New Release Spotlight: April 7, 2020 (YA Titles)

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It’s a three-list week! The YA list kicks off April with a bang. We have new titles from Laura Lee Gulledge, Samira Ahmed, Monica Hesse, Carl Deuker, Heather Demetrios, Gae Polisner, Adi Alsaid, Veronica Roth, Candice Bushnell and Katie Cotugno, plus some major sequels from Anthony Horowitz, Ngozi Ukazu, Amy Rose Capetta, and more. WOW!

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. This week’s middle grade and picture book Spotlights are linked at the bottom of this post. All titles have been added to The Ginormous book list, a searchable spreadsheet featuring all my Spotlight titles since October.

*They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else–her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja–they went left.

Zofia’s last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiance. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.

But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her–or help her rebuild her world.

FOUR starred reviews! Give this to fans of Ruta Sepetys.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: WWII, Holocaust, missing persons, Auschwitz-Birkenau, European history, siblings, family

The Loop by Ben Oliver

It’s Luka Kane’s sixteenth birthday and he’s been inside The Loop for over two years. Every inmate is serving a death sentence with the option to push back their execution date by six months if they opt into “Delays”, scientific and medical experiments for the benefit of the elite in the outside world.

But rumors of a war on the outside are spreading amongst the inmates, and before they know it, their tortuous routine becomes disrupted. The government issued rain stops falling. Strange things are happening to the guards. And it’s not long until the inmates are left alone inside the prison. Were the chains that shackled Luka to his cell the only instruments left to keep him safe?

Kirkus starred. All professional reviews note a high-action, suspenseful plot, and Kirkus says it has “blockbuster potential.”

  • Genre(s): thriller, science fiction, dystopia
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: prison, corruption, prisoners, freedom, reality vs. contrived environments, high-suspense

The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson

Debut author! May is a survivor. But she doesn’t feel like one. She feels angry. And lost. And alone. Eleven months after the school shooting that killed her twin brother, May still doesn’t know why she was the only one to walk out of the band room that day. No one gets what she went through–no one saw and heard what she did. No one can possibly understand how it feels to be her.

Zach lost his old life when his mother decided to defend the shooter. His girlfriend dumped him, his friends bailed, and now he spends his time hanging out with his little sister…and the one faithful friend who stuck around. His best friend is needy and demanding, but he won’t let Zach disappear into himself. Which is how Zach ends up at band practice that night. The same night May goes with her best friend to audition for a new band.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: school shootings, survivors, outcasts, twins, siblings, grief, loss

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge

Sometimes, the world is too much for Mona Starr. She’s sweet, geeky, and creative, but it’s hard for her to make friends and connect with other people. She’s like a lot of sensitive teenagers–but in the hands of graphic novelist Laura Lee Gulledge, Mona’s struggle with depression takes on a vivid, concrete form.

Mona calls it her Matter. The Matter gets everywhere, telling Mona she’s not good enough, and that everyone around her wishes she would go away. But through therapy, art, writing, and the persistence of a few good friends, Mona starts to understand her Matter, and how she–and readers–can turn their fears into strengths.

SLJ starred. I love this author and have reviewed two of her books. This one is on the TBR!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: depression, creativity, introverts, art, writing, therapy

Golden Arm by Carl Deuker

Lazarus “Laz” Weathers has always been shy, and his issue with stuttering when he speaks hasn’t helped. Stuck in a Seattle trailer park, Laz finds baseball helps him escape from the world of poverty and drugs. When he gets an opportunity to pitch for the rich kids across town, he has a chance to get drafted by the major leagues.

But playing for the other team means leaving behind his family, including Antonio, Laz’s younger brother, who more and more, seems to be drawn to the dark world of the Jet City’s drug ring. Now Laz will have to choose between being the star pitcher he always dreamed of becoming and the team player his family needs.

I’m a big fan of Carl Deuker! Even though I’m not really into sports fiction, I’ve read and enjoyed three of his books (Gym Candy, Runner, and Night Hoops). Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): sports fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: baseball, poverty, bad neighborhoods, socioeconomic class, drugs, drug dealers, family, teams, trailer parks, baseball pitchers

Little Universes by Heather Demetrios

One wave: That’s all it takes for the rest of Mae and Hannah Winters’ lives to change. When a tsunami strikes the island their parents are vacationing on in Malaysia, it soon becomes clear that their parents are never coming home.

Forced to move to Boston from their sunny California home for the rest of their senior year, each girl struggles with secrets their parents’ death has brought to light and with their uncertainty about the future. Instead of getting closer, it feels like the wave has torn them apart.

Booklist starred. Story alternates between Hannah’s and Mae’s perspectives. I loved Bad Romance, and I’ve added this one to my TBR.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: grief, loss, tsunamis, sisters, adoption, orphans, Boston, Massachusetts, alternating perspectives, family secrets, tragedy

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

Fifteen-year-old JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren’t the friends they once were.

With JL’s father gone on long term business, and her mother struggling with her mental illness, JL takes solace in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he’s going to hit the road – with or without JL.

JL can’t bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: friendship, mental illness, absent parents, butterflies, relationship with older boy, sexual relationships, flashbacks

*We Didn’t Ask for This by Adi Alsaid

Every year, lock-in night changes lives. This year, it might just change the world.

Central International School’s annual lock-in is legendary, and for six students, this year’s lock-in is the answer to their dreams. The chance to finally win the contest. Kiss the guy. Make a friend. Become the star of a story that will be passed down from student to student for years to come.

But then a group of students, led by Marisa Cuevas, stage an eco-protest and chain themselves to the doors, vowing to keep everyone trapped inside until their list of demands is met. While some students rally to the cause, others are devastated as they watch their plans fall apart. And Marisa, once so certain of her goals, must now decide just how far she’ll go to attain them.

Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly starred. Note that despite, two starred reviews, the SLJ review marked this titles as “not recommended” due to slow pacing and a large cast of characters.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: protests, activism, ecology, cliques, stereotypes

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Chosen Ones, book 1. Fifteen years ago, five ordinary teenagers were singled out by a prophecy to take down an impossibly powerful entity wreaking havoc across North America. He was known as the Dark One, and his weapon of choice–catastrophic events known as Drains–leveled cities and claimed thousands of lives. Chosen Ones, as the teens were known, gave everything they had to defeat him.

After the Dark One fell, the world went back to normal…for everyone but them. After all, what do you do when you’re the most famous people on Earth, your only education was in magical destruction, and your purpose in life is now fulfilled?

Of the five, Sloane has had the hardest time adjusting. Everyone else blames the PTSD–and her huge attitude problem–but really, she’s hiding secrets from them . . . secrets that keep her tied to the past and alienate her from the only four people in the world who understand her.

On the tenth anniversary of the Dark One’s defeat, something unthinkable happens: one of the Chosen Ones dies. When the others gather for the funeral, they discover the Dark One’s ultimate goal was much bigger than they, the government, or even prophecy could have foretold–bigger than the world itself.

Does this remind anyone of Stephen King’s It? This title is technically adult, but I think it will have lots of crossover appeal for older teens. I was reading adult books from sixth grade onward, and I think many teens will love this one. News reports and government documents are interspersed throughout. Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): horror, fantasy
  • Recommended for: technically Adult, but I think older teens will love it
  • Themes: magic, PTSD, adulting, racism, mental health, diverse characters, good vs. evil

Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno

Marin has always been good at navigating the unspoken rules for being a girl. A star student and editor of the school paper, she dreams of getting into Brown University. Marin’s future seems bright–and her young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. Beckett, is always quick to admire her writing and talk books with her.

But when “Bex” takes things too far and comes on to Marin, she’s shocked and horrified. Had she somehow led him on? Was it her fault?

When Marin works up the courage to tell the administration what happened, no one believes her. She’s forced to face Bex in class every day. Except now, he has an ax to grind.

But Marin isn’t about to back down. She uses the school newspaper to fight back and she starts a feminist book club at school. She finds allies in the most unexpected people, like “slutty” Gray Kendall, who she’d always dismissed as just another lacrosse bro. As things heat up at school and in her personal life, Marin must figure out how to take back the power and write her own rules.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: sexual harassment, student-teacher relationships, school newspaper, journalism, #metoo, #ownvoices, feminism

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

It’s August in Paris and 17-year-old Khayyam Maquet–American, French, Indian, Muslim–is at a crossroads. This holiday with her parents should be a dream trip for the budding art historian. But her maybe-ex-boyfriend is probably ghosting her, she might have just blown her chance at getting into her dream college, and now all she really wants is to be back home in Chicago figuring out her messy life instead of brooding in the City of Light.

Two hundred years before Khayyam’s summer of discontent, Leila is struggling to survive and keep her true love hidden from the Pasha who has “gifted” her with favored status in his harem. In the present day–and with the company of a descendant of Alexandre Dumas–Khayyam begins to connect allusions to an enigmatic 19th-century Muslim woman whose path may have intersected with Alexandre Dumas, Eugene Delacroix, and Lord Byron.

Echoing across centuries, Leila and Khayyam’s lives intertwine, and as one woman’s long-forgotten life is uncovered, another’s is transformed.

Pair with Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Muslims, Paris, France, diverse characters, ex-boyfriends, harems, art, alternating perspectives, alternating timelines

What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter

There are a million things that Halle Levitt likes about her online best friend, Nash. He’s an incredibly talented graphic novelist. He loves books almost as much as she does. And she never has to deal with the awkwardness of seeing him in real life. They can talk about anything…Except who she really is.

Because online, Halle isn’t Halle–she’s Kels, the enigmatically cool creator of One True Pastry, a YA book blog that pairs epic custom cupcakes with covers and reviews. Kels has everything Halle doesn’t: friends, a growing platform, tons of confidence, and Nash.

That is, until Halle arrives to spend senior year in Gramps’s small town and finds herself face-to-face with real, human, not-behind-a-screen Nash. Nash, who is somehow everywhere she goes–in her classes, at the bakery, even at synagogue. Nash who has no idea she’s actually Kels.

If Halle tells him who she is, it will ruin the non-awkward magic of their digital friendship. Not telling him though, means it can never be anything more. Because while she starts to fall for Nash as Halle…he’s in love with Kels.

Give this one to fans of Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: online relationships, blogging, friendship, moving, bookish, dating






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