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New Release Spotlight: January 5, 2021 (Young Adult)

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Welcome to the first New Release Spotlight of 2021! This year will mark the fifth year of the Spotlight–WOW! January is always a great month for new book releases, and as I mentioned in December, the January 5th list does not disappoint.

As I often do with large release weeks, I have broken this week’s Spotlight into three parts: YA, middle grades, and picture books. This is the YA list. You can find the middle grade and picture book lists linked at the bottom of this post.

My top picks on the YA list this week:

  • When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris
  • The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany Jackson
  • The Quantum Weirdness of the Almost-Kiss by Amy Noelle Parks

This week’s YA Spotlight titles are #1236-#1250 on The Ginormous book list.

*When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris

Debut author! When you look like us–brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades–everyone else thinks you’re trouble. No one even blinks twice over a missing black girl from public housing because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. I, Jay Murphy, can admit that, for a minute, I thought my sister Nicole just got caught up with her boyfriend—a drug dealer—and his friends. But she’s been gone too long. Nic, where are you?

If I hadn’t hung up on her that night, she would be at our house, spending time with Grandma.

If I was a better brother, she’d be finishing senior year instead of being another name on a missing persons list.

It’s time to step up, to do what the Newport News police department won’t.

Bring her home.

Oh, you better believe I’ll be reading this one! Love the cover and the summary! THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): mystery, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: 9-12
  • Themes: missing persons, siblings, Newport News, Virginia, prejudice, racism, social issues, African Americans, family, identity

*One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.

One of the good ones.

Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind–why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?–Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected–one that will change everything all over again.

SLJ and Kirkus starred.
  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: social justice, murder, activism, police brutality, sisters, protests, media, #BLM, road trips, Route 66, Negro Motorist Green Book

The Awakening of Malcolm X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson

In Charlestown Prison, Malcolm Little struggles with the weight of his past. Plagued by nightmares, Malcolm drifts through days, unsure of his future.

Slowly, he befriends other prisoners and writes to his family. He reads all the books in the prison library, joins the debate team and the Nation of Islam. Malcolm grapples with race, politics, religion, and justice in the 1940s. And as his time in jail comes to an end, he begins to awaken–emerging from prison more than just Malcolm Little: Now, he is Malcolm X.

Here is an intimate look at Malcolm X’s young adult years. While this book chronologically follows X: A Novel, it can be read as a stand-alone historical novel that invites larger discussions on black power, prison reform, and civil rights.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: prison, African Americans, civil rights, Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, social issues, community

Glimpsed by G.F. Miller

Charity is a fairy godmother. She doesn’t wear a poofy dress or go around waving a wand, but she does make sure the deepest desires of the student population at Jack London High School come true. And she knows what they want even better than they do because she can glimpse their perfect futures.

But when Charity fulfills a glimpse that gets Vindhya crowned homecoming queen, it ends in disaster. Suddenly, every wish Charity has ever granted is called into question. Has she really been helping people? Where do these glimpses come from, anyway? What if she’s not getting the whole picture?

Making this existential crisis way worse is Noah–the adorkable and (in Charity’s opinion) diabolical ex of one of her past clients–who blames her for sabotaging his prom plans and claims her interventions are doing more harm than good. He demands that she stop granting wishes and help him get his girl back.

At first, Charity has no choice but to play along. But soon, Noah becomes an unexpected ally in getting to the bottom of the glimpses. Before long, Charity dares to call him her friend…and even starts to wish he were something more. But can the fairy godmother ever get the happily ever after?

  • Genre(s): fairy tales, fantasy, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 6-10
  • Themes: Homecoming, high school, wishes, magical abilities, fairy godmothers, helping others

Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel by Ned Vizzini (Author), David Levithan (Author), and Nick Bertozzi (Illustrator)

Jeremy Heere is your average high school dork. Day after day, he stares at beautiful Christine, the girl he can never have, and dryly notes the small humiliations that come his way. Until the day he learns about the “squip.”

A pill-sized supercomputer that you swallow, the squip is guaranteed to bring you whatever you most desire in life. By instructing him on everything from what to wear, to how to talk and walk, the squip transforms Jeremy from geek to the coolest guy in class. Soon he is friends with his former tormentors and has the attention of the hottest girls in school.

But Jeremy discovers that there is a dark side to handing over control of your life–and it can have disastrous consequences.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, science fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: unrequited love, geeks, popularity, control, technology, graphic novel adaptations

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

Debut author! Sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson has never felt like the protagonist in her own life. She’s rarely seen herself reflected in the pages of the romance novels she loves. The only place she’s a true leading lady is in her own writing–in the swoony love stories she shares only with Caroline, her best friend and #1 devoted reader.

When Tessa is accepted into the creative writing program of a prestigious art school, she’s excited to finally let her stories shine. But when she goes to her first workshop, the words are just…gone. Fortunately, Caroline has a solution: Tessa just needs to find some inspiration in a real-life love story of her own. And she’s ready with a list of romance novel-inspired steps to a happily ever after. Nico, the brooding artist who looks like he walked out of one of Tessa’s stories, is cast as the perfect Prince Charming.

But as Tessa checks off each item off Caroline’s list, she gets further and further away from herself. She risks losing everything she cares about–including the surprising bond she develops with sweet Sam, who lives across the street. She’s well on her way to having her own real-life love story, but is it the one she wants, after all?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: romance novels, inspiration, creative writing, writers, art schools, being true to oneself, rom-coms, biracial families, diverse characters

Hold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury

Everyone in this quiet lakeside community knows that Alva’s father killed her mother, all those years ago. There wasn’t enough proof to arrest him, though, and with no other family, Alva’s been forced to live with her mother’s murderer, doing her best to survive until she can earn enough money to run away.

One of her chores is to monitor water levels in the loch–a task her father takes very seriously. Their family has been the guardian of the loch for generations. It’s a cold, lonely task, and a few times, Alva can swear she feels someone watching her.

But the more Alva investigates, the more she realizes that the truth can be more monstrous than lies, and that you can never escape your past.

  • Genre(s): horror, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: murder, family problems, survival, monsters, Scotland, caretakers

Lore by Alexandra Bracken

Every seven years, the Agon begins. As punishment for a past rebellion, nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines, all eager to kill a god and seize their divine power and immortality.

Long ago, Lore Perseous fled that brutal world in the wake of her family’s sadistic murder by a rival line, turning her back on the hunt’s promises of eternal glory. For years she’s pushed away any thought of revenge against the man–now a god–responsible for their deaths.

Yet as the next hunt dawns over New York City, two participants seek out her help: Castor, a childhood friend of Lore believed long dead, and a gravely wounded Athena, among the last of the original gods.

The goddess offers an alliance against their mutual enemy and, at last, a way for Lore to leave the Agon behind forever. But Lore’s decision to bind her fate to Athena’s and rejoin the hunt will come at a deadly cost–and still may not be enough to stop the rise of a new god with the power to bring humanity to its knees.

  • Genre(s): mythology, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Greek mythology, gods, worldbuilding, flashbacks, magic

Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education by Lawrence Goldstone

Since 1896, in the landmark outcome of Plessy v. Ferguson, the doctrine of “separate but equal” had been considered acceptable under the United States Constitution. African American and white populations were thus segregated, attending different schools, living in different neighborhoods, and even drinking from different water fountains. However, as African Americans found themselves lacking opportunity and living under the constant menace of mob violence, it was becoming increasingly apparent that segregation was not only unjust, but dangerous.

Fighting to turn the tide against racial oppression, revolutionaries rose up all over America, from Booker T. Washington to W. E. B. Du Bois. They formed coalitions of some of the greatest legal minds and activists, who carefully strategized how to combat the racist judicial system. These efforts would be rewarded in the groundbreaking cases of 1952-1954 known collectively as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which the US Supreme Court would decide, once and for all, the legality of segregation–and on which side of history the United States would stand.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Plessy v. Ferguson, racism, school segregation, separate but equal, social justice, legal cases, African Americans, law, lawyers, 1950s, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, civil rights

*The Life I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

In The Skin I’m In, readers saw into the life of Maleeka Madison, a teen who suffered from the ridicule she received because of her dark skin color. For decades fans have wanted to know the fate of the bully who made Maleeka’s life miserable, Char.

Now in The Life I’m In, we follow Charlese Jones, who, with her raw, blistering voice speaks the truths many girls face, offering insight to some of the causes and conditions that make a bully. Turned out of the only home she has known, Char boards a bus to nowhere where she is lured into the dangerous web of human trafficking. Much is revealed behind the complex system of men who take advantage of vulnerable teens in the underbelly of society.

While Char might be frightened, she remains strong and determined to bring herself and her fellow victims out of the dark and back into the light, reminding us why compassion is a powerful cure to the ills of the world.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: bullying, African Americans, human trafficking, compassion, empathy, prejudice, racism

Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala

Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making–for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything–and everyone–else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.

Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store–or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.

But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: cosplay, artists, fashion design, LGBTQIA+, exes, crafting, heartbreak, first love, competitions

Influence by Sara Shepard and Lilia Buckingham

After a video she makes goes viral, everyone knows Delilah Rollins. And now that she’s in LA, Delilah’s standing on the edge of something incredible. Everything is going to change. She has no idea how much.

Jasmine Walters-Diaz grew up in the spotlight. A child star turned media darling, the posts of her in her classic Lulu C. rainbow skirt practically break the Internet. But if the world knew who Jasmine really was, her perfect life? Canceled.

Fiona Jacobs is so funny–the kind of girl for whom a crowd parts–no wonder she’s always smiling! But on the inside? The girl’s a hot mess. And when someone comes out of the shadows with a secret from her past, it’s one that won’t just embarrass Fiona: it will ruin her.

Who wouldn’t want to be Scarlet Leigh? Just look at her Instagram. Scarlet isn’t just styled to perfection: she is perfection. Scarlet has a gorgeous, famous boyfriend named Jack and there’s a whole fanbase about their ship. To everyone watching online, their lives seem perfect…but are they really? The sun is hot in California…and someone’s going to get burned.

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: social media, fame, secrets, Los Angeles, California, internet, OCD, diabetes, alternating perspectives, murder, bullying, love triangles, teen celebrities

The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Author) and K. Woodman-Maynard (Illustrator)

Painted in lush watercolors, the inventive interpretation emphasizes both the extravagance and mystery of the characters, as well as the fluidity of Nick Carraway’s unreliable narration. Excerpts from the original text wend through the illustrations, and imagery and metaphors are taken to literal, and often whimsical, extremes, such as when a beautiful partygoer blooms into an orchid and Daisy Buchanan pushes Gatsby across the sky on a cloud.

This faithful yet modern adaptation will appeal to fans with deep knowledge of the classic, while the graphic novel format makes it an ideal teaching tool to engage students. With its timeless critique of class, power, and obsession, The Great Gatsby Graphic Novel captures the energy of an era and the enduring resonance of one of the world’s most beloved books.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, classics
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: graphic novel adaptation, social class, visual metaphor, surrealism

The Quantum Weirdness of the Almost-Kiss by Amy Noelle Parks

Debut author! Seventeen-year-old Evie Beckham has always been too occupied with her love of math and frequent battles with anxiety to want to date. Besides, she’s always found the idea of kissing to be kind of weird.

But by senior year, thanks to therapy and her friends, she’s feeling braver than before. Maybe even brave enough to enter the national math and physics competition or flirt back with the new boy.

Meanwhile, Evie’s best friend, Caleb Covic, has always been a little in love with her. So he’s horrified when he is forced to witness Evie’s meet-cute with the new guy. Desperate, Caleb uses an online forum to capture Evie’s interest–and it goes a little too well. Now Evie wonders how she went from avoiding romance to having to choose between two—or is it three?—boys.

  • Genre(s): romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: rom-com, anxiety, math, awkwardness, friends-to-dating, crushes, physics

Roman and Jewel by Dana L. Davis

Jerzie Jhames will do anything to land the lead role in Broadway’s hottest new show, Roman and Jewel, a Romeo and Juliet inspired hip-hopera featuring a diverse cast and modern twists on the play. But her hopes are crushed when she learns mega-star Cinny won the lead…and Jerzie is her understudy.

Falling for male lead Zeppelin Reid is a terrible idea–especially once Jerzie learns Cinny wants him for herself. Star-crossed love always ends badly. But when a video of Jerzie and Zepp practicing goes viral and the entire world weighs in on who should play Jewel, Jerzie learns that while the price of fame is high, friendship, family, and love are priceless.

Reviews are mixed, but I think students who love theater and musicals will enjoy this one.

  • Genre(s): retelling
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: theater, hip-hop music, opera, star-crossed lovers, family, fame, celebrity, going viral, Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

 

MORE NEW RELEASES THIS WEEK

ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

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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