Review: One Shadow on the Wall

Once in a while we share reviews of books that are not strictly young adult. This is one of those times. One Shadow on the Wall is marketed as middle grade, but it is an excellent story for any age. This review was previously published on my personal blog Reading Through Life.

Title: One Shadow on the Wall
Author: Leah Henderson
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Pages: 438
Genre: Contemporary
Review Copy: Final copy via publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father.

Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined.

With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?

Review: Mor and his family completely stole my heart. Mor hears his father and sees his mother after they have died. He knows his parents would want the children to stay together so he’s determined to do that at any cost. He tries. Oh, how he tries, but the responsibilities are tough. He learns so many things the hard way. Something will go right and then two things will go wrong. It is hard to see him face so many disappointments, but readers will be cheering him on all the way through. 

The gang is on his trail and brings about many of Mor’s difficulties. They also offer safety and protection though. Henderson does a particularly good job of showing how children and teens can get caught up in such a situation. The gang members are individuals and have stories. They have their reasons for having joined and readers see that gang activity may not be as clear-cut as one would imagine. I think there are gang members who never believed they would have anything to do with a gang and yet there they are.

It may not look like it on the surface, but this is a survival story. Mor has a loving community, but he does isolate himself with the secrets he is holding. There are many strong and caring adults that help Mor and his sisters. I appreciated seeing the way they looked out for the children. One in particular is an elder fisherman named Demba. Many of the children make fun of him and believe he is crazy. Mor spends a lot of time with Demba and learns that Demba’s differences are not what they appear. 

Recommendation: This is a fabulous book that may cause a little heartache, but it’s also heartwarming. Mor’s persistence and hope are lovely to behold. It’s a little long for a middle grade novel, but it moves quickly and is well worth the time. 

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New Releases

There are quite a few great new releases this week. Check them out.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Little, Brown

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
Amulet Books

The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined…

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian
Balzer + Bray

The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?

The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldy ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?

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New Releases

Woohoo! Miles Morales releases today! (See our review here.) There are also quite a few other titles having a book birthday. Please let us know if we missed any.

Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds
Marvel Press

“Everyone gets mad at hustlers, especially if you’re on the victim side of the hustle. And Miles knew hustling was in his veins.”

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical “benefits” of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It’s time for Miles to suit up.

Solo by Kwame Alexander, Mary Rand Hess
Blink
See review here

Solo, a YA novel in poetic verse, tells the story of seventeen-year-old Blade Morrison, whose life is bombarded with scathing tabloids and a father struggling with just about every addiction under the sun—including a desperate desire to make a comeback. Haunted by memories of his mother and his family’s ruin, Blade’s only hope is in the forbidden love of his girlfriend. But when he discovers a deeply protected family secret, Blade sets out on a journey across the globe that will change everything he thought to be true.

When I am Through with You by Stephanie Kuehn
Dutton Books for Young Readers

“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”

Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly about what happened on what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.

Genius: The Con (Genius #2) by Leopoldo Gout
Feiwel & Friends

Three teen geniuses from diverse backgrounds must work together to stop a vicious warlord, protect their families, and save the world in this fast-paced sequel to Genius: The Game.

ON THE RUN!

Tunde: This fourteen-year-old self-taught engineering genius from Nigeria is in a race against time to save his village from a ruthless warlord.

Painted Wolf: This mysterious sixteen-year-old activist blogger and strategist from China is searching for a way to rescue her father from the corruption he’s inadvertently been caught up in.

Rex: This sixteen-year-old Mexican-American has proven himself to be one of the best programmers in the world, only to be falsely accused of stealing billions of government secrets for the terrorist hacking group Terminal.

Pursued by the police, the FBI, and most dangerous of all, Kiran Biswas, visionary CEO and evil mastermind, three teen geniuses have to move fast and stay low as they race to find a missing brother, stop a vicious warlord, and save the world in Genius: The Con by Leopoldo Gout.

Blight by Alexandra Duncan
Greenwillow Books

When an agribusiness facility producing genetically engineered food releases a deadly toxin into the environment, seventeen-year-old Tempest Torres races to deliver the cure before time runs out.

From the author of the acclaimed American Booksellers Association’s Indies Introduce pick Salvage, which was called “Brilliant, feminist science fiction” by Stephanie Perkins, the internationally bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss. This stand-alone action-adventure story is perfect for fans of Oryx and Crake and The House of the Scorpion.

Seventeen-year-old Tempest Torres has lived on the AgraStar farm north of Atlanta, Georgia, since she was found outside its gates at the age of five. Now she’s part of the security force guarding the fence and watching for scavengers—people who would rather steal genetically engineered food from the Company than work for it. When a group of such rebels accidentally sets off an explosion in the research compound, it releases into the air a blight that kills every living thing in its path—including humans. With blight-resistant seeds in her pocket, Tempest teams up with a scavenger boy named Alder and runs for help. But when they finally arrive at AgraStar headquarters, they discover that there’s an even bigger plot behind the blight—and it’s up to them to stop it from happening again.

Inspired by current environmental issues, specifically the genetic adjustment of seeds to resist blight and the risks of not allowing natural seed diversity, this is an action-adventure story that is Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake meets Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion.

Follow Your Heart by Tasha Nathan
Lorimer

Nisha has always been a good Tamil daughter. She tries to keep her grades up so she can meet her parents’ high expectations of her. They want her to become a doctor or an engineer, and of course she is not allowed to be in a romantic relationship while she is still a teenager. Nisha has discovered that what she really loves to do is write. As she devotes more of her time and attention to her creative writing class, she also finds that who she really loves is her classmate Todd. How can Nisha get her parents to understand that she needs to live her own life? And when she has to choose between her dreams of life on her own terms and being with Todd, how can Nisha decide where her true feelings lie?

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Review: Miles Morales

Title: Miles Morales
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genre: Adventure
Pages: 272
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: On shelves August 1, 2017

Summary: “Everyone gets mad at hustlers, especially if you’re on the victim side of the hustle. And Miles knew hustling was in his veins.”

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical “benefits” of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It’s time for Miles to suit up.

Review: First off – check out the cover. The image screams intensity. Miles is having some serious doubts about being a superhero. His powers are acting up and he is wondering about who he really is deep down. With everything else going on in his life, Miles is one stressed-out kid. Alicia is a pleasant distraction who happens to love poetry. Poetry features prominently in this book which makes sense with Reynolds as the author. The poetry adds another layer to the story and in some cases it adds humor – especially with Miles’s best friend Ganke.

Humor shows up many times throughout the book. I appreciated some of the descriptive phrases like, “As opposed to the stench of toxic toes in the hallway, the bathroom smelled more like wet dog and corn chips.” Eew! Also, sounds about right.

Much of the story takes place in and around school with poetry and history getting most attention. Miles is into math, but with Alicia in the picture, poetry becomes more important. There’s an open mic opportunity and as you might guess, Miles works on some poetry for Alicia. He is tongue tied around her most of the time, but is at least able to write something down. There is quite a contrast between his superhero abilities and his ability to speak to a girl.

The story and characters are compelling and there is a lot going on besides the typical scenario of superhero attempting to foil the plot of an evil mastermind. Of course that is there, but there’s also a romance, friendship, awesome parents in the picture, and discussions about race specifically in the context of education.

History class is where things get complicated. It’s in history that Miles’s spidey-sense gets wacky and it’s also in history class where some bizarre discussions happen. His teacher, Mr. Chamberlain, encourages discussion around the positives of slavery and the confederacy. The points Mr. Chamberlain makes are morally reprehensible and pretty much leave students in a dilemma. Is the teacher just playing with them or does he really believe this mess he’s spouting? Regardless, what is the proper response that won’t get a student sent to the office or even expelled? Miles is basically told to stay where he belongs and comply even in the face of racism and discrimination by his teacher.

Of course, school is not the only thing going on in the story and though it’s a while before it becomes clear, there is a public enemy for Spider Man to deal with and the confrontation has plenty of action.

Recommendation: Get it now especially if you are into superheroes or poetry. There’s a ton to love in this book. Miles is a character I want to see more of and I hope that’s the plan.

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Interview: Aditi Khorana

The Library of Fates was released yesterday and sounds amazing. The author, Aditi Khorana, answered a few questions for us and I’m excited to get my hands on a copy of this lovely piece of lit soon.

Summary: A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and the Dawn 

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on one another. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

Your first published novel, Mirror in the Sky, was science fiction. Was there a big difference between writing that type of story and writing fantasy for The Library of Fates?

Yes and no! When I’m writing a book, I’m mostly focused on themes and characters and the transformation of a character. Mirror in the Sky is a book about belonging, finding one’s place in the world, what it means to be a part of a family or community, to be a citizen of the world, and also about how the choices we make, big and small, collectively have a huge impact on the people around us. With The Library of Fates, I wanted to explore the journey of a character who has always belonged, always been beloved by those around her, and what happens when she loses everything. Essentially, how does one start over when everything is lost? Beyond this, I was investigating this question of what are the things worth sacrificing for and where do we draw the line and refuse to give in? What does it mean to be a feminist? A good friend?

I did a lot more outlining for The Library of Fates, and in many ways, it’s much more intricate in terms of plot, but the fundamental process was similar.

Amrita is facing the unknown. What does she draw on to forge ahead in spite of having no idea of what she will come up against?

The Unknown is basically navigating your own psyche, your worst demons, your greatest fears. And Amrita is a character who has essentially no life skills and is forced to navigate a world she has always been sheltered from. It’s a terrifying idea. But the unknown – as scary as it is – doesn’t exist to cruelly taunt and terrify us. It forces us to shut out all the voices that come from outside of ourselves that are urging us to find safety or comply or compromise ourselves or our vision. The unknown exists to help us find out who we truly are and what we’re truly capable of. It gives us a breadcrumb trail of clues that we can follow, and that trail comes from within ourselves. To trust the unknown inevitably means to trust yourself and I wanted to show a character who does this, despite all her fears, her loneliness and her doubts.

Your TedTalk, “Harnessing the Power of the Unknown” seems to be related to The Library of Fates in a few ways. Can you explain the relationship?

I think being a writer or working in any sort of creative profession, you’re facing the unknown every day. You are creating something out of nothing. And that’s exactly what Amrita is doing once her life is turned upside down. But I think this is what real life is about. Those kernels of inspiration, insight, the exploration of your true self, facing your greatest demons: that’s what the unknown forces us to do and hold and contend with, and try as they might, nobody escapes this.

What do you enjoy about being a writer? What is the most difficult thing about being a writer?

Without sounding too pretentious, I love thinking about ideas. I like being my own boss, and devoting my mental energies to what I want to think about rather than what someone else wants me to think about. I love exploring new themes, and I feel like I learn so much with each book that I write. It’s the closest thing I have to some sort of devotional practice. I work through everything with the simple act of writing. It’s made me a more empathetic, creative and disciplined person.

The most difficult part is probably the long arc of publishing. It’s often a year between the time that you finish a manuscript and it’s out in the world, sometimes longer.

What are some of your favorite books? Have any of them inspired or influenced your writing?

My favorite book of all time is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It’s the book that made me want to become a writer.

What’s up next for you as a writer?

I’m working on experimental feminist fiction for smart women and teens. It’s contemporary, it’s dark and it challenges the conventions of the novel as well as the conventions that women are often forced to abide by. It’s really fun to write.

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New Releases

These two books have birthdays this week.

Vindicated (Emancipated #3) by M.G. Reyes
Katherine Tegen Books

Murder will out in the shocking conclusion to the Emancipated trilogy, where no one is who they seem and the truth has a nasty habit of showing up uninvited.

No alibis. No escape. No surrender. The six Venice Beach housemates have made some life-alteringly bad decisions since they were each legally emancipated from their parents, including confronting a killer. And the consequences have been deadly.

Now, they’re hiding out, trying to find a way out of the mess they’ve made without getting themselves killed when one of the housemates disappears, two fall in love, and another betrays them all. And when the secrets they’ve been keeping are finally laid bare, they’ll wish they’d never started looking for answers in the first place. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

The Savage Dawn (The Girl at Midnight #3) by Melissa Grey
Delacorte Press

The sides have been chosen and the battle lines drawn.

Echo awakened the Firebird. Now she is the only one with the power to face the darkness she unwittingly unleashed . . . right into the waiting hands of Tanith, the new Dragon Prince. Tanith has one goal in mind: destroy her enemies, raze their lands, and reign supreme in a new era where the Drakharin are almighty and the Avicen are nothing but a memory.

The war that has been brewing for centuries is finally imminent. But the scales are tipped. Echo might hold the power to face the darkness within the Dragon Prince, but she has far to go to master its overwhelming force. And now she’s plagued by uncertainty. With Caius no longer by her side, she doesn’t know if she can do it alone. Is she strong enough to save her home and the people she loves?

Whether Echo is ready to face this evil is not the question. The war has begun, and there is no looking back. There are only two outcomes possible: triumph or death.

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