Young Adult

VINYL MOON by Mahogany L. Browne

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It’s been five weeks since Angel’s mother sent her to the live with her uncle in Brooklyn, and Angel knows it’s her own fault. Her fault that she had to leave California. Her fault that her arm is in a sling. Her fault that Darius, the first boy who called her beautiful, the boy who loved her so much he couldn’t help but hurt her, is in jail.

Angel isn’t eager to share her past–or her guilt–with the other girls in her advisory class at her new school or with her teacher, however cool she might seem. But when she rediscovers the poetry of Maya Angelou, which she had loved to read until Darius tore up her book, the words of Angelou and soon other Black artists take root in her soul. And as she confronts the darkness in her past, she begins to open herself up to love: the love of a boy, the love of a friend, the love of her uncle, and most incredibly, the love of herself.

Exquisite poetry and prose intertwine in this uplifting novel about a Black trauma survivor finding herself through the powerful voices of BIPOC artists. Writers like Cisneros, Morrison, and Angelou influence both the character on her journey to becoming a musical artist and the style of narration, a combination of vignettes, poems, and conversations. Browne also surrounds her protagonist with a community of Black women and girls, each with her own developed identity and arc, who flesh out not only the world of the story but the message about the strength, resilience, ingenuity, and above all value of Black girls, despite how society teaches them that they don’t matter or can’t achieve. This book is an essential purchase for any YA collection and an emotional, uplifting literary read for teens and adults.

HOW NOT TO FALL IN LOVE by Jacqueline Firkins

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Harper doesn’t believe in love. There’s nothing like working summers hemming dresses for bridezillas that will kill all dreams of a happily ever after. And then, of course, there was last summer’s fling that ended in a broken heart. No, Harper isn’t planning on falling in love ever again. Unlike her best friend, Theo, who seems to fall in love twice a week with girls who ultimately reject him. Harper decides what Theo needs is some lessons in casual dating, and who better to give them than the hardened cynic who is an expert in closing off her heart to love. To prove it, she’ll even casually ask out the hot athlete she’s had a crush on since forever and who she is definitely not going to fall in love with.

There are only two problems with Harper’s plan. First off, she starts falling for Felix almost as soon as they start dating. The bigger problem: she might be falling even harder for Theo…

I was swept away by this earnest, emotional rom-com. Harper’s voice is funny, and her experiences of love are raw and realistic. There were points in the novel when I genuinely wasn’t sure how things would turn out because of the believable complications that Firkins built into her love life. It is refreshing to have a love triangle where all three people are good humans trying to figure out what they want in the world and whether they can fit together in a relationship, and the sex-positive mom was an added bonus. I highly recommend this novel to teen and college-age romance readers! It would be an excellent addition to any YA collection.

DANGEROUS PLAY by Emma Kress

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Zoe has one goal for the year: to lead her field hockey team to the championships where she’ll have the chance to impress scouts from her dream college. It’s not going to be easy, especially since most of the team will be new players, but that’s why Zoe has been leading her handpicked new girls in middle-of-the-night training sessions, so that they really blow Coach away at try-outs.

Everything goes according to plan, except that one of the girls who makes the team isn’t one of Zoe’s picks. In fact, the only time Zoe has seen Nikki before was when she ran across the field during one of the middle of the night trainings, her shirt undone, a wild look in her eyes like she was fleeing for something–or someone. Zoe is pretty sure something happened to Nikki, just like she’s pretty sure that another teammate has been getting harassed at school while the administration does nothing, but the best option seems to stay out of it and focus on the game. But when Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, her focus begins to slip away, and suddenly she realizes: she and her fierce teammates shouldn’t be saving all their fight for the field. Their nighttime training sessions would be better spent wreaking vigilante justice against the boys who have hurt them.

This novel is packed with emotional intensity and morally-questionable heroics. Ultimately, Zoe and her friends will find a way to fight for justice without using violence, and Zoe’s fraught family relationships will settle into a supportive community. A great read for anyone wanting to vicariously take out some rage against the patriarchy with an positive and constructive message about how all high schoolers can take a proactive stance against rape culture.

A SECRET SHARED by Patricia MacLachlan

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Nora doesn’t understand why her mom wants a DNA test. Isn’t it enough to know who you are and where you came from? Do you need to know who your ancestors were, too? As Nora expected, her mother’s test results don’t hold any surprises. But Nora finds a huge surprise hidden in the envelope: her little sister, Birdy, snuck a tube of her own spit into the testing envelope and her results don’t match her mom or her dad. Nora doesn’t know why her parents would keep Birdy’s adoption a secret, but as she investigates to learn more about her little sister’s past, Nora’s own secrets begin to pile up. With all of the complicated things she’s thinking and feeling, could there possibly be enough love in her family to hold her together?

This complex story about love and truth is told in MacLachlan’s spare yet meaningful prose. With the current conversation about the trauma of adoption, it might have been nice to see more of Birdy’s perspective and more complex and conflicting emotions from her character upon learning about her first mother. But that isn’t the story MacLachlan is telling here; this is Nora’s story–the older sister, trying to figure out what her family means not only because one of her siblings is adopted but because her loving, trusted parents have lied to her since Birdy’s arrival. I’d recommend this story to elementary-aged readers who enjoy literary fiction.

NO BEAUTIES OR MONSTERS by Tara Goedjen

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Riley is dreading moving back to the desert town of Twentynine Palms to all the traumatic memories they left behind when they left four years ago. She knows her mom doesn’t get to pick where she’s stationed, but it feels like they’re coming back because her estranged grandfather has died. Like now it’s safe.

But there’s nothing safe about Twentynine Palms. Riley’s former best friend has become the latest in a long list of people who have disappeared, and her grandfather for some reason has photographs of all of them in his basement, along with audio tapes that seem to have recorded the memories of local murderers, including a teen named Ethan who is terrorizing the community. And if her grandfather’s possible involvement in this dark mystery weren’t bad enough, Riley has terrifying gaps in her own memories–and a vision of herself covered in blood…

Sitting squarely at the intersection of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and thriller, this suspenseful, chilling novel will delight fans of STRANGER THINGS. The unrelenting pacing and unreliable narrator make it difficult to put down, and although I noticed a few I consistencies in the sci-fi, it didn’t really bother me because of the fantasy/horror vibe. I would definitely recommend this one to fans of the speculative genres and I’d put it on any STRANGER THINGS read-alike list!

ALL THESE BODIES by Kendare Blake

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Michael was there when the found the bodies, his friend Steve and his parents dead in their living room and drained of blood. He was there when his father arrested Marie Catherine Hale, the fifteen-year-old girl, the only thing drenched in blood in the otherwise sterile crime scene. Marie insist she’s innocent of the murders–and the other nine murders that spanned the midwest that summer of 1958. But she has a story to tell, a story that would prove her innocence if only someone would believe her, and Michael is the only one she will talk to. With a eager prosecutor clamoring for her execution, Marie begins a tale that is as horrifying as it is impossible. Is she the liar the prosecutor claims she is? And who will she be when all of the secrets finally float to the surface.

This slow-boil, noir mystery has an excruciatingly pacing and an eerie atmosphere that will keep your spine tingling from page one. It’s not for readers who need fast action but rather for those of us who relish a gradually unfolding, suspenseful mystery with a touch of the otherworldly. This one is for fans of the gothic and the noir, a great book to curl up with on a cold, dark night.

THE BIG REVEAL by Jen Larsen

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Addie isn’t ashamed of her body. In fact, she’s incredibly proud–not only of how she looks, but of the strength and grace that has helped her rise to being the best dancer at the top arts boarding school in the country. But she is frustrated with how others see her and think less of her for being fat, especially since fat dancers are discriminated against in the industry.

When Addie gets the opportunity to attend an elite summer program led by one of her biggest heroes, an elite dancer with a body like hers, she won’t let anything stand in her way, especially not the $6,000 she definitely doesn’t have. Fortunately, her awesome and supportive friends have a plan: put on a secret underground burlesque show on campus after dark. It’s an exciting idea, one that makes Addie feel incredibly excited and empowered. But as the date of the show grows closer, doubts about baring her skin in front of an audience begin to creep in. And on a campus where young women are routinely shamed and disciplined for outfits that the administration deems “too revealing,” the stakes couldn’t be higher. Will Addie find the courage to dance for what she believes in?

This unapologetically feminist and body positive YA contemporary novel will resonate with all young women who have ever been shamed and objectified for having bodies (so, all young women…). Debates over the validity and empowerment of sex work take center stage, but complex friendships, budding relationships, and amazingly witty banter keep the feminist message from feeling overly preachy. The high stakes plot makes it difficult to put this one down. I highly recommend this novel to fans of YA contemporary fiction.

MY CONTRARY MARY by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

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Mary, Queen of Scots, is as powerful as she is deviant. After all, it’s not every queen who dresses in a man’s clothes to sneak out for a night of revelry. But no one knows about her most secretive deviance–that she is one of the shape-shifters who can change into animals at will (in her case, a mouse) that are at the center of a political power struggle. Her fiancĂ©, the french prince Francis, doesn’t even know. Of course he has problems of his own, now that his father has announced that he and Mary will be getting married within the week and even if he was sure that Mary loved him as much as he loved her (which he’s not), the wedding night is going to be incredibly awkward because his father plans to watch. Ew. Further complicating matters a Nostradamus (specifically the daughter of the Nostradamus) has been tasked with spying on the young queen and is about to discover her secret. And in case that isn’t enough going on, the king is about to die, and when that happens, everything is going to get very interesting…

This book is extremely weird (in a good way), guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. Narrators address the reader directly with a tongue-in-cheek, informal style as the utterly bizarre events unfold and the dialogue moves with perfect comedic timing. Pick up this one if you’re in the mood for a YA farcical twist on history!

Amazon.com: My Contrary Mary (The Lady Janies): 9780062930040: Hand,  Cynthia, Ashton, Brodi, Meadows, Jodi: Books

THE SEA IS SALT AND SO AM I by Cassandra Hartt

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A small town in Maine is slowly eroding into the sea, and the lives of three high schoolers are crumbling with it. When Tommy swam out into the ocean, he wasn’t planning on swimming back or being rescued. He was hoping to sink beneath the waves, to leave his miserable existence behind. His twin brother, Ellis, has been trying to pretend Tommy’s depression doesn’t exist, focusing on his own struggles as an aspiring track star whose prosthetic leg is starting to irritate him from overuse. And his best friend and Tommy’s sworn enemy, Harlow, knows that all of it–from Ellis’s leg to Tommy’s depression–is her fault. But through their efforts to save their town and their relationships with one another, the teens begin a journey toward healing where new romances blossom, old secrets are purged, and forgiveness will lead to a path forward.

Lyrical prose and authentic emotions guide readers through this poetic story. Fans of emotional contemporary YA, such as A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL, WE ARE OKAY, or AN EMOTION OF GREAT DELIGHT will love this quietly beautiful debut. Hartt includes a warning at the start for scenes of suicidal ideation, suicide, and depression, which are upsetting in their realism, but the hope and healing that propels the story makes it a rewarding read for anyone who won’t be triggered by the content. I highly recommend this one.

Amazon.com: The Sea Is Salt and So Am I: 9781250619242: Hartt, Cassandra:  Books

THE SUMMER OF LOST LETTERS by Hannah Reynolds

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Until she finds her grandmother’s letters, most of Abby’s summer plans involve trying to avoid her ex. But the minute she starts reading the love letters from a mysterious man named Edward–who apparently wanted to marry her grandmother and still has a necklace that belonged to her–everything changes. Her grandmother never mentioned an Edward, or spending summers with a wealthy family on Nantucket. In fact, all Abby really knew about her grandmother was that she came to America alone as a toddler while her parents perished in Auschwitz. Now, Abby wants to learn more about the grandmother she loved but, as it turns out, barely knew.

After securing a job at a Nantucket bookstore for the summer, Abby is determined to find Edward, get some answers about her grandmother’s past, and get that necklace back–even if it means breaking into his mansion. But she didn’t count on Edward’s grandson, Noah, who is just as handsome and charming as he is determined to thwart Abby’s attempts to poke her nose in his family’s business. As the summer wears on and friendship blossoms into something more both Noah and Abby wrestle with the price of love: how much they are each willing to sacrifice for love of their families and for each other.

From the jacket summary and cover art, I did not expect to laugh out loud at this romance–but the banter! The premise of the romance of the grandparents and the tension between families left room for angst (and there was angst) but the thrust of the contemporary romance is summer fling turns to forever love over a series of adventures and capers. It was sweet, funny, and at times heart-wrenching, full of history and thorny ethical dilemmas, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Highly recommend to fans of YA contemporary romance who like family drama and a bit of mystery.

Amazon.com: The Summer of Lost Letters: 9780593349724: Reynolds, Hannah:  Books