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New Release Spotlight: November 9, 2021

This ended up being a surprisingly big week for new releases!

For my top picks, I went with two YA this week instead of a middle grade title. There are some great MG titles on the list, but I could not choose between these two huge YA titles. I am a huge Neal Shusterman fan, and All of Us Villains just looks fantastic.

  • All of Us Villains by Foody and Herman (YA)
  • Roxy by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman (YA)
  • Off Limits by Helen Yoon (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2084-#2101 on The Ginormous book list.

*All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

Book One in the All of Us Villains duology. The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.

Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death.

The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world–one thought long depleted.

This year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book, the seven champions are thrust into the worldwide spotlight, granting each of them new information, new means to win, and most importantly, a choice: accept their fate or rewrite their story. But this is a story that must be penned in blood.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: death games, tournaments, magic, witches, wizards, LGBTQIA+
  • Protagonist description: seven main characters, six are white, one has dark skin and curly black hair, various sexual identities

Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel by Andrew Donkin (Adapter), Ruta Sepetys (Author), and Dave Kopka (Illustrator)

Graphic novel adaptation of Between Shades of Gray.

June, 1941. A knock comes at the door and the life of fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas changes forever. She’s arrested by the Soviet secret police and deported from Lithuania to Siberia with her mother and younger brother. The conditions are horrific and Lina must fight for her life and for the lives of those around her, including the boy that she loves.

Risking everything, she secretly passes along clues in the form of drawings, hoping they will reach her father’s prison camp. But will her messages, and her courage, be enough to reunite her family? Will they be enough to keep her alive?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: WWII, Lithuania, Siberia, drawings, prison camps, Holocaust, Soviet Union, Stalin
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 15, Lithuanian, Jewish

*Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

Debut author! Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata–a mermaid–collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.

But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi does the unthinkable–she saves his life, going against an ancient decree. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy it.

To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But all is not as it seems. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail.

Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she doesn’t, then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: mermaids, sirens, souls, West African gods (Yoruba), prejudice, racism, slavery, afterlife, 1400s, 15th Century
  • Protagonist description: female mermaid, Black, lives in waters off coast of West Africa

*Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier

Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer’s apprentice on a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over the land, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas’s title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a merciless sickness.

Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what here members. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.

When an assassin targets those closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for a killer…one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret–one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plunge it back into war.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: kings, queens, castles, kingdoms, assassins, war, plagues
  • Protagonist description: teen boy; most characters have black or brown hair and golden or bronze skin tones

Roxy by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager–a contest to see who can bring their mark to “the Party” first–is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer–tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful…and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys–Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

That summary doesn’t make much sense to me, so I’ll give you my take on it after reading lots of reviews. Ivy and Isaac Ramey are brother and sister. Isaac is an athlete who is also good with machines. His sister Ivy is a party girl. Their drugs of choice–ADD for Isaac and Oxycontin for Ivy–are personified as gods. These gods are Roxy and Addison, and they have a bet to see which Ramey sibling they can destroy first.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, thriller
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: opioid crisis, Oxycontin, Adderall, addiction, drug abuse, high achievers, raves, ADHD, bets, allegory, unusual narrators
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, has ADHD, blue hair; male, age 17, athlete; they are siblings and both are white

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

Debut author! How do you move forward when everything you love in on the line?

Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out–move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail. And Sam picks up the phone.

What would you do if you had a second chance at goodbye?

The reviews for this title are mostly positive, but Kirkus calls it “rambling” and Publishers Weekly calls it “uneven.” Still, even those reviews are mostly positive in tone, and I think this could fill a need for the right reader.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: grief, serious relationships, death (boyfriend), loss, first love, car accidents
  • Protagonist description: girl, age 17, high school senior, white

Sway with Me by Syed M. Masood

Arsalan has learned everything he knows from Nana, his 100-year-old great-grandfather. This includes the fact that when Nana dies, Arsalan will be completely alone in the world, except for his estranged and abusive father. So he turns to Beenish, the step-daughter of a prominent matchmaker, to find him a future life partner. Beenish’s request in return? That Arsalan help her ruin her older sister’s wedding with a spectacular dance she’s been forbidden to perform.

Despite knowing as little about dancing as he does about girls, Arsalan wades into Beenish’s chaotic world to discover friends and family he never expected. And though Arsalan’s old-school manners and Beenish’s take-no-prisoners attitude clash every minute, they find themselves getting closer and closer–literally. All that’s left to realize is that the thing they both really want is each other, if only they can get in step.

Publishers Weekly starred. This looks cute, and YA books about Desi communities in the US are uncommon. Unfortunately, that front cover looks like teen romance books in the 1980s. When researching for this week’s Spotlight, I almost passed up this title myself. I hope the cover isn’t a barrier for teen readers.

  • Genre(s): romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: centenarians, great-grandparents, great-grandfathers, abuse, matchmaking, weddings, dancing, rom-coms, Sacramento, California, Desi communities
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 17, Muslim, Pakistani American; female love interest is also Muslim and Pakistani American

*Out of My Heart by Sharon M. Draper

Melody, the huge-hearted heroine of Out of My Mind, is a year older, and a year braver. And now with her Medi-talker, she feels nothing’s out of her reach, not even summer camp. There have to be camps for differently-abled kids like her, and she’s going to sleuth one out. A place where she can trek through a forest, fly on a zip line, and even ride on a horse! A place where maybe she really can finally make a real friend, make her own decisions, and even do things on her own–the dream!

By the light of flickering campfires and the power of thunderstorms, through the terror of unexpected creatures in cabins and the first sparkle of a crush, Melody’s about to discover how brave and strong she really is.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred. This is a sequel, which I don’t normally include in the top part of the Spotlight. But it’s the sequel to a major book for middle grades, from a major author. It’s also got two starred professional reviews.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: summer camp, cerebral palsy, disabilities, special needs, making new friends, new experiences
  • Protagonist description: girl with cerebral palsy, 6th grade, age 12

Stuck by Jennifer Swender

If Austin picked a color to describe his life, it would be tumbleweed brown. Austin doesn’t like standing out. He’s always the new kid, and there’s no hiding his size. Plus, Austin has a secret: he struggles to read.

Then Austin meets Bertie, who is razzmatazz. Everything about Bertie is bursting! But the best part of his newest school is the Safety Squad, with their laser lemon vests. Their easy confidence and leadership stand out in the coolest way. Even when things are not so vibrant and life at home makes Austin feel pacific blue, for the first time, he wants to leave a mark. And the more Austin speaks up, the more he finds he may not be that different after all.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, school stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: starting a new school, new kid in town, safety patrols, leadership, color, reading struggles, learning differences
  • Protagonist description: boy, fourth grade, white

*Candidly Cline by Kathryn Ormsbee

Born in Paris, Kentucky, and raised on her gram’s favorite country music, Cline Alden is a girl with big dreams and a heart full of song. When she finds out about a young musicians’ workshop a few towns over, Cline sweet-talks, saves, and maybe fibs her way into her first step toward musical stardom.

But her big dreams never prepared her for the butterflies she feels surrounded by so many other talented kids–especially Sylvie, who gives Cline the type of butterflies she’s only ever heard about in love songs.

As she learns to make music of her own, Cline begins to realize how much of herself she’s been holding back. But now, there’s a new song taking shape in her heart–if only she can find her voice and sing it.

THREE starred reviews.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-9
  • Themes: country music, Kentucky, grandmothers, musicians, LGBTQIA+, single mothers, coming out, Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Protagonist description: girl, white, age 13, lives in Kentucky, gay

The Sleepover by Michael Regina

When the Russo family returns home from vacation to discover their nanny, Ruby, has unexpectedly passed away, Matthew takes the news the hardest. After weeks of reeling, his three best friends decide to cheer him up with a night of junk food, prank calls, and scary movies. But their plans for a sleepover are jeopardized when Matt’s single mother–unable to take any more time off of work–is forced to hire a new nanny on the fly to watch over Matt and his younger sister, Judy.

Miss Swan, however, is all too happy to have the boys over. And although she seems like the perfect babysitter, letting the kids eat whatever they want and mostly leaving them alone, there’s something about her that Matt doesn’t trust. He thinks she may actually be the witch from local legend–the one who torments children into the night and then eats them.

Is he just having a hard time dealing with Ruby’s replacement, as his friends suspect? Has he watched one too many scary movies, as his mom fears? Or are he and his horror-buff friends in for the fright of their lives as they come face-to-face with a real monster?

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, horror, scary stories
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: death, grief, single mothers, nannies, babysitter, witches, sleepovers, monsters
  • Protagonist description: boy, approximate age 10-11; white; all characters are white except a beloved nanny, who is Black (she dies early in the story but lives on through flashbacks)

*Crazy Horse and Custer: Born Enemies by S. D. Nelson

In 1876, Lakota chief Crazy Horse helped lead his people’s resistance against the white man’s invasion of the northern Great Plains. One of the leaders of the US military forces was Army Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. The men had long been enemies. At the height of the war, when tribalism had reached its peak, they crossed paths for the last time.

In this action-packed double biography, S. D. Nelson draws fascinating parallels between Crazy Horse and Custer, whose lives were intertwined. These warriors were alike in many ways, yet they often collided in deadly rivalry. Witness reports and reflections by their peers and enemies accompany side-by-side storytelling that offers very different perspectives on the same historical events. The two men’s opposing destinies culminated in the infamous Battle of the Greasy Grass, as the Lakota called it, or the Battle of the Little Bighorn, as it was called by the Euro-Americans.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): biography,
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: US history, 19th Century, 1800s, Lakota, Crazy Horse, George Armstrong Custer, US army, rivalry, Battle of the Little Bighorn, Battle of the Greasy Grass, indigenous people, Native Americans
  • Protagonist description: two men–one white European American and one a Lakota chief

*Off-Limits by Helen Yoon

Dad’s office is off-limits–which only makes it more intriguing to his curious young daughter. As soon as she sees an opening, she sneaks in to have a look around. After all, there’s no harm in just looking, right? What she discovers is a magical wonderland of sticky tape, paper clips that make glorious strands, and a kaleidoscopic array of sticky notes. Who could possibly resist playing with those?

In a joyful ode to office supplies, Helen Yoon leads a celebration of just-for-once breaking the rules–and offers a final, funny nod to adults who harbor a similar urge.

This book speaks to me as a teacher who loves school supplies and as a child who loved going to my mom’s office after hours! It really was a magical place to go to “mom’s work” and xerox my sisters’ faces and write on whiteboards with colorful dry-erase markers!

SLJ and Hornbook starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: off-limits areas, curiosity, parents’ work environment, office supplies
  • Protagonist description: young girl with medium-tone skin and dark hair; her father has blonde hair

Calvin by JR Ford (Author), Vanessa Ford (Author), and Kayla Harren (Illustrator)

Calvin has always been a boy, even if the world sees him as a girl. He knows who he is in his heart and in his mind but he hasn’t yet told his family. Finally, he can wait no longer: “I’m not a girl,” he tells his family. “I’m a boy–a boy in my heart and in my brain.” Quick to support him, his loving family takes Calvin shopping for the swim trunks he’s always wanted and back-to-school clothes and a new haircut that helps him look and feel like the boy he’s always known himself to be. As the first day of school approaches, he’s nervous and the “what-ifs” gather up inside him. But as his friends and teachers rally around him and he tells them his name, all his “what-ifs” begin to melt away.

Inspired by the authors’ own transgender child and accompanied by warm and triumphant illustrations, this authentic and personal text promotes kindness and empathy, offering a poignant and inclusive back-to-school message: all should feel safe, respected, and welcomed.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: transgender, coming out, first day of school, acceptance, LGBTQIA+
  • Protagonist description: elementary-age transgender boy, African American

Hope at Sea: An Adventure Story by Daniel Miyares

Hope doesn’t only want to listen to her father’s stories about his voyages at sea, she wants to be part of those stories.

And so, unbeknownst to her parents, she stows away on her father’s 19th-century merchant vessel. But look…The wind has picked up and the sky is darkening…Could there be such a thing as an adventure that is too exciting?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: clipper ships, sea, voyages, storms, independence, girl power, stowaways
  • Protagonist description: girl and her father, both are white

I Don’t Want to Read This Book by Max Greenfield (Author) and Mike Lowery (Illustrator)

Words, sentences, and even worse, paragraphs fill up books. Ugh! So what’s a reluctant reader to do?

Actor Max Greenfield (New Girl) and New York Times bestselling illustrator Mike Lowery bring the energy and laugh-out-loud fun out for every child (and parent) who thinks they don’t want to read a book.

Pair with The Book With No Pictures.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: reluctant readers, idiosyncrasies of English language, doodles, reading struggles
  • Protagonist description: narrator is unseen

*Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan (Author) and Mercè López (Illustrator)

The dala dala rumbles and roars as Musa and Dada drive off to the shore–but the bus stops for multiple detours: “Do you need a ride? It’s hotter than peppers out there in the sun! Come in, there’s room for everyone!”

One stop becomes two stops which soon becomes ten, and Musa wonders when it will end: “How can any more people get in? We’re already smushed like sardines in a tin!” But there’s always room for one more, if you make the room, which is the heartwarming take-away from this bouncy, joyous tale in rhyme.

BCCB and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: rhythm, rhyme, Zanzibar, Tanzania, buses, crowds, community, transportation, East Africa
  • Protagonist description: all people in the story are East African

A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy (Author) and Sandhya Prabhat (Illustrator)

Ammi weaves the most beautiful saris but never gets to wear any of them. Her two little daughters decide to do something about it–break their piggy bank!

But when there isn’t enough money to buy Ammi a sari, the two girls must work together to find a solution. Will they be able to buy Ammi the gift she so deserves?

With a text full of heart, and bright, cheerful artwork, this story brings readers into the home of a weaver’s family in Kaithoon, India, where the creation of saris is an art form. The book includes a glossary of Indian terms and a note about the saris made in this region.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: saris, Kaithoon, India, Muslims, gifts, kindness, giving, saving money, weaving, art, mothers and daughters
  • Protagonist description: two young sisters, Indian Muslims






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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