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New Release Spotlight: June 8, 2021

Continuing the literary awesomeness in June! Three of this week’s new titles received three or more starred professional reviews, and several received one or two stars. Definitely worth a look!

My picks this week:

  • We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon (YA)
  • Both Can Be True by Jules Machias (MG)
  • We Want a Dog by Lo Cole (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1699-#1716 on The Ginormous book list.

*All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghe

After Maeve finds a pack of tarot cards while cleaning out a closet during her in-school suspension, she quickly becomes the most sought-after diviner at St. Bernadette’s Catholic school. But when Maeve’s ex–best friend, Lily, draws an unsettling card called The Housekeeper that Maeve has never seen before, the session devolves into a heated argument that ends with Maeve wishing aloud that Lily would disappear. When Lily isn’t at school the next Monday, Maeve learns her ex-friend has vanished without a trace.

Shunned by her classmates and struggling to preserve a fledgling romance with Lily’s gender-fluid sibling, Roe, Maeve must dig deep into her connection with the cards to search for clues the police cannot find—even if they lead to the terrifying Housekeeper herself. Set in an Irish town where the church’s tight hold has loosened and new freedoms are trying to take root, this sharply contemporary story is witty, gripping, and tinged with mysticism.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): supernatural, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: mysticism, tarot cards, private school, parochial school (Catholic), LGBTQIA+, be careful what you wish for, missing persons, best friend arguments, Irish folklore, Ireland
  • Protagonist description: Irish girl, age 16, white, lives in Ireland; love interest is biracial and genderqueer

Girls at the Edge of the World by Laura Brooke Robson

In a world bound for an epic flood, only a chosen few are guaranteed safe passage into the new world once the waters recede. The Kostrovian royal court will be saved, of course, along with their guards.

But the fate of the court’s Royal Flyers, a lauded fleet of aerial silk performers, is less certain. Hell-bent on survival, Principal Flyer, Natasha Koskinen, will do anything to save the flyers, who are the only family she’s ever known. Even if “anything” means molding herself into the type of girl who could be courted by Prince Nikolai.

But unbeknownst to Natasha, her newest recruit, Ella Neves, is driven less by her desire to survive the floods than her thirst for revenge. And Ella’s mission could put everything Natasha has worked for in peril.

As the oceans rise, so too does an undeniable spark between the two flyers. With the end of the world looming, and dark secrets about the Kostrovian court coming to light, Ella and Natasha can either give in to despair…or find a new reason to live.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): dystopia, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: floods, natural disasters, acrobats, revenge, survival, apocalypse, secrets
  • Protagonist description: girl, white; love interest is also a white female

*Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life.

Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown–literally–out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self.

Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone.

Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Corpus Christi, Texas, LGBTQIA+, coming out, social media, bullying
  • Protagonist description: Mexican American boy, high school junior, gay; secondary characters are diverse

Daughter of Sparta by Claire Andrews

Seventeen-year-old Daphne has spent her entire life honing her body and mind into that of a warrior, hoping to be accepted by the unyielding people of ancient Sparta. But an unexpected encounter with the goddess Artemis–who holds Daphne’s brother’s fate in her hands–upends the life she’s worked so hard to build. Nine mysterious items have been stolen from Mount Olympus and if Daphne cannot find them, the gods’ waning powers will fade away, the mortal world will descend into chaos, and her brother’s life will be forfeit.

Guided by Artemis’s twin–the handsome and entirely-too-self-assured god Apollo–Daphne’s journey will take her from the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the riddle-spinning Sphinx of Thebes, team her up with mythological legends such as Theseus and Hippolyta of the Amazons, and pit her against the gods themselves.

  • Genre(s): retelling, fantasy, mythology, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: Greek mythology, Apollo, Daphne, Artemis, stolen relics
  • Protagonist description: 17-year old girl, born outside Greece, adopted by Greeks

Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love by Jared Reck

It’s easy to look at high school senior Oscar Olsson and think: lost. He hates school, struggles to read, and wants nothing to do with college. But Oscar is anything but lost—he knows exactly what he wants and exactly how to get it. Oscar and Farfar, the Swedish grandfather who’s raised him, run a food truck together selling rullekebab and munkar, and Oscar wants to finish school so he can focus on the food truck full-time.

It’s easy to look at Mary Louise (Lou for short) Messinger and think: driven. AP everything, valedictorian in her sights, and Ivy league college aspirations.

When Lou hijacks Oscar’s carefully crafted schedule of independent studies and blocks of time in the Culinary Lab, Oscar is roped into helping Lou complete her over-ambitious, resume-building service project–reducing food waste in Central Adams High School. While Lou stands to gain her Girl Scout Gold Award, Oscar will be faced with a mountain of uneaten school apples and countless hours with a girl he can’t stand.

With the finish line in sight, a relationship he never expected, and festival season about to begin (for good), the unthinkable happens, and Oscar’s future is anything but certain.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: teens with jobs, food trucks, cooking, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, grandparents, grandfathers, social justice, coming out
  • Protagonist description: boy, high school senior, white, Swedish

The Sea Is Salt and So Am I by Cassandra Hartt

West Finch is one hurricane away from falling into the sea.

Yet sixteen-year-old Harlow Prout is determined to save her small Maine hometown. If only she could stop getting in her own way and find someone, anyone, willing to help. But her best friend Ellis MacQueen “fixes” problems by running away from them–including his broken relationship with his twin brother, Tommy. And Tommy’s depression has hit a new low, so he’s not up for fixing anything.

In the wake of the town’s latest devastating storm, Tommy goes out for a swim that he doesn’t intend to survive. It’s his unexpected return that sets into motion a sea change between these three teens. One that tests old loyalties, sparks new romance, and uncovers painful secrets. And nothing stays secret in West Finch for long.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: Maine, twins, brothers, suicide, friends, hurricanes, LGBTQIA+, amputees
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 16 + twin brothers (one is bisexual and has a prosthetic leg), all 3 are white

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email–and then he left for college without a response.

Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings–the flashier, the better–while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.

Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher.

Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all–and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: wedding industry, teens with jobs, family businesses, Muslim Americans, life after high school
  • Protagonist description: Quinn–girl, white, Jewish, age 18 and just graduated high school; Tarek–boy, Egyptian American, Muslim, college student

*Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

Malian loves spending time with her grandparents at their home on a Wabanaki reservation. She’s there for a visit when, suddenly, all travel shuts down. There’s a new virus making people sick, and Malian will have to stay with her grandparents for the duration.

Everyone is worried about the pandemic, but Malian knows how to keep her family and community safe: She protects her grandparents, and they protect her. She doesn’t go outside to play with friends, she helps her grandparents use video chat, and she listens to and learns from their stories. And when Malsum, one of the dogs living on the rez, shows up at their door, Malian’s family knows that he’ll protect them too.

Told in verse inspired by oral storytelling, this novel about the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the ways Malian’s community has cared for one another through plagues of the past, and how they keep caring for one another today.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, free verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: reservations, grandparents, Covid-19, Native Americans, Wabanaki, Penacook, pandemic, shelter in place, boredom, stay home orders, dogs, intergenerational relationships, novels in verse
  • Protagonist description: Wabanaki girl from Boston

*To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel

Trixy needs a story, fast, or she’s going to fail the fourth grade–that’s a fact. But every time she sits down to write, her mind is a blank. The only stories she can think of are Gran’s, the ones no one else ever believed but Trixy gulped down like sweet tea. Gran is gone now, buried under the lilac bush in the family plot, so it’s not like Trixy’s hurting anybody to claim one of those stories as her own, is she?

That stolen story turns out to be a huge success, and soon everybody in town wants Trixy to tell them a tale. Before long, the only one left is the story she vowed never to share, the one that made Gran’s face cloud up with sadness. Trying to find a way out of this tangled mess, Trixy and her friend Raymond hit the road to follow the twists and turns of Gran’s past. Maybe then Trixy can write a story that’s all her own, one that’s the straight-up truth.

THREE starred reviews! Please note that I disagree with the recommended grade range from professional reviewers. The protagonist is a 4th grader–I would not buy this for a middle school library.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: school stories, Tennessee, writing, writer’s block, grandparents, grandmothers, grief, plagiarism, stories, storytelling, lies
  • Protagonist description: girl, American (Tennessee), 4th grade, white

Crossing the Stream by Elizabeth-Irene Baiti

Ato hasn’t visited his grandmother’s house since he was seven. He’s heard the rumors that she’s a witch, and his mother has told him he must never sit on the old couch on her porch. Now here he is, on that exact couch, with a strange-looking drink his grandmother has given him, wondering if the rumors are true. What’s more, there’s a freshly dug hole in her yard that Ato suspects may be a grave meant for him.

Meanwhile at school, Ato and his friends have entered a competition to win entry to Nnoma, the island bird sanctuary that Ato’s father helped created. But something is poisoning the community garden where their project is housed, and Ato sets out to track down the culprit. In doing so, he brings his estranged mother and grandmother back together, and begins healing the wounds left on the family by his father’s death years before.

And that hole in the yard? It is a grave, but not for the purpose Ato feared, and its use brings a tender, celebratory ending to this deeply felt and universal story of healing and love from one of Ghana’s most admired children’s book authors.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: grandmothers, rumors, Ghana, Africa, islands, gossip, family problems, financial problems
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, Ghanaian

Both Can Be True by Jules Machias

Debut author! Ash is no stranger to feeling like an outcast. For someone who cycles through genders, it’s a daily struggle to feel in control of how people perceive you. Some days Ash is undoubtedly girl, but other times, 100 percent guy.

Daniel lacks control too–of his emotions. He’s been told he’s overly sensitive more times than he can count. He can’t help the way he is, and he sure wishes someone would accept him for it.

So when Daniel’s big heart leads him to rescue a dog that’s about to be euthanized, he’s relieved to find Ash willing to help. The two bond over their four-legged secret. When they start catching feelings for each other, however, things go from cute to complicated. Daniel thinks Ash is all girl…what happens when he finds out there’s more to Ash’s story?

With so much on the line–truth, identity, acceptance, and the life of an adorable pup named Chewbarka–will Ash and Daniel forever feel at war with themselves because they don’t fit into the world’s binaries? Or will their friendship help them embrace the beauty of living in between?

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: gender fluidity, LGBTQIA+, dogs, identity, alternating perspectives, Ohio, divorced parents, synesthesia, homophobia, #ownvoices
  • Protagonist description: white boy and gender-fluid character, both are American (Ohio) and in 7th grade

The Firebird Song by Arnée Flores

The Kingdom of Lyrica was once warm and thriving, kept safe by the Firebird, whose feather and song was a blessing of peace and prosperity. But the Firebird disappeared, and Lyrica is now terrorized by the evil Spectress who wields her powers from within a volcano. All that remains is a mysterious message scrawled on the castle wall in the Queen’s own hand: Wind. Woman. Thief.

Young Prewitt has only known time without the Firebird, a life of constant cold, as his village is afraid to tempt the volcano monsters with even the feeblest fire. But he has heard whispers that the kingdom’s princess survived the attack…and he is certain that if he can find her, together they can save Lyrica.

Princess Calliope has no memories beyond living on her barge on the underground lake. But as she nears her twelfth birthday, she is certain there is more to life than the walls of a cave. When Prewitt finds her, he realizes that she is the missing princess: the only hope for Lyrica. Determined to decipher the meaning of her mother’s strange message and find the Firebird, Calliope and Prewitt set off on a quest that puts them in more danger than either of them ever anticipated.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: fantasy lands in peril, volcanoes, good versus evil, princesses, amnesia, cryptic messages, birds, magical creatures, magic, monsters
  • Protagonist description: Prewitt is described as brown hair and brown-skinned; Calliope has black hair and “honeyed” skin

It All Begins with Jelly Beans by Nova Weetman

Meg spends her days hoping no one thinks too hard about why she wears the same t-shirt and slippers to school every day. Luckily, the nurse’s office provides a welcome escape from classmates who don’t understand…and snacks when food runs out at home.

Riley knows fitting in at her new school would be a lot easier if her friends were more understanding of her type 1 diabetes. So she keeps her testing under wraps…and an emergency bag of jellybeans on hand.

When Meg and Riley end up together in the nurse’s office one day, both girls think they’ve worked each other out, but what if they’ve got it all wrong? On the brink of moving on to junior high, Riley and Meg must find the courage to discover who they really want to be. And maybe a bag of shared jellybeans will provide all the help they need.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Type 1 diabetes, poverty, food insecurity, friendship, Anne of Green Gables, anxiety, panic attacks, parental depression, Australia, alternating perspectives
  • Protagonist description: two girls, both age 12, both white, both live in Australia

Hollow Chest by Brita Sandstrom

Charlie has been having nightmares. Eyes watching him in the night, claws on his chest, holding him down. His dreams have been haunted for years, ever since German bombs rained down on London, taking his father’s life, taking his city’s spirit, taking his beloved brother, Theo, off to war in France.

Now Charlie is left to take care of his grandpa Fitz while his mother works, waiting for the day when Theo will come home. And with World War II nearly won, that day is almost here. Grandpa Fitz warns Charlie that soldiers sometimes come back missing a piece of themselves, but Charlie isn’t worried. Whatever Theo has lost, Charlie will help him find it.

When Theo finally does return, though, he is cold and distant. But Charlie refuses to accept that the brother he knew is gone, and soon, he discovers the reason for his brother’s change: war wolves. Terrifying ancient beasts who consume the hearts of those broken by grief.

The wolves have followed soldiers back home from the front. And if Charlie truly wants to save Theo, he’s going to have to find them and get his brother’s heart back. But can a heart that’s been eaten ever be replaced?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: WWII, death of a parent, anxiety, nightmares, grandfathers, brothers, PTSD, mental illness
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 11, British, white

*Faraway Things by Dave Eggers (Author) and Kelly Murphy (Illustrator)

Lucian’s father called them faraway things, those mysterious objects orphaned upon the windswept shore, their stories long lost in the shroud of ocean fog. Lucian’s discovery on the beach this particular day, though, is no ordinary faraway thing. It’s a cutlass: strong, shiny, and powerful. As its history comes to light, Lucian faces a choice: cling to the sword he loves or accept a gift that shines farther, wider, and deeper than he could have ever dreamed.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: found objects, ships, lighthouses, coming of age, fathers and sons, swords
  • Protagonist description: boy, white

Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott by Joyce Scott (Author), Brie Spangler (Author), Melissa Sweet (Author, Illustrator)

Judith Scott was born with Down syndrome. She was deaf, and never learned to speak. She was also a talented artist. Judith was institutionalized until her sister Joyce reunited with her and enrolled her in an art class. Judith went on to become an artist of renown with her work displayed in museums and galleries around the world.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Down syndrome, deafness, muteness, artists, living in an institution
  • Protagonist description: adult woman, white; she is deaf, mute, and has Down syndrome

We Want a Dog by Lo Cole

This rhyming texts takes us through twenty-seven unexpected and amusing varieties of dogs that one could have, like “one that begs, one that sheds, one that rips things into shreds.” And while the book is sure to delight any dog lover, the narrator’s choice at the end will make readers laugh out loud! See how many of these lovable and amusing pups you can recognize from your own life.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: rhyming books, dogs, dog behavior
  • Protagonist description: characters are different dog breeds

*Pangolina by Jane Goodall (Author) and Daishu Ma (Illustrator)

After a blissful babyhood being cared for by her loving mother, Pangolina ventures out alone into the forest to become an independent adult, helped along by wise, older animal companions, including a civet and a bat. But one day cruel hunters trap Pangolina, putting her into a cage along with her friends, and bring them to a market to be sold as wild game. Pangolina is especially vulnerable, since her scales are prized by humans who believe they have curative powers.

To the rescue comes a small girl who knows that pangolins are friendly fellow creatures who have feelings too, and who convinces her mother to buy Pangolina and set her free. Jane Goodall’s many followers and all animal-loving children and adult picture book fans will be riveted by this suspenseful and heartwarming fictional story set in China and including an authoritative informational page about pangolins and suggestions for how to help fight animal trafficking.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

    • Genre(s): picture book
    • Recommended for: PreS-3
    • Themes: pangolins, civets, bats, poaching, hunting wild game, animals, conservation, animal cruelty, endangered species
    • Protagonist description: humans have brown skin and dark hair; story is set in China

 

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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