Revenge or Mercy?: A Review of The Secret Battles of Evan Pao

The Secret Battle of Evan Pao 
Wendy Wan-Long Shang 
Scholastic Press
Ages 8 to 12
June 7th, 2022 

Evan Pao and his family just want to start fresh, away from his father’s infamy and neighbors’ stares, and a small town in Virginia seems like the right place. But, Haddington, Virginia has its own Southern traditions and views that the Pao family and Evan don’t fit into, especially since Brady Griggs has it out for him as the only Chinese American boy in town. When Brady commits a hate crime against the Pao family but isn’t punished, Evan faces the choice of getting revenge or being a bigger person and having mercy.  

Told from multiple points of view from family, friends, and people around Haddington, these different perspectives reveal themes of racism, bullying, sexism, and their prevalence in the community. Shang treats grave and demeaning topics with realism and care, and a tone of hope that lends an uplifting feel to the weighty subjects. Although Evan knows he and his family don’t fit into the small town, he strives to show that some town traditions do relate to him and that Asian Americans have a legacy in the American South, just like everyone else. In the beginning, Evan struggles through many of the town’s prejudices that impact him and his family, and when it seems like he could give in to hate and subjugation, Evan overcomes these ‘secret battles’ within himself to reveal that forgiveness and mercy are vital for healing all wounds. Although the novel focuses on Evan as the main male protagonist, other characters are depicted as slowly adjusting their racially insensitive biases and worldview based on Evan’s influence. Evan proves that it only takes one brave person to break a cycle of hate and racial stereotyping in order to make a difference in the community. This deeply moving novel highlights the struggle young people have with self-identity, and how hard fitting into a new place can be, but that taking the initiative and being brave has its rewards.  

Be Bold, Be Brave: A Review of Epically Earnest

Epically Earnest–cover art

Epically Earnest
Molly Horan
Clarion Books
June 21, 2022
Ages 12+

At one-year-old, Jane Worthing was abandoned in the back of the Poughkeepsie train station. Despite this unlucky start, Jane’s led a happy life thanks to the generous and supportive man who found, and later adopted her. Now eighteen-years-old and in the final months of her senior year, Jane finds herself with all the typical high school drama and more. Her best friend Algie secretly, and high-handedly, sent her DNA to Ancestry.com. Jane has always avoided searching for her birth parents out of fear of what she might uncover. But now there’s a familial match in the form of an acorn, staring at her from the computer screen. On top of this, Gwendolyn Fairfax—Algie’s cousin and the girl Jane’s been in love with since she was 13—is visiting over school break. Jane has some big decisions to make. Should she click the acorn? Profess her love to Gwen? When the final decision is made, will chaos ensue, or will she finally find what she’s longing for?

Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Epically Earnest shares character names, loves, and the protagonist’s back story—left in an oversized handbag. Horan adds a contemporary twist to these plot lines with the discovery of baby Jane becoming a viral video and Jane’s bisexual identity. Epically Earnest centers themes of acceptance, believing in yourself, and what it means to be family. Jane comes to find that searching for her birth family isn’t a betrayal to her adoptive parents. Her birth family is an addition to the family she already loves. Throughout the story, Jane becomes more confident in herself. She gains the courage to pursue Gwen, believing that she deserves to be happy and that being honest with herself and others is the best way to get what she needs. Horan includes a further nod to Wilde by prefacing each chapter with a quote from one of his plays. A sweet and romantic comedy, this coming of age novel illustrates that happiness comes to those boldly open to it.

Some things are too important to be taken seriously. — Oscar Wilde.

Reading Reflections: The Young Adult Book Guide

When it comes to reading preferences, some things are just personal. And when young people are looking to see themselves in a book, they may not always be in a place to announce their identity to the librarians and teachers that might help suggest titles. Enter Reading Reflections: The Young Adult Book Guide. Created as a tool for teen readers, and the teachers and librarians that support them, the book list is organized by category to help readers discover some of the best examples of books on a variety of topical issues including mental health, social justice, and LGBTQ+ identities.

An introduction for teens

The guide is for readers in 7th -12th grade who crave books that reflect their identities, situations, or thoughts. While these books are great for any young reader, they’ve been characterized by topics you may see as helpful or make you feel seen. Many of these characters may have similar lives to yours, or maybe they remind you of a friend. Either way, they are here to ensure that you’re not alone. You’ll also find some useful resources that you can use to seek further information or assistance.

Project inspiration

A Dominican SOIS student created the lists as a scholarship project inspired by her work with teens. She uses the tool as a bridge to teens in need of acknowledgement and/or resources, but who weren’t comfortable discussing their life with an adult. Please consider sharing the guide with the young people in your library or life. You can send questions or additions for consideration to butler@dom.edu.

Pass or Play?: A Review of The Passing Playbook

The Passing Playbook
Isaac Fitzsimons
Dial Books, Penguin Random House
June 1, 2021
Ages 12 and up

After transitioning at his old school leads to threats, Spencer Harris gets a second chance at a progressive, private (read: expensive) school. Thinking things will be easier if he can just pass; he plans to keep his head down and make his family’s sacrifice worth it. But when his teenage temper flares, an errant kickball to the head of the soccer team captain gets the attention of the head soccer coach. Spencer gets recruited for the team and develops a relationship with rival, turned boyfriend, Justice Cortes. All his under-the-radar plans may be for naught, when paperwork reveals the F (for female) on Spencer’s birth certificate. Sharing his identity risks his status on the team, his budding romance, and possibly his safety. But maybe being true to himself, and standing up for other trans kids in the process, is worth the risk.

This #OWNVOICES title by debut author (and soccer fan) Isaac Fitzsimons is a fun and complex illustration of a biracial, queer, trans boy who is also a soccer star, fantastic big brother, and irrational teenager (not always in that order). And an exploration of how he balances those identities with the consequences of not being himself. Spencer knows he’s “had it pretty easy, all things considered” with supportive family and friends who try, despite not always getting it right (265*). His support system stands in grave contrast to Justice’s ultra-religious and homophobic family. Secondary characters like sweet, but closeted Justice; snarky, but supportive best friend Arden; and tough, but tender Coach Schilling add balance and complexity to the cast and layers to the plot. But Fitzsimons truly let’s Spencer shine—as a soccer star, queer advocate, and thriving teenager.

*Quote from ARC.

The Power of Invulnerability: A Review of Quincredible

Quincredible Vol. 1: Quest to be the Best
Written by Rodney Barnes, illustrated by Selina Espiritu, colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick
Published by Oni Press
Available on February 23, 2021
Ages 13+

Quinton West may have invulnerability as a superpower, but he sure doesn’t feel invulnerable—not when he’s getting picked on by Caine and his buddies, or when he finds out his crush Brittany has a new boyfriend. But like it or not, Quin has a superpower, or “enhancement,” that he has worked hard to keep hidden from everyone, especially his parents, no matter how understanding and supportive they are. Ever since his hometown of New Orleans was struck by a meteor shower, he and other everyday folks have been blessed-or cursed-with superpowers. In the aftermath of the natural disaster, many new superheroes leaned into their new powers by fighting crime. After a chance encounter with superhero Glow, Quin learns to embrace his invulnerability superpower and becomes Quincredible. With Glow as a mentor, Quin uses his powers and joins his fellow superheroes in restoring justice to the community. However, not all community members support their efforts; Quin and his “enhanced” friends are the target of a sinister plot. As a marked young man, Quin will need to confide in his friends and family; he cannot fight injustice alone. Rodney Barnes’ new graphic novel is a powerful, heartwarming, and exciting read. Barnes’ savvy investigation into the tension between superheroes and the New Orleans Police Department correlates to current events, and invites readers to consider the real aim of justice. Quin’s strong relationship with his mother and father allow for conversations about goodness and perspective; these conversations surface again as Quin and Brittany discuss new ideals offered by a local organizer. Quin’s father asks his son to consider what good is. Barnes and illustrator Selina Espiritu do not shy away from tackling the institutional racism within the justice system. Espiritu’s images run the gamut of emotions: powerful and jarring panels of police brutality following a community rally to Quin’s amusing attempts to learn Parkour. During action scenes, the panels often shift to become more dynamic and reflect the energy of the encounter. Backstory concerning villain Alexandre Zelime’s rise to power is depicted in panels superimposed on Zelime himself, making for an eerie origin story. Colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick infuses images with vibrancy; the illustrations featuring Glow’s superpower are iridescent and spectacular. This #OwnVoices graphic novel mirrors reality and “enhances” it, making for a wonderful addition to any teen library. 

When Are We? A Review of Yesterday Is History

Yesterday Is History
Kosoko Jackson
Sourcebooks
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 14-18

Angsty teenage romance plus medical drama plus time travel adventure. Uptight, African American, honor student, Andre Cobb is recovering from cancer and a life-saving liver transplant, when he passes out and wakes up standing in front of his own house—but not. It’s 1969, and the house belongs to the family of cute and charismatic Michael. Andre learns that his new liver has made him a time traveler and that his donor’s white, upper class family chose him knowing what would happen. Domineering and calculating Claire, her distant, workaholic husband Greg, and angry, heartbroken son Blake all have their own reactions to Andre and his new ability. Andre jumps through time, pushed by growing feelings for Michael and pulled back by new feelings for Blake, until he’s forced to choose between a past that doesn’t belong to him and a future that could be all he wants and needs. High personal expectations drive Andre to do what he thinks are the right things—fix Michael, support Blake, live his parents’ dream for him, and even save his donor’s life. Jackson’s primary characters are achingly complex and will have readers just as torn between love stories as Andre. The reality-based aspects of the plot and tension-filled relationships balance the intriguingly far-fetched idea of genetically driven time travel. A dramatic exploration of the things we can and can’t do. And if we can, should we?

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf, we’re pleased to meet Captain Swashby, a grouchy ocean lover who wants the beach to be quiet and serene. Too bad for him a cheerful, energetic young girl and her granny have come to the sea! This warmly illustrated and emotion-laden picture book is a true delight. Check out the list below for some more great reads!

Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America
Edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Swashby and the Sea
Written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Cut Off
Written by Adrianne Finlay
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Julián at the Wedding
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Stink and the Hairy, Scary Spider
Written by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Condor Comeback
Written by Sy Montgomery and photographed by Dianne Strombeck
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Election Year Titles for All Ages

We’re less than two months from election day, and it’s the perfect time for civic-minded students of all ages to understand that their voice and their vote matters. Publishers have provided a plethora of options; from picture books to YA novels, fiction and nonfiction, there is something for every kid and every lesson plan.

Pre-school—Kindergarten

Curious George Votes
Deidre Langland
Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe in the style of H. A. Rey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 1, 2020

As per usual, Curious George causes well-intentioned chaos with an elementary school mascot election while passing out stickers, stuffing the ballot box, helping a write-in candidate get elected—a monkey! This silly introduction to voting will be a great introduction for little ones that might be curious about all this election-talk.

V is for Voting
Kate Farrell
Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald
Macmillan/Henry Holt
July 21, 2020

This civic-minded ABC book is a bright and optimistic look at why we vote—for Citizens’ rights, Onward progress, and Representation. A diverse cast of engaged voters (and kids), with cameo appearances by political and social figures past and present, represent 26 reasons why your vote is important. The back matter, including notes on how to contact elected officials, organizing a voter registration drive, and a voting rights timeline, is geared toward grown-up reading buddies.

Elementary

Vote for our Future
Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by Micah Player
Penguin Random House/Schwartz & Wade
February 18, 2020

They may not be old enough to vote yet, but these elementary school students will make their voices heard because “kids have to live with adult choices.” By passing out voting guides, talking about voting options, encouraging registration, and hosting a bake sale, they build enthusiasm and turn out in their community. Includes a list of Acts of Congress that were influenced by votes for a better future.

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents
Kate Messner
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Chronicle Books
March 24, 2020

Everybody starts somewhere, even our presidents, who were politicians, soldiers, farmers, students, and regular kids. This timeline of U.S. presidents gives snippets of their histories and overlapping experiences to show how, even now, our future leaders are leading, learning, growing-up, and maybe even reading this book.

Middle-Grade

Act
Kayla Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
July 21, 2020

Olive puts her sixth grade civics lessons to work when she runs for student council representative. Learning about protests, debates, and the issues important to her classmates will make her a great candidate, even if it means running against her friends. This bright and engaging graphic novel includes a recipe for Mint Chocolate Chip-Ins, notes on historic and modern day peaceful protests, and a suggested reading list.

The Kids’ Complete Guide to Elections
Cari Meister, Emma Carlson Berne, and Nel Yomtov
Capstone
January 1, 2020

This thorough nonfiction guide covers everything from vocabulary to in-depth, but age-appropriate explanations of democratic values, campaigns, the electoral college, political parties, and voting. Vibrant photography and relatable examples will both inform and inspire students to make a difference in their communities.

Young Adult

Running
Natalia Sylvester
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion
July 14, 2020

When Mari Ruiz’s father runs for president; she isn’t prepared for the effects on her life—intense media scrutiny, questioning her family values, and her growing sense of political activism. As she evaluates her feelings and beliefs, Mari sets her own boundaries and finds her own voice. An intimate look at the way personal beliefs conflict with business as usual in U.S. politics.

Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy
Daniel G. Newman
Illustrated by George O’Connor
Roaring Brook/First Second
July 7, 2020

An accessible exploration of the connection between corporation, big money, and political power, and how breaking that connection is the needed to see genuine change in our country. The subtle turquoise and goldenrod color palette in this YA graphic novel puts the focus on specific examples, clearly-explained concepts, and what readers can do to affect change.

Faults and Aftershocks: A Review of Odessa

odessa-9781620107898_lg.jpgOdessa
Written and illustrated by Jonathan Hill
Published by Oni Press
Available November 10, 2020
Ages 13+

Eight years ago, Vietnamese-American Ginny Crane’s earth shattered—and not just because an earthquake ripped the West Coast apart, tearing apart the land and communities. No, Ginny’s world was shaken when her mother left her family, taking off without a word. In the years that followed, Ginny and her dad took care of her two kid brothers, acclimating to a new way of life. Now, on her eighteenth birthday, Ginny receives a package from her mother, Odessa. Ginny knows this is her chance to find her mother. Ginny takes off in the middle of the night, leaving her family behind. Her brothers, Harry and Wes, however, tag along on her journey; they miss their mother, too. As the trio bushwhack their way through a post-apocalyptic America, they struggle with who they can and cannot trust. They encounter rival gangs—all bent on keeping their territory intact—and join forces with an enigmatic man called Four Dollars. Jonathan Hill’s images in Odessa are salmon-saturated and filled with exquisite detail. The landscape is decimated, and the population is weary. Hill’s drawings capture the fatigue and manic energy that is integral to their survival. The Crane family is full of love and secrets: the mysterious Four Dollars is actually the siblings’ long-lost Uncle Hank. Uncle Hank, in turn, is deeply connected to the warring factions that plague the Crane’s journey. As family mysteries are unearthed, the Cranes encounter violence and death. Hill ends the story with a new beginning: the remaining Cranes must set forth into Middle America to find the truth. This new #OwnVoices graphic novel from Oni Press is a taut and exciting exploration of perseverance, truth, and unbreakable bonds.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf, we’ve got our sights set on the wide world of wrestling! But not just any kind of wrestling, it’s Friday-night-before-bedtime wresting with the Dangerous Daddoo, and maybe a special appearance from the Flying Mom Bomb! This energetic picture book is on our must read list. For more great reads, check out the list below.

Taylor Before and After
Written by Jennie Englund
Published by Imprint
Available now!

Friday Night Wrestlefest
Written by J.F. Fox and illustrated by Micah Player
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Available now!

All The Stars and Teeth
Written by Adalyn Grace
Published by Imprint
Available now!

Bent Heavens
Written by Daniel Kraus
Published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier
Written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by Maris Wicks
Published by First Second
Available now!

Babysitting Nightmares: The Vampire Doll
Written by Kat Shephard
Published by Imprint
Available now!