Rummanah Aasi
 Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham in training. He's also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of isolation and bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio. At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy's soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans--he's passing. So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer's coach to bench him after he discovers the 'F' on Spencer's birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even though it would mean coming out to everyone--including the guy he's falling for.

Review: The Passing Playbook is a super sweet and uplifting read. Review journals have classified the book as a romance, but I think it belongs to realistic/contemporary fiction. The romance, while present, is a subplot to the story and more of a budding relationship type. Readers looking strictly for a romance would be disappointed. 
   We follow Spencer, a trans biracial (his father is Black and his mother is white) teen who is starting at his new school. Spencer wants to blend in and keep his identity private until he feels safe to disclose it. It is referred that he was horribly bullied when he came out as trans at his old school. When he is given the opportunity to join the boys soccer team, Spencer can’t resist the challenge. He was a star player at his old school and misses the game plus the cute vice captain says he doesn’t think Spencer has what it takes. Soccer means everything to Spencer, and he refuses to give up his shot to play, even if he has to keep it a secret from his overprotective parents. There are some plot points that you need to suspend your disbelief such as a coach allowing a player to play without getting parental permission and Spencer's ability to hide playing soccer. 
   Soccer is a large part of the book as Spencer begins to develop camaraderie with his teammates. There are plenty of scenes of the game, but since I know virtually nothing about soccer I can't comment on the sports accuracy. I did, however, love the idea that there are other queer characters such as the team captain who is bi and who also play soccer and it is not a big deal. When Spencer's true identity is revealed and he is disqualified by the soccer league but he is supported by his team, his coach, and his family.
  Spencer is given fully agency to voice his feelings, which he communicates to his parents. I think it is important to note that Spencer's parents are supportive, but they make mistakes. It is wonderful that Spencer's mother is actively in a support group for transgender and non-binary youths. This is a complete contrast to Justice's family who comes from an ultra-conservative Christian family and he can not disclose that he is gay in fear of his family's reaction.
 The romance between Spencer and Justice is sweet and wholesome. I actually wished their romance played a bigger part of the story, but it adds a nice layer of nuance to the coming-out narrative. There is also discussion of Spencer’s connection to his younger brother, Theo, who is autistic, is also woven into the story. The plot moves very quickly as I finished it in two days. Overall, I really enjoyed it and I look forward to reading whatever Fitzsimons writes next. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, a scene of a homophobic conservative talk show on a radio, and homophobic imagery in a haunted house. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee
Rummanah Aasi
 Living in a new country is no walk in the park―Nao, Hyejung, and Tina can all attest to that. The three of them became fast friends through living together in the Himawari House in Tokyo and attending the same Japanese cram school. Nao came to Japan to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, while Hyejung and Tina came to find freedom and their own paths. Though each of them has her own motivations and challenges, they all deal with language barriers, being a fish out of water, self discovery, love, and family.

Review: Himawari House is a slice of life graphic novel that I absolutely adored. The premise of the graphic novel is very simple: The Himawari House is a shared house in Tokyo and we follow the lives of its residents as they live abroad. The graphic novel itself, however, is anything but simple. This is a character driven graphic novel and each section devotes its page time to one of the female characters.
    Nao, is a biracial Japanese American teenager (her mother is Japanese and her father is white), arrives in Tokyo for a gap year. While growing up in America, Nao has slowly rejected her Japanese heritage. She forgets the language and presses her mother to speak English. She stops bringing Japanese food for lunch in a bento box because her classmates loudly complain that it is too smelly and weird. Now Nao is hoping that her gap year will allow her to reconnect with her heritage.
 As Nao arrives at Himawari House, she quickly befriends her female roommates Tina, who is Chinese Singaporean, and homesick Hyejung, who is Korean and her two male Japanese roommates, Shinichi and Masaki, who are brothers. Like Nao, Tina and Hyejung are also trying to learn Japanese and on a larger scale, come to Japan to make sense of their lives. 
   Tina is very energetic yet she struggles to study and pass her Japanese classes, mainly because she spends most of her time trying to pay for the school's tuition by working. Hyejung came to Japan to find herself as she made the first active decision in her life. She was tired of pleasing her parents, broke up with an uncaring lover, and needed to start over. Hyejung struggles with balancing her own desires and the desires of her parents who she has been estranged from for a year.
  As we spend time with these friends, we learn about the Japanese life and culture-combini, izakaya, obaachans, cherry blossoms, and matsuri. I found learning about Japanese culture to be utterly fascinating. What really touched my heart, however, is Becker's focus on language and identity. Interestingly, the speech bubbles are written with Japanese characters and subtitled English underneath. Not all words, however, are translated, which heightens the disconnect the characters have while learning the Japanese language.  There are countless intersecting modes of communication even within Nao's social circle: Tina's Singlish, Hyejung's thickly accented English are not created to make fun of the characters, but call to attention on accents and their paths to Japanese acquisition. Nao often wonders if she can label herself Japanese even when she can't speak the language fluently or has correct Japanese grammar (I also struggle with the same question as my Urdu is not fluent and my grammar is atrocious). I also loved the contrast of Masaki's fluent written but poorly spoken English against those of the girls. Masaki is constantly mistaken for being rude or arrogant because he does not interact with his other roommates, but his aloofness is due to his self consciousness of speaking English.  
  I fell in love with these enduring characters instantly and it was very hard to say goodbye as I finished the book. I only wished that we got an epilogue. I also wanted to know more about the brothers too. If you love stories of character growth, self discovery, and friendship then I highly recommend picking up this graphic novel. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some scenes of casual racism from Nao's American classmates, some panels suggest sexual situations but nothing graphic is seen on page, Tina is harassed at her waitress job and there is drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.   

If you like this book try: The Dischantments by Nina LaCour, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
Rummanah Aasi
 Ellice Littlejohn seemingly has it all: an Ivy League law degree, a well-paying job as a corporate attorney in midtown Atlanta, great friends, and a “for fun” relationship with a rich, charming executive—her white boss, Michael. But everything changes one cold January morning when Ellice goes to meet Michael and finds him dead with a gunshot to his head.
And then she walks away like nothing has happened. Why? Ellice has been keeping a cache of dark secrets, including a small-town past and a kid brother who’s spent time on the other side of the law. She can’t be thrust into the spotlight—again. But instead of grieving this tragedy, people are gossiping, the police are getting suspicious, and Ellice, the company’s lone Black attorney, is promoted to replace Michael. While the opportunity is a dream-come-true, Ellice just can’t shake the feeling that something is off.
When she uncovers shady dealings inside the company, Ellice is trapped in an impossible ethical and moral dilemma. Suddenly, Ellice’s past and present lives collide as she launches into a pulse-pounding race to protect the brother she tried to save years ago and stop a conspiracy far more sinister than she could have ever imagined.

Review: All Her Little Secrets is my first legal thriller that I have ever read. Since I had no expectations for the book, I ended up enjoying it a lot more. The author Wanda M. Morris is a corporate attorney and her expertise clearly shines through the book without resorting to legal jargon. I found the plot to be gripping and it quickly intensifies the further Ellice digs into the company. While Ellice does make impulsive decisions, you can actually understand her thought process as her backstory is slowly revealed. Though I had inklings on who was behind Michael's murder, the reasoning behind the company's shadier dealings caught me by surprised. 
  I did like Ellice with her flaws and all. I had a better understanding of how much she risked hiding her childhood secrets, her distrust in the police, and her moral compass. I did love her loving and supportive mother-figure Vera Henderson who practically raised Ellice and her brother. Morris effectively tackles workplace racism and sexism without it being heavy handed. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, a reference to sexual abuse of a child, at-home abortion, neglect, an alcoholic mother, microaggressions, misogyny. Recommended for Adults only.

If you like this book try: And Now She's Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall
Rummanah Aasi
 When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.
Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures. As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

Review: Ace of Spades is an intense thriller that captivated me right from the first page. There are plenty of books out there that feature Black characters with a thriller/horror vibe that automatically get a comparison to Jordan Peele's debut film "Get Out". While the comparison often falls flat, Ace of Spades has legitimate "Get Out" vibes that are chilling, real, strong, and frankly disturbing.
    Senior year is off to a promising start for Niveus Private Academy students Chiamaka Adebayo and Devon Richards, who were both awarded prefect titles. Chiamaka is at the top of the popularity social chain. She comes from an affluent household, earns perfect grades, wears designer clothes, is working her way to getting a perfect boyfriend, and also getting into Yale, her dream school. Devon is a musician who comes from a working, single parent household, and due to being bullied relentlessly by his homophobic classmates at his old school, prefers to keep a low profile. Soon after the announcement is made, Chiamaka's and Devon's lives are turned upside down by anonymous texter, Aces, who divulges information that ruin their reputation and possibly their future. The chase to unmask Ace propels the story forward.
  The story is narrated by Chiamaka and Devon's alternating points of view. I immediately liked Devon's chapters. He is already such a vulnerable character but watching him get by hit invisible arrows was heartbreaking and infuriating. Though I liked Chiamaka as a character who is unapologetically ambitious and confident, her chapters took me a while to get invested in; only because I knew that despite her being of the same class status as the popular kids, she will always be "othered" because of the color of her skin, but once she came to that conclusion herself, her chapters became much more enjoyable. 
  While the setup for Ace of Spades sounds like your typical teen thriller, what elevates this thriller is Àbíké-Íyímídé keen insight on themes such as systemic racism, structural white supremacy, privilege, microaggressions, class, and homophobia. Like the movie "Get Out", there is this creepy, uncertainty that something is not right at Niveus Private Academy and the themes are a constant shadow that follow Chiamaka and Devon around, the part in which both of our main characters discover the reason behind Aces is horrifying. Each of these themes are discussed in length but not in a heavy handed way and like Chiamaka and Devon you begin to see the harm and trauma it causes. My only small problem with the book is its deus ex machina ending that was just too simple and convenient for an otherwise complex thriller. If you are like me and are extremely picky when it comes to mysteries/thrillers, definitely give this one a shot. I had a really hard time putting this book down and its twisty plot kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading it. I am definitely looking forward to whatever Àbíké-Íyímídé works on next.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, reference to sexual situations (occurs off the page), emotional and psychological torture, gaslighting, outing sexual orientation, and underage drinking and drug use. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Time Will Tell by Barry Lyga, The Other Black Girl by Zakiyah Dalila Harris
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