YA – Ace of Spades

Abike-Iyimide, Faridah. Ace of Spades. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. 978-1-250-83488-1. 440 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

In Ace of Spades readers enter the private world of Niveus Academy where everything is expensive and perfect, until it isn’t. This YA thriller follows two characters, Chiamaka and Devon, who could not be more different; however, they are both struggling with the same issue. They both are being harassed by a mysterious person known only as Aces. Chiamaka and Devon are worried about what this person could reveal for different reasons, but they decide to team up to figure out who is behind all of the text messages.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing, well told thriller that will keep the reader hooked from the beginning to the end. The set up for the reveals throughout the book are so well crafted, and the ending just leaves the reader wanting more. Highly recommended for any YA reader, or any thriller fan!

Thriller/Mystery          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem./MG – A Glasshouse of Stars

Marr, Shirley. A Glasshouse of Stars. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-48883-0. 246 p.  $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Meixing has just arrived in a New Land to live in a New House with her parents. She and her mother and father have traveled from the Old Land to live with First Uncle, but he passed away only weeks before their arrival and now they are adrift in a strange place, not quite speaking the right language and not quite understanding the right customs. When tragedy strikes Meixing’s family, she retreats into the backyard of her new home and discovers a magical world hidden away in a broken down greenhouse where the ghost of First Uncle helps her discover her inner strength. Meixing displays incredible courage in the face of xenophobia in her new school as she tries to learn her place in this New Land, but new friends and an understanding new teacher also help her overcome her family’s difficulties as they begin to build a life in the New Land.

THOUGHTS: This story offers a unique glimpse into the struggles of immigrant children who deal with poverty, discrimination, and cultural miscommunication. The magical realism in this book provides Meixing with a symbolic escape from her troubles and a way to process her feelings with the help of her family, and adds a beautiful, lyrical layer to the storytelling. This story would be an excellent addition to studies about the immigrant experience, and should be added to collections with a focus on immigrant experiences and diverse voices.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

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

YA – From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: the Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement

Yoo, Paula. From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement. Norton Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-00287-1. $19.95. Grades 9 and up.

Journalist Paula Yoo employs the device of Jarod Lew’s connection with the brutal murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin in 1982 Detroit to reveal the timeline and details of the landmark event. Lew discovers his mother was the grief-stricken fiancé of Chin, and Yoo uses his discovery as a way to connect the reader with the present—another time where racism against Asian-American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) has surfaced. Lew’s narrative appears intermittently while the remainder of the narrative non-fiction work lays out the altercation, aftermath, and legal ramifications between the groom-to-be Chin and Ronald Ebens, an autoworker supervisor and his adult stepson, Michael Nitz. The only son of Chinese immigrants, twenty-seven year old Vincent Chin was a go-getter out for a bachelor party with his pals before his June wedding to Vikki Wong when he encountered Ebens and Nitz at a strip bar. The two groups exchanged heated words and engaged in a brawl that got them ejected from the bar and continued into the night. Ebens retrieved a baseball bat from the trunk of his car, searched with his stepson for the group, and eventually ambushed Chin and beat him to death. Though Ebens and Nitz were arrested and tried for second-degree murder, they received the light sentence of only a $3,000 fine and probation, shocking Chin’s widowed mother, Lily Chin, the Asian American community of Detroit, and many others. Yoo recounts the original hearings, the court proceedings, the arguments of both the defense and the prosecution, and the observations of the young police officers first on the scene. Though Ebens and Nitz could not be tried a second time for the same crime, the mishandling of justice empowered the Asian-American/Pacific Islander community to form the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) and take a firm stand protesting for their civil rights to be upheld. Their efforts instigated a federal grand jury to indict the pair with interfering with Chin’s civil rights. Told in straight-forward style, Yoo maintains her objective view, balancing the outrage AAPI felt about what they perceived was a hate crime with the protestations of the accused to the contrary. The context of the murder is the fallout from a once prosperous city decaying chiefly because its main, lucrative industry—cars—has been usurped by Japanese companies. The particulars of the initial dispute between Ebens and Nitz and the victim, Chin, may never be known; but Yoo records all the iterations as the years go on and memories shift. Even the perpetrators admit it was a senseless act, fueled by drunkenness and intense anger. The author makes clear the murder and what followed was instrumental in making AAPI stand up for their rights, but whether or not the attack was racially motivated can be sorted out in the readers’ minds. Includes timeline, extensive notes, index, photographs.

THOUGHTS: Written in narrative non-fiction style, From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry. . .reads like a court drama. Yoo provides background on the major players, but is true to the script. She is even-handed giving both profiles of Chin, Ebens and Nitz, and the involved legal teams from both sides. The handling of the case from the beginning smacks of white privilege, but Yoo just lays out the facts and remains unbiased. The facts, too, shift depending on who tells them and what year they are told (the murder happened in 1982 but appeals lasted until 1987). This important book contains plenty of material for discussion; but for personal reading, the heavy topic may make the book more suited for more sophisticated readers.

305.895 Ethnic and National Groups           Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

On June 19, 1982, in Detroit, Michigan, Vincent Chin, an Asian American, was beaten by Ronald Ebens, a white man, with a baseball bat. Chin died from his injuries. This is a fascinating look at the time and place surrounding this event and their impact on the reactions of the people and the community involved. This book takes readers through the event and the trials following. It also describes the impact on the Asian American community and their reaction. The despair, the outrage – and ultimately, the activism that developed as the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Communities found their voice and their purpose. Wrapped around this story is the tale of Jared Lew, his discovery of the event and his connection to Vincent Chin. This is Jared’s tale of how he found out the story of the cataclysmic event that triggered the voice of the Asian American community and how this event connected him to his family and his heritage. The book presents an in-depth look at the people affected by Mr. Chin’s murder and the fallout in the community and across the nation.

THOUGHTS: This is a fascinating look at a time period and a set of events that are not well known to most people but are pivotal for the Asian America and Pacific Islanders Community. Recommended for high school libraries who want to broaden their appeal to minority groups.

305.895 Racism.  Susan Kidron, Lebanon SD

YA – Misfit in Love

Ali, S.K. Misfit in Love. Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44275-7. 320 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12. 

It’s two days before her older brother Muhammad marries Sarah, the love of his life, and Janna is looking forward to the arrival of Nuah, who she finally is ready to tell “yes, I like you back.” They’re at her father’s Mystic Lake, IN estate, though Janna has had her own strained relationship with her dad. Due to Sarah finishing her Master’s degree and her family throwing their own official reception next year, wedding plans have been left up to Dad and Muhammad which means Janna has been there helping for weeks. It’s been nice to spend time away from home, even with stepmother Linda and the laddoos, Muhammad and Janna’s half siblings. Janna is excited to see her mom again, however awkward this huge family event may be, but she didn’t count on an attraction to Sarah’s gorgeous cousin, her mother’s distraction with an old friend, and a brooding sad guy who seems to get Janna. Still, she’s determined to reconnect with Nuah who, despite Janna’s best efforts, seems distracted himself. As friends and family arrive for the celebration, Janna experiences a whirlwind of emotions.

THOUGHTS: With appearances by beloved characters from other Ali books, this is a must have addition to high school romance collections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – All Because You Matter

Charles, Tami. All Because You Matter. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-57485-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Charles and illustrator Bryan Collier create a loving ode to children of color, gently reassuring them that they matter. Collier’s rich, exuberant pages give life and emphasis to Charles’ text, showing young parents dreaming of their child to come. Their hopes and expectations spiral through a dreamy, quilt-inspired landscape. While the story espouses hopes and confidences applicable for all children, the intent is clearly to address current events, to bolster young black and brown children against a world that may be unwelcoming. Charles’ writing is gentle and powerful, but Collier and his stunning visuals should have been on the Caldecott shortlist.

THOUGHTS: A necessary purchase for all libraries serving young patrons.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work

Jewell, Tiffany. This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-711-24521-1. 160 p. $13.09. Grades 5-8.

This handbook provides readers with the answers about racism in America that young people seek but many adults do not have the answers to. Readers will explore more about themselves, how racism came to be, why it has yet to disappear, and how to actively work against racism. A glossary of terms will help beginners understand novel vocabulary words like complicity, assimilate, neurodiverse, and  BIPoC. Graphic art colors every few pages, and activities are provided at natural stopping points to help the reader fully understand and reflect on difficult concepts. The author writes about their own experience so that those who have experienced racism feel heard and others learn about a real person’s experience with racism. Although this book teaches readers about social activism, its main purpose is for readers to help dismantle and work toward ending racism.

THOUGHTS: This book can be used as a workbook to help discover more about oneself or used in book clubs to encourage conversation with others. I recommend this book to every educator seeking to better support their students. I personally like that it is small enough to be carried in a purse, backpack, or back pocket. Any person troubled by current events will benefit from reading this book, especially the section about Taking Action and Responding to Racism.

305.8 Racism          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Legendborn

Deonn, Tracy. Legendborn. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. 978-1-534-44160-6. $18.99. 498 p. Grades 9 and up.

Briana Matthews tries to get her life together after the tragic and sudden death of her mother, but she does not get off to a great start. On the night before classes in the Early College program at UNC Chapel Hill, she and her best friend Alice attend a cliff-jumping party at a quarry off-campus. There, she encounters Selwyn Kane and experiences odd sensations at his touch, sees Selwyn and another girl destroy a fiery silver mass floating above a drunken fight that breaks out, and overhears bits of mysterious conversation: mentions of magic, King Arthur, and Legendborns. She also has the strange sensation that Selwyn is trying to erase her memory of the sight of the fiery mass that night. When the cops show up to break up the fight, though, Bree has more important things to worry about now that the Dean is threatening to throw her out of the program. She is granted a second chance… and a peer mentor to keep her out of trouble. Turns out that Nick Davis, her peer mentor, only brings more trouble. While walking together on campus, Nick and Bree are attacked by a green-lit wolf-like creature, similar to the one she saw the other night with Selwyn, and Bree is unwillingly pulled into a secret world of which Selwyn and Nick are members. Though she’d love nothing more than to move on from these strange events, memories from the days after her mother’s death start resurfacing, and Bree comes to the startling conclusion that answers to mysteries surrounding her mother’s death might be found within the world of the Legendborn. Now, Bree must decide if joining the Legendborn at the brink of a war is worth finding the answers she seeks.

THOUGHTS: The first book in a series, this urban fantasy puts a new, modern spin on the Arthurian legend with a contemporary setting and characters and by interweaving African American spiritual traditions into the magic. Deonn has created a captivating world and mythology that fantasy readers will surely love. She also tackles serious issues such as grief, trauma, racism, and sexual violence throughout the book. This is a must-have for YA Fantasy collections.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – Light For the World To See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope

Alexander, Kwame. Light For the World To See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-53941-4. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades 6-12.

“We Can’t Breathe (from American Bullet Points).” Kwame Alexander needed to say something to shed some light on black lives and share some light of hope for the world. “Take a Stand (from Take a Knee).” Kwame Alexander saw those making a difference in sports and culture and politics, then he wrote about them in a way that reaches all of us in three simple, powerful, repetitive messages. “This is for the Undefeated (from The Undefeated).” Through this stylized reprinting of three recent poems, Kwame Alexander aims to make his words hit home for all ages, races, and people. Each of the three are short, thoughtful, visual, and effective in addressing the issues of race in our society and the need to keep that conversation and action moving – for the world to see a better future.

THOUGHTS: I have many thoughts about this small powerful book. First, read it out loud. Second, go find the videos of Kwame reading each for the Undefeated website. Next, go find someone to share, discuss, reflect on these thousand words. Finally, keep adding to your collections, reading diverse perspectives, and finding voice for those who need to be heard. This conversation and collection could really work for all ages with guidance, but perhaps the content is best for secondary grades. Highly recommended.

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

YA – We Are Not Free

Chee, Traci. We Are Not Free. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-13143-4. $17.99. 384 p. Grades 9 and up.

Traci Chee’s National Book Award Finalist, We Are Not Free, takes the reader from the close-knit community of Japantown in San Francisco at the start of World War II to the gradual closing of the Japanese imprisonment camps at the end of the war. Told in first-person narrative, each teen—ranging from ages 14 to 19–brings a perspective of life as an American of Japanese descent, from the growing discrimination toward the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the injustices of the camps to the explicit racism displayed when their families return to their former neighborhood. In a novel where credible character development is critical, author Chee shows a wide range of astute writing ability inhabiting the minds of the varied group of young people inhabiting two camps, Topaz and Tule Lake. Sensitive Aiko Harano who at only 13 realizes not only the unfairness of the American government’s oppression of her family and friends, but also the repugnancy of her own parents’ abusive treatment of her older brother, Tommy. Intellectual Stan Katsumoto surrenders his hard-earned dream of continuing his college education when he sides with his parents in being a “No No” person: refusing to relinquish allegiance to the Japanese emperor when no allegiance had ever been formed. Perhaps the most impressive chapter is David “Twitchy” Hashimoto’s, the happy-go-lucky, ever-moving nineteen-year-old who, like several of his friends, volunteered to serve in the military, to go to war. The battle description Chee develops with Twitchy’s commentary is both action-packed and gut-wrenching. Though there are other selections telling of the imprisonment of the Japanese-Americans (in an afterword, Chee advises to delete the term, Japanese internment, in favor of more accurate terms like incarceration, imprisonment, forced removal), We Are Not Free dives deep into what it was like in the camps and how it affected a non-combative community. Works like Journey to Topaz  by Yoshiko Uchida, Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata, or Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban—to name just a few–give readers a glimpse into this ignominious period of American history, but We Are Not Free covers the full scope and does so through the voices of teens with whom young readers can relate. This book tells a powerful story, one that has not always been fully explored, but has a new resonance in today’s society. Contains further readings, some historical images.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: After reading this book, I feel that all the other historical fiction books on this topic are just a prelude. If I had to choose one book to recommend on the experience in Japanese prison camps to a high school student, We Are Free would be the one. Chee is able to reveal the complications of feeling American and patriotic while also feeling unaccepted by and disheartened by one’s government. In literature lessons, students can examine the character development in a short chapter. In history class, the revelations of injustices and wrongs can be debated and discussed.