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Banned Books: International Edition

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 07:00

International books offer teen readers unique perspectives into the lives of young people from other countries. In some ways, these experiences are universal, yet in other ways they are particular to their cultural milieu. They are windows that open readers’ eyes to different experiences, different ways of thinking, and different norms, and in doing so, they may challenge our notions about what we deem socially acceptable.

Only a very small number of international books make it into the U.S. market, and even less into our YA market. Then, a select few of those books are granted the dubious honor of appearing on our Banned Books lists.

It is ironic that the very books whose value lies (in part, at least) in their ability to expand the minds of young adult readers by offering them perspectives outside of their cultural bubbles should be banned — often for those very same perspectives and ideas which are at their core.

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read, to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox, unpopular, or “other.” International books may contain elements of all those things. We celebrate them here by exploring a sampling of international YA books that have been banned or challenged at one point or another, both here in the United States and abroad.

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa; translated by Lauren Na (First Second, 2009)

This Korean graphic novel was number two on ALA’s Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books list of 2011. The reasons listed for the challenges were: nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group.

The story, the first in a trilogy, sensitively depicts the sexual curiosity and coming-of-age of a young girl, Ehwa, growing up in rural Korea around the turn of the twentieth century. Kim Dong Hwa’s discussion of sexuality is related in evocative metaphors and natural imagery, yet his graphic depictions are refreshingly candid and often amusing. His is a graphic novel that treats the subject of sexual awakening with great humor, sensitivity and honesty, and does not shy away from graphic depictions of taboo subjects. Though set in a conservative society of far away and long ago, Kim shows that childhood and adolescent curiosity about sex is both natural and universal.

Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi; translated by translated by Mattias Ripa and Blake Ferris (Pantheon, 2003)

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel memoir about growing up during the Iranian Revolution, originally published in France, earned second place on ALA’s Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books list of 2014, for reasons of: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions, and being “politically, racially, and socially offensive.”

Satrapi does not censor her account of what she remembers from the events of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, including violent protests and scenes of torture. Young Marji is opinionated and headstrong, and Satrapi does not hold back on her use of colorful language or her opinions throughout her memoir. She does so with a good dose of humor and irreverence, poignantly depicting what it was like to live through such a turbulent, violent upheaval in a nation’s history from the perspective of a young child.

Into the River by Ted Dawe (Polis Books, 2016)

The source of heated controversy in its native New Zealand, this award winning book was published in the U.S. in 2016. Access to the book had been restricted for a time by New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board of Review due to complaints about sex scenes, offensive language and drug use.

Into the River tells the story of Te Arepa Santos, a teenage Māori boy who struggles to fit in when he leaves his village on a scholarship to attend a boys’ boarding school in the city. Te Arepa’s Māori perspective is one that is rarely seen in literature for young adults, making this book an important contribution to world literature for young adults.


Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (HarperTeen, 2000)

Concluding our roundup on an amusing note, this 2001 Printz Honor book appears 35th on ALA’s list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged books of 2000-2009.

This British import chronicles the daily musings and misadventures of Georgia Nicolson, one singularly irrepressible teenage girl. Georgia has plenty to say about a variety of topics affecting her life, from kissing to homosexuality to bodily functions, narrated with zany candor and a flippant attitude towards the authority figures in her life. Georgia’s uncensored, hilarious voice is the main draw of Rennison’s book, the first in a long and successful series. To censor it would deprive young adult readers the joy of getting to know her.

— Jenny Zbrizher, currently reading The Boomerang Effect by Gordon Jack

Jenny is a YA librarian at the Morris County Library in New Jersey. In addition to reading, she is an avid fan of travel and musical theater. Follow her on Twitter @JennywithaZ

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#QP2018 Nominees: Novels in Verse

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 08:52

Too. Many. Words.

For a reluctant reader who may not be able to create that internal video that brings a narrative to life, a book in verse is a lot less intimidating. We loved these four titles with four very different approaches that still manage to capture contemporary concerns.

 In Bull, author David Elliott gives a famous Greek myth a facelift that transforms it into a tale that can be paired with George O’Connor’s graphic novel Poseidon: Earth Shaker to bring a whole new perspective to an old story.

Sonya Sones grabs readers by the heart as she tackles youth homelessness and mental illness in Saving Red.

Then Nikki Grimes pairs brilliant art with classic verse and provides current context with One Last Word.  

We round out our four with Solo by Kwame Alexander who mastered this style of writing with predecessors like The Crossover and Booked.  

These four titles contain just the right number of words to build a powerful emotional response in our reluctant young adult readers.

Bull by David Elliott
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
March 23, 2017

Bull is a retelling of the ancient Greek Minotaur myth told in verse. Fans of Greek mythology know the basic story. Poseidon curses the King of Crete, his wife gives birth to a monster child with the body of a human and the head of a bull, he’s put in a labyrinth where the hero Theseus eventually vanquishes him. But in the modern trend of reimagining old tales from unique perspectives, David Elliott, gives us insight into the mind of the fabled Minotaur, named Asterion, as well as his family, the god Poseidon, and his eventual conqueror Theseus. David Elliott reimagines these ancient characters with fresh modern voices. The writing is in verse, and is at times lyrical, humorous, and heartbreaking. Potential readers should take note that there is a LOT of cursing in this book. The third page opens with Poseidon saying “whaddup bitches?.” And emphasis is placed on adult elements found in the original myth, such as the episode of bestiality between the bewitched queen and a bull that produced the minotaur.

Points of interest: the cover is eye-catching, the text is sparse with plenty of white space, and the book itself is short. The characters feel modern and engaging. Elliott doesn’t pull any punches with regards to cursing and references to adult themes.

Suggested for mature teens who can handle some adult humor and references. Recommended for fans of mythology retellings, Kwame Alexander’s novels in verse, and readers looking for a short engaging read.

—Jessica Ormonde

Saving Red by Sonya Sones
Harper Teen/Harper Collins

Who doesn’t recognize procrastination as a valid reason for putting off the community service required by one’s high school? In one quick free verse poem, readers are hooked and brought into Molly’s world. They are held there by an engaging plot told in spare verse.

It’s a story about family.  Molly’s family is falling apart. Readers have no idea why Noah, her older brother is gone, but they do know that her family is not the same. With a father who is spending more time at work, and a mother who is using drugs to drown out the pain, Molly could spend the time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she is trying to find love and she is trying to save Red.

Red is a red, hot mess.  For one, she’s homeless. It’s not like she is looking for help, though, so Molly’s desire to “save” Red is falling a little bit on deaf ears.  More than that, Red isn’t convinced that she wants the medication that will keep her mental illness at bay.  Without that medication, though, Red cannot be reunited with her family in San Francisco, and that is Molly’s greatest wish.

Sones’ choice of free verse format tackles the issues of homelessness and mental illness in a way that makes the topic accessible. Readers can’t help but relate to Molly. Readers will be won over by Red’s stubborn determination to be self-reliant.  The issues raised in Saving Red will resonate with fans of Ellen Hopkins, but the hopeful, innocent tone will appeal to fans of Kelly Bingham’s Shark Girl.

— Jodi Kruse

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Young adults who love having the last say will take a look at “One Last Word” by Nikki Grimes.  Once they open the book, however, they will see Nikki Grimes has taken last words and used a poetry art form that captures and embraces art, history, culture, wisdom, and truth.  Inspired by poets from the Harlem Renaissance, Grimes integrates their powerful words of wisdom with those of her own.

Artwork has been selected from some of the best illustrators: Jan Gilchrist Spivey, Shadra Strickland, R. Gregory Christie, E.B. Lewis, Christopher Myers and more.  Each work of art, in its own unique media, enhances and supports the text of Grimes’ poems. Visually appealing, these colorful and vibrant illustrations are stimulating and thought-provoking.

Historically and culturally, Grimes’ selected poetry from one of the most important literary and artistic eras in the United States, the Harlem Renaissance.  From 1918 to the late 1930s, visual artists, writers, poets, dancers, and actors filled the Harlem scene, bringing and sharing their talents.  Grimes selected poems from well-known poets like Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar to lesser known poets like Clara Ann Thompson, (William) Waring Cuney, and Georgia Douglas Johnson.  Themes of identity, beauty, courage, and history are expressed so beautifully and truthfully in each of these poems.  Grimes adds her voice, expressing these same themes that are relevant today as they were during the Harlem Renaissance.

Last, but certainly not least, are the words of wisdom and truth that connect these poems.  Young adults will love Grimes’ contemporary poetry style and how she connects her poetry with the literary style of the Harlem Renaissance poets.  Using the “Golden Shovel” poetry form, Nikki takes some words from the Harlem Renaissance poets and writes a new poem putting the word last in each line. These are some last words that everyone will love!

— Karen Lemmons

Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess
August 1, 2017

Two things matter to seventeen-year-old Blade Morrison: his girlfriend, Chapel, and his guitar. Son of an attention-seeking alcoholic rock star father, Blade struggles to escape his demons and find his own identity. His mom has passed away, so after Chapel betrays him and a deep family secret surfaces, Blade travels to Ghana seeking answers.

Cover art is slick and eye-catching with a silhouette of a guitar player on a bright red background. The fast-paced, rhythmic verse engages readers immediately into Blade’s rock star world. Plenty of white space makes the book accessible and appealing to reluctant readers. Candid yet witty wordplay lends humor to otherwise intense situations… one of Alexander’s specialties. Musical references abound, which may entice readers to create a playlist. During Blade’s expedition in Ghana, the complexity of the Morrison family dynamic highlights the flawed characters, while at the same time creating a likeability, even sympathy, for Blade’s dysfunctional father. The richly detailed Ghana environment provides a strong sense of place, one that will change Blade and his family forever.

Readers of character-driven fiction will be fascinated by Blade’s journey. Particularly, fans of books with music thrown into the mix, such as Exile by Kevin Emerson or Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell will adore Solo.  Additionally, music fans will relish the audio version of the book, which is narrated by Kwame Alexander himself and includes musical performances by Randy Preston that reflect Blade’s moods and poetry throughout the story.

— Lisa Krok

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Booklist: Romantic Comedies

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 07:00

There is nothing like escaping into a fun-filled romantic comedy, especially when the pressures of real life loom large, and one could use a little levity, love, and fun. Diving into a romantic escapade can be incredibly satisfying, especially if it is one that can provide “all the feels.”

Rom-coms are often predictable in the best sort of way. If the story is true to the genre, you know the most likely ending…the romantic interests will end up together, but it is the journey to that end that brings us in. There are also other key elements that every rom-com has:

  • Two Main Protagonists – one, if not both, is adorkable and charming. They will be easy to root for in love and in life.
  • Side Characters – the tapestry of people that surround our hopeful lovers. They can be supportive, offer comic guffaws, or are the ones helping create obstacles and/or distractions that keep our lovers apart or push hem together.
  • Location – often as much as a character as our side characters. Our lovers are often traipsing over an area creating memories in key spots.
  • The “Meet-Cute” or the person next door – how our characters come into contact with each. The meet-cute will often be awkward or filled with tension where the characters do not like each other at first, or it can be charming. Sometimes, often in YA fiction, our soon-to-be lovers have been friends since childhood, and it is just seeing them each other in a new light.
  • The Challenge – often a false start where there is a misunderstanding, other potential love interest, or obstacle that seems to big to surmount comes into play separating our would be lovers.
  • The Grand Epiphany – what brings them together in the end. One or both will have a revelation that they can not be without the other, and usually a grand gesture will be involved in declaring love.

Here are few recent Rom-Coms from this year:

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

  • Protagonist 1: Dimple Shah, recent high school graduate who is dying to get away from her parents and their constant obsession of finding her the “Ideal Indian Husband” (IIH). Smart and motivated she is attending a summer coding camp focused on app development in hopes of getting to meet her idol, Jenny Lindt.
  • Protagonist 2: Rishi Patel, heading to MIT in the fall and deeply loyal to his family, Rishi is heading to coding camp in hope of meeting Dimple, the girl his parents have chosen for him in an arranged marriage.
  • Side Characters: Coding camp roommates and teammates, and Rishi’s brother.
  • Location: Summer coding camp at San Francisco State
  • The Meet-Cute: Dimple has just gotten herself a delicious ice coffee when a strange boy (Rishi) comes up to her saying “Hello future wife.” She pours delicious ice coffee all over him.
  • The Challenge: Dimple was not aware of the arrange marriage, and is really is adamant of following her dreams and doesn’t want romance or marriage to get in the way.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

  • Protagonist 1: Desi Lee  – in charge of many school groups, on several sports teams, and she excels at most things in her life.
  • Protagonist 2: Luca Drakos – the artsy new kid.
  • Side Characters: A great group of friends and one of the best dads.
  • Location: Orange County, CA
  • The Meet-Cute: After meeting Luca in class and while talking to him about maybe trying out art club – her fashion sweatpants fall down.
  • The Challenge: While Desi excels at most things, she fails when it comes to dating. While one guy was trying to ask her out, she accidentally coughed up a large piece of phlegm that landed directly on the front of his shirt.  After meeting Luca, she decides to do things right and starts watching her father’s beloved Korean television dramas to use them as a blueprint on how to flirt and succeed in a relationship.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

  • Protagonist 1: Eugenia “Genie” Lo, a 16-year-old overachiever determined to get into a top tier college and get out of Silicon Valley.
  • Protagonist 2: Quentin Sun the weird new kid from China at Genie’s school who seems to have a weird obsession with her.
  • Side Characters: Genie’s best friend Yunie, and various gods and demons.
  • Location: Silicon Valley, CA
  • The Meet-Cute: Genie rescues Quentin while he is getting the crap beaten out of him by six grown men. When she arrives at school, she discovers he is now in her homeroom where he stands on a desk declaring to Genie, “You belong to me.”
  • The Challenge: Quentin is actually the Monkey King and Genie is a reincarnation of Ruyi Jingu Bang, the Monkey King’s weapon. There has been a “jailbreak” of demons from Diyu – hell – and Genie and Quentin hold the fate of mankind in their hands.

Meg and Linus by Hanna Nowinski

  • Protagonist 1: Linus – shy Trekkie that loves school and coffee.
  • Protagonist 2: Danny – hot new barista and classmate.
  • Side Characters: Meg – Linus’ well-meaning best friend that will do everything in her power to fix Linus up with Danny.
  • Location: Small town high school
  • The Meet-Cute: Linus spills his coffee and needs help getting it cleaned up by the dreamy Danny.
  • The Challenge: Linus is painfully shy, and not even sure if Danny is gay. Meg’s well-meaning actions often force Linus out of his comfort zone.

I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

  • Protagonist 1: Sydney, a 19-year-old soon to be college sophomore that hasn’t ever ventured far from home for fear of leaving her agoraphobic mother behind.
  • Protagonist 2: Jackson, a hot Canadian that happens to be best friends with Sydney’s best friend’s ex.
  • Side Characters: Leela, Sydney’s best friend since early childhood who has recently broken up with her boyfriend Matt before they were supposed to go traveling across Europe. Leela has convinced Sydney to come with her instead.
  • Location: Europe
  • The Meet-Cute: Sydney and Jackson meet at the airport in London after finding out that Matt has decided to also continue plans of a European vacation.
  • The Challenge: Jackson is Matt’s best friend, someone who Leela often blames for Matt’s bad behavior. Sydney and Jackson, while having physical attraction to each other, keep getting thrown together as Leela and Matt reconnect, fall out, and reconnect again.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Omsbee

  • Protagonist 1: Natasha Zelenka (Tash), serious fangirl of Leo Tolstoy, is a rising YouTube star with her webseries Unhappy Families, a modern-day adaptation of Anna Karenina and her Vlog Tea with Tash.
  • Protagonist 2: Paul – the boy next door and long time best friend.
  • Side Characters: Jack, Tash’s other best friend and sister of Paul, Tash’s family, and the others cast members of Unhappy Families.
  • Location: Lexington, Kentucky
  • The Meet-Cute: The boy next door and long time best friend.
  • The Challenge: Tash has had a long time crush on vlogger star Thom, who as her online popular grows, so does Thom’s attention. Also, Tash identifies as romantic-asexual and is unsure how that will play out in a relationship.

By Danielle Jones, currently reading Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

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#QP2018 Nominees: Social Media in YA Fiction

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 10:24

Social media is a huge part of the lives of most teens. Naturally, this is being reflected in young adult books. While platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, to name just a few, are hugely popular, the magnetism they develop can have serious consequences when intentions are unethical or downright sinister. The following selections serve as fascinating yet cautionary tales of sorts due to cyberstalking, catfishing, cyberbullying, and the exposing of deep secrets. The following nominees for Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers 2018 all explore how social media can effect the lives of teens. 

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
Delacorte Press
May 30, 2017

Five teens show up for detention after school, but only four make it out alive. Simon Kelleher, the creator of a malicious gossip app targeting his classmates, dies of an allergic reaction during detention. Somehow, his epi pen has gone missing, in addition to the unaccounted for stash of them kept in the school nurse’s office. When police discover peanut oil was in Simon’s water, the facts start adding up that this was no accident.

Cover image is intriguing with the four suspects depicted as faceless inside a yearbook type layout with contrasting red title. The fast-paced first chapter snags the reader’s attention right away, and the plot intensifies throughout the book as more secrets are exposed. Each chapter consists of brief points of view from the detention survivors, unfolding the menacing tone Simon has created via social media in a disturbing and twisted way. Diversity in ability, culture, and LGBTQIA are present amongst the characters. Some results in bullying and threats of exposure as the gritty app reveals secrets the survivors, now suspects, want kept under wraps.  The social media aspect, diverse character representation, and suspenseful plot will appeal to a broad range of teens.

Characters considered the Brain, the Beauty, the Criminal, and the Athlete are reminiscent of The Breakfast Club, with a modern day mystery twist. Fans of Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars series or books featuring social media/internet bullying such as Nerve by Jeanne Ryan or Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli are ideal readers.

-Lisa Krok

Bombshell by Rowan Maness
Simon Pulse
July 4, 2017

Online, Joss can be anyone she wants, so she is a lot of different people. Rosie restores art in NYC, Emma is a lonely Southern beauty queen, and Anna’s a jet-setting international model, just to name a few of the people Joss pretends to be, and each has their own distinct identity fabricated entirely by Joss on the Internet – identities she uses to meet people and to escape the drudgery and boredom of her regular life. Unfortunately, someone has figured out what she’s up to and is threatening to reveal her secret on a website called to the people she’s met by pretending to be Emma, Anna, Rosie, and all the others. When “Believer” really starts to close in on her, Joss has to decide whether to give up her catfishing and be herself or run away and try to make a life as someone else.

Bombshell is a fast-paced mind game of a novel that is utterly relevant to teenagers today. Full of gritty language, constant revelations, and an intense level of suspense, readers will be hooked by this story’s deeply flawed protagonist. Joss’s conversations as her “characters” are mostly represented in texting format, and the rest of the writing is quick and to-the-point. Joss is witty, and way too smart for her own good. The character development in the book of Joss’s online identities is deeper sometimes than that of her real-life friends and family, and it can at times be difficult to keep all the different personalities straight. Her potential mental illness and unreliability as a narrator adds another layer of confusion that doesn’t resolve itself until the very end (although the book does have a very satisfactory ending). Fans of books with unreliable narrators (think Stephanie Kuehn’s books or E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars) and the MTV show Catfish will eat this one up.

— Allie Stevens

Kale, My Ex, and Other Things to Toss in a Blender by Lisa Greenwald
Random House
May 30, 2017

Mia and Justine’s summer plans take an unexpected turn when Mia’s boyfriend dumps her, so they make a plan for revenge using a fake social media presence. Out of the blue, their summer job selling snow cones evolves into something better than expected. They launch their own uber-popular smoothie business from the food truck, and meet some new friends along the way.

Reluctant readers will adore the witty chapter titles featuring smoothie recipes at the onset of each brief chapter, which are unique attention grabbers. The character driven storyline is told in alternating viewpoints of the two girls, where readers gain insight into their emerging perceptions as they begin to focus on other things and regret their mischievous revenge plan. Though clearly misguided in their revenge attempt and dieting strategies, Mia and Justine have an offbeat quirkiness that maintains their likeability, and their entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring to teens. Amusing encounters with customers at the food truck may result in belly laughs while reading.

Readers who enjoy some teen angst with a lot of humor thrown in will regard this book as a fun twist on teen problems. Hand this one to fans of Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green, Winger by Andrew Smith, or selections by Jenny Han.

Lisa Krok

Worthy by Donna Cooner
Scholastic, Inc.
March, 28, 2017

Linden Wilson, aspiring author and junior at Sam Houston High School, decides to test her writing chops by volunteering to be in charge of publicity (which is mostly just creating content for social media) for the prom planning committee. It’s also starting to look like she just might have a date for the prom – with adorable baseball star Alex Rivera, of all people. Meanwhile, a new app has surfaced and is spreading around the school like wildfire. It’s called Worthy, and provides a platform for students to vote on whether or not a girl is worthy of her boyfriend, with a new couple chosen for scrutiny each week. Both Nikki (Linden’s best friend) and Linden herself end up on the app, and the ramifications of trial in the court of public opinion threaten to destroy their friendship, to say nothing of their relationships. Who is behind all this and how can Linden make them stop before the app ruins everything?

Despite tackling big-ticket issues like self-esteem, teen social media consumption, and cyberbullying, Worthy also holds onto its light, sweet romance feel by virtue of the easy writing style, simple language, and prom-centric plot. Linden’s best friend, Nikki, is a budding fashion designer, and there is no shortage of discussion about clothes, hair, and makeup in this title. The culturally diverse cast of supporting characters (Alex is Mexican and Nikki is Filipina) are believable but not overly complex, and the linear plot and shorter, broken-up chapters make for a quick read.

Readers who enjoy cute, quirky, and clean contemporary romances will be thrilled with this book. Give this one to teens who enjoy Sarah Dessen, Kasie West, and Stephanie Perkins (also great for Mean Girls fans!).

— Allie Stevens

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Wed, 09/06/2017 - 15:00

The Amazing Audiobooks Blogging Team is back with another round of amazing audiobook nominations, featuring historical LGBTQ romance, nonfiction, a murder mystery, a quiet contemporary, and a fantasy romance.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, narrated by Christian Coulson
Audio Published by: HarperAudio
Publication date: June 1, 2017
ISBN: 9780062743114

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue follows the story of Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour of Europe. Accompanied by his dashing best friend, Percy, and his head-strong sister Felicity, the trio manages to find danger and adventure along their journey. Monty’s sexuality and general debauchery incites disapproval from his father, who threatens to cut Monty off if he does not change his ways. The Tour is Monty’s last chance, with the expectations of obeying his chaperone and becoming the respectable member of the British aristocracy he was born to be. Rather than succumbing to his father’s whims, Monty steals an artifact from the French court after a disastrous party, then proceeds to wreak havoc across the continent. Throughout their exploits, Monty’s relationships with both his friend and sister change, leading to personal revelations and growth.

One of the aspects of the audiobook that stuck most to me was the yearning Monty felt for Percy. The narration captured the love that Monty had for his friend, despite believing his feelings to be unrequited. I love romances of all flavors and the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling I got from listening to Monty’s thoughts about Percy made this one of the best love stories I’ve read recently.

This novel is perfect for fans of young adult gay romances like Becky Albertalli’s  Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, as well as books by David Levithan, Adam Silvera, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. If could listen to British accents all day (Prince Harry, I’m available if you want to chat), and love your fiction with a dash of humor, this is the perfect audiobook for you. 

— Kennedy Penn-O’Toole

Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular by Miyam Bialik, narrated by Miyam Bialik
Audio Published by: Penguin Random House Audio
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
ISBN: 9781524780418

Girling Up is a friendly and informational book about growing up with two X chromosomes. Bialik coined the phrase “girling up” to mean not only growing up as a girl, but also becoming the best version of yourself. The book has several sections that talk about the physical and emotional changes that happen during adolescence, nutrition, health and physical fitness, education and staying organized, the world’s expectations of women, and informed choices that can give us more options for our futures.

Bialik reads the book herself, bringing words to life in her own voice, which lends to a more honest and compelling listen. She sounds like a wise older sister sharing her own personal experiences and anecdotes. At the beginning, she explains her authority to talk about growing up a girl; her background growing up in the public eye as an actress on the television series Blossum, having her first kiss be on screen in front of millions of people, her education and PhD in Neuroscience, and research into physical and emotional developmental of adolescent girls.

Bialik is great at educating us with very little bias. She is a vegan, but does not try to convert listeners to veganism. Instead she talks about general nutrition standards and what vitamins and minerals are important for our well-being. She is also Jewish and talks about religion in a matter of fact way, in no way trying to convince listeners to conform to certain beliefs.

By being so honest and open, Bialik encourages girls to ask difficult questions, questions that could be challenging or embarrassing to speak to adults about. One section that was particularly helpful was when Bialik discussed staying organized and on top of your schoolwork. She suggested having a notebook where you write down all of your assignments and the deadlines for each one. She even used to color code her assignments for each class.

This book has a friendly and encouraging tone throughout. It is a lot of fun to hear Bialik’s stories about herself growing up and her mentions of the television shows she’s famous for, Big Bang Theory and Blossum. She candidly discusses some difficult times she’s gone through, such as her divorce. She also briefly mentions the double standards for women, especially in the aspect of her acting career, and challenges she’s faced due to these standards. Sharing her personal stories may help girls be more open in communicating with the adults in their lives.

This book is clearly aimed at girls and should be recommended reading for teenage girls of all ages. 

— Erin Durrett

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf, narrated by Jesse Lee, Nick Podehl, Lauren Ezzo, Whitney Dykhouse, Scott Merriman, Scott Lange, Kate Rudd, Will Damron
Audio Published by: Candlewick
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
ISBN: 9781536661996

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? was written in part because of the author’s experience with the murder of a teenage boy with whom he went to high school. While a lot of the events that are found in this book are based on events from the author’s life, this book is ultimately a work of fiction. Like the author’s childhood, this story is also set in the 1970s, prime Beatles and bellbottom days.

Christopher Goodman was an all-around nice guy. Being from California, he talked differently and used words like “ennui,” wore his hair long and his bell bottoms wider than most. Kids in Goldsburg, Virginia thought he was a bit odd, but everyone liked his easy going personality and friendly attitude. The story is told in alternating viewpoints of Doc Chestnut ‘The Sleepwalker’, Squib Kaplan ‘The Genius’, Hunger McCoy ‘The Good Ol’ Boy’, Hazel Turner ‘The Farm Girl’, Mildred Penny ‘The Stamp Collector’ and occasionally from the murderer himself.  Doc and Squib are best friends who find the body of Christopher Goodman on a run one morning. The events that precede the Deadwood Days festival and ultimately the death of Christopher Goodman are all told through short vignettes by all of the characters except Christopher. The book concludes with how each of the six main characters deals with and is affected by Christopher’s death and how they pay tribute to his memory.

This audiobook is narrated by a cast of readers. Besides being able to more clearly differentiate who is speaking, the cast helps add unique qualities to each character. Squib and Hazel were especially likeable characters, having the most personality and keeping my interest. Hazel is quick-witted and sharp and is narrated that way too. Squib is highly intelligent, but we only learn that from his internal dialogue, as he dumbs himself down to fit in with his friends. The narrator assigned to Squib reads his parts with authority, good humor and confidence. Considering this book deals with a difficult topic, it was surprisingly funny. The brief part of the story that describes the murder is tragic and difficult to listen to, but not overly detailed or graphic.

At the end of the audio, the author tells us fact from fiction and shares that the character of Doc Chestnut was based off of events from his point of view. Wolf also relays what anecdotes actually happened to him or other characters in the book.

This book’s subject matter, while dealing with murder, is not gruesome in anyway. There is occasional suggestive language and banter, but otherwise this book would be appropriate for teens of all ages. This books is perfect for readers who enjoyed Bang by Barry Lyga or the mystery found in One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus.

–Erin Durrett

Crazy Messy Beautiful by Carrie Arcos, narrated by Michael Crouch
Audiobook published by: Listening Library
Release Date: February 7, 2017
ISBN: 9781524749781

As a child, Neruda’s father and grandfather steeped him in the poems of his namesake, the Nobel-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Now a high schooler, he’s come to love “The Poet’s” works as well. They serve as his guide to matters of the heart and are hopefully the key to winning over the one he wants to be girlfriend number 8, Autumn Cho. His perspective on romantic love is very much formed by Pablo Neruda’s poetry which makes it difficult for him to accept that love can be a lot more complex and nuanced in real life. Neruda is oblivious to Autumn’s indifference until she returns his book of poetry with a heartbreaking note enclosed.

He urges Ezra, a former prisoner and now big-brother figure, to reconnect with the girlfriend he had before he went to prison, and doesn’t understand why Ezra prefers to move on. Neruda begins spending time with Callie, a classmate, and they bond over art, museum visits and movies, but even that friendship stalls when he reveals he’s fallen for her. The crushing blow is his discovery that his father has been having an affair.  Angry, lonely and disappointed, Neruda feels keenly the agonizing truths of The Poet’s words. In the end, Neruda doesn’t exactly get the girl but he does acquire a more layered and hopeful understanding of love.

In a pleasingly understated performance Michael Crouch’s youthful voice and introspective tone gives quiet emotional heft to Neruda’s painful, and sometimes awkward but thoughtful search for the meaning of love. Share this with listeners who prefer an intellectual weight to their romances (such as by authors Rainbow Rowell and John Green, and Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star. Of course, Pablo Neruda devotees will appreciate this YA tribute to “The Poet,” while those not familiar will be moved to know more.

— Beatriz Pascual Wallace

Roar by Cora Carmack narrated by Soneela Nankani
Audio Published by: Blackstone Audio
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
ISBN: 9781504738224

Roar is Cora Carmack’s first foray into literature for young adults. She has previously written romance for adults. In Roar, Aurora Pravan is the princess of Pravan, but needs to marry as soon as possible to keep the throne. Her family’s lineage has produced several fierce Stormlings that capture the hearts of storms, which increases ones power and ones affinity to fight specific types of storms. However, Aurora has shown no affinities and does not seem to possess the ability to capture a storm heart.

Enter her fiancée Cassius, a Stormling prince from the city of Locke. At first Aurora is excited and nervous to meet her betrothed. Once she overhears him talking to his brother about his plans for her and Pravan, Aurora feels betrayed. She follows the prince to a secret market that sell all sorts of illegal goods made from storm hearts. At the market, she meets Locke, a member of a storm chaser group that travels, sells goods, and catches storm hearts.

Aurora learns that anyone can train to become a Stormling and that it is not just passed down in royal families. Determined to become her own person and learn to fight storms, she joins Locke and his group to travel the land and learn how to fight storms. To escape, she has a servant help her cover her tracks and makes it appear as she’s been kidnapped on the morning of her wedding.  Aurora tells her companions her name is Roar and dyes her hair, so she is not recognized as the princess of Pravan. Locke and Roar have a tension filled mentor and student relationship. Both are stubborn and argumentative, but their dissonance sparks an electric and passionate romance. Roar begins to learn that she can communicate with storms and starts to take on their personality traits. Once she learns that Cassius and his family have taken over Pravan and that the city of Locke has been destroyed, she convinces the group that they have to go back to Pravan.

The premise and ideas behind this book feel fresh and original. The personification of storms and their ability to possess emotions, thoughts, and hearts is intriguing. There are a lot of parallels readers can draw to their own lives, such as becoming your own person and self-discovery.

Soneela Nankani reads the story beautifully, expressing the fierceness of Roar and the storms that she faces, as well the passionate romance between Roar and Locke. The book is urgent and charged the whole way through and was hard to put on pause. This is the first book of the Stormheart series and will leave readers and listeners eager for the sequel.

The fantasy in this book will appeal to all teens; however the romance may appeal to older teens. This book is perfect for fans of Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth. 

— Erin Durrett

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Month in Review: August 2017

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 10:12

What happened in YA this month? Here is a quick round up of featured posts on The Hub and other links to keep you up to date when collecting for your teens.

At the Hub

For more YA links from August:

Books & Reading Movies & TV In the News

— Cathy Outten, currently reading Wonder Woman Warbringer  by Leigh Bardugo

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Women in Comics – Refugee Experiences

Tue, 09/05/2017 - 07:00

Graphic novels can offer a wide range of perspectives on a shared topic, from extremely personal biographies and autobiographies to historical fiction to journalism. In the case of books about refugees, graphic novels offer the opportunity to tell deeply personal stories from a variety of perspectives while also sharing compelling images that bring the reader into the story in a way that is hard to do with words alone. The books in this list can be a powerful way of teaching young readers about the real lives of refugees around the world and throughout history.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – Weaving together the stories of multiple periods in the lives of Thi Bui’s family members, this graphic memoir is simultaneously a story of war, the refugee experience, and parenthood. The book opens with the author in labor with her son. Her experience of becoming a new parent serves as a jumping off point for a reflection on her parents’ experiences growing up in Vietnam during a time of turmoil and multiple wars, culminating in her family’s escape to a refugee camp in Malaysia when Bui was a child. Through her consideration of her own childhood and those of her parents, Bui shows the long shadow that these traumatic experiences can cast and offers a window into one type of refugee experience.

Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution by Julia Alekseyeva – Julia Alekseyeva tells the story of her great-grandmother Lola interspersed with biographical segments about her own life growing up as part of an immigrant family. Starting with her childhood as a poor Jewish child outside Kiev, this book traces Lola’s life through the Bolshevik revolution, her time working for the Soviet government, and her decision to move to the U.S. as a refugee. The book covers her time in the Red Army and her work as a secretary for the predecessor to the KGB, which will offer readers a peek into a fascinating part of history.

Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland – This book follows a young girl as her family flees their war-torn home country. Covering their terrifying escape, the book focuses largely on the journey of the family as they adapt to their new country and new life. The book offers a glimpse of the difficulties that refugees face, including Azzi’s stress about her grandmother who stayed behind when the family fled, and her efforts to learn the language of her new home. Though this book is geared towards somewhat younger readers, it is nevertheless a worthwhile read those who want a perspective on life as a refugee.

Seeking Refuge by Irene N. Watts with art by Kathryn E. Shoemaker – During World War II, many individuals were forced to flee across Europe to avoid the Nazi forces. This graphic novel follows a young girl as she escapes Nazi-controlled Austria alone and resettles first in London and later in Wales. Readers see her as she struggles to adjust to her new life and the expectations of those who take her in. Along the way she experiences isolation and antisemitism The story offers meaningful insight into the experience of Jewish refugees during World War II and the Holocaust.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden – When Sarah Glidden is invited to accompany two of her journalist friends to the Middle East as they conduct research, she takes the opportunity to interview a number of refugees and others who have worked with refugees. The result is a compelling and sympathetic look into the refugees who have fled the war in Iraq. This is a good read for those interested in the Iraq war and the modern refugee situation in the Middle East.

Threads: From the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans – Kate Evans’ new book recounts her time volunteering at the refugee camps in France and is an informative read. Evans not only recounts the story of her own work as a volunteer, but also brings to life the experiences of many of the refugees she met there. This is a good option for readers interested in learning more about the refugees living in the “Calais Jungle”.

Have you read any of these books or others on the refugee experience? Let us know in the comments.

Carli Spina, currently reading Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home by Nicole J. Georges

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Monthly Monday Poll – September 2017

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 07:00

Happy Labor Day, Hub readers!

We’re back after a summer hiatus last month, with results from the last poll as follows: S. Jae-Jones’ Wintersong is the debut series Hub readers are most excited about so far this year, with 37% of the vote. Next up is Jeff Giles’ The Edge of Everything, which launches a planned but currently unnamed series, with 26%. Tied with 15% each were the Daughter of the Pirate King series, by Tricia Levenseller, and the Empress of a Thousand Skies series, by Rhoda Belleza, followed by Vic James’ The Gilded Cage series (with my apologies for the typo in the original poll!), with 7% of the vote.

In honor of the Labor Day holiday today in the US and Canada, and workers everywhere, this month’s theme is YA books that deal with child labor issues, in both contemporary and historical settings. Let us know your pick in the poll, and as always, add titles you love on this theme to the comments.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.


—Carly Pansulla, currently reading American War by Omar El Akkad


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