Khan, Sabina. Zara Hossain Is Here. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-58087-7. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.
Moving through Tae Kwon Do patterns is the calm after the storm Zara can’t seem to find anywhere else in her life. Constant microaggressions leave her feeling frustrated and alone. Despite living in Corpus Christi, Texas since she was a baby, Zara is the only Muslim girl in her private Catholic school. Though her father is a respected physician, Islamaphobia isn’t anything new to Zara. Her family still is waiting for their green card approval (nine years later), so she tries to remain under the radar. While presenting her US history paper (on the inequities and indignities of the US immigration system), Zara faces questions from her classmates like “why do we have to take care of everyone else in the world?” and “What about all the illegals that are flooding our country?” Zara actually was talking about legal immigration – like her own family’s – but no one seems to care. When things go too far, and Zara’s dad reacts to defend their family, the Hossain’s immigration status is put in jeopardy. Zara’s family is ready to move back to Pakistan but recognizes that Zara, who really doesn’t remember their home country, will not have the same educational and life opportunities. And Zara may face just as much prejudice in Pakistan, since she identifies as a bisexual female.
THOUGHTS: In Zara, Khan presents a character who is sick of accepting the ignorance of others and who fights for what she believes. Readers will adore and root for Zara and her family. A must have for high school libraries.
Hahn, Erin. Never Saw You Coming. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76124-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.
Upon learning that she’s been lied to her entire life, eighteen-year-old Meg flees her hometown to find herself in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While Meg tries to process her feelings and question her beliefs, she meets Micah who has his own reasons to question his faith as well. Meg, a former church youth group leader and church camp counselor, struggles to accept the strict Christian way her mom raised her when it comes out that her mom’s own teen years were not so pure. Even with the church’s conservative views on modesty, purity, abstinence education, and homosexuality, Meg still strongly values her faith and belief in God. And she has to reconcile her feelings. Micah, who idolized his father before he was caught in a sexual misconduct and embezzling scandal, has shunned his beliefs and struggles to find forgiveness for his father’s mistakes. Life in the church community his dad demolished hasn’t been easy for Micah. Both feeling wronged by the families they trusted, Meg and Micah become fast friends then more than friends, and their relationship gives them the space to process their hurt feelings, questioned beliefs, and church teachings. Told in alternating narratives, teen readers will love this sweet romance that addresses the core of one’s beliefs and values.
THOUGHTS: This story is a personal one for Hahn, and she well represents the struggles that teens of faith may face. With honesty and care for the topics, Hahn addresses the church’s hypocrisy in a way that will help teens consider their own feelings. Highly recommended for high school collections.
Glasgow, Kathleen. You’d Be Home Now. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-525-70804-9. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.
For her whole life Emory’s family has been well-known in the town of Mill Haven. Her great great grandfather founded the mill that employed many of the town’s families for generations. But the mill has been abandoned for some time, and people have very different opinions about what should become of the space. Emory also is the little sister of Joey who overdosed and passed out while his best friend Leonard caused a life altering car accident, one that devastated their small town and Emory’s family. Now Emory is known as someone who was in the car when Candy died. Joey is on his way back from rehab, and their older sister Maddie is away at college. With workaholic parents who aren’t always around, Emory is tasked with keeping an eye on Joey who has been given some pretty serious restrictions to keep him “on the right path.” Always feeling invisible in the shadow of her perfect sister and self-destructive brother, Emory has been a good girl, a rule follower. But Emory needs someone to see her. Next door neighbor Gage, who Emory has had a crush on, shows her attention, though secretly, and it feels good for someone finally to notice her even if not out in the open. Despite some questionable choices, Emory is managing and keeping an eye on Joey. Until she isn’t. Secrets are brought to light, Joey disappears, and Emory loses herself. Will she pick up the pieces and figure out who she wants to be before it’s too late?
THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Emory and Joey while cringing at some obvious warning signs. Glasgow writes a compelling, character driven novel that shines light on addiction’s impact on family, friends, and community. Teens will appreciate the authentic portrayal of serious issues.
Letria, Jose Jorge. War. Greystone Kids, 2021. 978-1-771-64726-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 4 -6.
With sparse words and dark pen and ink drawings, Jose Jorge and Andre Letria offer a haunting portrayal of war. The book imparts a strong sense of unease and sorrow with war being depicted as a non-feeling, cold presence delighting in the misery of the citizens it affects. The work delivers a powerful anti-war message, examining the sobering human impact of the ravages of war. A picture book best saved for older grades.
THOUGHTS: Could be used in conjunction with a unit on the Holocaust.
Elston, Ashley. 10 Truths and a Dare. Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-06238-1. 291 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.
Olivia is a focused and ambitious top student, selected to be her class salutatorian. In order to take all of those extra AP classes to earn that spot, she opted to take a golf class outside of school, figuring it was a quick and easy “A”. Now it is the week before graduation, the traditional themed parties for graduation are gearing up, and Olivia and her classmates are looking forward to all of the celebrations. That is when she gets the surprising news that her golf instructor is refusing to sign off on her PE credit, because she rarely attended or participated in classes. She strikes a deal with him to earn that credit by working all graduation week at the college recruiting tournament for high school athletes. She has to hide this looming disaster from her large Italian family and her classmates at school and with the help of her cousins and friends she is able to. Her week of hard work, over-commitment, and exhaustion brings her an understanding of the value of family, friendship, integrity, and honesty, and also the possibility of romance with an unlikely partner.
THOUGHTS: A second title by the author of 10 Blind Dates, recommend this for students looking for a light-hearted, PG read.
Zentner, Jeff. In the Wild Light. Crown Publishers, 2021. 978-1-524-72024-7 429 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.
Set in a small Tennessee town, two misfits from troubled families develop a strong bond after meeting at a Narateen meeting. Cash is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death, the knowledge that his beloved grandfather is dying, and his fear that he has no special gift to offer anyone. Delaney is a brilliant, self-taught scientist who discovers a bacteria-destroying mold with potential medicinal benefits. Because of this discovery, she is offered a full ride scholarship to an elite New England prep school and secures a spot for Cash as well. Delaney is determined to start anew and pushes Cash to join her, though he believes he is not deserving of this opportunity and fears missing precious time with his grandfather. They both struggle to adjust to their new life so far removed from their roots but are fortunate to find a friendship with two other new students at Middleford Academy and to nurture their own interests and passions and the special bond between them.
THOUGHTS: A thoughtful, coming of age story with a strong focus on the value of friendship and family, with charming characters, beautiful descriptions, and some gorgeous poetry. Touching, emotional, and heartfelt, this book will be appreciated by fans of All the Bright Places and Looking for Alaska.
Scott, Lisa Ann. The Story of You. Boyds Mills, 2021. 978-1-635-92311-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.
For teachers or parents looking to initiate a discussion of how actions define us, this book fits the bill. With simple rhymes and vibrant artwork, it encourages young readers or listeners to consider how they are “writing the story of you.” Children are shown that their unique interests help define them, as well as their actions – sharing with a friend, being kind, bold, or brave. Choosing to be honest, or angry or struggling, it is all part of their story, and they should make it the best story they can. Children of widely varied ethnicities, abilities, and orientations populate the pages of the book.
THOUGHTS: A lovely book for a one-on-one read aloud or as a class discussion prompt. The artwork projects caring and the text gently guides young readers to live their best life.
Kulekjian, Jessica. Before We Stood Tall. Kids Can, 2021. 978-1-525-30324-1. Unpaged. 19.99. Grades K-3.
Youngsters are sure to gravitate to this lovely picture book that presents a new spin on how a tree grows. Rather than show how an acorn becomes a mighty tree, Kulekjian reverses the process. Slowly, her impactful prose, paired with soft watercolor art by Madeline Kloepper, traces the mighty trees in the forest back to seeds in the earth. But the story doesn’t end there. Kulekjian explains mysteries of the earth itself and the root structure of trees and plants. What child won’t be delighted to learn plants are communicating underground? The earth-toned artwork comes alive below ground, with a plethora of creatures, mammal and insect, inhabiting what a child might consider boring dirt. Bones, rocks, and fossils fill the ground, along with roots and plant detritus, inviting images a young reader will need to explore thoroughly. While the text is sparse, each word is obviously chosen with care, conveying scientific concepts in beautiful, child-friendly terms.
THOUGHTS: The book is lovely in both word and images and will be a welcome addition to any picture book collection.
Feagan, Alice. The Collectors. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30204-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.
Winslow and Rosie, two young, intrepid naturalists, are seeking the pièce de résistance to their impressive collection. They pledge to locate something they never have found before and set off into the forest. They find a spectacular gem, but it is too heavy; the T-Rex skeleton is too big; a rainbow too far. Each marvel they encounter is problematic, and the girls walk farther and farther. When they come to a cave, Winslow and Rosie are certain this is where they will find something unique and extraordinary, but something finds them first, and the girls flee the cave, running all the way back to their cozy treehouse. At first, they claim the day a failure, but slowly they identify all the new experiences they had. Finally, something new and wonderful appears right under their noses. This gorgeous book celebrates treasures wherever we find them, big or small. Feagan’s cut-paper collage illustrations are warm and delightful, imbuing each girl with character. Winslow is portrayed as white, while Rosie has dark skin.
THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (without the Twilight Zonetwist) TheCollectors will make a perfect read-aloud, tie in with art class, or just plain fun. Perfect for all collections serving a primary clientele.
Sloth and Lemur find a cake. A big, beautiful cake. Three layers. Pink icing. Sprinkles. A candle on top. This calls for a party! But whom should they invite? Elephant? Tiger? Peacock? Unicorn or the ants? Each possibility is quickly struck down, inevitably leaving only Sloth and Lemur to eat the cake. But what happens when Tiger comes looking for her birthday cake, only to find an empty plate and two slightly nauseous friends? Those familiar with Jon Klassen’s “Hat” books won’t be surprised at Tiger’s solution. Astute readers may clue in early on the mystery of who owns the cake if they notice the black and orange striped candle on the top. The delightfully whimsical illustrations make this perfect for a read aloud, and small listeners will no doubt be squirming with giggly anticipation, as they wait to see what goes wrong when Sloth and Lemur don’t share their bounty. The book could be used as a segue to a discussion on sharing, or for just plain fun.
THOUGHTS: This smile-inducing book is perfect for libraries serving young patrons.