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#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 6

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 07:00

Today’s Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature charming and engaging coming of age narratives.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, narrated by Robbie Daymond
Audio published by Clarion Books
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
ISBN: 978-0544586505

Sal is beginning his senior year of high school. He feels he’s always lived a slow, predictable life with his adoptive gay dad, his dad’s family, and his best friend, Sam. The beginning of this school year, however, brings an identity crisis the likes of which Sal has never experienced. His emotions feel out of control, his family life is rapidly changing, and he’s spiraling. His grandmother, the only woman who’s played the motherly role in his life, is dying while his friend Fito’s mother is at risk of murdering Fito because of the drugs that she’s using. The only outlet for all of this stress that satisfies Sal is physical violence, and this makes him afraid of himself.

If a reader/listener is looking for suspense and action, this is not the book for them. That being said, this book is an emotional roller coaster, and readers/listeners will often feel sucked into the realism of the feelings, actions, and occurrences within the plot. The beauty of this book is the lyrical way in which Sáenz lays out all of these things. The language that Sáenz uses often reads like poetry, and Robbie Daymond’s reading captures the calm beneath the storm that is Sal’s emotion very well. Daymond’s portrays a senior teenager experiencing an identity crisis in a very realistic manner, which is crucial when considering the character components of an audiobook.

In many ways, Sáenz writes the characters like puzzle pieces. Separated, they are missing crucial components of the whole, but together, they make up a well-rounded, loving, and fully-fleshed family. Sal, who has been known his whole life to be a calm, quiet, even unemotional, is juxtaposed with his best friend Sam, who is loud, energetic, and overactive. Where Sal is reserved with his emotion and affection, his father and Sam seem to be open and willingly affectionate. Where Sal is unsure of how to voice his concern for these emotional and mental changes going on in his head, Fito and his grandmother have ways of verbalizing what Sal cannot express.

The complexity of Sal’s mental and emotional landscape during this transitional time in his life is appealing not only to young adults, but to adults as well. This is largely because the scope of his experiences is not the sort of thing that ends with adolescence. Rather, this scope of experience is the sort of thing that shapes the way an adolescent becomes an adult. Both young people and older adults can sympathize with Sal’s uncertainty of whether or not his anger is an inherent character flaw, something that is as deep as his DNA. People of all ages can empathize with the confusion and pain that stems from losing someone that you deeply loved. Most anyone can understand the scariness of not knowing whether you truly belong to your group.

Sáenz is very well-known for his lyrical writing style, and it can be found in his other titles as well (such as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe). Readers who like this book might also like the works of similar authors, including Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; The Upside of Unrequited), Shaun David Hutchinson (We Are the Ants; At the Edge of the Universe), and Adam Silvera (More Happy Than Not; History Is All You Left Me).

— Katrina Ortega


See You In the Cosmos by Jack Cheng, narrated by Kivlighan de Montebello
Audio published by Listening Library
Publication date: February 28, 2017
ISBN: 978-0399186370

This was a charming little tale of coming-of-age and acceptance and of the challenges and confusion of growing up. Eleven-year-old Alex Petrovki is a nut for outer space and pretty much every aspect of his life revolves around it somehow. He builds amateur rockets and has a dog named after his inimitable hero, Carl Sagan. And together they take to the road to compete in a rocket competition in the deserts of New Mexico. And he acquires some colorful acquaintances, experiences, and hard-earned insights along the way.

Told through a series of audio recordings that he intends to send into outer space for posterity, he is meticulous in preserving his excitement and anxieties throughout his misadventures. It provides the audience candid and unfettered access into the thoughts of this likable and precocious protagonist.

Equal parts October Sky, Rain Man, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, we’re offered a window into the outlook of a math-whiz maven who, for all his intellectual acuity, is still very much isolated from the rest of his peers and society at large and still must grapple with the everyday quotidian of just being a kid. Alex is a fine protagonist. He’s stubbornly tenacious but also tenderly naïve, and he’s flawed but undergoes a considerable transformation throughout the course of the narrative. And we’re rooting for him every step of the way.

What really vivifies this yarn are the subtle brushes with a harsh reality that Alex struggles to understand. Very adult problems such as domestic abuse, mental illness, and familial grief. These serious issues are broached and approached with a certain degree of tact and understanding and often times only the audience is aware of the severity of these subjects. And we, along with Alex, come to terms with these morsels of turbulence and walk away with a bounty of profound life-lessons.

The production values are also worthy of note. The performers fully immerse themselves in their roles and convey a carousel of emotions in their voices. It’s well and convincingly acted. The pauses and measured pacing of the deliveries laced the plot with a fully-realized velocity. The story went by in a blink.

All in all, this is a story that will have mass appeal with a wide demographic. It ticks all the right boxes in terms of character development, plot momentum, and well-timed narrative beats that keep the audience engaged and thrilled throughout. It’s a burst of writerly propulsion that breaks the surly bonds of earth and ensures hours of ageless entertainment.

— Tommy Vinh Bui, MLIS


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Women in Comics – Monsters, Ghosts, and the Supernatural

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 07:00

With so many people starting to prepare for their Halloween celebrations, it seems like a good time to highlight some comics about monsters, ghosts, and other supernatural creatures. Not all of these comics are scary. Some are creepy, some are funny, and some are cute, but if you love supernatural characters, this list is sure to have a book that will keep you glued to the last page.

Sleepy Hollow by Marguerite Bennett with art by Jorge Coelho – Based on the Fox TV series by the same name, this comic is set in modern day Sleepy Hollow, New York, and covers unseen adventures of Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills during the same timeline as the first season of the TV show. The volume also features short stories written and illustrated by Noelle Stevenson. All of the stories will be the perfect fix for fans who want to see more of the great interplay between Ichabod and Abbie and the supernatural adventures that they tackle.

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez – Sandy is a young Catholic school student who happens to also be an amazing artist. She creates her work by capturing the lights that come to her room late in the night just as she is falling asleep. When the new girl at school, Morfie, sees her art, she offers Sandy some much needed validation about her talent, but when it ends up that Morfie might not be everything she seems, will Sandy be able to have the confidence in her own talent necessary to recover? This story about artistic insecurity and tackling fears isn’t a traditional horror story, but its creepy elements will appeal to those who want only lightly scary elements in their reading. The artwork is engaging and will instantly draw readers into Sandy’s worlds (both real and imaginary).

Moonstruck by Grace Ellis with art by Shae Beagle – Have you ever wanted to read a story about a coffee shop in a small college town that just happens to be populated by supernatural creatures? If so, Moonstruck is for you. This new series follows barista Julie who just happens to be a werewolf. Follow her as she navigates work, relationships, neighbor relations, and being a werewolf. This series just started, but it has a lot of promise!

Edward Scissorhands: Parts Unknown by Kate Leth with art by Drew Rausch – This comic is perfect for fans of Edward Scissorhands. Picking up years after the movie, when Kim’s granddaughter Megs starts questioning the popular opinion that Kim’s stories of Edward were nothing but lies and delusions, the story starts on two divergent paths. One follows Edward as he seeks to bring to life another creation much like himself named Eli and the other follows Megs as she digs for the truth that her mother doesn’t want to discuss. Slowly the two stories converge as Eli escapes and Megs slowly realizes the truth. The artwork complements both the story and the style of the original movie. A great read for both Edward Scissorhands fans and for those looking for a creepy tale.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola with art by Emily Carroll – Based on the famous Russian fairytale character Baba Yaga, this comic twists the story a bit to focus not on the witch, but instead on Masha, the young girl desperate for adventure who wants to be her assistant. Will she be able to pass the tests set for her to earn her place by Baba Yaga’s side? McCoola’s story and Carroll’s artwork complement each other perfectly to create a wonderful reading experience that is great for both those who want love folktales and those who just love strong and compelling characters.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call by Kelly Thompson with art by Corin Howell – If you loved the recent Ghostbusters reboot, this comic is for you! This limited five issue series, which starts this month, lets readers jump back into the world of Patty Tolan, Erin Gilbert, Abby Yates, and Jillian Holtzmann. The Ghostbusters are facing a powerful ghost who feeds on people’s fears. It promises to be a fun adventure and a great chance to learn more about this universe.

I hope this will offer plenty of frightful fun for a spooky Fall! Let us know your own favorites in the comments!

Carli Spina, currently reading Spinning by Tillie Walden

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QP2018: Sports Stories

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 07:00

Grit, Motivation, Passion, Focus, Teamwork, Resilience, Tenacity. These are the tenets that Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander outlines in The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life. The characters in the three sports novels recommended here exhibit all that and more.

In Patina, Jason Reynolds continues the story that began with Ghost, of tenacious Patty and the motley group of runners who win on the the track but struggle in their lives. Top Prospect, by veteran sports writer Paul Volponi, tells the story of a resilient boy pressured way too early to be the quarterback his older brother is, partly based on the true stories of young athletes who are promised college scholarships before they even hit high school. Passionate Tessa, in Thatcher Heldring’s The Football Girl, is an exceptional athlete who loves the game too much to let it go, even at the risk of disappointing her friends and family.

These stories, along with Alexander’s sage advice, will be winners with reluctant readers of all shapes, sizes and athletic skills.

The Playbook  52 Ways to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander
Photographs by Thai Neave
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
February 14, 2017

While traditional playbooks guide athletes in strategies for winning on the scoreboard, Alexander’s release, The Playbook, has 52 rules for enriching the game of life.  This uplifting rendition contains anecdotes from some of the world’s most influential athletes, leaders, and poets.  LeBron James, Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, and many more are included. A diverse selection of thought-provoking, practical narratives includes quotes and photographs that embrace a variety of sports, gender, race, and compelling individuals. Alexander himself shares encouraging stories about overcoming obstacles while struggling in football and basketball as a teen, before his persistence culminated in finding his niche and success in tennis. 

The unconventional layout of the book grabs attention in many ways, starting with the cover. The title is on the backboard of a basketball hoop, above a concrete poem that forms a basketball image. This makes potential readers look twice to see what the ball is made of. The end papers of the book consist of textured orange paper resembling the dots on a basketball, and are complemented by the bright orange edges on all pages of the book. The 52 rules are representative of the number of weeks in a year. These rules are then divided into accessible quarters like a real game, with themes such as Grit or Motivation for each subsequent quarter.  Each section defines its theme and includes encouraging stories, quotes, and photographs of the many successful people highlighted within, making it appropriate both for browsing or a straight through read. Teens will identify with the challenges faced by many of their idols. The positive message of sportsmanship, focus, and tenacity will raise the spirits of readers, and the fascinating anecdotal verses from icons will keep them engaged.

Readers of inspirational sports fiction by authors including Carl Deuker and Paul Volponi will devour this book. Likewise, fans of captivating sports biographies such as Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles and Mary Lou Retton, and Rising Above: How 11 Athletes Overcame Challenges in Their Youth to Become Stars by Gregory Zuckerman will find common ground.

— Lisa Krok

Patina by Jason Reynolds
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
August 29, 2017

This next leg of the Track series picks up in book two where Ghost left off, this time from Patina’s point of view. Readers quickly gain insight into Patty’s world and the pressure she puts upon herself to come in first and to do everything she can for her family.  With a dead father and a mother who lost her legs to diabetes, Patty and her little sister, Maddy, are taken in by their Dad’s brother, Uncle Tony, and his wife.

The vibrant orange cover catches the eye, with the title at the bottom and Patina and Maddy running…a clear partner to the Ghost cover in this series. Readers get off to a fast start, literally, as Ghost and Patty run their perspective races. The first chapter quickly evolves from Patty racing at the track to rushing to braid her little sister’s hair for their weekly visit with Ma for church. Her mental to do list is weighty: make sure Maddy is bathed, dressed, fed…EVERYTHING. Patty’s competitive spirit to be first in races illustrates a metaphor for her life… that she must run for her mother who can’t anymore, and give impeccable care to her sister as a surrogate mother of sorts. When coach picks up on this, he works with Patty on developing her teamwork skills. The banter-filled sessions with coach and her teammates is amusing and lends hope that Patty can depend on others to help her carry the load, both in track and in life.

Likeable and authentic culturally diverse characters open this book up to a broad range of readers.  Although technically a middle-grade book, teens and adults will also identify with some challenges the characters face and enjoy the humor. Fans of book one in the series, Ghost, are ideal readers. Additionally, those who enjoyed Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson will appreciate the spunky female protagonist. Biographies of African-American track stars such as Flo-Jo, Wilma Rudolph, Jesse Owens, and Usain Bolt will likely also have reciprocal appeal for devotees of the Track series.

Lisa Krok

Top Prospect by Paul Volponi
Lerner Publishing Group, Inc./CarolRhoda Books
September 1, 2016

Football phenom Travis Gardner has a lot of promise for an eighth grader. It’s not surprising since his older brother, Carter is playing on a football scholarship for Gainseville College.  At one of Carter’s practices, Travis leaves the stands and enters the field as a participant rather than a bystander. Coach Elvis Goddard is a legend at Gainesville, so Travis’s impromptu decision to help throw to one of the team members has huge consequences.  Good consequences.  Dreams-coming-true kinds of consequences.  Rules prevent Coach Goddard from offering Travis a scholarship outright, but do not keep Coach G from tendering an informal promise of a scholarship, and that changes the trajectory of Travis’s high school football career.  

As Travis moves into high school he not only feels the pressures to perform at a higher level, he is driven into team leadership much earlier than he might otherwise have been. Life as a prodigy exposes him to the allure of booster member gifts as well as the pressures to push the envelope with injuries and medications.

Volponi’s break-neck pace pulls readers into the whirlwind of emotions from the prologue that sets up Travis’s love of the game of football to the introductory chapter that sets up Coach Goddard’s credentials and the sibling rivalry between the Gardner brothers. As with any good book, this story transcends the issue of sports.  It’s also a story about brothers, and families without fathers, and hard work, and passion for a game. The seamy underbelly of college sports politics is exposed as Volponi ratchets up the stress and pressure placed on talented young athletes. The Afterword places the entire story in context, and discusses the parallels between this story and the lived experiences of at least three other football players. Volponi goes on to point out that football is not the only sport in which this issue is present. I had no idea that women’s soccer is an arena that has also historically recruited young players. Fans of Carl Deuker and Volponi’s other sports titles will find this short, but packed, story enough to whet their appetites.

-Jodi Kruse

The Football Girl by Thatcher Heldring
Delacorte Press
April 4, 2017

Tessa and Caleb have been friends forever, sharing a love of sports – especially football. The summer before freshman year of high school, with Caleb on track to be the star quarterback that his older brother was, something changes with their relationship – what started as friendship becomes romance.

Tessa and her girlfriends are in training for the cross-country team, but Tessa also plays flag football on a team with Caleb. When their team loses their final game of the season, Tessa knows she can’t end her football career with a loss. Against all advice and without support of her family and friends, she decides to attend the high school football camp and go out for the team.

Sports novels for girls used to be an oxymoron, but increasingly, as girls play traditional boys’ sports more and more, teen literature is addressing that void. Tessa’s fight for the right to play the sport she loves is timely and will resonate with girls who think and live outside of the box and with the friends who choose to stand by them or not. She and Caleb are honest and authentic characters who are very relatable and not at all perfect. The fact that Tessa’s mother is at the time running for mayor of the town and doesn’t appreciate the distraction her daughter has created throws a subplot of familial discord that many teens understand. This title is fast-paced and engaging, with a little bit of suspense – will Caleb support her? Will she make the team? All in all a satisfying read reminiscent of the Dairy Queen series by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, and The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane.

—Laura Lehner

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#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 5

Sun, 10/01/2017 - 07:00

This installment of Amazing Audiobook nominees feature stories of real life and the “not so afterlife” and are perfect for fans of hard-hitting realistic YA fiction, and more humorous stories.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin
Audio published by: Harper Audio
Publication date: 2/28/17
ISBN: 9780062677082

The Hate U Give, titled after a Tupac Shakur song, reaches deep into an ongoing issue in American culture today; that of police violence against the African American community. Starr Carter is torn between two worlds. In one world, she’s the token black girl, smoothing out her personality and demeanor to fit in with the other students at her suburban prep school. In her other world, Starr faces a glaring reality that only comes from living in a drug- and gang-ridden community. But even with its problems, Garden Heights looks after itself, neighbors helping each other; and Starr’s father’s store provides a staple business in the community. One evening Kenya (Starr’s half-brother’s sister), convinces Starr to join her at a local party. During the party, Starr reunites with an old childhood friend, Khalil. Seeing Khalil brings forward some of the reasons the two grew apart; Starr’s attending a prep school in a different town and the death of their childhood friend, who was killed in a drive by shooting while swimming at the public pool. After witnessing the death of their friend, Starr has never been quite the same.

When a fight breaks out at the party, Khalil and Starr leave together, and Khalil offers to drive Starr home. On the way to her house, while talking and listening to Tupac on the radio, Khalil is pulled over. The police officer shoots Khalil, stating later that he felt threated by the teenager. Starr goes through the motions and starts to put her life back together. However, grief and anger creep in at unexpected moments, especially with her wealthy white school friends and boyfriend who know nothing about her first-hand experience with Khalil’s death. In the end Starr has a choice: she can stay silent about what really happened to Khalil, or she can stand against the violence committed by the police officer and defend her friend.

In this audiobook, Bahni Turpin breathes life and truth into Starr Carter and her family members. The dialogue between the teenagers is spot on, narrated with attitude and personality, taking you effectively between the different worlds, the prep school Starr attends and Garden Heights where she resides. The tone is at times angry, at times grief-ridden and at times hopeful. This story blows you away with its power and relevance, ending with a list of names of American youth killed senselessly.

This book does depict an act of violence and may be more suited for older teens. Readers that enjoy this book may also like other socially conscience books such as American Street by Ibi Zoboi, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Myers.

— Erin Durrett


Goodbye Days by Jeff Zenter, narrated by Michael Crouch
Audiobook published by: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication Date: 3/7/17
ISBN: 9781524709488

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner tells the story of a teenage boy, Carver Briggs, who has to deal not only with the grief of losing his three best friends (Eli Bauer, Thurgood Marshall “Mars” Edwards and Blake Lloyd), but the legal ramifications and emotional distress of how a text message he sent may have resulted in their deaths. While waiting for his friends to pick him up at work, Carver texts Mars “Where are you guys? Text me back.” Carver knows Mars would be driving, but also would be the friend most likely to text back. After the accident, Mars is found to have an unsent message draft to Carver on his phone.

The families of his friends have varying reactions to Carver’s contribution to their loved one’s deaths. In fact, the only person Carver may have to call friend is Eli’s girlfriend, Jesmyn, whom he begins to have conflicting feelings towards. Carver does not blame them, but agrees that he shares responsibility in the tragic accident and starts having panic attacks. Through his grief, Carver finds another ally Blake’s grandmother, Nana Betsy. She has the idea that Carver spend a “Goodbye Day” with her, recreating all of Blake’s favorite activities and keeping his memory alive throughout the day to aid in dealing with their grief. While this “Goodbye Day” is incredibly difficult for both Nana Betsy and Carver, they both learn things about Blake that they had not known before. Can Carver and the community ever fully move past this incident?

This timely topic is relevant with the issues we see with texting and driving accidents today. The audiobook, read by Michael Crouch, is handled with care. Crouch does a great job narrating the accents of the characters, especially Nana Betsy’s Southern drawl and the Irish accent of Carver’s father. This story is filled with sadness and grief that the listener feels with Carter, but there is a hopeful tone that can be found sweeping throughout the story. While Eli, Mars and Blake could be seen as peripheral characters, they are well developed through the memories provided by their families and Carver. The investigation into Carver’s involvement of the accident helps keep the story moving forward and the end result of the investigation is a natural ending point.

This book’s subject matter may fit well with older teens. Hand this audiobook to teens who are drawn to stories that highlight the repercussions one tragic choice can make, from Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann to Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert.

— Erin Durrett

Denton Little’s Still Not Dead by Lance Rubin, narrated by the author
Audiobook Published by: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication Date: 2/7/17
ISBN: 9780553556063

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Denton Little’s Deathdate.

Denton Little has a lot going for him right now: he lived through his deathdate, his mom is alive, and he’s in New York city! Of course, he also has the Death Investigation agency after him, can’t see the rest of his family ever again, and he’s pretty much stuck in a dank apartment pretending he really is dead. So, I guess you could call his lot in life a mixed bag?

This dark but funny title is the sequel to one of the most unique books of 2015, Denton Little’s Deathdate, and it picks up right where its predecessor left off. Whereas the first book focused more on Denton’s immediate situation, this title fills in a lot of the backstory and builds a near-future world that is just a little too real. While there is plenty of plot to go around, this novel is, at its core, driven by the nuanced and funny characters; their relationships and back-and-forth banter make the minutes fly by.

The audiobook is a real joy to listen to. The author, who narrates his own work, does a great job differentiating between the many characters, which is challenging with an ensemble comedy like this. Rubin also delivers the jokes perfectly and nails the patter between the characters effortlessly – probably because he wrote them!

This book will have you laughing, tearing up, and gasping in shock – sometimes all in the same chapter. Give this book to teens who enjoyed Patrick Ness’s tongue-in-cheek The Rest of Us Just Live Here, anyone who loves gallows humor, and, of course, readers who read Denton Little’s first outing.

— Ariel Cummins

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#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 4

Sat, 09/30/2017 - 07:00

This round of Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature historical fiction and true tales of teens making history.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Maggie Service
Audio published by Brilliance Audiobook
Publication Date: 7/15/17

ISBN: 978-1484717165

Elizabeth Wein’s latest novel is another humdinger of a historical yarn. This little ditty is just drenched in dulcet dialogue and populated by an irresistible array of memorable characters. Featuring a feisty and charmingly spunky female protagonist with a certain derring-do that takes her to the heart of an engrossing murder mystery. Teenage Julie Beaufort-Stuart returns to her ancestral Scottish home for the summer and is quickly steeped in a conundrum involving pilfered pearls, country travelers, and one boggy corpse.

The Pearl Thief is a well-crafted coming-of-age tale that rings authentic and well-researched. It should appeal to young audiences for its vim, variety of characters, and velocity of narrative. It’s equal parts Harriet the Spy, Sherlock Holmes, and Scooby-Doo. Julie carries the plot effortlessly with her verve and sense of adventure but the accompanying characters also bring much to the story. Julie befriends two traveler siblings and together they tackle the case of the missing heirloom pearls that resulted in a dead body on the family estate. It’s very almost nearly a Nancy Drew Mystery Story.

The production values are also notably gorgeous. Maggie Service goes above and beyond to yank us into the story with her masterful narration. She inflects, she articulates, and she enchants with a number of voraciously veracious accents and brogues throughout. Her singing voice also drips with honey and we’re practically transported to those bonnie bryns of far-flung Strathfearn.

It’s a story that within the first few chapters we’re immediately entranced and our imaginations are promptly captured. The vernacular and attention to detail is astounding and it’s the small idiosyncrasies that delight us overwhelming as the narrative progresses. It’s made abundantly apparent to us how much research and consideration went into the crafting of these characters and environs. We’re convinced and whisked away within the first few chapters.  

The story is rich and multilayered in that it goes beyond the expectations of a conventional and straightforward murder-mystery. Though the story takes place prewar, it manages to still confront relevant issues of class struggles and gender equality and other contemporary moral lessons of our day. It imparts much and does so without being brazenly saccharine or didactic. It’s fine overall young adult fare.

The Pearl Thief is proper summer listening. So pop your earbuds in and give this thrilling little tale a twirl. It’s quite an arresting do-si-do.

–Tommy Vinh Bui, MLIS

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, narrated by Damaras Obi
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication Date: 05/02/17
ISBN: 978-1-5247-7909-2

“By the time I was 15, I had been in jail nine times.”

So begins Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s compelling memoir of her experiences as a teenaged civil rights activist in the 1960s. Inspired by hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s. speech on fighting for the right to vote, she began participating in children’s marches at age 13.  She describes how police used cattle prods on the marchers, and how the kids learned to bring their own lunches to marches because “jail food just wasn’t good.” She recounts being locked into the “sweatbox,” a hot jail cell with no lights, windows, bed, toilet or sink. The adults in the community strongly supported their children’s efforts, reassuring them, “We’ll take care of you.”

Lowery participated in the 1965 protest march in Selma that came to be known as Bloody Sunday. Angered by the way the protesters had been treated by the police, state troopers and Governor George Wallace, she joined Dr. King’s four-day march to the state capital of Montgomery, one day shy of turning 15. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act.

Damaras Obi’s performance makes Lowery’s story highly accessible to teens of all ages. She opens with an a capella rendition of “Woke Up This Morning,” and closes with “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” two songs that kept Lowery inspired during her activism. Obi reads with a strength and intensity that brings the civil rights movement alive for listeners. Through her reading, one can imagine the level of Lowery’s personal endurance and strength of character.

The compelling urgency of this production makes this a must-listen for young people given the recent events of Charlottesville, Charleston, and high-profile police shootings of African Americans. Present this along with John Lewis’ “March” series, Cynthia Y. Levenson’s “We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March,” and Phillip M. Hoose’s “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.”

— Beatriz Pascual Wallace


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#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks, Volume 3

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 07:00

The latest round of Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature fantastic characters and a dash of magical realism!

A Million Junes by Emily Henry, narrated by Julia Whelan
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication date: May 16, 2017
ISBN: 9781524756123

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell comes from a long line of Jacks. As a child, her father raised her on the tall tales of her Jack ancestors, beginning with Jack I and his quest to plant his cherry trees in the perfect spot–her current home of Five Fingers, Michigan, right in the middle of the magically mysterious “thin place” where her home is located. But the land, the legacy, and the cherries have always been tangled up with the neighboring Angert family, resulting in a hatred that goes beyond a typical petty feud. When fate tragically strikes one family, the other is soon to follow. Despite the bad blood and bad luck, June didn’t begin to take the feud seriously until her father’s death. And now the family’s’ complicated relationship is at the forefront when the youngest Angert, Saul, returns home from a prestigious college writing program to care for his ailing father. For the first time, June and Saul’s paths continue to cross, and not always by accident. As a reluctant friendship turns into something more, a strange occurrence causes June and Saul to begin reliving scenes from the past. These memories make it clear that something sinister is behind the feud, and June and Saul must uncover long buried family secrets before tragic fate strikes again.

A Millions Junes, Emily Henry’s sophomore work, is my favorite kind of book. It’s magical realism at its best, complete with family curses, love, ghosts, grief, and a blurred line between fantasy and reality. June is a fantastic character–snarky and charming and flawed–and she misses her father with an ache that’s palpable from the page. Her best friend, Hannah, is equally as memorable. She’s more loveable than prickly June, but it’s their friendship and love for each other that stands out the most: when Henry writes the dialogue “You’re my first great love,” it’s Hannah and June having the conversation. And then there’s Saul, the sweetly alluring college boy with his own tragic past. He’s an atypical YA hero, yet just as swoony, and readers fall for him right along with June. The strange and slightly creepy magical elements of A Million Junes are never really explained, and readers have to suspend their belief and go along for the ride, something Emily Henry’s vivid writing makes it easy to do.

Just like all great audiobook performances, Julia Whelan’s narration of A Million Junes brings the story to a whole new level. Her voice is perfectly suited to the character of June, which may be the reason I liked this main character so much. Whelan pays special attention to pacing and characterization, highlighting Henry’s witty dialogue, complicated characters, and emotional story arc. This is definitely an audiobook I will be listening to again, and I highly recommend it for fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series and Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap.

-Amy Oelkers, Youth Services Librarian, Oakdale, MN

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Eddie Redmayne
Audio published by: Pottermore
Publication date: March 17, 2017
ISBN: 9781781108925

You may have heard of a wizard named Harry Potter and probably know what Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is about, but the new audio version of the book, narrated by Newt Scamander as voiced by Eddie Redmayne, is still a must-listen. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is one of the textbooks used by wizard Harry Potter while a student at Hogwarts. The book begins with an introduction by Newt Scamander giving background information on what type of creature qualifies as a beast and muggle awareness of these animals. It profiles magical beasts in the wizarding world, from an augurey to a Peruvian vipertooth dragon to the snidget. Each entry has a Ministry of Magic (M. O. M.) classification from X (boring) to XXXXX (known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate).
Newt Scamander’s character, who we were introduced to in the Fantastic Beasts movie, shines through the audio version of this book. Newt’s care and concern for magical beasts is apparent in the way in which he describes the beasts. The audiobook bring these creatures to life as we hear the roar of the dragons and the skittering of smaller beasts.
While there isn’t a plot to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it’s not merely a list of magical creatures. Instead, it’s further background on Newt Scamander’s character and a helpful guide to one aspect of the wizarding world. J. K. Rowling’s world building continues to amaze after all these years. If you’re like me and read Fantastic Beasts when it was originally published in the early 2000s, a fresh listen to the book will have you making connections from the original series to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to the Fantastic Beasts movie.
I can’t get enough Harry Potter, and I know I’m not alone. I own the ebook series, multiple copies of each book, and have seen and loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the West End. I’m known to read some Draco and Hermione fanfiction and have taken Pottermore’s quizzes (Ravenclaw, mole patronus, elm wood with a Phoenix feather core 12 ¼” and hard flexibility wand). Whether you’re a hardcore Potterhead like I am or casually enjoy Harry Potter, the audiobook of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is well worth your time because of Redmayne’s excellent narration and its ability to immerse you in the world of fantastic beasts.

–Kennedy Penn-O’Toole

The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale, narrated by Candace Thaxton
Audio Published by: Simon and Schuster Audio
Publication date: 2/28/17
ISBN: 9781508227823

The Beast is an Animal is a haunting, atmospheric story that begins with a nursery rhyme and an ancient tale. Two twin sisters, perfect mirror copies of the other, are born to a poor farmer and his wife on the outskirts of a secluded village. A drought on the land spawns rumors of witchcraft, and the wife and her strange daughters are banished to the forest and abandoned. After many years, the mother dies and the sisters, after growing up in the wild and sinister forest, transform into soul eaters.

The tale then switches to Alys, a young child in the same small village. Alys is also considered a strange child because of her affinity for the night and her fascination with tales of the Beast. When she wanders in a field at night and meets two strange, beautiful women, Alys wakes to find every adult in her village dead, mere husks in their beds. She and the other children are taken in by a neighboring village of Defaid, and there Alys grows into a teenager, her curiosity about the Beast and the forest increasing while the memory of the soul eaters never leaves her mind. The Puritan-minded villagers are strict and superstitious, and as the threat of evil outside the village increases, so does the cruel treatment of the newcomers. Alys is forced on a journey to confront the danger in the forest and the threat of darkness in herself in order to right the wrongs of the past and save her future.

Candace Thaxton’s narration of this creepy, satisfying story is both melodic and bleak, weaving the story of Aly’s life like a tale around a campfire. Told in third person, Thaxton’s low slightly gravelly timbre works for both child and teen Alys and fluxuates well between the twangy, simple travelers and austere, authoritarian Defaiders. Listeners hoping for a nail-biting horror might be put off by the slower, steady creepiness, but others will be endeared to strange Alys and enthralled with the disturbing, mystifying world she inhabits. Poetic in tone and theme, the story is perfect for artistic teens looking for a non-romance, anyone fascinated with the Salem witch trials, and fans of the original Grimm’s fairy tales.

-Amy Oelkers, Youth Services Librarian, Oakdale Library, MN

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, narrated by Steve West
Audio published by: Little Brown
Publication Date: 3/28/17
ISBN: 97814789130

Lazlo Strange was given his name when he was orphaned, but he earned the title Dreamer through his constant daydreams and talk of a land without a name. Well, the land used to have a name, but years ago its name and all knowledge of it blinked out of everyone’s heads. Now referred to only as Weep, it is mostly a land of legend and dreams. Lazlo, through cleverness and stubbornness, learns all he can about Weep, even teaching himself the ancient language. When a convoy from Weep shows up to bring scientists and warriors back to the city, Lazlo finds himself swept up into an ancient conflict between gods, mortals, and those who are neither.

Strange the Dreamer is a sweeping tale that uses the platform of fantasy as a lens to shine light on issues like slavery, power, and how history is written by the victors. The audiobook reflects the breadth of the book, coming in at a little over eighteen hours. Persistent listeners will be rewarded, though, with lush language, a huge cast of well-developed characters, and an ending that will leave them thirsting for the second book in this duology.

High fantasy is surprisingly rare in young adult literature, and Strange the Dreamer is a compelling entry into the genre. Fans of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy will find plenty to love here, as will fans of other doorstoppers such as The Game of Thrones.
— Ariel Cummins

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#QP2018: Immigrants and Refugees

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 07:00

Immigrants and refugees are such a timely topic, that many new books are being written to inform the public of the realities those seeking sanctuary endure. The following selections put a face to the issues…faces that cannot be denied. Whether historical fiction or non-fiction memoirs, these Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominees help raise awareness for teens.

Refugee by Alan Gratz
Scholastic Press
July 25, 2017

Three countries in strife…three different periods in time…three families seeking one universal goal: FREEDOM. Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud offer realistic, fictionalized accounts of attempts to find refuge from 1939 Nazi Germany, Castro’s 1994 Cuba, and war-torn Syria in 2015. Methods of escape include a ship, raft, trains, taxi, and tedious, wearisome treks by foot. With obstacles like Nazis, sharks, police, the coast guard, fences, and thieves along the way, realization of both freedom and safety are not guaranteed.

The cover portrays a black and white, very lifelike image of a boy in a boat facing a storm, with the title and boat in bold red, clearly foreshadowing the story and igniting curiosity. The action is fast-paced and intensifies during the heartwrenching journeys of the three families. Although three separate tales, Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud face similar struggles across different lands and eras. Told from three alternating points of view, each protagonist has authentically courageous, yet vulnerable qualities that will have readers sympathizing with their plight and supporting their quest for deliverance for their families. Each compelling chapter seems to end  with a mini-cliffhanger, just as the narrator changes. This suspenseful technique naturally makes the reader keep going to find out what happens next with each of the three refugees. The intricately plotted storyline eventually comes full circle, as connections are made amongst the three families.

Teens will gravitate towards the obviously timely topic, and the intensifying, suspenseful, short chapters are an easy sell to reluctant readers. Hand this one to readers who may not yet be ready for Echo by Pam Munoz-Ryan or Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, as the readability skews a bit younger. However, there is definitely broad appeal for older teens and adults, too. Fans of recent movies such as The Zookeeper’s Wife or Dunkirk are also good candidates as readers. Other readalikes include the book in verse Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle, and graphic novel Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden.
— Lisa Krok

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta
Katherine Tegen Books
May 16, 2017

Near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Gatumba Massacre took the lives of 166 people in 2004. Author Sandra Uwiringiyimana was just ten years old when a gun was held to her head and shots were fired upon her mother and little sister. She barely escaped and reunited with her surviving family members, as they struggled with their grief and started over with no home and no money. A refugee program through the United Nations eventually transported their family to New York, where new challenges of a cultural divide gave Sandra even more determination to not just survive, but thrive.

The terrorizing, gut-wrenching first chapter immediately captivates readers. Sandra’s candid description of the massacre and aftermath is truly sobering, and gives a strong sense of place to those who have never stepped foot anywhere near the Congolese border. Sandra portrays the relationships within her family and any flaws with grace. She also takes emotionally intense situations and delivers them in an impassioned style, while still managing to infuse unexpected humor into her memoir. Her personal photographs from both past and present are featured, with anecdotal descriptions of family and other survivors. Sandra’s current activism work raises hope for those who may not have a voice of their own. “Don’t let your silence be another person’s death. Fighting for each other is the only way we all win”, she concludes.

It is difficult to imagine anyone not being tremendously moved by this compelling memoir, and it is a timely addition to the current climate regarding immigrants and refugees. This would be an amazing book club or classroom discussion book. Additionally, hand this to enthusiasts of memoirs such as I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, or fictionalized immigrant/refugee stories such as Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, or Refugee by Alan Gratz.

— Lisa Krok

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Scholastic Press
May 9, 2017

Mina is an outsider – new to town, and new to the private school where she has a scholarship. She and her family immigrated to Australia from Afghanistan as refugees, settling in a Muslim neighborhood. Michael is an insider, an Aussie born and bred, whose parents happen to be leading the fight to ban refugees settling in their country.

Mina’s family moves closer to her school so she doesn’t have to commute, but away from the close-knit community they have come to love. When they want to open an Afghani restaurant next to a popular pizza place, they are faced with racism and resistance, with Michael’s father leading the march.

This is a very timely tale of two young people from backgrounds that are at odds, who find themselves attracted to each other and completely confused about it. The issues of immigration and racism are at the forefront as Michael’s perspective shifts from one of blind patriotism to one of compassion and curiosity about the bigger world. There is a lot to be learned for non-Muslim teens about the culture and experiences these innocent families have endured and it is told from two points of view to allow the reader to understand the inner turmoil and changes taking place with the two main characters.

Randa Abdel-Fattah is earning a name as a spokesperson for Muslim teens and educator for the masses. This is her fourth novel, and they all come highly recommended.

Laura Lehner

American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Balzer + Bray
February 14, 2017

Fabiola Toussaint and her mom, Haiti citizens, are just flight away from the land of opportunity.  Both are ready to leave Haiti and begin a new life in America and pursue the American dream.  However, that was not the case.  While Fabiola was able to come to America, her mom was detained from coming into the country.

Alone, scared, and confused, Fabiola arrives in Detroit.  She is met by her cousins, Chantal, Primadonna and Princess, aka the three Bs—Brains, Brawn, and Beauty.  They take her home, which is on the corner of American Street and Joy Road.  

Fabiola slowly begins to adjust to living in Detroit.  She shares a room with one of the cousins.  She is admitted to University Liggett, a private school in Grosse Pointe.  She eats food that tastes foreign to her tongue.  Fabiola wears clothes that she thinks are too tight and revealing. Fabiola meets one of her cousins’ friends from the dangerous and violent boyfriend to the nice, smart and hard-working ones.  One friend is attracted to Fabiola, who Fabiola could possibly like, too.

The more Fabiola adjusts to the American lifestyle, the more she fiercely embraces her cultural identity and practices her cultural traditions.  The more she tries to understand her cousins’  lifestyle, the more she becomes confused and curious about it. The more she misses her mom and wants her here in America.   

In American Street, Ibi Zoboi depicts the challenges immigrants face when they arrive in America.  Like many other immigrants, Fabiola finds it difficult to maintain her unique cultural identity while adapting and adjusting to the American culture.  Although Fabiola’s relatives and friends represent the different behaviors, attitudes, and customs of American cultures, their attempts to pursue the American dream is as difficult for them as it is for Fabiola.  The cousins’ lifestyle is enticing, yet mysterious, and Zoboi’s writes a suspenseful story that leads to an unexpected and dramatic conclusion.  Life is hard for Black and poor American citizens, and even more so for immigrants of color.  American Street attests to that fact.

— Karen Lemmons

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#QP2018: Science Fiction

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 07:00

Science fiction is the perfect place to find imaginative and inventive hooks. In this post, we feature four science fiction stories with fabulous hooks.

Exo by Fonda Lee is a story of life on an alien occupied earth, and ponders the question of whether it is better to cooperate or rebel.

Nemesis by Brendan Reichs features a terrifying premise where two protagonists are killed every two years, only to be resurrected the next day with no memory of their demise.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman imagines a future where technology has advanced to the point that nobody dies anymore. The creation of Scythes, humans whose role is to kill other humans, is the only way to ensure the world isn’t overpopulated.

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy balances a science fiction premise, protecting the Earth from a possible alien invasion, with a healthy injection of humor.

Landscape With Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson delivers a science fiction tale chock-full of fascinating ideas in a short, digestible package that will appeal to reluctant readers.

These five books feature captivating hooks, engaging writing, and well drawn characters that will tempt many reluctant readers.

Exo by Fonda Lee
Scholastic Press
January 31, 2017

What if the earth were a colony, a useful military outpost? What if humans were the “indigenous” species–their intelligence the only quality that kept them from being completely overrun by a superior alien race that benevolently talked down to them?

Welcome to the new earth. Under the new political order, the alien race of zhree have created a feudal-like system in which they incorporate humans into their protective clans. Donovan Reyes,  son of the new Prime Liaison between the humans and the zhree, is a valuable political pawn. His father selected him to undergo the “hardening” process, a process that provides him with an exoskeleton similar to that of the zhree race.  The exoskeleton is critical in his role as a peace keeper between humans and zhree, but it can’t protect him when he is kidnapped by the terrorist organization, Sapience. The hits just keep on coming when he realizes that the terrorist are being led by someone who causes him to question everything his father and the zhree have created.

From the first page, Lee solidly constructs an action-packed future that confronts readers with heavy sociological issues. She ratchets up the angst as Donovan tries to balance love, family, and the pragmatic issues of political survival in a plot written so well that readers will be able to visualize the explosions, feel the heartbreaks, and smell the fear. Fans of Pittacus Lore’s Lorien Legacies, the Scan series by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine, and Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoner series will embrace Exo.

— Jodi Kruse

Nemesis by Brendan Reichs
P. Putnam’s Sons
March 21, 2017

It doesn’t matter where you are or how far you run.  The man in the black suit will find you, and then he will kill you.  Min and Noah have learned that every two years on their birthday, they will be stalked and killed by the man in the black suit only to be resurrected the next day with no memory of the event and no rationale for why they are being hunted.

The small-town resort setting of Fire Lake, Idaho with cataclysmic world-ending natural disasters fuel this fast-paced, if lengthy, thriller. Min and Noah are from two very different socio-economic experiences, which presents an added dynamic to their shared attempts to survive their demise on (wait for it) their shared birthdates.

The initial length of the book is a little intimidating, but Reichs successfully keeps the tension moving–enough that one of my reluctant readers who begged me to check it out to her–brought it back within two days declaring she couldn’t put it down.  The jacket cover is enough to get more than a passing glance, and the unique and gory premise, coupled with a twist at the end will be sufficient to keep going until the last horrible secret is revealed.

— Jodi Kruse

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers/Simon and Schuster
November 22, 2106

Unwind is one of those books that I regularly hand to reluctant young adult readers, and they rarely hand it back. The typical response is for them to promptly devour all of the books that follow and then ask for more. That’s why Scythe is such a delight.  Once again, Shusterman delves into the creation of a world in which one critical variable has changed.  In this new world, death has been conquered.  Since people no longer die of natural causes, a special group of death dealers called scythes have been developed, along with a well codified group of cultural and procedural norms.  

Becoming a scythe’s apprentice is not a real cause for celebration, since it involves giving up many of the family relationships and aspirations that are so much a part of humanity. That is why neither Citra nor Rowan are enthused about their selection by Scythe Faraday. In exchange for their sacrifices, scythes are given unlimited power with little to keep them in check. It is in this environment that one band of scythes starts to go renegade.

When Scythe Faraday disappears, Rowan and Citra are  apprenticed to two very different mentors. Citra is adopted by the grande dame, Scythe Curie.  Rowan is apprenticed to Scythe Goddard–the leader of a small band of scythes that revels in their celebrity and keeps one toe just this side of tradition.

The added twist: to ensure that the two are not encumbered by love, at the end of their apprenticeship they must duel to the death. Part mystery, part survival, part romance, this science fiction title poses tough ethical questions via a highly palatable unconventional plot.  Written at a level that is accessible for many struggling readers, the grisly premise (tastefully executed) combined with a cast of complex characters is bound to be a hit.

— Jodi Kruse

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy
July 18, 2017

The threat of imminent alien invasion has never been so entertaining. NASA’s Interworlds Agency is seeking two brilliant teenagers to form a new team to assist the Agency in their mission to represent and protect Earth in the event that intelligent life forms are discovered on other planets. Rosa Hayashi and Eddie Toivonen are two of the best and the brightest from opposite sides of the tracks who must demonstrate their “interstellar ability” to compete for the coveted two spots. Their outside-the-box thinking lands them at the top of the pack, but Eddie’s unusual test results prompt the Agency to choose a second pair as their understudy while they train for their roles.

Before they can consider the problem of extraterrestrials invading Earth, Rosa and Eddie must first deal with fierce competition and micro-aggressions from their peers – Rosa because she is a girl rising above her male peers in science, and Eddie because he is poor and alone in the world. Despite their differences, they quickly learn to work together and build a comfortable, banter-filled rapport, a real highlight of this smart, funny novel. When the aliens finally do make their appearance, Rosa, Eddie, and their cohort band together to bring the fight to them where they least expect it – on the aliens’ own planet, which bears a striking resemblance to their own. It is at this point that things take a truly zany turn, delighting readers with unexpected twists and laugh-out-loud dialogue.  

What Goes Up is a non-stop entertaining romp for readers who like their science fiction served with a good dose of humor. Rosa and Eddie are rounded out by an equally likeable supporting cast of characters whose camaraderie will instantly win readers over. Funny, intelligent, and fast-paced, this book provides readers with plenty to think about while they enjoy the ride; an ideal read for those who are looking for an adventure on the lighter side of science fiction.

— Jenny Zbrizher

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson
Candlewick Press
September 12, 2017

Anderson delivers a science fiction tale chock-full of fascinating ideas in a short, digestible package that will appeal to reluctant readers.

In a future where aliens called vuvv have colonized Earth with humans’ blessing, teenager Adam and his family must do whatever it takes to eke out a meager living in economically depressed times. With vuvv technology having replaced most human jobs, Adam and his girlfriend Chloe get creative  in order to bring money in to support their unemployed families: they sign on  to broadcast their relationship via pay-per-minute recordings for vuvv entertainment, taking extra care to ham up the 1950’s-style dating rituals that the vuvv can’t get enough of.

It doesn’t take long, however, before Adam and Chloe can’t stand each other’s guts any longer (not least of the reasons why is because Adam suffers from an unfortunate gastrointestinal disease, which has a tendency to manifest itself at the most inopportune times). When the vuvv start to catch on that there is trouble in paradise, their threats and ultimatums, combined with Chloe’s rejection, put Adam in a hopeless position. Desperately searching for alternatives to solve his family’s money problems and find a cure for his rapidly deteriorating health, Adam takes a last-chance gamble on his skills as an artist in an effort to get on the vuvv’s good side. Will his best be enough to survive in a planet dominated by vuvv?

Told as a series of brief vignettes, this is a short novel that packs a fierce punch. The dark humor of Anderson’s biting satire will amuse readers, and the social commentary between the lines will prompt them to think. This futuristic tale will engage readers interested in grappling with the ideas inherent in science fiction without having to slog through dense world-building or learning new vocabularies. Short, sardonic, and thought-provoking, Landscape with Invisible Hand is Ray Bradbury for a new generation.

— Jenny Zbrizher

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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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Booklist: Activism Starts With You: Nonfiction Books to Inspire and Instruct

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 07:00

It’s been a wild and sometimes scary ride lately with the political climate changing in the wake of the United States Presidential election last November and, unfortunately, racism and hatred spreading wildly. It’s hard to know where to start when you can’t vote and may not be old enough to work. The best first step: Getting information. These books can help teens do just that as you get informed and inspired.

  • Strike! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights by Larry Dane Brimner: A carefully researched account of the 1965 strike and the ones that followed as migrant Filipino American workers fought to negotiate a better way and set off one of the longest and most successful strikes in American history.


  • Yes You Can! Your Guide to Becoming An Activist by Jane Drake and Ann Love: This book includes accounts of the founding of organizations like Amnesty International and Greenpeace along with practical steps for social change including how to run meetings, write petitions, and lobby the government.


  • It’s Getting Hot in Here: The Past, Present, and Future of Climate Change by Bridget Heos: With so many people denying its impacts, it’s more important now than ever to know the full story about climate change. This book features real talk about global warming and ways we can all help by taking action.



  • Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen: A essay and art-filled guide to what it means to be a feminist from forty-four unique voices.


  • We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson (2013 Excellence in Nonfiction): In May 1963 4,000 African American children and teenagers marched in Birmingham, Alabama where they were willingly arrested to help fill the city’s jails. These young marchers were crucial to the desegregation of Birmingham–one of the most racially violent cities in America at the time.


  • The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect With Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change by Barbara A. Lewis (2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults): This book has everything you need to know as a teen to get involved and make a difference at the local, national, or even global level.



  • Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks (2016 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2016 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults): The true story of three of the most important scientists of the twentieth century–women who risked their lives pursuing their research and protecting the primates they studied.


  • Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager: Queer author and activist Prager delves into the world’s queer history and heritage through the lens of these twenty-three trailblazers.


  • This Land Is Our Land: The History of American Immigration by Linda Barrett Osborne (2017 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults): This book follows the changing reception immigrants to the United States have faced from both the government and the public from 1800 through the present.


  • You Got This! Unleash your Awesomeness, Find your Path, and Change your World by Maya Penn: Everything you need to know to find your passions, reach your potential, and speak up from teen entrepreneur, animator, eco-designer, and girls rights activist Maya Penn.


  • Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz (2016 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers): This book highlights forty women from around the world and from all walks of life along with their varied accomplishments and contributions to world history.


  • The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin (2015 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, 2015 Excellence in Nonfiction): In 1944 hundreds of African American servicemen in the Navy refused to work in unsafe conditions after Port Chicago explosion. Fifty of those men were charged with mutiny. This is their story.


  • Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson: A step-by-step guide to identifying social issues, getting informed, and taking action.


  • How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of A War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana: In her memoir Uwiringiyimana discusses her survival of the Gatumba massacre and her move to America where she began to recover through healing and activism.


  • I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb (2015 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults): Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Her story started when the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley and she fought for her right to an education but that’s only the beginning.

This list is by no means comprehensive. If I’ve missed any key titles, please share them in the comments.

— Emma Carbone, currently reading Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

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Vote Now for the 2017 Teens’ Top Ten!

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 11:42

Voting for the 2017 Teens’ Top Ten is now open! Teens aged 12-18 can vote for up to three of their favorite titles among the 26 nominees, now through Oct 14. The top ten titles will be announced after Teen Read Week™ which takes place Oct. 8-14. Encourage your teens to vote for their favorite titles by sharing the nominations announcement video.

The Teens’ Top Ten is a teen choice list, with teens nominating and choosing their favorite books of the previous year. Nominators are members of teen book groups from 20 school and public libraries around the country. Applications for the next Teens’ Top Ten book group will open in October 2018.

Teens’ Top Ten nominations are posted in April during National Library Week. This gives teens around the country the opportunity to read the nominations throughout the summer and vote on their favorites come fall. To find out more information about Teens’ Top Ten, please visit the Teens’ Top Ten website.

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Volunteer for YALSA Book List Committees and Selected Lists!

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 14:39

It’s that time of year again! As YALSA President-Elect, I’ll make appointments in November for the following YALSA committees that will begin work in early 2018. The committees below are one year terms starting Feb. 1, 2018:

You can gain valuable YALSA and professional development experience by volunteering to be on a YALSA committee.  You will also be helping YALSA achieve its mission to  “support library staff in alleviating the challenges teens face, and in putting all teens ‒ especially those with the greatest needs ‒ on the path to successful and fulfilling lives.”

Additionally, appointments will be made for the Selected Lists Teams (one year term starting Jan. 1, 2018):

  • Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults
  • Best Fiction for Young Adults
  • Great Graphic Novels for Teens
  • Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

For more information, email the member manager of The Hub at

Eligibility for Awards Committees:

  • To be considered for an appointment, you must be a current personal member of YALSA and submit a Committee Volunteer form by October 1, 2016. If you are appointed, service will begin on Feb. 1, 2017 (except for the nominating committees which will start January 1, 2017).
  • Individuals may not serve on more than one selection or award committee at the same time, nor may they serve on the board and a selection or award committee at the same time.
  • If you are currently serving on a committee and are eligible to and interested in serving for another term, you must fill out a volunteer form (so I know you’re still interested and want to do serve another term).

Important Points to Keep in Mind:

  • We strive to ensure a broad representation on all committees across diverse backgrounds, types of libraries, geographic location and more.
  • Serving on a committee or task force is a significant commitment. Please review the resources on this web page before you submit a form to make sure that committee work is a good fit for you at this point in time.
  • All selection and award committee members must attend every committee meeting during their term of appointment. If you cannot commit now, then please do not fill out a volunteer form.  The only exception is the Edwards.
  • When you fill out a form, you will receive an automated email response letting you know it was received. After that, you should not expect to hear about the status of your volunteer form until I contact you in November.

Want more information? Click on the links above. Check out the Committee FAQ.

Please free to contact me with any questions at

Thanks for volunteering with YALSA!

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#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominations, Volume 1

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 09:00

The Amazing Audiobooks blogging team is here with the first wave of nominations for Amazing Audiobooks! There’s something here: nonfiction, contemporary realistic fiction, and science fiction.

Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Mark Bramhall
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication Date: January 2017

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team is an incredible book that focuses on the secondary school football career of early sports star Jim Thorpe and his teammates at the Carlisle Indian School. The book discusses the rise of the football team under the direction of legendary football coach Pop Warner and budding celebrity athlete Jim Thorpe.

I know very little about the history of football (or the sport in general), but when I talked about this book to a few sports fans, they immediately knew the names of Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe, even if they didn’t know the full story. In this book, Sheinkin divulges an integral piece of sports and American history that is known by too few, and he does it in a way that is manageable and entertaining for both youth and adults. The book covers not only the history of football as a sport, but also the very negative interactions between the Carlisle Indian School and other colleges and universities at the time (particularly the Ivy Leagues). While he specifies that it is not the focus of the book, Sheinkin also discusses the terrible reality of the history between the US government, even the wider US population in general, and the Native American communities still in existence at the turn of the 20th Century.

Rather than read this book, I listened to Mark Bramhall’s audiobook narration of it. While listening, I often found myself imagining that I was a young child again, enjoying a bedtime story told to me by a grandfatherly-figure whose storytelling abilities abound. I do not doubt that the book stands on its own, in any case. However, listening to Bramhall’s reading felt as though I was watching a documentary: the measured pacing and calm dictation of the book’s content created a tone that painted a vivid picture of the characters and situations at the Carlisle School that feels both fun and scholarly at the same time.

Sheinkin discusses the person that was Jim Thorpe in a way that one might discuss a mythological figure: mischievous (but not malicious), rowdy, but beyond the physical reach of anyone else in the sport. Sheinkin also writes about Thorpe as though both his athletic prowess and his general spirit were indomitable. While this isn’t the first book written about Thorpe, Undefeated offers a story about an underdog whose combined natural talent, spirit, and determination helped him succeed in the face of never-ending adversity.


Though there are few overly dramatic moments in the book, there are a number of high intensity plot twists that keep the listener invested in the story. When the narrative starts to lull, Sheinkin does a fantastic job of jolting the reader with a tense and pressured event, like a major competition, a devastating loss, a thrilling win, or an explosive scandal. Bramhall keeps up with these ebbs and flows and does an excellent job of expressing the decreased or intensified emotion through his dictation.

Readers interested in reading other books about Jim Thorpe should try Jim Thorpe: Original All-American by Joseph Bruchac. If you’re a fan of football-based fiction, you should try Abbi Glines’s Field Party Collection, Paul Volponi’s Crossing Lines. If you like to read historical biographies about sports stars, you should check out Unbroken (Young Readers Edition) by Laura Hillenbrand or The Greatest: Muhammed Ali by Walter Dean Myers.

— Katrina Ortega

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, narrated by Bahni Turpin, Dominic Hoffmann, and Raymond Lee
Audio published by: Listening Library

Publication date: 11/1/2016
ISBN: 9781524721404

Natasha has lived in New York City for a decade. It’s been a hard decade, with her family living jammed in a tiny Brooklyn apartment and constantly on edge because of their undocumented status. It’s also been a great decade, in which Natasha has grown to see the city as her home, and has yearned for a “normal” teen life. When her dad is arrested for drunk driving, the family is deported, and Natasha will do anything she has to do to find a way to stay. On her last day in the city, she runs into Daniel on his way to an interview for Yale University. Also a family of immigrants, Daniel’s parents have pushed him to excel academically, and he’s suppressed his poetic side his entire life. When their paths cross, it’s love at first sight – sort of.

This love story is told over the course of twelve short hours, but never does it feel drawn-out or slow. Natasha and Daniel tell their stories in alternating first-person narration, with separate narrators in the audiobook version for each. As the day progresses and Natasha and Daniel are brought together, separated, and brought together again, Yoon fills in glimpses of minor characters and their back stories. The characters who are woven into the story are as diverse as New York itself, and the degree to which Yoon develops these characters so richly keeps the book from feeling sticky sweet. While there is plenty of romance, Natasha and Daniel are also fighting their own battles, and their lives outside of the love story are as interesting as the sparks that fly.

Bahni Turpin, who voices Natasha, is a bit of a rockstar in the audiobook world. You may have heard her in books ranging from The Help by Kathryn Stockett to The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and she’s won three Audie Awards, along with other industry accolades. Despite the fact that she’s not a teenager, her narration feels age appropriate and is never distracting from the text. Her narration is filled with emotion throughout the book, and it’s hard to believe that she’s not experiencing the joys and heartbreak herself. Turpin is joined by Raymond Lee, who does an equally empathetic and rich reading of Daniel, and their narration is tied together with Dominic Hoffman’s appropriately authoritative narrator. Having three narrators who all nail their performances and fit together perfectly is certainly a feat!

This book is certainly a tearjerker, make no mistake, but it’s also a delightful celebration of the diversity of experiences that surround us on a daily basis. For teens who love A.S. King’s no-tradional narratives, who were crazy about Eleanor and Park, or who wish they lived in the New York of Ms. Marvel, this book will hit all the right notes. Recommended for teens, adults, and anyone who has ever fallen in love, even when they knew it was a bad idea.

— Ariel Cummins

Flying Lessons and Other Stories, ed. By Ellen Oh, narrated by a full cast
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication Date: 1/3/2017

Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh is abundantly adept at tugging at each and every heart string. The stories contained therein are an impressive hodgepodge that cobbles together volumes of insight and vibrancy. From urban bildungsromans to tall tales of rollicking adventure yarns, each story is imbued with a strong thematic core and makes an effort to impart sage advice.

A quick synopses of a smattering of stories:

  • A young man yearns to prove himself on the basketball court of a rag-tag and tough neighborhood. It’s a coming of age story that redefines what it means to break down expectations of masculinity amongst peers.
  • A young girl copes with the butterflies in her stomach when a new student arrives at school. This is a story that examines loneliness and gathering up the courage to just be yourself. This one was propelled by a series of humorous inner monologues.
  • A young Chinese girl is arranged to be married to a stranger. But she aspires toward higher goals. Her gaze is fixed upon the high seas and adventures with pirates. Through grit and grit alone does she lift herself up by her boot straps and endeavor to better her situation.
  • A young man travels throughout Europe with his spunky grandmother who continually coaxes him to come out of his shell. He’s a determined bookworm who is reluctant to enjoy himself. But he soon finds himself swayed by the allure of summer and the potential for self-discovery.

The production values of this audio book are stellar as well. The readers are an eclectic motley crew of talent and they firm up the narrative experience well throughout. A vivid and crisp image is implanted firmly into our mind’s eye. It’s immersive and laden with emotional weight. The readings are sincere and the inflections appropriate and executed well. When aurally auspicious, there was even something akin to a detached enthusiasm when speaking from the point of view of an angst-ridden teenager. No easy tone to capture. But achieved singularly here.

The diversity of themes is what really captured my imagination. These are stories that teens should be able to identify with easily and with gusto. Themes include a lifelong love of reading, female empowerment, and the determination required to overcome obstacles. The subject matter is emphatically empathetic and should appeal to a wide teenage audience.

As a whole, the stories complement one another masterfully. They’re well curated and represent a wide spectrum of voices. There’s a little bit of something for everyone and it casts a wide net in terms of appeal. The stories are diverse in characters, social issues, and implements a kaleidoscope of voices throughout. The ambiance and seamless tonal shifts range from feisty and humorous to forlorn and somber. The stories all contextualized as a whole display a remarkable narrative dexterity.

All in all, it’s an overwhelmingly charming audio book. One that I expect will bring much joy and newly acquired insights to teens willing to lend an ear.

— Tommy Bui

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, narrated by Austin Butler and Emily Rankin
Audiobook published by: HarperAudio
Publication Date: 1/17/2017
ISBN: 978-0-0626-4201-1

On the planet of Thuvhe is the independent nation of Shotet, ruled by Cyra Noavek’s brother Ryzek, a tyrannical leader bent on assuming power over all of Thuvhe and developing strategic alliances with other planets in the Assembly of nations.

Outside of Shotet, across an expanse of feathergrass, live Shotet’s enemies, the rest of the planet’s citizens known as the Thuvhesits. There, Akos Kereseth and his siblings grew up with their mother, an oracle who can see visions of the future, and their father, a farmer.

Ryzek kidnaps Akos and his brother Eijeh, believing Eijeh is the oracle he needs to reverse a fated fall from power. Akos’ and Cyra’s paths intertwine when Akos is designated her servant. His currentgift, or special skill, is to ease Cyra’s crippling pain from her currentgift, the ability to feel and incur torturous physical pain which Ryzek uses to punish his opponents.

The power imbalance in Akos and Cyra’s relationship evolves into a tentative friendship and attraction, despite the enemy status of their nations. The stakes are raised when Cyra throws in her lot with the renegades, a shadow band of rebels who plan to assassinate Ryzek.

Butler and Rankin share solid narration duties as Akos and Cyra, respectively. Their pacing is deliberate, underscoring the complex tension between Akos and Cyra, and the suspense of a rumbling rebellion. Butler’s Akos is tormented and brooding; Rankin voices Cyra as cynical and wounded but strong. Together their performances are complementary and compelling. Suggest this opening volume of a new science fiction/fantasy series to fans of Young Elites by Marie Lu, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, and Roar by Cora Carmack.

— Beatriz Pascual Wallace and Erin Durrett

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