New Release Spotlight: September 15, 2020

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Last week, I tried a new format for the New Release Spotlight. By popular demand, I have returned to the previous format this week. It’s another long September list; I’ve featured 20 titles and two sequels!

My top picks this week:

  • YA: Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
  • MG: Red Fox Road by Frances Greenslade
  • PB: The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

I will be traveling to my hometown for the next two weeks, so the last two September Spotlights might be shorter or nonexistent. It will depend largely on the internet connection at my mom’s and how eventful the trip ends up being.

For a full list of this week’s titles, see #1033-#1052 on The Ginormous book list.

*Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes. Yes to a second chance in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.

But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a teaching job and a place to live on an isolated part of the Northern California coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home—a real home. The farm is a refuge, but it’s also haunted by the past. And Mila’s own memories are starting to rise to the surface.

THREE starred reviews! Nina LaCour is a Printz winner, so with three starred reviews on top of that, this one perfect for high school libraries.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: foster children, abuse, farms, ghosts, California, haunted houses, Halloween reads, loneliness, internships, foster families, teens with jobs, childhood trauma, life after high school

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies. A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down. And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mystery, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: accidents, death of mother, grief, North Carolina, magic, demons, powers, secret societies, King Arthur

*Grown by Tiffany Jackson

When legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots Enchanted Jones at an audition, her dreams of being a famous singer take flight. Until Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night. Who killed Korey Fields?

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted’s dreams had turned into a nightmare. Because behind Korey’s charm and star power was a controlling dark side. Now he’s dead, the police are at the door, and all signs point to Enchanted.

What a gorgeous cover! I seriously love this author and am so excited to read her newest YA book. Three starred reviews, but considering the author, no surprises there.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: musicians, R & B, singers, murder, amnesia, misogyny, toxic masculinity, abuse, kidnapping, sexual abuse, rape, opioid addiction, racism, prejudice, psychological abuse, concert tours

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria–and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy…

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

  • Genre(s): retelling, mythology, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Orpheus & Eurydice, Greek mythology, New York, hurricanes, evil spirits, tragedy, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, musicians, singers, the Underworld, Latinx characters, gaslighting

*The Scrapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Debut author! Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.

Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent on stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: magic, witches, lesbians, Halloween, covens, spells, LGBT+, friendship, orphans

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez

In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life. At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): sports fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: abuse, Argentina, South America, soccer, football, sports, gender roles, women in sports, athletic scholarships, dreams, identity, finding your own way, coming of age, #ownvoices

*Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass

Debut author! Connor Major’s summer break is turning into a nightmare. His SAT scores bombed, the old man he delivers meals to died, and when he came out to his religious zealot mother, she had him kidnapped and shipped off to a secluded island. His final destination: Nightlight Ministries, a conversion therapy camp that will be his new home until he “changes.”

But Connor’s troubles are only beginning. At Nightlight, everyone has something to hide—from the campers to the “converted” staff and cagey camp director—and it quickly becomes clear that no one is safe. Connor plans to escape and bring the other kidnapped teens with him. But first, he’s exposing the camp’s horrible truths for what they are—and taking this place down.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9+
  • Themes: extreme Christianity, summer break, coming out, conversion therapy camp, LGBT+, homophobia, kidnapping, family rejection, depression, Illinois

The Big Questions Book of Sex & Consent by Donna Freitas

This book is a journey into the Big Questions that will turn you into a thinking person about sex and consent, with the ability to wrestle towards the answers that work for YOU and continue to wrestle towards them for the rest of your life.

What is the meaning and purpose of sex? How does it intersect with who I am? Why are people so afraid of it? What does a healthy and joyful approach to sex look like for me? Why is consent so much more than a yes or no question?

Booklist starred. Excellent reviews all around for this “Big” book of over 300 pages. Based on the reviews alone, I think this is a must for all middle and high school libraries.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: sexual health, consent, sex education, sexual ethics, philosophy, personal choices, social media, stereotypes

*Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai

Henry Khoo’s family treats him like a baby. He’s not allowed to go anywhere without his sister/chaperone/bodyguard. And he definitely CAN’T take a journey halfway around the world all by himself!

But that’s exactly his plan. After his family’s annual trip to visit his father in Singapore is cancelled, Henry decides he doesn’t want to be cooped up at home with his overprotective family and BFF turned NRFF (Not Really Friend Forever). Plus, he’s hiding a your-life-is-over-if-you’re-caught secret: he’s the creator of an anonymous gossip cartoon, and he’s on the verge of getting caught. Determined to prove his independence and avoid punishment for his crimes, Henry embarks on the greatest adventure everrr…hoping it won’t turn into the greatest disaster ever.

Three starred reviews! This one is a must for elementary and middle school libraries. The SLJ review even says, “Henry’s character development in this illustrated novel leaves Greg Heffley in the dust.”

  • Genre(s): humor, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: independence, secrets, cartoons, artists, adventures, Australia, diaries, protective families, family relationships, travel

The Monster Who Wasn’t by T C Shelley

Debut author! This is the story of a creature who is both strange and unique. When he hatches down in the vast underground lair where monsters dwell, he looks just like a human boy–much to the disgust of everyone watching. Even the grumpy gargoyles who adopt him and nickname him ‘Imp’ only want him to steal chocolate for them from the nearby shops. He’s a child with feet in both worlds, and he doesn’t know where he fits.

But little does Imp realize that Thunderguts, king of the ogres, has a great and dangerous destiny in mind for him, and he’ll stop at nothing to see it come to pass…

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: monsters, gargoyles, ogres, chocolate, “Jabberwocky”

They Threw Us Away by Daniel Kraus (Author) and Rovina Cai (Illustrator)

The Teddies Saga, book 1. Buddy wakes up in the middle of a garbage dump, filled with a certain awareness: he’s a teddy bear; he spent time at a Store waiting for his future to begin; and he is meant for the loving arms of a child. Now he knows one more thing: Something has gone terribly wrong.

Soon he finds other discarded teddies―Horace, Sugar, Sunny, and Reginald. Though they aren’t sure how their luck soured, they all agree that they need to get back to the Store if they’re ever to fulfill their destinies. So, they embark on a perilous trek across the dump and into the outer world. With ravenous rats, screeching gulls, and a menacing world in front of them, the teddies will need to overcome insurmountable challenges to find their way home.

Kirkus starred. Contains black and white illustrations throughout. Pair with Watership Down.

  • Genre(s): horror, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: toys, teddy bears, garbage, dumps, destiny, everyday dangers

Red Fox Road by Frances Greenslade

Francie and her parents are on a spring road trip: driving from British Columbia, Canada, to hike in the Grand Canyon. When a shortcut leads them down an old logging road, disaster strikes. Their truck hits a rock and wipes out the oil pan. They are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Francie can’t help feeling a little excited–she’d often imagined how she’d survive if she got stranded in the bush, and now here they are. But will her survival skills– building fires, gathering dandelion leaves and fir needles for tea–be enough when hours stretch into days?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: road trips, Canada, Grand Canyon, Oregon, family trips, vacation, wilderness survival, mental health

When Life Gives You Mangos by Kereen Getten

Debut author! Twelve-year-old Clara lives on an island that visitors call exotic. But there’s nothing exotic about it to Clara. She loves eating ripe mangos off the ground, running outside in the rain with her Papa during rainy season, and going to her secret hideout with Gaynah—even though lately she’s not acting like a best friend.

The only thing out of the ordinary for Clara is that something happened to her memory that made her forget everything that happened last summer after a hurricane hit. Sometimes things come back to her in drips like a tap that hasn’t been turned off properly. Other times her Mama fills in the blanks…only she knows those aren’t her memories and it is hard feeling like she is not like everybody else.

But this summer is going to be different for Clara. Everyone is buzzing with excitement over a new girl in the village who is not like other visitors. She is about to make big waves on the island—and give Clara a summer she won’t forget.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: island life, amnesia, hurricanes, memory, new friendships, summer

Turning Point by Paula Chase

Companion to Dough Boys and So Done. Best friends Rasheeda and Monique are both good girls. For Sheeda, that means keeping her friends close and following her deeply religious and strict aunt’s every rule. For Mo, that means not making waves in the prestigious and mostly White ballet intensive she’s been accepted to.

But what happens when Sheeda catches the eye of Mo’s older brother, and the invisible racial barriers to Mo’s success as a ballerina turn out to be not so invisible? What happens when you discover that being yourself isn’t good enough? How do you fight back?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-10
  • Themes: ballet, friends, aunts, racism, prejudice, microaggressions, church, alternating perspectives, African Americans, strong females

*The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam

At her home in Vietnam, a girl rescues ants from the sugar water set out to trap them. Later, when the girl’s family flees war-torn Vietnam, ants lead them through the moonlit jungle to the boat that will take them to safety. Before boarding, the girl folds a paper boat from a bun wrapper and drops it into the water, and the ants climb on. Their perilous journey, besieged by punishing weather, predatory birds, and dehydration, before reaching a new beginning, mirrors the family’s own. Impressionistic collages and a moving, Own Voices narrative make this a one-of-a-kind tale of courage, resilience, and hope.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): wordless picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: Vietnam, refugees, war, survival, #ownvoices, survival, ants, courage

Pretty Tricky: The Sneaky Ways Plants Survive by Etta Kaner (Author) and Ashley Barron (Illustrator)

Have you ever thought of plants as tricky? Probably not. But in this nonfiction book, readers are introduced to the tricky techniques some plants use to defend themselves, reproduce, or acquire food. From the copycat Boquila vine that changes shape to match its host plant, to the pungent carrion flower that lures pollinating flies with the scent of rotten meat, plants across the globe have adapted to survive all kinds of threatening fauna.

Each amazing plant adaptation is described through fact bubbles and easy-to-grasp blocks of text. End matter includes a list of sources for kids to explore, a glossary defining scientific terms, and an index.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-4
  • Themes: botany, plants, survival, nature, adaptations, life, photosynthesis, symbiosis

*Feel the Fog by April Pulley Sayre

Damp and drippy, misty and mysterious…fog is fascinating. Step inside this natural phenomenon and see how fog is formed, how it clears away, and why it feels chilly. Young readers will love this lyrical and photo-illustrated exploration of these clouds that come to visit.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: weather, science, nature, fog

Our Subway Baby by Peter Mercurio (Author) and Leo Espinosa (Illustrator)

“Some babies are born into their families. Some are adopted. This is the story of how one baby found his family in the New York City subway.”

So begins the true story of Kevin and how he found his Daddy Danny and Papa Pete. Written in a direct address to his son, Pete’s moving and emotional text tells how his partner, Danny, found a baby tucked away in the corner of a subway station on his way home from work one day. Pete and Danny ended up adopting the baby together. Although neither of them had prepared for the prospect of parenthood, they are reminded, “Where there is love, anything is possible.”

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: adoption, based on a true story, abandoned babies, New York City, LGBT+, gay fathers, in the news, diverse families

The Truth About Dragons by Jaime Zollars

Debut author! As a young girl cautiously approaches a castle full of soaring, roaring dragons, she worries about their wildness and their terribly sharp teeth. And indeed, the dragons are hungry and noisy, and they seem to be hovering closer and closer…until the girl notices that some of the beasts are wearing mismatched socks. And some are playing tambourines. And some prefer to color quietly in the corner. Could there be more to these dragons than the girl first realized?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: fear, dragons, perception, school stories, first day of school, imagination, first day in a new school

*If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

A boy writes a letter to an imagined alien, explaining all the things he will need to know about Earth and the people who live here–and adding a postscript asking what the alien might look like.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: letters, aliens, conservation, Earth, nature, life, diversity



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.


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