New Release Spotlight: September 10, 2019 (Part I, YA)

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As I’ve mentioned before, January, May, and September tend to be huge months for new book releases. Well, it’s mid-September, and this week’s list has so many fantastic titles that I need to break it up into three parts. Today’s Spotlight is only YA titles. Tomorrow (Wed), I will publish the Middle Grades spotlight, and Thursday will be for picture books.

So what stands out most to me this week? The Color of the Sun by David Almond has me super-curious about the identity of the boy and whether he might be the murdered child the town is buzzing about in the story. His Hideous Heart, a collection of retold Edgar Allan Poe short stories, also looks like loads of fun for Poe fans and readers looking for Halloween short stories. Poe is a favorite of middle and high school English teachers, particularly in October, so you might want to recommend this collection to them as companion stories to English units.

Reminder: Titles with a * received two or more starred professional reviews.

*Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

PAGES: 204
GENRE: magical realism
THEMES: monsters, transgender people, art, angels
READALIKES: Skellig (Almond), Freshwater (Emezi)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, Publishers Weekly starred, SLJ starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “This soaring novel shoots for the stars and explodes the sky with its bold brilliance.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Jul 2019)

*Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Debut author! Frank Li has two names. There’s Frank Li, his American name. Then there’s Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California. Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl–which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit…who is white.

As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he’s forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don’t leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he’s left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love–or himself–at all.

PAGES: 406
GENRE: romance, realistic fiction
THEMES: Asian-Americans, generational cultural clash, family expectations, racism
READALIKES: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Han), When Dimple Met Rishi (Menon)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, Kirkus starred, Publishers Weekly starred, SLJ starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “To say this debut novel is more than a romance would be to malign the genre it is a credit to, but even readers who aren’t fans of romance will be drawn into this beautifully written exploration of family, identity, and self-discovery.” (Booklist starred, Jul 2019)

*Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan

Debut author! Seventeen-year-old Veronica Clarke never thought she’d want to fail a test–that is, until she finds herself staring at a piece of plastic with two solid pink lines. With a promising college-bound future now disappearing before her eyes, Veronica considers a decision she never imagined she’d have to make: an abortion. There’s just one catch-the closest place to get one is over nine hundred miles away.

With conservative parents, a…let’s say less-than-optimal boyfriend, and no car, Veronica turns to the only person she believes won’t judge her: Bailey Butler, a legendary misfit at Jefferson High–and Veronica’s ex-best friend. The plan is straightforward: a fourteen-hour drive to the clinic, three hours for the appointment, and a fourteen-hour drive home. What could go wrong? Not much, apart from three days of stolen cars, shot guns, crazed ex-boyfriends, aliens, ferret napping, and the pain and betrayal of a broken friendship that can’t be outrun.

PAGES: 310
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: abortion, friendship, road trips
READALIKES: Girls on the Verge (Biggs Waller); The Pregnancy Project (Rodriguez)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “A story that effortlessly delivers difficult topics through humor and adventure, without taking away from their serious nature.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

A Light in the Darkness: Janusz Korczak, His Orphans, and the Holocaust by Albert Marrin

Janusz Korczak was more than a good doctor. He was a hero. The Dr. Spock of his day, he established orphanages run on his principle of honoring children and shared his ideas with the public in books and on the radio. He famously said that “children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today.” Korczak was a man ahead of his time, whose work ultimately became the basis for the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

Korczak was also a Polish Jew on the eve of World War II. He turned down multiple opportunities for escape, standing by the children in his orphanage as they became confined to the Warsaw Ghetto. Dressing them in their Sabbath finest, he led their march to the trains and ultimately perished with his children in Treblinka.

But this book is much more than a biography. In it, renowned nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines not just Janusz Korczak’s life but his ideology of children: that children are valuable in and of themselves, as individuals. He contrasts this with Adolf Hitler’s life and his ideology of children: that children are nothing more than tools of the state.

PAGES: 388
GENRE: narrative nonfiction, biography
THEMES: Holocaust, Warsaw, Treblinka
READALIKES: The Boy on the Wooden Box (Leyson), Mapping the Bones (Yolen)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Although intended for YA readers, this eye-opening history also belongs in all adult collections. Painful yet profound.” (Booklist starred review, 1 Sep 2019)

A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

Fifteen-year-old Simran “Simi” Sangha comes from a long line of Indian vichole–matchmakers–with a rich history for helping parents find good matches for their grown children. When Simi accidentally sets up her cousin and a soon-to-be lawyer, her family is thrilled that she has the “gift.”

But Simi is an artist, and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with relationships, helicopter parents, and family drama. That is, until she realizes this might be just the thing to improve her and her best friend Noah’s social status. Armed with her family’s ancient guide to finding love, Simi starts a matchmaking service-via an app, of course. When she helps connect a wallflower of a girl with the star of the boys’ soccer team, she turns the high school hierarchy topsy-turvy, soon making herself public enemy number one.

PAGES: 314
GENRE: romance, realistic fiction
THEMES: matchmaking, social media, Indian-Americans
READALIKES: There’s Something About Sweetie (Menon)
STARS AND AWARDS: Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “The inclusion of prejudices faced by marginalized people (both Indian and LGBTQ) balanced with loving support from their communities creates additional layers of complexity.” (Publishers Weekly starred review, 15 Jul 2019)

The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border by Juan Pablo Villalobos

Every year, thousands of migrant children and teens cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The journey is treacherous and sometimes deadly, but worth the risk for migrants who are escaping gang violence and poverty in their home countries. And for those refugees who do succeed? They face an immigration process that is as winding and multi-tiered as the journey that brought them here.

In this book, award-winning Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos strings together the diverse experiences of eleven real migrant teenagers, offering readers a beginning road map to issues facing the region. These timely accounts of courage, sacrifice, and survival–including two fourteen-year-old girls forming a tenuous friendship as they wait in a frigid holding cell, a boy in Chicago beginning to craft his future while piecing together his past in El Salvador, and cousins learning to lift each other up through angry waters–offer a rare and invaluable window into the U.S.-Central American refugee crisis.

PAGES: 160
GENRE: nonfiction
THEMES: migrants, immigration, refugees
READALIKES: The Far Away Brothers (Adapted for Young Adults): Two Teenage Immigrants Making a Life in America (Markham), The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives (Nguyen)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “At the center of every story lies credible fear; this essential volume is deserving of more than one read.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Aug 2019)

*His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined by Dahlia Adler, ed.

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways. Also includes original versions of each story.

Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining “Ligeia”), Kendare Blake (“Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Amanda Lovelace (“The Raven”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

PAGES: 470
GENRE: short stories, horror, retellings
THEMES: Edgar Allan Poe, LGBT+, revenge, feminism
READALIKES: Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness (Poe, Grisly)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Strong feminist themes appear throughout, and genres run the gamut from futuristic to gothic and lots in between. Diversity in race, gender identity, and sexuality is well represented.” (Kirkus starred review, 1 Aug 2019)

A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth

Violet Sterling has spent the last seven years in exile, longing to return to Burleigh House. One of the six great houses of England, Burleigh’s magic kept both the countryside and Violet happy.

That is, until her father’s treason destroyed everything.

Now she’s been given a chance to return home. But Burleigh isn’t what she remembered. Wild with grief, Burleigh’s very soul is crying out in pain. As its tormented magic ravages the countryside, Vi must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her house–before her house destroys everything she’s ever known.

PAGES: 342
GENRE: fantasy
THEMES: magic, treason
READALIKES: Serpent & Dove (Mahurin), There Will Come a Darkness (Pool)
STARS AND AWARDS: Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “The story, narrated by Violet, has a leisurely start, after which it rises to a nail-biting crescendo. Rich in language and imagery with characters readers want to get to know better, this title’s a keeper.” (Booklist, Aug 2019)

The Starlight Claim by Tim Wynne-Jones

Four months after his best friend, Dodge, disappeared near their families’ camp in a boat accident, Nate is still haunted by nightmares. He’d been planning to make the treacherous trek to the remote campsite with a friend–his first time in winter without his survival-savvy father. But when his friend gets grounded, Nate secretly decides to brave the trip solo in a journey that’s half pilgrimage, half desperate hope he will find his missing friend when no one else could.

What he doesn’t expect to find is the door to the cabin flung open and the camp occupied by strangers: three men he’s horrified to realize have escaped from a maximum-security prison. Snowed in by a blizzard and with no cell signal, Nate is confronted with troubling memories of Dodge and a stunning family secret, and realizes that his survival now depends on his wits as much as his wilderness skills. As things spiral out of control, Nate finds himself dealing with questions even bigger than who gets to leave the camp alive.

PAGES: 226
GENRE: adventure, survival
THEMES: missing persons, wilderness survival
READALIKES: Not If I Save You First (Condie), I Am Still Alive (Marshall)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Rich in plot, the story is also notable for its complex, multidimensional characters, even that of Dodge, whom readers meet in flashbacks. Wynne-Jones doesn’t strike a single false note in this beautifully written, compulsively readable adventure.” (Booklist starred review, Jul 2019)

*Hope Is Our Only Wing by Rutendo Tavengerwei

Debut author! For fifteen-year-old Shamiso, hope is nothing but a leap into darkness. Grief-stricken and confused after her father’s mysterious death in a car crash, Shamiso moves with her mother from England to Zimbabwe in order to pick up the pieces–returning to an extended family and a world she hardly remembers. For Tanyaradzwa, a classmate whose life has been turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis, hope is the only reason to keep fighting.

As an unexpected friendship blossoms between them and the two girls navigate the increasingly uncertain political situation in Zimbabwe, Tanyaradzwa helps Shamiso confront her fear of loss. In opening herself to someone with a potentially fatal illness, Shamiso knows that she might be opening herself to more pain. Yet Tanyaradzwa is the only one who gives her the strength to ask the burning question: What really happened to her father?

PAGES: 207
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: terminal illness, Zimbabwe, corruption, grief
READALIKES: Diamond Boy (Williams), Now Is the Time for Running (Williams)
STARS AND AWARDS: BCCB starred, Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Filled with tales of struggle, sacrifice, corruption, and resilience, the novel showcases a cast of characters whose formidable spirits in the face of life-threatening crises take readers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions via a gripping page-turner.” (Kirkus starred review, 1 July 2019)

The Color of the Sun by David Almond

One hot summer morning, only weeks after his father’s death, Davie steps out his front door into the familiar streets of the Tyneside town that has always been his home. But this seemingly ordinary day takes on an air of mystery and tragedy as the residents learn that a boy has been killed. Despite the threat of a murderer on the loose, Davie turns away from the gossip and sets off toward the sunlit hill above town, where the real and imaginary worlds begin to blur around him. As he winds his way up the hillside, Davie sees things that seem impossible but feel utterly right, that renew his wonder and instill him with hope.

PAGES: 218
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: death, murder
READALIKES: The Savage (Almond)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “In this piece of masterful storytelling, a small town offers its own brand of solace to a young teen struggling with loss.” (SLJ, 1 Sep 2019)




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  • You are amazing! I could not do my job half as well if I did not have you. Nor could I even create a portion of the wonderful things you come up with, let alone even come up with the idea. 😉

    I love everything you do!

    P.S. I’m a high school librarian, so anything already YA or adapted for teens is highly appreciated!

    • Awww, Denise, you just made my week! I will definitely keep it coming! 🙂


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