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New Release Spotlight: June 1, 2021

It’s June, but the list is still quite lengthy this week! YA looks especially juicy!

My top picks:

  • Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon (young adult)
  • Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith (middle grade)
  • Bodies are Cool by Tyler Feder (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1676-#1698 on The Ginormous book list.

*An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

It’s 2003, several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, FBI agents are infiltrating local mosques, and the Muslim community is harassed and targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears hijab, keeps her head down.

She’s too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.

Shadi is named for joy, but she’s haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of her heart…it’s broken.

Shadi tries to navigate her crumbling world by soldiering through, saying nothing. She devours her own pain, each day retreating farther and farther inside herself until finally, one day, everything changes…and she explodes.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: grief, depression, Islamophobia, 9/11/2001, September 11, 2001, Muslim Americans, Iranian Americans, wearing hijab, death of a sibling, mental health, self-harm, suicide, fallout with best friend
  • Protagonist description: Iranian American girl, Muslim, in high school

*Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began…and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance Studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

FIVE starred reviews! That cover, y’all! Buy multiple copies of this one–it’s going to be POPULAR.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: supernatural gifts, cheating, opposites attract, ballroom dancing, competitions, best covers
  • Protagonist description: Black female, American, age 17 (all major characters are Black)

*One Great Lie by Deb Caletti

When Charlotte wins a scholarship to a writing workshop in Venice with the charismatic and brilliant Luca Bruni, it’s a dream come true. Writing is her passion, she loves Bruni’s books, and going to that romantic and magical sinking city gives her the chance to solve a long-time family mystery about a Venetian poet deep in their lineage, Isabella Di Angelo, who just might be the real author of a very famous poem.

Bruni’s villa on the eerie island of La Calamita is extravagant–lush beyond belief, and the other students are both inspiring and intimidating. Venice itself is beautiful, charming, and seductive, but so is Luca Bruni. As his behavior becomes increasingly unnerving, and as Charlotte begins to unearth the long-lost work of Isabella with the help of sweet, smart Italian Dante, other things begin to rise, too–secrets about the past, and secrets about the present.

THREE starred reviews! And another pretty cover!

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Venice, Italy, writers, scholarships, authors, poets, #metoo, frauds, feminism, traditional gender roles, The Renaissance
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 18

The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons

Debut author! Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham in training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of isolation and bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boys’ soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans–he’s passing.

But when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even though it would mean coming out to everyone–including the guy he’s falling for.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: soccer, transgender, LGBTQIA+, private schools, bullying, racism, privilege
  • Protagonist description: transgender boy, biracial (Black and white), age 15

*The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

Two boys, alone in space. Sworn enemies sent on the same rescue mission.

Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed–not when he’s rescuing his own sister.

In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust each other…especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: space opera, space travel, amnesia, siblings, brothers and sisters, LGBTQIA+, Saturn, Titan, missing persons, secrets
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 17, white

*The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all.

Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl. Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn’t seem so stifling anymore. But Keltie has some secrets of her own. And as the girls start to fall in love, everything they’re each trying to hide will find its way to the surface…whether Morgan is ready or not.

SLJ and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: divorced parents, secrets, island life, LGBTQIA+, lesbians, rescues, selkies, ocean pollution, seals
  • Protagonist description: Canadian girl, white, age 15

The Ghosts We Keep by Mason Deaver

When Liam Cooper’s older brother Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run, Liam has to not only learn to face the world without one of the people he loved the most, but also face the fading relationship with his two best friends.

Feeling more alone and isolated than ever, Liam finds themself sharing time with Marcus, Ethan’s best friend, and through Marcus, Liam finds the one person that seems to know exactly what they’re going through, for the better, and the worse.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: death of a sibling, brothers, grief, hit-and-run, LGBTQIA+, flashbacks, transgender, suicide, self-harm
  • Protagonist description: 16-year old, nonbinary, white, lives in North Carolina

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Debut author! When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

Publishers Weekly starred. Told in alternating perspectives. Give this to fans of Pretty Little Liars or One of Us Is Lying.

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: private schools, anonymous text messages, threats, social media, secrets, systemic racism
  • Protagonist description: boy and girl, both HS age, both Black, boy is either gay or bisexual

We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman

Aaron Stein used to think books were miracles. But not anymore. Even though he spends his days working in his family’s secondhand bookstore, the only book Aaron can bear to read is one about the demise of the dinosaurs. It’s a predicament he understands all too well, now that his brother and mom are gone and his friends have deserted him, leaving Aaron and his shambolic father alone in a moldering bookstore in a crusty mountain town where no one seems to read anymore.

So when Aaron sees the opportunity to sell the store, he jumps at it, thinking this is the only way out. But he doesn’t account for Chad, a “best life” bro with a wheelchair and way too much optimism, or the town’s out-of-work lumberjacks taking on the failing shop as their pet project. And he certainly doesn’t anticipate meeting Hannah, a beautiful, brave musician who might possibly be the kind of inevitable he’s been waiting for.

All of them will help Aaron to come to terms with what he’s lost, what he’s found, who he is, and who he wants to be, and show him that destruction doesn’t inevitably lead to extinction; sometimes it leads to the creation of something entirely new.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: grief, death of sibling, parental abandonment (mother), bookish, physical disabilities, financial problems, bankruptcy, teens with jobs, addiction, drug overdoses, Cascade Mountains, Washington State, independent bookstores
  • Protagonist description: American boy, age 19, white, Jewish

*The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon

Debut author! Book 1 in The Witch King duology. In Asalin, fae rule and witches like Wyatt Croft…don’t. Wyatt’s betrothal to his best friend, fae prince Emyr North, was supposed to change that. But when Wyatt lost control of his magic one devastating night, he fled to the human world.

Now a coldly distant Emyr has hunted him down. Despite transgender Wyatt’s newfound identity and troubling past, Emyr has no intention of dissolving their engagement. In fact, he claims they must marry now or risk losing the throne. Jaded, Wyatt strikes a deal with the enemy, hoping to escape Asalin forever. But as he gets to know Emyr, Wyatt realizes the boy he once loved may still exist. And as the witches face worsening conditions, he must decide once and for all what’s more important–his people or his freedom.

Publishers Weekly starred. I love Holly Black’s fae novels, so I definitely plan to read this.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: witches, fae, LGBTQIA+, transgender, princes, magic
  • Protagonist description: transgender boy, white, age 17; secondary and main characters are very diverse

*Strange Creatures by Phoebe North

From the moment that Annie was born, she and her older brother, Jamie, were inseparable. Alike in almost every way, they promised to always take care of each other while facing the challenges of growing up different in suburban America. And when life became too much for them, they created their own space in the woods behind their house: a fantasy world, called Gumlea, where no one else could find them.

And it was enough, for a while. But then came middle school, when Jamie grew dark and distant. He found new friends, a girlfriend, and a life away from Annie and Gumlea. Soon it was as if she hardly knew the brother who was her other half.

And then, one day, he disappears.

Annie, her family, and the entire community are devastated. And as the days turn into months turn into years, everyone begins to accept that Jamie is gone for good. Everyone, that is, except Annie, who believes that Jamie, somehow, has entered Gumlea, and who believes that she’s the only one who can bring him back.

But as Annie searches for answers and finds a new relationship with a girl she did not expect, she makes startling discoveries about her brother’s disappearance–and has to decide how much of herself she’s willing to give up in order to keep hope alive.

SLJ and Booklist starred. Narration alternates between Jamie, Annie, and Jamie’s girlfriend, Vidya. Another one on my ever-growing TBR list!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-AD
  • Themes: brothers and sisters, siblings, missing persons, fantasy worlds, imagination, trauma, grief, toxic masculinity
  • Protagonist description: three white children, 2 girls and 1 boy, mixed religion family (Christian and Jewish); kids age throughout the novel from birth to young adulthood and college

*Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia L Smith

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family–and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children, to a sea of merfolk, pirates, and a giant crocodile.

A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

THREE starred reviews! I love me some Peter Pan retellings!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, retelling, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: stepsisters, Peter Pan, parents fighting, Neverland, #ownvoices, Native Americans, Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Protagonist description: Wendy is British and white; Lily is Muscogee Creek; both are age 12

*The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe by Tricia Springstubb

Eleven-year-old Loah Londonderry is definitely a homebody. While her mother, a noted ornithologist, works to save the endangered birds of the shrinking Arctic tundra, Loah anxiously counts the days till her return home. But then, to Loah’s surprise and dismay, Dr. Londonderry decides to set off on a perilous solo quest to find the Loah bird, long believed extinct. Does her mother care more deeply about Loah the bird than Loah her daughter?

Things get worse yet when Loah’s elderly caretakers fall ill and she finds herself all alone except for her friend Ellis. Ellis has big problems of her own, but she believes in Loah. She’s certain Loah has strengths that are hidden yet wonderful, like the golden feather tucked away on her namesake bird’s wing. When Dr. Londonderry’s expedition goes terribly wrong, Loah needs to discover for herself whether she has the courage and heart to find help for her mother, lost at the top of the world.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: birds, ornithologists, conservation, Arctic, loneliness, self-reliance, courage
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 11, white

*Force of Fire by Sayantani DasGupta

Kingdom Beyond, book 4. I do not normally feature sequels in the Spotlight, but I’ve included this one because of the rave reviews.

Pinki hails from a long line of rakkhosh resisters, demons who have spent years building interspecies relationships, working together to achieve their goal of overthrowing the snakey oppressors and taking back their rights.

But she has more important things to worry about, like maintaining her status as fiercest rakkhosh in her class and looking after her little cousins. There is also the teeny tiny detail of not yet being able to control her fire breathing and accidentally burning up school property.

Then Sesha, the charming son of the Serpentine Governor, calls on Pinki for help in defeating the resistance, promising to give her what she most desires in return–the ability to control her fire. First she’ll have to protect the Moon Maiden, pretend to be a human (ick), and survive a family reunion. But it’s all worth it for the control of her powers…right?

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: serpents, demons, Bengali folktales, fire, Hindu folklore, India, magic, powers
  • Protagonist description: female, fire demoness, presumably Bengali

The Ship of Stolen Words by Fran Wilde

No matter how much trouble Sam gets in, he knows that he can always rely on his magic word, “sorry,” to get him out of a pinch. Teasing his little sister too much? Sorry! Hurt someone’s feelings in class? Sorry! Forgot to do his chores? So sorry!

But when goblins come and steal his “sorry,” he can’t apologize for anything anymore. To get his “sorry” back and stop the goblins from stealing anyone else’s words, Sam will have to enter the goblins’ world and try and find the depository of stolen words.

There, he meets Tolver, a young goblin who’s always dreamed of adventure. Tolver longs to use the goblin technology–which can turn words into fuel to power ships–to set off and explore, but his grandma warns him that the goblin prospectors will only bring trouble.

Together, Tolver and Sam will have to outsmart the cruel prospectors and save the day before Sam’s parents ground him forever!

  • Genre(s): adventure, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: goblins, power of words, apologies, theft, grandmothers
  • Protagonist description: human boy, white

Everywhere Blue by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz

Debut author! When twelve-year-old Maddie’s older brother vanishes from his college campus, her carefully ordered world falls apart. Nothing will fill the void of her beloved oldest sibling. Meanwhile Maddie’s older sister reacts by staying out late, and her parents are always distracted by the search for Strum. Drowning in grief and confusion, the family’s musical household falls silent.

Though Maddie is the youngest, she knows Strum better than anyone. He used to confide in her, sharing his fears about the climate crisis and their planet’s future. So, Maddie starts looking for clues: Was Strum unhappy? Were the arguments with their dad getting worse? Or could his disappearance have something to do with those endangered butterflies he loved…

Scared and on her own, Maddie picks up the pieces of her family’s fractured lives. Maybe her parents aren’t who she thought they were. Maybe her nervous thoughts and compulsive counting mean she needs help. And maybe finding Strum won’t solve everything–but she knows he’s out there, and she has to try.

  • Genre(s): free verse, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: novel in verse, siblings, brothers and sisters, missing persons, grief, music, oboe, OCD (counting), anxiety, mental illness, climate change, ecology, nature
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, white (her mother is French)

Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business by Bree Galbraith (Author) and Morgan Goble (Illustrator)

The most important thing to know about Wednesday Wilson is that she’s an entrepreneur. She hasn’t started any businesses yet, but she’s pretty sure today is the day.

She and her best friend, Charlie (Wednesday’s future Vice President of Operations), with some help from her little brother, Mister, have made a list of potential businesses. But before they get to move forward on one, there’s an unfortunate incident in class with the Emmas (whose last initials happen to spell M.E.A.N.) involving a bearded dragon named Morten and a piece of kale…it’s a long story. It figures that Wednesday’s archnemeses would be the ones to mess up her plans!

But maybe all is not lost. Maybe this is just the opportunity Wednesday and her friends needed to come up with a brilliant business idea that will save the day and make them millionaires. Or…not?

  • Genre(s): humor, early chapter book
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-4
  • Themes: business, entrepreneurship, mean girls, bullying, brothers and sisters
  • Protagonist description: third grade girl, mixed race, daughter of two moms (one Black and one white)

*Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder

This body positivity picture book for preschoolers is a joyful read-aloud with bright and friendly illustrations to pore over.

From the way a body jiggles to the scars a body bears, this picture book is a pure celebration of all the different human bodies that exist in the world. Highlighting the various skin tones, body shapes, and hair types is just the beginning in this truly inclusive book. With its cheerful illustrations and exuberant refrain, this book will instill body positivity and confidence in the youngest of readers.

THREE starred reviews! You can see some images from the book at the Amazon (Affiliate) link above. From the Amazon page, scroll down a bit to see the swimming pool image. WOW–so gorgeous!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: body positivity, human bodies, vitiligo, physical scars, assistive equipment, gender transition, fatness
  • Protagonist description: no one main character–loads and loads of diversity! This book is literally ABOUT diversity and different body shapes, so there is lots of representation.

*Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai

Lili loves to cook baos, and Nai Nai has taught her all the secrets to making them, from kneading the dough lovingly and firmly to being thankful for the strong and healthy ingredients in the filling. But when Nai Nai realizes that they are out of cabbage (Secret #8: line the basket with cabbage leaves!), she sends Lili up to Babcia’s apartment on the sixth floor to get some. Babcia is happy to share her cabbage, but she needs some potatoes for her pierogi…

What follows is a race up and down the stairs as Lili helps all the grandmothers in her building borrow ingredients for different dumplings: Jamaican beef patties, Italian ravioli, Lebanese fatayer, and more. Energized by Melissa Iwai’s engaging artwork and kinetic storytelling, Dumplings for Lili is a joyful story of sharing food, friendship, and love in all their forms.

Publishers Weekly and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: food, cooking, different countries, Asian Americans, grandmothers, community, diversity, cumulative stories
  • Protagonist description: Chinese American girl and her grandmother (Nai Nai is Chinese for grandmother)

*Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz (Author) and Micah Player (Illustrator)

What’s the best way to cool off on a hot summer day? Run quick and find Paletero José!

Follow along with our narrator as he passes through his busy neighborhood in search of the Paletero Man. But when he finally catches up with him, our narrator’s pockets are empty. Oh no! What happened to his dinero? It will take the help of the entire community to get the tasty treat now.

Includes Spanish words and phrases throughout, an author’s note from Lucky Diaz, and a link to a live version of the Lucky Band’s popular song that inspired the book.

SLJ and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: ice cream, street vendors, music, food, neighborhood, community, summer, Spanish words and phrases, Los Angeles, California
  • Protagonist description: Latinx boy living in LA; neighborhood is multiracial with many ethnicities

The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (Author) and Lorian Tu (Illustrator)

The rice in the pot goes round and round,

Round and round, round and round,

The rice in the pot goes round and round

At the table where my family gathers round…

At the table where this family gathers, they share food, laughter, and, most of all, love. Readers of all ages are sure to delight in this joyful, expressive sing-along, slurping noodles, squishing tofu, and tapping chopsticks as they sing along to this familiar tune.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-K
  • Themes: rhyming books, songs, Asian food, Chinese food, culture, diversity, family, onomatopoeia, Chinese words, “The Wheels on the Bus”
  • Protagonist description: multigenerational Chinese family

Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality by Susan Hughes (Author) and Nicole Miles (Illustrator)

Victor is very close to his twin sister, Linesi. But now that they have turned eight years old, she no longer goes to school with him.

Instead, Linesi, like the other older girls in their community, walks to the river to get water five times a day, to give their mother more time for farming. Victor knows this is the way it has always been. But he has begun learning about equality at school, and his teacher has asked the class to consider whether boys and girls are treated equally.

Though he never thought about it before, Victor realizes they’re not equal, and it’s not fair to his sister. So Victor comes up with a plan to help. Based on a true story of a Malawian boy, award-winning author Susan Hughes’s inspiring book celebrates how one person can make a big difference in the lives of others.

  • Genre(s): picture book for older readers
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: twins, siblings, school, education, gender inequality, water, farm villages, Malawi, based on a true story
  • Protagonist description: boy and girl, twins, age 8, both live in Malawi

A Tree for Mr. Fish by Peter Stein

Bird and Cat meet in a tree. But someone already lives in this tree–Mr. Fish. And he does not want to share.

After Bird and Cat leave, Mr. Fish discovers that it’s actually pretty boring to sit in a tree all by yourself. Getting Bird and Cat back–along with Mr. Fish’s old friends from the sea–is going to require some real work. And Mr. Fish is already having a tough time, because fish aren’t supposed to be on land in the first place.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: sharing, birds, cats, fish, boredom, loneliness, absurdity, puns, friendship, kindness
  • Protagonist description: all characters are animals–bird, cat, fish




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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