New Release Spotlight: July 25, 2023

This week’s Spotlight is pretty short compared to last week’s! Most books I found did not meet my criteria for the Spotlight, and the books that did meet my criteria don’t have many starred professional reviews.

No top picks this week because there are only 12 books this week.

I do want to highlight one book that really stands out to me this week. Don’t Trust the Cat by Kristen Tracy is a middle grade novel recommended for Grades 3-7.

It’s about an 11-year old girl who is bullied and overlooked at school. She makes a wish to be “happy” and finds herself body-swapped, Freaky Friday-style, with her cat Muffin Man. The super-cool cat goes to her middle school as her, and she stays home as the cat. It looks like a lot of fun, and I definitely plan to review it.

My downloadable Google presentations of new book releases will start back up with next week’s Spotlight – stay tuned!

This week’s Spotlight titles are #3440-#3451 on The Ginormous book list.

Rana Joon and the One and Only Now by Shideh Etaat

Debut author! Perfect Iranian girls are straight A students, always polite, and grow up to marry respectable Iranian boys. But it’s the San Fernando Valley in 1996, and Rana Joon is far from perfect–she smokes weed and loves Tupac, and she has a secret: she likes girls.

As if that weren’t enough, her best friend, Louie–the one who knew her secret and encouraged her to live in the moment–died almost a year ago, and she’s still having trouble processing her grief. To honor him, Rana enters the rap battle he dreamed of competing in, even though she’s terrified of public speaking.

But the clock is ticking. With the battle getting closer every day, she can’t decide whether to use one of Louie’s pieces or her own poetry, her family is coming apart, and she might even be falling in love. To get herself to the stage and fulfill her promise before her senior year ends, Rana will have to learn to speak her truth and live in the one and only now.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: 1996; San Fernando Valley, California, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: grief, death of best friend, rap battles, poetry, stage fright, family problems, LGBT+, Tupac Shakur, strict parents
  • Protagonist description: female, HS senior, Iranian American, queer

Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington

Debut author! You must work twice as hard to get half as much.

Adina Walker has known this the entire time she’s been on scholarship at the prestigious Edgewater Academy–a school for the rich (and mostly white) upper class of New England. It’s why she works so hard to be perfect and above reproach, no matter what she must force beneath the surface. Even one slip can cost you everything.

And it does. One fight, one moment of lost control, leaves Adina blacklisted from her top choice Ivy League college and any other. Her only chance to regain the future she’s sacrificed everything for is the Finish, a high-stakes contest sponsored by Edgewater’s founding family in which twelve young, ambitious women with exceptional promise are selected to compete in three mysterious events: the Ride, the Raid, and the Royale. The winner will be granted entry into the fold of the Remington family, whose wealth and power can open any door.

But when she arrives at the Finish, Adina quickly gets the feeling that something isn’t quite right with both the Remingtons and her competition, and soon it becomes clear that this larger-than-life prize can only come at an even greater cost. Because the Finish’s stakes aren’t just make or break…they’re life and death.

Adina knows the deck is stacked against her–it always has been–so maybe the only way to survive their vicious games is for her to change the rules.

  • Genre(s): thriller
  • Setting: suburban Massachusetts, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: private academies, scholarship students, socioeconomic class, to-the-death competititions, schools, old money, classism, racism, survival, privilege, corruption
  • Protagonist description: female, age 18, African American, valedictorian

The Legacies by Jessica Goodman

Old money. New secrets. One killer party.

Scoring an invitation for membership to the exclusive Legacy Club in New York City is more than an honor. It gives you a lifetime of access to power and wealth beyond any prep school doors and guaranteed safety and security as Legacy Club members always look out for their own. That is, after you make it through a rigorous week of events and the extravagant gala, the Legacy Ball.

So it’s not surprising when Excelsior Prep seniors Bernie Kaplan, Isobel Rothcroft, and Skyler Hawkins are nominated as Legacies; their family pedigrees have assured their membership since birth–even if they’re all keeping secrets that could destroy their reputations. But scholarship kid from Queens Tori Tasso? She’s a surprise nominee, someone no one saw coming. Tori’s never fit in this world of designer bags, penthouse apartments, and million-dollar donations. So what did she do to secure her place?

The night of the Legacy Ball is supposed to be the best night of these seniors’ lives, a night of haute couture, endless champagne, and plenty of hushed gossip.

Everyone expects a night of luxury and excess.
No one expects their secrets to come out.
Or for someone to die trying to keep them hidden.

  • Genre(s): mystery, thriller
  • Setting: New York City, New York, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: prep schools, family money, old money, wealth, privilege, scholarship students, dances, extravagance, clubs, exclusivity, alternating viewpoints
  • Protagonist description: alternates among three teen voices

Infested: An MTV Fear Novel by Angel Luis Colón

Debut author! It’s the summer before senior year, and Manny has just moved from Texas to the Bronx in New York. So, instead of hanging with his friends and making some spending money, Manny is forced to do menial tasks in his new home, a luxury condo his stepdad is managing, while stressing about starting over.

Thankfully, he meets Sasha, who is protesting the building but turns out to be really cool. And he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mr. Mueller, the building’s exterminator. Maybe life in the Bronx won’t be so bad.

Then the nightmares begin. And Manny swears he has roaches crawling under his skin. When building contractors start to go missing, Manny and Sasha come to the terrifying realization that Mr. Mueller is not who he says he is. Or rather, he is, but he died decades ago in a fire exactly where Manny’s new building is located. A fire that Mueller set.

Now, in a race against time, Manny must rescue his family from a deranged specter determined to set the Bronx ablaze once again.

  • Genre(s): thriller, horror, supernatural
  • Setting: Bronx, New York City, New York, USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: new kid in town, ghosts, arson, demonic possession, cockroaches, racism, family problems, body horror
  • Protagonist description: male, age 17, rising HS senior, Puerto Rican

All Alone with You by Amelia Diane Coombs

Eloise Deane is the worst and doesn’t care who knows it. She’s grumpy, prefers to be alone, and is just slogging through senior year with one goal: get accepted to USC and move to California.

So when her guidance counselor drops the bombshell that to score a scholarship she’ll desperately need, her applications require volunteer hours, Eloise is up for the challenge. Until she’s paired with LifeCare, a volunteer agency that offers social support to lonely seniors through phone calls and visits. Basically, it’s a total nightmare for Eloise’s anxiety.

Eloise realizes she’s made a huge mistake–especially when she’s paired with Austin, the fellow volunteer who’s the sunshine to her cloudy day. But as Eloise and Austin work together to keep Marianne Landis–the mysterious former frontwoman of the 1970s band the Laundromats—company, something strange happens. She actually…likes Marianne and Austin? Eloise isn’t sure what to do with that, especially when her feelings toward Austin begin to blur into more-than-friends territory.

And when ex-girlfriends, long-buried wounds, and insecurities reappear, Eloise will have a choice to make: go all in with Marianne and Austin or get out before she gets hurt.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: volunteer work, community service hours, scholarships, opposites attract, relationships and dating, intergenerational friendships, gaming, anxiety, depression
  • Protagonist description: female, age 17, loner with anxiety, white; male love interest is Korean American

Your Freedom, Your Power: A Kid’s Guide to the First Amendment by Allison Matulli (Author), Clelia Castro-Malaspina (Author), and Carmelle Kendall (Illustrator)

The First Amendment grants kids and every other citizen five monster privileges: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government. If the First Amendment is everywhere in their lives, shouldn’t kids know more about it? Yes!

In Your Freedom, Your Power, middle grade readers get a focused look at their freedoms and rights through the lens of this all-powerful First Amendment.

The book engages children in learning more about their country and their rights and responsibilities. Each section will answer key questions readers may have thought about like: Do I have the right to protest at school? Can I be punished at school for something I say on social media? Why can’t I wear whatever I want? Can I text whatever I want?

While answering these questions and explaining fundamental legal concepts every kid should know, Your Freedom, Your Power shares the fascinating stories behind some of the most important legal cases and social movements that have affected kids’ lives and rights.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Setting: USA
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-12
  • Themes: legal cases, First Amendment, US Constitution, legal rights, freedoms, social studies, US history, activism, protests, freedom of speech, censorship
  • Protagonist description: photos depict diverse children and teens

Abeni’s Song by P. Djèlí Clark

On the day of the Harvest Festival, the old woman who lives in the forest appears in Abeni’s village with a terrible message:

You ignored my warnings. It’s too late to run. They are coming.

Warriors with burning blades storm the village. A man with a cursed flute plays an impossibly alluring song. And everyone Abeni has ever known and loved is captured and marched toward far-off ghost ships set for even more distant lands.

But not Abeni.

Abeni is magically whisked away by the old woman. In the forest, Abeni begins her unwanted magical apprenticeship, her journey to escape the witch, and her impossible mission to bring her people home.

Abeni’s Song is the beginning of a timeless, enchanting fantasy adventure about a reluctant apprentice, a team of spirit kids, and the village they set out to save.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, mythology
  • Setting: West Africa
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: magic, curses, ghosts, apprenticeships, community, kidnappings, spirits, worldbuilding, storytelling, West African mythology
  • Protagonist description: female, age 12, West African

Sparrow Being Sparrow by Gail Donovan (Author) and Elysia Case (Illustrator)

Sparrow Robinson loves to dance and leap around. She loves cats. She has a million questions about the world, and she’s not afraid to ask them. But she’s just moved to a new town and a new school, and her busy parents have no time for her to get “carried away.” Suddenly, she feels totally out of place.

Sparrow’s favorite thing in all this newness is her neighbor, Mrs. LaRose, who has seven cats and always has cookies and lemonade to share. But after Mrs. LaRose breaks her hip, she decides to move into assisted living–where the cats aren’t allowed! Sparrow has to help.

Determined to find new homes for the cats, Sparrow forgets about her own troubles–but her quest just might be the key to Sparrow finding a home for herself in this town, too.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Setting: Maine
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: new kid in town, moving to a new school, curiosity, joy, love of cats, finding homes for cats, pregnant mother, intergenerational friendship
  • Protagonist description: female, age 9, white

Don’t Trust the Cat by Kristen Tracy

Fifth-grader Poppy McBean likes rules and order. She’s a follower, and she’s totally okay with that. And if you judge her for that, she’s okay with that too! But after falling prey to her friends’ bullying one too many times, Poppy makes a wish to be happy–and it comes true in a very unexpected way: She wakes up in the body of her cat, Mitten Man.

Mayhem ensues as Poppy-the-girl attempts to navigate the wilds of the wilderness as a cat…and her free-thinking, groundbreaking kitty has had it with his owner’s timidity. He’s out to put the purr in perfectionist and take over middle school–as Poppy.

  • Genre(s): magical realism, humor
  • Setting: middle school
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: bullying, cats, “Freaky Friday” body swapping, wishes, shyness, middle school
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, 5th grader, white

Tee Time on the Moon: How Astronaut Alan Shepard Played Lunar Golf by David A. Kelly (Author) and Edwin Fotheringham (Illustrator)

In 1971, Alan Shepard and his fellow astronauts made their way to the Moon in the cramped Apollo 14 capsule. Their mission: Study the moon in more detail than ever before.

While the world watched on TV, Shepard and Edgar Mitchell gathered rock and soil samples wearing stiff, heavy spacesuits. But Alan Shepard had a secret hidden in his sock: two tiny golf balls. Golf was Shepard’s favorite sport. And since the moon has virtually no atmosphere and gravity that is only a fraction of the Earth’s, a golf ball should have been able to go far. But did it?

Here’s the little-known but true story of an experiment that may have started as a stunt, but ended up making people think differently about the moon, ask questions, and look for answers.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book; picture book for older readers
  • Setting: Apollo 14 moon mission; 1971
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-5
  • Themes: moon, space travel, space exploration, astronauts, golf, STEM, world history, Apollo 14, gravity
  • Protagonist description: nearly all humans shown are white males

You Can’t Be a Pterodactyl! by James Breakwell (Author) and Sophie Corrigan (Illustrator)

Tommy knows exactly what he wants to be when he grows up. But when he announces that he plans to be a pterodactyl, it turns out he’s surrounded by skeptics (because what would he eat? Where would he live? How would he make money?). What’s a kid with a big dream to do?

Well first of all, he’s not about to give up. (And he has a lot of good answers!) And fortunately, Tommy also has a wonderfully open-minded dad who helps him find a way to fulfill his goal. Kids will be cheering for Tommy on his road to pterodactyldom in this funny, engaging story, all the way to its clever resolution.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Setting: school and home
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: reaching one’s dreams, supportive parents, ridicule at school, imagination, doing the impossible
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 8, white

A River of Dust: The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon by Jilanne Hoffmann (Author) and Eugenia Mello (Illustrator)

The dust of the Sahel–a ribbon of land between the Sahara and the savannah–lifts with the harmattan wind each winter season. But this is not just any dust. The Sahel’s dust will mix with dust from the Sahara and travel thousands of miles westward, across the African continent and the Atlantic Ocean, to reunite with its unforgotten home deep in the Amazon basin.

Told from the perspective of dust, A River of Dust takes readers on a journey through vibrantly illustrated landscapes, celebrating the power and wonder of Earth’s ecosystems, and showing how these tiny particles are key to the health of our planet. It is a lyrical ode to global connection and to the vital roles that even the smallest among us can play.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Setting: Sahara Desert (North Africa) and Amazon Rainforest (South America)
  • Recommended for: K-Grade 3
  • Themes: deserts, Sahara Desert, climate, winds, South America, Africa, Amazon Rainforest, unique narrators, ecosystems, biomes, Earth’s systems, Pangaea, nature
  • Protagonist description: dust is the narrator






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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