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 →

Living in Nevada, Andre Rosario (Dre) is the opposite of smooth.  He’s flamboyant, out-spoken, and prone to hyperbole.  He’s also resentful that everyone is watching, judging, and offering snaky commentary about him and the sacrifices he has made for his father’s presidential candidacy. This openly gay young man is talented with monster makeup and photography, posting his creations online with a web presence called Dreadful Dressup. Dre’s best friend and partner in creating Dreadful Dressup is Mel—Emelda Vincente-Perez.  Mel is fiercely loyal, politically committed to her beliefs, and ready to change the world. Dre isn’t as interested in making so public a statement. When DreRead 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 →

Although Leah Johnson is a writer and editor, You Should See Me in a Crown is her first novel. Set in Indiana, the story features seventeen-year-old Liz Lighty whose life has been derailed by her mother’s death to complications with sickle cell disease (SCD).  Living with her grandparents where money is tight and taking care of her brother Robbie who has Acute Chest Syndrome, an inherited form of SCD, keeps Liz on edge. Because she feels like everything about her makes her stand out, Liz has mastered the art of being a wallflower.  On the fringes and out of the spotlight, Liz hopes to hideRead 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 →

Leighton Barnes is a reader, an aspiring journalist, and an intense individual who has her dreams set on attending journalism school at New York University.  That dream will enable her to escape Auburn, Pennsylvania, and her home, where she lives amidst tension-induced anger and domestic violence.  If she leaves to attend college, however, Leighton wonders who will keep her sisters—Campbell, age 13 and Juniper, age 9—safe from their abusive father?  Although Jesse Barnes always apologizes and is nice otherwise; that behavior doesn’t excuse his terrible side.  However, since he’s not evil, just broken, he’s harder to hate. Because of her father’s mercurial nature, Leighton isRead More →

With The Surface Breaks, Louise O’Neill has reimagined the story of The Little Mermaid, while looking through a feminist lens. This fractured fairy tale follows of Hans Christian Andersen’s original plot line with variations typical of a reimagined tale. O’Neill’s story features Princess Muirgen, a curious mermaid whose mother named her Gaia.  This name has influenced her curiosity for earthly things.  Now that she is fifteen, Muirgen will be allowed to visit the surface rather than remain confined by her watery world.  She is eager for this trip since she hopes to find answers about her mother’s disappearance.  Muireann vanished on Muirgen’s first birthday, andRead More →

At eighteen years old, Selah is the seneschal-elect of Potomac, which implies that she will soon be the steward of her province’s resources, as well as the person to oversee its courts, its militia, and its administration.  However, as a woman in the historical time in which the Anna Bright’s novel The Beholder is set, Selah will need a man by her side to help her rule, despite her keen mind and kind heart. As her fiancé, Selah has chosen Peter Janesley, who is brilliant at math and at sports.  However, this smart, earnest, and kind young man rejects the extended marriage proposal.  Given Selah’sRead More →

Her dad’s leaving after fifteen years with her mom makes Sophie Evans realize that with love there are no guarantees.  Now, somewhat of a cynic on the topic of love, Sophie has a habit of not giving guys a chance.  Furthermore, Sophie has hitched her dreams to her passion: to attend design school in New York.  Craving a place full of action and creative energy, Sophie yearns to escape the simple and uncluttered life of Rockside, Alabama.  Because she is so busy looking to the future that she forgets to enjoy the present, her good friend Micah Williams frequently has to remind Sophie to “playRead More →