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
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