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New Release Spotlight: October 12, 2021

These New Release Spotlights have been killing me lately! Last week was a bit of a reprieve, but this week, we are back on with SO. MANY. AWESOME. BOOKS. Looking ahead at next week, it seems I won’t be getting a break anytime soon. I guess the lockdowns last year gave authors a lot more time to write!

Middle grades, this is your week! We’ve got several fantasy novels, a middle grade memoir with FIVE starred reviews, and a YA Christmas novel (I’m always on the look out for those!). Picture books are a little scant this week, but the new Brendan Wenzel picture book looks fab. We also have new titles from Rae Carson, Dusti Bowling, Gayle Forman, and Ann Ursu this week. Enjoy the list!

This week’s top picks:

  • Jade Fire Gold by June C. Tan (YA)
  • The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera and The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin (MG)
  • Inside Cat by Brendan Wenzel (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2002-#2021 on The Ginormous book list.

*Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narváez Varela

Out of nowhere, a lady comes up to Anamaria and says she’s her, from the future. But Anamaria’s thirteen, she knows better than to talk to a stranger. Girls need to be careful, especially in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico–it’s the 90’s and fear is overtaking her beloved city as cases of kidnapped girls and women become alarmingly common.

This thirty-year-old “future” lady doesn’t seem to be dangerous but she won’t stop bothering her, switching between cheesy Hallmark advice about being kind to yourself, and some mysterious talk about saving a girl.

Anamaria definitely doesn’t need any saving, she’s doing just fine. She works hard at her strict, grade-obsessed middle school–so hard that she hardly gets any sleep; so hard that the stress makes her snap not just at mean girls but even her own (few) friends; so hard that when she does sleep she dreams about dying–but she just wants to do the best she can so she can grow up to be successful.

Maybe Thirty’s right, maybe she’s not supposed to be so exhausted with her life, but how can she ask for help when her city is mourning the much bigger tragedy of its stolen girls?

Booklist and SLJ starred. This reminds me of a fantastic little book I read years ago called Every Ugly Word by Aimee Salter. I loved that book, so I’ve added this one to my TBR.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, realistic fiction, magical realism, novels in verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: Juarez, Mexico, 1990s, future self, school stress, overachievers, missing girls, kidnappings, depression, anxiety
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 13, Mexican

Tonight We Rule the World by Zack Smedley

In the beginning, Owen’s story was blank…then he was befriended by Lily, the aspiring author who helped him find his voice. Together, the two have spent years navigating first love and amassing an inseparable friend group. But all of it is upended one day when his school’s administration learns Owen’s secret: that he was sexually assaulted by a classmate.

In the ensuing investigation, everyone scrambles to hold their worlds together.

Owen, still wrestling with his self-destructive thoughts and choices.

His father, a mission-driven military vet ready to start a war to find his son’s attacker.

The school bureaucrats, who seem most concerned with kowtowing to the local media attention.

And Lily, who can’t learn that Owen is the mystery victim everyone is talking about…because once she does, it will set off a chain of events that will change their lives forever.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9+
  • Themes: sexual assault of a male, rape, bisexuality, LGBTQIA+, best friends, sexual abuse, Pennsylvania, autism spectrum
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 17, bisexual, white

Any Sign of Life by Rae Carson

Paige Miller is determined to take her basketball team to the state championship, maybe even beyond. But as March Madness heats up, Paige falls deathly ill. Days later, she wakes up attached to an IV and learns that the whole world has perished. Everyone she loves, and all of her dreams for the future–they’re gone.

But Paige is a warrior. She pushes through her fear and her grief and gets through each day scrounging for food, for shelter, for safety. As she struggles with her new reality, Paige learns that the apocalypse did not happen by accident. And that there are worse things than being alone.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): thriller, post-apocalypse
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: illness, apocalypse, survival, being alone, Ohio, comas, dogs, pandemics
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 17, white; secondary characters are Black, Puerto Rican, and asexual

Ferryman by Claire McFall

When Dylan wakes up after her train has crashed, she thinks she has survived unscathed. But she couldn’t be more mistaken: the bleak landscape around her isn’t Scotland, it’s a wasteland–a terrain somehow shaped by her own feelings and fears, a border to whatever awaits her in the afterlife.

And the stranger sitting by the train track isn’t an ordinary teenage boy. Tristan is a Ferryman, tasked with guiding Dylan’s soul safely across the treacherous landscape, a journey he has made a thousand times before. Only this time, something’s different. The crossing, as ever, is perilous, with ravenous wraiths hounding the two at each day’s end, hungry for Dylan’s soul. But as Dylan focuses her strength on survival, with Tristan as protector, challenger, and confidant, she begins to wonder where she is truly meant to be–and what she must risk to get there.

School Library Connection starred. Originally published in the UK in 2013.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, supernatural, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: death, train crashes, Scotland, afterlife, Greek mythology, Charon
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, Scottish

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker

Book 1 of a planned duology.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death…only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task–find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons–and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology, historical fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: grim reaper, death, London, Victorian England, Japan, siblings, goddesses, demons, destiny, bullying, disabled protagonist, club foot, Japanese folklore, 19th Century
  • Protagonist description: teen female; British and Japanese; has long straight dark hair; love interest male is Japanese and disabled (club foot)

*Jade Fire Gold by June C. Tan

Debut author! In an empire on the brink of war, Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.

Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.

When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her lethal magical abilities. But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: war, magic, orphans, colonialism, emperors, Chinese folklore
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16; male, age 18

The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta

Syd (no pronouns, please) has always dealt with big, hard-to-talk-about things by baking. Being dumped is no different, except now Syd is baking at the Proud Muffin, a queer bakery and community space in Austin. And everyone who eats Syd’s breakup brownies…breaks up.

Even Vin and Alec, who own the Proud Muffin. And their breakup might take the bakery down with it. Being dumped is one thing; causing ripples of queer heartbreak through the community is another. But the cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they, check the pronoun pin, it’s probably on the messenger bag), believes Syd about the magic baking. And Harley believes Syd’s magical baking can fix things, too–one recipe at a time.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: baking, food, heartbreak, Austin, Texas, gay-owned businesses, teens with jobs, pronouns, LGBTQIA+, queer identity
  • Protagonist description: both protagonists are white, but secondary characters are diverse

So, This Is Christmas by Tracy Andreen

When Finley Brown returned to her hometown of Christmas, Oklahoma, from boarding school, she expected to find it just as she left it. Christmas hasn’t changed much in her sixteen years. But instead she returns to find that her best friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, her parents have separated, and her archnemesis got a job working at her grandmother’s inn.

And she certainly didn’t expect to find the boy she may or may not have tricked into believing that Christmas was an idyllic holiday paradise on her grandmother’s doorstep. It’s up to Finley to make sure he gets the Christmas he was promised. This is Finley’s Christmas. It’s about home and family and friends and finding her place, and along the way she also finds the best Christmas present of all: love.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: holidays, Christmas, Oklahoma, parental separation, grandparents, family, community, boarding school
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, white, American; male, British Indian, white/li>

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu

If no one notices Marya Lupu, is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.

For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: siblings, sorcerers, magic, kingdoms, traditional gender roles, boarding schools, feminism, girl power, patriarchy
  • Protagonist description: girl, pale-skinned; other characters have varying skin tones

*Recognize!: An Anthology Honoring and Amplifying Black Life by Wade Hudson


Prominent Black creators lend their voice, their insight, and their talent to an inspiring anthology that celebrates Black culture and Black life. Essays, poems, short stories, and historical excerpts blend with a full-color eight-page insert of spellbinding art to capture the pride, prestige, and jubilation that is being Black in America. In these pages, find the stories of the past, the journeys of the present, and the light guiding the future.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): anthology, essays, short stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 5+
  • Themes: Black Lives Matter, #BLM, racism, Black culture, short stories, art, poems, essays, art

*The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin

Drama, family secrets, and a KGB spy in his own kitchen! How will Yevgeny ever fulfill his parents’ dream that he become a national hero when he doesn’t even have his own room?

He’s not a star athlete or a legendary ballet dancer. In the tiny apartment he shares with his Baryshnikov-obsessed mother, poetry-loving father, continually outraged grandmother, and safely talented brother, all Yevgeny has is his little pencil, the underside of a massive table, and the doodles that could change everything. With equal amounts charm and solemnity, award-winning author and artist Eugene Yelchin recounts in hilarious detail his childhood in Cold War Russia as a young boy desperate to understand his place in his family.

FIVE starred reviews! Contains illustrations.

  • Genre(s): memoir
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-AD
  • Themes: spies, Cold War, doodles, artwork, Soviet Union, drawing, Jews
  • Protagonist description: boy, Russian, Jewish

Mighty Inside by Sundee T. Frazier

Set in 1955. Melvin Robinson wants a strong, smooth, He-Man voice that lets him say what he wants, when he wants–especially to his crush Millie Takazawa, and Gary Ratliff, who constantly puts him down. But the thought of starting high school is only making his stutter worse.

And Melvin’s growing awareness that racism is everywhere–not just in the South where a boy his age has been brutally killed by two white men, but also in his own hometown of Spokane–is making him realize that he can’t mutely stand by.

His new friend Lenny, a fast-talking, sax-playing Jewish boy, who lives above the town’s infamous (and segregated) Harlem Club, encourages Melvin to take some risks–to invite Millie to Homecoming and even audition for a local TV variety show. When they play music together, Melvin almost feels like he’s talking, no words required. But there are times when one needs to speak up.

When his moment comes, can Melvin be as mighty on the outside as he actually is on the inside?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: stuttering, Spokane, Washington, racism, segregation, music, speaking up, overcoming obstacles, speech disorders, 1950s
  • Protagonist description: boy, African American, stutterer, lives in Spokane, Washington

*The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

Había una vez…

There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita.

But Petra’s world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children–among them Petra and her family–have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race.

Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet–and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity’s past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard–or purged them altogether.

Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again?

THREE starred reviews! This sounds FANTASTIC!

  • Genre(s): science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: fairytales, storytelling, Halley’s Comet, apocalypse, life on another planet, memory, future, Mexican folklore, vision disorders, retinitis pigmentosa
  • Protagonist description: girl, Latina, age 12, lives in future

*Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling

Twelve-year-old Jolene spends every day she can at the library watching her favorite livestream: The Desert Aviator, where twelve-year-old “Addie Earhart” shares her adventures flying an ultralight plane over the desert. While watching this daring girl fly through the sky, Jolene can dream of what it would be like to fly with her, far away from her own troubled home life where her mother struggles with a narcotic addiction. And Addie, who is grieving the loss of her father, finds solace in her online conversations with Jolene, her biggest–and only–fan.

Then, one day, it all goes wrong: Addie’s engine abruptly stops, and Jolene watches in helpless horror as the ultralight plummets to the ground and the video goes dark. Jolene knows that Addie won’t survive long in the extreme summer desert heat. With no one to turn to for help and armed with only a hand-drawn map and a stolen cell phone, it’s up to Jolene to find a way to save the Desert Aviator.

Publishers Weekly and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure, survival
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: pilots, airplanes, drug-addicted parent (mother), death of a parent (father), grief, loss, Arizona, abuse, mental health, rescues, deserts
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 12, white

*Frankie & Bug by Gayle Forman

Set in 1987 in Venice, California. It’s the summer of 1987, and all ten-year-old Bug wants to do is go to the beach with her older brother and hang out with the locals on the boardwalk. But Danny wants to be with his own friends, and Bug’s mom is too busy, so Bug is stuck with their neighbor Philip’s nephew, Frankie.

Bug’s not too excited about hanging out with a kid she’s never met, but they soon find some common ground. And as the summer unfolds, they find themselves learning some important lessons about each other, and the world.

Like what it means to be your true self and how to be a good ally for others. That family can be the people you’re related to, but also the people you choose to have around you. And that even though life isn’t always fair, we can all do our part to make it more just.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: siblings, little sisters, found family, friendship, fairness, LGBTQIA+, 1980s, Venice, California
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 10, Salvadoran American; neighbor Frankie is a boy and age 11

*Imaginary by Lee Bacon

Zach should’ve outgrown his imaginary friend by now. He knows this. He’s 11, long past the days when kids are supposed to go on epic make-believe adventures with their invisible friends. But after the death of his father five years ago, all Zach wanted was an escape from the real world.

So his imaginary friend, Shovel, hasn’t faded away like the other kids’ have. Their imaginary friendship grew stronger. But now Zach’s in middle school, and things are getting awkward. His best friend ditched him for a cooler crowd. His classmates tease him in the hallways. He still misses his dad.

Reality is the worst. Which is why Zach makes regular visits to a fantasy world with Shovel. But is Zach’s overactive imagination helping him deal with loss or just pushing people away? Poignant, humorous, and breathtaking, Imaginary is an inventive story of friendship, loss, and growing up…as only an imaginary friend could tell it.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): magical realism, fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: imaginary friends, grief, death of a parent (father), bullying, fantasy worlds, imagination, loss
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 11, white; diverse secondary characters

The Secret of the Magic Pearl by Elisa Sabatinelli (Author), Iacopo Bruno (Illustrator), and Christopher Turner (Translator)

Hector lives with his family at the Marina in an Italian coastal town where they organize tourist expeditions to explore the many wonders of the sea. Hector’s dream is to become a deep-sea diver, just like his father.

Then, one day, an unscrupulous entrepreneur opens a much newer center next door, forcing them to close their business. This man has a single purpose, to find the legendary Pearl in order to sell it and make money. Hector decides to find a way to thwart the plan and save what matters most to him: the sea, his family, and his dream.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-7
  • Themes: SCUBA diving, deep sea diving, fathers and sons, Italy, tourism, family businesses, marine life
  • Protagonist description: boy, Italian, age 8, white

*Inside Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Inside Cat is just that: an inside cat. But while the cat’s life is bound by the walls of an unusual house, it’s far from dull. As the cat wanders, wonders, stares, and snacks, roaming from room to room and place to place, both cat and reader discover worlds and sensations beyond what’s right in front of them. And just when Inside Cat is sure it knows everything, another surprise awaits!

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: cats, being inside all day, imagination
  • Protagonist description: cat

The Dog Walk by Sven Nordqvist

It’s time for Grandma’s dog to go for a walk. The eager pooch tugs the boy’s hand, excited to get going. But where will they end up?

This is a dog walk like no other, through amazing fairy-tale worlds, paintings come to life, Escher-esque castles, an intricately cluttered antique store, and past countless delights: walking teapots, miniature steamboats, giant hedgehogs and islands with sails.

This fantastical story of a dog and a boy is told entirely through the weird, whimsical and often hilarious illustrations. Children will pore over each page, delighting in the incredible details. Each reading will bring fresh discoveries and new twists to the tale.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): wordless picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 7
  • Themes: dogs, grandmothers, imagination, art, community, detailed illustrations
  • Protagonist description: boy, white; most people in story are white






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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