Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

We Are Here to Stay gives you the real story

We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults, by Susan Kuklin, (Jan. 2019, Candlewick Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9780763678845

Ages 12+

Award-winning author and photographer Susan Kuklin conducted extensive interviews with nine undocumented young adults who all came here as children. They come from Colombia, Mexico, Ghana, Independent Samoa, and Korea, and they – and their families – came here for the chance at a better life and education. They fled poverty. They fled violence. They left family behind.

Originally slated for publication in 2017, Susan Kuklin originally planned to feature full-color portraits and the subjects’ names in this book, but the Presidential election and subsequent repeal of DACA, makes it unsafe to identify these young adults. Identified only by a first initial and represented by empty frames, these are hard stories to read. They will move you: they will upset you, they will make you angry, and they will make you feel for the young people who live in the shadows, terrified that at any moment, they’ll be sent away. They’ve crossed through hellish deserts, been taken advantage of by people that were supposed to help them, and turned away by their families in some cases. Working in their communities to bring about positive change, they are here, and they want to be part of the America we know we can be.

We Are Here to Stay offers a lot of food for thought and discussion. These individuals face an uncertain future, and they know it. We Are Here to Stay is a must-read, must-have book for young people everywhere, and it’s a must-read for every person whose lives touch young people: parents, caregivers, educators.

Susan Kuklin is the Stonewall Honor-winning author of Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out.

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Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Crossover Fiction: New Dark Ages

New Dark Ages, by Warren Kinsella, (Dec. 2018, Dundurn), $14.99, ISBN: 9781459742154

Ages 16+

The second book in Warren Kinsella’s X-Gang series, while set in the ’80s, sees the rise of a candidate that’s eerily familiar: Earl Turner is an all-American guy running for President on a “White is Right” platform, and the country seems to be eating it up. His numbers are going up, his rallies are teeming with supporters, and, most distressing to Kurt Blank and the rest of the X Gang, their former drummer, Danny Hate, is right smack in the middle of it. He went “conservative” after incidents from the first novel (Recipe for Hate, 2017), but to be showing up at political rallies as Earl Turner’s right-hand man? Meanwhile, dead punks are being discovered in cities right after the Nasties’ – the X Gang’s band – shows, and Kurt’s drug habit is starting to become a problem.

Set in the ’80s, New Dark Ages is a reminder that we haven’t come as far – or is it fallen as far? – as we thought we may have. Earl Turner has that jock appeal that went over so well at the time, with the current administration’s open malice for anyone not like him. The narrative tends to jump around a bit, though, and while there’s some good punk culture fiction happening here, along with potentially interesting political intrigue, there are too many balls in the air to keep a cohesive storyline in play.

Is New Dark Ages YA? Not necessarily, but it’s got crossover potential. The characters are in the age range, and confronting issues that will most definitely affect their futures. It’s an additional purchase if you’ve got readers interested in punk culture (including us Gen X readers who were around at the time) and politically charged fiction.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Three graphic novels you should NOT miss!

It’s been a busy few months! I realized that some really good graphic novels passed their book birthdays, but that’s no reason not to shout about them! I’ve got a little something for most here – see what’s good!

Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O’Neill, (Oct. 2018, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781620105290

Ages 8-12

The third outing from Princess Princess Ever After and Tea Dragon Society author/illustrator Katie O’Neill is another hit! A girl named Lana and her widowed father return to their seaside hometown to help her Aunt Lana – her mother’s sister – clean up after a storm devastated the community and discovers more about her mother, her aunt, and the magical underwater creatures whose fate is tied directly to the surface. A tender, thoughtful story about humanity and our relationship to our world, Aquicorn Cove explores at grief and loss, sustainability, and community. This timely – and yet, timeless – story has soft, warm artwork with lush scenery and gentle faces; diversity above and below the water, and a sweet, hinted-at relationship between Aunt Lana and the queen of the aquicorns. Put this one on your shelves if you don’t have it already. Also makes a great holiday gift.

Katie O’Neill is a two-time Eisner Award winner and a Harvey Award winner.

 

Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët, (Oct. 2018, Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 9781770463363

Ages 13+

Do not let a first glance at this cover deceive you: this is NOT a kids’ title. Take a closer look at that cover. That’s no leaf the little blonde pixie is standing next to: it’s a human hand. The story itself is grisly: what would happen if a little girl died in a forest, and a small, vicious, fairy society sprang up around her? Originally released in French in 2014, this is a dark fantasy; an anti-fairy tale that will grab the eyeballs of your horror readers. The sweet artwork is in direct conflict with the grisly, often bleak storyline; small moments within each panel pop up to remind us that we are not in an adorable, cotton candy fairy world: the fairies ransack an opened purse, and we see a little boot lying nearby; a character sits, hungry, in an outstretched hand, surrounded by worms, as she waits for food. The watercolor artwork is stunning, which makes the story of backstabbing, betrayal, and murder all the more nightmarish. This one is a headtrip, but worth the ride for horror and dark fantasy readers. Clearly mark this one so it stays in your teen or adult graphic novel areas. Beautiful Darkness has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

 

Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass, by Lilah Sturges/Illustrated by polterink, (Oct. 2018, Boom! Studios), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1684152520

Ages 9+

One of my favorite comic book titles – seriously, Lumberjanes always brings the goods – has a brand new original graphic novel! Lumberjanes, for those not in the know, is basically the X-Files meets summer camp as a group of girls in the Roanoke House at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types: Friendship to the Max! In this installment, the Janes are off on an orienteering outing (finding your way with a map and compass), but one of the compasses is a little… off. When the friends start disappearing one by one, Molly knows something is up – and when she meets a strange female explorer who claims that she has no need of friends, she knows something is up! The Eisner- and GLAAD Award-winning series explores sensitive topics about relationships, gender, and sexuality in an upbeat, fun environment; this latest adventure is no different. The awkwardness of going from being “one” to “partnered” is a main plot point here as Molly’s and Mal’s relationship develops; April even bestows a “ship name” on the duo, which really makes it weird for poor Molly. Throw in a lost in time explorer, a mysterious compass, and some automaton butlers, and you’ve got a true Lumberjanes adventure. Usually a full-color comic, Infernal Compass is in black and white, with green accents to highlight the supernatural bits. The comic’s first issue is a bonus, included at the end, to orient new readers. Stock up on your Lumberjanes trades if you don’t already have them: this is a middle grade-and-up series (and there are middle grade books, too!) you want to have available to your readers.

 

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Listening to Limetown? Here’s the prequel!

Limetown, by Cote Smith, Zack Akers, & Skip Bronkie, (Nov. 2018, Simon & Schuster), $26, 9781501155642

Ages 14+

If you haven’t listened to Season 1 of the Limetown podcast, I highly recommend it.  It’s a creepy, fictional Serial-type podcast, where a journalist named Lia Haddock investigates a research community where over 300 men, women, and children disappeared, virtually overnight. One of the scientists was uncle, Emile Haddock. The second season’s just started, and there are only six episodes in the first season, so you have time.

The Limetown novel, written by the podcast’s creators, is a prequel that works as a YA crossover novel. Lia and Emile Haddock are the central characters here; Lia is a teen at the time of the novel, which takes place in two time frames: Lia’s adolesence in the immediate aftermath of Limetown, and Emile and Jacob’s – Lia’s father – adolesence and early adulthood. We learn about the roots of Limetown, and Emile’s path in getting there, and we get the formation of Lia’s burgeoning journalism career, what led her to investigate Limetown, and allusions to her being part of the Limetown event.

There are some glaring inconsistencies between the book and the podcast which didn’t sit right with me, to be honest. Lia seems to end the book with a lot more information than she starts out the podcast with, and at points, the narrative tends to lag. Lia’s mother emerges as a fascinating character that I want to learn more about in future episodes of the podcast. I liked discovering characters from the podcast in this novel, but would rather have had a prequel about Limetown itself, rather than have it merged with Lia’s story. Maybe that’s in store for another book? If you’re a fan of the podcast, give the book a shot.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Halloween YA Reading: Slender Man, by Anonymous

Slender Man, by Anonymous, (Oct. 2018, Harper Voyager), $15.99, ISBN: 9780062641175

Ages 13+

Most of us are familiar with Slender Man, right? The whole creepypasta fanfic writing and fanart phenomenon gone viral, that some people took way too seriously? If you need a little brushing up on your Slender Man lore, there’s a comprehensive piece in the Washington Post from 2016.

This is my first foray into actual Slender Man writing – most of what I know about the whole business is hearsay from social media – so I was interested in diving in and seeing what the big deal was about. A teen named Matt Barker is kind of an outcast, kind of a loner. He’s in therapy, and his therapist suggests he keep a journal. Matt’s journal entries make up a large part of the Slender Man story, enhanced by clips of newspaper articles, police interviews, online forums, and text conversations. Matt and his schoolmates are a largely well-off group of white kids, living in New York City, where they attend a a prestigious private school. When Matt’s best friend, Lauren, disappears, it sets off a series of nightmares where Matt dreams of trees, sky, and something sinister, just waiting for him. He has to decide whether or not to take matters into his own hands and find Lauren before Slender Man can hurt her.

A line in the book says that the best Slender Man fiction doesn’t actually star Slender Man, but rather uses his background presence to strike fear into readers. I don’t feel like this story achieved that. It had its creepy moments, and was a quick read, but ultimately, fell flat for me. It was on the verge of something more: more psychological, more insidious, but never really got there. Maybe more devoted Slender Man readers will appreciate this one; I want to check with the teens in my library and take the temperature of the group before I decide I was just the wrong audience for this one.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Hearts Unbroken is strong, smart #ownvoices YA

Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763681142

Ages 13+

High school senior dumps her jock boyfriend when he makes disparaging comments about Natives in front of her. You see, she’s Native: Creek nation – Muscogee – to be precise. She shakes off his badmouthing and focuses on the school year: she’s on the school newspaper staff and she’s paired with Joey Kairouz, the new photojournalist. Her brother, Hughie, is a new freshman at the same school, too, and lands a coveted spot in the school play: he’s going to be the Tin Man in the school production of The Wizard of Oz. Not every parent is thrilled with the diverse casting, though: a group calling themselves Parents Against Revisionist Theater starts lodging complaints and pressuring local businesses against supporting the play. Hughie and other actors of color start receiving anonymous hate mail. Battle lines are drawn throughout the student body and faculty. Joey and Louise try navigating a relationship while they work on the paper together, but Louise’s worries about “dating while Native” may cause more hurt to Joey than she expects.

Hearts Unbroken is just consuming. I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it. There are such rich, realistic characters, and Louise is just brilliant. She’s no simpering heroine – the book starts with her breaking up with her boyfriend for disparaging Natives, and she never looks back. Cynthia Leitich Smith creates such textured, layered characters and educates readers on Native life and language, giving me an even deeper respect for #ownvoices work than I already had. She gives Louise and her family challenges both common and unique: Louise has a bad breakup; she is self-absorbed and isn’t a mindful friend when her friend Shelby needs her; she works through her feelings about sex and when she will be ready. Louise and her family also deal with racism and whitewashing among their own neighbors and classmates. Hughie agonizes over discovering that L. Frank Baum, who created the wonderful world of Oz, so rich in its own diversity, was a virulent racist who published pro-genocide editorials surrounding the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to read, but it’s real, and she transfers this ache and this anger to her characters, giving them big decisions to make on their own while educating readers, too.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, who, like Louise is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, provides a Mvskoke/English Glossary to help readers with some of the phrases that appear in the book, and an author’s note that talks about parallels between Louise and herself, and the writing of Hearts Unbroken. Dr. Debbie Reese has a fantastic write-up of Hearts Unbroken on her page, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

An absolute must-add to your YA collections. Read a sample chapter and the author’s note on the Candlewick page.
Posted in Historical Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Red Ribbon finds hope in the heart of despair

The Red Ribbon, by Lucy Adlington, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201048

Ages 12+

Ella is a 14-year-old young woman who lands in Auschwitz-Birkenau after being picked up on the way home from school. She lies about her age to be placed in the Upper Tailoring Studio; a dressmaking studio within the camp, where the skeletal women Ella calls “Stripeys”, referring to the prisoners’ striped uniforms, make dresses for their clients: the wives and girlfriends of the SS officers, and the female SS officers themselves. Ella has dreams of being a dressmaker and finds herself more than up to the task, but her friend Rose points out that there’s a fine line between doing what’s necessary for survival and collaborating with the enemy, no matter where one’s true passion lies.

The Red Ribbon looks at some big issues taking place during the Holocaust: there really was a dressmaking studio, where prisoners repurposed clothing taken from the arriving prisoners to make clothing for the SS wives, girlfriends, and officers. There were prisoners who acted as “prominents”: they oversaw other inmates and could be almost as cruel and demanding as their jailers. Ella’s talent for dressmaking gains her notice from one SS officer, an 18-year-old named Carla, who leaves her small gifts for trade and invites her to share birthday cake with her one time and viciously beats her another, calling her inhuman. Rose acts as Ella’s conscience, seeing through the illusion Ella desperately wants to create: an illusion where her grandmother is still safe at home and waiting to hear from her; an illusion where her dressmaking talent is valued, and the Auschwitz “Department Store” is a kind of thrift store and not a pile of stolen goods from stolen lives. Ella’s desperation to hone her dressmaking talent borders on collaboration, but she refuses to acknowledge it until a heartbreaking moment when her beloved grandmother’s sewing machine lands in front of her in the Studio. It smashes Ella’s naivete, but she and Rose bolster one another, and the women around them as they pray and wait for liberation.

There are some devastating moments in this story, and Lucy Adlington’s words weave beautiful, terrible visions. Prisoners tell each other to “Look down at your sewing, not up at the chimneys”. One prisoner is so desperate for news about her children that she asks about an SS officer’s son: “Tell us about the little boy –  how old?  My son was three when they took us.”

The book equally captures desperation and determination; hope and despair. It’s a good add where collections need YA fiction that discusses The Holocaust. Display and booktalk with Antonio Iturbe’s The Librarian of Auschwitz, The Diary of Anne Frank and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (I’ve seen this title in both Juvenile and YA collections); Elie Wiesel’s Night and Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. The Jewish Book Council has an excellent list of Holocaust-related YA books. There is a creative writing resource available for free download from The Hay Festival.