Muniz, Deya. The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Little, Brown and Company. 2023. 978-0-316-53872-5. 312 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.
In the Kingdom of Fromage, a woman must be married in order to claim an inheritance. Camembert has no interest in marrying a man, so her dying father proposes that she “become” one instead. After his death, she disguises herself as a young man named Count Camembert and moves to the capital city of Fondue with her loyal servant, Feta, in tow. There she meets the beautiful and charming Princess Brie at a No Furs Ball where Cam wears a luxurious faux fur wrap. Sparks fly as the two team up to produce an event featuring cruelty-free fashion designers, but Cam can’t risk revealing her true identity … or can she? After all, as the crown princess, maybe Brie can defy both expectations and gender/sexuality norms. Deya Muniz’s artwork is rendered in lovely pastels and rich jewel tones. Muniz conveys emotion through the characters’ dramatic facial expressions and body language. This graphic novel is a romance, so a happily ever after is all but guaranteed; the fun is in the cheese puns (“vintage Cheddior”), the mouthwatering grilled cheese sandwiches, and the genuine affection that readers will feel for the characters.
THOUGHTS: Great fun from start to finish, with a sweet romance wrapped up in fabulous fashions, this will delight fans of Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.
Costa, Mari. Belle of the Ball. First Second. 2023. 978-1-250-78412-4. 312 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.
Fans of the Barbie aesthetic will delight in the color palette of Mari Costa’s graphic novel, Belle of the Ball! Ultra-shy mascot Hawkins has finally worked up the courage to ask Regina Moreno to the Winter Dance, but Regina is back together with her on-again, off-again girlfriend Chloe Kitagawa. Regina, head cheerleader and stellar student, has a ten-year plan for her future with Chloe: college, medical school, and marriage. Chloe is an all-star soccer player, but her poor grades in English threaten Regina’s plans. Taking advantage of Hawkins’ crush, Regina recruits her to tutor Chloe for free. Regina doesn’t realize that “Belle Hawkins” and Chloe share an almost-forgotten history of childhood friendship. An uncommon love triangle soon develops between these wonderfully unique main characters. Readers could have great fun debating which one is truly the Belle of the Ball!
THOUGHTS: A fresh, funny, and romantic graphic novel for teens! Author and illustrator Mari Costa employs her all-pink palette to impressively wide-ranging effect.
Everyone in Oreville, Washington knows the name Clarissa Campbell. It isn’t because she was so memorable but instead because her story is so hard to forget. One night Clarissa was at a party in the woods, then she was never seen again. Despite a bunch of partygoers for witnesses, there was no body, evidence, and the police had little else to go on. More than twenty years later, the story has disappeared from the national spotlight. For local high school juniors Blair and Cameron, though, Clarissa is legendary. Figuring out what happened to Clarissa is the perfect project for these best friends to use in their journalism class. A true crime podcast with interviews and real journalism is sure to earn them an A. Cam is all in, determined to solve the unsolvable, and Blair is more than happy to go along with Cam’s plan. As Cam and Blair begin interviewing those who were closest to Clarissa, a different picture than what national media reported starts to unfold. Not everyone is happy with the duo digging up the past. Will Cam and Blair be able to honor Clarissa’s memory and bring peace to those who love her, or will they learn that Clarissa’s story isn’t much more than an urban legend?
THOUGHTS: Shorter in length, this mystery is sure to attract true crime and podcast fans as well as readers of books by April Henry or Natasha Preston. Recommended for YA collections.
Morris, Brittney. The Jump. Simon & Schuster, 2023. 978-1-6659-0398-1. 248 p. $19.99. Grades 7-9.
Team JERICHO has always worked together to be the best digital scavenger-hunting team in Seattle. Each member brings a unique skill to the team: Jax is the puzzler, Han is the master of maps and locations, Spider is the hacker, and Yas is the parkourist, and together they have been unstoppable. They have had little competition that is until The Order posts a new challenge. A challenge that guarantees a reward of power. The Order is a mysterious group whose agenda is to stop big oil from taking over part of the city. All four members of JERICHO will see their families’ lives displaced if this oil refinery is built. This new challenge would give JERICHO the power to save their families, but then enter TEAM ROYAL, and they are bent on taking down JERICHO, and will take extreme measures to stop them. Will JERICHO be able to win this ultimate challenge? And what exactly is this reward of power?
THOUGHTS: Social Issues and social justice are paramount in this book. The characters are relatable, and readers will become invested in them. Middle grade readers will enjoy this action-packed adventure.
Lee, Sher. Fake Dates and Mooncakes. Underlined, 2023. 978-0-593-56995-5. 272 p. $10.99. Grades 9-12.
Last year Dylan Tang lost his mom to cancer and since has been living with his Aunt Jade and cousins Megan and Tim above the family’s Singaporean Chinese takeout in Brooklyn. A true team effort means every member of the family contributes to Wok Warriors, but the small takeout still has its struggles. Though he wants to follow in his mom’s footsteps and become a veterinarian, Dylan shines in the kitchen, especially making xiao long bao. His mom and Aunt Jade have honored their culture and have taught Dylan and his cousins all about their heritage. When a delivery driver ends up with a flat tire, Dylan jumps on his bike and takes care of the delivery. At his last stop, Dylan meets Adrian, a customer who threatens legal action for including spring onions when he clearly instructed them not to, and Theo, an attractive guy who walks into the room wearing nothing but boxer briefs. Dylan gets out of there as quickly as he can while trying to save the restaurant’s reputation. When Theo shows up at the restaurant to smooth things over, he and Dylan have instant chemistry, but Theo’s wealthy life is worlds away from Dylan’s family’s struggles. Theo may be a distraction from Dylan’s plan to honor his mom’s memory by entering the Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncake-Making Contest. But after spending some time together, Theo convinces Dylan to pose as his boyfriend for a weekend family wedding in the Hamptons. Dylan doesn’t realize the family drama (and extent of a wealthy lifestyle) he’s about to step into. Can two guys who live very different lives but who have such a strong pull towards each other make it work, or will other forces keep them apart?
Shrum, Brianna R., and Sara Waxelbaum. Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl. Inkyard Press, 2023. 978-1-335-45365-5 . 304 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.
During a party game of spin the bottle – with her boyfriend Chad in the circle – Margo Zimmerman realizes something: She really likes kissing Viv Carter. Margo is gay. After doing research on how to be part of the gay culture and lifestyle, really a few months of failed internet searches, Margo goes to a local club’s teen night dressed in her gayest attire. Pushing her autism brain aside, Margo gives it her best shot and fails epically. All she manages to do is amuse fellow swimmer Abbie Sokoloff, a queer classmate with quite a reputation. Determined to learn from the best, Margo asks Abbie to teach Margo her how to be gay. It isn’t until Abbie needs something from Margo – help improving her grade in AP US History class to prevent the revoking of her admission to Florida International University – that the two strike a deal. Gay tutoring for AP US tutoring, and Margo is more than ready to learn and to school Abbie. As the two (from very different groups at school) get to know each other, they also become friends, possibly more. But do opposites attract and can these two very different teens open up to each other, or will this friendship implode?
THOUGHTS: Readers will root for both of these characters and their quirks as they get to know each other and themselves. With graduation only a few months away and mature relationships, this romance is best suited for high school readers.
It is during his 6th grade year that Noah finds himself searching for meaning after his best friend Lewis dies tragically in a car accident. Both Noah and Lewis are the only two trans kids in their class and have been best friends for years. They have kept their true identities between one another, and now after Lewis’ death, Noah finds himself reaching out to other students in his class. He becomes friends with three “weird” girls, and he confides to them who he really is. At the same time, preparations are being made for the school science fair. Noah selects the subject of Mothman which is something that Lewis found fascination with. Noah plans to prove that Mothman’s existence is real and sets off on a journey of discovery and healing as he writes letters to Mothman and leaves them outside to be read. He feels he is close to finding Mothman and decides to risk it all and find him.
THOUGHTS: This book was beautifully written about a trans boy dealing with grief of the loss of his best friend and the discovery of who he is and finding comfort and love from those around him. Such a compelling read for all ages.
Gong, Chloe. Last Violent Call. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2023. 978-1-665-93451-0. $19.99. 240 p. Grades 9-12.
Last Violent Call is a collection of two novellas set after the Secret Shanghai duology and in the midst of the new companion novel, Foul Lady Fortune. After the events of Our Violent Ends, Roma and Juliette are living a comfortable and peaceful life much different than the gang life they left behind in Shanghai. However, they are still running a weapons business, and when they are approached by a young couple looking for protection, they agree to help them and discover the young woman has a connection to their former lives and families. When Roma reaches out to Benedikt and Marshall for assistance finding the scientist Lourens, they board the Trans-Siberian Express for a week-long journey to his home. When a murder is committed early in the journey, Marshall convinces the train officer that they are private investigators and that the train should not be stopped. Together, they dive into an investigation of the train passengers and make some surprising discoveries along the way.
THOUGHTS: Last Violent Call is only for readers of Gong’s previous work, the Secret Shanghai duology. That being said, I think it’s a must read for fans, and I believe these novellas, like so many others, were written for pure enjoyment for the reader. These are the love stories we weren’t able to witness, and since the main story centered around Roma and Juliette, it was a bonus to have a story written specifically for Benedikt and Marshall. My only complaint is that they were too short, and I was left wanting to hear more. I’m impatiently waiting for Foul Heart Huntsman to see how these characters are connected to Gong’s newest series.
Oseman, Alice. Nick and Charlie: A Hearstopper Novella. Scholastic Press, 2023. 978-1-338-88510-1. 176 p. $16.99. Grades 9-12.
Seventeen year old Charlie, Head Boy of Truham Grammar School, is a relatable, insecure teenage boy. Nick, Charlie’s eighteen year old boyfriend of two years, just completed Year 13 and will be heading off to university in the fall. Just completing Year 12, Charlie will be left behind. Though they’ve agreed to keep their relationship going long distance, Charlie can’t stand to hear Nick excitedly talk about uni. The fact that this happens more now that Nick’s Year 13 is coming to an end makes Charlie feel extremely guilty. But the thought of not being in the same place everyday makes Charlie wonder if they’ll make it. Oblivious to Charlie’s insecurities, Nick happily documents his love for Charlie on a disposable camera. Meanwhile, Charlie obsessively checks his Tumblr where everyone seems to think his relationship with Nick will end – what first love, long distance relationship lasts? Charlie wishes Nick would read his mind and realize he’s worried about their future, while Nick wonders what’s bugging Charlie. When news of another long-term relationship ending surfaces at an end of the year party, Charlie drunkenly pushes Nick away, ending in an explosive, public argument. Did they just break up? Neither willing to admit their relationship is over – but also not willing to ask the other – Nick and Charlie need to work through their feelings for each other while revising (studying for exams). A bonus explanation for American readers written by editor David Levithan is at the end and will give some clarity to readers who struggle with the British-isms.
THOUGHTS: Nick and Charlie are lovable characters who – like many teens – let their insecurities get in the way of talking about their feelings. Highly recommended for high school collections, especially whereHeartstopperand other Oseman titles are popular.
Garrett, Camryn. Friday I’m in Love. Alfred A. Knopf, 2023. 978-0-593-43510-6. 272 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.
California teen Mahalia Harris missed out on the sweet sixteen party of her dreams due to finances; she and her single mom just couldn’t cover the cost. She decides on a coming out party instead, planning to reveal her queer identity to her closest friends and family at a big bash instead of one by one. Naturally the cake, invitations, and custom dress will reflect a rainbow theme! Despite Mahalia’s careful budgeting plans, everything is complicated by her mom’s unexpected medical needs, a landslide of schoolwork, tension with her bestie, and a flirty but unavailable new girl at school. Siobahn, who has recently relocated to San Diego from Ireland, seems interested in Mahalia but is currently dating another classmate, Danny. Although Mahalia’s crush is undeniable, she doesn’t know for certain if Siobahn is attracted to girls as well as boys … at first. Camryn Garrett’s third novel (and first romantic comedy) includes plenty of genuinely comedic moments to balance out the relationship angst. The author also realistically portrays the financial burdens that so many teens face. One criticism: throughout Friday I’m in Love, Mahalia references her curves. It’s unfortunate that the cover art, which depicts Mahalia’s fabulously proud 2custom dress, does not accurately reflect the character’s shape.
THOUGHTS: Fans of queer romantic comedies, especially readers of Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown, will not want to miss this one!