YA – Love Radio

LaDelle, Ebony. Love Radio. Simon & Schuster, 2022. 978-1-665-90815-3. $19.99. 310 p. Grades 9-12.

Danielle Ford’s romantic mother has a big wish for her only child, to experience a great love story. That wish struggles to come true in Ebony LaDelle’s, Love Radio, a debut novel that is as much a homage to the great city of Detroit as it is to first love. High-achieving senior, Dani has been shut off from her friends and dating after a traumatizing sexual encounter with a college boy the previous summer. Keeping this secret from her besties and devoted parents, she buries herself in writing the perfect college essay to get into her dream school, New York University (NYU). When she has an awkward meeting in the library with classmate, Prince Jones, a popular teen disc jockey and local radio personality (DJLove Jones) who mixes love advice with music, she makes an assumption she regrets and wants to rectify. Told in alternating voices, the romance between Prince and Dani is enchanting. Prince shows a maturity beyond his years, perhaps because he has accepted much of the responsibility of taking care of his seven-year-old brother Mookie and household duties since his single mother received her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Prince has fallen hard for the guarded Dani and is determined to make her fall in love with him in five dates. After inviting himself over to her comfortable home to take out her braids, he plans two movie-worthy dates to a roller rink and bookstore. Dani starts to open up, reconnect with her friends, and dissolve her writer’s block. When she reciprocates with one equally perfect date to the Motown Museum, though, their intimacy triggers bad memories and she breaks it off with Prince. As Dani faces her trauma, she has the support of loving parents and patient friends as well as the therapy of writing unsent letters to her literary idols, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Prince, too, acknowledges his need to suppress his dreams because of his home obligations and, with help, makes a plan for his future. Both characters come to realize that they are surrounded by a network of loving people who will support and help them achieve their goals. Characters are African-American.

THOUGHTS: Students in the mood for a dreamy romance will eat up this book. The author has an ear for teen dialogue and is from Michigan. Any readers familiar with Detroit will recognize the branding of different places (if I am ever in Detroit, I’m heading for that Dutch Girl Donuts) and the description of the neighborhoods. Dani and Prince are so wise; the thoughtful dates are out of this world; the child to parent relationships are so close. Though the romance doesn’t play out physically much, Dani’s traumatic encounter occurs when she a friend takes her to a frat house where she barely escapes date rape. After several dates, Dani leads Prince to her bedroom and encourages a sexual encounter, but Prince is reluctant to proceed. The portrayal of family is warm and loving, especially the way Prince helps out his sick mother. Though the letters to literary idols seem to be a critical link to Dani’s recovery from trauma, the book names Dani’s idols as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Roxane Gay, Jesmyn Ward in the beginning chapter, but she only focuses on Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. One of Dani’s friends is sick of appropriation and plans a hair fashion show. Lots of references to music. Some bad language. For those who are sticklers, the timeline is a little wonky: would college kids be on campus in the summer? (maybe).

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Letters from My Tooth Fairy

Hecker, Brooke. Letters From My Tooth Fairy. Sleeping Bear Press, 2020. $16.99. 978-1-534-11055-7. Unpaged. Grades K-2. 

Every kid will want to rush home and pull their loose tooth after reading this story! Natalie just lost her first tooth, and her Tooth Fairy leaves her a little money along with a special note. Over the years, as Natalie loses more teeth (which are labelled and shown on a cute diagram at the top of the page), she and the Tooth Fairy exchange notes, and the Tooth Fairy gives her a little special magic when she needs it most, like a pat on the back for bravery when she loses a tooth in a playground accident or a special necklace when she loses her first tooth as a big sister. Miss Mary Molar, her mom’s Tooth Fairy, comes for a special visit when Natalie loses a tooth while visiting her grandparents, and the Timberwood Tooth Fairy pays a visit during a summer camp tooth loss. Deborah Melmon’s colorful cheery illustrations pair perfectly with Brooke Hecker’s epistolary tale.

THOUGHTS: Sure to be a big hit with the gap-toothed K-2 set, this is an enjoyable story for any elementary-aged reader.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – If You Come to Earth

Blackall, Sophie. If You Come to Earth. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-13779-7. Unpaged. $18.99. PreK-2.

A young narrator writes a letter to an alien, detailing what life is like on our planet. He explains our housing, clothing, family life, means of transportation, work, recreation, food, animals, and more. He highlights the fact that everyone is different, but we are all better off when we are kind to one another. Stunning illustrations accompany this delightful portrait of our beautiful Earth.

THOUGHTS: I am absolutely loving this breathtaking celebration of diversity on our planet. The gorgeous illustrations depict people of all sizes and colors, as well as many different kinds of houses, families, food, jobs, and clothing. Students and adults alike could spend hours poring over the illustrations, prompting important discussions about how we are all created different but equal. There is also much to be learned about cultures other than our own, and this could be an excellent starting point for such a research project. This very timely call for unity on our planet is sure to resonate with readers of all ages.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

A daydreaming child named Quinn writes an extensive letter to a “visitor from Outer Space” which includes everything from Earth’s location in the solar system to differences between humans. Blackall’s Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations provide depth and detail to the story as Quinn explains the dizzying array of options for life on Earth. Differences are emphasized. In one spread, a wide variety of dwellings from tall apartment buildings to tree houses are depicted alongside a simple sentence stating “we live in all kinds of homes.” A group of people whose homes have been lost to disaster are also included. Transportation, clothing, and food are similarly treated. One spread explains thoughts cannot be seen but feelings may be worn on faces with an array of portraits demonstrating emotion. Communication, including Braille and Sign Language is mentioned along with music and soundwaves. Opposite concepts such as large and small along with natural vs. artificial are addressed. Injuries and illnesses, war, and aging are also briefly touched upon in age-appropriate context.

THOUGHTS: It’s nearly impossible to list all of the topics covered in this picture book. There are so many details in the illustrations that this is likely to be one that can be enjoyed repeatedly.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD