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.

Intrigue and Romance: A Review of Foul Lady Fortune

Foul Lady Fortune
Chloe Gong
Simon and Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books
September 27, 2022
Age: 14 and up

It’s 1931 Shanghai; Imperial Japan has just invaded Manchuria. Rosalind Lang, a Chinese Nationalist assassin, must investigate a string of murders through the city before the Japanese use the terrorist actions as a pretense for invasion. Fighting against her training as a killer, and instead acting as a spy in a normal-seeming office building, she must work with the wealthy playboy and Nationalist spy Orion Hong, her new fake husband. All while keeping secret her identity of Lady Fortune and her ability to heal from almost any wound hidden. The story’s core is both an excellent spy thriller and romance between Orion and Rosalind. Author Chloe Gong sets the stage for a complicated ride through the intrigue of the time. Orion and Rosalind both have a sibling in the Communist party, with whom the Nationalists are at war. Orion’s trust in the Nationalist party is in question due to his father’s connection to Imperial Japan, and Rosalind is a notorious former gangster. While not perfect, these tensions, pulling at well-written characters, create some great dramatic moments. Gong utilizes shifting points of view in occasional chapters to build tension and fill out the identities of the secondary characters. In one instance, a chapter ends on a cliffhanger, only to build back up to that same cliffhanger in the next, as a new character learns the truth, revealing the satisfying twist. While this book can be read as a stand-alone, it does assume some familiarity with the characters, using a light hand to describe their sexual preferences, gender identity, and political ideology, which may be further developed in later installments.


A well-crafted romantic spy thriller with a great lead into future stories.

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?

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.

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.

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?

YA Romances with Heart

book heart

Love is in the air and on the shelves in the Butler Center this winter! And while it’s not uncommon, especially nearing Valentine’s Day, to find a plethora of lovey-dovey books to be had—this year seems particularly love-struck. One of the editors over at BookPage has even declared 2020 to be “the year of the YA rom-com” (they are REALLY looking forward to Yes No Maybe So, the upcoming collaboration between Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed, and so am I). They just may be right!

Lest you think it’s all carnations and conversation heart candy over here, there are some pretty fabulous and thoughtful twists on the traditional romantic tropes and quite a few delightfully complex characters and plots to be found as well. Take a look at some of our favorites.

Kissing Lessons cover artKissing Lessons by Sophie Jordan
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Available June 2020
Ages 14 and up

Hayden Vargas is a reputed “bad girl.” Emmaline Martin is just the opposite but determined to break out of her “good little sister” box. What could go wrong when Emmaline hires Hayden to give her lessons on how to land a man? An authentic friendship develops between the girls, challenging Emmaline’s comfort zone and Hayden’s desperately poor and unsupportive home life, making this story as much about friendship as it is about romance.

 

Four Days of You and Me cover artFour Days of You and Me by Miranda Kenneally
Published by Sourcebooks
Available May 2020
Ages 14 and up

The evolution and devolution of a relationship told in four class trips. Alex and Lulu go from enemies to lovers and back again as they fight, makeup, and support one another through the ups and downs of high school. The secondary plot line that follows Lulu’s art and interest in graphic novels through writing and selling one is compelling and could have played an even bigger part in these fun episodes.

 

19 Love Songs19 Love Songs by David Levithan
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Available January 2020
Ages 14 and up

Joyous, awkward, tearful, raw, supportive, and lonely—19 Love Songs is a short story collection focused on love and all its many, many forms. Some are stories Levithan wrote as valentine notes to his friends, several first appeared in other short story collections, and all take a thoughtful look at the love between friends, strangers, partners, parents, families, and teammates. An appropriately varied mix-tape of emotions for Valentine’s Day.

 

Finding Mr. Better-Than-You cover artFinding Mr. Better-Than-You by Shani Petroff
Published by Swoon Reads
Available January 2020
Ages 14 and up

When Camryn Roth is dumped by her boyfriend, she turns to her other love, romantic comedies, for solace. With them comes an idea… What if she could use classic rom-com themes to make her ex jealous and salvage her senior year and her life plan—Columbia University with Marc by her side. As with any good movie in the genre, things go awry, and Camryn ends up discovering the true self she lost to her relationship. As sweet and silly as a big-screen rom-com with a side of self-actualization.

 

Only Love Can Break Your Heart cover artOnly Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber
Published by Scholastic Press
Available January 2020
Ages 12 and up

Reiko is good at keeping secrets, like the fact that she still sees and talks to her dead sister Mika. So when the school’s “It girl” starts dating gawky, quiet, unpopular Seth, she can keep that a secret too. But when their relationship goes public her entire life starts to spiral out of control–Seth, her grades, and her secrets. More toxic relationship drama, than rom-com, this story of grief, introspection, and self-discovery is also a love letter to its stunning desert setting.

 

This Train Is Being Held cover artThis Train is Being Held by Ismée Williams
Published by Amulet Books/Abrams
Available January 2020
Ages 14 and up

Two strangers meet on a train—Isa the dancer and Alex the baseball player. Then they meet again and again and again. Small snippets of their vastly different lives unfold between run-ins on the subway. But can they really develop a relationship while hiding so much of themselves from the other? Themes of racism, mental health struggles, gang violence, and heavy family expectations make this far more complex than your average YA romance.

 

 

 

 

 

Sort of Bilingual: Serving Youth and Young Adults from Spanish-speaking Homes

Spanish/English Dictionary collectionJoin Elizabeth Lynch of Addison Public Library and Kelly MacGregor of Berwyn Public Library for an in-depth look at how they worked to improve service for the teens at their library and a discussion of how you can too.

Children and Young Adults growing up in Spanish-speaking households can encounter unique barriers to academic and social-emotional growth. Addison Public Library surveyed nearly 400 residents with the help of the ALA Diversity Research Grant to get a richer picture of the assets and needs of youth in bilingual homes. Their findings led them to develop new ways of approaching programming and services for bilingual youth. Find out more about the process for collecting useful community data and how you can replicate successful programs in your library.

When: Saturday February 9, 2019 from 11am — 1pm

Where: Butler Children’s Literature Center — Dominican University, Crown Rm 214

RSVP: to butler@dom.edu by 2/4/19 to reserve a seat

Out of the Easy

Image

Out of the Easy

by Ruta Sepetys

Philomel, 2013.

Ruta Sepety’s second novel, Out of the Easy, is set in a world of cigarette smoke, shadows, and bourbon. It’s 1950 in the french quarter of New Orleans. Josie is a smart girl with hopes of college, but the city feels like a cage. Her mother is a call girl at a well-known brothel and a highly publicized murder has caught them both in a web of lies and secrets. A supporting cast of prostitutes, errand boys, madames, and madmen completes the picture.

In short, this is a noir.

And noir is a rare setting for a YA novel. Perhaps authors assume that the iconic imagery and archetypal characters will be unrecognizable to the Millennial generation. Maybe they are uncomfortable with the femme fatale and the mess of gender stereotypes that come with her. Or maybe they just don’t like it.

But there’s more to noir than snappy dialogue and shoulder pads. Beyond the private eyes and sexual innuendos are themes of misrepresentation, moral ambiguity, betrayal, and alienation. Its perspective is cynical, depicting a world infested with lies and liars.

For many (myself included) adolescence is a period of not fitting in, feeling that the world around you is obscure and impossible to navigate, like being lost in a maze. Sometimes, at least, it can feel like noir.

Which is why Sepetys’ choice of setting feels so right for a young adult audience. When Josie realizes that she has only herself to blame for the web of self-serving lies and half-truths she has has been spinning, she is both the quintessential young adult and the quintessential noir anti-hero.