New Release Spotlight: June 20, 2023

The Spotlight last week was pretty small, so I have combined it with this week’s Spotlight, which was also on the smaller side. Together, they make one great Spotlight!

I don’t have any Spotlight video or Google Slides presentation this week due to overscheduling myself this past week. I think things will be a bit calmer in the coming week, so I should be able to at least do a video with the next Spotlight.

My top picks:

  • An Echo in the City by K. X. Song (YA)
  • Call Me Adnan by Reem Faruqi (MG)
  • The Brilliant Ms. Bangle by Cara Devins (PB)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3369-#3387 on The Ginormous book list.

*Everyone Wants to Know by Kelly Loy Gilbert

The Lo family sticks together. That’s what Honor has been told her whole life while growing up in the glare of the public eye on Lo and Behold, the reality show about her, her four siblings, and their parents.

Their show may be off the air, but the Lo family members still live in the spotlight as influencers churning out podcasts, bestselling books, and brand partnerships. So when Honor’s father announces that he’s moving out of their northern California home to rent an apartment in Brooklyn, Honor’s personal upset becomes the internet’s trending B-list celebrity trainwreck—threatening the aspirational image the Los’ brand (and livelihood) depends on.

After one of her best friends leaks their private conversation to a gossip site, bruised and betrayed Honor pours all her energy into reuniting her family. With her parents 3,000 miles apart, her siblings torn into factions, and all of them under claustrophobic public scrutiny, this is easier said than done. Just when Honor feels at her lowest, a guarded yet vulnerable boy named Caden comes into her life and makes her want something beyond the tight Lo inner circle for the first time. But is it fair to open her heart to someone new when the people she loves are teetering on the edge of ruin?

As increasingly terrible secrets come to light about the people Honor thought she knew best in the world, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to her family and fighting for the life she wants.

Booklist and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: northern California
  • Recommended for: 7+
  • Themes: reality TV shows, siblings, family problems, celebrites, podcasting, privacy, parental separation, family secrets, anxiety, twins, friendship betrayal
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, Chinese American, a twin

*Family Style Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham

Thien’s first memory isn’t a sight or a sound. It’s the sweetness of watermelon and the saltiness of fish. It’s the taste of the foods he ate while adrift at sea as his family fled Vietnam.

After the Pham family arrives at a refugee camp in Thailand, they struggle to survive. Things don’t get much easier once they resettle in California. And through each chapter of their lives, food takes on a new meaning. Strawberries come to signify struggle as Thien’s mom and dad look for work. Potato chips are an indulgence that bring Thien so much joy that they become a necessity.

Behind every cut of steak and inside every croissant lies a story. And for Thien Pham, that story is about a search– for belonging, for happiness, for the American dream.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): graphic novel, memoir
  • Setting: Vietnam; refugee camp in Thailand; and San Jose, California
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: immigrant families, refugees, food, family, refugee camps, assimilation, cultural loss, the American Dream
  • Protagonist description: male, Vietnamese refugee, age 5-adult

Ode to My First Car by Robin Gow

It’s a few months before senior year and Claire Kemp, a closeted bisexual, is finally starting to admit she might be falling in love with her best friend, Sophia, who she’s known since they were four.

Trying to pay off the fine from the crash that totals Lars, her beloved car, Claire takes a job at the local nursing home up the street from her house. There she meets Lena, an eighty-eight-year-old lesbian woman who tells her stories about what it was like growing up gay in the 1950s and ’60s.

As Claire spends more time with Lena and grows more confident of her identity, another girl, Pen, comes into the picture, and Claire is caught between two loves–one familiar and well-worn, the other new and untested.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, novel in verse
  • Setting: summer before senior year
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: teens with jobs, LGBT+, discrimination, intergenerational friendships, best friends, nursing homes
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, rising senior, white, closeted bisexual

Going Bicoastal by Dahlia Adler

Natalya Fox has twenty-four hours to make the biggest choice of her life: stay home in NYC for the summer with her dad (and finally screw up the courage to talk to the girl she’s been crushing on), or spend it with her basically estranged mom in LA (knowing this is the best chance she has to fix their relationship, if she even wants to.) (Does she want to?)

How’s a girl supposed to choose?

She can’t, and so both summers play out in alternating timelines–one in which Natalya explores the city, tries to repair things with her mom, works on figuring out her future, and goes for the girl she’s always wanted. And one in which Natalya explores the city, tries to repair things with her mom, works on figuring out her future, and goes for the guy she never saw coming.

Booklist starred. This is an homage to Sliding Doors, or more recently, Netflix’s Look Both Ways.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance, rom-com
  • Setting: summer, timelines alternate between Los Angeles, California and New York City
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: summer internships, estranged parents, music, art, life-changing choices
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white, Jewish, bisexual

Garden of the Cursed by Katy Rose Pool

Since fleeing the gilded halls of Evergarden for the muck-filled canals of the Marshes, Marlow Briggs has made a name for herself as the best cursebreaker in Caraza City. But no matter how many cases she solves, she is still haunted by the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.

When Adrius Falcrest, Marlow’s old friend and scion of one of Caraza’s most affluent spell-making families, asks her to help break a life-threatening curse, Marlow wants nothing to do with the boy who spurned her a year ago. But a new lead in her mother’s case makes Marlow realize that the only way to get the answers she desperately seeks is to help Adrius and return to Evergarden society–even if it means suffering through a fake love affair with him to avoid drawing suspicion from the conniving Five Families.

As the investigation draws Marlow into a web of deadly secrets and powerful enemies, a shocking truth emerges: Adrius’s curse and her mother’s disappearance may just be clues to an even larger mystery, one that could unravel the very foundations of Caraza and magic itself.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mystery, romance
  • Setting: Caraza, a city where five magical families rule
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: spells, curses, missing parent (mother), fake dating, magic, worldbuilding, gangs
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, white

An Echo in the City by K. X. Song

Debut author! Sixteen-year-old Phoenix knows her parents have invested thousands of dollars to help her leave Hong Kong and get an elite Ivy League education. They think America means big status, big dreams, and big bank accounts. But Phoenix doesn’t want big; she just wants home. The trouble is, she doesn’t know where that is…until the Hong Kong protest movement unfolds, and she learns the city she’s come to love is in danger of disappearing.

Seventeen-year-old Kai sees himself as an artist, not a filial son, and certainly not a cop. But when his mother dies, he’s forced to leave Shanghai to reunite with his estranged father, a respected police officer, who’s already enrolled him in the Hong Kong police academy. Kai wants to hate his job, but instead, he finds himself craving his father’s approval. And when he accidentally swaps phones with Phoenix and discovers she’s part of a protest network, he finds a way to earn it: by infiltrating the group and reporting their plans back to the police.

As Kai and Phoenix join the struggle for the future of Hong Kong, a spark forms between them, pulling them together even as their two worlds try to force them apart. But when their relationship is built on secrets and deception, will they still love the person left behind when the lies fall away?

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Setting: Hong Kong SAR, 2019
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: 2019 Hong Kong protests, China, police, photography, spies, freedom, star-crossed-lovers
  • Protagonist description: female, age 16, Hong Kongese; male, age 17, Chinese

A Crooked Mark by Linda Kao

Debut author! Rae Winter should be dead.

Some say that walking away from the car crash that killed her dad is a miracle, but seventeen-year-old Matthew Watts knows that the forces of Good aren’t the only ones at work. The devil, Lucifer himself, can mark a soul about to pass on, sending it back to the land of the living to carry out his evil will.

Matt has grown up skipping from town to town alongside his father hunting anyone who has this mark. They have one purpose: Find these people, and exterminate them.

After helping his father for years, Matt takes on his own mission: Rae Winter, miracle survivor. But when Matt starts to fall for Rae, to make friends for the first time in his life, he’s not sure who or what to believe anymore. How can someone like Rae, someone who is thoughtful and smart and kind, be an agent of the devil? With the lines of reality and fantasy, myth and paranoia blurred, Matt confronts an awful truth….

What if the devil’s mark doesn’t exist?

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, thriller
  • Setting: San Francisco, California, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: good vs. evil, Satanic organizations, murder, grief, identity
  • Protagonist description: male, age 17, biracial (Chinese and white)

Wolfpack by Amelia Brunskill

Nine girls bound together
in beautiful, virtuous Havenwood,
a refuge from an unsafe world.

Then there are eight,
one of them gone —
departed with no warning.
Did this member of their pack
stray willingly,
or did something more sinister occur?

The girls seek answers
not knowing if they should be angry
or frightened
or perhaps,
they should be both.

  • Genre(s): novel in verse, mystery
  • Setting: cult of Havenwood
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: alternating voices, cults, missing girl, strict gender roles, secret relationships, chosen family
  • Protagonist description: 8 narrators, all female members of a cult, ages 14-18, all default as white

*Ginny Off the Map by Caroline Hickey

There are two things Ginny Pierce loves most in the world: geography facts and her father. But when her dad is deployed overseas and Ginny’s family must move to yet another town, not even her facts can keep her afloat.

The geography camp she’s been anxiously awaiting gets canceled, and her new neighbors prefer her basketball-star sister. Worst of all, her dad is in a war zone and impossible to get ahold of. Ginny decides that running her own camp for the kids on her street will solve all her problems. But can she convince them (and herself) that there’s more to her than just facts?

With a fierce heart and steadfast determination, Ginny tackles the challenges and rewards of staying true to herself during a season of growth. This thoughtful novel explores the strength that develops through adversity; Ginny must learn to trust her inner compass as she navigates the world around her.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: early-2010s, Maryland
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: moving frequently, deployed parent (father), geography, anxiety, summer camp, jewelry making
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, white

Mission: Arctic: A Scientifc Adventure to a Changing North Pole by Katharina Weiss-Tuider (Author) and Christian Schneider (Illustrator)

The Arctic is changing–fast. The once-frozen landscape is melting before our eyes, and the effects can be felt around the world. But the Arctic is also the region we know the least about. Thick ice, extreme cold, and total darkness have always prevented scientists from uncovering its secrets. Until now.

This science-based guide for middle readers follows the 2019 MOSAiC expedition on the largest expedition to the Arctic ever undertaken. On board the Polarstern, a powerful ice-breaker research vessel, more than five hundred scientists from all over the world turned their attention to this mysterious region. Their mission? To let their vessel freeze in the sea ice and drift towards the North Pole in order to study how the Arctic is changing, and how these changes will affect our world.

Mission: Arctic features:

–Filled with photographs from the expedition
–Thrilling facts, illustrations, diagrams, and fact bars about the polar region
–The dangerous conditions the scientists endured, from freezing temperatures to terrifying storms and polar bears
–The important discoveries made on the mission

Through this book, readers will discover the Arctic ice is not as permanent as we thought, and what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The knowledge gathered on the Polarstern has the power to determine our planet’s future–if only we pay attention.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Setting: Arctic, 2019-2020
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: climate change, Arctic, 2019 MOSAiC expedition, Arctic expeditions, research vessels, geography, science
  • Protagonist description: scientists depicted are diverse

Control Freaks by J.E. Thomas

The kids at Benjamin Banneker College Prep are a little…competitive. Okay. They’re a LOT competitive.

The minute Principal Yee announces an epic competition for the golden B-B trophy, seventh-grader Frederick Douglass Zezzmer knows he has to win.

But it won’t be easy. The competition doesn’t just include science, technology, engineering and math. It also has arts and sports. Not Doug’s best subjects.

Even worse, it’s a TEAM competition. Instead of being in a superstar group, Doug gets paired with four middle school misfits no one else wants.

Worst of all, Doug’s dad has a horrible backup plan. If Doug doesn’t win, he has to forget about becoming The World’s Greatest Inventor and spend the summer in sports camp, with his scary stepbrother.

With only a week to go, Doug launches a quest to turn his team of outcasts into winners…and maybe even friends.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, humor
  • Setting: Denver, Colorado
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: teamwork, competitions, outcasts, friendship, stepfamilies, contests, elite middle schools, overachievers
  • Protagonist description: male, 7th grader, Black

Code Red by Joy McCullough

Ever since a career-ending injury, former elite gymnast Eden has been feeling lost. To add insult to actual injury, her mom has been invited to present at her middle school’s career day, which would be fine except Mom’s company produces period products like pads and tampons. Having the whole school hear about it is total humiliation. And when Eden gets into a fight with a boy who won’t stop mocking her for it, she and her classmate Maribel both end up getting suspended.

Mom’s corporate executive job means she doesn’t have time to look after Eden while she’s suspended, so Eden is sent to volunteer at the food bank Maribel’s mom runs. There, she meets new friends who open her eyes to period poverty, the struggle that low-income people with periods have trying to afford menstrual products. Eden even meets a boy who gets periods. Witnessing how people fight for fair treatment inspires Eden to join the advocacy work.

But sewing pads to donate and pushing for free access to period products puts Eden at odds with her mom. Even so, Eden’s determined to hold onto the one thing that’s ignited her passion and drive since gymnastics. Can she stand her ground and make a real difference?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: menstruation, school suspension, sports injuries, food banks, volunteer work, period poverty, advocacy, poverty, mothers and daughters, social justice, privilege
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13, white, former elite gymnast

Call Me Adnan by Reem Faruqi

Adnan Zakir loves table tennis. He’s also colorblind, left-handed, and has a fondness for the aviation alphabet. He’s super close with his sister, Aaliyah, who is a great dancer and memorizer of Quran, and he loves his little toddler brother Rizwan, who only wants to grow up and play table tennis like his big brother.

All Adnan dreams of is making it to the Ultimate Table Tennis Championship in Florida, and if he qualifies for the tournament, he knows he will get to spend the Eid holiday with his cousins! But when the family travels there, unthinkable tragedy strikes, and Adnan swears he’ll never play table tennis ever again. Slowly, he and his family must learn to make peace and move forward, as a family.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, novel in verse
  • Setting: Atlanta, Georgia and Orlando, Florida
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: siblings, table tennis, Eid, Ramadan, family, toddler drowning death, tragedy, grief, water safety
  • Protagonist description: male, age 12, Muslim, colorblind

The Gray by Chris Baron

It’s been a tough year for Sasha–he’s been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he calls the Gray, is growing. Sasha’s dad tells him to “toughen up”–and he does, but with unfortunate, hurtful results. His parents and therapist agree that a summer in the country with his aunt might be the best medicine, but it’s the last place he wants to be. He’ll be away from his best friend, video games, and stuck in the house that reminds him of his beloved uncle who died two years earlier.

His aunt is supportive, and there are lots of places to explore, and even some potential new friends. When Sasha is introduced at a local ranch to a horse coincidentally–incredibly–nicknamed the Gray, he feels he’s found a kindred spirit.

But his own Gray is ever-present. When one of his new friends disappears, Sasha discovers that the country is wilder and more mysterious than he imagined. He tries to muster enough courage to help in the search…but will the Gray hold him back?

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: upstate New York, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: anxiety, panic attacks, bullying, therapy, summer vacation, grief, aunts and uncles, horses, screen-free time, mental health
  • Protagonist description: male, age 13, white, Jewish

*Pool by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Today is a pool day in the city! The sun is shining, so what are you waiting for? Friends and family. Kids and grandparents. Big bodies and small bodies. Everybody is welcome at our pool! Get ready for swimming and splashing, zigzagging and dunking, and racing and laughing.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: public pool in a city
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: summer fun, swimming, community, diversity, swimming pools
  • Protagonist description: people depicted are racially diverse

Penny & Pip by Candace Fleming (Author) and Eric Rohmann (Illustrator)

Penny feels certain that something is following her down the hall as she walks with her class through the Natural History Museum. She looks–nothing. She looks again–still nothing. She looks one more time and spies a verrrrry long neck and a verrrrry long tail on something that looks suspiciously like a baby brontosaurus!

Penny might be only five, but she knows dinosaurs are extinct. And yet, one seems to be following her. The little dino and Penny spend time together all over the museum, and when Penny doesn’t see a giant adult dinosaur lumbering around, she realizes Pip–as she’s named him–must be on his own. The only thing to do is to feed him some snacks and take him home with her…if she can figure out how.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: natural history museum
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: museums, dinosaurs, imagination
  • Protagonist description: young girl, brown skin

*Cape by Kevin Johnson (Author) and Kitt Thomas (Illustrator)

When a child loses the person in his life that he loves more than anything, he uses his cape as protection from his grief. On the day of the funeral, he uses it to block out the pictures and stories people share, refusing to acknowledge the memories that keep bubbling up. He won’t think about them. He doesn’t want to.

He avoids the memories, until he no longer can.

He remembers then. Their laugh, their smile, the moment they gave him the cape. The cape transforms, becoming a source of comfort and strength as the child navigates the sadness and joy that these memories bring up.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: funeral
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: grief, resilience, loss, death, funerals, capes, memories, superheroes
  • Protagonist description: young boy, Black

The Brilliant Ms. Bangle by Cara Devins (Author) and K-Fai Steele (Illustrator)

It’s a new school year, and something is different. The students’ beloved librarian, Ms. Stack, has retired. The new librarian, Ms. Bangle, is not the same! She has different ways of doing, well, everything! How will the students ever adjust?

Change isn’t easy, but it can be a positive experience. With a bit of patience, and a lot of heart, it can be positively brilliant.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: elementary school
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade2
  • Themes: first day of school, librarians, new school librarians, tricksters, fear of change
  • Protagonist description: new librarian is a Black female; students at school are diverse

The Hidden World of Gnomes by Lauren Soloy

This book is an introduction to the hidden folk called gnomes, who live in a happy place they call The Pocket. Where is The Pocket, you ask?

Well, it’s all around you, all the time.

Gnomes are curious little creatures, and they’re very shy. But after reading this book, you will learn to spot the telltale signs that gnomes are around…and maybe even meet one!

Lauren Soloy has been studying gnomes her whole life, and she has created this book to share her knowledge with you. For example, what jobs do gnomes do? Babysitting robin’s eggs, squirrel-tail fluffing, storytelling. Where do they live? In gardens, forests and any place with plants, birds and bugs. What are their names? Hotchi-Mossy, Able Potter, Cob Tiggy and Puckle Swift, to name a few.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, fantasy
  • Setting: everyday world, but with gnomes
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: gnomes, fantasy creatures, seeing magic in the world, guidebooks
  • Protagonist description: various cute gnomes





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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