, spunky little Crimson Twill. True to her name, Crimson rocks a big bow on her red witch’s hat—no standard black for this girl! Her clothes and actions also set her apart. But, the various ways she’s different from others don’t bother her at first.

With Mom just a wave of her wand away, Crimson sets off to explore the big Broomingdale’s department store where the elevator’s buttons are shaped like what’s sold on that floor. Crimson hopes to get a glimpse of those things called puppies. Instead, she immediately encounters disdain for her unique attire, creating a crack of doubt in her self-assurance.

The clever puns, humor, and heart make this book a standout. Illustrations by Birgitta Sif add an array of fun, diverse witches. Kids new to reading will appreciate the short, simple chapters that are engaging and fast-paced. For this age audience, navigating a large store truly is an adventure. And any place with a cat floor is alright by me! Crimson ultimately finds that Broomingdale’s does have “everything a witch could itch for” but what she end up with may surprise you!

 

The Lost Coast paperback coverTHE LOST COAST
Written by A. R. Capetta
(Candlewick Press; Paperback $10.99, Ages 14 and up)

The beautifully written YA, The Lost Coast, by A. R. Capetta grabbed hold of me with its opening lines describing Danny’s first glimpse of ancient redwoods. She and her mom move to this specific coastal northern California town because Danny has been mysteriously drawn there. Danny quickly finds herself in deep with a group of queer high school witches who call themselves the Grays. They’re awesome, but their most powerful member is missing and they expect Danny to find her.

Nonlinear narration and alternating viewpoint chapters heighten the suspense as we try to understand what’s really going on. The foggy forest gives nature a presence on the page and sets the mood for magic, secrets, and discovery. This book is an A+ for me because of its realistically complex and interwoven friendships and love, plus the group’s frank discussions about identity. Ideal for fans of The Graces novels. I highly recommend The Lost Coast to YA readers who enjoy clever, twisted tales that are atmospheric gorgeously crafted. Available in hardcover, paperback and Ebook.

 

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Young Adult Book Review by Ronda Einbinder – Once More With Chutzpah

 

ONCE MORE WITH CHUTZPAH

 Written by Haley Neil

 (Bloomsbury; $17.99; Ages 12 and up)

 

 

Once More With Chutzpah cover

 

When Tally’s twin brother Max is the passenger in a tragic car crash with a drunk driver, who is killed, Tally decides a winter break trip to Israel will be the remedy to get him back on track in Haley Neil’s debut YA novel Once More With Chutzpah.

High school senior Tally seems to have her life in order. The plan is to attend Boston College with Max, where their non-Jewish mother teaches religion, and share a dorm room with her best friend Cat. But life doesn’t always go as planned, especially since the car accident six months earlier. Her father’s side of the family is Jewish, and her uncle lives in Israel, so Tally sees the exchange program as the perfect getaway for Max to reenergize so they can follow the plan she always had for them.

The story begins at the airport, saying goodbye to mom and dad, where the reader feels Tally’s anxiety about traveling by plane for the very first time and going far from the comforts of home. She is grateful she has Max. As the story unfolds, Tally meets new people, experiences the history of her Jewish family, begins to question her sexual identity, and begins to realize her brother may not be the only one struggling.

This heartfelt come-to-age novel brought me back to swimming in the Dead Sea, eating hummus and falafel in the Shuk in Tel Aviv, and visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Tally also sadly learns what camp her father’s family was taken to during the Holocaust. Tally’s anxiety and confusion about life are relatable for many teens. A mid-novel surprise takes the reader off-guard as we travel, courtesy of Neil’s transportive prose, on an unexpected journey.

Once More with Chutzpah tackles the conflicts in Israel, the challenges that teens experience while discovering themselves, and the power of friendships both new and old. This original Israeli-focused YA novel introduces the reader to LGBTQ, mixed religions, feminism, and native Israelis, and gives teens a quick background on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These thought-provoking topics are written beautifully for teens grappling with their own identities. Available in paperback in February 2023.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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YA Novel in Verse – Lawless Spaces

 

LAWLESS SPACES

by Corey Ann Haydu

(Simon & Schuster; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

 

Lawless Spaces cover

 

 

 

*A Junior Library Guild Selection

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly

 

 

In Corey Ann Haydu’s YA novel in verse, Lawless Spaces, Mimi receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday—a century-old family tradition for the women in her family. Mimi asks what she’s supposed to write:

“There are things you don’t want to say,” Mom says, opening the car door,

getting in. “So you write them down and put them in an attic

and then they can

exist and not exist,

they can be true and not true.”

Mimi carefully curates her popular online presence where she makes clothes “that people will notice before they notice” her body or, worse yet, comment on it. She keeps real-life friendships distant. Her close ties with her mother slipped away once Mom’s boyfriend moved in; Mom no longer turns to Mimi for advice, and excludes her from major news. To help process her burgeoning feelings, Mimi begins writing poetry in her journal.

Complicated relationships dominate this story including the power and burden of family. I appreciate the juxtaposition of today’s instant-news world versus the slower layers of older, hidden truths. The spare, poetic format serves the story beautifully. Multiple timeline chapters alternate between “Mimi, 2022,” and the lives of her maternal ancestors, revealing connections and secrets.

The author cautions that material involving sexual trauma, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and generational trauma are included. RAINN.org (the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization) is listed as a place to seek support.

Per the author: “I wrote about a lot of things personal to me — the experience of being my particular size and shape in the world, what it was to be an actress in an industry obsessed with telling you who you are and whether or not that’s okay.”

LINK: https://rainn.org/

 

 

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Young Adult Fantasy Book Review – Stalking Shadows

 

STALKING SHADOWS

Written by Cyla Panin

(Abrams; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

 

Stalking Shadows cover

 

 

 

If you’re drawn to imperfect main characters in complicated situations, seventeen-year-old Marie in Cyla Panin’s YA fantasy, Stalking Shadows, certainly has stuff to deal with. Set in a small eighteenth-century French town, Marie mixes and sells perfumes at the market to earn a little money and, hopefully, survive another winter. However, some of her concoctions are used to mark victims for her sister, Ama (who slays them when the moon changes her into a beast). Marie doesn’t want to do this, but choosing who dies dispels the suspicions a bit. Sometimes, to spare the townsfolk, she chains Ama up for the night, feeding her rabbit.

As it becomes more difficult for Marie to control the beast, she sets out to discover what happened to Ama. It happened when their drunkard father sold her into servitude at Lord Sebastian LaClaire’s mansion. Ama left as a girl and returned home a monster.

Beyond the fascinating story, the slashed cover art pulled me in with a girl peering out from beneath an intriguing-looking animal that seems to be a lion mix. Just as Ama is many things, this story is too: a fantastical fairy tale with hints of historical fiction. While it’s hard to avoid comparisons to Beauty and the Beast, Panin’s book has more depth. In addition to the expected possible romance, you’ll find fierce sisterhood and fractured families. Layers of secrets and intrigue make this a page-turner that will keep you guessing until the end. The paperback will be available this August and can be pre-ordered here now.

 

 

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Young Adult Book Review – Horror Hotel

 


HORROR HOTEL

Written by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

(Underlined; Trade Paperback $9.99, Ages  12+)  

 

Horror Hotel paperback cover
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Get ready to be scared from the moment you peek between the pages of Horror Hotel by the award-winning cowriting duo Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren. What would the teen foursome who calls themselves the Ghost Gang do to reach one million YouTube subscribers? Maybe push some boundaries, maybe break some laws, and hopefully not get killed in the process!
Chase knows they need more than their usual documentary-style paranormal huntings, so he seeks something spooky but seemingly harmless. The plan he proposes involves sneaking out to spend the night at an infamous Los Angeles hotel. Once there, they’ll secretly film after dark, investigating the unsolved death of Eileen Warren. The Ghost Gang hopes to have it all covered: Chrissy sees ghosts, Kiki is TikTok famous, and Emma brings her skepticism. However, they soon discover their talent and experience may not be enough to survive the evildoings that await.
The fast-paced suspense will keep you turning pages. Told in short chapters, viewpoints alternate between all four teens. Eileen Warren’s blog posts (leading up to shortly before her body was found in the elevator shaft) are interspersed, adding another element of intrigue.
While romance surfaces throughout the story, the importance of true friendship anchors the story—captured in all of its imperfections. Chrissy can also sometimes hear people’s thoughts, which adds an interesting element when those moments of unfiltered honesty surface. Yet, as cool as her abilities seem to others, Chrissy often feels they are a curse because, “spoiler alert—there’s no otherworldly psychiatrist to help your cope with all the dead people.”
I like how the Ghost Gang comes to realize that “sometimes, it’s the dead who need our help—and the living we should fear.” So dim the lights and channel your inner sleuth to see if you can solve this gruesomely fun whodunit.
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YA Novel Review – Like Other Girls

 

 

LIKE OTHER GIRLS

Written by Britta Lundin

(Disney-Hyperion; $17.99, Ages 14-18)

 

Like Other Girls cover

 

I don’t like sports books. At all. But I read the first few pages of Britta Lundin’s Like Other Girls and was hooked. We meet Mara as her angry outburst gets her kicked off the basketball team. Mara’s world has a lot of imperfections, but those flaws make it real.

The cast of characters has strong voices and distinct personalities. While the story is about a girl on the high school football team, this coming-of-age story is about so much more. We see the challenges and obstacles females face. Best friends part ways and new relationships are tested out. Families fight. There are no easy answers.

Though Mara knows she’s gay, she’s waiting until college to come out. Strong female role model, Jupiter, is yet another well-developed, likable character. Throughout, there are many funny moments as well as heartbreaking ones.

I may know a bit more about football after reading this (or maybe not) but I certainly know that I’ll be looking for Lundin’s book. She tells a difficult story with compassion, bringing in problems that need our attention while also showing the everyday issues that teens today struggle with.

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Young Adult Book Review – #noescape

#noescape
(Volume 3, a #murdertrending novel)

Written by Gretchen McNeil

(Disney-Hyperion; Paperback $9.99, Ages 14-18)

 

 

Fans of Gretchen McNeil’s #murdertrending series will enjoy her new YA, #noescape. Set twenty years before the first book, this companion novel is a wild Las Vegas ride. Seventeen-year-old Persey’s incredible win at an escape room grants her a spot at the All-Stars and the promise of a ten-million-dollar prize. The money would be a much-needed boon for Persey who, after years of surviving with her verbally abusive father and alcoholic mother, will be kicked out as soon as she graduates from high school.

Persey and the seven other All-Stars contestants soon find that the escape rooms are more than just a game—and maybe the killer is one of them. Trapped in a series of rooms, the teens must solve the puzzles or die while trying. There truly is no escape from this fast-paced, whodunnit plot.

In the Acknowledgments section, McNeil says she wondered if this was the greatest book she had ever written or completely unreadable. It’s my favorite in the #murdertrending series. Persey’s life before the All-Stars (told in flashback chapters) is emotionally engaging. I liked the asides when we’re in Persey’s viewpoint: “Persey had never paid much (any) attention to business matters,” or, “Persey usually (always) disliked strangers.” While there are romantic connections in the group, Persey maybe finds a friend in the aptly named Neela Chatterjee whose stream-of-consciousness style of communicating contrasts with her sharp intellect.

There’s plenty of gruesome bloodshed but it’s exacting, focused on the All-Stars rather than deaths by the dozens. While McNeil’s stories are complex, this one is A+ amazing for its spiderweb of a story. The payoff comes at the end as fans finally realize how the books connect.

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