Z Brewer, an author who is also an outspoken mental health and anti-bullying advocate, has written a young adult novel that validates the challenges that accompany identity exploration. Into the Real is an affirming story about a person living a broken life and willing to do anything to be free of constraints. Living in a fog of insecurity and confusion about sexuality and gender identity, seventeen-year-old Quinn experiences an oppressive feeling of loneliness. As Quinn navigates the fog of more questions than answers, more heartache than support, this genderqueer teen envisions a world in which life can be conflict-free and peaceful. However, to reach thisRead More →

Living in Brazil, Felipe cannot think about other people’s suffering because he has too many issues of his own, so being gay is a small detail in a truckload of crises. He is a shy, anxious, socially-challenged young man with low self-esteem, conditions which largely center around his obesity.  Given these challenges and his experiences with bullies, jumping to the worst-case scenario is Felipe’s specialty. Instead of having to endure this life in which he lost out in the talent lottery and his dad gave him the fat gene before abandoning him, Felipe wishes he were a superhero, one who could create force fields soRead More →

Set in Vermont, the novel How to Pack for the End of the World by Michelle Falkoff revolves around the lives of several students who attend Gardner Academy, a prestigious private school in the city. During a Game Night ice-breaker activity held for first year students, readers encounter various personalities as the group engages in a series of Would You Rather inquiries. Deviating from questions which predominantly carry themes about something gross or sexual, Wyatt Christiansen asks: “If you knew the world was going to end tomorrow, would you rather die along with your friends and family and everyone you’ve ever known, or live amongRead More →

Robert Lang (aka Bobby) lives in a green house in the junkyard at the dark end of a godless trail amidst trees so thick “the sun gets stuck in the branches” (9). Because the junk molders around him and because young people are often cruel, his peers nickname him Junk; his dad, Jimmy, calls him Slug. Bobby feels inadequate to meet the demands of the world in which he finds himself, one where his father is a drunk and lives with a limp, his mother abandons him a year after his birth, and he appears lost, empty, and friendless. At fifteen, Bobby is short, somewhatRead More →

Set in Ashfield, Australia, The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim features the story of the Chiu family and the challenges they face with a mother who endures mental illness and a “wrapped-up-blanket sadness” (58). Anna (16), Lily (14), and Michael (6) watch for signs that mark good days and bad days and dread the days when Ma has a psychotic episode. Their father, who knows the work ethic of a provider, immerses himself in his work at the Jade Palace, a Chinese restaurant that he owns in a distant city. Because Baba rarely comes home, preferring to sleep on the cotRead More →

Set in New York City, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe follows the lives of two seventeen-year-olds as they navigate social life, their coursework at the prestigious Fine Arts Technical Education Academy (FATE), and college dreams. Philippe artfully captures the anxiety that Corinne Troy and Henri Haltiwanger experience in their efforts to find a place at their “dream schools,” Princeton and Columbia. Corinne is passionate, awkward, intense, and unpredictable while Henri is ambitious, popular, charming, and entrepreneurial. Both are good students who put an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves to succeed. Henri has a side hustle, walking dogs for wealthy New Yorkers throughRead More →

In an effort to share with readers the challenges faced by a person who endures the misbehavior of brain chemicals, Bill Konigsberg writes his novel The Bridge in a nonlinear form. Under the influence of his pen, the reader’s brain trips over itself, unclear and unsure of reality. Does Tillie Stanley—a girl with a beautiful, smart, funny, and magnetic personality—jump from the George Washington Bridge to drown in the Hudson River in New York? Does Aaron Boroff—a creative, friendly, musically-inclined seventeen-year-old with a sense of humor commit suicide? Or do both decide to put their broken lives back together? Just when the reader believes he/sheRead More →

Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam have teamed up to co-author Punching the Air, an important book about the cycle of racial injustice that continues to plague this country, especially in regards to the unfairness of our criminal justice system. Readers of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo will likely be fans of this book. Punching the Air features Amal, a sixteen-year-old art student who dreams, writes poetry, draws, paints, and rides his skateboard. On a fateful night, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, choices and circumstances that completely upend his life. A fallen angel, Amal—whose name coincidentally means hope—hasRead More →

Kim Johnson’s debut young adult novel is a stunning work of realistic fiction. It joins the ranks of stories written by Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, and Jesmyn Ward.  With This Is My America, Johnson uses art as a tool to inspire social action. Drawing on the idealism, perseverance, and passion of her protagonist Tracy Beaumont, Johnson encourages us to use our voices to demand justice and to become advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Rooted in United States history, where we have inherited a legacy of racial segregation and hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, this narrative reminds us that the past is alwaysRead More →