Readers of M.T. Anderson (Feed) and Cory Doctorow (Little Brother) will likely enjoy The Last Beekeeper by Pablo Cartaya. In fact, Cartaya’s book is a blend of dystopian fiction and environmental awareness literature targeted towards middle grade readers. For twelve-year-old Yolanda (Yoly) Cicerón, life is all tech and upgrades. Strong, intelligent, and stubborn, Yoly aspires to become a certified neurolink surgeon someday so that she can make some “real money” and live on Remembrance Road where all the designers, programmers, and scientists live. With such a position, she and her sister Cami can escape the poverty of farming the strawberry fields. In her early twenties,Read More →

At age ten, Zhang Ai Shi becomes an object sorting machine. Favoring the practical and the essential, her dolls and dress-up clothes go in the give-away pile as the family packs for Duarte, California, from Taipei, Taiwan. Because the Chinese name for America is “the beautiful country,” Ai Shi anticipates the trip with excitement. However, what Ai Shi discovers “in the land of more” is that her world is rather small. As her parents endure vandalism and work relentlessly to make ends meet, Ai Shi must help out in “the store” while learning the paradox of being simultaneously grateful and sad. At school, she isRead More →

If books need labels, Café con Lychee by Emery Lee would be a romantic comedy that showcases queer interracial love between two people of color. Labels are suggestive of a category and, as such, provide a cognitive short-cut. Yet, labels also invite critical thinking. So, while Lee’s book does indeed feature two gay young men—one Japanese/Chinese, the other Puerto Rican—it dives deeper, emerging as a book about the universal experience of looking for acceptance and how fear makes people do terrible things. An openly gay boy, Theo Mori is a talented cook and soccer athlete. Even though his friends see him as confident, smart, andRead More →

It’s the first day of seventh grade, and Maggie Diaz is eager for the new freedoms that West Memorial Middle School in Miami will hold. However, this messy and forgetful gal with strict Cuban parents discovers that life at this age and stage is complicated. Maggie has no phone, shares a bedroom with her abuela, and endures chaos at home with a teenage sister, a brand-new baby brother, a mother who is trying to complete her accounting degree, and a father who is working out of town. Furthermore, she feels left behind by her friends who are moving forward with their own interests. like bandRead More →

Readers of Katherine Patterson will likely appreciate Yonder by Ali Standish. The community of Foggy Gap proves the world is a confusing place—with gaps in understanding and with clarity of vision required on subjects like justice, prejudice, war, and courage. Set in the early 1940s, Standish shares a perspective of what the years surrounding World War II may have been like in the United States. Her story suggests that the country’s role in WWII is more complicated than many of us are taught to believe, especially in the way in which news about Hitler’s Jewish extermination campaign was publicized or received limited coverage. For theRead More →

Unable to make her adoptive mother, Leanne Parkman, happy, Rynn gives up after Mom critiqued her homemade birthday gift placemats sewn by Rynn at age twelve. Although Rynn compares Mom to a dormant volcano that explodes without warning, she loves her Jewish father who was raised in New York but now grows garlic on a farm in Maine. Rynn’s birthmother was twenty when she gave birth to baby girl and named her Scheherazade. Legend defines the name, but Rynn decides it might be a survival trick for her: “I’m wondering if my birthmother wanted me to know that in order to survive without the truthRead More →

A master storyteller and the creator of the character Maria on the television program Sesame Street, Sonia Manzano brings to life the unfolding injustice of Fidel Castro’s reign in Cuba from 1959-1961. Through the narratives of four pre-teen adolescents in Coming Up Cuban, Manzano weaves a tapestry that captures a compelling period in human history. Readers meet Ana Andino, an aspiring artist in Havana, Cuba, in 1959, whose father is a revolutionary. In Ana’s eyes, her Papi is fighting for an unjust cause—one that is keeping a rebel leader with suffocating rules and ideas in place. Rafael explains to his daughter: “This Revolution was foughtRead More →

Robby Weber writes a romantic-comedy that moves beyond what I define as a beach book, a sugary treat to indulge a craving but not necessarily one that prompts deep thought. With his novel If You Change Your Mind, Weber explores topics like relationships and finding the core of what matters. Even though real life and romantic comedies are very different things, under the influence of Weber’s pen, we realize that similarities do exist. To assist the reader in seeing some of these, each chapter is named for or alludes to a rom-com film to parallel the plot. Some of these include You’ve Got Mail, Serendipity,Read More →

Set in India on the estate of the Kaur Sher-Gil family, Tamarind and the Star of Ishta by Jasbinder Bilan captures the life story of Chinty’s daughter. Eleven-year-old Tamarind was born in India but moved to Bristol, England, with her father after her mother dies in childbirth. The young tween loves British football (soccer) but feels lost because her father won’t answer any of her questions about her mother. When Tamrind’s father remarries and decides to venture to India on a honeymoon, Tamarind goes to stay in the Himalyas at Alakapari with her mother’s family–who are virtually strangers. Initially, this time is fraught with confusion andRead More →