When “quiet, nerdy Ada Bloom finally has a verifiable love interest” (2), several people are surprised—including Ada. After five months, dating affable, athletic Leo Robinson, who is captain of the swim team, the two teens decide their relationship has reached the threshold of “the next step.” After Leo pops the question, Ada realizes she is not ready, and her relationship unravels from there. Cynthia Hand spends the rest of her novel With You All the Way exploring what makes someone believe he or she is ready for sex. She also addresses various motivations for the sexual act: curiosity, revenge, being sixteen, doing something risky andRead More →

The plot of Pamela N. Harris’s debut novel When You Look Like Us revolves around the life of sixteen-year-old Jay Murphy, his sister Nicole (Nic), and his grandmother Marie Murphy (MiMi). MiMi’s hands are “badges of honor, proof of hard work” (56), and Jay looks forward to the day when she can rest them. He vows that “MiMi is going to retire in Florida, or wherever else she wants to” (17) once he builds her nest egg as repayment for her sacrifices. The family lives in Newport News, Virginia, in a housing project called the Ducts. Despite what other people might think, Jay is livingRead More →

Fifteen Reasons to Love the Novel, Love in English It’s dedicated to “everyone who has ever strained to find the [right] words” to accurately express their thoughts and feelings. Maria E. Andreu writes with authenticity from the immigrant experience and perspective, but she also writes to those of us who feel “foreign” or who sense a feeling of other—“some nameless thing [we] can feel but not fix” (13). Many of the chapters close with idiomatically clever poems as the protagonist, Ana, plays with language. These not only capture her confusion but convey her learning. The novel is peppered with Spanish, as well as hashtags (####)Read More →

Angie Thomas’ prequel to The Hate U Give is a good read.  Concrete Rose, which tells the story of Maverick Carter, is no fairy tale. However, it is deeply moving.  It reveals a young man who is full of potential despite the harsh world around him. Even though Garden Heights, the neighborhood in which Maverick grows up, is inundated by gangs, drugs, violence, and poverty—his mother, Faye, does her best to give her son a positive upbringing. Still, he confronts death, the challenges of teenage parenting, and multiple temptations head on. Thomas doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties that Maverick faces, and the reader gets to experienceRead More →

A form of cognitive efficiency, labeling helps people make sense of their worlds. Although labels give our brains the ability to categorize and to draw useful conclusions, they can also limit thinking and lead to stereotypes. With labels like normal, mentally ill, or bipolar, we not only make assumptions about others but about ourselves and our potential abilities. These assumptions can even influence our identities. It is this identity labeling that concerns Journey Smith, the seventeen-year-old protagonist in Faith Gardner’s novel Girl on the Line. Journey doubts the truth about many of the things the world tells her and believes that her brain ruins everything asRead More →

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 →