Baking with Pride: A Review of The Heartbreak Bakery

The Heartbreak Bakery
A. R. Capetta
Candlewick Press
October 12, 2021
Ages 14-17

After being dumped by a longtime girlfriend, Syd, who has always used baking to express feelings, bakes a batch of brownies that seem to magically break up everyone who eats them. This effect even reaches Vin and Alec, owners of the queer Proud Muffin bakery where Syd works and feels truly at home. With the owners’ relationship threatened, Syd worries that the Proud Muffin itself is in danger. Syd teams up with the Proud Muffin’s delivery person, Harley, to fix the mess, hoping to use newfound magical baking powers to bring all the broken-up couples together.

Told in the first person by Syd, who from time to time reflects on the experience of being agender, with a preference for no pronouns at all. There is additional representation of people from across the spectrum of gender identities. For example, Harley uses either he or they pronouns, depending on the day, with the day’s preference indicated by a pin. Syd and Harley have instant chemistry, leading Syd to open up about identifying as agender, despite an inability to express this identity to others. Capetta clearly incorporates personal experience into various aspects of the novel, describing its setting of Austin with love and delving into their baking experience by including recipes throughout the book. Filled with romance, heartache, and a touch of magical realism, The Heartbreak Bakery provides a chance for those with gender uncertainty to feel seen, a window into the agender experience, and a sweet treat for all.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Highlighting Hispanic/Latinx Titles for All Ages

Yesterday marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage month, which begins on September 15th, as it is the independence anniversary for several Latin American countries. This week, we highlight a variety of titles for all ages by Hispanic/Latinx writers that each, in turn, celebrate different parts of their cultural experience.

Picture Books

Mi Casa is My Home
Laurenne Sala, illustrated by Zara González Hoang
Candlewick Press
August 19, 2021

This bilingual book celebrates the family as Lucía shows the reader around, explaining her surroundings and introducing her various family members in Spanglish. The large and diverse family is depicted in soft watercolor and colored pencil art. Sala shows the cozy and welcoming aspects of the home of a Hispanic family, where extended family and neighbors are always welcome.

A Thousand White Butterflies
Jessica Betancourt-Perez & Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Gina Maldonado
Charlesbridge
January 19, 2021

Isabella has recently arrived in the US from Colombia with her mother and grandmother, having to leave her father behind. She is lonely and looking forward to her first day of school and making new friends. A storm and snow-day leave Isabella heartbroken, missing the warm climates and friends she left behind in Colombia. While looking out the window, she spots Katie playing in the snow. A playdate and new friend improve Isabella’s perspective on her new situation. Back matter includes authors’ notes which delve into the real-life inspiration for the story, general information about immigrants, and a glossary translating the Spanish terms used throughout the story.

Your Mama
NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Versify
April 6, 2021

Ramos celebrates mothers in this twist on the classic “yo’ mama” joke, with each phrase celebrating motherhood. Banners that resemble old school “mom” tattoos are used to start each lyrical phrase, with vibrant art mixing markers and pastels depicting a brown-skinned mother and daughter. Including Spanish in some of the text drives home both the author’s and illustrator’s stated commitments to promote inclusiveness and diversity in children’s literature.

Children’s Fiction

Fearless
Mandy Gonzalez
Simon & Schuster/Aladdin
April 6, 2021

Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez weaves her knowledge of theater into her debut novel. Twelve-year-old Monica Garcia arrives in New York City after being chosen as an understudy in a new show at a famed, but now struggling, theater. Rumors of a curse plague the building and strange and terrible things start to happen, threatening the chances of a successful opening night. Monica and her castmates must figure out how to reverse the curse, using a mixture of mystery solving and supernatural magic. This book, along with its just announced sequel, is sure to appeal to readers looking for drama or a fright.

Time Villains
Victor Piñeiro
Sourcebooks Young Readers
July 6, 2021

This debut novel from Piñeiro combines magic, imagination, and adventure in this first entry to a new series. Javi is working on a school assignment that involves “inviting historical figures to dinner” when he finds out that his family’s mysterious antique table can actually bring the historical guests into the present time. Unfortunately, one of his guests is Blackbeard, the infamous pirate, and he escapes the party, determined to summon the rest of his pirate crew. This leads Javi, his best friend, and his sister to work together to return Blackbeard to his own time, but they might have to invite other historical figures in order to do so. Back matter includes notes about all historical figures featured in the book.

Wild Survival #1: Crocodile Rescue
Melissa Cristina Márquez
Scholastic
February 2, 2021

Twelve-year-old Adrianna Villalobos travels the world with her family as her parents host Wild Survival!, a nature show featuring animal rescues. Adrianna is determined to prove that she deserves a spot-on camera as the show is poised to move from YouTube to a TV network. This is all put in jeopardy when her brother is injured in an accident that is partially Adrianna’s fault. To avoid being sent home, Adrianna must prove herself, even if it means confronting a legendary Mega Croc rumored to inhabit the waters around the family’s base camp. Back matter includes an author’s note where Márquez, a marine biologist and wildlife educator, recounts the real-life inspiration for the book, crocodile facts, and translations of Spanish terms used in the family’s dialogue.

Teen Fiction

Fire with Fire
Destiny Soria
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
June 8, 2021

Sisters Dani and Eden Rivera have been raised as dragon slayers. While they have different life priorities, they agree about the importance of their dragon slaying duty. That is, until Dani gets to know a dragon and realizes that what they were taught was wrong. Eden turns to mysterious magic to save her sister, believing her to be lost to the dragons. As the two dabble in new and dangerous magic, there is a more powerful enemy lurking in the shadows.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
August 10, 2021

Moon is used to living in the shadow of her twin sister, a social media star. That is, until one fateful summer when she takes a job as the merch girl on a tour bus full of influencers. She starts off with nothing but hatred for her bunkmate, Santiago Phillips, but this feeling shifts as the two continue to cross paths, along with Moon’s acceptance of her role in relation to her sister. This romance focuses not only on the connection between its two primary characters, but also on Moon finding herself and her place in the universe.

On the Hook
Francisco X. Stork
Scholastic Press
May 18, 2021

Hector has always kept his head down, taking steps towards a better life. Then, he is forced into a violent confrontation when his brother gets into a fight with the head of the DiscÍpulos gang. The consequences are many, including being sent to a reform school where he must live side by side with his enemy Joey, who had already previously promised to kill him. Hector must ultimately choose between revenge and working his way back to the path towards the life he dreamed of.

Nonfiction

It’s All Love: Reflections for Your Heart & Soul
Jenna Ortega
Random House Children’s Books
January 5, 2021

This debut by actress Jenna Ortega focuses on uplifting quotes and affirmations. Ortega’s personal stories about growing up Latina in Hollywood, working through depression, and more are accompanied by relevant quotes framed by illustrations. The range of experiences and emotions described within the collection is sure to resonate with a large variety of readers.

Moving Forward: A Review of I Don’t Want To Be Crazy

download (1)
I Don’t Want To Be Crazy 
by Samantha Schultz
Scholastic Inc.
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.

Duty, Loyalty, Love: A Review of Empress of All Seasons

 

Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons
Emiko Jean
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.

Stregas & Strategy: A Review of The Brilliant Death

brilliant deathThe 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.

Women and Wealth Redistribution: A Review of The Forest Queen

The Forest Queen by Betsy CornwellThe Forest Queen
Betsy Cornwell
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.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: A Review of Darius the Great is Not Okay

 

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius the Great is Not Okay
Adib Khorram
Dial Books, August 2018
Ages 14 and up

Darius Kellner, named after Darius the Great, doesn’t always feel great, and he and his family know that. Darius’s father also has Depression, and while he struggles to vocalize his love for Darius, does not shy away from tougher conversations about his own mental health and the importance of both therapy and medication. These conversations happen against the backdrop of a rough patch for Darius – he is bullied at school, not appreciated at his part time job at Tea Haven, and feels distance growing between himself and all of his family members: dad, mom, and younger sister, Lelah, who he sees as a replacement for himself.

As a narrator, Darius is not without faults – he routinely gets in his own way, and many times would rather remove himself from a situation or conversation with an “Um” and redirection towards the nearest tea kettle – but his character does learn and grow in his own way. During a family trip to Iran, where his mother grew up, Darius begins to recognize and find his place in his family as son, brother, and friend, though not without mistakes, painful conversations, and learning how to advocate for himself. This young adult novel, told from the perspective of an awkward but earnest narrator, is a testament to the importance of open and honest conversations around mental health. Aspects of daily life in Iran, from religious customs to food preparation rituals, add depth and interest to the characters and give the story a firm sense of place and nuanced secondary characters allow for a reader to see multiple facets of Darius as a protagonist.

Pride Month 2018 Reads

Pride Month is here, and with it new LGBTQ+ books for all audiences. This is only a sampling – visit us to see the entire selection and more!

julian

Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love, Candlewick Press

When Juliàn sees three beautiful mermaids on the subway, he is both in love and encouraged to embrace his true mermaid self. Will Abuela appreciate his transformation? Filled with evocative and whimsical illustrations, Julian is a Mermaid is a delightful and thoughtful exploration of non-conforming self-expression.

 

doing it by hannah witton

Doing It – Hannah Witton, Sourcebooks/Fire

There is a chapter specifically devoted to LGBTQ+ sex education in this nonfiction resource. Since the author is a straight cis woman, she rightfully invites several own voice contributors to write each section. Sex and gender are defined, followed by profiles on being transgender, transsexual, genderfluid, queer, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual. Witton then discusses coming out and ways to be a good ally (starting with acknowledging privilege).

 

girl made of stars by ashley herring blake

Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Owen and Mara are twins, with an unbreakable bond. It was Owen who unquestioningly accepted Mara’s coming out as bisexual to their family, and Owen who consoled Mara after she broke up with her best friend and first girlfriend, Charlie. Then Owen’s girlfriend, Hannah, accuses him of raping her and lines are drawn. Mara is torn between believing her friend or her brother, while also missing Charlie. With focus on consent, victim shaming, and the insidiousness of rape culture, Girl Made of Stars has emotional and timely relevance.

 

picture us in the light by kelly loy gilbert

Picture Us in the Light – Kelly Loy Gilbert, Disney/Hyperion

With a scholarship to RISD and the loving support of his family, Danny has almost everything he needs in life. Except a future with his best friend, Harry, and an explanation for his parents’ secrets of the past. Unraveling the mystery of his family along with exploring his own feelings for Harry isn’t easy for Danny, and could disrupt everything he’s worked to achieve, but he is determined to know how his past will affect his future.