What's in the trunk of your car? A teddy bear, a mixing bowl, a medieval arrow.
Who would play you in a movie? I'd play myself...but what I really want to do is direct.
Using only one word, describe yourself. Quirky
Author you love to hate: Most authors I hate, I hate begrudgingly, but I have to admit I love hating Stephanie Meyer, only because Reasoning with Vampires makes it so much fun.
What's your favorite smell? While I hate the taste of coffee, I love the smell.
If you had a super power, what would it be? The ability to stop time for everyone but myself without aging faster than everyone else as a result. I have given this way too much thought.
What do you think your job is at Left Bank Books? Convincing myself not to spend every paycheck entirely on books.
Carey Parker has a lot going on. After coming out as genderqueer at junior prom, their senior year is shaping up to be one of trying to fly beneath the radar and maybe rebuild strained relationships. But singing is where Carey's passion lies, and after finding the confidence to audition for the school musical, they are cast as the female lead and thrust into the spotlight in more ways than one (and not always how they want). This is a book about a group of students standing up against queerphobia in their community, yes, but at its heart, this is a book about how coming out is not the end of your journey, but the beginning of the next step. For Carey, the external challenges are matched by internal struggles with self-acceptance and value. The most profound experience of Can't Take That Away is watching them realize that who you are comes from within, but it materializes in the world through your actions, and all it takes is deciding in order to make those actions fierce and uncompromising. A tribute to community activism, to found family, and most of all to continuing to find yourself after the world has already told you what you are, Can't Take That Away is an important book not just for teens exploring gender identity, but for everyone looking for their own way to shine.
In a world where the news cycle removes incidents of gun violence from our view within days, it's refreshing to see a story focused on someone who doesn't get to forget: One of the toddlers behind an accidental shooting who, as a teenager, has to come to terms with the guilt, anger, fear and sadness resulting from her mother's death. Johanna had always been told her mother died in a car accident, so she is starting from square one in confronting her trauma. No punches are pulled here as PTSD effects manifest over time and every seeming solution falls short of her hopes. As hard as this is to witness, all is not bleak. Ultimately, Accidental is a testament to the healing power of community, love and forgiveness. An honest, wrenching and important read.
For fans of The Light Between Worlds and Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series, Havenfall looks at what it's like not to be a traveler between worlds, but to be responsible for all those who are. Centering on the keeper of an inn that offers a neutral ground to denizens of other universes, you'll find a story filled with political intrigue, family secrets, steamy romance, heart-wrenching betrayal and more than a little magic. A satisfying story in its own right, Havenfall will leave readers aching for more of Byrn, Fiordenkill, Solaria, and that mystical world in-between.
Lola has a devoted mother, wonderful friends, neighbors who watch over her like family, and a big question mark where her dad should be. A journey of self-discovery with more than a couple unexpected turns, Lola grows and changes right in front of the reader, but remains a delightful companion throughout. Without getting preachy, this lovely book serves as a reminder of how to treat other people and what's really important
On her first trip to her father's birthplace in Harlem, Amara knows she's going to find out more about her extended family, but she doesn't expect to learn secrets about her father's past, or to gain a sense of connection to the many African Americans who paved the way for her life in Oregon. Quietly powerful, this story of personal discovery is sure to inspire many trips to family photo albums and a lot of great memories.
Alaine would be worth spending time with no matter what, but the fact that she's navigating her first trip to her familial homeland, a possible expulsion, a non-profit start-up internship, a scandalized mother, a cute boy AND an ancient family curse gives her a lot of material to work with. The very real problems of Haiti balance out her breezy quips to present a nuanced outsider(ish) perspective on the island nation that leaves lots of room for more exploration (and maybe a follow-up on Alaine's college years?).
It's hard to believe the book gets better than the title, but it does. This WWII-era tale travels all over Chicago, dropping in on the stories of Great Migration factories and women war workers, while focusing its energies on a Catholic orphanage through the narration of an unmoored spirit searching for her own story. Every sentence is delicious, and they gradually accumulate to paint the picture of a class of people hungry for the sort of success America promises without often delivering and the plight of being a girl in a world that tells you all the meaningful sacrifices are made by boys.
Coo is an utter charmer that will really resonate with anyone who has tried to juggle belonging to two conflicting communities. While she was raised by pigeons and speaks their language, Coo is human, and the human world is scary, especially when it becomes a direct threat to her flock. You will root so hard for Coo and her found family of all species (and probably not look at pigeons the same way again).
This intimate look at a fifteen-year-old Dominican girl caught up in her family's pursuit of the American dream in the mid-1960s manages to both evoke the period and feel extremely timely, given current events. An examination of what it is to be undocumented in America thanks to no particular fault of your own, it's thrilling to see Ana slowly develop an understanding of her situation and the empowerment to make the best of it, not only for the husband and family she's been taught to support, but for herself.
With The Woods, Toalson has created a unique and haunting fantasy world, made all the more poignant by its roots in a deep sense of loss. A story of family found and rediscovered, this will tick many of the traditional middle grade boxes (the notes of The Secret Garden echoing throughout aren't the only homage) while still feeling fresh and resonant.
December is used to moving in and out of foster homes and schools, with almost no constants in her life. It's a good thing she knows that she's really a bird, awaiting transformation, so those human connections wouldn't serve her well anyway. But when she starts to find herself liking her new foster mother and making a friend, what will become of all her plans for flight? Just like the birds she loves, December is slightly otherworldly and mysterious, but also like them, getting to know her is worth it to uncover the delicate and poetic beauty beneath her surface. Extraordinary Birds covers topics that could easily veer into heavy-handed moralizing, but instead Stark-McGinnis has given us simple stories of complex people and allowed the reader to make connections and come to conclusions on their own. A quiet but powerful debut from an author to watch.
Immediately after I finished Losing the Girl, the first book of the Life on Earth trilogy, I deemed the follow-up to be one of my most anticipated sequels in a long time. It does not disappoint. Missing prodigy Claudia Jones may be back, but she's brought with her more questions than answers and a seemingly magnetic pull on some of the players. The rest are still coping with the fallout from their actions in the first book and circumstances beyond their control. There's still definitely something strange looming in the background, confirmed beyond a doubt when Claudia's perspective is added to the mix. There's nothing else quite like this series out there, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.
Shaun Tan continues to one-up himself with every book. In Cicada, he uses barely 150 words (27 of which are "tok") and his trademark gorgeous illustrations to paint a vivid and painful portrait of the toll xenophobia takes on someone just trying their best to make it in a strange and unfriendly world. But be sure to read to the end, as things may not be what they seem.
Middle grade readers aren't likely to recognize Thomas Lennon from his role on Reno 911! or as a prolific screenwriter, but soon they'll be telling the adults in their lives all about this hilarious new writer they've discovered. Lennon draws on his Irish ancestry to introduce us to the Garda, a law enforcement agency tasked with keeping leprechauns and other magical creatures in line, and its newest recruit, fifteen-year-old Ronan Boyle. Ronan's learning curve is steep as he is continually thrust into situations with new and dangerous creatures with little to no training or warning, but his droll narrative voice keeps things darkly amusing rather than just dark. The perfect blend of fantasy, adventure, humor and just a little bit of horror makes this a perfect middle grade read, and John Hendrix's vividly detailed illustrations complete the package in bringing Ronan's world(s) to life. Readers will be kept on their toes through the twists and turns of a story with a legitimately shocking ending and will be left champing at the bit for a sequel that I certainly hope is already on its way.
Leah Thomas is a master at identifying characters on the edge of society--the kind of people who only get noticed for what people think makes them odd or undesirable and then just as quickly ignored--and making them not only come to gloriously vivid three dimensional life, but making them your favorite people in the world. She has done it again with Wild and Crooked, illuminating not only the two characters at the center of the second generation of a small town murder case--the daughter of the murderer and the son of his victim--but also the other teenagers and adults who make their lives either painful or worthwhile or sometimes both. While Wild and Crooked ticks all sorts of boxes for diversity (Gus has cerebral palsy, several characters reside on the LGBTQIA spectrum), these inclusions never feel forced...just inclusive. Continuing her exploration of the ways people connect to create family out of both blood relations and friends, readers will leave Samsboro, Kentucky, feeling a part of it and wanting to meet all the rest of Thomas's creations.
Those who are familiar with Ellen Hopkins's earlier books will find it no surprise that she grapples with some tough issues here. But the gun violence made clear from the title is just one of many. She also delves into racism, classism, abusive relationships, teen parenthood, debilitating injury, fat-shaming, activism, immigration, homelessness, mental illness, and more. You might think this would lead to a scattered and unfocused narrative, but it instead serves as a striking illustration of the intersectionality of issues facing so many teens--and others--today. The powerful use of second-person narration to, as she puts it, put you in the skin of her characters forces you to relate in some way to even the least-forgivable of them, eliminating any ability to dismiss these societal ills as something that only happens to other people.
While it may take a few chapters to acclimate to the unique voice of the diarist of The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary, Macy Cashmere, once you're accustomed to her rhythms and expressions, you'll find it hard to get her out of your head. While plenty happens in this book, it's the characters that are the real highlight. Macy gives you increasingly nuanced insight into people who could all too easily descend into caricatures, including not only her friends and teachers, her parents and brother, but also neighborhood prostitutes and CPS workers. As you may have guessed, this is not always a happy book. Macy's world is one of extreme poverty and neglect that more privileged readers may have to remind themselves isn't a fantasy for far too many. But what she loves, she loves fiercely, and even through her filter of anger and pain, the reasons she keeps fighting shine through.
I've said this so much, it's becoming a cliche, but A.S. King has outdone herself. In a sprawling narrative from seven different points of view, Dig. explores racism, mental illness, violence, loss, feeling unmoored and unfulfilled, and the ways people and families and societies perpetuate hatred and injustice. But this is A.S. King, so there's also a girl who can phase in and out of existence, a highly-trained flea circus, and a lot of potatoes. Her writing is truly beyond description, but if you haven't taken the plunge yet, you won't find a better opportunity to experience it.
Viviane Schwarz's hugely expressive Tiny Cat is a charmer in this new format. Kids will get a kick out of how the spunky feline transforms into different animals with just a prop or two and everyone will appreciate that this isn't just a concept book, but a laugh-out-loud story arc.
When we meet Noah, he has all the reasons in the world to be upset. Several months ago, his father died in a car accident, the same accident that left him in a wheelchair. He's lost his position on the Little League team...but not the teasing of the star pitcher. Most of his friends don't know what to say to him. Sometimes his mom doesn't either. But a new kid who doesn't know what he was like before the accident might be just what he needs. So what if he's a little (a lot) weird? Even kids (and adults) who haven't gone through the severe trials Noah has will recognize the type of resentment that sometimes gets directed at the wrong target and appreciate the work Noah does to get through it. Along the way, they'll love getting to know a set of characters that may not always act lovable, but will always be relatable. And they might just find out what it's like living with a seventeen-year-old dachshund and who's inside Fredbird's costume (shh, don't tell!).
Artemisia Gentileschi is a criminally-underappreciated artist and fascinating historical figure. Joy McCullough uses her story--and those of the Biblical women she captured in her paintings--as a jumping-off point to explore the ways society treats women and the ways women chafe at some of those treatments. Barely a line of this beautiful prose went by without me wanting to read it at someone. Best to settle for as many as possible reading the whole book and all the timeless difficult truths within.
It's hard to describe exactly what's going on in Losing the Girl. There are some odd things, to be sure: The sudden and complete disappearance of a 14-year-old prodigy, the loss of everyone's cell phone reception. But the suburban teens at the heart of this story barely take note of these events as they deal with their much more traditional interpersonal relationships and difficult decisions. I'm sure the background attractions are building to something spectacular, but for now I'm content to soak in the vivid atmosphere as the characters connect to and detach from one another, adrift in manner akin to MariNaomi's constantly shifting art styles. It's been a long time since I've been this excited for a sequel.
Nan Sparrow is the sort of heroine the word "plucky" was invented for. From her unconventional life traveling with her beloved Sweep with whom all difficulties turned into treasured memories, she has fallen into indentured servitude as a "climbing boy." Even though she's one of the best around, when she lodged in a chimney during a fire, she's sure she's a goner...until she awakens in the rubble of that chimney with a sentient bit of char rolling at her feet. Thus begins her new life on the lam with Charlie. Anyone who loved the strange but sweet relationship at the center of Anna and the Swallow Man will owe their whole heart to this heartfelt and satisfying story of found family that shows how even devastating loss can be transformed into beautiful remembrance.
What more do I need to say than "Rosie Revere has a chapter book"? Anyone who has fallen in love with Rosie and her friends Iggy Peck and Ada Twist (brought together here as The Questioneers) knows that they'll be in for some unconventional problem-solving...and probably learning a thing or two about engineering. In this first installment, Rosie is recruited by her Great-Aunt and her friends, all former WWII riveters, to help an artistic member of their group who can't paint conventionally due to an injury. Through trial and error, Rosie is sure she can find a way to help before the big art contest...or can she?
I can't get Sadie out of my head. A small Colorado town is rocked by the discovery of thirteen-year-old Mattie's body in a field. No one is ever even named as a suspect, and the crime starts fading away...until Mattie's older sister Sadie does missing. When her car and belongings show up three months later without a trace of girl, a true-crime podcast rolls into town. What follows is a story that alternates between Sadie's experiences during her absence and the podcast's deductions following close on heels. The best of concepts are so simple you can't believe it hasn't been done before, and this addictive back-and-forth on the effects of violent crime and the efficacy of its investigation is sure to breed imitators. Sadie's world is not a happy one, but it will suck you in and make you demand answers. It had me up into the wee hours of the morning and infiltrated my dreams that night. A novel this intense is a rare thing indeed, and you won't want to miss the experience.
Venturing into realistic fiction for the first time, Tahereh Mafi tells the story of a high school sophomore attempting to navigate a post-9/11 world without sacrificing her Muslim identity...and also reconciling her intense feelings for her all-American-boy lab partner. She does not shy away from discussing the overwhelming amount of hatred and animosity expressed by entirely too many people, but the really difficult passages are wonderfully balanced by heady, swoony depictions of early romance exceeded only by those of Rainbow Rowell. As much adversity as she faces, both from without and within, Shirin is a wonderful person to spend a book with, and readers will find this story of prejudice, love, and breakdancing (yes, breakdancing) taking up residence in their hearts long after they've put the book down.
This is at once a sweeping family epic and an intimate examination of grief, loss, and guilt. It's about brotherhood and immigration and cancer and horse racing and pets and a typewriter and, yes, building a bridge. But at the same time none of that matters as Zusak's writing is so beautiful, his sentences so well-formed, that you would gladly let him tell you just about anything, as long as he just keeps the words coming.