New Release Spotlight: August 20, 2019

Lots of international schools here in Shanghai had their First Day of School yesterday, but for the first time in 19 years, I was not at school to greet my students in the library. Though I’m a bit sad not to see my sweet students today and talk about our summer reading, I did get to see a few of them coming off the school bus yesterday while I was on my afternoon walk. For all of you whose students start back this week, my heart is with you!

Each week, I pick one book to discuss in my Spotlight introduction, but today I have two books to talk about. Both are YA, and both kind-of go together in that both are about gang activity in other countries. First up: Bloody Seoul. This book is set in South Korea, and I love that it shows a seedier side of life in Seoul. It reminds me a bit of Patron Saints of Nothing, which is set amidst the Philippine Drug War. As the secondary librarian in a school in Asia, I was on constant lookout for books in English that are set in different Asian countries. Set in South Korea, Bloody Seoul is a welcome addition!

The other book I want to highlight, The Far Away Brothers, is a young reader’s adaptation about twin brothers who find themselves on the wrong side of the MS-13 gang in El Salvador. The brothers both flee separately to the USA, but as we all know, this is not such an easy task. The more our students can “step into” the lives of immigrants and refugees, the better, so I am really excited to read this book. I prefer to read nonfiction on audio, but currently, no audiobook is available for the Young Reader’s Adaptation. I did just buy the Audible of the adult version, so that will have to do for now.

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandie Colbert

Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.

When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.

PAGES: 325
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 8+
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: Chicago, identity, family problems, urban life
READALIKES: Pride (Zoboi), Let’s Talk About Love (Kann)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Colbert’s latest novel brilliantly delves into first loves, forbidden romance, rebellion, and family expectations—all of which teens will strongly relate to. Heavier topics like addiction, trauma, and the ills of juvenile justice system for teens of color are also explored in a refreshingly nuanced way that is handled with intelligence and care.” (Booklist starred review, 15 May 2019)

Bloody Seoul by Sonia Patel

Rocky’s the most loyal 16-year-old you’ll ever meet: loyal to the Three Star Pa gang, which his father runs in Seoul, Korea; loyal to his best friends, who accompany him everywhere he goes; loyal to his ever-escalating public bullying of Ha-na, a girl at school; and, finally, loyal to the memory of his mother, even though there are some things about her that he tries to forget. He loves his friends, his city, and the power he wields. But when he catches his father in a lie, the truth is exposed, and his life begins to unravel–and Rocky has no idea where it’s going to lead.

PAGES: 276
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 9-12
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: bullying, gangs, crime, Seoul, loyalty
READALIKES: Patron Saints of Nothing (Ribay), Rani Patel in Full Effect (Patel)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Readers who are drawn to the darker side of Korean pop culture will enjoy this archetypal, yet solid, redemption story.” (Kirkus, 1 May 2019)

Color Me In by Natasha Díaz

Debut author! Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time.

Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but one of her cousins can’t stand that Nevaeh, who inadvertently passes as white, is too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices they face on a daily basis as African Americans. In the midst of attempting to blend their families, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. Even with the push and pull of her two cultures, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent.

PAGES: 373
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 8-12
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: prejudice, racism, family secrets, coming of age
READALIKES: With the Fire on High (Acevedo), All That I Can Fix (Chan)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Broadly appealing and free of the melodrama often associated with half-this, half-that issue books.” (Kirkus, 1 July 2019)

The Far Away Brothers (Adapted for Young Adults): Two Teenage Immigrants Making a Life in America by Lauren Markham

Ernesto and Raul Flores are identical twins, used to being mistaken for each other. As seventeen-year-olds living in rural El Salvador, they think the United States is just a far-off dream–it’s too risky, too expensive to start a life there. But when Ernesto ends up on the wrong side of MS-13, one of El Salvador’s brutal gangs, he flees the country for his own safety. Raul, fearing that he will be mistaken for his brother, follows close behind.

Running from one danger to the next, the Flores twins make the harrowing journey north, crossing the Rio Grande and the Texas desert only to fall into the hands of immigration authorities. When they finally make it to the custody of their older brother in Oakland, California, the difficulties don’t end.

While navigating a new school in a new language, struggling to pay off their mounting coyote debt, and anxiously waiting for their day in immigration court, Raul and Ernesto are also trying to lead normal teenage lives–dealing with girls, social media, and fitting in. With only each other for support, they begin the process of carving out a life for themselves, one full of hope and possibility.

PAGES: 265
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 6-12
GENRE: narrative nonfiction
THEMES: immigration, gangs,
READALIKES: Bloody Seoul (Patel), The Border (Schafer)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, SLJ starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Readers will get a very human glimpse into the lives of two immigrants while also learning more about the larger picture of immigration in the United States. A must for all young adult nonfiction shelves.” (SLJ starred review, 1 July 2019)

As Many Nows as I Can Get by Shana Youngdahl

Debut author! In one impulsive moment the summer before they leave for college, overachievers Scarlett and David plunge into an irresistible swirl of romance, particle physics, and questionable decisions. Scarlett and David have known each other all their lives in small-town Graceville, Colorado, where David is just another mountain in the background, until, one day, he is suddenly so much more than part of the landscape.

PAGES: 417
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 9-12
GENRE: realistic fiction, romance
THEMES: first love, road trips, grief, drug addiction
READALIKES: Girls on the Verge (Biggs Waller), American Road Trip (Flores-Scott)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Lovely, evocative, unadorned writing shines in this smart, poignant story that serious teen readers shouldn’t miss.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Jun 2019)

Fan the Fame by Anna Priemaza

Lainey wouldn’t mind lugging a camera around a video game convention for her mega-famous brother, aka YouTube streamer Codemeister, except for one big problem. He’s funny and charming online, but behind closed doors, Cody is a sexist jerk.

SamTheBrave came to this year’s con with one mission: meeting Codemeister–because getting his idol’s attention could be the big break Sam needs.

ShadowWillow is already a successful streamer. But when her fans start shipping her with Code, Shadow concocts a plan to turn the rumors to her advantage.

The three teens’ paths collide when Lainey records one of Cody’s hateful rants on video and decides to spill the truth to her brother’s fans–even if that means putting Sam and Shadow in the crosshairs.

PAGES: 352
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 9-12
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: gaming, YouTube, sexism, social media
READALIKES: Kat and Meg Conquer the World (Priemaza), In Real Life (Wang)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “he LotS world-somewhat akin to Minecraft-and its fan culture are described in compelling detail, and the POV characters are well-developed. Sam’s journey to self-acceptance, informed by the author’s own experience with a skin-picking disorder, is particularly well done.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

Saving the Tasmanian Devil: How Science Is Helping the World’s Largest Marsupial Carnivore Survive by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

In 1995, a deadly disease began sweeping across the Australian island state of Tasmania, killing every infected Tasmanian devil. The disease moved so fast that some scientists feared the species would be wiped out in the wild within a few decades. Where did this disease, named Devil Facial Tumor Disease, come from? What caused it–a virus, bacteria, or something else? How did it pass from one devil to another? What could be done to fight it?

When author Dorothy Hinshaw Patent learned of the race to save the devil from her friend, Australian geneticist Jenny Graves, she felt compelled to travel to Australia to learn firsthand from scientists what they were finding out about these iconic Tasmanian animals and what they were doing to help it from disappearing in the wild.

PAGES: 79
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 6-10
GENRE: narrative nonfiction
THEMES: animals, Australia, disease, Tasmanian devil, science
READALIKES: The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (Griffin Burns), The Orca Scientists (Valice)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “The author’s long experience writing for young readers is evident. She organizes this complex account in ways that make it clear and provides background that middle school readers will need…” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Jul 2019)

The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

Debut author! Twelve-year-old Quijana is a biracial girl, desperately trying to understand the changes that are going on in her life; her mother rarely gets home before bedtime, her father suddenly seems to be trying to get in touch with his Guatemalan roots (even though he never bothered to teach Quijana Spanish), she is about to start seventh grade in the Texas town where they live and she is worried about fitting in–and Quijana suspects that her parents are keeping secrets, because she is sure there is something wrong with her little brother, Memito, who is becoming increasingly hard to reach.

PAGES: 312
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 3-7
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: mixed race, fitting in, family problems, identity, Texas
READALIKES: Other Words for Home (Warga), Blended (Draper)
STARS AND AWARDS: SLJ XPress starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Biracial Quijana’s anxieties about her mixed identity, not fitting in, and wanting to find her own way will ring authentic for readers of mixed backgrounds, but her voice skews younger than 12, and preteens may be unconvinced of the sincerity of Quijana’s friendships with her peers compared with her hyperattachment to Grandma, who seems like her real best friend.” (Kirkus, 1 Jul 2019)

Rachel’s Roses by Ferida Wolff (Author) and Margeaux Lucas (Illustrator)

Third-grader Rachel Berger longs to be different. At the very least, she’d like to be set apart from her copycat little sister, Hannah. The second Rachel spots the glass rose buttons at Mr. Solomon’s button shop, her heart stops. They’ll be the perfect, unique touch on the skirt her mother is making her for Rosh Hashanah. There’s just one problem: Rachel can’t afford them. With her focus set on earning enough to buy them before the holiday, will Rachel lose sight of what’s really important?

PAGES: 112
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 2-5
GENRE: historical fiction
THEMES: siblings, sisters, Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Manhattan, early 20th Century
READALIKES: It Rained Warm Bread: Moishe Moskowitz’s Story of Hope (Moskowitz-Sweet), The War That Saved My Life (Bradley)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Rachel and her family, friends, and neighbors are not anachronisms or caricatures but are entirely accessible to modern readers.” (Kirkus, 1 Aug 2019)

Lasting Love by Caroline Wright (Author) and Willow Heath (Illustrator)

When a family member or another loved one becomes ill, one of the scariest aspects of their sickness is the way they may change, both physically and in spirit. The feeling of loss can come so early as the person becomes more difficult to recognize. It’s a hard thing for anyone to understand, and especially so for a child. This book offers a helpful visualization of a sick person’s essence as a friendly creature who remains strong and warm, even as the illness progresses. The creature is always around and never tries to cheer the child up, but only serves to keep them company.

PAGES: 40
RECOMMENDED FOR: PreS-Grade 2
GENRE: picture book
THEMES: grief, death and dying, cancer, long-term illness, terminal illness
READALIKES: French Toast Sundays (Spielman), Maybe Tomorrow? (Agell)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Copious white space surrounds the illustrations, showing that nothing matters here except loving Mama, losing her, and finding beauty again afterward.” (Kirkus, 1 Jun 2019)

Billie Jean!: How Tennis Star Billie Jean King Changed Women’s Sports by Mara Rockliff (Author) and Elizabeth Baddeley (Illustrator)

Anything Billie Jean did, she did it ALL THE WAY. When she ran, she ran fast. When she played, she played hard. As a top women’s tennis player, Billie Jean fought for fairness in women’s sports, and when she faced off against Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes, the most famous tennis match in history, she showed the world that men and women–and boys and girls–are equal on and off the court.

PAGES: 40
RECOMMENDED FOR: PreS-Grade 3
GENRE: picture book biography
THEMES: feminism, tennis, sports, Billie Jean King, overcoming adversity, LGBT+, Title IX
READALIKES: Sisters: Venus & Serena Williams (Winter), Firebird (Copeland)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “A must-read for young equal rights warriors.” (Kirkus, 15 Jun 2019)

Frankie’s Favorite Food by Kelsey Garrity-Riley

Frankie has a problem: he has too many favorite foods. He can’t bring himself to choose just one to be for the school play, so on the day of the performance, he’s still without a costume. His teacher comes up with a delicious idea: what if Frankie becomes the Costume Manager? That way, he can parlay his love of all things culinary into the whole production. From adding some last-minute garnishes to helping the rice and beans into their costumes, Frankie shines backstage until he has a brilliant idea and decides to make his debut on the menu as something that combines his love for all his favorite foods.

PAGES: 36
RECOMMENDED FOR: PreS-Grade 2
GENRE: picture book, humor
THEMES: lunch, food, school plays, word play
READALIKES: Julia Child (Maclear), We Don’t Eat Our Classmates (Higgins)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “A lighthearted picture book for readers hungry for wordplay and lunch.” (Kirkus, 1 Jul 2019)

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YOUNG ADULT):

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (ELEMENTARY AND PICTURE BOOKS):

 

 

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