YA – Kneel

Buford, Candace. Kneel. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-40251-6. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Kneel follows Russell who is a talented football player from a small town looking for a full ride scholarship to escape. However, Russell’s teammate and best friend, Marion is unfairly arrested and then benched for the rest of the season, Russell decides to take a stand.  In doing so, Russell sets off a chain of events that he never saw coming and refuses to back down from. In the end, will Russell be able to enact the social change that his community desperately needs, or will he have to pick between social justice and football?

THOUGHTS: This was amazingly written, and felt extremely realistic. I enjoyed that each character felt unique to me, in how they dealt with racism as well as how they interacted with each other. This wasn’t too technical with football, which I appreciated as someone who isn’t familiar with football.  I would highly recommend this for a high school collection, and feel this would also make a great book to teach in a high school literature class.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

When practice runs late, Russell and Marion know that breaking down on the parish line between Monroe (their side of town) and Westmond (the wealthier side of town) is not the best spot to be. A few weeks ago the untimely death of teen Dante Maynard, who was killed by a white police officer for “looking suspicious,” rocked the local black community. The fact that Russell’s car could draw unwanted attention for its condition doesn’t add to his limited options as darkness approaches. Instead of the cops, though, Bradley Simmons, a varsity football player from Westmond, pulls up in a shiny BMW, and he taunts Russell and Marion about last year’s playoff whipping which ended with Marion being seriously injured and jeopardizing his football future. The pent up frustration doesn’t end, and animosity explodes when Monroe meets Westmond at center field for the coin toss. Unfair, one-sided refereeing leaves Russell injured. To make matters even worse, the cop that killed Dante Maynard is on game security, and he takes Marion off the field in cuffs. Though Russell promises Marion he’ll “handle this,” the deck is stacked against the boys, their team, and their community. Due to his pending charges, Marion is benched and barred from the team until his situation is resolved. In an instant, his only way out disappears. Russell realizes the only way to take a stand is to take a knee, and the repercussions of his action are more than he imagined. If the only way out of his situation is through a Division I football scholarship, what lengths will Russell go to in order to earn his spot, and will he have to give up his beliefs to make it happen?

THOUGHTS: Timely and thoughtful, Kneel transports readers right into the racial tensions. Readers will feel for Russell and be angered by the actions and the lack of action from local authorities. A must have for high school collections, this title also would pair well with classics and other contemporary titles dealing with similar topics.

Realistic Fiction         Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The True Definition of Neva Beane

Kendall, Christine. The True Definition of Neva Beane. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-32489-1. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

While Neva Beane’s parents are on a summer singing tour abroad, she and her sixteen-year-old brother, Clay, are staying with their grandparents in West Philadelphia. The new girl across the street, Michelle Overton, is only a year older than Neva, but Michelle’s full figure and bikini outfits has Neva feeling inexperienced and babyish. In addition, Clay is preoccupied with the community organizing Michelle’s father is spearheading, and Neva’s best friend Jamila is busy preparing for her family vacation in Ghana. It’s a hot time in the city this summer, though. People are protesting unfair practices in housing and wages.  Against his grandparents’ orders, Clay is surreptitiously leading the youth branch of the protests. Although they were activists when they were younger, Nana and Grandpa now believe their duty is to protect their grandchildren which means keeping them away from the protests. Neva feels left out, but so does her grandmother—especially when her grandson forges her signature on the permission slip for a protest. Twelve-years-old and on the cusp of being a teen, Neva grapples with many conflicting feelings: she’s intimidated by Michelle but admires her, too; she values her friendship with Jamila, but they seem out of step; she’s homesick for her parents but doesn’t want her selfishness to stop their success; she’s wants to support the good cause but is anxious about protesting. Christine Kendall has produced a middle grade novel that recreates a Black American neighborhood against the backdrop of a tumultuous summer. Not only is the appealing character of Neva well-developed and identifiable to other readers her age, but the other characters are equally as genuine. Neva’s fascination with words is an added bonus to the book. This page-turning book will be a favorite and also boost the reader’s vocabulary!

Realistic Fiction    Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: With the mention of familiar street names and places and the extremely relatable main character and timely setting, this book will fly off the shelves at my library. This book is an incentive to learn how to use the dictionary and improve one’s vocabulary and spelling. Food for thought in classroom social/emotional discussions is Neva’s processing of social activism.

YA – The Black Kids

Reed, Christina Hammonds. The Black Kids. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-46272-4. 362. p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Los Angeles is in flames after the police officers who beat Rodney King senseless are acquitted. These events of the early 90s have an intense, life-changing effect on native Angelinos and upper middle-class African Americans, Ashley Bennett and her older sister Jo. As Christina Hammonds Reed’s relatable narrator, the popular, thoughtful Ashley, nears graduation, she starts to view her childhood (white) friends differently, a situation exacerbated by the local disruptions. Her teenage stresses about college acceptances, parental conflicts, and illicit flirting, pale once the riots start and her rebellious sister Jo drops out of school, marries, and protests the verdicts. Ashley has lived a privileged life pampered by the family’s Guatemalan housekeeper, Lucia, and indulged in every material way. Now, her father’s family-owned business–run all these years by his brother– is in ruin, bringing her uncle and her cousin to the Bennetts’ doorstep. When Ashley connects with the kind, charming basketball star, LaShawn Johnson who attends the elite prep school on scholarship, and the off-beat Lana Haskins who is possibly a victim of physical abuse, she questions her friend choices and wonders why she has no Black friends. When Ashley inadvertently starts a rumor at her school that gets LaShawn suspended, she finds it difficult to rectify the situation; but it makes her reflect on the inequity in the lives of people of color. Her sister’s mounting militancy finally gets her arrested and sentenced, though she was just one of the crowd of protestors when someone threw a Molotov cocktail setting a fire. Ashley becomes accepted by the Black kids at school and discovers she can widen her circle of friends. More importantly, the Bennett family grows better at communicating with each other and, in doing that, they realize they care deeply about each other. Christina Hammonds Reed takes a coming-of-age story set in the early nineties against the backdrop of the Rodney King beatings to a new level. The relationships, tension, and plot development as well as the cultural references and dialogue draw in the reader. In particular, Reed’s writing style is fresh and exact, giving a unique take on the typical high school tropes—mothers vs. daughters, siblings, popularity, the future, romance, self-discovery –thus making The Black Kids a compelling read.

THOUGHTS: Recommend this title to high school students who liked Karen English’s middle grade novel, It All Comes Down to This that told of the Watts riots, and lead them to Ana Deavere Smith’s one-woman show featuring the players in the Rodney King beating and its aftermath, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Activism and passivity are shown in the two sisters and students can discuss these divergent characters. The difficulty separating from childhood friends or the desire to be seen in a different light as one matures is a strong theme in this book. Though the elements of the story are not uncommon, Reed’s gifted writing style pulls you into to the book.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Step back into the early nineties in LA for a coming of age story that could easily situate itself into the current landscape of America (without social media and cell phones). Main character, Ashley lives a pretty posh life, removed from the hardships her parents faced growing up and even from a lot of the current events. She attends a private school with a lot of white friends and lives in a respected neighborhood. When the Rodney King trial and subsequent riots take over the city, Ashley’s world starts to shake, and she’s forced to reckon with questions of identity. From the shift from child to adult, Ashley’s experience provides the foreground to the city of Los Angeles during a fragile moment in US history.

THOUGHTS: This book should replace some of the dusty “classics” taking up room on high school shelves. Although suitable for high school students, there is mention of drugs, alcohol, and self harm.

Historical Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Running

Sylvester, Natalia. Running. Clarion Books, 2020. 978-0-358-12435-1. $17.99. 323 p. Grades 9 and up.

Mari’s father, Anthony Ruiz, is running for President of the United States. She is proud of her father and knows he’ll make a great president, but she is not so crazy about how much his campaign and potential win will disrupt her life. Not only might he have to move to Washington, but the constant intrusion of his campaign manager, the demanding schedule of interviews and events, and cameras following her around every corner are also exhausting. In school, Jackie, the leader of a student protest group and ruthless editor of the school newspaper seems determined to embarrass Mari with an interview regarding her father’s recent comment that was insensitive to his fellow Latin American constituents. Despite everything, Mari can’t imagine not supporting her father… until she is assigned a community service project in school and finally talks to Jackie about some of the questionable policies for which her father’s campaign stands. The final straw for Mari is when she sees how his campaign platforms affect others she cares about. Like Gloria, the family’s beloved housekeeper who feels she has to hide who she is and who she loves for the sake of her boss’s conservative campaign. Like Vivi, her best friend whose grandmother is sick because of their water which was allowed to become dangerous because of her father’s own legislation. Now, not only is Mari unsure she can support her father’s campaign, but she might also have to stand up against it.

THOUGHTS: Inspired by real events in the Florida legislature in 2018, Running is an incredibly timely and important read for teens who may not see eye to eye with their loved ones when it comes to politics but are too afraid to talk about it. It manages to teach important lessons without being overly preachy. Additionally, there is no love plot in this book whatsoever, which is somewhat refreshing and worth noting as many students crave a good story without the romance, and they’re often hard to come by. A good addition to any high school collection, and a possible independent read or conversation starter in a Language Arts or Social Studies class.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

TAGS: Presidential election, campaign, student protests, family, father and daughter relationships, Miami, Latinx protagonist, environmental concerns

MG – Being LGBTQ in America (Series NF)

Being LGBTQ  in America. Abdo Publishing, 2020. $25.95 ea. $155.70, set of 6. 112 pp. Grades 6-8.

Harris, Duchess, J.D., Ph.D. with Rebecca Rowell. Growing Up LGBTQ.  978-1-532-11904-0.
Harris, Duchess, JD, PhD. with Kristin Marciniak. Being Transgender in America. 978-1-532-11903-3.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Kristin Marciniak. LGBTQ Discrimination in America.978-1-532-11905-7.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Martha Lundin. LGBTQ Rights and the Law.   978-1-532-11906-4.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Jill C. Wheeler. LGBTQ Service in the Armed Forces.  978-1-532-11907-1.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Martha Lundin. LGBTQ Social Movements in America.  978-1-532-11908-8.

This well-researched series provides an easily understandable, comprehensive exposition of the LGBTQ community, its difficulties, and its successes. In Growing Up LGBTQ, by Dr. Duchess Harris with Rebecca Rowell, the authors focus on LGBTQ teens navigating their gender identity with compelling language and plentiful real-life explanations. The book acts as a primer with each chapter covering a different issue facing LBGTQ and ending with brief list of discussion questions. An interesting topic is a description of stores that engage in “gendering materials,” separation of traditional boy and girl products like clothing and toy and heightened prices for “girl” toys. The authors list the various ways LBGTQ* teens suffer from discrimination in the health care field, among law enforcement, in the homeless community, and in prisons. This particular book reinforces the need for LBGTQ teens to feel the support of family and school in order to find their voices. It concludes with with a discussion of the protests and the consequences around Title IX, its advances and its demise under the Trump-deVose administration. Complementary photographs and informative textboxes interspersed touch on topics like microaggressions, same-sex marriage, and more. Though the slim volume doesn’t go in-depth on any topic, it does give a lively, simple overview of being a LGBTQ teen. Includes a glossary, suggested resources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: Middle-school students as well as reluctant high school readers doing research papers or projects will make good use of these short, information-packed books. They also will benefit gender-curious youth because the authors don’t seem to have missed any issue. Being LGBTQ+ and a person of color and asexuality are also briefly addressed. I wonder if the title will be revised to read LGBTQ+.

306.76 Social Sciences          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia