Just the Start of Spooky Season: A Review of The Whispering Dark

The Whispering Dark
Kelly Andrew
Scholastic Press
October 18, 2022
Ages 14 and up

Being Deaf, Delaney Meyers-Petrov has always been seen as fragile, but when she gets accepted into the mysterious Godbole School, with its history of teaching students how to roam between worlds, she jumps on the chance to prove herself. Meeting Colton Price again at the school was not part of the plan. Colton Price’s life has orbited around one person ever since he woke up from death at her feet – Delaney’s. Forced together on campus, but forbidden from interacting, Colton struggles to keep away from her. They form an uneasy alliance to discover why students are dying gruesome deaths and brace themselves for an age-old enemy that has risen from the shadows of the school’s dark history.

Described by the publisher as a romantic fantasy, it reads more as a mystery thriller, with its strange murders and supernatural entities, with only subtle themes of romance. Andrew skillfully builds tension that makes readers need to find out the cause of the deaths and the secrets of the school to be appeased. The story could have been more effectively told in the first-person, by the alternating narrators, to provide in-depth understanding of each character. Its third-person narration waters down the emotion and hinders evolving character arcs. Delaney sees herself as fragile in the beginning and doesn’t tell friends or professors that she’s Deaf, which hurts her relationships and grades. Even in the end, she doesn’t tell people around her. Elements like the frequently changing narrators and elaborate language are disorienting and add to the mystery. The puzzling secrets of the school that only Colton seems to know but are hidden outside the grasp of the reader until the rushed resolution are an additional element of suspense. This perplexing story will make young adult/new adult readers ponder what they would come back to life as after a deathly experience: a better version of themselves or something possessed by evil.

Fact or Fiction: A Review of What the Fact?: Finding the Truth in All the Noise

What the Fact?: Finding the Truth in All the Noise 
Dr. Seema Yasmin 
Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
September 20, 2022 
Ages 12 and up 

In What the Fact?, Dr. Seema Yasmin reveals how people interact with trillions of bytes of data every second and, depending on if it’s fact or fiction, can spark a viral information outbreak leading to fear or hatred. By using a virus as a metaphor for the spread of false information, Yasmin states why people fall for false information and biases, how news sources have changed over decades, and how social media has become the biggest influence on minds, both young and old. From beginning to end, Yasmin encourages readers to be freethinkers and be suspicious of information received from social media, social circles, or any supposedly credible source. 

Throughout the book, the author uses a humorous but down-to-earth tone that encourages readers to keep reading and provides small sidebars that give brain breaks between the chunks of information. Using graphs, pictures, and historical references all backed up by a thorough list of sources in the appendix, the novel is helpfully organized by topic, such as COVID-19, historical events, and governmental issues. Yasmin’s vast experience in fact-based fields—she attended medical school at Cambridge University, worked as a disease detective for the US government and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—has her well-versed in sorting through the noise for the facts beneath. Technical terminology is explained in a way that educates readers on how it is being used and defined, making it easy to follow along. Yasmin, very early in the book, states that this book is just a magnifying glass into how beliefs, thoughts, ideas, actions, etc. are influenced by approximately “1,099,511,627,776,000” (pg. 2) bytes processed and stored in the brain and that this is not a book that is going to tell readers how to think. This information-rich book describes the exhaustion and confusion of being aware of all information, yet bolsters all types of readers to gain skills in critical thinking, media, and digital literacy so they can thoughtfully navigate the information-rich world we live in. 

Summer Love for All—YA Romance 2022

The Feeling of Falling in Love

The Feeling of Falling in Love
Mason Deever
Scholastic/Push
August 2, 2022

When his perfect friends with benefits situation is complicated by feelings—yikes—Neil panics. But instead of talking things out, he determines the best way to help Josh get over him is to fake a new relationship with the roommate he barely tolerates. A conscientious student and budding musician, Wyatt agrees to the plan in exchange for a potential audition with Neil’s music exec brother. But a family wedding in Beverly Hills is a long way, in every way, from their North Carolina boarding school. And if Neil thinks he’s a complicated mess, introducing sweet, sensitive Wyatt to his mother’s performative allyship and his grandparents’ transphobia only adds to it. As fake feelings turn real, Neil realizes he deserves better than he’s had and that Wyatt deserves better too. So it’s time to be better. Though not an especially sympathetic character, Deaver draws Neil as a messy and emotional jerk who is ultimately capable of change. Tenderly awkward Wyatt is an adorable foil and rounds out Neil’s found family of LGBTQ friends and support. This train wreck turned love story is full of snarky humor, complex friendships, and just the right amount of angsty YA romance.

Love from Scratch

Love from Scratch
Kaitlyn Hill
Penguin Random House/Delacorte
April 5, 2022

Landing a coveted summer marketing internship with the foodie channel Friends of Flavor is a dream come true for super-fan Reese Camden. The Seattle media company is worlds away from her Kentucky home and the social media trolling nightmare that was her high school years. Thrown into a video with fellow intern and charming cooking wiz, Benny Beneventi, turns her summer upside down. Her safely behind-the-scenes job is suddenly not so hidden when their video is a viral sensation and becomes a regular feature on the channel. And friendly competition turns serious when the two are pitted against each other for the chance to stay on with the company come fall. What’s more important, her career goals or her potential romance? Hill throws plenty of obstacles in Reese’s way (internet trolls, sleazy executives, and LOTS of self-doubt), balanced by supportive friends and goofy, but loveable Benny. Reese’s work ethic, perseverance, and her desire to make a difference for the channel, keep things from getting too saccharine. A perfect sweet and salty combo!

My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding

My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding
Sajni Patel
Abrams/Amulet
April 19, 2022

Music college dreams hit family responsibility reality for hip hop violin phenom, Zuri Damani. Her college hopes seem dashed for good by a rejection letter from Juilliard, but a local competition offers a second chance if only she can fit it into a week packed with wedding prep, wedding photography, and LOTS of wedding parties. And hide it all from her very traditional, law-school-plotting parents. When her biggest competition turns out to be the heartthrob cousin of her future brother-in-law, Zuri turns challenge into inspiration. Support from a big, sneaky group of cousins and a growing rivalry/friendship with Naveen (the heartthrob) push her to get creative to follow her dreams and be there for her family. Well drawn primary characters, exhibiting all the insecurities, bravado, and creativity of teenagers, are balanced by very involved, if sometimes domineering adult family members. Full of vibrant colors, music, and smells that drift tantalizingly off the page, Patel pulls the reader right into the party and all the chaos you’d imagine from an 8-day wedding extravaganza.

Nothing Burns as Bright as You

Nothing Burns as Bright as You
Ashley Woodfolk
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Versify
April 5, 2022

This stark and beautiful novel in verse follows two unnamed queer black girls in a dual-timeline look at how they came together and how they burned it all down in the end. As their relationship moves beyond just friendship, their unhealthy and unbalanced dynamic begins to wear them both down. The neediness and desperation of the narrator and episodes of aloofness from a love interest only referred to as “You” foreshadow the moment one draws the other over the edge of self-destruction. The girls start a fire in a school dumpster, leading to the eventual destruction of their relationship. Woodfolk uses fire imagery throughout the novel, evoking volatile emotions, incredible passion, and actual acts of arson. Verses often flash back to their very different childhoods and follow a winding path exploring struggles with adultification, neglect, and the need to be seen. Spare language and many quick, yet powerful verses create a quick read that packs a powerful punch.  

Rivals

Rivals: American Royals III
Katherine McGee
Random House
May 31, 2022

In an alternate reality America, a royal family—the Washingtons—rules the country and they provide all the drama and romance one might expect of young royals. Newly crowned Queen Beatrice is learning how to rule while navigating a relationship with a disgruntled fiancé, who will always come in second place to her job. After years of being the Party Princess, Samantha has finally fallen in love with a future Duke, but with her relationship under a microscope, she might just be ready to run away from her royal duties for good. Prince Jefferson, the family heartthrob, has his pick of girls: Daphne, his on again off again girlfriend; Nina, his friend, turned lover; and Gabriella, a ruthless noble bent on becoming a princess. Three intertwined storylines follow the siblings as they deal with life, love, and friendship in the royal spotlight. McGee weaves themes of love and angst, with grief, guilt, and glamor to create an emotional connection to characters that might otherwise seem far removed from us commoners. This third installment in the series builds on their glittering world and complicated relationships, and ends on the perfect cliffhanger to leave royal-watchers on the lookout for volume four (coming 2023).


What’s on your summer romance reading list?

Three Wishes to Love: A Review of The Loophole

The Loophole
Naz Kutub
Bloomsbury Publishing
June 21, 2022
Ages 14 and up

Sayyed, “Sy”, regrets the day he let go of his ex-boyfriend, Farouk. But being from a strictly disciplined and overly protective Indian-Muslim family never gave him room to live his own life; much less travel the world with Farouk. When his life is suddenly interrupted by a mysterious girl and she offers to grant him three wishes for his help, Sy takes the opportunity to track down his ex to reconcile their relationship. Little does Sy know that his whirlwind international adventure would take him through riots, air raids, and to a refugee camp, making him take risks and be braver than he’s ever been before in the name of love.

Interspersed with flashbacks of his past with Farouk and chapters of a related story about a djinn, the novel gives off a vibe of magical realism as Sy is whisked on a journey from one side of the world to the other. The fast pace and many new twists in Sy’s unanticipated adventure make it easier to see his transition from naivete to courage, and to confront his dad about him being gay. On top of Sy experiencing LGBTQ discrimination, themes of political upheaval, and cultural sensitivity are approached as possible to overcome as long as people have hope. Kutub also infuses humor into the story and the main character, dissolving the tension of some of the serious issues approached as Sy takes on this journey. Confronted by these world issues, there are times when Sy feels he and his problems are insignificant, yet his friends fuel him to persevere, revealing that if people have a supportive network, they can accomplish anything. Sy’s family does not support him being gay, but when suddenly faced without his presence as he journeys on his own, they eventually change perspectives to keep Sy in their lives. The illustration that people can change when they love something enough adds to the feeling of hopefulness throughout the novel. This whirlwind adventure is perfect for readers looking for mystical flair and a sassy main character, who is searching for love and a place to call home.

Be a Solution-Seeker: A Review of Girls Who Green the World: Thirty-four Rebel Women Out to Save Our Planet

Girls Who Green the World: Thirty-four Rebel Women Out to Save Our Planet
Diana Kapp
Illustrated by Ana Jarén
Penguin Random House, Delacorte Press
April 5, 2022
Ages 12 and up

In a news cycle (and world) seemingly full of climate disasters, we need stories of women stepping up to fight them more than ever. In Girls Who Green the World, journalist Diana Kapp profiles 34 problem-solvers engaged in this work. They are environmental superheroes and these are their origin stories. No two are the same, with women of all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels—from students to Fortune 500 executives—and their personal moments of bravery and inspiration. Mary Anne Hitt spends her time and passion fighting against new coal plants and closing existing ones. Komal Ahmad is tackling “the world’s biggest problem”—food waste at restaurants and facilities while neighbors fight hunger. And Jannice Newson and Nana Britwum, who combined their STEM know-how and conservationist drive to create braids with fiber extracted from invasive plant material. Through interviews with these problem solvers, Kapp uncovers their motivations, successes, and failures with hope, humor, and compassion for their struggles. Each profile begins with a “get to know you” Q&A before exploring each woman’s journey from problem to action. Facts about the associated issues and action-items are included throughout and provide both shock value (“… humans produce 320 lbs. of waste per person, per year.” (36)) and a way to channel outrage to outcomes. Spanish fashion illustrator Ana Jarén brings each woman to life with vibrant and detailed hand-drawn portraits that glow with personality. Her interstitial illustrations help to lighten the tone with color and whimsy. A final “Now What?” chapter encourages introspection before action, to move individuals from reader to changemaker. Kapp uses the chapter to offer inspiration and guidance toward a unique path rather than to preach.

A collected portrait of hope and motivation for tomorrow’s changemakers.

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.