Wrecked by her parents’ divorce and then her brother’s disappearance three years ago, Andrea Murphy’s life has grown awful. The empty seat at the table, her unrelenting guilt that her brother’s disappearance is somehow her fault, and his ghost in the boxes stacked in the garage all haunt her. “I’m fine” is the lie she tells to hide the cracks and holes in her heart. As a reminder of his memory, she carries a missing piece of her brother in her pocket. When the pain grows too intense to bear, she rides her bike far and fast, letting the breeze whip through her hair whileRead More →

I suspect that many adolescent readers will find themselves in the pages of Francina Simone’s novel Smash It! The leading female in this book, which is dedicated to “theater kids,” seventeen-year-old Olivia James-Johnson considers herself a nerdy loser, a sad black girl with a “too curvy” body, and someone who does uncool things since she’s addicted to self-sabotage. Because she lacks self-confidence, she passes up doing what she wants because she’s afraid of being judged or looking like a clown. A talented flutist who loves dancing, she can find a beat and step into it with her whole body. “When I dance, I feel likeRead More →

Attracted to the bold, the risky, and the unknown, Hattie Darrow plays Don Quixote to Reid MacGregory’s role as Sancho Panza. Reid is content playing Hattie’s side-kick extraordinaire in pranks and at parties.  Where Reid is calm and reasonable, Hattie is spontaneous and daring; her energy luminesces around her.  From the time Reid met Hattie in middle school, Reid saw her potential and declared: “Being Hattie Darrow’s friend would make me better” (51). As the two are about to enter their senior year in high school, Hattie is still Reid’s social oxygen.  “Humiliation is a language [Hattie] doesn’t speak, and she doesn’t want [Reid] toRead More →

Clever, quick on her feet, and possessing a commanding but cheerful demeanor, Faith Herbert from Glenwood, Minnesota, is destined for superhero status.  Every superhero and character that she loves has endured “some awful thing to achieve greatness” (5), and she wonders whether her parents’ dying in the same car accident when she was quite young wasn’t her “awful thing.” Now, Faith lives with her Grandma Lou, works at the All Paws on Deck Shelter and Clinic for veterinarian Dr. Bryner tending to people’s pets, and spends a lot of time with her best friends, Matt Delgado and Francesca Palmer (Ches). Matt has Puerto Rican rootsRead More →

Eat Pray Love meets lust, love, soccer in Iva-Marie Palmer’s young adult novel Gimme Everything You Got. Set in Illinois in 1979 when Title IX was historically significant, Palmer’s book starts off with a snarky, candid, and humorous tone.  Who knew fulcrum could be sexually suggestive or that prolongedly was even a word, especially as an adverb to describe a fantasy kiss? I found myself laughing out loud about how genuine this all seemed. Initially, the discussion of masturbation and erogenous zones gave the novel an air of authenticity—given that such a focus is a natural part of the maturation process for teens—but it wasn’tRead More →

Reading You Don’t Live Here left me wowed and gushing that author Robyn Schneider is a genius at capturing the search for one’s true self!  In her novel, Schneider not only shares insight into human nature and how keeping parts of ourselves hidden has consequences but includes multiple metaphors for the therapeutic power of art.  I also laughed out loud when she referred to high school as a “uniquely hellish social experiment” (70). Sixteen-year-old Sasha Bloom is a photographer, an identity she gravitated towards after her mother bought her a camera because Sasha would rather be invisible behind a camera lens than be a continuedRead More →

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, I needed a feel-good book, and Alex Flinn’s Love, Jacaranda did not disappoint.  Written in one-way email correspondence, almost like a diary, Flinn’s book performs some genre-bending in that it is realistic fiction sprinkled with mystery and romance. Named for the tree that heralds springtime in Southeastern Florida, Jacaranda Abbott bags groceries at a Publix supermarket.  Because she loves to sing and to bring joy to others, she performs for Mr. Louis, one of her favorite patrons. Chorus has always been the best part of her school day, since it is “sort of like a little vacay right in the middleRead More →

With Heartstopper, Alice Oseman has created a heart-warming story of friendship that grows beyond those simple bounds, and the pictures in this graphic novel are as telling as its words. A drummer and mathematics wizard who is better at virtual sports than real ones, Charlie Spring is a sophomore at Truham School for Boys in England.  With the start of the new school year, he is seated next to a young man who is a year older and a star of the rugby team: Nicolas Nelson. When Nick sees the speed at which Charlie can run, he invites him to join the rugby team.  However,Read More →

Set in upstate New York, All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban is part psychological thriller, part mystery, and part realistic fiction, and the sum of those parts is somewhat terrifying. Primarily telling her story from the perspectives of six Brewster High School students, Urban explores human psychology: What we’re capable of when we’re desperate, how words can be deployed as weapons, the consequences of prioritizing one’s dreams over people, and the tragic effects of bullying, lying, and manipulation. Under the pretense that they have each won a scholarship, six young adults are lured to the Winona Room of the Chesterfield. When they discover thatRead More →