New Release Spotlight: May 5, 2020 (YA)

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Last week, I predicted less-than-normal New Release Spotlight lists for the month of May. Usually, May is among the best months of the year for new book releases. While this list is not as dismal as I predicted, it’s still less than a normal first week of May would be. My theory is that some authors and publishers may have elected to postpone book releases because they are unable to attend promotion events when bookstores and library conferences are all shut down. I can certainly understand that decision.

Despite that, this week’s list is still a three-parter! And, this YA list looks pretty good with new releases from Kacen Callender, Elizabeth Acevedo, Kiera Cass, and Miranda Kenneally. The sequel to Aurora Rising is also sure to be in hot-demand in libraries, even if it isn’t until school starts in the fall.

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 books on this week’s Spotlights have been added to The Ginormous book list, a searchable spreadsheet of all my New Release Spotlight titles since October 2019.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance–and Papi’s secrets–the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Kirkus starred. I’m a bit surprised to have only found one starred review for this one. Elizabeth Acevedo is a huge name in YA fiction, and her previous books have won numerous awards. I could not find an SLJ review for this title. Maybe they have not published it yet.

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: family secrets, fathers and daughters, toxic masculinity, half-siblings, sisters, New York City, Dominican Republic, grief, death of a parent

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

When King Jameson declares his love for Lady Hollis Brite, Hollis is shocked—and thrilled. After all, she’s grown up at Keresken Castle, vying for the king’s attention alongside other daughters of the nobility. Capturing his heart is a dream come true.

But Hollis soon realizes that falling in love with a king and being crowned queen may not be the happily ever after she thought it would be. And when she meets a commoner with the mysterious power to see right into her heart, she finds that the future she really wants is one that she never thought to imagine.

The Kirkus review recommends librarians “skip” this title, but other reviews are positive. The Selection series has been popular in my libraries for years, so there is no way I would skip this one for my students. There would be be a coup!

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: kings, royalty, marriage, engagement, social class

*Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle…

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Publishers Weekly and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: identity, LGBT+, transgender, queer, African-Americans, discrimination, love triangles, artists, diverse characters, friendship

Four Days of You and Me by Miranda Kenneally

Every May 7th, the students at Coffee County High School take a class trip. And every year, Lulu’s relationship with Alex Rouvelis gets a little more complicated. Freshman year they went from sworn enemies to more than friends after a close encounter in an escape room. It’s been hard for Lulu to quit Alex ever since.

Through break-ups, make-ups, and dating other people, each year’s trip class brings the pair back together and forces them to confront their undeniable connection. From the science museum to Six Flags; New York City to London, Lulu learns one thing is for sure: love is the biggest trip of all.

I’ve read all of Miranda Kenneally’s books, and I am sure to read this one, too.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: dating, school trips, high school, first love

Heartstopper, Vol. 1 by Alice Oseman

Shy and softhearted Charlie Spring sits next to rugby player Nick Nelson in class one morning. A warm and intimate friendship follows, and that soon develops into something more for Charlie, who doesn’t think he has a chance.

But Nick is struggling with feelings of his own, and as the two grow closer and take on the ups and downs of high school, they come to understand the surprising and delightful ways in which love works.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: rugby, UK, friendship, LGBT+, gay males, coming out

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is headed to an arranged marriage she dreads. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian. Neither expects to fall in love.

Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, double agents, and the all-encompassing Sea herself.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: pirates, gender roles, gender benders, mermaids, witches, LGBT+

The Dark In-Between by Elizabeth Hrib

A terrible accident brings sixteen-year-old Casey Everett’s life to a halt—literally. Pulled from the water, Casey is rushed to the hospital and miraculously revived. But her sudden return to the living is shadowed by the drowning of her best friend, Liddy.

Overcome with grief, Casey returns home for the summer only to find the memories of the accident won’t let her go. Shadow-drenched nightmares. Whispers in the back of her mind. Her friend’s screams. Casey thinks she’s losing it… until she watches a boy fall from the sky.

Red—an angel fallen to earth to regain his wings—takes her to Limbo, a place that exists somewhere between the living and the dead. Now, in order to save her best friend, Casey must learn to walk these mysterious and dangerous paths or else risk losing Liddy’s trapped soul to something worse than death.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, paranormal
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: angels, purgatory, death, grief, near-death experiences, survivor’s guilt

The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

Working as a Wench—i.e. waitress—at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a Knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be Knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place, clobbers the Green Knight, and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But this Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other Wenches and cast members join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval—if they don’t get fired first.

I was a waitress throughout high school and college. I still say it was the best preparation I could ever have gotten for life as an adult. The multi-tasking I can do today is largely a result of multi-tasking like a beast in my teen years working in restaurants. As a result, I always love reading stories about teens at work, especially when that work is restaurant work. This one sounds like a lot of fun!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: gender roles, teens at work, knights, restaurant work, poverty, girl power

Forged in Fire and Stars by Andrea Robertson

Ara has always known the legend of the Loresmith: the blacksmith who served alongside the kings and queens of Saetlund, forging legendary weapons to arm warriors and protect the kingdom. She’s been told it’s her fate to inherit the title and become the next Loresmith. But since the monarchy’s downfall in a vicious conquest years before, Ara has never truly believed she would be able to take up her duty.

But when the lost Princess Nimhea and Prince Eamon steal Ara from her quiet life with a mission to retake the throne and return Ara to her place as the Loresmith–Ara’s whole world turns upside down.

Suddenly, Ara must leave her small mountain village and embark on a dangerous adventure where she will uncover new truths about her family’s legacy, and even face the gods themselves. With a mysterious thief as an unexpected companion, and dark forces following their every move, Ara must use all her skills to forge the right path forward–for herself, her kingdom, and her heart.

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: fate, destiny, princes and princesses, royalty, blacksmithing

War and Speech by Don Zolidis

Not everyone can be a winner…and Sydney Williams knows this better than anyone. After her white-collar-criminal dad is sent to prison, Sydney fails almost all of her classes and moves into a dingy apartment with her mom, who can barely support them with her minimum-wage job at the mall.

A new school promises a fresh start. Except Eaganville isn’t exactly like other high schools. It’s ruled with an iron fist by a speech team that embodies the most extreme winner-takes-all philosophy.

Sydney is befriended by a group of fellow misfits, each of whom has been personally victimized by the speech team. It turns out Sydney is the perfect plant to take down the speech team from within.

  • Genre(s): humor, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: revenge, high school, social hierarchy, parent in prison, divorce, moving to a new school, debate team, diverse characters




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