New Release Spotlight: Sept. 1, 2020 (YA)

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And just like that, it’s September! This month is historically a great month for new book releases, and this week’s Spotlight doesn’t disappoint! I’ve got three lists for you (again) this week. This is the YA list. Middle Grades and Picture Books are linked at the bottom of this post.

My pick of the week for this list was really tough! I added five of these books to my Goodreads TBR. I’m going to go with Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher as my top-pick from this list. So many good ones though!


The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week. Every Tuesday, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers.

The titles on this week’s list are #960-#970 on The Ginormous book list.

*Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

FIVE starred reviews! Considering the authors and that summary, is anyone surprised? Nope!

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: poetry, art, crime, assault, prison, injustice, prejudice, racism, false accusations, abuse, prison reform

*We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco.

Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted.

Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps.

In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.

FOUR starred reviews! Pair with Takei’s They Called Us Enemy or Ahmed’s Internment.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Japanese internment camps, WWII, prejudice, racism, Asian Americans, San Francisco, California, Nisei, 1940s, Topaz City, Utah, alternating perspectives, mixed media format, injustice


*The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg

Seventeen-year olds Aaron and Tillie don’t know each other, but they are both feeling suicidal, and arrive at the George Washington Bridge at the same time, intending to jump. Aaron is a gay misfit struggling with depression and loneliness. Tillie isn’t sure what her problem is–only that she will never be good enough.

On the bridge, there are four things that could happen: Aaron jumps and Tillie doesn’t. Tillie jumps and Aaron doesn’t. They both jump. Neither of them jumps. Or maybe all four things happen.

This book gives readers all four possibilities in alternate timelines. It sounds depressing and sad, but the ending is hopeful. Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: suicide, New York City, adopted characters, Korean Americans, depression, loneliness, mental illness, bullying, alternate timelines, LGBT+

*Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomass

Debut author! Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him. When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, paranormal
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: transgender, witches, Latinx characters, ghosts, murder, exorcism, Hispanic Americans, magic, spirits

*The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is.

To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes. Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions.

Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred. Give this to fans of McManus’s One of Us Is Lying or Garber’s Caraval.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: billionaires, inheritances, mansions, puzzles, riddles, codes, heirs, Texas, reluctant readers

*Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew

After school one day, Frankie, a lover of physics and astronomy, has her first sexual experience with quiet and gorgeous Benjamin—and gets her period. It’s only blood, they agree. But soon a gruesome meme goes viral, turning an intimate, affectionate afternoon into something sordid, mortifying, and damaging.

In the time it takes to swipe a screen, Frankie’s universe implodes. Who can she trust? Not Harriet, her suddenly cruel best friend, and certainly not Benjamin, the only one who knows about the incident. As the online shaming takes on a horrifying life of its own, Frankie begins to wonder: is her real life over?

When I first saw this book, I thought it would be a vampire story. I thought that was an exposed neck on the cover, but boy, is that wrong! I’ve read a few books lately about the negative power of social media. As awesome as social media can be (I keep in regular touch with long-time friends through Facebook), it sure can be the devil at the same time. SLJ and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: social media, going viral, menstruation, cyberbullying, misogyny

Flamer by Mike Curato

I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.

I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel…unsafe.

It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes―but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: 1990s, overweight teens, biracial protagonist, LGBT+, queer, emotional abuse, Catholicism, bullies, coming of age, suicidal thoughts

*Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher

It’s 2032, and in this near-future America, all citizens are chipped and everyone is tracked–from buses to grocery stores. It’s almost impossible to survive as an undocumented immigrant, but that’s exactly what sixteen-year-old Vali is doing. She and her family have carved out a stable, happy life in small-town Vermont, but when Vali’s mother’s counterfeit chip starts malfunctioning and the Deportation Forces raid their town, they are forced to flee.

Now on the run, Vali and her family are desperately trying to make it to her tía Luna’s in California, a sanctuary state that is currently being walled off from the rest of the country. But when Vali’s mother is detained before their journey even really begins, Vali must carry on with her younger brother across the country to make it to safety before it’s too late.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): dystopia, action, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: near future, Vermont, California, sanctuary states, human microchipping, undocumented immigrants, deportation, mothers and daughters,road trips (not the fun kind), running for one’s life, brothers and sisters, siblings, xenophobia

None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney

In 1982, two teenagers–serial killer survivor Emma Lewis and US Marshal candidate Travis Bell–are recruited by the FBI to interview convicted juvenile killers and provide insight and advice on cold cases. From the start, Emma and Travis develop a quick friendship, gaining information from juvenile murderers that even the FBI can’t crack.

But when the team is called in to give advice on an active case–a serial killer who exclusively hunts teenagers– things begin to unravel. Working against the clock, they must turn to one of the country’s most notorious incarcerated murderers for help: teenage sociopath Simon Gutmunsson.

Despite Travis’s objections, Emma becomes the conduit between Simon and the FBI team. But while Simon seems to be giving them the information they need to save lives, he’s an expert manipulator playing a very long game…and he has his sights set on Emma.

No starred reviews for this title, but most of the professional reviews are very positive. The one exception is SLJ, which says the “narrative in this book is lacking” and does not recommend it for purchase. I personally think it would be easy to booktalk and would appeal to students who like lots of action and suspense.

  • Genre(s): thriller, action, suspense
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: 1980s, serial killers, cold cases, murder, sociopaths, psychology

Kiyo Sato: From a WWII Japanese Internment Camp to a Life of Service by Connie Goldsmith

In 1941 Kiyo Sato and her eight younger siblings lived with their parents on a small farm near Sacramento, California, where they grew strawberries, nuts, and other crops. Kiyo had started college the year before when she was eighteen, and her eldest brother, Seiji, would soon join the US Army. The younger children attended school and worked on the farm after class and on Saturday. On Sunday, they went to church. The Satos were an ordinary American family. Until they weren’t.

On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day, US president Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan and the United States officially entered World War II. Soon after, in February and March 1942, Roosevelt signed two executive orders which paved the way for the military to round up all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast and incarcerate them in isolated internment camps for the duration of the war. Kiyo and her family were among the nearly 120,000 internees.

In this moving account, Sato and Goldsmith tell the story of the internment years, describing why the internment happened and how it impacted Kiyo and her family. They also discuss the ways in which Kiyo has used her experience to educate other Americans about their history, to promote inclusion, and to fight against similar injustices. Hers is a powerful, relevant, and inspiring story to tell on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction, biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-11
  • Themes: Japanese internment camps, WWII, Pearl Harbor, 1940s, siblings, loss of freedom, California, Korean War

Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Debut author! When Caroline Lawson’s best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison–big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew about her friend. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, suspense, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9+
  • Themes: missing persons, best friends, secrets, detectives




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