New Release Spotlight: January 14, 2020 (YA)

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A wide variety of genres this week! The one that looks most interesting to me is the last one on this list, Beyond the Shadowed Earth. It’s about a girl who makes a terrible bargain with the gods to sacrifice her best friend in exchange for power. She feels guilty about it and wants to make it right, but in the process, she may become a prisoner of the gods herself. I love love love flawed characters!

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. This week’s YA and middle grade Spotlights are linked at the bottom of this post.

*Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Red Shoes.” Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, magical realism, retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: witchcraft, LGBT+, betrayal, prejudice, transgender people, shoes

Echoes Between Us by Katie McGarry

Veronica sees ghosts–more specifically, her mother’s ghost, thanks to the blinding migraines that consume her whole life and keep Veronica on the fringes. But the haunting afterimages make her wonder if there is something more going on…

Golden boy Sawyer is handsome and popular, a state champion swimmer, but this All-American is hiding an adrenaline addiction that could kill him. Drawn to each other after a chance meeting, can they help each other battle the demons that haunt their every step or will they push their luck too far and risk losing it
all…including their lives?

  • Genre(s): contemporary romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: ghosts, brain tumors, divorce, adrenaline addiction, popularity, high school

Hope in the Mail: Reflections on Writing and Life by Wendelin Van Draanen

Wendelin Van Draanen didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer, but thirty books later, she’s convinced that writing saved her life. Or, at least, saved her from a life of bitterness and despair. Writing helped her sort out what she thought and felt and wanted. And digging deep into fictional characters helped her understand the real people in her life better as well.

This writing guide/memoir hybrid will pair well with Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic or Ellen Potter’s Spilling Ink. Most reviews are positive, but Kirkus mentions a few “diversity missteps.” Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): memoir, biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 6+
  • Themes: writing, storytelling

*Lucky Caller by Emma Mills

When Nina decides to take a radio broadcasting class her senior year, she expects it to be a walk in the park. Instead, it’s a complete disaster. The members of Nina’s haphazardly formed radio team have approximately nothing in common. And to maximize the awkwardness her group includes Jamie, a childhood friend she’d hoped to basically avoid for the rest of her life. The show is a mess, internet rumors threaten to bring the wrath of two fandoms down on their heads, and to top it all off Nina’s family is on the brink of some major upheaval.

Publishers Weekly Annex and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): contemporary romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: radio, broadcasting, divorced families, betrayal, childhood friends-turned-romance

Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

Set in 1919. Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper class African American family in Washington D.C., she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation–black or white–and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society–the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men, and shallow young women–has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah starts attending suffragist lectures and socialist meetings, finding herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: anarchism, socialism, African-Americans, women’s suffrage, affluence, social class

Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse

Seventeen-year-old Lake spends her days searching a strange, post-apocalyptic landscape for people who have forgotten one very important thing: this isn’t reality. Everyone she meets is a passenger aboard a ship that’s been orbiting Earth since a nuclear event. The simulation that was supposed to prepare them all for life after the apocalypse has trapped their minds in a shared virtual reality and their bodies in stasis chambers.

No one can get off the ship until all of the passengers are out of the sim, and no one can get out of the sim unless they believe it’s a simulation. It’s up to Lake to help them remember.

When Lake reveals the truth to a fellow passenger, seventeen-year-old Taren, he joins her mission to find everyone, persuade them that they’ve forgotten reality, and wake them up. But time’s running out before the simulation completely deconstructs, and soon Taren’s deciding who’s worth saving and who must be sacrificed for the greater good. Now, Lake has no choice but to pit herself against Taren in a race to find the secret heart of the sim, where something waits that will either save them or destroy them all.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: post-apocalypse, simulated environment, virtual reality

Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott (Author) and Loveis Wise (Illustrator)

Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these poems pay tribute to victims of police brutality as well as the activists insisting that Black Lives Matter. Elliott engages poets from the past two centuries to create a chorus of voices celebrating the creativity, resilience, and courage of Black women and girls. This collection features forty-nine powerful poems, four of which are tribute poems inspired by the works of Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley. This provocative collection will move every reader to reflect, respond–and act.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-Adult
  • Themes: #sayhername, #blacklivesmatter, police brutality, African-Americans, women, violence

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers–a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures.

Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day.

Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own–one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.

The reviews are mixed for this title. Professional reviews are generally positive, but Booklist and Publishers Weekly both mention uneven world-building. Early Goodreads ratings are also pretty low, so buy with caution. I included it on this list because it may fill a need for fantasy fiction featuring a queer protagonist (Emil).

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: magic, brothers, New York City, powers, LGBT+

Me and Mr. Cigar by Gibby Haynes

This debut author is the lead singer of the Butthole Surfers. Seventeen-year old Oscar Lester and his dog have made a pretty good life for themselves, despite the fact that Oscar’s family has all but vanished–his father is dead; his mother has a new boyfriend. His older sister, Rachel, fled five years ago…right after Mr. Cigar bit off her hand.

Despite the freak accident, Oscar knows his dog is no menace. Mr. Cigar is a loyal protector: a supernatural creature that can exact revenge, communicate telepathically, and manipulate car doors and windows with ease. So, when Rachel–now twenty-two and an artist living in New York–calls out of the blue and claims she’s being held hostage, Oscar sees an opportunity to make things right between them.

He races north, intent on both saving Rachel and fleeing the mysterious evil forces targeting his dog. And it’s only by embarking on this dual quest that Oscar starts to untangle his own life and understand the bizarre reality of Mr. Cigar.

This strange novel has a hallucinogenic feel to it. Goodreads ratings are pretty low, and I’m not sure who the audience is here. I’ve only included it on this list because it’s Kirkus starred. I would not personally buy this one for my library. Includes some illustrations.

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-Adult
  • Themes: dogs, government experiments, road trip, LSD, raves

Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard by Echo Brown

This book is heavily autobiographical. Echo Brown is a wizard from the East Side, where apartments are small and parents suffer addictions to the white rocks. Yet there is magic…everywhere. New portals begin to open when Echo transfers to the rich school on the West Side, and an insightful teacher becomes a pivotal mentor.

Each day, Echo travels between two worlds, leaving her brothers, her friends, and a piece of herself behind on the East Side. There are dangers to leaving behind the place that made you. Echo soon realizes there is pain flowing through everyone around her, and a black veil of depression threatens to undo everything she’s worked for.

No starred reviews, but professional reviews are quite positive. Kirkus calls it “just brilliant.” As of this writing, Goodreads only list 16 reviews.

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-Adult
  • Themes: autobiography, memoir, allegory, magic, wizards, drug addiction, sexual assault, racism, poverty, depression

Beyond the Shadowed Earth by Joanna Ruth Meyer

It has always been Eda’s dream to become empress, no matter the cost. Haunted by her ambition and selfishness, she’s convinced that the only way to achieve her goal is to barter with the gods. But all requests come with a price and Eda bargains away the soul of her best friend in exchange for the crown.Years later, her hold on the empire begins to crumble and her best friend unexpectedly grows sick and dies. Gnawed by guilt and betrayal, Eda embarks on a harrowing journey to confront the very god who gave her the kingdom in the first place. However, she soon discovers that he’s trapped at the center of an otherworldly labyrinth and that her bargain with him is more complex than she ever could have imagined-he always intended for her to free him…or take his place.

Wow, what a summary! I love reading books with flawed characters–Mary Sues just are not interesting to read about.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: flawed characters, mythology, bad deals, best friends




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