Rummanah Aasi

Description: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful. But it's not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.
  Once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Review: The description for Dhonielle Clayton’s latest series, The Belles, is deceptive and superficially appears to be quite similar to other books that offer a social commentary on our world's obsession with beauty and perfection. The Belles, however, manages to rise above those books by also tackling race issues, body diversity, socioeconomic inequalities, and slavery all without using these words to describe them. All of these important issues are timely, but powerfully lurk beneath the lush descriptions of beauty and fabrics that dominate the narrative. Clayton imagines a world in which the drive for perfection is also the greatest ruin. 
  In Camellia’s archipelago world of Orléans, the creation story begins when the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty but soon grew jealous of the attention she gave to their children, the first humans. In punishment, he cursed them with ugliness: “Skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness that quickly turned to madness.” In retaliation, the Goddess of Beauty made the Belles, beautiful women who are born with non-gray skin and straw-like hair and who have the ability in their blood to temporarily transform the gray and ugly bodies of the citizens of Orléans into something beautiful.  
  Camellia and her five sisters are ready to debut in society as Belles and work for an exorbitant fee to work their magic upon the citizens of Orléans when the people’s beauty starts to fade. The favorite and most prized Belle will be selected to work for the royal family. Camellia yearns to chosen as the favorite, but her reluctance to follow directions may keep her from the ultimate prize. Once Camellia reaches her ultimate goal, she quickly realizes that world she was trained to live in and work for are nothing like she imagined. Beauty is a deception and a means of acquiring power. 
  Like the popular phrase, "Beauty is pain", the treatments are cringe-worthy and painful to imagine both for the customer whose bones and skin shuffle to the latest fads and also to the Belle who drains her own energy and have her blood purified by leeches. Along with these revelations, there is also many sinister things lurking around court such as unseen women heard crying at night in locked rooms, disfigured Belles, and sudden deaths that are swept under the carpet. The royal family is also facing terrible challenges: a crown princess who has been in a mysterious sleep for years and a second daughter whose ascension to the throne will be disastrous. Camellia is asked to use her Belle magic in ways it’s not intended. She quickly finds herself caught up in a political plot and faced with impossible choices. 
   Clayton is unafraid to tackle issues that are uncomfortable. She cleverly talks about beauty, especially when it comes to skin-tone, describing it with adjectives usually associated with food such as “the color of toasted walnuts,” “the rich color of honey bread,” “a sugared beignet fresh from the oil.” It’s a blatant response on how people of color are commonly described in literature and are in a way that fetishizes and commodifies them. Despite her status as a Belle who is revered in her society, she is often subjected to both. There are many other dualities that appear in the book too such as ugliness and shame. 
  While the book starts off slowly in the first few chapters are we get settled in the rich and rotting world of Orleans, the action and suspense gains traction. The horror which it cleverly veils slowly creeps up on you and once it clicks you can't unseen it. There is a cliff-hanger ending and some shocking reveals, but I'm okay with it because I know that means there is more to come in this eye-opening series. Don't be fooled or deterred from the pretty cover, The Belles is a thought provoking read that will foster great discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of attempted sexual assault and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, North of Beautiful by Justina Ireland, The Fold by An Na, Such a Pretty Face edited by Ann Angel
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
  Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?


Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker is a charming graphic novel that focuses on self acceptance, identity, and fashion set in Paris, France. The story revolves around a lowly dressmaker named Frances who has a unique vision of fashion. After creating a scandalous dress as the devil's wench for a much delighted rebellious teenager, she catches the eye of a mysterious wealthy benefactor, for whom she is hired to work exclusively. Frances is stunned to find that her patron is the Prince Sebastian, who is secretly loves to wear gowns and crossdress at night. Frances encourages Sebastian to be himself, and together the two create Lady Crystallia, the most fabulous fashion icon Paris has ever seen. 
  Both Frances and Sebastian struggle to understand themselves and to embrace their identities. There's a hint of romance between Frances and Sebastian, but the emphasis is on their friendship. Unfortunately the book doesn't explore Sebastian's sexual or gender identity, which I had hoped but it does focus on the message of self-acceptance. The full-color artwork is gorgeous, featuring a variety of over-the-top dresses that highlight fashion trends and France's incredible creations. Though the ending is too romantic and idealized, it will warm reader's hearts. I look forward to reading more by Jen Wang.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some subtle crude humor in the book. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Everyone has a story . . . but will they get the happy ending they deserve? Emilia has just returned to her idyllic Cotswold hometown to rescue the family business. Nightingale Books is a dream come true for book-lovers, but the best stories aren't just within the pages of the books she sells - Emilia's customers have their own tales to tell.
 There's the lady of the manor who is hiding a secret close to her heart; the single dad looking for books to share with his son but who isn't quite what he seems; and the desperately shy chef trying to find the courage to talk to her crush . . . And as for Emilia's story, can she keep the promise she made to her father and save Nightingale Books?


Review: How to Find Love in a Book Shop had the perfect premise for fans of book lovers and love stories. I was really looking forward to picking this one up as a cozy read during the winter months. Unfortunately, I wish I loved this book more than I did. The book had the perfect premise and set up, but its execution felt choppy and I failed to connect to the large cast of characters.
  Emilia Nightingale is called back to her hometown of Peasebrook in Cotswold, England, where her father, Julius, is dying. After his death, she is determined to keep his beloved shop, Nightingale Books, open and thriving. Due to the lack of tracking finances and steep debt, Nightingale Books is on its last legs. Waiting in the wings is a developer ready to snap up the property if Emilia would give him an opening. As she struggles with her grief and to make sense of what her father left her, Emilia finds help from the townspeople. Julius was a beloved figure in the community, and many of the locals' lives are entwined with the fate and fortunes of the bookstore.
  How to Find Love in a Book Shop is a slice of life book where we get segments of different characters' lives as they visit Nightingale Books and have multiple happy endings. The author jumps too quickly between the large cast of characters that we don't fully get to see their love stories play out and their happy endings are anticlimactic. There were a few supporting characters that I did love such as the shy chef and the adorable fromager, the second chance love story of the single dad, and lastly the soon to be bride who was going to marry the wrong guy. The very fact that I can't recall any of these characters' names is a testament to how the story was unmemorable. It also annoyed me that there is no diversity in the book. All of the romances are those of heterosexuals and none of the characters are people of color. Overall, this was an okay read to past the time but the not of the top books that I read that featured a bookstore.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to drug usage, and fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for older teens and adults.


If you like this book try: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Bookshop Around the Corner by Jenny Colgan, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Rummanah Aasi

Description: At sixteen, Mina's mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.
   Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.


Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a feminist fairy tale that borrows elements of Snow White and the Snow Queen stories to create a genuinely new tale that celebrates women claiming their own strengths and helping each other instead of tearing them apart. The story is told from two points of views into two alternating timelines that ultimately converge at the book's climax. 
  In the present story line, Lynet has grown up in the shadow of her mother, Emilia, who died during child birth. She is an exact physical replica of her mother and has been sheltered by her over protective father. Lynet is burdened by her father's expectations that she emulate the mother she's never known and become the rightful Queen of the Southern Territories; instead, she idolizes her stepmother, Mina, who's always treated Lynet with tenderness and has no aspirations to be queen at all.
  In the past story line, we follow Mina as a girl who is desperate to find love and affection from her domineering and wicked father Gregory, only to be told that she is incapable to love and have anyone love her. She welds her beauty as power and makes her way to the court of the Southern Territories. When the king dies, only one can claim the throne and the other must die.
  Through Lynet's and Mina's perspectives, we see how these two women share many similarities though their motives maybe entirely different. Lynet and Mina are three dimensional, flawed characters. Lynet is passive and has accepted her fate of following her father's life plan for her until she stops to asks herself of what she wants. It takes her a long time to identify her strengths and to view the throne as something else besides a ball and a chain. Unlike Lynet, Mina already knows her strengths but she has to learn self-love and acceptance. There were many times Mina that teetered off the cliff of being a villain that we all recognize as the evil queen, but her self awareness and conscious has always saved her. What I found exceptional and refreshing is that both women genuinely care and admire each other.
 The pacing of the story is slow burning that matches well with the character development and might deter some readers, but the characters are so worth it. Their epiphanies take time to occur as the characters stumble many times until they reach the satisfying and revolutionary conclusion. Magic is used in the right amounts in the story and their were times that I wished it was explained a bit more clearly. There is some romance subplots for each women, but the main focus of the story is the relationship between Lynet and Mina. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a character driven fairy tale that refuses to use common tropes and is filled with magic, adventure, and self discovery. 

 Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution:

If you like this book try: Hunted by Megan Spooner, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Rummanah Aasi
I have been looking forward to this morning and anxiously awaiting the announcement of several Children and Young Adult book awards. There were so many great books that were published last year and I don't envy the award committee to narrow their choices to just a few. The Young Media Awards are like the Oscars for me. It's one of my favorite times of the year. I usually discover new titles that I fall in love with and book talk to my students. The awards took place at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting at Denver, Colorado. Although there are many awards honored today, I was looking forward to finding out the winners for the CaldecottNewberyMorris, and of course the Michael L. Printz Award. You can find the other winners on the Association for Library Services to Children website and the Young Adult Library Services website (YALSA).

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of  Randolph Caldecott, who was a nineteenth-century English illustrator. The award is given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Winner of the 2018 Caldecott Medal is: 







Honorees of the 2018 Caldecott are:


Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin



The Newbery Medal was named in the honor of John Newbery, who was an eighteenth-century British bookseller. Like the Caldecott, it is also awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.


Winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal is: 





Honorees of the 2018 Newbery are:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes


The William C. Morris YA Debut Award was first awarded in 2009 by YALSA. The award is given to a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

Winner of the 2018 Morris Award is: 



Honorees of the 2018 Morris Award are:

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Devils Within by S.F. Henson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone



 The Michael L. Printz Award was named in the honor of Michael L. Printz, a school librarian in Topeka, Kansas, who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. The Michael L. Printz Award is an award given annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association to a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.

Winner of the 2018 Michael Printz Award is: 










Honorees of the 2018 Printz Award are:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

 Congratulations to all of today's winners! The library associations have spoken. What do you think of these book awards? Will you read the books that have won and have been honored? Did any of the award-winning books surprise you? I know I was taken aback by the Newbery Honorees and the Printz Winner. 
Rummanah Aasi
  I read and absolutely loved Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier when I was a freshman in high school. It was the first book my school librarian recommended to me when I was looking for a book to capture my attention. Rebecca was my first foray into the romantic suspense genre and a book which I measured all other books in that genre. Du Maurier downplays the romance but takes a closer look into the human psyche. My Cousin Rachel does the same and the ending will leave you reeling.


Description: Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?

Review: My Cousin Rachel is the story of obsession, independence, sexuality, and guilt. The story is seen through the eyes of a young gentleman named Philip who is grieving over the loss of his cousin and father figure named Ambrose. Shortly before his death, Ambrose married the notorious and so-called black widow Rachel. Ambrose has completely smitten by Rachel though his health quickly deteriorated and died. There is some speculation that Rachel may be responsible for Ambrose death as she mysteriously leaves a trail of dead men behind her. Now Rachel goes to Cornwall to return the belonging of Ambrose to Philip. Philip has decided to hate Rachel and wants nothing to do with her at all, but when these two characters meet Philip begins to change his mind.
 Rachel is unlike any woman that Philip has seen. She does not restrict herself to the social mores that surround her and has had male companions. She is extremely intelligent, refined, and very far from the damsel in distress that people expect her to be because she is a widow. Rachel does not appear to be concerned with money though financial security appears rather quickly for her. As Philip tries to understand Rachel, he falls in love with her and becomes obsessed. His inexperience and immaturity is clear, but are his actions his own or is he being influenced? Is Rachel evil or not? These are the central questions that come into play when Philip's large inheritance comes into question.
 There are many ways you can analyze My Cousin Rachel, which is the main reason why I really enjoyed this book. The story slowly reaches a climax as we get pieces of both Philip and Rachel's back stories. The ending is a shocker and open ended, which might annoy some readers who like clear cut resolutions but it also lends itself to discussion. Definitely pick this up if you enjoy romantic suspense with Gothic undertones. The recent movie adaptation featuring Rachel Weisz and Sam Clafin is quite good and worth watching.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images but nothing too graphic. Recommended to older teen readers and adults.

If you like this book try: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield or The English Wife by Lauren Willig,
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons—to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. So Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds up, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT?

Review: Patina is another hit in the middle grade Track series by Jason Reynolds. Patina Jones is an ambitious young tween and a gifted athlete. She not only loves to run, she needs to run-and win. Since the death of her father and her mother's declining health problems, Patty's track team keeps her focused and an outlet to let out her frustrations. Patty and her younger sister, Maddy, are experiencing a lot of changes in their lives. They have left their urban neighborhood to live in a different part of the city with their uncle Tony (who is black like Patty and Maddy) and their aunt Emily (who is white), whom they affectionately call Momly, and attend a new, affluent school, Chester Academy. 
  What I love about the Track series is that Reynolds beautifully captures the authentic voice and issues of these middle schoolers. Patina does touch upon important issues such as socioeconomic disparities, forming erroneous assumptions, and success depends on teamwork, all without feeling like an issues book. The topics flow organically in the plot while Patty makes her observations and epiphanies on her own. I also really appreciate how the adult characters provide support and guidance as well as be a positive role model to the tweens in the book. Patty is a character whom you will easily love and will root for, especially endearing is how she fiercely love and care for her sister Maddy. Patina can easily be read as a standalone but after reading this book you really wouldn't want to miss out on the first book in this series, Ghost, either.


Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds coming in April 2018, As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds
Rummanah Aasi



 I wanted to post a book list of books from a variety of genres and reading levels in celebration of Black History Month. I've read quite a few of these titles and others are on my ever-growing to be read pile. This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are hundreds of titles out there to choose from. All of these titles are either feature Black and/or African characters and/or are written by own voices authors from these backgrounds. If I have reviewed the book, I will link my review.


Children's Picture Books


 Crown: An Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices. A fresh cut makes boys fly.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall: Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He's finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he's a great jumper, so he's not scared at all. "Looks easy," says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board.

In Your Hands by Carole Boston Weatherford: A black mother expresses the many hopes and dreams she has for her child in this powerful picture book.

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins: This lyrical, empowering poem celebrates black children and seeks to inspire all young people to dream big and achieve their goals.




Children/Middle Grade Reads


Ghost by Jason Reynolds: Running. That's all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race -- and wins -- the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander: Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson: The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. D comes from a world vastly different from their safe Queens neighborhood, and through her, the girls see another side of life that includes loss, foster families and an amount of freedom that makes the girls envious. Although all of them are crazy about Tupac Shakur’s rap music, D is the one who truly understands the place where he’s coming from, and through knowing D, Tupac’s lyrics become more personal for all of them.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper: Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community - her world - is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.

Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley: Adrienne Ashe never wanted to be a princess. She hates fancy dinners, is uncomfortable in lavish dresses, and has never wanted to wait on someone else to save her. However, on the night of her 16th-birthday, her parents, the King and Queen, locked her away in a tower guarded by a dragon to await the rescue of some handsome prince. Now Adrienne has decided to take matters into her own hands!

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia: In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore: It's Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren't celebrating. They're still reeling from his older brother's death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly's mother's girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly's always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.
    His path isn't clear--and the pressure to join a "crew," as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape--and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

YA



The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
  Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone: Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
 Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?

The Belles by Dhonelle Clayton: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
  But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson: Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say. Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
  There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

American Street by Ibi Zoboi: On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.
 Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?
 
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi: In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.
Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family. When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

 
Noughts and Crosses by Majorie Blackman: Sephy is a Cross -- a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought -- a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum -- a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?
 
I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina: Alfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.
  When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.
 

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson: Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.
 But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.


Nonfiction 



Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore: Two kids with the same name lived in the same decaying city. One went on to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.

Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin: Five years after his tragic death, Travyon Martin's name is still evoked every day. He has become a symbol of social justice activism, as has his hauntingly familiar image: the photo of a child still in the process of becoming a young man, wearing a hoodie and gazing silently at the camera. But who was Trayvon Martin, before he became, in death, an icon? And how did one black child s death on a dark, rainy street in a small Florida town become the match that lit a civil rights crusade?
 Rest in Power, told through the compelling alternating narratives of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, answers, for the first time, those questions from the most intimate of sources. It s the story of the beautiful and complex child they lost, the cruel unresponsiveness of the police and the hostility of the legal system, and the inspiring journey they took from grief and pain to power, and from tragedy and senselessness to meaning.


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison: Featuring forty trailblazing black women in American history, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of breaking boundaries and achieving beyond expectations. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history.

March series by John Lewis: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.


Adult Fiction




Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person -- no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesamyn Ward: An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future. However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.
 When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor - engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven - but the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Home Going by Yaa Gyasi: Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle's dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast's booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia's descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Kindred by Octavia Butler: Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift on a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow's only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.
 Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn't until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.


Review: After loving Wolk's gorgeous debut novel, The Wolf Hollow, I could not wait to read more from her. Beyond the Bright Sea is a solid follow up novel though I didn't love it as much as The Wolf Hollow and that might be due to reading a few books before this one that all had the same plot: a young child discovering and understanding the definition of family and the struggle to find his/her identity. 
  As long as she can remember, Crow has lived her whole life on the sleepy island of Cuttyhunk, part of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. When she was only a few days old, a lonely fisherman named Osh found her moored on the rocks after being set adrift in a shabby rowboat. The only possible place Crow could have safely come from is the neighboring island of Penikese, which was a leper colony. Due to this fact, Crow's world has only been limited to Osh and her friendly neighbor Miss Maggie. Many of the townspeople avoid Crow like the plague, assuming that she carries the disease despite exhibiting no physical symptoms.
  Though Osh is her adoptive father and Miss Maggie fills a mother-figure roll, Crow does not feel whole. She is determined to discover where she comes from. The mystery surrounding Crow's parentage, her link to Penikese and her hopeful search for her her birth family drives the story forward. Wolk's writing is simple yet powerful, expertly depicting Crow's, Osh's, and even Miss Maggie's wide range of emotions from the highs of hope and belonging to the lows of anxiety and fear. Beyond the Bright Sea is uplifting tale that reminds us that sometimes your family is the one you make, not the one you are born into.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images in the book. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Pablo and Birdy by Alison McGhee, The Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbit
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture--for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve her Bengali identity--award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

Review: You Bring the Distant Near is a multi-generational read that centers around the complexities of navigating multiple cultures, the immigrant experience, and understanding the different generations. While it doesn't offer anything new to the common motif in immigrant stories, it does a nice job in highlighting the importance of finding ones home despite where you are in the world.
   The story opens in 1970s New York, where the Das family has immigrated from England in hopes of planting roots and finding acceptance. Sisters Tara and Sonia are two teen girls who crave personal freedom and they often go against their mother Ranee's strict and traditional Indian values. Older sister Tara is known for her looks and her charisma is contagious. She longs to be an actress. Younger sister Sonia is introverted, incredibly intelligent, and a budding feminist Sonia. The tumultuous relationship between Sunny and Ranee is at the heart of the novel, representing the clash and resistance of and ultimate blending of cultures. In the United States, Ranee struggles in vain to hold on to her "Indianness," not only for herself, but also for her children. I really enjoyed this first half of the book as I connected with Sunny and Ranee the most. I could easily understand their conflicts between personal desire and their responsibilities to their culture. I think this is the strongest aspect of the book. I also appreciated the complexities of race and culture when it came to interracial marriage and gender roles.
  The second half of the book jumps through time where both Tara and Sunny have established lives with marriage and children. We now follow the narratives of their daughters, Anna and Chantal respectively. It is only through her connection to her granddaughters, Chantal and Anna that Ranee finds redemption and transformation. For me the second half of the book falters a bit as Perkins tries to touch upon different issues hurriedly such as racial imposter syndrome (where a person from multiple cultures don't see themselves in any culture), Islamophobia, and American patriotism.
  Though I enjoyed the multi-generational aspect to the story, which is not common in YA litertature, I think the book might have been stronger if there were two companion novels. Chantal and Anna are mirror images of their mothers and I would have liked to see them grow as individuals. I would also have loved for the nuisance and complex themes be explored in more details. Overall, You Bring the Distant Near is an enjoyable read that many readers can see themselves and shines a light on an experience that is actually more familiar than we think.


Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: The Joyluck Club by Amy Tan
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone. The Spill claimed Addison's parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn't spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone's twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death--or worse. When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits--and it seems to be calling Addison's name.

Review: Spill Zone is cloaked in mystery surrounding an event that has caused residents of Poughkeepsie to hang suspended in the air like floating zombies where demonic wolves and sentient twisters appear out of nowhere. From what we can gather from the little clues in the book is that it wasn't aliens, it wasn't a nuclear attack, and the military isn't talking. In fact the lack of a backstory is what kept me filling through the pages of this bizarre graphic novel. Ultimately, it's the characters that drive this story. 
  Addison and her mute sister, Lexa, are on their own after their parents were caught in the Spill Zone. Addison photographs this quarantined area-the Spill Zone-and its bizarre happenings. She sells the images to support herself and her sister, Lexa. Her talent of weaving in and out of the Spill Zone undetected leads Addison to a deadly mission inside the Spill Zone with a reward of a million dollars should she succeed. Meanwhile, the North Korean government, which had its own Spill incident, wants to meet with Addison for their own ominous purposes. The story becomes even more twisted when Lexa begins to talk without any explanation and her creepy rag doll, Vespertine, who whispers devious thoughts in Lexa's mind.
  There are lots of different things developing this graphic novel. It starts off slowly but picks up the pace as more mysteries are layered on top of one another. The world that Westerfeld and Puvilland have created is imaginative and nightmarish with drawings composed of hectic lines and loud, vivid colors. Addison is an intriguing character who is forced to act like an adult though she is only in her teens. She is sympathetic but her personality can be abrasive. Her decisions are morally questionable, which makes her complex and appealing.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and violence throughout the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Broken Vow (Spill Zone #2) by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland coming in July 10, 2018, The Silver Six by A.J. Lieberman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Fifteen-year-old Matt Wainwright is in turmoil. He can’t tell his lifelong best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her; his promising basketball skills are being overshadowed by his attitude on the court, and the only place he feels normal is in English class, where he can express his inner thoughts in quirky poems and essays. Matt is desperately hoping that Tabby will reciprocate his feelings; but then Tabby starts dating Liam Branson, senior basketball star and all-around great guy. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough; but, as Matt soon discovers, he’s close to losing everything that matters most to him.

Review: Awkward high school freshman Matt Wainwright has two goals in life. He wants to elevate his basketball skills from JV to Varsity and get the girl: his longtime next-door neighbor and unattainable best friend Tabby. Unfortunately, life doesn't follow Matt's plans. He systematically chokes and is error prone whenever Tabby is around, which prevents him from disclosing his true feelings for Tabby. After a school tragedy leaves Matt reeling as he risks losing everything important to him.
  I got many flashes to John Green's novels while reading The Short History of a Girl Next Door, but it didn't have the same emotional punch or moments of epiphanies. Where the author does succeed is the authentic voice and the inner monologues. Matt's voice is that of an authentic freshmen teenager filled with insecurity, awkwardness, and self deprecating humor. His infatuation with Tabby feels real and we spend a lot of time with Matt pining Tabby. The second half has a tragic twist that brings out  Matt's grief-induced selfishness, self-pity, and occasional outright cruelty. Matt's warm relationship with his grandfather unveils some surprises and sets Matt on the road to deal with his grief and loss in a positive manner.
  The book's short chapters, brisk pacing, and the in-depth descriptions of basketball will make this book appealing to reluctant readers. I had hoped we would spend more time Matt on his road to recovery, but it ends in an uplifting note.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the novel and some crude sexual humor. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, The History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, Looking for Alaska by John Green
Rummanah Aasi
Description: For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden's life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point? The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she'd outgrown her passion--and she finally needed to find her own voice.

Review: Spinning is a quiet, contemplative graphic memoir about competitive ice skating, growing up, and coming out. Walden offers a candid examination of her experiences in figure skating from her passion for the sport and the embarrassments to experiences that marked pivotal moments in her adolescence, and how she eventually came out to family and friends as a young teen.
  Like the subtle text of the graphic novel, the art does not have any bells and whistles. It is very simple and mostly chromatic with a small color collection: indigo, white, and occasional splashes of yellow. The cold tone is reflective of the cold ice skating ring that Walden attended each morning before the sunrises as well as the teenage angst of a young woman trying to find her own place. Instead of focusing on the seedier side of figure skating, Walden focuses her own relationship with the sport and how she fell in and out of love with it. Various relationships are discussed though mostly are held at an arm's length particularly that of her strained relationship with her mother and her first romantic relationship which is both sweet and heartbreaking. Written when she is only 21 years old, Walden has lots of talent and I hope to read more from her.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language. There are scenes of bullying and of unwanted sexual advances and attempted assault in the graphic novel. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Blankets by Craig Thompson
Rummanah Aasi

Description: After years in foster care, Ginny is in her fourth forever family, finally with parents who will love her. Everyone tells her that she should feel happy, but she has never stopped crafting her Big Secret Plan of Escape. Because something happened, a long time ago – something that only Ginny knows – and nothing will stop her going back to put it right.

Review: Ginny Moon is a much darker read than I had first expected. It is a bracing coming of age novel, but also an examination on what makes a family. When Ginny Moon was nine, she was removed from her abusive mother Gloria's custody and placed in foster care or as Ginny calls them "forever homes". Due to her autism, Ginny has never found a perfect forever home until her fourth forever home with a well meaning couple who are having problems having a child on their own. Ginny is approximately satisfied but she needs to rescue Baby Doll who left in a suitcase 8 years ago in at Gloria's apartment to keep her safe. Now Ginny is 14, how can she be comforted when her Baby Doll is not safe? What is Baby Doll and is Ginny's cherished possession still in the suitcase? This is the central mystery of the book.
  Ginny's first-person narration reveals the gulf between her internal life and her ability to communicate with the outside world. I felt a wide range of emotions both for Ginny and her loving foster parents. On the one hand, I couldn't help but feel frustrated for Ginny as she is constantly misunderstood and at odds with those around her. I knew what she was referring to as Baby Doll and it pained me to see her inability to communicate what she really means. On the other hand, it was heartbreaking to see Ginny's tunnel vision on rescuing Baby Doll while seemingly oblivious to the protections in place that prevent her from returning to Gloria, creating turmoil within her new family. Ginny isn't completely ignorant of Gloria's abuse as she mentions it constantly with her urgency to find Baby Doll.
  I wouldn't necessarily call Ginny an unreliable narrator, but the details of the story are spread out evenly in the book and gradually coalesce and make sense while upping the suspense. What I found interesting after I read the book and remarked on how accurate it feels is that the author incorporated his own personal experience as the adoptive father of a teen with autism.
  Ginny Moon is a heartfelt and often heartbreaking debut novel that has adult and YA crossover appeal, especially with readers who enjoy character driven stories.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language in the book. Allusions to child neglect, child abuse, drug abuse and death of an animal are made in the book. For the mature themes I would recommend this book to older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Rummanah Aasi

Description: JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers -- from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.

Review: With immigration being a hot topic and feverishly discussed and debated in the news, Alan Gratz's stirring middle grade novel, Refugee, is timely and important. It is focused on the different reasons why immigrants flee their native homelands. The book is told in three parallel stories of three different tween refugees from different eras, Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo, Syria, that eventually intertwine for maximum impact. 
  Although these countries, time periods, and three brave protagonists are very different, Gratz shows us how they share many things in common. Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud traverse a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, surviving at sea, struggles between visibility and invisibility in fear of safety, experience heart-wrenching loss, and ultimately gaining resilience in the process. In each alternating chapter we get a snapshot of being on their perilous journey with the people involved. What I found interesting is that the behavior of the children remained constant, however, the adults were unpredictable. There were many adults who exploited the vulnerabilities of the refugees, others who were constrained by their obligations not to help either due to their own safety being endangered or those dictated by their law or government, and a few who were driven by kindness and sincerity.
    Though Refugee is written for the middle grade audience, Gratz does not sugar coat the disastrous living conditions of each setting. He manages to be poignant, respectful and historically accurate in the book without resorting to shock value or making one dimensional characters. The chapters are short and fast paced. You can either read one narrative all the way through to the end, but I would suggest to read the book as it is formatted to get the full effect of how these stories are interwoven and effect each other. Though they are plenty of dark moments in the book, the ending does show us signs of hope for the future. The powerful author's note explains why Gratz wrote this book. Refugee is an excellent book for book discussions for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy at time when it is most needed.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of bombings, gunfire, and other war violence in the book. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.


If you like this book try: Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.
 Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter. And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

Review: Alex, Approximately is the perfect summer romance read and an updated homage to You've Got Mail with some depth. Bailey Rydell, aka "Mink," is a self-described "habitual evader" and an "artful dodger" who lives far away from her online friend "Alex." Bailey and Alex have never met in real life. When Bailey moves across the country to the California town where Alex lives, she is afraid her online chemistry with Alex won't translate into the real world. Nonetheless, she begins to adapt to her new surroundings, lands a job, makes a friend, and faces an adorable nemesis named Porter.
  I am a huge movie fan and I loved how Bennett included classic films into the story whether it is from Bailey's vintage fashion with nods to Lana Turner and Roman Holiday to quotes from iconic movies that frame each chapter. Bailey's reserved, introverted personality is pitted with Porter's easy going surfer attitude quite well and effectively creates tension to the antagonistic romance trope. Both Bailey and Porter have personal issues and complicated tragic backstories that give their characters depth without dragging the book into teen angst and melodrama. I also appreciated the inclusion of diverse characters such as Porter, who is half Polynesian/Chinese and half white, and important secondary characters like Bailey's friend Grace who is half Nigerian and half British. I would have loved to know more about Porter's ethnic background and his family. 
 I also appreciated that the author didn't confine Bailey and Porter's relationship to just the emails, but that their relationship grows organically. The fact that they met and clicked online is just an added bonus for the reader and also opens to the door to misunderstandings and missed opportunities that drive the plot further. Once I started this book I had a very hard time putting it down because I was enjoying Bailey's and Alex's banter. Bailey is resilient, introverted yet vulnerable and it was so fun watching her come out of her shell. Likewise Porter is so utterly charming but also wary of putting himself out there. This is a book that should top every romance reader's reading list.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, mentions of drug abuse and underage drinking, and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: P.S. I Like You by Kasie West


Description: Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends. Life couldn’t be more perfect! At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks…until she gets some unexpected news. Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

Review: I have absolutely adored Jenny Han's To All the Boys I Loved Before series and was so sad to see this series end. Lara Jean Song Covey embarks on her senior year of high school and is faced with lots of unknowns about the future. Lara Jean has never embraced change, but when her dream college plans go awry she needs to be honest with herself about what she truly wants. Throughout this series we have watched Lara Jean slowly evolve from a sheltered girl to that of a confident girl. She is still thoughtful, crafty, and an adorable girl next door. Some readers complain that she still acts like she is a tween, but I disagree and find her wholesomeness refreshing.
  The book's pacing matches quite nicely with what it feels like as a high school senior. The first half moves along with little to no conflict as Lara Jean applies to colleges and waits to hear back. Her widowed father is also moving forward and plans to re-marry which brings a little tension in the Covey household. The second half of the book is where the action kicks off with lots of big life choices to think about such as the discussion of taking her relationship with Peter Kavinsky to the next level and their anxieties of maintaining a relationship as they go to college.
 I will admit that I wasn't crazy about Peter Kavinsky. I was more of a John Ambrose McClaren kind of gal, but I have to say that Peter Kavinsky won me over in this book. He is patient with Lara Jean and respects her decisions. While Peter and Lara Jean's romance is a big part of the book it does not overshadow Lara Jean's growth to a confident young woman who learns to choose for herself, which is refreshing.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking, and references to sex. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between by Jennifer E. Smith, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Rummanah Aasi
  Every year there are several young adult debut novels that are published. I have picked the top 18 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. Please note that I received the information regarding release dates from the Electric Eighteens website calendar. I am thrilled that there is a wide variety of stories and genres. I am also very happy to see a lot of diverse authors and topics. Fingers crossed that these debuts do not disappoint us! I have organized the list according to list dates and will have a link to each title if you would like to add them to your Goodreads shelves. Enjoy!

 In the land of Sempera, time is extracted from blood and used as payment. Jules Ember and her father were once servants at Everless, the wealthy Gerling family’s estate, but were cast out after of a fateful accident a decade ago. Now, Jules’s father is reaching his last hour, and she will do anything to save him. Desperate to earn time, she arrives at the palace as it prepares for a royal wedding, ready to begin her search into childhood secrets that she once believed to be no more than myths. As she uncovers lost truths, Jules spirals deeper into a past she hardly recognizes, and faces an ancient and dangerous foe who threatens her future and the future of time itself.


Release Date: Jan 2, 2018 | Add to Goodreads

 American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.
  There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

Release Date: Jan 16, 2018 | Add to Goodreads

Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
Release Date: Jan 30 | Add to Goodreads
Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies. With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
  But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Release Date: Feb 6 | Add to Goodreads

 
Can she write a world gone wrong? A certain pen, a certain book, and a certain person can craft entirely new worlds through a branch of science called scriptology. Elsa comes from one such world that was written into creation by her mother—a noted scriptologist. But when her home is attacked and her mother abducted, Elsa must cross into the real world and use her own scriptology gifts to find her. In an alternative 19th-century Italy, Elsa finds a secret society of pazzerellones—young people with a gift for mechanics, alchemy or scriptology—and meets Leo, a gorgeous mechanist with a smart mouth and a tragic past. She recruits the help of these fellow geniuses just as an assassin arrives on their doorstep.

Release Date: Feb 20 | Add to Goodreads

Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school. You don't want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.

Release Date: Feb 27 | Add to Goodreads

Tormented throughout middle school, Ellie begins her freshman year with a new look: she doesn't need to be popular; she just needs to blend in with the wallpaper. But when the unthinkable happens, Ellie finds herself trapped after a brutal assault. She wasn't the first victim, and now she watches it happen again and again. She tries to hold on to her happier memories in order to get past the cold days, waiting for someone to find her. The problem is, no one searches for a girl they never noticed in the first place.

Release Date: Feb 27 | Add to Goodreads



Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
  Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

Release Date: March 6 | Add to Goodreads


Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect. But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Release Date: March 6 | Add to Goodreads

Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has.

Release Date: March 8 | Add to Goodreads



Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Release Date: March 20 | Add to Goodreads


Claire is a fangirl obsessed with the show Demon Heart. Forest is an actor on Demon Heart who dreams of bigger roles. When the two meet at a local Comic-Con panel, it's a dream come true for Claire. Until the Q&A, that is, when Forest laughs off Claire's assertion that his character is gay. Claire is devastated. After all, every last word of her super-popular fanfic revolves around the romance between Forest's character and his male frenemy. She can't believe her hero turned out to be a closed-minded jerk. Forest is mostly confused that anyone would think his character is gay. Because he's not. Definitely not.

Unfortunately for Demon Heart, when the video of the disastrous Q&A goes viral, the producers have a PR nightmare on their hands. In order to help bolster their image within the LGBTQ+ community-as well as with their fans-they hire Claire to join the cast for the rest of their publicity tour. What ensues is a series of colourful Comic-Con clashes between the fans and the show that lead Forest to question his assumptions about sexuality and help Claire come out of her shell. But how far will Claire go to make her ship canon? To what lengths will Forest go to stop her and protect his career? And will Claire ever get the guts to make a move on Tess, the very cute, extremely cool fanartist she keeps running into?

Release Date: May 1 | Add to Goodreads

Megan Harper is the girl before. All her exes find their one true love right after dating her. It’s not a curse or anything, it’s just the way things are, and Megan refuses to waste time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she focuses on pursuing her next fling, directing theatre, and fulfilling her dream school’s acting requirement in the smallest role possible. 
  But her plans quickly crumble when she’s cast as none other than Juliet–yes, that Juliet–in her high school’s production. It’s a nightmare. No–a disaster. Megan’s not an actress and she’s certainly not a Juliet. Then she meets Owen Okita, an aspiring playwright who agrees to help Megan catch the eye of a sexy stagehand in exchange for help writing his new script.
 Between rehearsals and contending with her divided family, Megan begins to notice Owen–thoughtful, unconventional, and utterly unlike her exes, and wonders: shouldn’t a girl get to play the lead in her own love story?

Release Date: May 22| Add to Goodreads


Six years ago, Moss Jefferies' father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media's vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

Release Date: May 22 | Add to Goodreads


Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish.
 Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

Release Date: June 19 | Add to Goodreads

FAT. 

High school senior Cookie Vonn’s post-graduation dreams include getting out of Phoenix, attending Parsons and becoming the next great fashion designer. But in the world of fashion, being fat is a cardinal sin. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly compared to her supermodel mother—and named after a dessert.
 Thanks to her job at a fashion blog, Cookie scores a trip to New York to pitch her portfolio and appeal for a scholarship, but her plans are put on standby when she’s declared too fat too fly. Forced to turn to her BFF for cash, Cookie buys a second seat on the plane. She arrives in the city to find that she’s been replaced by the boss’s daughter, a girl who’s everything she’s not—ultra-thin and super-rich. Bowing to society’s pressure, she vows to lose weight, get out of the friend zone with her crush, and put her life on track.

SKINNY.

Cookie expected sunshine and rainbows, but nothing about her new life is turning out like she planned. When the fashion designer of the moment offers her what she’s always wanted—an opportunity to live and study in New York—she finds herself in a world full of people more interested in putting women down than dressing them up. Her designs make waves, but her real dream of creating great clothes for people of all sizes seems to grow more distant by the day.
Will she realize that she’s always had the power to make her own dreams come true?
Release Date: June 5 | Add to Goodreads

Two proud kingdoms stand on opposite shores, with only a bloody history between them. 

As best friend and lady-in-waiting to the princess, Branwen is guided by two principles: devotion to her homeland and hatred for the raiders who killed her parents. When she unknowingly saves the life of her enemy, he awakens her ancient healing magic and opens her heart. Branwen begins to dream of peace, but the princess she serves is not so easily convinced. Fighting for what's right, even as her powers grow beyond her control, will set Branwen against both her best friend and the only man she's ever loved. 

Release Date: June 5 | Add to Goodreads


Dessa Rhodes is a modern day nomad. Her family travels in an RV, their lives defined by state lines, exit signs, and the small communal caravan they call home. Among them is Cyrus, her best friend and long-time crush, whom she knows she can never be with. When your families are perpetually linked, it’s too dangerous to take a risk on romance. Instead, Dessa looks to the future. She wants to be a real artist and going to art school is her ticket to success and a new life. There’s just one problem: she hasn’t been accepted…anywhere. Suddenly her future is wide open, and it looks like she’s going to be stuck traveling forever.
  Then an unexpected opportunity presents itself: an internship working with a local artist in Santa Fe. Dessa struggles to prove to her boss—and herself—that she belongs there, but just as she finally hits her stride, her family suffers an unexpected blow. Faced with losing everything that she has worked for, Dessa has a difficult decision to make. Will she say goodbye to her nomadic lifestyle and the boy she loves? Or will she choose to never stop moving?

Release Date: June 26 | Add to Goodreads


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