Coles, J. (2018). Tyler Johnson Was Here. NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Jay Coles writes from the heart, he writes well (every sentence is handsomely and seductively infused with Black culture), and he has produced 2018’s fast-paced picture of American police brutality, of the systematic corruption rampant in its justice system, and of how racism impacts and traps people.
What a compelling cover!
Trevor Johnson is shot by a white policeman simply for the colour of his skin – all of this caught on videotape – leaving a grieving mother and twin brother, who together make their way through each day even though their grief is overwhelmingly painful and raw. Continue reading
Malinda L. (2017). A Line in the Dark. NY: Dutton Books for Young Readers.
A fun, contemporary mystery, this one is a psychological thriller. You may not be sure where this mystery is leading, and you may be quite surprised at the ending! A Line in the Dark has a love triangle between three young women. Jess, the main character, is crazy in love with her best friend, Angie. The admiration seems a bit one sided to start with, and then Angie begins a relationship with Margot.
Margot attends prep school where she and her friend, Ryan, usher them into their private school world and the secrets that hide there. It’s revealed that Angie and Ryan have a secret of their own that may turn the entire mystery.
Perkins, S. (2017). There’s Someone in Your House. NY: Dutton Books for Young Readers.
Stephanie Perkins takes a departure from her sweet teen romances (Anna and the French Kiss, Isla and the Happily Ever After) to delve into the world of teen slashers. There’s Someone in Your House is as spooky as it sounds. When Makani Young leaves behind her dark past in Hawaii to come live with her grandmother in Nebraska for the final year of high school, she tries to stop hating herself and make a new start. Her friends, Darby, Alex, and Ollie are diverse and each have a perspective to contribute to the plot.
I needed to suspend my disbelief throughout the book in order to derive the most pleasure possible and just enjoy it for what it is. The killer is actually revealed halfway through the book – the biggest bummer to me – and it wasn’t even a huge reveal or shock. Also, their motive felt like something an adult would feel after years of reflection. But again, no big deal if you’re willing to go with it. It’s mostly a love story after all.
The creepy crawly things that happened were fun, and even though I wouldn’t give this book particularly high marks, I would still recommend it if the title peaks your interest and you need to fall into a tumultuous teen drama.
Slater, CD. (2017). The 57 Bus. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The 57 Bus reads along like a fictional story. You meet characters, learn about their lives, and begin to root for these teens because they’re all good kids. But one wrong, spur of the moment decision, and now this story has become tragedy of sorts. The setting is Oakland, California, where there is a huge disparity of wealth, but it’s also one of the more progressively-minded cities in the States. As the city bus criss-crossed different pockets of Oakland, two teen-agers overlapped paths on their ride home from school everyday for a short eight minutes. Robert and his buddies are black and are from a crime-ridden neighbourhood; Sasha is white, attends a private school, and identifies as agender – neither male nor female. Fooling around, the teens egg on Robert to light the edge of Sasha’s skirt on fire as he sleeps. The material catches on the fourth try. Robert and his friends jump off the bus and turn around to the see the doors closing and Sacha’s skirt erupting in a ball of flames. They ended up with second and third degree burns.
The 57 Bus is a true story. The author elaborates on her 2015 New York Times Magazine article, compiling a book full of interviews, social media posts, Continue reading
Gratz, A. (2017). Refugee. NY: Scholastic Press.
Following three children from different places and different time periods in history, Refugee is a gripping and suspenseful story that takes the brave spirit of these seemingly unrelated children and swirls them around in the ocean as they all flee their homelands by boat, then follows them as they struggle to survive, fight to belong, and grapple with issues such as invisibility.
Everything is connected. Josef is escaping a budding Nazi Germany, Isabel flees Castro’s Cuba in the 1990’s, and Mahmoud is running from Syria in present day, yet their journeys tie together in the end. An incredibly timely middle school read, may readers question if we have learned from history or if today’s refugees be treated in the same appalling manner.
Historically accurate, thrilling, and heartbreaking, Refugee will bring you another perspective.
Hennessey, M.G. (2016). The Other Boy. NY: Harper Collins.
Los Angeles has been good to Shane Woods, a twelve year old who likes baseball, comics, and who has lived as a boy since moving there years ago. Everything is going swell. He and his best friend, Josh, even have a spot on the baseball team. But it all comes crashing down when a bully discovers Shane’s secret, one he has not even revealed to Josh yet (he always planned to!) because well, it never seemed to be the right time.
The Other Boy highlights emotional pressures some transgender kids endure in elementary Continue reading
Thomas, A. (2017). The Hate U Give. New York: HarperCollins Publisher.
Inspired by the movement #BlackLivesMatter, The Hate U Give is an incredibly relevant and heartbreaking account of a sixteen year old girl who witnesses the killing of her childhood best friend at the hands of the police. Everyday Starr leaves her own neighbourhood where her family owns the corner store, to attend private school in an affluent neighbourhood. Up until this point, Starr had done fairly good job of keeping her two worlds separate –dating someone at school who is white, while still being very much a part of her own community, until now. Even though Khalid was unarmed and innocent at the time of his murder, the press makes him out to be a thug.
The Hate U Give (or THUG) will inevitably spark discussion on race. It reminded me a lot of All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely because both books deal with witnessing a police killing of an innocent young black man and grappling with the decision to come forward as a witness, or not speaking up out of fear. Continue reading
Prendergast, G. (2016). Pandas on the Eastside. Victoria: Orca Book Publishers.
A little book with a fun design on the cover caught my eye, and it was so easy to delve in and imagine East Vancouver during 1972, I had finished the story of Journey Song before I knew it. Part historical fiction, part alternate reality, it’s the story of a wilful and cheeky girl, Journey, and a wide cast of characters who live in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside when two giant pandas were gifted to the American people from the Chinese government. In reality, the transportation of the pandas went smoothly and didn’t stop in Canada, but Prendergast imagines a world where the United States and China have a spat and the pandas are delayed indefinitely in a warehouse in Vancouver; a stop in the trip that never actually happened.
Journey becomes concerned about the pandas’ living conditions in the warehouse Continue reading
Gardner, W. (2017). You’re Welcome, Universe. New York: Knopf.
You’re Welcome, Universe is Whitney Gardner’s debut novel that smoothly weaves layer upon layer of diversity, beginning with Julia, a teenager who is Indian American and Deaf. She has two moms (who are also Deaf) but the story doesn’t pause for very long on this LBGQT+ detail; it simply is the way it is. Deaf culture, however, is a world that gets explored. And the inclusion of art is inter-dispersed throughout the pages of the book with drawings done by the author.
Julia’s character is real and raw and flawed. Often she is frustrated by people’s cluelessness regarding deafness, and she can be very abrupt about it. When we first meet her, she is in the principal’s office for spraying graffiti on school property. Nevermind she was covering up slurs about her friend, she still gets expelled.
Graffiti is another underrepresented world that is allowed a front row in this novel, and its validity is exposed. Julia’s passion for her art takes her around the city at night when she draws and then “tags” – not her name since graffiti is illegal – but a special signature that is hers alone. Little does Julia expect someone else to draw over her drawings, making them even better! An all-out graffiti war unfolds as we all wonder who is behind it.
Willow Wilson, G. (2014). Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal. NY: Marvel Comics.
Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story (2015)
If you’ve already seen and fallen for Wonder Woman in the theatres, what’s next?! Graphic novel, Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal, presents Pakistani Muslim girl, Kamala Khan, living in Jersey City, New Jersey. Kamala quickly becomes a very relatable character with her typical teenage angst, strict parents, and religion that sets he apart from her friends. Even though she has always idolized Captain Marvel, she still struggles to learn how to control her own shape shifting powers. Life has become even more confusing now.
Great design and an empowering, fun adventure.