New Release Spotlight: May 30, 2023

This last New Release Spotlight of May is a small one for all three groupings (YA, MG, and PB), but I was happy to see several of this week’s titles are set outside the continental USA. This week’s books take us to Canada (2 books), Trinidad and Tobago, the Koreas, Puerto Rico, and France and Italy. Nice!

Middle grades looks strongest to me this week. My top picks:

  • In the Tunnel by Julie Lee (MG)
  • The First Magnificent Summer by R.L. Toalson (MG)
  • Mother of Sharks by Melissa Cristina Márquez (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3335-#3348 on The Ginormous book list.

I’ve got a YouTube “Best of the Week” video, where I talk about my favorite titles on this week’s list. Check it out here:


Want your own editable copy of this presentation? Click this link, then click “Use Template”
in the top-right corner to make a copy for your Google Drive. You can then edit as needed to suit your school.

*When the Vibe Is Right by Sarah Dass

There are two things Tess Crawford knows for sure:

She’s destined to be a great Trinidadian Carnival costume designer like her renowned uncle, Russel Messina, and will one day inherit leadership of the family’s masquerade band, Grandeur.

Her classmate, the popular social media influencer, Brandon Richards, is the bane of her existence. Everything about him irks her, from his annoying nickname for Tess (“Boop”) to his association with David, her awful ex.

But when the future of Grandeur nears the brink of collapse in the face of band rivalry, Tess finds to her chagrin that she must team up with Brandon in a desperate attempt to revive the company.

As Tess and Brandon spend more time together, Tess begins to wonder if everything she thought she knew might not be so certain after all.

Set in lush, gorgeous Trinidad, this is a novel about finding love in the most unexpected places.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Setting: Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean, Latin America
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: family businesses, carnivals, costume design, death of both parents, grief, cousins, enemies to lovers
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, Trinidadian, HS senior

The Alchemy of Moonlight by David Ferraro

Debut author! Trapped in a world of straight expectations, queer marquis Emile longs for independence. So, when his aunt declares he must marry to produce an heir or be disowned, he runs away disguised as a servant until he can come of age and reclaim his inheritance.

All Emile needs to do is keep his head down and bide his time, but he quickly stumbles into a mystery beyond his imagination. While working in the service of the intimidating Count Montoni and his family, Emile learns that they suffer from a strange affliction every full moon, which requires full sedation. And when he discovers a mangled corpse on the estate the same night as suspicious family arguments break out, he reports it. But Emile cannot guess what lengths Count Montoni is willing to go to to keep his family’s secrets safe. As Emile becomes more entangled in the household and its paranormal origins, his inquiries draw the attention of the handsome doctor, Bram, and the count’s charismatic nephew, Henri.

But how can Emile earn the esteem of the earnest doctor, while keeping his own identity and desires a secret? And how can he trust―let alone love―Henri, a man as mercurial as the ever-changing moon? To find the love he deserves and survive the Montoni family, Emile will have to risk his title as well as his life.

Booklist starred. Please note that the Kirkus review says it has “subpar writing and character development.” Publishers Weekly review is positive. Kirkus is often the “sourface” among the review sources, so I often take the Kirkus reviews with a grain of salt if the other reviews are positive. This is a spin-off of Radcliffe’s gothic classic The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794).

  • Genre(s): horror, supernatural, romance, historical fiction
  • Setting: France and Italy, 1873
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: LGBT+, gothic, love triangles, haunted castles
  • Protagonist description: male, age 17, queer, white

Her Good Side by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Sixteen-year-old Bethany Greene, though confident and self-assured, is what they call a late-bloomer. She’s never had a boyfriend, date, or first kiss. She’s determined to change that but after her crush turns her down cold for Homecoming–declaring her too inexperienced–and all her back-up ideas fall through, she cautiously agrees to go with her best friend’s boyfriend Jacob. A platonic date is better than no date, right? Until Saylor breaks up with said boyfriend.

Dumped twice in just two months, Jacob Yeun wonders if he’s the problem. After years hiding behind his camera and a shocking summer glow up, he wasn’t quite ready for all the attention or to be someone’s boyfriend. There are no guides for his particular circumstances, or for taking your ex’s best friend to the dance.

Why not make the best of an awkward situation? Bethany and Jacob decide to fake date for practice, building their confidence in matters of the heart.

And it works–guys are finally noticing Bethany. But things get complicated as their kissing sessions–for research of course!–start to feel real. This arrangement was supposed to help them in dating other people, but what if their perfect match is right in front of them?

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): romance, rom-com
  • Setting: Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 8+
  • Themes: relationships and dating, getting dumped, alternating viewpoints, school dances, Homecoming, fake dating, basketball, two moms, sexual identity
  • Protagonist description: female, overweight, age 16, Black; male, Korean American

Time Out by Sean Hayes, Todd Milliner, and Carlyn Greenwald

In his small Georgia town, Barclay Elliot is basically a legend. Here basketball is all that matters, and no one has a bigger spotlight than Barclay. Until he decides to use the biggest pep rally in the town’s history to come out to his school. And things change. Quickly.

Barclay is faced with hostility he never expected. Suddenly he is at odds with his own team, and he doesn’t even have his grandfather to turn to the way he used to. But who is Barclay if he doesn’t have basketball?

His best friend, Amy, thinks she knows. She drags him to her voting rights group, believing Barclay can find a bigger purpose. And he does, but he also finds Christopher. Aggravating, fearless, undeniably handsome Christopher. He and Barclay have never been each other’s biggest fans, but as Barclay starts to explore parts of himself he’s been hiding away, they find they might have much more in common than they originally thought.

As sparks turn into something more, though, Barclay has to decide if he’s ready to confront the privilege and popularity that have shielded him his entire life. Can he take a real shot at the love he was fighting for in the first place?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: small, conservative Georgia town
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: basketball, LGBT+, coming out publicly, homophobia, civil rights, voting, community activism, discrimination, corruption, school boards, school newspaper, journalism, privilege
  • Protagonist description: male, age 16, white, queer

The Melancholy of Summer by Louisa Onomé

Doesn’t she see? I can do this on my own.

Summer Uzoma is fine. Sure, her parents went on the run after they were accused of committing a crime, leaving her behind. Sure, she’s been alternating stays with her friends’ families. Sure, she sometimes still secretly visits her old home. And sure, she has trouble talking about any of this. But she’s fine. She has her skateboard and her bus pass. She just has to turn eighteen in a few weeks and then she’ll really and truly be free.

So it’s extra annoying when a nosy social worker gets involved. Summer doesn’t expect any relative to be able to take her in, so she’s very surprised to hear that she’ll now be living with her cousin Olu–someone she hasn’t seen in years, who’s a famous singer in Japan last she heard, and who’s not much older than Summer.

Life with Olu is awkward for many reasons–not least of all because Olu has her own drama to deal with. But with her cousin and friends’ efforts, maybe Summer can learn to trust people enough to let them in again?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Setting: Toronto, Canada
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: trust, family problems, parents as fugitives, fraud, minor emancipation, coming-of-age, celebrities
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, Nigerian Canadian

*In the Tunnel by Julie Lee

Myung-gi knows war is coming: War between North and South Korea. Life in communist North Korea has become more and more unbearable–there is no freedom of speech, movement, association, or thought–and his parents have been carefully planning the family’s escape.

But when his father is abducted by the secret police, all those plans fall apart. How can Myung-gi leave North Korea without his dad? Especially when he believes that the abduction was his fault?

Set during a cataclysmic war which shaped the world we know today, this is the story of one boy’s coming-of-age during a time when inhumanity, lawlessness, and terror reigned supreme. Myung-gi, his mother, and his twelve-year-old sister Yoomee do everything they can to protect one another. But gentle, quiet, bookish Myung-gi has plans to find his father at any cost–even if it means joining the army and being sent to the front lines, where his deepest fears await him.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, survival
  • Setting: alternates between 1945 and 1952; North Korea and South Korea
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: war, North Korea and South Korea, communism, border tunnel, censorship, escape from North Korea, survival, prisoner of war
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12 and age 16 (alternates), Korean

Tegan and Sara Junior High by Tegan Quin (Author), Sara Quin (Author) and Tillie Walden (Illustrator)

Before Tegan and Sara took the music world by storm, the Quins were just two identical twins trying to find their place in a new home and new school. From first crushes to the perils of puberty, surviving junior high is something the sisters plan to face side by side, just like they’ve always faced things. But growing up also means growing apart, as Tegan and Sara make different friends and take separate paths to understanding their queerness. For the first time ever, they ask who one sister is without the other.

Set in the present day, this effervescent blend of fiction and autobiography, with artwork from Eisner Award–winner Tillie Walden, offers a glimpse at the two sisters before they became icons, exploring their shifting relationship, their own experiences coming out, and the first steps of their musical journey.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, graphic novel
  • Setting: Calgary, Canada, 1990s
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: identical twins, musicians, performance arts, middle school, taking separate paths, sisters, based on a true story, coming out, LGBT+, 1990s
  • Protagonist description: twin sisters, age 12, white

Skating on Mars by Caroline Huntoon

Life isn’t easy on twelve-year-old Mars. As if seventh grade isn’t hard enough, Mars is also grappling with the recent death of their father and a realization they never got to share with him: they’re nonbinary.

But with their skates laced up and the ice under their feet, all of those struggles melt away. When Mars’ triple toe loop draws the attention of a high school hot shot, he dares them to skate as a boy so the two can compete head-to-head.

Unable to back down from a challenge, Mars accepts. But as competition draws near, the struggles of life off the rink start to complicate their performance in the rink, and Mars begins to second guess if there’s a place for them on the ice at all.

Booklist starred. Author is also nonbinary.

  • Genre(s): sports fiction, realistic fiction
  • Setting: Michigan, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: grief, death of a parent (father), ice skating, LGBT+, gender identity
  • Protagonist description: nonbinary preteen, age 12, 7th grader, white

The First Magnificent Summer by R.L. Toalson

Twelve-year-old Victoria Reeves is all set for her “First Magnificent Summer with Dad,” even though it’s been more than two years since she last saw him. She’s ready to impress him with her wit, her maturity, and her smarts–at least until he shows up for the long road trip to Ohio with his new family, The Replacements, in tow.

But that’s not the only unpleasant surprise in store for Victoria. There are some smaller disappointments, like being forced to eat bologna even though it’s her least favorite food in the world. And then there’s having to sleep outside in a tent while The Replacements rest comfortably inside the family RV. But the worst thing Victoria grapples with is when she begins to suspect that part of the reason Dad always treats her as “less than” is for one simple reason: she’s female.

As Victoria captures every moment of her less than magnificent summer in her journal, she discovers that the odds are stacked against her in the contest-no-one-knows-is-a-contest: Not only does her wit begin to crumble around Dad’s multiple shaming jabs, but she gets her first period. And when Dad does the worst thing yet, she realizes she has a decision to make: will she let a man define her?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: summer, on the road in an RV, going from Texas to Ohio
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: stepfamilies, feeling replaced by new family, estranged parent (father), road trips, camping, summer vacation, journals, first menstrual period, fathers and daughters, self-worth, body shaming
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12, white

*Hello, Mister Blue by Daria Peoples

A young girl always creates special memories when she visits her grandfather. He lets her sip his creamy coffee, they take a stroll through the park, and they play music together. But this time, something unexpected happens: she meets Papa’s longtime friend, Mister Blue.

Mister Blue lives outside, and he and his music have always brought Papa’s community together. At the end of the day, the young girl has many questions for Papa. Is Mister Blue safe? Scared? Lonely, hungry? With her curiosity and kindness, she can change things for the better, for at least one person and one night.

Featuring a lyrical text, stunning illustrations, and a resonant message, Hello, Mister Blue presents a difficult, universal topic with sensitivity and warmth for the youngest of readers. Every person belongs to a community, and generosity can make a difference for everyone.

Kirkus and BCCB starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: longtime friendships, grandfathers, homelessness, music, kindness, community, generosity, street musicians, being seen, observations, flashbacks
  • Protagonist description: little girl and her grandfather, both Black

*The Wishing Flower by A.J. Irving (Author) and Kip Alizadeh (Illustrator)

Birdie finds comfort in nature and books, but more than anything she longs for connection, to be understood.

At school, Birdie feels like an outsider. Quiet and shy, she prefers to read by herself, rather than jump rope or swing with the other kids.

That all changes when Sunny, the new girl, comes along. Like Birdie, Sunny has a nature name. She also likes to read, and loves to rescue bugs. And when Sunny smiles at her, Birdie’s heart balloons like a parachute.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: elementary school and playground
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: friendship, making a new friend, enjoying quiet activities, not fitting in, feeling seen
  • Protagonist description: two young girls; one is light-skinned with curly red hair; the other is beige-skinned with long dark pigtails

Tadpoles by Matt James

In this tender reflection on the fleeting rhythms of the natural world and the enduring love of family, a boy and his father spend a morning exploring an ephemeral pond, a delicate nursery formed by rainfall, perfect for sheltering tadpoles from predators as they grow.

The boy’s father doesn’t live with him anymore, and the ponds may only be temporary, but together they make memories that just might last a lifetime.

With Tadpoles, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winning author and illustrator Matt James draws from his own memories as a parent and as a child to tell a wistful story that will be instantly recognizable to any families sharing memories of exploring together. For an extra treat, additional material at the back of the book enthusiastically outlines the habitats and life cycles that make up these special amphibian spaces.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: springtime, field of old junk
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: making memories, estranged father, family separation, nature, tadpoles and frogs, habitats
  • Protagonist description: father and son; both have light skin and dark hair

Mother of Sharks by Melissa Cristina Márquez (Author) and Devin Elle Kurtz (Illustrator)

As the sun sets over another gorgeous day at la Playita Del Condado in Puerto Rico, Meli doesn’t want to go home. She loves the ocean more than anything, and with only five minutes left at the beach, she knows exactly where her last stop should be: the tidal pools.

They are small universes of their own teeming with critters and creatures of the ocean. While looking into the pools, she meets a crab, Jaiba, who takes her on a dreamlike underwater adventure, teaches her about the importance of shark conservation, and reveals Meli’s ultimate destiny: to become the Mother of Sharks.

Blending the autobiographical with the fantastical, Melissa Cristina Márquez shares her incredible story not only to dispel myths about these misunderstood creatures but also to pave the way for Latinas in STEM. Paired with Devin Elle Kurtz’s vibrant, emotive illustrations, this picture book is an irresistible journey through the wonders of the ocean and, above all, a rallying cry for marine conservation.

How gorgeous is that front cover????

  • Genre(s): picture book, fantasy
  • Setting: La Playita Del Condado, Puerto Rico
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: ocean, beach, tidal pools, marine life, crabs, sharks, STEM, conservation, Hispanic Heritage Month
  • Protagonist description: female, Latina, marine biologist

The Together Tree by Aisha Saeed (Author) and LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

At his new school, quiet Rumi feels small and unwelcome, and a few kids bully him for being different and wearing bright shoes. He finds refuge beneath the old willow tree by the playground and builds his own world of hope and dreams of belonging.

One day, when Rumi is made a target again, one of his classmates bravely steps in to defend him. It’s in that moment of solidarity Rumi’s class finally realizes that under the shade of the willow tree, all are welcome, and they create a space they can all play in–together.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: school playground, under a large tree
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: bullying, moving across the country, missing old friends, new kid in school, remorse, making new friends, friendship
  • Protagonist description: young boy, South Asian descent





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. 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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