Rummanah Aasi
Description: One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep--and doesn't wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster. Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams--but of what?

Review: I loved Walker's imaginative debut novel The Age of Miracles and was looking forward to reading more from her. Her latest, The Dreamers, has same atmospheric and philosophical musings like her debut novel. The Dreamers begins in a college dorm in an isolated town in the hills of Southern California, where a freshman thinks she is coming down with the flu. In fact, she has a mysterious disease that causes its victims to fall into a deep, dream-laden sleep from which they cannot be woken, and which sometimes leads to death. The disease spreads slowly at first, then more rapidly, and soon the whole town is under a quarantine.
  The story is told from multiple perspectives ranging from Mei, a lonely college freshman; 12-year-old Sara, who copes with an unhinged survivalist father; Sara's neighbors, a faculty couple with a newborn baby; and aging biology professor Nathaniel. Unfortunately we do not get a chance to spend time and learn more about these characters besides a touch and go as they deal with the disease. I would have much rather proffered if we had one character to explore, but the large number of characters does add to the sense of suspense and urgency to find a cure to this mysterious disease. Walker gives us a lot to think about when it comes to human nature, the state of dreaming and of consciousness, and the nature of epidemics. The text is sparse but beautifully written. It's not a book filled with action nor character-driven but I found it thoroughly fascinating.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Sexual situations, child abandonment, and some minor language are in the book. Recommended for adults and older teens.

If you like this book try: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King
Rummanah Aasi
Description: When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.
   So with the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert's history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter's promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?

Review: Part historical fiction and part suspenseful mystery, The Parker Inheritance is an absorbing read and does not sugar coat a town's struggle with hatred and racism. Candice and her mother have moved temporarily from Washington, D.C., to her mother's hometown in Lambert, SC, while her parents finalize the plans of their amicable divorce. Candice is miserable until she meets Brandon and finds an old letter addressed to her from her deceased grandmother with a puzzle enclosed. Twenty years prior, her grandmother had tried unsuccessfully to solve the puzzle that would yield a great deal of money to the town and the person who solved it. Candice's grandmother's attempts to solve the puzzle have been ridiculed, but Candice thinks she can solve it but will need some help. Wanting to escape ennui, Candice and Brandon make their own attempt.
  The plot moves along quickly and seamlessly between the past and present. Candice and Brandon follow clues and use their critical analysis skills to pursue leads. The characters are varied, authentic, and well developed. I was interested in both time periods. I also enjoyed seeing Candice and Brandon's friendship grow and develop. There is a lot to unpack in this book, but it would a great supplemental and personal link to social studies curriculum surrounding race relations in the United States for younger readers. Appended author notes offer additional context.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: A brutal beating as a hate crime is mentioned in the book without being overly graphic. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Breakout by Kate Messmer, Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
  But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective. Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?

Review: Like many first generation of American immigrant teens Rukhsana is straddling two cultures-her Bengali culture and her American culture. The push and pull of pleasing her conservative parents and following her individual desires of pursuing college of Caltech and no longer hiding her girlfriend, Ariana is exhausting and hard. Rukhsana is a relatable character and who is a glimmer of a reflection rather than a clear mirror. This is mainly due to the debut author pitfalls in this book. We are told about Rukhsana's struggles with her Bengali culture, in particular with making her girlfriend and her friends understand why is it not easy for her to come out to her parents. Similarly, we are told how Rukhsana's family would be ostracized by their community if Rukhsana came out. I wished both of these important topics were fleshed out because they serve as the driving source for the novel. I also wanted to explore more of the Bengali culture besides the overdone gender double standards as well as the girl marries as soon as she is college bound cliche.
   The plot also meanders. The first three quarters of the book follow Rukhsana hiding her sexuality until she is caught making out with her girlfriend at home. Soon she is whisked away to Bangladesh under false pretenses to get married to a boy and attempts at exorcism of a jinn who is responsible for her homosexuality. In the last quarter we get backstories of Rukhsana's maternal grandmother who endured a child marriage, rape and physical abuse from her husband while being helpless in watching her daughter (Rukhsana's mother) be sexually abused. This attempt to ground the story and perhaps give context to the conservative upbringing are clunky because readers are not given a sufficient, balanced overview of the culture as a whole. What really left a bad impression on me is how an LGBTQ+ character's death served as a plot device and allowed Rukhsana's parents to do a complete three hundred and sixty degrees in accepting their daughter's love and life choice. Again there is an attempt to tell readers the dangers of being LGBTQ+ individual in Bangladesh rather than showing it.
  While I am beyond thrilled that more Muslim voices are being written and some even feature LGBTQ+ characters, I am still looking for a great title to support. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali fails to fully explore the entire intersectionality of its main character. It might be great to have now, but we definitely need better.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are mentions of homophobic and Islamophobic comments, language, and underage drinking, rape, and sexual abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up

If you like this book try: Autoboyography by Christina Lauren, Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Raina Anand may have finally given in to family pressure and agreed to let her grandmother play matchmaker, but that doesn't mean she has to like it--or that she has to play by the rules. Nani always took Raina's side when she tried to push past the traditional expectations of their tight-knit Indian-immigrant community, but now she's ambushing Raina with a list of suitable bachelors. Is it too much to ask for a little space? Besides, what Nani doesn't know won't hurt her... As Raina's life spirals into a parade of Nani-approved bachelors and disastrous blind dates, she must find a way out of this modern-day arranged-marriage trap without shattering her beloved grandmother's dreams

Review: I was hoping for a fun, light, romantic comedy with The Matchmaker's List, but unfortunately I was disappointed by this debut novel. Raina Anand is raised by her Nani, her maternal grandmother, and terrified of not meeting Nani's expectations. Raina Anand isn’t exactly happy that she’s 29 and still single but Nani is scandalized. After getting over a heart wrenching break up, Raina finally agrees to let her nani set her up with a long list of eligible Indian bachelors, none of whom Raina actually likes. As her best friend, Shay, plans a wedding (that, in a terrible coincidence, is happening on Raina’s 30th birthday), the pressure is on for Raina to find a nice man—any nice man—and settle down. After a string of disastrous dates, Raina can’t let go of the one who got away, a dashing charmer named Dev who broke her heart with his inability to commit. Now that Dev’s back in the picture, but just as noncommittal as ever, Raina finds herself unable to stomach the endless list of bachelors. Eager to ease the pressure of being the perfect Indian granddaughter, Raina lets her Nani believe she’s a lesbian. Raina finds temporary relief, but her little white lie threatens most of her relationships.
  The Matchmaker's List is more of a drama than a romantic comedy. The author does a great job in exploring Raina's conflicting views of her culture and family. She wants to be her own person, but Nani's influence and the fear of being like her lost single mother quarantines Raina to her comfort zone. Even as she feels stifled by their expectations and pressure, she loves the strength of her community and how they always support one another through hard times. Raina’s desire to both please her family and stand up for herself is deeply relatable and it was the strongest aspect of the book. I loved watching Raina's character grow and soon realizes that she has never made a decision based on her own individual desires and dreams. Raina's self realization is what kept me reading. I also loved her relationship with Nani who I adored and loved. The romance unfortunately is a big let down. We are told of the romantic tension between Raina and an unexpected love interest, but I wanted it to be shown. I also did not buy her relationship with Dev which developed too quickly and ended abruptly for me. I would have also loved a more developed and nuisanced relationship with Raina and her mother, which was hinted at in the book. Overall a pleasant look at identity and culture, but short on the romance.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mentions of drug and underage drinking, and sexual situations. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani, The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem (July 2019)
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Like his fellow lunarnauts—otherwise known as Moonies—living on Moon Base Alpha, twelve-year-old Dashiell Gibson is famous the world over for being one of the first humans to live on the moon. And he’s bored out of his mind. Kids aren’t allowed on the lunar surface, meaning they’re trapped inside the tiny moon base with next to nothing to occupy their time—and the only other kid Dash’s age spends all his time hooked into virtual reality games.

Then Moon Base Alpha’s top scientist turns up dead. Dash senses there’s foul play afoot, but no one believes him. Everyone agrees Dr. Holtz went onto the lunar surface without his helmet properly affixed, simple as that. But Dr. Holtz was on the verge of an important new discovery, Dash finds out, and it’s a secret that could change everything for the Moonies—a secret someone just might kill to keep.

Review: It's 2041, and biracial Dash Gibson lives with his family in Moon Base Alpha, the first lunar outpost. Life is mostly dull and monotonous, contrary to the program's advertisements until Ronald Holtz, beloved base physician, dies under suspicious circumstances. Some believe Holtz did not wear his space suit correctly before exiting the spaceship, but Dash believes something more sinister is afoot. Despite warnings from the base's strict commander, Dash continues to investigate the incident as a possible murder despite a threatning warning to do so. The plot is a fun Agatha Christie murder mystery set in space with a  plot from Scooby Doo. The story is fun, fast paced with lots of bathroom humor and space facts that will keep young readers entertained. There are multiple suspects, each with a seemingly plausible motive-the scientist who accuses Dr. Holtz of stealing his brilliant idea; the shoddy psychiatrist whom Holtz tried to keep off of the mission; even Lars Sjoberg, the hapless and arrogant billionaire space tourist. The mystery is solved in the end and the chance encounter of aliens leaves plenty to explore in the next few books of this series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some bathroom humor. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs (Moon Base Alpha #2), Masterminds series by Gordon Korman
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Every Friday night, best friends Delia and Josie become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, hosts of the campy creature feature show Midnite Matinee on the local cable station TV Six.

But with the end of senior year quickly approaching, the girls face tough decisions about their futures. Josie has been dreading graduation, as she tries to decide whether to leave for a big university and chase her dream career in mainstream TV. And Lawson, one of the show's guest performers, a talented MMA fighter with weaknesses for pancakes, fantasy novels, and Josie, is making her tough decision even harder.

Scary movies are the last connection Delia has to her dad, who abandoned the family years ago. If Midnite Matinee becomes a hit, maybe he'll see it and want to be a part of her life again. And maybe Josie will stay with the show instead of leaving her behind, too.

As the tug-of-war between growing up and growing apart tests the bonds of their friendship, Josie and Delia start to realize that an uncertain future can be both monstrous...and momentous.

Review: I have been a huge fan of Jeff Zentner since his debut and Morris Award winner novel The Serpent King. His first two novels dealing with grief and complex family dynamics were heavy and thought provoking. His latest novel, Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee is much lighter in comparison though it too has important themes such as mental health, depression, abandonment, and chasing your dreams.
  The story rests on the shoulders of best friends Josie and Delia who dedicate their Friday nights to recording their public access TV show, Midnite Matinee, about old terrible horror movies (think Svengoolie). The tv show means different things for each of the girls. Josie sees it as a stepping stone towards a career in the TV industry while Delia has a more personal connection. Delia views the show as her one last connection to her absentee father. Unlike Josie, Delia simply wants things to remain the same even if that means holding Josie back from her dreams.  Delia sets up a meeting at a horror convention in Florida. Little does she know, the whole future of the TV show rides on this convention.
   Zentner has crafted a female friendship centric book that surprisingly feels authentic and organic as it discusses relationships and the future. Josie and Delia feel real and their deep bond with one another is realistic. Their humor and personalities balance one another and it is evident with how they react to one another even in nonverbal moments. While it did take me some time to understand how their relationship worked, I soon struck a chord with these two young women. Promises, secrets, and betrayals fuel the relationships in this narrative, but they are not of the catty kind which is often associated with women. The girls do want what is best for the other, but there is envy and privilege infused in their relationship. While there is drama and tension in the story it is not overly melodramatic. Josie begins a romantic relationship with Lawson which is incredibly sweet and adorable, but thankfully it does not overtake her existence and you can be relieved to know there is no love triangle. Delia confronts her long-lost father in a heart wrenching moment that reveals how flawed adults can be. Secondary characters are also fleshed out and add depth. If you are looking for a quick read full of humor and depth, be sure to pick up Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mentions of sexual harassment, and drug abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Rummanah Aasi
Description: From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless--an outcast--because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel.

Review: I read Laurie Halse Anderson's debut YA novel, Speak, when I began library school and it has stayed with me ever since. The novel is told from Melinda's point of view and mostly through her inner monologue as she recounts her harrowing freshmen year of high school as a social pariah. We get glimpses of what has happened, mainly from other people's perspectives, that she had called the police in an end-of-summer party and now everyone shuns her. Unable to tell anyone what actually happened at the party, Melinda withdraws more and more into herself. She loses her voice and herself as she ditches classes and spirals downward into apathy and depression. One of the few people to reach her is her art teacher, who helps her express with art what she has so deeply and painfully buried. It is through art that Melinda finds her voice to speak.
  The graphic novel adaptation of Speak highlights the importance of art in the novel. It blends words and images to bring Melinda's story to life. We get a visual survival journey of Melinda as she loses her voice, fights the daily battles she must wage to find it again, and the triumph of finally being able to speak out. Carroll who is known for her horror graphic novels perfectly depicts in gray artwork the starkness of Melinda's depression through strong ink lines and striking panels that rely on pencil and charcoal textural effects for the backgrounds. In the original text Melinda was so removed, regulated to the background as an observer. In this graphic novel we get to be an active part of her story. The graphic novel is a faithful adaptation with the dialogued pulled directly from the novel. Despite some minor changes the graphic novel evokes the style and emotions of the original novel seamlessly. It adds a layer of complexity to the story. It is a timely, haunting, and powerful read that is not to be missed.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to sexual assault, underage drinking and partying. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, All the Rage by Courtney Summers, The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
Rummanah Aasi
Image Credit

  Life has been extremely hectic lately. There are quite a few things that I am handling and work has been extremely busy as we head into the last quarter in just a few days. Unfortunately, I can not keep up with the blog so I will be taking an extensive blogging break. I will hopefully be back sometime in April. Thank you for your patience during this busy time. 
Rummanah Aasi

Description: It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.
  More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

Review: I really wanted to love The Map of Salt and Stars, but unfortunately I had a few issues with the book. There are two parallel stories running throughout the book. The contemporary story line is told by Nour, a twelve year old girl who has synthesia, and recalls her family's flight into exile from the Syrian civil war. The historical story line is narrated by Rawiya a girl of a similiar age in the twelfth century who is hoping to help her mother by disguising herself as a boy and working as an apprentice to al-Idrisi, a famous mapmaker, as he traveled around trade routes.
  Nour was born and raised in Manhattan by immigrant parents, her mother a cartographer and her father a bridge designer. Shortly after her father’s death from cancer in 2011, her mother moves Nour and her two older sisters, Huda and Zahra, to Homs, Syria, where they have relatives to help out. Soon civil war is underway and the family is not safe.  As the family takes flight, Nour comforts herself with a fairy tale–like story her father used to tell about Rawiya.
 While I enjoyed both stories and can definitely make the connections of symbolism and metaphors that run throughout the book, I did not get a firm grasp on the characters. Though I can empathize with the struggles and pain Nour's family goes through, I could not tell the characters apart and the plot dragged for me. The transition from Nour's and Rawiya's story was not smooth either and would abruptly weave in and out. Personally, I think the book would have been stronger if it just focused on story and fleshed out the characters instead of two. At times I would find Nour's story compelling at other times I found Rawiya's. It is fascinating to see both girls travel though Nour's purpose is to find refuge and Rawiya's a romantic adventure full of wonder and magic. The themes of finding a home both in the physical and spiritual sense will make this book a good candidate for book clubs.  I appreciated the lush imagery, but wanted something more concrete to grasp in this story.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a scene of attempted sexual assault. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Dark at the Crossing by Elliott Ackerman, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.
  Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

Review: Greetings from Witness Protection! is a delightful balance of mystery, humor, and heart. Nicki Demere has been living in foster care ever since her father was arrested, biding her time until her father comes to bring her home. She has been trained by her Grammy to an expert pick pocketer with a keen eye on people watching. She records her stories in hopes of relaying them and connecting to her father, but he never comes. The FBI agents arrive first and they want Nicki to be part of an inaugural program that trains and places selected foster children with families under witness protection, thereby changing the nature of the families' makeup so they are harder to track down. When she learns that her father was recently released from jail and has no desire to contact her, Nicki reluctantly agrees. Besides she gets a do-over with a new family. Maybe for once she can be normal.
  I loved Nicki. She is snarky and hilarious. Despite her tough exterior, she finds herself building bonds and connecting with the new people in her life: shy gamer Britt who is bullied by her classmates, perky yet lovable student council member Holly, and, most of all, her new family, even her sullen "brother" Jackson. I loved how she helped those around her and used her skills for pick pocketing for good. Interspersed with Nicki's ordinary life as a middle schooler, we get a mystery woven throughout as the infamous mafia is out looking for the Trevor family. The book handles tough topics such as foster care, bullying, anxiety, and what makes a real family quite nicely and balances it with humor to keep the story afloat.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing, violent images. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
Rummanah Aasi
 Description: Fall in love, break the curse.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
  Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she's instead somehow sucked into Rhen's cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a refreshing retelling of Beauty and the Beast. In my opinion a successful retelling uses the main plot points of the classic fairy tale or novel while also constructing a new story to stand on its own. Kemmerer's latest succeeds.
  Prince Rhen, the sole heir to Emberfall, is cursed to repeat the autumn of his 18th birthday until he can find a woman to fall in love with him despite his seasonal transformation to a monstrous beast. The season resets after every failure-all 327 of them. When Harper intervenes in what looks like an abduction on the streets of Washington, DC, she is transported into Emberfall. She is desperately looking for a way back to D.C. so she can tend to her dying mom and help be the lookout for her brother as he tries to pay off their absent father's debts to a loan shark. The last thing Harper needed is to be at the center of the curse. Harper is shocked to learn that she is Rhen's last chance to break the curse, but Harper isn't sure if she can fall in love with Rhen.
   The story is told from dual points of view. Harper is written in modern voice and is absolutely the true hero of our story. She has cerebral palsy, but does not let her disability define her. Kemmerer does a fabulous job in dodging the disability inspiration tropes we often see in fiction stories where characters have a disability. Harper is also fallible. She is impulsive to the point of recklessness, but also incredibly generous, strong, and persistent. She stands toe to toe with Prince Rhen and challenges him to think of helping his kingdom who has suffered greatly while he has been sequestered and aloof.
  Rhen's chapters are written with a historical, refined voice. He is also a complex character. Interestingly, Kemmerer does not make him a full time Beast. The threat of monstrosity is always in the back of Rhen's mind. He bears the burden of the fate of his family as well as the dire circumstances of his kingdom. His interactions with Harper has given him inspiration to fight for something even if his curse can not be broken. I would have loved to get a clearer understanding of the curse and why it happened. We do get some backstory, but I wished it was fleshed out a bit. 
  The romance between Harper and Rhen is delightfully of the slow burn kind. Harper demands trust and friendship first from Rhen, before romance is suggested. Even though the story is problematic when it comes to consent given Harper's abduction which is talked about, consent is taken seriously. Rhen and Harper do not touch unless Harper gives her explicit consent. 
   There are other secondary characters that are equally captivating as our main characters. I loved Grey and want to know more of his story. His interactions and friendship with Rhen is compelling. Freya and Zo are both examples of strong female friendships that Harper has in the story. Though we find out what happens to Rhen, there is a still a lot unknown as we discover more secrets in Grey's past. I'm really looking forward to reading more about him in the future.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence which takes place mostly off the page, threats of sexual assault, and minor language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Hunted by Megan Spooner, A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
Rummanah Aasi

Description: The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship--like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor--April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world--everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires--and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight...Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

Review: Hank Green is the brother of John Green, one of the well known young adult authors. Hank's debut novel is a great entryway into speculative/science fiction for those who are unfamiliar with the genre. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a social commentary on social media and fame as well as a science fiction mystery. April May is a twenty year old graphic artist who works in a creative-sucking job at a Manhattan setup. She longs to use her art degree and do a passion job. Ironically, her creativity sparks an overnight sensation when she vlogs a funny introduction to a an armored humanoid figure, which turns out to be alien in nature, who she calls Carl. The video goes viral and suddenly Carls have been appearing all over the world. While the Carls remain motionless, they spark curiosity, paranoia, and fear. After they discover a complex riddle involving the Queen song “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the mystery becomes a quest for April and her friends.
  An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is highly readable. I found myself more drawn to the human aspect of the story, especially where April has to deal with her instant celebrity status. We live in a time of social media where we present a version of ourselves online, perhaps a fabricated one without flaws. April juggles with her fame and the pressures of constantly churning out material to feel the high of attention. Her celebrity status changes her relationships with those around her, making her wonder if people want to be around her so they can be famous by proxy or if they really like her. The mystery of the Carls isn't boring, but it took some time for me to get interested in it. The clues are sprinkled throughout the story and the dream sequences are quite bizarre. There is a cliffhanger in the end of the book, which makes me very hopeful that we will see more of the Carls and April.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, some disturbing images, and a small fade to black sex scene. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Themis Files series by Sylvian Neuvel, Touch by Courtney Maum

Rummanah Aasi

Description: Be careful. Your next step may be your last.

Fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi and seventh grader Marshall Walsh have been walking to and from Woodridge Academy together since elementary school. But their routine is disrupted when bully Chad Hilligas challenges Marshall to a fight. To avoid the conflict, Marshall takes a shortcut home through the off-limits woods. Tamaya, unaware of the reason for the detour,reluctantly follows. They soon get lost. And then they find trouble. Bigger trouble than anyone could ever have imagined. In the days and weeks that follow, the authorities and the U.S. Senate become involved, and what they uncover might affect the future of the world.

Review:  Fuzzy Mud is a nice blend of mystery, science, and suspense that will keep young readers turning the pages. In the woods behind Woodridge Academy, in Heath Cliff, Pennsylvania, a an unknown substance called "fuzzy mud" because of its seemingly innocuous appearance grows exponentially more threatening by the hour. While taking a shortcut home from school in order to avoid the school bully, fifth-grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi and her neighbor Marshall Walsh unknowingly causes a horrible chain of reactions. In order to protect themselves from Chad, the bully, Tamaya flings fuzzy mud at the him when he won't leave them alone. When she comes in contact with the mud, she breaks out into a terrible, blistery rash. When Chad is reported missing the next day, she knows the mud is to blame and returns to find him.
  Sachar provides a fun and terrifying look at science by interspersing court transcripts regarding Biolene, a high-energy biofuel being developed secretly in Heath Cliff with Tamaya’s story of danger and suspense. With increased tension and pacing, he slowly reveals the connection to Biolene and fuzzy mud along. There is a nice balance between realistic problems such as bullying, divorce, and serious science topics like overpopulation, the energery crisis, and the risks of bio-engineering advancements. The story is very easy to follow and the characters are well rounded and easy to root for. There is surprisingly a lot of depth in this science fiction thriller. 

Curriculum Connection: Science

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and scenes of bullying. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Zap! by Martha Freeman, The Big Dark by W.R. Philibrick
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He's about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it's pretty overwhelming--especially when he's also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom's family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what's going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don't have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he's spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush--the original Persian version of his name--and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he's Darioush to Sohrab. When it's time to go home to America, he'll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

Review: When Darius’ grandfather becomes terminally ill, Darius, along with his parents and younger sister, travels to Iran for the first time in his life. Iranian on his mother’s side and white American on his father’s side, Darius never quite fits in. Darius Kellner does not belong anywhere. He always seems to disappoint his father, the “Übermensch” who is perfect. He is overweight, has clinical depression, and is bullied by jocks at his school. He doesn’t speak enough Farsi to communicate with his Iranian relatives either. Feeling overwhelmed by his new culture and relatives who are practically strangers, Darius is completely lost and is in search of himself, but all that changes when Darius befriends Sohrab, a Baha’i boy, in Yazd who becomes his first real friend who   teaches Darius what friendship is really about.
  There is much to enjoy in Khorram's debut, character driven novel. I found myself easily to relate to Darius on a personal level, especially as he is trying to navigate two worlds and still feeling he is not enough for both. There is a nice infusion of Persian culture which I found to be fascinating. I would have loved to learn more especially with the different religions such as Baha'i and Zoroastrian. The topic of mental health is also handled really well. Darius's interior monologue of never living up to his father's expectations is very strong and potent, especially when the reader realizes its completely internal and not external. I wanted a bit more of fleshed out tension between father and son, and though they have a nice moment where they both come together it didn't hit the emotional mark like it wanted. I would have also loved Sohrab's character to be fleshed out. We don't know a whole lot about him or his family situation. Overall, this is an uplifting story where Darius learns to love himself and gain self confidence despite the obstacles he faces on a daily basis.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is brief nudity scene, mentions of police brutality, and racist and Islamophobic slurs.

If you like this book try: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel​ by Sara Farizan
Rummanah Aasi
Image from: Evanston Public Library

  Every February you will see a collection of books written by black authors in your local bookstores and libraries. Unfortunately, it is very likely the only time you will see them. I continue to strive to include diversity in my book lists, book recommendations, and on the shelves of my own school library. Here is a list of newly released books written by #ownvoices black authors as well as from the African diaspora. As you will notice I purposefully avoided books that talked about the Civil Rights Movement, slavery, and sports because these books are the first books that are pulled for this month. I wanted to promote titles from a variety of genres and that will hopefully provide a large mirror for some and a large window for others. Click on the book title to add it to your Goodreads shelves.

Children's Picture Books

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins by Michelle Meadows: Janet Collins wanted to be a ballerina in the 1930s and 40s, a time when racial segregation was widespread in the United States. Janet pursued dance with a passion, despite being rejected from discriminatory dance schools. When she was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager on the condition that she paint her skin white for performances, Janet refused. She continued to go after her dreams, never compromising her values along the way. 

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.

The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just by

I Am Enough by Grace Byers: This is a gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another—from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo.

 Mommy's Khimar by

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer: Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was . . . nothing. But then . . . BANG! Stars caught fire and burned so long that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us, while vivid illustrations by Ekua Holmes capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond -- and how we are all the stuff of stars.

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora: When the aroma of Omu's homemade stew fills the air, her neighbors arrive, one by one, for a taste until all is gone except for her generous spirit.

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke: When you live in a village at the edge of the No-Go Desert, you need to make your own fun. That's when you and your brothers get inventive and build a bike from scratch, using everyday items like an old milk pot (maybe mum is still using it, maybe not) and a used flour sack. You can even make a numberplate from bark, if you want. The end result is a spectacular bike, perfect for going bumpity-bump over sandhills, past your fed-up mum and right through your mud-for-walls home. 


Blended by Sharon Draper: Eleven-year-old Isabella is used to these kinds of comments - her father is black, her mother is white - but that doesn't mean she likes them. And now that her parents are divorced (and getting along WORSE than ever), Isabella feels more like a push-me-pull-me toy.

One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. If you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson: When Candice finds the letter, she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother, after all, who left Lambert in a cloud of shame. But the letter describes a young woman named Siobhan Washington. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. Grandma tried and failed. But now Candice has another chance.

Finding Langston by Lesla Cline-Ransome: When 11-year-old Langston's mother dies in 1946, he and his father leave rural Alabama for Chicago's brown belt as a part of what came to be known as the Great Migration. It's lonely in the small apartment with just the two of them, and at school Langston is bullied. But his new home has one fantastic thing. Unlike the whites-only library in Alabama, the local public library welcomes everyone. There, hiding out after school, Langston discovers another Langston, a poet whom he learns inspired his mother enough to name her only son after him.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson: It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat—by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them—everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling and Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon: Caleb Franklin and his big brother Bobby Gene have the whole summer for adventures in the woods behind their house in Sutton, Indiana. Caleb dreams of venturing beyond their ordinary small town, but his dad likes the family to stay close to home.
  Then Caleb and Bobby Gene meet new neighbor Styx Malone. Styx is sixteen and oozes cool. He's been lots of different places. Styx promises Caleb and Bobby Gene that together, they can pull off the Great Escalator Trade--exchanging one small thing for something better until they achieve their wildest dream. But as the trades get bigger, the brothers soon find themselves in over their heads. It becomes clear that Styx has secrets--secrets so big they could ruin everything--and Caleb fears their whole plan might fall apart.

Love Like Sky by Leslie C. Youngblood: G-baby and her younger sister, Peaches, are still getting used to their "blended-up" family. They live with Mama and Frank out in the suburbs, and they haven't seen their real daddy much since he married Millicent. G-baby misses her best friend back in Atlanta, and is crushed that her glamorous new stepsister, Tangie, wants nothing to do with her.
  G-baby is so preoccupied with earning Tangie's approval that she isn't there for her own little sister when she needs her most. Peaches gets sick-really sick. Suddenly, Mama and Daddy are arguing like they did before the divorce, and even the doctors at the hospital don't know how to help Peaches get better. It's up to G-baby to put things right. She knows Peaches can be strong again if she can only see that their family's love for her really is like sky.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes: Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing. Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Black Panther: Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith: Life is comfortable for twelve-year-old T'Challa in his home of Wakanda, an isolated, technologically advanced African nation. When he's not learning how to rule a kingdom from his father-the reigning Black Panther-or testing out the latest tech, he's off breaking rules with his best friend, M'Baku. But as conflict brews near Wakanda, T'Challa's father makes a startling announcement: he's sending T'Challa and M'Baku to school in America.
  This is no prestigious private academy-they've been enrolled at South Side Middle School in the heart of Chicago. Despite being given a high-tech suit and a Vibranium ring to use only in case of an emergency, T'Challa realizes he might not be as equipped to handle life in America as he thought. Especially when it comes to navigating new friendships while hiding his true identity as the prince of a powerful nation, and avoiding Gemini Jones, a menacing classmate who is rumored to be involved in dark magic. When strange things begin happening around school, T'Challa sets out to uncover the source. But what he discovers in the process is far more sinister than he could ever have imagined. In order to protect his friends and stop an ancient evil, T'Challa must take on the mantle of a hero, setting him on the path to becoming the Black Panther

New Kid by Jerry Craft: Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
 As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce: In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann--clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students---found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen?



 Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi: Black Enough is a star-studded anthology edited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi that will delve into the closeted thoughts, hidden experiences, and daily struggles of black teens across the country. From a spectrum of backgrounds—urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—Black Enough showcases diversity within diversity.

Swing by Kwame Alexander: Things usually do not go as planned for seventeen-year-old Noah. He and his best friend Walt (aka Swing) have been cut from the high school baseball team for the third year in a row, and it looks like Noah’s love interest since third grade, Sam, will never take it past the “best friend” zone. Noah would love to retire his bat and accept the status quo, but Walt has big plans for them both, which include making the best baseball comeback ever, getting the girl, and finally finding cool.

Spin by Lamar Giles: Sixteen-year-old Paris Secord's (aka DJ ParSec) career--and life--has come to an untimely end, and the local music scene is reeling. No one is feeling the pain more than her shunned pre-fame best friend, Kya, and Paris's chief groupie, Fuse. But suspicion trumps grief, and since each suspects the other of Paris's murder, they're locked in a high-stakes game of public accusations and sabotage.

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson: Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help. As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani: A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. A girl who works hard in school and to help her family. A girl with a future as bright as live coals in the dark. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach. Even if the voices on Papa’s radio tell more fearful news than tales to tell by moonlight.
 But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi: In a timely update of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney: The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she's trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.
  Life in real-world Atlanta isn't always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice's handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she'll need to use everything she's learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
  But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe: Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don’t bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas. Plunked into a new high school and sweating a ridiculous amount from the oppressive Texas heat, Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs. Yet, against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris.


Friday Black: Stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Adjei-Brenyah's writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage, and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day. These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world.

Becoming by Michelle Obama: An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeymi: Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children's stories--equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch's house in "Hansel and Gretel" to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can--beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim: Remember that moment when you first encountered a character who seemed to be written just for you? That feeling of belonging can stick with readers the rest of their lives--but it doesn't come around as frequently for all of us. In this timely anthology, "well-read black girl" Glory Edim brings together original essays by some of our best black female writers and creative voices to shine a light on how we search for ourselves in literature, and how important it is that everyone--no matter their gender, race, religion, or abilities--can find themselves there.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi: An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born "with one foot on the other side."

Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James: Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: "He has a nose," people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.
  As Tracker follows the boy's scent—from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers—he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

How Long 'Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin: In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Speak No Evil  by Uzodinma Iweala: On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.
  When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

Heavy: American Memoir by Kiese Laymon: In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.

An Unkindess of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon: Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She's used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she'd be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.
  Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship's leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.
  When the autopsy of Matilda's sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother's suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother's footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she's willing to fight for it.
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the Home. There's a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.No matter the cost.

Review: Every Heart a Doorway is a whimsical and imaginative entry into the Wayward Children series that asks if fantasy realms are real, then what happens once you leave them and re-enter the real world. Nancy is one of those children who found a magic door, but to prove that she’s worthy of staying forever in the Underworld, she is sent back—where her parents desperately enroll her in Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The Home is an unusual cross between a boarding school and an asylum. Nancy finds that she is not alone in being labeled a "freak" and scared by her parents. She meets a prince with a mistaken identity, twins who’ve hung out with mad scientists and vampires, and many others girls like her who have wandered through other worlds only to find themselves inevitably stranded. All of the students are trying to find the portal back to their realms despite being repeatedly told that most doors open only once.
  In addition to adjusting to her new surroundings, Nancy discovers her roommate is brutally murdered and others have been attacked too. With the help of friends she begins an investigation. Though the book is very short, less than 200 pages, it manages to completely capture your attention and imagination right from the first sentence and does not let go. It is best to read the book with an open mind and allow yourself to go down the rabbit holes with the characters. Though the book does answer the murder mystery and wraps up Nancy's journey, it leaves many more questions. I'm definitely ready to go on this crazy journey and discover the different fantasy realms.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images

If you like this book try: The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stuck in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Syria, only to lose his father on the perilous journey to the shores of Europe. Now Ahmed's struggling to get by on his own, but with no one left to trust and nowhere to go, he's starting to lose hope.
   Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old American boy. Lonely and homesick, Max is being bothered by a bully at school, he doesn't speak a word of French, and just can't seem to do anything right. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed's lives collide, banding the boys together to help Ahmed survive. As their friendship grows, Ahmed and Max defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave, and how hope can change your destiny.

Review: Ahmed and Max have been uprooted from their homes for very different reasons and form an unusual friendship built upon empathy and understanding in present-day Brussels. Ahmed flees war-torn Syria with his father after a bomb kills the rest of their family. His father jumps from the leaky raft he and other escaping refugees are on to prevent it from sinking in the middle of the Mediterranean. A rogue wave sweeps him away and he is presumed dead, adding to Ahmed's insurmountable grief and loss. A fellow refugee takes him in and they eventually join a refugee tent camp in Brussels, but anti-Muslim sentiment is running high in Belgium. When the tent city is shut down, Ahmed is terrified of being deported and takes shelter in the wine cellar of a home.
   The home is newly occupied by Max's family who has been transplanted from America to Brussels due to his father's job as a NATO contractor. Max is bullied in school for being an outsider and his poor French language skills. He becomes intrigued with the history of the house when he learns that a Jewish child was hidden in the basement during World War II. When Max discovers Ahmed and learns his story, the two form a tentative friendship at first. Max is not sure if Ahmed is a terrorist once he finds out that he is Muslim and from Syria like he has heard from his French tutor, but through common hobbies and interest, Max corrects his assumption and the two boys slowly open up to one another. Determined to keep Ahmed hidden, Max is determined help him in anyway that he can.
   Nowhere Boy is a timely novel that is at times heartbreaking and inspiring account of humanity. There is a small mistake in the mistranslated of the popular Muslim phrase in the book. Marsh utilizes both art and history to draw parallels in her story. The World War II story reminds us that hysteria and hate came at a grave consequence and asks us if we have learned from our mistakes of the past. The book skillfully discusses the perils of immigrants, openly addresses Islamaphobia, xenophobia, terrorism, and the Syrian Civil War with sensitivity and honesty. Max is a role model of standing up for what is right for young readers and all of us.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are mentions of bombings, war, and drownings of refugees on boats. There are also mentions of terror attacks in Paris, France and in Brussels, Belgium which unfortunately really occurred. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Refugee by Alan Gratz, Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
Rummanah Aasi

Description: When everything has been taken from you, what else is there to do but run?

So that's what Annabelle does--she runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, through mountain passes and suburban landscapes, from long lonely roads to college towns. She's not ready to think about the why yet, just the how--muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can't outrun the tragedy from the past year, or the person--The Taker--that haunts her.

Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV and backed by her brother and two friends (her self-appointed publicity team), Annabelle becomes a reluctant activist as people connect her journey to the trauma from her past. Her cross-country run gains media attention and she is cheered on as she crosses state borders, and is even thrown a block party and given gifts. The support would be nice, if Annabelle could escape the guilt and the shame from what happened back home. They say it isn't her fault, but she can't feel the truth of that. Through welcome and unwelcome distractions, she just keeps running, to the destination that awaits her. There, she'll finally face what lies behind her--the miles and love and loss...and what is to come.

Review: A Heart in a Boy in the World is a timely contemporary novel that covers a lot of the relevant issues of the #MeToo movement, mental health, and grief. Annabelle is an every girl whose life is rocked nine months ago in an event involving "The Taker". When a man's leering triggers Annabelle's PTSD, she runs for eleven miles and until she stops and has an epiphany that running is the action she must take and embarks on a run from Seattle to Washington, DC, as a way to try to manage the immense anxiety, guilt, and sorrow that have haunted ever since. As she runs her daily sixteen miles, accompanied by her lovable, curmudgeon Grandpa Ed in his RV to ensure her safety and keep her in good health, she battles blisters, cramps, and dehydration. Throughout her journey we get pieces of the event, which in my opinion were just too slow and sparse. For the longest time I was confused as to what the event actually is and when it was unfolded I thought it was kind of anticlimatic because I did not feel connected to the characters that were involved. Annabelle's relationship with "The Taker" asks us of how women and girls are trained by society to act politely and how to deal with unwelcome attention as well as a rapidly abusive relationship. The book handles mental health issues quite well and realistically. We really see Annabelle agonize over what she could have done differently, and blames herself for making excuses for his behavior.
   I was not completely on board with a hike that long because I didn't think it was realistic, but running does make a good metaphor in this book and I completely understand the feeling of wanting to take action and do something. I also thought a budding romance between Annabelle and a kind young boy defeats the purpose of the story yet it lightens up the book's somber mood. The impromptu speech at the auditorium felt like an after school special but it had a strong message. The book's strength lies in taking the reader along the incredibly grueling physical and mental journey with Annabelle as she relinquishes her feelings of self-blame and inspires others to act.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking, an abusive relationship, mentions of self harm (pushing against boundaries that are injurious to one's health), some strong violence, and crude sexual humor. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby, Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Keneally
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