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 inHaley Neil’s debut YA novelOnce 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.
In Corey Ann Haydu’sYA 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.”
I don’t like sports books. At all. But I read the first few pages of Britta Lundin’sLike 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.
Set in the 1920s, Jenny Elder Moke’sCurse of the Specter Queenis high-stakes historical fiction fantasy with a female-driven plot. Samantha (“Sam”) Knox isn’t the same after her father is killed in the Great War. She turns away from her lifelong friends (brother and sister Bennett and Joana Steeling) and resigns herself to living a small life in their nowhere US town. She escapes the fate of being a laundress like her mother and, instead, uses her tenacious puzzle-solving skills to work at book restoration in the Steeling’s store.
When an unexpected package shows up bearing a damaged diary, Sam becomes embroiled in the mysteries surrounding this book. Before she knows it, she’s in Ireland trying to stop an occult ritual from resurrecting the Specter Queen, the Celtic goddess of vengeance and death. To do this, she must find an ancient bowl carved from the tree of life. Along the way, there are plenty of red herrings and a blossoming romance.
Because Sam evolves enormously over the course of the book, this is also a coming-of-age story. Complexities of Sam’s relationships with her friends unfold as Sam realizes she’s shut others out and now hopes it’s not too late to mend tattered ties with her previous BFF, Jo—truly a well-written character for how she snubs (with humor and levity) the constraints placed on women during that time.
I like how fantasy and historical fiction are blended into an apocalyptic story that pulls you back in time. In the end notes, the author states there were truly excavations carried out at Montpelier Hill in South County Dublin and that she utilized the research and findings of the Hellfire Club Archaeological Project and Abarta Heritage.
While perfectly suitable for a YA audience, the book would also appeal to readers of New Adult because of the independence of the characters and the lack of parental involvement. Book two in the Samantha Knox series continues on with another 1920’s adventure, this time on the island of Crete. Rise of the Snake Goddess comes out in June 2022. Sign me up for more nonstop thrills with this likable trio!
★Starred Reviews – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
The young adult novel Deeplight grabbed me when I read it described as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea meets Frankenstein. Frances Hardinge does not disappoint. Fifteen-year-old Hark lives in the island chain of Myriad on Lady’s Crave where the Hidden Lady was once their god, before the gods inexplicably killed each other off. Hark and his friend Jelt—both unwanted children their destinies seemingly “cojoined against their wills”—get by together on the rough streets. Jelt leads Hark to increasingly perilous transgressions until Hark is caught and given a three-year sentence of servitude. The woman who buys him at auction brings him to the island of Sanctuary where he’s assigned various chores but is also asked to spy on the aging priests, seeking their secrets about the gods. Hark finally has the chance to think about who he is and what he wants out of life. However, he’s once again a pawn but this time the stakes include everything.
Frances Hardinge’s beautifully written story will sweep you away in this coming-of-age fantasy adventure to remember. It was refreshing to read a book that felt new in many ways, illuminating light into areas of what could have seemed like familiar tales. Instead, Hardinge kept me guessing with the story’s twists. While the thrills were fun, I appreciated the undercurrent, reminding us that we all carry stories and that when someone dies, a world of knowledge dies along with them. To understand and remember the past, we must recall and retell it and we must listen to the stories that lie inside of others.
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Following a devastating senior year, things are looking up for eighteen-year-old Sabine Reyes. She has been accepted to a prestigious art school on a full scholarship, including an allowance for housing. Still traumatized from the events of her senior year, which left her homeless, she becomes alarmed when her professor, a noted artist, is brutally critical of her artwork. Nothing she does meets his approval and she is fearful that failure in this class will result in the loss of her scholarship. Vulnerable, and under intense pressure, she is manipulated by someone she trusts, and engages in unethical activity she at first rationalizes and later realizes is wrong.
Set in contemporary Pasadena and surrounding areas, Linka’s book explores Sabine’s last year of high school and how the events of that year impacted her later actions and decisions. This gradual build up, intertwined with Sabine’s current life of school, work, friendships, and loves, dramatically increases the story’s intensity. Readers helplessly witness Sabine’s entanglement in a criminal world and the staggering consequences she faces when exposed.
Linka’s love of art is clearly evident in the story and provides fascinating backdrops and insights. Yet, this story is also shaped by Linka’s growing concern over homelessness, especially among college students. In Sabine, Linka has created an innocent and fragile young woman who has experienced hardships unimaginable by most of her peers. Due to society’s negative impression of the homeless, Sabine lives in fear that her friends and classmates will find out about her earlier homeless experience. Yet this very hardship enables Sabine to treat the story’s homeless characters with dignity and respect. One such character, inspired by the author’s chance encounter with an older homeless woman, becomes the subject of a powerful work painted by Sabine.
I recommend this complex and gripping story, infused with the beauty of art and the ugliness of deceit and betrayal.
Review by Dornel Cerro
Support a local independent bookstore by ordering your copy of What I Want You to Seehere.
SWING Written by Kwame Alexander
with Mary Rand Hess (Blink YA Books; $18.99, Ages 14-18)
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal
Kwame Alexander’s Newbery Award-winning novel, The Crossover, used basketball as the backdrop for the story. His new book, written with Mary Rand Hess, is a novel-in-verse called Swing with a prologue beginning:
We were halfway through
Rounding the bases.
About to score
it’s a good bet that the title refers to baseball.However, Hess and Alexander also collaborated on the 2017 novel Solo about rock and roll, and it turns out that Swingis as much about swinging the beat as swinging the bat. Most of all, though, it’s about putting yourself out there and embracing life.
The book opens as narrator Noah and his best friend Walt (AKA “Swing”) have again failed to make their high school baseball team. Noah wants to give up, lamenting:
But the truth is
Our baseball dream
is a nightmare.
It haunts me.
Noah defines himself by what he can’t do. He can’t play baseball, and he can’t tell his longtime crush, Sam, how he feels about her. With Walt’s encouragement, Noah tries writing poetry for her, but it’s not very — well, see for yourself:
I want you
to be my symphony
two piccolo trumpets
Even Walt agrees the poem is not good enough to give to Sam, but when Noah buys a second-hand Louis Vuitton Keepall as a birthday gift for his mom, he finds old love letters stashed in the lining that inspire him to try again.
Tonight, I’m ready
To tear courage
Out of the book of dares
And make it mine.
The love letters give him a scaffold for creating art worth sharing. Noah uses them to make blackout poetry — he blacks out some words so that the ones that remain legible form a new poem — and then adds original graphic elements with his pen. The resulting mixed media art stands out, even in this book composed entirely of poems. They make me curious; I have to figure out which letter Noah uses for which piece. They make me want to try writing blackout poetry myself, and they make Noah more confident, able to express himself and impress the girl he loves.
As wonderful as Noah’s art is, my favorite creation in this book is, simply, Walt. I want to reread Swingto spend more time with him. Noah describes him and his quirks like this:
My best friend
Walt Disney Jones
is obsessed with jazz,
dead famous people,
and finding cool,
if it’s the last thing
we ever do.
But Walt’s a
on how to
never give up
until you win.
When it comes to “finding cool,” especially with regard to girls, Walt relies on his older cousin Floyd and a podcast called The Woohoo Woman. He won’t give up, whether he’s practicing baseball or finding a date for prom. He even gets a tattoo inspired by Tupac Shakur’s acronym THUG LIFE. Walt’s tattoo says HUG LIFE, exhorting everyone who sees it to embrace the world, and all its people and opportunities, wholeheartedly.
Noah’s quest to win Sam over from her boyfriend takes flight after Noah’s parents go on a trip, leaving him home alone for a few weeks. Noah’s grandmother is supposed to supervise him but doesn’t believe it’s necessary. Walt, on the other hand, moves right in, believing Noah absolutely needs supervision if he’s going to win Sam’s heart. Walt anonymously sends Sam one of Noah’s poems, but it’s still up to Noah to decide how and when to reveal himself. Will he ever convince Sam to promote him out of the friend zone?
Swing is most of all a coming-of-age story, but there is a mystery in the background throughout. People find American flags left on lawns, stuck on windshields, and painted on freeway exit signs, and the town debates whether the flags represent a show of patriotism or a sinister warning.
…no one can agree
on why the flags are here,
who’s planting them,
and whether or not
we should be
happy or offended
that they’re growing
The flag mystery leads a fairly light story into heavier territory. I believe in building empathy and understanding through books about difficult topics; however, in Swing, the social justice issues are not well developed. Because of this, I felt unprepared for a tragedy (caused by police using excessive force) at the end of the book, and I think younger, sensitive readers in particular may have the same experience. Most of us dislike spoilers, but with Swing I think it’s fair to provide readers with a little warning before reading and a lot of opportunities for discussion afterward. In that context, I recommend Swing to readers fourteen and up as both a funny coming-of-age buddy story and a serious vehicle for discussing the people we as a society forget, fear, or abuse.
A REVIEW + GIVEAWAY
FOR MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY
LOVING VS. VIRGINIA
A DOCUMENTARY NOVEL
OF THE LANDMARK CIVIL RIGHTS CASE
Written by Patricia Hruby Powell
Artwork by Shadra Strickland
(Chronicle Books; $21.99 – available after 1/31/17, Ages 12+)
REVIEW:When I read Patricia Hruby Powell’s Loving vs. VirginiaI felt like a fly on the wall or a Jeter family cousin, as the action of this powerful story unfolded around me. Despite knowing how things turn out in the end, I found every aspect of this teen docu-novel incredibly riveting and eye-opening. Through meticulous research and interviews,Powellhas successfully managed to transport readers back in time to the Jim Crow south of Caroline County, Virginia. Plunked down into the small neighborly community of Central Point, we’re quickly swept up into the lives of sixth grader Mildred Jeter, and her close knit family. The year, 1955.
As the romance between family friend Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter developed and grew, so did their problems. Strict segregation laws banning interracial marriage were in effect in over 20 states making any romantic relationship between a black woman and a white man a crime, and vice versa. Virginia, the state that Mildred and Richard called home, made no secret of its distaste for interracial marriage and did whatever it could to thwart these relationships. Mildred often noted that had their genders been reversed making Mildred a white woman and Richard a black man, he’d have surely been hung.
So while things were already difficult for these two, matters were made worse by the local law enforcement. A nasty man named Sheriff Brooks was determined to keep the lovers apart or make them pay. When Mildred and Richard eventually got married in D.C. where it was legal to do so, they returned home to Central Point intending to stay under the radar. But secrets were hard to keep in small towns and it wasn’t long before Sheriff Brooks invaded their home as the legally married couple slept together. The marriage was not considered legal in Virginia and the Lovings were guilty of committing a crime. Mildred and Richard were arrested! Having not seen the film or read anything about the Lovings, I was shocked by this dead of night intrusion.
This would only be the first of several arrests that eventually led Mildred and Richard to young lawyers with the National Civil Liberties Union. The Loving’s rights as Americans, according to their plucky attorneys, were being denied. It took several years and a lot of personal sacrifice for the couple, but they worked through every issue, and their compelling case was ultimately heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course as we all know, they won in a unanimous decision under Chief Justice Earl Warren, but the fear of losing was palpable. It was no longer illegal to marry someone of another race. And at last, the Mildred and Richard could raise their children in their home state of Virginia without fear of breaking the law. Perseverance, fearlessness, and commitment helped this couple make history. The year, 1967. And now in 2017 we can proudly mark the 50th anniversary of this important case and the Lovings that made it happen.
Powell’s writing is at once simple yet sophisticated. The ample white space of each unillustrated page invites readers in slowly and calmly as the tension of the story builds. Told in blank verse, Powell’s narratives alternate between the distinct voices of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, bringing enlightening perspectives to teen readers. The text is complemented by illustratorShadra Strickland’s evocative artwork done in visual journalism style “characterized by a loose, impromptu drawing style” containing overlapping lines and “an informal feeling of sketches in the final composition.” Strickland’s illustrations made it easy to picture the setting, the characters, the time period and the events. I cannot imagine this story with any other type of art. Its minimal and muted color palette and its interspersing of historical photos in black and white worked wonderfully to convey the mood of this era. Helpful information can be garnered from the extensive resources included in the back matter of this book such as a time line, a bibliography, quote sources and moving messages from the artist and author. With its still timely message of civil rights, equality and racial tolerance, Loving vs. Virginia should be required reading for every high school student. I will be recommending it to everyone I know with a teen at home.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Multicultural Children’s Book Day2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr fromJump Into A Bookand Mia Wenjen fromPragmaticMom.Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHostshere.
From acclaimed author Patricia Hruby Powell comes the story of a landmark civil rights case, told in spare and gorgeous verse. In 1955, in Caroline County, Virginia, amidst segregation and prejudice, injustice and cruelty, two teenagers fell in love. Their life together broke the law, but their determination would change it. Richard and Mildred Loving were at the heart of a Supreme Court case that legalized marriage between races, and a story of the devoted couple who faced discrimination, fought it, and won.
Patricia Hruby Powell’s previous book, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, won a Sibert Honor for Nonfiction, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and five starred reviews. She lives in Illinois.
Shadra Strickland is an illustrator whose work has won an Ezra Jack Keats Award, a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, and an NAACP Image Award. She lives in Maryland.
GIVEAWAY: Details of our giveaway courtesy of Chronicle Books are below. Plus, if you follow us on Facebook and let us know that you did by telling us in the comments of this blog post, we’ll give you an extra entry. An additional comment on our Facebook page post for this book review gets you yet another entry. Also, if you enjoyed this review, please subscribe to our blog. Thanks and good luck!