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New Release Spotlight: June 15, 2021

Tuesday is the day for new book releases! It’s a super-rainy day here in Puerto Morelos due to a tropical system sitting in the Gulf of Mexico. This is supposed to continue for several days, and sadly, it affects our internet. It is possible next week’s Spotlight could be a bit shorter, but this week looks great!

This week’s top picks:

  • You’re So Dead by Ash Parsons (YA)
  • The Thing I’m Most Afraid of by Kristin Levine (MG)
  • The Shark Book by Steve Jenkins (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1717-#1733 on The Ginormous book list.

*The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

Companion to: Truly Devious series, included here because of starred reviews and popularity of the first series. Amateur sleuth Stevie Bell needs a good murder. After catching a killer at her high school, she’s back at home for a normal (that means boring) summer.

But then she gets a message from the owner of Sunny Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls—the site of the notorious unsolved case, the Box in the Woods Murders. Back in 1978, four camp counselors were killed in the woods outside of the town of Barlow Corners, their bodies left in a gruesome display. The new owner offers Stevie an invitation: Come to the camp and help him work on a true crime podcast about the case.

Stevie agrees, as long as she can bring along her friends from Ellingham Academy. Nothing sounds better than a summer spent together, investigating old murders.

But something evil still lurks in Barlow Corners. When Stevie opens the lid on this long-dormant case, she gets much more than she bargained for. The Box in the Woods will make room for more victims. This time, Stevie may not make it out alive.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: murder, summer, camp, detectives, 1970s, cold cases
  • Protagonist description: teen girl, white, American

*Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Debut author! After years of waiting for her Calling–a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers–the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees–and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.

Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy–and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc–how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?

With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, urban fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: witches, magic, impossible tasks, first love, matchmaking, witchcraft, Canada, coming of age, slavery, racism
  • Protagonist description: Canadian girl, age 16, Black; secondary characters are BIPOC and queer

Don’t Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd

Debut author! Emilia Romero is living a double life. By day, she’s a field hockey star with a flawless report card. But by night, she’s kicking virtual ass as the only female member of a highly competitive eSports team. Emilia has mastered the art of keeping her two worlds thriving, which hinges on them staying completely separate. That’s in part to keep her real-life persona, but also for her own safety, since girl gamers are often threatened and harassed.

When a major eSports tournament comes to her city, Emilia is determined to prove herself to her team and the male-dominated gaming community. But her perfectly balanced life is thrown for a loop when a member of a rival team recognizes her . . .

Jake Hooper has had a crush on Emilia since he was ten years old. When his underdog eSports team makes it into the tournament, he’s floored to discover she’s been leading a double life. The fates bring Jake and Emilia together as they work to keep her secret, even as the pressures of the tournament and their non-gaming world threaten to pull everything apart.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: sports, field hockey, double lives, gaming, eSports, secrets, toxic masculinity, rape, sexual harassment
  • Protagonist description: Puerto Rican girl, high school junior; American boy, white

Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy

For the past two years, Lee has been laser-focused on two things: her job as a sound tech at a local coffee shop and her podcast “Artists in Love,” which she cohosts with her boyfriend Vincent.

Until he breaks up with her on the air right after graduation.

When their unexpected split, the loss of her job, and her parent’s announcement that they’re separating coincide, Lee’s plans, her art, and her life are thrown into turmoil. Searching for a new purpose, Lee recruits her old friend Max and new friend Risa to produce a podcast called “Objects of Destruction,” where they investigate whether love actually exists at all.

But the deeper they get into the love stories around them, the more Lee realizes that she’s the one who’s been holding love at arm’s length. And when she starts to fall for Risa, she finds she’ll have to be more honest with herself and the people in her life to create a new love story of her own.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: Memphis, Tennessee, podcasting, life after high school, parental separation, love, dating
  • Protagonist description: white girl, American, age 18, bisexual

Sisters of the Snake by Sasha Nanua and Serena Nanua

Debut authors! Princess Rani longs for a chance to escape her gilded cage and prove herself. Ria is a street urchin, stealing just to keep herself alive.

When these two lives collide, everything turns on its head: because Ria and Rani, orphan and royal, are unmistakably identical.

A deal is struck to switch places–but danger lurks in both worlds, and to save their home, thief and princess must work together. Or watch it all fall into ruin.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: #ownvoices, Punjabi culture, sisters, princesses, royalty, street smarts, thieves, identical twins, switching places, trading lives, The Prince and the Pauper, separated at birth, orphans, India
  • Protagonist description: 2 Punjabi sisters, identical twins, age 18

The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds

Seventeen-year-old Abby Schoenberg isn’t exactly looking forward to the summer before her senior year. She’s just broken up with her first boyfriend and her friends are all off in different, exciting directions for the next three months. Abby needs a plan–an adventure of her own. Enter: the letters.

They show up one rainy day along with the rest of Abby’s recently deceased grandmother’s possessions. And these aren’t any old letters; they’re love letters. Love letters from a mystery man named Edward. Love letters from a mansion on Nantucket. Abby doesn’t know much about her grandmother’s past. She knows she was born in Germany and moved to the US when she was five, fleeing the Holocaust. But the details are either hazy or nonexistent; and these letters depict a life that is a bit different than the quiet one Abby knows about.

And so, Abby heads to Nantucket for the summer to learn more about her grandmother and the secrets she kept. But when she meets Edward’s handsome grandson, who wants to stop her from investigating, things get complicated. As Abby and Noah grow closer, the mysteries in their families deepen, and they discover that they both have to accept the burdens of their pasts if they want the kinds of futures they’ve always imagined.

  • Genre(s): romance, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: summer, senior year, dating, love letters, grandmothers, Nantucket, family secrets, Jewish refugees, Holocaust
  • Protagonist description: American girl and boy, Abby is age 17, both are Jewish

You’re So Dead by Ash Parsons

Plum Winter has always come in second to her sister, the unbelievably cool, famous influencer Peach Winter. And when Peach is invited to an all-expenses-paid trip to a luxurious art-and-music festival for influencers on a private island in the Caribbean, Plum decides it’s finally her time to shine. So she intercepts the invite–and asks her two best friends, Sofia and Marlowe, to come along to the fest with her. It’ll be a spring break they’ll never forget.

But when Plum and her friends get to the island, it’s not anything like it seemed in the invite. The island is run-down, creepy, and there doesn’t even seem to be a festival–it’s just seven other quasi-celebrities and influencers, and none of the glitz and glamour she expected. Then people start to die…

Plum and her friends soon realize that someone has lured each of them to the “festival” to kill them. Someone has a vendetta against every person on the island–and no one is supposed to leave alive. So, together, Plum, Sofia, and Marlowe will do whatever it takes to unravel the mystery of the killer, and fight to save themselves and as many influencers as they can, before it’s too late.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: sisters, social media influencers, Instagram, Caribbean islands, spring break, And Then There Were None, murder, revenge, Alabama
  • Protagonist description: American girl, white, bisexual, age 18 (high school senior)

The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor

Set in 1882. Aware of the racial tumult in the years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mei tries to remain blissfully focused on her job, her close friendship with the camp foreman’s daughter, and telling stories about Paul Bunyan–reinvented as Po Pan Yin (Auntie Po), an elderly Chinese matriarch.

Anchoring herself with stories of Auntie Po, Mei navigates the difficulty and politics of lumber camp work and her growing romantic feelings for her friend Bee. The Legend of Auntie Po is about who gets to own a myth, and about immigrant families and communities holding on to rituals and traditions while staking out their own place in America.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, mythology
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: Chinese Exclusion Act, Paul Bunyan, LGBTQIA+, legends, immigrants, 19th Century, logging, Sierra Nevada mountains, California
  • Protagonist description: Chinese American girl, age 13

The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine

Set in 1993. Most twelve-year-olds would be excited to fly to Austria to see their dad for the summer but then Becca is not most twelve-year-olds.

Suffering from severe anxiety, she fears that the metal detectors at the airport will give her cancer and the long international flight will leave her with blood clots. Luckily, she’s packed her Doomsday Journal, the one thing that always seems to help. By writing down her fears and what to do if the worst happens, Becca can get by without (many) panic attacks.

Routines and plans help Becca cope but living in a new country is full of the unexpected–including Becca’s companions for the summer. Like Felix, the short and bookish son of Becca’s dad’s new girlfriend. Or Sara, the nineteen-year-old Bosnian refugee tasked with watching the two of them for the summer. As Becca explores Vienna and becomes close to her new friends, she soon learns she is not alone in her fears. What matters most is what you do when faced with them.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: anxiety, Vienna, Austria, worry, doomsday, journaling to relieve stress, refugees, fear, friendship, divorced parents, Bosnia, genocide
  • Protagonist description: American girl, age 12, white

Much Ado About Baseball by Rajani LaRocca

Companion to: Midsummer Mayhem. Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends all over again in a new town. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable she is.

But at her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them seems to think that with their math talent and love of baseball, it’s only logical that Trish and Ben become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over that loss and can’t stand her. To make matters worse, their team can’t win a single game. But then they meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that will make them better ballplayers. Trish is dubious, but she’s willing to try almost anything to help the team.

When a mysterious booklet of math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrives in her mailbox, Trish and Ben start to get closer and solve the puzzles together. Ben starts getting hits, and their team becomes unstoppable. Trish is happy to keep riding the wave of good luck…until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the answer to this ultimate puzzle, or will they strike out when it counts the most?

Kirkus starred. Told in alternating voices (Trish and Ben).

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: moving to a new town, baseball, busy parent, single mothers, math, puzzles, Shakespeare, rivalry
  • Protagonist description: Trish is Indian American, age 12; Ben is white, age 12

The Islanders by Mary Alice Monroe

Eleven-year-old Jake’s life has just turned upside-down. His father was wounded in Afghanistan, and his mother is going to leave to care for him. That means Jake’s spending the summer on tiny Dewees Island with his grandmother. The island is a nature sanctuary–no cars or paved roads, no stores or restaurants. To make matters worse, Jake’s grandmother doesn’t believe in cable or the internet. Which means Jake has no cell phone, no video games…and no friends. This is going to be the worst summer ever!

He’s barely on the island before he befriends two other kids–Macon, another “summer kid,” and Lovie, a know-it-all who lives there and shows both Jake and Macon the ropes of life on the island. All three are struggling with their own family issues and they quickly bond, going on adventures all over Dewees Island.

Then, one misadventure on an abandoned boat leads to community service. Their punishment? Mandatory duty on the Island Turtle Team. The kids must do a daily dawn patrol of the beach on the hunt for loggerhead sea turtle tracks. When a turtle nest is threatened by coyotes, the three friends must find a way to protect it. Can they save the turtle nest from predators? Can Jake’s growing love for the island and its inhabitants (be they two-legged, four-legged, feathered, or finned) help to heal his father?

  • Genre(s): adventure, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: deployed father, nature, sanctuaries, summer, grandmothers, family problems, island life, community service, turtles, conservation
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 11, white

*A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi by James Yang


Author James Yang imagines a day in the boyhood of Japanese American artist, Isamu Noguchi. Wandering through an outdoor market, through the forest, and then by the ocean, Isamu sees things through the eyes of a young artist…but also in a way that many children will relate. Stones look like birds. And birds look like stones.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Japan, artists, wonder, sculpture, different ways of seeing, finding quiet places
  • Protagonist description: Japanese boy

I Is for Immigrants by Selina Alko

What do African dance, samosas, and Japanese gardens have in common? They are all gifts the United States received from immigrants: the vibrant, multifaceted people who share their heritage and traditions to enrich the fabric of our daily lives. From Jewish delis to bagpipes, bodegas and Zen Buddhism, this joyful ABC journey is a celebration of immigrants: our neighbors, our friends.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: alphabet, immigration, USA, diversity, food, community
  • Protagonist description: wide variety of skin tones, cultures, and ethnicities

*Jenny Mei Is Sad by Tracy Subisak

Jenny Mei still smiles a lot. She makes everyone laugh. And she still likes blue Popsicles the best. But, her friend knows that Jenny Mei is sad, and does her best to be there to support her.

This beautifully illustrated book is perfect for introducing kids to the complexity of sadness, and to show them that the best way to be a good friend, especially to someone sad, is by being there for the fun, the not-fun, and everything in between.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: sadness, false smiles, friendship, supporting others, emotions, being a good listener, socio-emotional learning
  • Protagonist description: two girls, one is Asian and one is Black

*Noah’s Seal by Layn Marlow

Waiting is hard. In a gentle multigenerational story that blurs the boundaries of real and imagined, Noah waits on shore while Nana fixes their sailboat. The boat will take them out to sea where the seals live, and Noah can hardly contain himself.

In the meantime, he sculpts his own seal out of sand. Noah collects shells for the seal’s speckled back, spiky dune grass for whiskers, two shiny pebbles for eyes, and a smiling line of seaweed for a mouth. He lies beside his new friend to watch the rolling sea until a storm blows in and Noah must take cover. Later, he wonders: did his seal swim away?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: multigenerational stories, beaches, sailboats, grandmothers, seals, sand, seashells, summer
  • Protagonist description: Noah and his grandmother are both Black

Q and U Call It Quits by Stef Wade (Author) and Jorge Martin (Illustrator)

What happens when best friends Q and U quarrel? It’s a real quandary, since they have always been quality friends–a true squad.

But sometimes, U wants some time to herself–even though Q is lonely because he doesn’t always fit in with the other letters without her. When the rest of the alphabet notices the split, they decide they want to do the same. And utter chaos ensues!

Can Q and U come together to quell the mayhem and help the letters repair their friendships?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: friendship, loneliness, time apart, alphabet, making words, spelling
  • Protagonist description: letters are a variety of colors

The Shark Book by Steve Jenkins (Author) and Robin Page (Author)

Sharp teeth, super senses, and those infamous fins–what’s not to love about sharks?

Caldecott Honor–winning team Steve Jenkins and Robin Page explore one of the world’s most notorious–and fearsome–animals. Learn what makes a shark a shark, what sharks like to eat, and how these predators of the deep have evolved. Ever wonder which shark is the smallest? Or the fastest? Even the most deadly? You’ll find your answers in The Shark Book, with countless others.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: sharks, animals, conservation, oceans, evolution, animal adaptations, fact books
  • Protagonist description: n/a

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS & FAVORITE CHARACTERS (ELEMENTARY):

   
 

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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