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

MG – Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

Faraqi, Saadi. Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-94325-5. 357 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8. 

Yusuf lives in Texas with his family, and he has some big life changes coming up. He is starting middle school, hoping to enter a Robotics competition with his school’s Robotics team and is spending time helping his family build their community’s new mosque. However this is the 20th year anniversary of September 11th, and his community isn’t happy about the new mosque, or any of his family living in their small town anymore. Yusuf has to deal with bullies from many different directions, and he isn’t sure how to handle it. Will Yusuf be able to hold onto things that bring him such happiness in the face of so much hate and hostility?

THOUGHTS: This well told story touches on many things that today’s readers are either familiar with from their own personal experience, or they have seen it happen to their friends and community members. This book handles these topics with grace and compassion as well as feeling authentic to the situation. Highly recommend this for any middle school collection. 

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Out of the Fire

Contos, Andrea. Out of the Fire. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-72616-9. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

With her earbuds in, Cass Adams was out for a run on her usual path through the woods when she was grabbed and thrown into the trunk of a car. Though narrowly escaping an abduction, the police question Cass’s story. Does she have a description of the man or car or any letters or numbers from the license plate? No, she was running for her life! Frustrated with herself for being so routine oriented, Cass tries to go back to her old life. Then the pink envelopes start arriving. Methodically placed where Cass will see them and in places no one else should have access to, the letters warn Cass that she’s always being watched. The police wonder if Cass wrote them herself, but she knows they’re from him. When an old friend reconnects with Cass over the shared experience of being wronged, Cass doesn’t feel so alone. It’s not long before they realize there are other girls who have been wronged too. And they want revenge. After not being believed by the police and not wanting to burden her overworked father, Cass decides to track down her kidnapper herself. But she can’t do it alone, and to have help she has to open herself up to others and share things she may not be ready to face.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will devour this fast-paced thriller which is set during a two week time frame. Hand this one to readers who enjoy April Henry and Karen McManus titles.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Cost of Knowing

Morris, Brittney. The Cost of Knowing. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44545-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Despite trying his best to hold things together, sixteen year old Alex Rufus is struggling. Since the death of their parents, he and his little brother Isaiah have grown apart, barely interacting with each other in their Aunt Mackie’s house. Alex has his girlfriend Talia but constantly worries that he’ll do something wrong to ruin their relationship. At work Alex would prefer to remain in the back washing dishes while wearing rubber gloves than be out front scooping ice cream and interacting with customers. At the same time, Alex and Isaiah’s neighbor Mrs. Zaccari makes initially subtle and increasingly frustrating comments about neighborhood crime and what the Shiv concert coming to the area will mean for their safety. Alex is one touch from losing his carefully constructed exterior. Since the death of his parents, Alex gets a glimpse of the future when he touches anything. Usually something simple and easily dismissed, things become complicated when Alex visualizes an unreadable expression on Talia’s face – the sign of a breakup – and unbearable when he has a vision of his brother’s death. Burdened with the knowledge that he he can’t stop the inevitable, but determined to fix his relationship with Isaiah, Alex races to reconnect with his brother and learns that the two may not be as different as he thought.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Alex from the beginning as he works against “his curse.” Many readers will be able to suspend reality enough to believe this mostly realistic fantasy. Recommended for high school collections where compelling, character driven titles are in demand.

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Magical Realism
Realistic Fiction

YA – A Taste for Love

Yen, Jennifer. A Taste for Love. Razorbill, 2021. 978-0-593-11752-1. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Liza is a free-spirited, Taiwanese-American teen who likes to rebel against her mother’s wishes. With a “perfect” older sister off following her dreams and a meddling mother always on Liza’s case, she doesn’t have to try too hard to go against her mother’s wishes. And dating unsuitable boys has been number one on Liza’s list. Mrs. Yang, co-owner of the Yin and Yang restaurant and bakery with her chef husband, has a plan to get Liza on the right path. Using Liza’s love of and skill for baking, Mrs. Yang convinces her to serve as a guest judge in the bakery’s annual junior competition (think Great British Baking Show). It doesn’t take long for Liza to recognize that she’s been set up by her mother. Not only is each contestant male, each also is Asian American. What follows is a fun battle between mother and daughter, as Liza also fights her feelings for one contestant specifically. Mothers might know best, but Liza is her own person, and she won’t give up easily.

THOUGHTS: As a fan of The Great British Baking Show, I adored this sweet romance. Filled with delicious descriptions, readers will be rooting for Liza from the beginning. Pairs well with other YA “food titles” such as A Pho Love Story, The Way You Make Me Feel, and so many others (just google it!). Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries looking to add representation to their romance sections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love

Reck, Jared. Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love. Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. 978-1-524-71611-0. 306 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Oscar Olsson knows exactly what he wants to do with his life after high school: work on his family’s food truck, Hej Hej!, with his Swedish grandfather and longtime guardian, “Farfar.” In fact, the sooner that future arrives, the better. He views senior year as a series of endless hoops to jump through, though he does enjoy his independent study in the culinary lab. Unfortunately, Oscar gets roped into a cafeteria food waste reduction project spearheaded by Ivy League hopeful Mary Louise Messinger, a.k.a. Lou. Hundreds of rescued apples, batches of cider, and trays of crisp later, laser-focused Lou has worked her way onto the food truck and into Oscar and Farfar’s lives … and maybe into Oscar’s heart? But an overheard comment reminds him that Lou thinks he is beneath her, a loser with no serious plans for his future. Hints dropped throughout the narrative cue readers to an upcoming wrench in Oscar’s plans, possibly a tragic one, and when the moment arrives it is, indeed, devastating. Jared Reck’s pitch-perfect sophomore novel perfectly captures the way that life can be hilarious one moment and heartbreaking the next. Main and supporting characters are well-developed and distinctive, especially the unforgettable Farfar and his beloved cat Koopa, as is the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, setting.

THOUGHTS: This winning story about food trucks, family, friendship, and first love is fantastic from start to finish.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Six Crimson Cranes

Lim, Elizabeth. Six Crimson Cranes. Hodder & Stoughton, 2021. 978-1-529-37026-3. 454 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Shiori has a secret – she has forbidden magic. As the only princess of Kiata, if her secret came to light it would have disastrous implications.  Usually Shiori keeps her secret concealed except on the day of her betrothal ceremony. That day, her stepmother Raikama notices and banishes the young princess with a curse, turning Shiori’s brothers into cranes and for every word she speaks one of her brothers will die.  Shiori is left alone and unable to speak; she sets off to find her brothers and figure out a way to save them. While she is looking for a solution, she discovers there is more to her stepmother’s deceit than meets the eye. Will Shiori be able to save herself, her brothers, and her kingdom?

THOUGHTS: This was amazingly well written, with memorable characters and great pacing throughout. Elizabeth Lim does a great job of weaving in the elements of the original fairy tale while also making the reader feel that they are reading something new. This is a must own for every high school and public library collection, as well as a must read for any fan of fantasy.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – If You Miss Me

Li Langrano, Jocelyn. If You Miss Me. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-68069-0. 40 p. $18.99. Grades PreK-3.

“If you miss me. Look at the moon. I will do the same.” 

The picture book If You Miss Me by Jocelyn Li Langrano is a breath-taking story about love and loss. Charlie, a young girl who loves to dance, has a strong relationship with her grandmother. Charlie and Grandma dance through life, and even when they are not together, they seem to be connected. Grandma often reminds Charlie that when they are apart, looking at the same moon will help them feel as if they are together. As the season changes, Grandma’s unexpected death brings so much pain to Charlie’s life. Dancing does not feel the same, and indeed, she misses the most important person in her life. Will Charlie be able to heal? Will dancing become a part of her life again? This beautiful picture book explores grief in simple words and sweet illustrations– with love depicted on every page.

THOUGHTS: This lovely picture book will be available in December of 2021. Charlie’s story speaks to the heart and explores the idea that those who have died are truly not lost. This book could validate and explain complicated feelings in a gentle and heartwarming manner for children who have lost a loved one.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

YA – A Shot at Normal

Reichardt, Marisa. A Shot at Normal. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. 978-0-374-38095-3. 352 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Juniper Jade is the oldest child in a family that grows their own organic foods, homeschools their children, and goes without many of the everyday things others have (plastics, cell phones, and vaccinations). Often passing the local high school, Juniper longs to feel normal, but she respects her family’s values and doesn’t question them (too much) until she contracts the measles and unknowingly passes the virus to others. Then tragedy strikes, and suddenly, Juniper isn’t so sure about her family’s lifestyle. With the help of Nico, a friend who may be more than a friend, Juniper decides she’s going to be vaccinated. Despite her parent’s wishes. She isn’t quite prepared for their reaction, though, and Juniper really has to consider how much she’s willing to risk to get her vaccines.

THOUGHTS: Readers who are looking for a little more independence from the adults in their lives will connect with Juniper. With the vaccine debate at a pinnacle (though this book is not about COVID), A Shot at Normal deserves a place in high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD