YA – Zara Hossain Is Here

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.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – Never Saw You Coming

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.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – You’d Be Home Now

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.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – 10 Truths and a Dare

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.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

YA – In the Wild Light

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.

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

YA – A Sitting in St. James

Williams-Garcia, Rita. A Sitting in St. James. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-36729-7. $17.99. 460 p. Grades 10 and up.

Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert relishes her past in the French Court, but with the fall of the court, so too fell Madame Sylvie, forced to marry Bayard Guilbert and move first to Saint-Domingue and then to St. James Parrish, Louisiana. Now, over 60 years later, she still relishes in her connection to the dead French queen and the need to maintain her appearances throughout St. James. Thus, she rules Le Petit Cottage, the Guilbert plantation, as though nothing has changed since her husband’s death 30 years ago. But, it’s 1860, and the United States, and Louisiana, are changing. Mixed-races are thriving throughout Louisiana; plantations are being sold; Abraham Lincoln has been elected president, and yet, Madame Sylvie cannot let go of the past. When she learns that a descendant of the French court’s portrait artist, Le Brun, is in Louisiana, she forces her son Lucien to bring him to Le Petit Cottage for a sitting. Although out of style and unaffordable due to the debt Lucien has brought upon the plantation, Madame Sylvie insists on the sitting and the importance of it to the French and her future family’s legacy and memory. But, what legacy can she provide when everything is lost?  

THOUGHTS: Told through the eyes of a white, plantation madame, A Sitting in St. James approaches the antebellum period through a new lens. Williams-Garcia still tells the story of slavery in the antebellum South, but not the strength in it; instead she looks at the downfall of the Guilbert plantation because of the resistance to change and an inane desire to have what doesn’t exist anymore from Bayard’s marriage to Sylvie to Sylvie’s desire still to be a part of the French Court even though it does not exist. Additionally, Williams-Garcia addresses the need for children and grandchildren to sustain a plantation throughout the novel through the deaths of Sylvie’s children, except for Lucien, and the homosexual relationship between her grandson, Byron, and Robinson Pearce. She also addresses gender inequality through the female characters of Eugenie, Jane, and Rosalie because they must find husbands to support them and the plantation. This is a welcomed addition to antebellum historical fiction and another fabulous novel by Rita Williams-Garcia; it does, though, include some descriptive and graphic sex scenes and rape of slaves.

YA – Be Dazzled

La Sala, Ryan. Be Dazzled. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-492-68269-1. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.

If ever there was a meet-cute, Raffy and Luca are it. They meet in the gem aisle of Craft Club, the local craft megastore, both boys zeroing in on Sea Foam Dream #6 gems. Dark-haired, dark-eyed Raffy is a supremely talented cosplay crafter/video streamer, with a devoted internet following; Luca, a smokin’ hot Italian American soccer player. Raffy can’t believe Luca was (he was, wasn’t he?) flirting with him. Raffy introduces Luca into the nerdom of cosplay and conventions. Luca introduces Raffy to fun. Raffy, 17 year old, is so focused on impressing the judges at the various Cons he attends, hoping to gain sponsorship for his crafting, and scholarships to art school, that he has lost the joy of crafting. Teaching Luca brings back the fun. But when Raffy’s maniacal intensity collides with Luca’s laissez faire approach, the inevitable breakup occurs. Yet now Raffy’s success at Controverse depends on working with the boy who broke his heart. Adding to the storyline is Luca’s inability to tell his family he is bisexual, as well as coming out as a closet nerd, and Raffy’s intense, “ARTIST” mother, who scorns sequins, satin and sewing. When all the worlds collide, will Raffy and Luca be able to survive, the second time around? This dazzling nerd romance is heart-meltingly cute. The behind-the-scenes look at cosplay crafting is fascinating, and Raffy is an expert guide to the design and creation of costumes. Both boys have loyal friends to support them, and while family issues are resolved quickly and neatly, it makes for a satisfying conclusion to a fun read.

THOUGHTS: There is nothing not to love about this bedazzling nerd romance with a happy ending.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – The Queen Will Betray You

Henning, Sarah. The Queen Will Betray You. Tor Teen, 2021. 978-1-250-23746-0. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 8-12.

Princess Amarande and her true love, Luca, have finally been reunited. However, in order to save the Kingdoms, they must part. Luca, no mere stable boy anymore, must fulfill his role and lead a rebellion against the tyrant war lord. Meanwhile, Amarande returns to her kingdom to find that her mother, the runaway queen, has taken control through her brother, the newly crowned King Ferdinand. Desperate, Amarande unwillingly accepts the help of her enemy, Prince Tallifer, in order to escape her mother and defy the queen’s plotting for control over the kingdoms. Her love for Luca and for her people motivate her to keep going, even when all seems lost and betrayal lurks around every corner.

THOUGHTS: The Queen will betray you, but which queen? This was an immensely enjoyable and action packed follow up to The Princess Will Save You, loosely based upon The Princess Bride, and the story does not end here! The cliff hanger will leave readers impatiently waiting for the release of The King Will Kill You to find out the fate of the Kingdoms of Sand and Sky and if true love really does prevail.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Sing Me Forgotten

Olson. Jessica S. Sing Me Forgotten. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-14794-3. $19.99. 336 p. Grades 8-12.

Isda has lived inside an opera house since she was a baby. She was born with a magical ability to extract the memories of others, and since these magic wielders are feared and easily recognized by their facial differences, she was left in a well at birth to die, standard practice for any baby born with this rare, but dangerous gift. Isda was saved by Cyril, and the only world she knows is the one that he tells her he saved her from. If she was ever discovered, both her and Cyril would be executed. Isda longs to share her own voice and music with the world, just as the opera singers are able to do, and when she meets Emeric, an aspiring performer, she decides to befriend him and become his tutor, hiding her own identity behind a mask. While he sings, Isda is able to use her ability to explore Emeric’s memories and soon discovers that the world may not be as Cyril has told her. Her friendship with Emeric motivates her to explore and expand her abilities and plan for a potential escape from her lonely and unfulfilling existence in the darkness, but a life in the light may require Isda to become the monster the world fears that she is.

THOUGHTS: Sing Me Forgotten is a twist on The Phantom of the Opera, but it also reminds me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In this retelling, the “phantom” is a young girl who has lived alone her entire life, but when she learns the truth about the world around her, this angel of music quickly becomes a monster and walks a fine line between being a hero and becoming a villain. Readers will finish this one with tears in their eyes, a craving for warm caramel candies, and perhaps a desire to watch an adaptation of the original tale that inspired this new, stand alone fantasy.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Colbert, Brandy. Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Balzer + Bray, 2021. 978-0-063-05666-4. 216 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

Brandy Colbert, acclaimed author of teen fiction, turns her seamless storytelling skills to the “story and legacy” of Tulsa’s thriving Greenwood District, a.k.a. America’s Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Colbert opens with a chapter on Oklahoma’s history, focusing on the Indian Removal Act, Trail of Tears, discovery of oil, and all-Black freedmen’s towns that were established after the end of slavery. This history sets the stage for the ways Black Oklahomans found to “not only survive but also thrive” as Reconstruction transitioned into the era of Jim Crow laws, the KKK, and lynchings. Colbert cleverly interweaves these chapters with a day-by-day account of May 30 to June 1, 1921, so that readers understand the events in Tulsa within a broader historical context. For example, the “Red Summer” of 1919 saw more than three dozen “race riots,” an indicator of escalating racial violence and white fear that spread to Tulsa and planted the seeds for the Greenwood massacre. Colbert also argues that, along with an alleged assault of a white woman by a young Black man on May 30, “jealousy and resentment cannot be overlooked as significant motivators” leading to the destruction of Greenwood and the deaths of dozens of its residents. Well-placed, pertinent sidebars add depth to Colbert’s coverage of people and events (e.g., Ida B. Wells-Barnett), especially as they relate to the history of violence against Black Americans. 

THOUGHTS: June 1, 2021, marked the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and a number of books for young readers have been released to commemorate the too-little-known event. Among the best is Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert. 

976 American History          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD