Rummanah Aasi
Description: Long before George Takei braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father's -- and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten "relocation centers," hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei's firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother's hard choices, his father's faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

Review: George Takei is famously known as the solo Asian American actor who played Sulu on the original Star Trek. In his beautifully and heart wrenching graphic memoir he revisits his childhood and his experience growing up in Japanese internment camps during World War II. Takei had not yet started school when he, his parents, and his younger siblings were forced to leave their home and report to the Santa Anita Racetrack for “processing and removal” due to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The graphic memoir weave the daily slice of life of the Takei family while allowing readers to simultaneously experience the daily humiliations that they suffered in the camps and providing readers with a broader understanding of the federal legislation, lawsuits, and actions which led to and maintained this injustice. While the focus is largely on the Takei family as the parents struggle shelter their children from the danger and hatred they face and the childhood innocence of George and his brother offers some levity to the story, there is a also a good and fine balance displaying the heroes who fought against this civil rights injustice such as Fred Korematsu, the 442nd Regiment, Herbert Nicholson, and the ACLU’s Wayne Collins and the politicians who reveled in fear mongering and racism to ensure their power in the government.
  My only minor complaint about this graphic memoir is that its narrative structure is not consistent. It begins as a TED talk, but quickly loses that structure as Takei takes the reader into his childhood and then a big time jump into adulthood. Despite this minor quibble, this graphic memoir is an important part of U.S. History that is often overlooked and forgotten and should be read widely; however, its reality echoes loudly and clearly in our current political climate.

Curriculum Connection: U.S. History and English

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language including racial slurs and some violent images. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins, for more graphic memoirs that talk about racism try the March series by John Lewis
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinkmanship--and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer's coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Review: After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988, Stevenson traveled to Alabama and an internship that involved assisting inmates on Alabama's death row. He saw firsthand the injustices suffered by the poor and disadvantaged, who due to lack of securing legal representation were quickly executed. To help such people, he founded the Equal Justice Initiative.
 One of his first clients was Walter McMillian, a young black man accused of murdering a white woman and imprisoned on death row even before he was tried. Stevenson alternates chapters on the shocking injustice in McMillian’s case, including police and prosecutors misconduct, and racial bias with other startling cases. The pipeline of school to death row for teens was startling and eye-opening, particularly for non-homicidal offenses. There were two cases that feature teens broke my heart: a 14-year-old condemned to death for killing his mother’s abusive boyfriend and a mentally ill adolescent girl condemned to life in prison for second-degree murder for the death of young boys killed in a fire she started accidentally. Through these cases and others, Stevenson details changes in victims’ rights, incarceration of juveniles, death penalty reforms, inflexible sentencing laws, and the continued practices of injustice that see too many juveniles, minorities, and mentally ill people imprisoned in a frenzy of mass incarceration in the U.S.
  When I started Just Mercy, I had anticipated in just following the McMillian case, but there are  multiple cases to keep track of that got a bit tricky, especially when Stevenson jumps back and forth between them. I wished this book was a bit more streamlined yet the sheer amount of cases that he discusses in this book drives home the point of much needed change to our judicial system. This book is much more than a memoir of a budding lawyer, but a call for change and compassion when it comes to our justice system, the law, and the death penalty. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language including the "n" word used as a racial slur and mentions of rape, domestic abuse, and executions of prisoners. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Rummanah Aasi
Description: This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. They were all too busy—

Talking about boogers.
Stealing pocket change.
Skateboarding.
Wiping out.
Braving up.
Executing complicated handshakes.
Planning an escape.
Making jokes.
Lotioning up.
Finding comfort.
But mostly, too busy walking home.

Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.


Review:  Writing short stories is hard, but writing ten different stories that feature ten blocks in one neighborhood that takes place all at the same time is unimaginable yet Jason Reynolds make it very easy. On these ten blocks, Jasmine and TJ wonder what they are made of-dust and water. Four friends hustle for change all day and maneuver their capital into buying an urgently needed treat for one of their moms who is battling cancer. Ty sprints to check on Bryson, who stayed home to recover from getting jumped the day before. Fatima manages the unpredictable by writing lists of things that don't change and keeping track of things that do. Gregory's friends give him a makeover and offer advice  as they walk him over to Sandra's house so he can finally tell her he likes her. And Canton, the son of the crossing guard who got injured by a school bus a year ago, sits at his mom's intersection doing homework.
  In each of these stories Reynolds manages to tell them with heart, humor, and seriousness in equal measure. The young characters cope with difficult and real problems, from stressed-out parents and aging grandparents to siblings they've lost to death or prison, but there problems do not define them. They are not caricatures nor stereotypes. These characters are first and foremost ordinary, good kids. We see parts of ourselves in these children and they also serve as windows for us, but we care for all of them. I loved how interwoven all these stories are as they cleverly share names, jokes, and details, which shows up how interconnected everything is, but also reminds us that we never know what someone is going through.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of bullying, but it is not too graphic. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson
Pet
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother's paintings and a drop of Jam's blood, she must reconsider what she's been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption's house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question--How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Review: Pet is a slim novel that does not have much of a plot but it is packed with representation and big questions regarding justice, truth, and remembering. Jam is our protagonist, a transgender hearing person who communicates selectively, using both sign language and vocal speech. She was born after a revolution in which human (and some supernatural) "angels" rid her now-utopian town of monsters. The author defines monsters as anyone who oppresses and manifests evil.
  When Jam trips over a painting made by her artist mother, she is cut with blades embedded in the work. Jam's blood hits the canvas, and the grotesque figure her mother created comes to life. The creature has goat legs, a twisted torso, feathers, horns, and human hands and has been named Pet has returned to Jam's world in order to hunt a monster. Worse yet, this monster is said to live in the house of Jam's best friend, Redemption.
  We follow Jam as she investigates Pet's claims and the monster that haunts Redemption's family is slowly revealed. The story moves along, however, I wished the plot had been more complex and fleshed out. I wanted to explore the concept of angels and monsters a bit more. We are told of monstrosities, but I would have much rather seem them come to light. The book waffles between being metaphorical and heavy handedness as the author strives to create a world that is universal and not specific to a certain place or time.
  For me the Pet shines in its inclusive and diverse representation. Jam's announcement of being transgendered is taken seriously by her parents and the teen has the autonomy to take control of her body and transition without her parents permission. I also appreciated that Jam's parents are from the African diaspora and does not have a one-story background. There is also a well loved librarian who is in a wheel chair, but this does not define him. Redemption is also from a loving three parent household. The themes and close examination of self-proclaimed bias- or harm-free spaces gives the reader a lot to think about. Pet is an unusual book and it would be greatly appreciated by close reading and those who like to ask big questions.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to child abuse and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou.
This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak--and a startling revelation about sexual assault--culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.

Review: Are You Listening? takes a simple conceit of a road trip and turns into a quiet, introspective study of heartbreak, grief, and identity.  Bea and her adult acquaintance Lou find themselves unlikely companions on a road trip through Texas. There are many wordless panels as the Bea and Lou start their trip, but they soon open up to one another. We discover that the two women have two things in common: both are gay, and neither is going somewhere so much as escaping something. Bea is fleeing sexual abuse by a cousin and the shame that has prevented her from telling anyone; Lou is avoiding dealing with her grief following her mother's death.
  As Bea and Lou drive to one of Lou's relative in a remote location in Texas, they share their own personal anecdotes and Bea works on her driving skills, they find a lost cat whose ID tag bears an address in "West, West Texas" at a rest stop. Bea names the cat Diamond, and insists they deliver her home. Up to this point the trip has been pretty normal and peaceful, but unease builds as the trio sets out for West and their surroundings become increasingly surreal. Snow falls heavily; roads appear and disappear. There's something off about the locals-who imply that the town exists only some of the time. Most bizarre are the menacing male "Road Inquiry" officers who have an aggressive interest in the cat. Lou's fierce protectiveness of Bea is mirrored by Bea's of Diamond; their growing fear and anger are reflected in a darkened palette and distorted figures, panel frames, and speech bubbles.
  I got lost pretty quickly when the illustrations became surreal and took a magical realism turn. The pacing is inconsistent and I still didn't fully understand the purpose behind Diamond. I wish I got more of a backstory for Lou like we did for Bea. The protagonists and their emotions drive this story and if you can go with the odd turn into the surreal, I think Are You Listening? is worth the read.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language in the graphic novel. One of the characters reveals she has been sexually assaulted by a family member. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Will and Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
  Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.


Review: Ninth House is a dark fantasy/murder mystery that takes place in Yale University's secret societies. Galaxy "Alex" Stern is our main character who has recently woke up in the hospital after an overdose to learn two things: that she was the only survivor of an unsolved bloody multiple homicide and that because of her ability to see ghosts, she was being offered a spot in Yale's freshmen class, provided she join Lethe, the clandestine group that monitors the school's eight secret societies. At Yale, each secret society or house specializes in a discipline of the occult, from necromancy to divination, and the members of Lethe are responsible for making sure their activities don't harm anyone, inside or outside of the societies.
  Ninth House is very different from Bardugo's YA novels. The world building is quite solid, however, fantasy takes a back seat to the murder mystery which surprised me. The pace is very slow for the first 200 pages or so as we try to wrap our heads around the secret societies and learn about Alex through flashbacks. The narrative is initially told from two perspectives: Alex in the present at Yale and from Darlington, Alex's mentor until he abruptly goes missing.
  It took me a while to warm up to Alex. She is constantly numbing herself either through drugs or alcohol and she is very cagey, abrasive, all of which are defensive mechanisms. Though she seems to flounder in her day to day routines and is exhausted by trying to act "normal", she seems to find her footing when trying to solve a girl's murder, which no one seems to care. Bardugo efficiently demonstrates female rage as well as the power of privilege and class through out the story.  Readers can tell she is greatly influenced by the #MeToo movement.
  I would have liked a bit more explanation regarding the ghosts and Alex's connections to them, which I was most interested in the book. The book's uneven pacing and a lot of information to keep track of took me out of the story multiple times, but I am still interested to see where this series goes. Had I expected less fantasy and more of a murder mystery, I may have liked this book a lot more than I did.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, drug use, overdosing, gore, self-harm, rape, sexual assault, talk of suicide, physical abuse, sex, and forced eating of human waste. Recommended for adults and mature teens only. 

If you like this book try: Broken Girls by Simone St. James
Rummanah Aasi
Description: When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she's one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela's assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn't share much, and wonders how she'll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.
   Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article--one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela's world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she's cut out to be a journalist at all.

Review: More to the Story is a diverse and loosely inspired nod to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. In this story we follow four Pakistani Muslim sisters in their daily lives. All four girls are given distinctive voices and equal time on the page.Our narrator is Jameela (who goes by the nickname Jam), a seventh grader bent on becoming a journalist. She runs and chronicles her family's accomplishments in a monthly newsletter called the Mirza Memos, but she fights to make her voice heard on her school newspaper and wants to write important subjects. Her older sister, Maryam, is in high school. Maryam is known for her beauty, but this attribute does not limit her as she is also studious, responsible, and caring. The youngest, Aleeza, is a bit spoiled and throws temper tantrums when she does not get her way which is pretty typical for her age. While Aleeza brings out the worst of Jam’s temper, gentle Bisma brings out Jam’s protective, loving instincts.
 The girls must work together to help their mother when their father goes overseas for an international work contract. They also befriend Ali, a cute British Pakistani boy who immigrates to the United States after the death of his father. The Mirza's deal with financial problems and the sudden discovery of a serious illness for Bisma. Readers of Alcott's famous book will immediately recognize simple plot points in this story, however, Khan adds her touch by infusing Pakistani culture into her story. There is also a great discussion of microagressions for young readers. I had a great time reading this book and I wished it was a bit longer as I would have loved to see all of these characters grow up into adults.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a racial slur mentioned in the book and discussion of racial microagressions in the book. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Strange Birds by Celia C. Perez
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she's never written about before.

Review: Like many readers my first introduction to Laurie Halse Anderson is through her powerful, heart wrenching debut novel, Speak, which I read during my first year of library school and it has resonated with me since then. I had no idea that the root of that novel stemmed from personal experience. In this powerful, timely, candid, and exquisite memoir told in free verse, Anderson delves into her past and that of her parents, sharing experiences of being a sexual assault survivor at the age of 13 and dealing with her father's PTSD and rageful episodes as a World War II veteran.
  Anderson's writing is clear, raw, and lyrical as she traces the years from her childhood to the start of her writing career, describing how the memory of her rape finally spurred her to write the truth and to become an activist against censorship and rape culture, which are both addressed in the book along with confusing social messages surrounding sexuality. Her road to reclaiming her voice and facing her demons is long, hard, and painful but also incredibly inspiring. Silence is a repeating theme throughout the memoir whether is it done subconsciously or forced upon in fear of not being believed. Shout should be required reading just like teaching consent should be required at all grade levels.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and candid discussions of sexual assault, sexual harassment, drug abuse, underage drinking, and domestic abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try:
Rummanah Aasi
Description: With just five dollars and a knapsack to her name, fifteen-year-old Harleen Quinzel is sent to live in Gotham City. She's not worried, though--she's battled a lot of hard situations as a kid, and knows her determination and outspokenness will carry her through life in the most dangerous city in the world. And when Gotham's finest drag queen, Mama, takes her in, it seems like Harley has finally found a place to grow into her most 'true true' with new best friend Ivy at Gotham High. But when Mama's drag cabaret becomes the next victim in the wave of gentrification that's taking over the neighborhood, Harley's fortune takes another turn. Now Harleen is mad. In turning her anger into action, she is faced with two choices: Join activist Ivy, who's campaigning to make the neighborhood a better place to live, or team up with her anarchist friend Jack, who plans to take down Gotham one corporation at a time.

Review: Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass takes on gentrification in its anti-heroine origin story. In this version Harley is a bubbly and outgoing teen that actually has a moral compass. When she is sent to live with her grandmother in Gotham City, she discovers her grandmother has died, but apartment manager Mama, a white, gay man who also manages the local drag queen bar, lets her stay. Harley finds her place among a colorful “mutiny of queens” and makes a new best friend, Ivy Du-Barry also known as Poison Ivy. Harley is introduced to the concept of gentrification and activism as the two form protests against the high school film club, who refuses to include movies directed by women and people of color. Gentrification hits home for Harley when Mama receives news of an impending eviction and crosses paths with the Joker.
  Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is a fast, fun read. The text pops just like Harley's personality. I liked the juxtaposition between activism and chaos that Harley and Joker are known for in the DC universe. I also enjoyed learning more about Harley's background in flashbacks, shaded in orange. The diverse cast of characters is a huge plus and welcomed. While I appreciated the discussion of the impact of gentrification, it did come across as a bit heavy handed. I also did not care for the Joker and his real identity is a bit anti-climatic. The illustrations by Pugh are fantastic and really make this graphic novel come alive. When characters are truly in their element, their trademark colors are used: a red and black scheme for Harley, shades of green for Ivy, and the Joker’s purple. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is a nuanced, social conscious graphic novel that will not have a hard time finding an audience.


Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language and some strong violence. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Rory Thorne is a princess with thirteen fairy blessings, the most important of which is to see through flattery and platitudes. As the eldest daughter, she always imagined she'd inherit her father's throne and govern the interplanetary Thorne Consortium. Then her father is assassinated, her mother gives birth to a son, and Rory is betrothed to the prince of a distant world. When Rory arrives in her new home, she uncovers a treacherous plot to unseat her newly betrothed and usurp his throne. An unscrupulous minister has conspired to name himself Regent to the minor (and somewhat foolish) prince. With only her wits and a small team of allies, Rory must the Regent and rescue the prince.

Review: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is an enthralling and highly entertaining read that combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tales with a feminist lens. It is pitched as The Princess Bride meets Star Wars, which seems like a really odd combination but works beautifully. Despite these multiple elements it is very readable and easy to follow, especially if you do not get too hung up on genre labels.
  The story is shared by a historian and a mix of third person and omniscient point of views which highlight a character's internal monologue. A lot of the internal monologues provided me with lots of laugh out loud moments. The world building is solid while the narrator fills in the reader with necessary information without resorting to info dumping, which I greatly appreciated.
  Eason heavily borrows from the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, but subverts a lot of its themes and plot. When Rory was born she was given gifts and not cursed by a sleeping spell. She is bestowed gifts by the thirteen fairies, which either help or hurt her throughout her odyssey of 16 years in this story.  During this time, she gets all the best training possible from the Vizier of Thorne, Rupert, and her body maid/protector, Grit. I enjoyed watching Rory grow over the course of the adventure, putting to use and expanding upon her training. There are some suspenseful and hard times in this book, but the light moments and humor balances it out quite nicely.
  In addition to the main cast, the supporting characters also add to the story and to Rory's journey. I loved how the female characters held substantial roles unlike the traditional fairy tales. A lot of male characters where just okay and were in the shadow of female greatness.
  There are possible romances in the works or at least I am shipping some characters together because of their great chemistry such as Grit and Rupert and Jade, younger and sweet son of Regent Moss (the villain) and Rory. I would love to see this title on the Alex Award lists as it is a perfect YA/adult crossover.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, Lady Janies series by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.
  At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

Review: Other Words for Home is a beautifully written novel in verse that covers war and displacement, resilience and adjustment to a new culture and country.  Growing up in a coastal town in Syria, Jude’s days revolve around her family and best friend, watching American romantic movies, and going to school. There is war looming in Syria and Jude’s brother, Issa, gets involved in the resistance movement. Jude and her mother leave Syria before the civil war peaks and move in with Uncle Mazin and his family in Cincinnati. The novel’s blank verse form works beautifully to capture Jude’s wide range of emotions as she leaves the only life she's known behind, dread with worry about her father and brother who are still in Syria and she adjusts to her new life in America. Friendships, complicated family relationships, microaggressions, Islamophobia, and a new language are just a few of the layers Warga weaves into Jude’s consciousness. Jude is keenly aware of the roles she embodies and the complexities associated with them. She is also becoming aware of the labels that are placed upon her in America such as "Arab American". Her voice is both wise and hopeful despite the obstacles that she faces. Her bravery is admirable and accessible. After a few emotional crescendos, the story is resolved with satisfying closure and believable new possibilities. I would not be surprised if this book pops up as a Newbery nominee.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a hate crime in the book in which a Middle Eastern restaurant is vandalized and destroyed. There is also talk about menstruation and female puberty in the book. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Refugee by Alan Gratz, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte's war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story. Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth -- and the part he played in it.

Review: After finding out about his cousin Jun’s violent death, Jay Reguero travels from America to the Philippines to uncover the truth behind the mysterious death. Jay does not have much of a connection to the Philippines, the place of his birth, and has recently discovered that the nation has changed in the face of a sweeping drug war initiated by President Rodrigo Duterte, a war that Jun’s father, Tito Maning, enthusiastically endorses. Jay digs into the circumstances of Jun’s death, which is much more complicated than what he had anticipated.
   I really enjoyed The Patron Saints of Nothing which deftly weaves a mystery/suspense elements regarding Jun's death and a coming of age story that taps into the deep, nuanced, and complicated yet realistic family drama between family members who stayed in Philippines and that of Jay's father who decided to raise his children in America. Ribay perfectly captures the feelings of those who straddle two different cultures. He faces microaggressions at school and while attempting to try to convey his feelings to his American friends. Yet he also feels like an outsider in the Philippines because he does not speak the language though he looks Filipino.
  This book is a window for me in terms of learning about the current the current-day war on drugs ravaging Filipino society, characterized by extrajudicial vigilante killings endorsed by the highest levels of government, which unfortunately I do not hear too much about in the news. The author also touches upon the Filipino history of colonization, occupation, and revolution, but I needed a bit more to fully wrap my head around. After reading this book I can definitely see why it was nominated for the National Book Award for Young Adults.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is language and discussion of drug abuse, sex trafficking, and violence initiated by the government and police. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Rummanah Aasi
Description: As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

Review: Charlie Bravo is a recent transfer to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics. She is determined to keep to herself and focus on her film studies. Charlie finds it hard to stick to her goals when she runs into a girl named Liv who sets her sights on getting Charlie to join her newly minted basketball team. Liv is full of energy, brimming with optimism, loves leading teams and incessantly tries to woo Charlie for her basketball team. Liv has a great heart, but she can come on way too strong so she ends up recruiting the rest of her ragtag basketball crew to convince Charlie—each in their own unique fashion—just before the first game. Ashley, Nicole, Jay, and Tiffany eventually wear her down with their numerous and humorous attempts, not only welcoming her to their team, but also into their circle of friendship. It takes Charlie some time to thaw and reveal some hurtful memories of her last university. At her new university, however, Charlie might rekindle her love of basketball with her new team and possibly find a new romance.
  Avant-Guards is a fun, quick read that puts female sports in the front and center. The cast of characters are diverse in gender expression (one is nonbinary), race, and sexual orientation. There is also plenty of diversity in secondary characters too. The illustrations were bright and energetic just like the characters. There is a nice balance of humor, heart, and action, but I did feel that there is little plot for the first volume of this graphic novel. Overall a promising start to a new series that features diversity, inclusion, and female sports. I look forward to reading the next volume in the series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language and scenes of drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Avant-Guards Vol 2 by Carly Usdin, Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu, Giant Days series by John Allison
Rummanah Aasi
Every year there are several great books published. I have picked the top 20 titles that have caught my eye and wanted to share them with you. It was very hard to narrow down my list and I am sure that I will keep adding to this list as the year goes on. I am thrilled to see a lot of diverse authors and topics. Fingers crossed that these reads do not disappoint us! I have organized the list according to the intended audience, release dates and will have a link to each title if you would like to add them to your Goodreads shelves. Enjoy!

Adult

Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.
   Even though she knows they'll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy--two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia's husband's tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.


Release Date: Jan 21 | Add to Goodreads


 Ellie had the quizzical eyebrows of Broadcast News-era Holly Hunter and the neon-red hair of Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. At least, that's what caught Nick's attention when he met her on the night of 2008's historic election. A cinema devotee and lover of great love stories, Nick always fancied himself the Tom Hanks of his own romantic comedy, and when sparks flew with Ellie that night, he swiftly cast her as the Meg Ryan of his story. For four blissful years, Nick loved Ellie as much as he loved his job as a film projectionist: wholly, earnestly, cinematically.

But now Ellie has moved out, convinced "the fire's gone," and Nick is forced to sift through his memories to figure out where it all went wrong. The fallout from Ellie's declaration that she "doesn't love Nick the way she used to" throws him back into recollections of their first night together. Their shared jokes, her wry smile, the "hope" that filled the night air--his memories are as rose-colored as the Hollywood love stories he idealizes.

That night was a perfect meet-cute, yes, but was their romance as destined for a "happily ever after" as he'd thought? Is he really the rom-com hero he believes he's been? Or did this Harry let his Sally down? Peppered with references to beloved movies, Love, Unscripted explores how even a hopeless romantic can learn that in real life, love isn't, and shouldn't be, like what we see in the movies.


Release Date: Feb 11 | Add to Goodreads


Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

Release Date: March 3 | Add to Goodreads



2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Release Date: March 10 | Add to Goodreads



The final chapter in the bestselling, critically acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy, in which a con-woman and an idealistic djinn prince join forces to save a magical kingdom from a devastating civil war. Note: this is not the actual blurb since it contains spoilers for this series.





Release Date: June 30  | Add to Goodreads

YA 



Find the heir, win the crown.
The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.

Win the crown, save the kingdom.
Rumored to be the heir, Grey has been on the run since he destroyed Lilith. He has no desire to challenge Rhen--until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?

Release Date: Jan 7 | Add to Goodreads


Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.


Release Date: Jan 7 | Add to Goodreads



Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.

His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed.

With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can’t think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it’ll all sort itself out. Right?

Release Date: Jan 21 | Add to Goodreads



For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up in the 1990s as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends at home and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily. And worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother. Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.

Release Date: Jan 28 | Add to Goodreads


Elle and her friends Mads, Jenny, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Elle’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Elle as their next target. They picked the wrong girl.
  
Sworn to vengeance, Elle transfers to St. Andrew’s. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

Release Date: Feb 4 | Add to Goodreads

As princess of the island kingdom Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer—the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for Amora, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous soul magic.

When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule, if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic.

But sailing the kingdom holds more wonder—and more peril—than Amora anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stow-away she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever.

Release Date: Feb 4 | Add to Goodreads


After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother. But nothing is easy when you're a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880's America. What's more, this safe haven is not what it appears - as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her. But she won't be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by - and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not. Watching Jane's back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it's up to Katherine to keep hope alive - even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

Release Date: Feb 4 | Add to Goodreads


Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer―a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.

Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.

Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees.
Release Date: Feb 11 | Add to Goodreads



Japan 1945. Taro is a talented violinist and a kamikaze pilot in the days before his first and only mission. He believes he is ready to die for his country . . . until he meets Hana. Hana hasn't been the same since the day she was buried alive in a collapsed trench during a bomb raid. She wonders if it would have been better to have died that day . . . until she meets Taro.

A song will bring them together. The war will tear them apart. Is it possible to live an entire lifetime in eight short days?
Release Date: Feb 18 | Add to Goodreads

When Ekata's brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family's icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.

In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother's warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love...or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family's power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.

Release Date: March 3 | Add to Goodreads


1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.

As they delve deeper into the dead woman's secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder. But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

Release Date: April 21 | Add to Goodreads


Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn't been too great, but at least he's not being bullied anymore, and he's sort of got a boyfriend, even if he's kind of mean and only wants to meet up in secret.

Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He's heard a little about Charlie - the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months - but he's never had the opportunity to talk to him. That is, until the start of January, in which Nick and Charlie are placed in the same form group and made to sit together.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn't think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner...Note: This was originally as a Kick-starter/self published

Release Date: May 5 by Scholastic | Add to Goodreads



There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.

Release Date: May 12 | Add to Goodreads


Pinky Kumar wears the social justice warrior badge with pride. From raccoon hospitals to persecuted rock stars, no cause is too esoteric for her to champion. But a teeny-tiny part of her also really enjoys making her conservative, buttoned-up corporate lawyer parents cringe.

Samir Jha might have a few . . . quirks remaining from the time he had to take care of his sick mother, like the endless lists he makes in his planner and the way he schedules every minute of every day, but those are good things. They make life predictable and steady.

Pinky loves lazy summers at her parents’ Cape Cod lake house, but after listening to them harangue her about the poor decisions (aka boyfriends) she’s made, she hatches a plan. Get her sorta-friend-sorta-enemy, Samir—who is a total Harvard-bound Mama’s boy—to pose as her perfect boyfriend for the summer. As they bicker their way through lighthouses and butterfly habitats, sparks fly, and they both realize this will be a summer they'll never forget.

Release Date: June 30 | Add to Goodreads

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?


Release Date: July 1 | Add to Goodreads



Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for. Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there? The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

Release Date: July 7 | Add to Goodreads

The Princesses of Ever are beloved by the kingdom and their father, the King. They are cherished, admired. Cursed.

Jane, Alice, Nora, Grace, and Eden carry the burden of being punished for a crime they did not commit, or even know about. They are each cursed to be Without one essential thing—the ability to eat, sleep, love, remember, or hope. And their mother, the Queen, is imprisoned, frozen in time in an unbreakable glass box.

But when Eden’s curse sets in on her thirteenth birthday, the princesses are given the opportunity to break the curse, preventing it from becoming a True Spell and dooming the princesses for life. To do this, they must confront the one who cast the spell—Reagan, a young witch who might not be the villain they thought—as well as the wickedness plaguing their own kingdom…and family.

Release Date: July 14 | Add to Goodreads
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