Just as Sara Zapata believes in doing good, no matter the cost, her brother Emiliano believes in the need to do something good with his life. Because of their convictions, they are forced to flee from Juarez, Mexico, to escape persecution and retaliation from human traffickers. Seeking asylum, they cross the border into the United States, but an attack ensues. Afterwards, Sara finds herself in the Fort Stockton Detention Center; however, her brother has escaped with the contraband that put their lives in jeopardy in the first place: Leopoldo Hinnjosa’s phone. Hinojosa is the man responsible for the enslavement and abuse of multiple women, andRead 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 →

Three Keys

Try as I might, I was unable to limit my review of Three Keys by Kelly Yang to three keys to its greatness.  I started with It’s about a goat named Scape and the issue of immigration and how it’s easy to blame those in a weak spot; It proves that although most people don’t change, some people do; and It shares how small interactions have the power to change minds and to make a big impact for those vulnerable to exploitation, abuses, misinformation, and hopelessness. But I realized I couldn’t stop with that short list.  Yang’s book goes beyond any simple storyline to capture someRead More →

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 →

Jasbinder Bilan’s debut novel for middle grade readers, Asha and the Spirit Bird, is one rich with cultural detail and adventure. Set in a village in India called Moormandali, Bilan includes many Hindi and Punjabi words to add authenticity to the telling of this coming of age, epic journey. The story features eleven-year-old Asha Kumar and her twelve-year-old best friend, Jeevan Singh Gill.  The two children sneak away from home to travel from their village in the foothills of the Himalayas to find Asha’s papa in Zandapur. The journey calls on the children’s perseverance, courage, hope, and conviction that they will be successful.  Along theRead More →

A story of resilience, Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist addresses the issue of homelessness from a child’s perspective. The Dunn family’s homelessness is brought on by the death of Isaiah’s and Charlie’s father, Gary Dunn, on November 24 due to a heart attack. Gary’s wife, Lisa subsequently falls into a debilitating depression accompanied by a bout with alcoholism. While his mother is incapacitated by grief, Isaiah is expected to watch and entertain his four-year-old sister and to keep up in school at Woodson Elementary.  This ten-year-old young man is forced to accept other responsibilities, as well.  Hoping to get the fundsRead 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 →