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New Release Spotlight: August 3, 2021

August is here! July’s Spotlights were all smaller than normal, but as I’ve said for weeks, this week’s Spotlight is a big one. Please note that there are lots of new titles this week, and not every book appears on this list. This is a Spotlight, so it represents the books that have the strongest professional reviews. These are the titles I would want to buy for my school library.

This week’s top picks:

  • A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (YA)
  • Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood by Kwame Mbalia (and many others) (MG)
  • I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1813-#1832 on The Ginormous book list.

*A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

The history of Dalloway School lives in the bones it was built on. Five violent deaths in the first ten years of its existence. Sometimes you can still smell the blood on the air.

It wasn’t until Felicity enrolled that she fell in love with the dark. And now she’s back to finish her senior year after the tragic death of her girlfriend. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of the five Dalloway students who died there—girls some say were witches.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no.

Dalloway’s occult lore is everywhere, and the new girl won’t let Felicity forget it. But when the past begins to invade on the present, Felicity needs to decide where she stands. The soil under her feet is bloody with Dalloway’s history. But so is the present. Is it Dalloway–or is it her?

THREE starred reviews! Hand this to fans of Maureen Johnson and Karen McManus.

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: private school, murder, writers, unsolved mysteries, mental health, abuse, gothic literature, LGBTQIA+
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 18, white

Like Other Girls by Britta Lundin

After getting kicked off the basketball team for a fight that was absolutely totally not her fault (okay maybe a little her fault), Mara is dying to find a new sport to play to prove to her coach that she can be a team player. A lifelong football fan, Mara decides to hit the gridiron with her brother, Noah, and best friend, Quinn. She turns out to be a natural. But joining the team sets off a chain of events in her small Oregon town–and within her family–that she never could have predicted.

Inspired by what they see as Mara’s political statement, four other girls join the team. Now Mara’s lumped in as one of the girls–one of the girls who can’t throw, can’t kick, and doesn’t know a fullback from a linebacker. Complicating matters is the fact that Valentina, Mara’s crush, is one of the new players, as is Carly, Mara’s nemesis–the girl Mara fought with when she was kicked off the basketball team. What results is a coming-of-age story that is at once tear-jerking and funny, thought-provoking and real, as Mara’s preconceived notions about gender, sports, sexuality, and friendship are turned upside down.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: sports, American football, girls in football, Oregon, rural small towns, coming out, gender roles
  • Protagonist description: girl, high school age, lesbian (closeted at first), white

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just come to town.

Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before. But the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more than ghosts plaguing this small town. Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his ghost following her ever since. Although everyone shuns the Ortiz-Woodleys, the mysterious Logan may be the only person who can help Ashley get some answers.

When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who–or what–is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): mystery, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: missing persons, ghosts, reality TV, Oregon, gay fathers, fathers and daughters, LGBTQIA+, lesbian romance
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 17, lesbian, white, adopted daughter of gay fathers

Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn

When Amandla wakes up on her fifteenth birthday, she knows it’s going to be one of her mother’s difficult days. Her mother has had another vision. This one involves Amandla wearing a bedsheet loosely stitched as a dress. An outfit, her mother says, is certain to bring Amandla’s father back home, as if he were the prince and this was the fairytale ending their family was destined for. But in truth, Amandla’s father has long been gone–since before Amandla was born–and even her mother’s memory of him is hazy. In fact, many of her mother’s memories from before Amandla was born are hazy. It’s just one of the many reasons people in Sugar Town give them strange looks–that and the fact her mother is white and Amandla is Black.

When Amandla finds a mysterious address in the bottom of her mother’s handbag along with a large amount of cash, she decides it’s finally time to get answers about her mother’s life. What she discovers will change the shape and size of her family forever. But with her best friends at her side, Amandla is ready to take on family secrets and the devil himself. These Sugar Town queens are ready to take over the world to expose the hard truths of their lives.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: South Africa, family secrets, poverty, mental health, mothers and daughters, post-Apartheid
  • Protagonist description: South African girl, age 15, biracial (Black and white)

The Great Destroyers by Caroline Tung Richmond

Jo Linden was born into a world where wars are won with giant mechanical soldiers and the nuclear bomb was never invented. Yet the Cold War still rages, and international rivalries between democracy and communism are now fought at the Pax Games, an Olympic-style competition that pits young pilots of mechas against each other. The USSR has beaten the US in nearly every game since its inception, and in the 1963 Games, the US is desperate for a win. Because it’s more than just the Games at stake. Premier Khrushchev will be attending, and after, he and President Kennedy are slated to sign a peace accord stabilizing the war in Vietnam–and their volatile relationship.

Raised in her father’s mecha repair shop, Jo knows more than anyone about piloting. She’s also the most unlikely pick for Team USA since she’s a virtually unknown fighter. So when she’s invited at the last minute to compete, she jumps at it. This could be the only chance to save her family’s home from debt collectors. All eyes are on Jo from the moment she arrives. But as fighters start dying in the arena, it’s suddenly clear that it’s more than the usual Pax Games, and Jo finds herself drawn into a deadly political plot. And if she can’t figure out the truth, it might mean the annihilation of everything.

In a global arms race between superpowers, playing out in violent games that only humanity could create, comes a chilling story of clashing titans, ruthless competition, freedom, and the girl caught in the middle of it all.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, historical fiction, thriller, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-11
  • Themes: Cold War, alternate history, competitions, democracy vs. communism, USSR vs. USA, fighters, poverty, arms race, social class, racism, misogyny, 1960s, Olympics-style games
  • Protagonist description: girl, high school age, Chinese-American and white

Brown Boy Nowhere by Sheeryl Lim

What’s the problem? Sixteen-year-old Filipino American Angelo Rivera will tell you flat out. Life sucks. He’s been uprooted from his San Diego home to a boring landlocked town in the middle of nowhere. Behind him, ocean waves, his girlfriend, and the biggest skateboarding competition on the California coast. Ahead, flipping burgers at his parents’ new diner and, as the only Asian in his all-white school, being trolled as “brown boy” by small-minded, thick-necked jocks.

Resigned to being an outcast, Angelo isn’t alone. Kirsten, a crushable ex-cheerleader and graffiti artist, and Larry, a self-proclaimed invisible band geek, recognize a fellow outsider. Soon enough, Angelo finds himself the leader of their group of misfits. They may be low on the high school food chain, but they’re determined to hold their own.

Between shifts at the diner, dodging bullies, and wishing for home, Angelo discovers this might not be nowhere after all. Sharing it can turn it into somewhere in a heartbeat.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: new kid in town, skateboarding, teens with jobs, Asian Americans, artists, friends, popularity, bullying
  • Protagonist description: boy, Filipino-American, age 16

The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad

We are the Wild Ones, and we will not be silenced.

We are girls who have tasted the worst this world can offer. Our story begins with Paheli, who was once betrayed by her mother, sold to a man in exchange for a favor. When Paheli escaped, she ran headlong into Taraana–a boy with stars in his eyes, a boy as battered as she was. He tossed Paheli a box of stars before disappearing. With the stars, Paheli gained access to the Between, a place of pure magic and mystery. Now, Paheli collects girls like us, and we use our magic to travel the world, helping to save other girls from our pain, our scars.

When Taraana reappears, he asks for our help. Dangerous magical forces are chasing him, and they will destroy him to get his powers. We will do everything to save him–if we can. For if Taraana is no longer safe and free, neither are the Wild Ones. And that…is a fate that we refuse to accept. Ever again.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: magic, abuse, girl power, LGBTQIA+, trauma, feminism, violence against women
  • Protagonist description: diverse cast of 11 teen girls

Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride by Jeff Lantos

Paul Revere’s daring midnight ride made him an instant celebrity, right? Wrong! At first, no one in Boston even wanted to mention it. Jeff Lantos pulls apart Longfellow’s famous poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” to unravel how and why he twisted historical facts.

Do you know how historically inaccurate “Paul Revere’s Ride” is? And do you know why? Author Jeff Lantos pulls apart Longfellow’s poem, tells the real story about Paul Revere’s historic ride, and sets the record right. Not only that, he lays out when and why Longfellow wrote his poem and explains how without it, many of us wouldn’t know much about Revere at all. This is Steve Sheinkin for the younger set, complete with an American mystery and a look at two important moments in the history of our country.

Booklist starred. Illustrated. I had a hard time finding this on Titlewave because it only showed the UK version. There is an American English version if you search only “Why Longfellow Lied” instead of the entire title.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: historical accuracy, Paul Revere, US history, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1775, American Revolution, truth and lies, patriotism

*Dead Wednesday by Jerry Spinelli

On Dead Wednesday, every eighth grader in Amber Springs is assigned the name and identity of a teenager who died a preventable death in the past year. The kids don black shirts and for the whole day everyone in town pretends they’re invisible–as if they weren’t even there. The adults think it will make them contemplate their mortality. The kids know it’s a free pass to get away with anything.

Worm Tarnauer feels invisible every day. He’s perfectly happy being the unnoticed sidekick of his friend Eddie. So he’s not expecting Dead Wednesday to feel that different. But he didn’t count on being assigned Becca Finch (17, car crash). And he certainly didn’t count on Becca showing up to boss him around! Letting this girl into his head is about to change everything.

This is the story of the unexpected, heartbreaking, hilarious, truly epic day when Worm Tarnauer discovers his own life.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): supernatural, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-10
  • Themes: middle school, death, feeling invisible, ghosts, grief, Pennsylvania, school stories, eighth grade, self-acceptance
  • Protagonist description: boy, 8th grader, white

Stowaway by John David Anderson

When scientists discover a rare and mysterious mineral buried in the Earth’s crust, they have no idea that it just happens to be the most valuable substance in the entire universe. It’s not long before aliens show up to our little corner of the galaxy offering a promise of protection, some fabulous new technology, and entry into their intergalactic coalition–all in exchange for this precious resource. A material so precious that other alien forces are willing to start a war over it. A war that soon makes its way to Earth.

Leo knows this all too well. His mother was killed in one such attack, and soon after, his father, a Coalition scientist, decides it would be best for them to leave Earth behind. It’s on this expedition that their ship is attacked, Leo’s father is kidnapped, and Leo and his brother are stranded in the middle of space. The only chance they have is for Leo to stow away on a strange ship of mercenary space pirates bound for who knows where and beg the captain to help him find his father.

But the road is dangerous, and pirates, of course, only look out for themselves. Leo must decide who to trust as he tries to stay alive and save his family, even as he comes to understand that there aren’t many people–human or alien–that he can count on in this brave new universe.

No starred reviews, but wow, this will be so easy to booktalk with Grades 5-6. Space pirates, aliens, intergalactic war…SOLD!

  • Genre(s): science fiction, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: aliens, technology, intergalactic alliances, war, space travel, kidnapped parent, brothers, space pirates, set in the future
  • Protagonist description: boy, white, age 10

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai by Debbi Michiko Florence

“Heartbreak is for suckers.” — Jenna Sakai

When Jenna gets dumped over winter break, it confirms what she learned from her parents’ messy divorce: Relationships are risky and only lead to disappointment. So even though she still has to see her ex-boyfriend Elliott at newspaper club, Jenna is going to be totally heartless this semester–no boys, just books.

But keeping her cool isn’t always easy. Jenna’s chief competition for a big journalism scholarship is none other than Elliott. Her best friend Keiko always seems busy with her own boyfriend. And cute-but-incredibly-annoying Rin Watanabe keeps stealing her booth at the diner she’s been hiding at every day after school. Rin is every bit as stubborn and detached as Jenna. And the more Jenna gets to know him, the more intriguing a mystery he seems. Soon Jenna is starting to realize that being a loner is kind of, well, lonely. And letting people in might just be a risk worth taking.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: parental divorce, dating, journalism club, heartbreak, school stories
  • Protagonist description: Japanese American girl, Grade 7

*Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood by Kwame Mbalia (and many others)

Black boy joy is…

Picking out a fresh first-day-of-school outfit.
Saving the universe in an epic intergalactic race.
Finding your voice—and your rhymes—during tough times.
Flying on your skateboard like nobody’s watching.

And more! From seventeen acclaimed Black male and non-binary authors comes a vibrant collection of stories, comics, and poems about the power of joy and the wonders of Black boyhood.

Contributors include: B. B. Alston, Dean Atta, P. Djèlí Clark, Jay Coles, Jerry Craft, Lamar Giles, Don P. Hooper, George M. Johnson, Varian Johnson, Kwame Mbalia, Suyi Davies Okungbowa, Tochi Onyebuchi, Julian Randall, Jason Reynolds, Justin Reynolds, DaVaun Sanders, and Julian Winters.

THREE starred reviews! This is a must for elementary and middle school libraries. Seriously, just look at that list of contributing authors!

  • Genre(s): short stories, anthology
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: African Americans, boys, being Black in America, growing up, racism, prejudice
  • Protagonist description: all main characters are Black boys

Hide and Don’t Seek: And Other Very Scary Stories by Anica Mrose Rissi

A game of hide-and-seek goes on far too long…

A look-alike doll makes itself right at home…

A school talent-show act leaves the audience aghast…

And a summer at camp takes a turn for the braaaains…

This collection of all-new spooky stories is sure to keep readers up past their bedtimes, looking over their shoulders to see what goes bump in the night.

So if you’re feeling brave, turn the page.

SLJ starred. Illustrated in black and white. Includes 20 stories.

  • Genre(s): horror, scary stories, short stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-7
  • Themes: zombies, ghosts, Halloween, haunted houses, scary dolls
  • Protagonist description: variety of characters

*Erik Vs. Everything by Christina Uss

Meet Erik Sheepflattener. Each member of his modern-day Viking-heritage family has a motto to live by. His parents have Family and Pride. His sisters have Conquer and Win. His grandfather has Turnip. But Erik is developing a motto he can truly believe in: Avoid Stuff.
Mostly, Erik’s fierce family ignores or discounts him, especially when he tries to say no. But while spending the summer with his rough-and-tumble cousins and older sister Brunhilde in Minnesota, axe-wielding Bru gets the idea to name and Conquer all of Erik’s fears. Will anyone hear him say no before it’s too late? And will Erik end up defined by his fears, or by his fearless family?

Erik vs. Everything is an adventurous, humorous, and heartfelt romp about finding your place, speaking up for yourself, and pursuing what you love…even when it scares you.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: Vikings, avoidance, overcoming fear, anxiety, self-confidence, Connecticut
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 9, white

Elephants!: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle (Author) and Meryl Henderson (Illustrator)

This latest title in the Strange and Wonderful series allows young readers to journey into the lives of elephants in various habitats throughout the world. Kids will learn how elephants use their trunk, how they communicate, what they eat, and about their family groupings. The book also shows how we can ensure that elephants continue to live and thrive. Combining careful research and beautiful illustrations, this book is perfect for those who have an interest in animals and conservation.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-7
  • Themes: elephants, nature, animals, habitats, adaptations
  • Protagonist description: n/a

The Secret Life of Viruses: Incredible Science Facts about Germs, Vaccines, and What You Can Do to Stay Healthy by Mariona Tolosa Sisteré (Author) and Ellas Educan Collective (Author)

The next book in The Secret Life of… series, The Secret Life of Viruses offers an engaging introduction to the science behind viruses, how they spread, and how our bodies fight them.

Young readers will learn about what viruses are, how they reproduce and spread, how our bodies fight them, the history of viruses in the world and more. By teaching readers about the science behind this timely topic and offering context for practices like social distancing and mask-wearing, this book will help ease fears kids may have about the subject and empower them to take steps to keep themselves and others healthy!

  • Genre(s): picture book nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-4
  • Themes: viruses, disease, science, microbiology, Covid-19, pandemics, medicine, doctors

*I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun (Author) and Deborah Smith (Translator)

Accompanied by the constant, rumbling ba-dum ba-dum of its passage through the city, the subway has stories to tell. Between sunrise and sunset, it welcomes and farewells people, and holds them–along with their joys, hopes, fears, and memories–in its embrace.

Originally published in Korean and brought to English-speaking audiences with the help of renowned translator Deborah Smith (The Vegetarian), I Am the Subway vividly reflects the shared humanity that can be found in crowded metropolitan cities.

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: city life, subways, metros, trains, people, community, onomatopoeia
  • Protagonist description: multiple Korean characters of varying ages and socioeconomic statuses

*A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle (Author) and Sara Palacios (Illustrator)

When we visit mi abuelo, I help him sell
frutas, singing the names of each fruit
as we walk, our footsteps like drumbeats,
our hands like maracas, shaking…

The little girl loves visiting her grandfather in Cuba and singing his special songs to sell all kinds of fruit: mango, limón, naranja, piña, and more! Even when they’re apart, grandfather and granddaughter can share rhymes between their countries like un abrazo–a hug–made of words carried on letters that soar across the distance like songbirds.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Cuba, Spanish words, grandfathers, grandparents, fruit, food cart vendors, rhythm
  • Protagonist description: young Cuban-American girl with brown skin and her Cuban grandfather

What I Am by Divya Srinivasan

A young narrator describes herself: a girl, a granddaughter, Indian, and American. Soon, we see the young girl as a plethora of things: selfish and generous, mean and kind, brave and mischievous. While many of these qualities oppose each other, the context and illustrations make it abundantly clear that she speaks the truth. She is a walking contradiction, and that is precisely what makes her both a unique individual and an essential piece of the greater world around her. Divya Srinivasan shows what makes us human and proud to be who we are.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: Indian Americans, character, personality, vegetarians, contradictions, human nature, self-awareness
  • Protagonist description: young Indian American girl

The Leaf Thief by Alice Hemming (Author) and Nicola Slater (Illustrator)

Squirrel loves counting the leaves on his tree–red leaves, gold leaves, orange, and more. But hold on! One of his leaves is missing! On a quest to find the missing leaf, Squirrel teams up with his good friend Bird to discover who the leaf thief could be among their forest friends.

With vibrant art and captivating characters, the magic of autumn is captured beautifully on each page as readers tag along Squirrel’s forest adventure. Is there truly a leaf thief afoot, or is something else going on in Squirrel’s forest? A perfect exploration of change–both seasonal, and the anxiety that change sometimes causes. Bonus material explaining about the changing of the seasons.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: autumn, fall, leaves, missing objects, thieves, seasons, anxiety, change, wind, weather
  • Protagonist description: all characters are animals–squirrel, bird, mouse, woodpecker






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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