New Releases

The finale to Kate Elliott’s Court of Five Triology finally arrives this week. I’m so excited to find out what happens. Kwame Alexander also returns with another of his novels in verse and this one looks like it’s a compelling story. And lastly, a debut novel that sounds like a great bit of literary fiction.

Buried Heart (Court of Fives #3) by Kate Elliott
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The explosive finale to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s captivating, New York Times bestselling young adult series

In this third book in the epic Court of Fives series, Jessamy is the crux of a revolution forged by the Commoner class hoping to overthrow their longtime Patron overlords. But enemies from foreign lands have attacked the kingdom, and Jes must find a way to unite the Commoners and Patrons to defend their home and all the people she loves. Will her status as a prominent champion athlete be enough to bring together those who have despised one another since long before her birth? Will she be able to keep her family out of the clutches of the evil Lord Gargaron? And will her relationship with Prince Kalliarkos remain strong when they find themselves on opposite sides of a war? Find all the answers in this beautifully written and exciting conclusion to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s debut New York Times bestselling young adult trilogy!

Solo by Kwame Alexander, Mary Rand Hess
Blink

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.

 

 

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz
HarperTeen

Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile in the past year.

Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is in a coma. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.

Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.

At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she hasn’t ever before. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Book Review: Saints and Misfits

Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S. K. Ali
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352 pages
Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?

Review: There is so much I can say about Saints and Misfits that I almost don’t know where to begin. I guess at the beginning, which is when we meet the monster in Janna’s life. The moment we met the monster was so unexpected and a hit to the gut. I don’t think I can recall any books where the author puts a traumatic event for the character in the second chapter, but I loved it because it made me realize that Saints and Misfits was a much deeper novel than I anticipated and that it was going to take me on one hell of a journey. The novel moves at a wonderful pace from there as Janna tries to make sense of what happened, while dealing with a member of her community that everyone loves and respects, but Janna is traumatized by. At the same time, she is trying to figure out her feelings towards Jeremy, who actually might like her back. This internal conflict is at the heart of the novel and felt real. Janna is surrounded by family and friends, but holds these two secrets (well one friend knows about Jeremy), thinking she can handle them both, when in reality she can’t, because Jeremy and the monster are friends. Janna often goes from having the good butterflies in her stomach when seeing Jeremy to becoming nauseous when seeing the monster a minute later, but is unable to speak on her feelings to friends and family. Janna is surrounded by love, but at the same time, feels like she cannot express her true self, her true feelings, and feels trapped like so many young women do. I truly felt for her in those moments.

I’ve mentioned that Janna is surrounded by numerous people who love her and that is also an element I loved in the book. I often find in many YA novels that the protagonist is somewhat excluded from their community and/or doesn’t have a good support network. This was not the case in Saints & Misfits. While Janna’s parents are divorced, it’s clear her parents love her in their own way, her brother is working hard to reconnect with her after being away at school, she has a beautiful relationship with her elderly neighbor Mr. Ram, her uncle who is the imam of her mosque, and her two best friends Tats and Fizz. She eventually develops friendships with two female characters, Sarah and Sausun, who are polar opposites, but combined provide Janna the support she needs and ultimately help her find her voice. The fact that Janna is surrounded by such a loving community, while holding her secrets, creates a deeply moving conflict in the novel. It highlights how our community can be a source of strife for people, but at the same time be a place that helps us only if we let it – if we trust others and let them in. It is a beautiful lesson that Janna learns because she believes she is a misfit who doesn’t fit into her community, not realizing that her community does accept her for the way she is. This belief is a common one that many teens have has they search for their identity and Janna’s story is one that will connect with a lot of readers. It’s a beautifully written story that will make readers laugh, cry, and feel like they are part of Janna’s community. In fact, when the novel was over I wasn’t actually ready to leave Janna’s world. I wanted to see where Janna’s growth will take her.

Lastly, I gotta speak about all the kick-ass female characters in this novel. All of them represent the broad spectrum of beliefs/views that women have. They don’t all agree but are respective of each other to accept each other as who they are. With the exception of Janna and Fizz’s argument that ultimately seems to end their friendship, many of the important women in Janna’s life work to lift each other up. Tats is a true friend to Janna, and even though Janna is slow to warm up to Sarah and Sausun, she eventually comes to rely on the older girls for support and advice. Like many teenagers, Janna’s relationship with her mother is a bit strained, but again Janna comes to realize that a lot of her mother’s actions come from a place of love and she learns to be a full recipient of that love. All of these relationships are complex but very real and I loved reading a book that had so many wonderful female relationships.

Saints and Misfits is a wonderful debut novel by S.K. Ali and I can’t wait to read whatever she has coming next.

Recommendation: Buy it Now!

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Need Some Romance?

One of the ARC’s I received at the LA Times Book Festival was Sarah Dessen’s new book. My friend is a big fan of her books, but I had never read anything by her so I decided to give the book a try. I found the book to be kinda bland and the romance was predictable, however I know that teenage me would have loved it. When I was a teenager I loved reading all sorts of romance novels rooting for the couple to beat whatever obstacles they were up against. I got lost in the fantasy of falling in love with your soulmate and riding off into the proverbial sunset. When I was a teen, however, there was not much diversity in YA contemporary romance, so I definitely missed seeing myself as the heroine/love interest. Times have changed, but not by much. While there are more YA romances with characters of color, the number of novels actually published is still very dismal compared to the number of romances featuring white couples. And, as a proponent of Black Love, I could barely think of any romances that focused on Black love or even Latinx love. I found that most titles were interracial couples (not that there is anything wrong with that), but that is an examination for another time. What I want to do is highlight some YA romance that I’ve read and loved, and that you should read too. Also, if there is a title that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below.

*PS I would have included “When Dimple Met Rishi” but since we just discussed it just last week, read our discussion to learn what we all thought of the book. When Dimple Met Rishi Discussion

PPS A few months ago I did a post about adaptations of Romeo & Juliet. Check out that list for more romance titles. Romeo & Juliet 2,0: Reflecting Our World.

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (Really the entire series)

Lara Jean’s love life gets complicated in this New York Times bestselling “lovely, lighthearted romance” from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Maria McLemore

For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brackenburgh

Antony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now… Henry and Flora.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured—a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget.

The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
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New Releases

Two new books to read as you soak up the sun lounging in the sand (or wherever you travel to this summer).

If Birds Fly Back by Carlie Sorosiak
HarperTeen
A sparkling debut about love, family, and the mysteries of the universe.Linny has been fascinated by disappearances, ever since her sister Grace ran away in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.

Sebastian can tell you how many galaxies there are, and knows how much plutonium weighs. But the one thing he can’t figure out is the identity of his birth father.

They’ve never met, but Linny and Sebastian have one thing in common: an obsession with famous novelist and filmmaker Alvaro Herrera, who went missing three years ago and has just reappeared. As they learn more about the mystery of Alvaro, Linny and Sebastian uncover the answers they’ve been searching for.

With humor and heart, debut author Carlie Sorosiak weaves a story of finding people who leave and loving those who stay, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson and Emery Lord.

Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn
Kensington

From the author of The Darkest Lie comes a compelling, provocative story for fans of I Was Here and Vanishing Girls, about a high school senior straddling two worlds, unsure how she fits in either—and the journey of self-discovery that leads her to surprising truths.

In her small Kansas town, at her predominantly white school, Kanchana doesn’t look like anyone else. But at home, her Thai grandmother chides her for being too westernized. Only through the clothing Kan designs in secret can she find a way to fuse both cultures into something distinctly her own.

When her mother agrees to provide a home for a teenage girl named Shelly, Kan sees a chance to prove herself useful. Making Shelly feel comfortable is easy at first—her new friend is eager to please, embraces the family’s Thai traditions, and clearly looks up to Kan. Perhaps too much. Shelly seems to want everything Kanchana has, even the blond, blue-eyed boy she has a crush on. As Kan’s growing discomfort compels her to investigate Shelly’s past, she’s shocked to find how much it intersects with her own—and just how far Shelly will go to belong…

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Book Review: That Thing We Call a Heart

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart
Author: Sheba Karim
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.

Review: After hearing so many great things about Karim’s new novel I was really looking forward to it. It was #ownvoices and had numerous Muslim characters in a contemporary romance, which is sorely needed in the world of YA literature. Unfortunately, I came away with a “meh” kind of feeling with this book. It took me a long while to get into it and connect with the main character Shabnam Qureshi. There was something about her that I just didn’t like. Some of her comments really rubbed me the wrong way, specifically about her weight, which I felt could be triggering to folks. Additionally, she was a little too crazy over Jaime, which is what I just realized I didn’t like about her. When I was in high school, boy-crazy girls drove me batty and that is why I didn’t connect with Shabnam. She is a character of contradictions, however, because even though she is very selfish, she does work to understand her father and help him to become a more active participant in their relationship and the relationship with her mother. The father-daughter moments in the novel were truly sweet and moving.

I feel like the “romance” of the novel was less about Jaime and Shabnam and more about the relationship between Shabnam and Farah. At the beginning of the novel the two are estranged from each other with Shabnam missing her best friend terribly. And I can see why as Farah seems to be Shabnam’s total opposite. Where Shabnam is unsure of herself, Farah is confidence personified. Where Shabnam hesitates to speak her mind, Farah doesn’t hold back. Their home lives are opposites as well as Shabnam is an only child whose parents are in a somewhat happy marriage where as Farah is the oldest of four (If I remember correctly) and her parents are constantly at odds. Even though the novel begins with Shabnam and Farah apart from each other, we are given flashbacks of how their friendship developed. These were two girls who connected over not fitting in, even though they were so different, and ended up dependent upon each other. And that desire for her best friend is why Shabnam chose to re-connected with Farah; she wanted to share her happiness about Jamie. I felt Shabnam was quite selfish for only going to her friend then, but ultimately the girls have a heart to heart and get to the bottom of why their friendship fell apart. It was a moving moment and one that I loved because after Shabnam’s time at the pie shack is over, there are an number of pages left to the book and most focus on Shabnam and Farah rekindling their friendship. Shabnam’s character development is due to her coming to accept Farah for who she is now and that even though her best friend is wearing a hajib, she is still the same complex being before she decided to wear the hajib. Shabnam learns to love her friend for who she is and comes to truly appreciate her relationship with Farah.

The touching relationships Shabnam had with her father and Farah, however, were not enough to make me fall in love with this book. I felt that Jaime was extremely two dimensional, almost a stereotype of the carefree white boy who visits and works with his aunt during the summer. I truly did not see what Shabnam saw that made her fall head over heels in love with him. I didn’t feel any heat or passion that I should expect from a contemporary romance. Jaime and Shabnam’s romance was just kind of blah. There was no rooting for their HEA; in fact, I was waiting for them to break up because that meant that Jaime would be off the page. Clearly, the opposite reaction a romance novel is aiming for. Though, if the point of the romance was the friendship between Shabnam and Farah, then mission accomplished.

 

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LGBTQ Teens of Color Speak Out

To celebrate Pride here at Rich in Color, I thought I’d gather a few teens to talk about the intersectionality of being an LGBTQ Teen of color and the representations, or lack thereof, they see of themselves in books. Spending 8 hours a day with Teens of Color, I was able to gather a few LGBTQ teens for a lively roundtable discussion and one-on-one interviews. The teens are a mix of future, current and former students whose ages range from 13-16. All of the students are very outspoken about LGBTQ issues and are voracious readers, hence the perfect kids to ask about their thoughts on what they want and need from their literature.

First off, teachers, librarians, publishers, anyone who wants to get diverse LGBTQ stories into the hands of teens of color, we all need to step it up. When I asked my students if they had ever read a book with an LGBTQ protagonist, let alone a protagonist of color, all of them, ALL OF THEM, said no. With the roundtable, the “no”s were so forceful that I was momentarily taken aback. These young people, who love to read, had never read a book that featured an LGBTQ character, especially a character of color, as the lead. Instead, they stated, they turned to fan fiction. The reasons they were drawn to fan fiction was that it offers “more perspectives of people like us, more LGBTQ, more options in genres, more points of view,” stated Awesome Kid #1. Then a student remembered reading Alex Gino’s novel, “George”. Awesome Kid #2 was excited to read the book “because it matched how people feel. Sometimes you can feel more feminine and sometimes more manlier. It captures how some us feel sometimes. We feel trapped, in some body that doesn’t feel like ours.” Former student, Awesome Kid #3, fell in love with the Half Bad Trilogy because “it mixes my two of my favorite things – gays in love and magical powers.” While Awesome Kid #3 did love the trilogy, they did not particularly enjoy the heartbreaking ending because it is a trope that is harmful and they wished to see a happy ending in an LGBTQ story.

Since none of my students saw mirrors of themselves in YA literature, I asked them what type of stories they would like to see and their responses were just as varied as the types of books they read. Awesome Kids #3 & 4 wanted less of a focus on “coming out stories and/or discovering sexuality” tropes and focus more on normalizing the character, that being LGBTQ is just who they are. Awesome Kid #4 said, “I would really love to see a book not focus on sexuality or gender identity, cause then I want people to normalize that you shouldn’t really focus on someone’s sexuality. I have friends who are bisexual or trans and I don’t focus on that.” Awesome Kid #3 agrees, saying they want “a story that’s not a big deal of their sexuality, yeah slide it in there, but like don’t make it every single aspect of them. Don’t make it a constant struggle with it [sexuality].” Awesome Kid #5 stated that they would love a book where a lesbian fell in love with a girl who is straight because that is something they experienced and would love to see that conflict brought up in a book.

As their teacher, I of course, asked them about reading books with LGBTQ characters in class. All of them agreed that it would have been helpful, not just for themselves, but for their classmates as well. Awesome Kid #4 stated, “Teens find ourselves through middle school and we get that encouragement from adults, even homophobic adults are like ‘okay, you don’t know, you’re young,’ but it’s not really because it’s so difficult to find yourself and if there was a book out there it would be really useful and make you think it’s not wrong to be like this.” Again, Awesome Kid #3 concurs that teachers should include more stories involving LGBTQ characters, and characters of color, because “[teachers] don’t want to offend or assume someone that’s [gay} in there, but they should always assume. My thing that I always remember, I saw it in a post, is that 1 in 10 kids…there’s about 30 kids in a classroom so 3 kids are hiding a secret, so you never know what someone needs.” All students stated that having teachers read books would have helped them, but the Awesome Kids of the roundtable did express concern about how teachers would handle the immaturity of some of the other students in the class. They also mentioned that in order for the teachers to be able to share books that feature LGBTQ characters, the teachers themselves would need to check their own feelings towards LGBTQ students. Awesome Kid #2 was surprised to find “George” in their teacher’s classroom because they know that some teachers are not supportive. Awesome Kid #2 stated, “I was confused but happy because I didn’t think teachers would have books like that because sometimes they [teachers] aren’t supportive and you can see it how they, the way they look when you bring something up like that, but to have a teacher like Mrs. D have the book made me feel calm.”  Awesome Kids #3 & 4 both stated that if teachers used books that featured LGBTQ characters, especially characters of color, in their classes, it would help open the minds of straight kids and allow them to see past stereotypes and see that LGBTQ kids are the same as any other kid.

Overall, the conversations I had with these Awesome Kids the past few days have been illuminating. This small group of 7 students is just a microcosm of the thousands of LGBTQ Teens of color who are wanting to see representation of themselves in literature. These teens are fully aware of how their media is failing them, but also know what could be done to bring about change. So I ask all of the teachers (myself included), librarians, writers, editors, publishers, anyone who is involved in producing books for teens, to take a good look at where you can step up to work harder to meet the needs of all the teens out there.

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