I Don’t Want To Be Crazy
by Samantha Schultz
March 29, 2019
Grades 9 and up
In the memoir I Don’t Want To Be Crazy, Samantha Schultz describes her journey with anxiety disorder. The memoir is written in verse and split into five sections. In the book, Schultz begins with her senior year in high school and continues one year beyond college. She describes her relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. During this period of transition, she begins to identify that she is having panic attacks and to understand what her anxiety disorder entails. At the end of the book, Schultz includes an Author’s Note explaining why she wrote the memoir, noting that she was motivated to “provide comfort for others” by sharing her story and that others have opened up to her about their experiences with mental illness after reading the book. She also includes backup resources on how to talk to one’s family about mental illness and offers steps that readers can take to address mental illness. With clear and believable descriptions, Schultz provides the reader with insight into what her panic attacks feel like and how she manages her anxiety. Furthermore, she also involves family members’ reactions to her mental illness, which include questioning her about it. She writes, “My mother must think I’m blaming them, / but that’s not what I tried to say…./ We have given you everything/ you ever needed, ever wanted…./ What could possibly be so wrong with your life?” (62-63). She internalizes this questioning and feels guilty about her anxiety. Because Schultz speaks directly about mental health in this book, she provides a valuable perspective, letting the readers know that it’s okay to be mentally ill. While she is talking about her personal experience with mental illness, she also provides her readers with a way of moving forward.
You Are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery
By Jen Petro-Roy
February 19, 2019
Grades 6 and up
You Are Enough is a guide for young people struggling with eating disordered behavior and provides helpful resources, exercises, and information for readers to try and work towards recovery. Jen Petro-Roy writes about her own experiences of eating disordered behavior as well as her attempts at recovery, showing readers that they are not alone in their fight against their eating disorders. The book provides a list of resources on its last pages, spanning from where to get scholarships for treatment, body positive Instagram accounts, books, and websites dedicated to helping those with eating disordered behaviors. The book speaks at length about the need to find comfort in one’s self, rather than trying to make yourself likable to others. Attempts to control how others perceive you through eating disordered behavior will only serve to make you unhappier. By accepting yourself for who you are, and taking pride in what makes you unique, you can start the long and hard road to recovery.
You Are Enough is a non-fiction companion piece to Jen Petro-Roy’s fiction novel, Good Enough, about a young girl with an eating disorder. You Are Enough can be read as a standalone work without Good Enough. While the bulk of the work is meant for those already suffering from eating disordered behavior, it can be used and read by anyone. The book makes a point of showing that the world we live in inundates us with messages of self-worth being tied to self-image and how harmful it can be for our mental health. This a fantastic book for anyone wanting to better improve their relationship with their own self-image.
The Weight of Our Sky
By Hanna Alkaf
Simon & Schuster
February 5, 2019
Grades: 9 and up
Melati Ahmad is a sixteen-year-old Malaysian girl of Malay descent who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)—however, Melati believes that her OCD is actually the work of a djinn. Since the death of her father, Melati’s greatest fear has been the death of her mother. She counts by threes—her compulsive behavior—to appease the djinn and save her mother, along with everyone else she loves, from dying. On May 13, 1969, Melati is thrown into a world of chaos when the race riots between the Chinese and Malays begin. While at the movies with her best friend Saf, men with weapons break into the theater. Although Melati is saved by a Chinese-Malaysian stranger, she is forced to leave Saf behind if she wants to survive. Overcome with guilt, Mel teams up with Auntie Bee’s son Vince to try and find her mother who see she has not seen since the beginning of the riots. Melati is forced to confront her djinn and find her inner strength in order to stand up for what she believes in, find her mother, and protect the people she loves.
Alkaf is unafraid to make a book that is completely and utterly of her homeland. Alkaf’s note at the beginning of the book is spot on, letting readers know of the many possible triggers within the book and lets readers know that it is okay if they are not ready to read the book at this time. This is a powerful and brutally honest book that provides a very real look at what OCD looks like in a high-stress situation, which help builds the tension within the book. It is thoughtfully and beautifully written, vividly capturing a time of terror from the eyes of a teenaged girl who just wants her mother.
The Line Tender
By Kate Allen, Illustrated by Xingye Jin
Grades: 5 and up
Lucy and Fred are lifelong friends, and as they work on their animal field guide over the summer, it looks like they may become something more. When local fisherman and family friend Sookie catches a great white shark, Fred and Lucy set out to learn more about great white sharks by reading an old research proposal written by Lucy’s mother—an accomplished shark biologist before her untimely death when Lucy was 7 years old. Tragedy strikes when, after sharing her first kiss with Fred, he drowns in a quarry accident. Lucy is then left trying to find meaning in her friendship to Fred and wondering what could have been, while still struggling with the grief of her mother’s passing. By dedicating herself to her mother’s shark research and Fred’s field guide, and with the help of her Father, Sookie, and neighbor Mr. Patterson, Lucy is eventually able to come to terms with the deaths of her mother and Fred.
The Line Tender by Kate Allen is an emotional coming-of-age story that follows Lucy Everhart as she grapples with the loss of her mother and her best friend Fred. Allen thoughtfully ties Lucy’s attempts to find meaning in her friendship with Fred to her attempts to better understand the sharks her mother and Fred loved so much. The Line Tender is beautifully written and is both heartfelt and heartbreaking in the ways that it deals with community, friendship, and tragedy. Xingye Jin’s shark illustrations for each chapter title are stunning, adding yet another layer to the book as it shows Lucy slowly learning how to draw sharks as she learns more about them.
Empress of All Seasons
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2018
As per tradition, when the land of Honoku needs a new empress, a competition is held. All eligible women are invited, and the one who survives each of the four enchanted seasonal rooms is deemed worthy of the title of Empress of Honoku and position next to Taro, the prince next in line to be emperor. Mari has trained for this competition since childhood, though as yōkai she is technically ineligible to compete. Yōkai, supernatural beings, are under threat and enslaved by the current emperor. But Mari cares little about the rules or the prince – she competes for the power of being empress, and to bring change to Honoku from within. Taro himself doesn’t enjoy being a prize to be won, and cares little about his power – he would rather spend time in his lab with his mechanical inventions. Akira, another yōkai and friend of Mari, works to overthrow the Emperor from the outside while Mari keeps her true identity hidden to join the competition. Taro may just become their greatest ally, if they can learn to trust each other when their identities and motivations are revealed.
A detailed world and political structure along with multiple perspectives gives this fantasy novel depth and puts the reader at the immediacy of the action. Inspired by her Japanese heritage, Jean has created an escape for readers that questions the sacrifices made for duty and love, and challenges the notion of tradition as a value to be upheld.
The Brilliant Death
Amy Rose Capetta
Viking Books, October 2018
Historical fantasy and romance collide in this captivating tale set in Vinalia, a fictional land inspired by mountain villages of old Italy. Teodora di Sangro is well aware of and versed in the di Sangro way of life, which places loyalty to the family above the self, and the opinions of men above women – but she yearns for more: the power of a di Sangro son, and to use the magic she holds inside of her. With her magic, she changes her family’s enemies into trinkets that decorate her room, but Teo knows she could do more, if only her father trusted the strega way in addition to practicing and teaching political strategy to his sons.
When Teo meets Cielo, a young genderfluid strega who can teach Teo how to use her power to become the di Sangro son she longs to be, Teo realizes there may be a way to be her true self and save her family from the Capo’s plans to weaken each of the Five Families of Vinalia. With challenges to traditional gender roles, exploration of what it means to feel at home and whole in your body, and poetically descriptive language, The Brilliant Death elevates a coming-of-age story into a thoughtful consideration of who we are when we let go of society’s expectations and trust the magic inside of us.
The Forest Queen
HMH/Clarion Books, August 2018
“Steal from the rich, give to the poor” gets a fresh take in this gender-swapped retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale. Sylvie, sixteen and lady of Loughsley Abbey, begins to question her family’s treatment of the people of Loughsley – especially now that her brother, John, is the unforgiving sheriff. With her childhood friend, Bird, she runs away and lives in hiding in the nearby woods. Slowly, others from Loughsley join them in their new community, including a young woman named Little Jane, the midwife Mae Tuck, and others who feared otherwise being jailed for their inability to pay egregious taxes. Sylvie must eventually confront her brother, along with her own complicity in the evils done by her family, and she comes to realize that the changes required for economic justice mean she must take “radical action” and put herself in potential danger for the greater good.
Sylvie and her mission to redistribute wealth among the people of Loughsley are easy to root for, but the additional focus on gender roles, womanhood, and the idea of community as family are what set this retelling apart. Strong secondary characters help to challenge Sylvie and force her to take a strong stand against a system that she would otherwise benefit from, and parallels can be drawn from the injustices in the story to those of today’s world. As Little Jane, who becomes a dear friend to Sylvie says, “If someone doesn’t care whether you live or die, then living itself is rebellion” (p 241). This thoughtful narrative of what can happen when the privileged few horde wealth while the majority struggles to make do with less and less shows the power in a united band of concerned citizens.