Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 17, 2019

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Reading for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. The date was chosen to "commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869." The Month started in 1978 as a week-long observance and was expanded to a month in 1990. Here are a few of the truly top-notch books published by Asian/Pacific Americans in 2019.

In Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, 14-up) two teens join their youth group's trip to Kolkata. Mitali Perkins expertly explores personal identity, faith, trauma and ethnocentrism, cleverly using a dual narrative to depict both points of view.

Gondra's Treasure by Linda Sue Park, illus. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Clarion, $17.99), is a picture book for readers ages 4-8 that features a young dragon whose "mom's family comes from the West" and "dad's family is from the East."; Gondra "was born somewhere in the middle." Young Gondra playfully explores the benefits of inheriting two very different cultural backgrounds.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (Wednesday Books/Macmillan, $18.99, 12-up) features a band of teens on the fringes of society working together to pull off Mission Impossible-level stunts to regain pieces of an inheritance. Chokshi's third-person narrative slips easily between the teens' perspectives, granting the reader inside views of their loving, tangled lives.

In Yoon Ha Lee's middle-grade novel, Dragon Pearl (Rick Riordon Presents/Disney-Hyperion, $16.99), 13-year-old Min, who is a fox spirit ("gumiho") masquerading as a human, has a dismal life. Her family receives word that her brother has been accused of deserting the army to search for the Dragon Pearl, "a mystical orb with the ability to... transform"--or destroy--"an entire planet in a day." Min won't allow her brother's reputation to be ruined; she runs away to find Jun and clear his name.

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness


The Writer's Life

Helen Hoang: Writing from the Heart

photo: Eric Kieu

Helen Hoang's debut novel, The Kiss Quotient, became a breakout hit and has been acquired by Pilgrim Media Group for a movie adaptation. The Kiss Quotient features a brilliant female lead with autism--which Hoang also has--and a half-Vietnamese man as her love interest. Her follow-up, The Bride Test (reviewed below), is about a young Vietnamese woman who's brought to the U.S. by a Vietnamese American mother to be a potential bride for her son, who has autism. In her author's note, Hoang mentions that her heroine is inspired by Hoang's mother, a former refugee and successful businesswoman, who died recently. Hoang lives in San Diego, Calif., with her husband and two children.

Did your mother read The Bride Test? How would she feel about Co Nga arranging a mail-order bride for her son?

No, my mom never read the book. But my aunt tried to arrange a wife for my cousin in much the same manner [as in the book], and my mom was aware of that. She didn't seem to think the idea was that outrageous, though she was never very meddling with my siblings and me.

Why does Co Nga choose a woman from Vietnam, instead of from the local Vietnamese American community?

When my aunt tried to arrange a marriage for my cousin, she spoke to women in Vietnam because the Vietnamese American women she knew were either uninterested in her son or not up to her standards in terms of Vietnamese traditions and values.

What were some of those standards? And what was the result of her matchmaking attempt?

My aunt was unsuccessful. Her son refused to meet any of the girls she liked from Vietnam and eventually married a Filipino American woman. I believe my aunt wanted him to marry a woman who spoke Vietnamese and would be a homemaker, practice Buddhism, give her grandbabies and take care of her in her old age.

Your author's note says you interviewed your mother for this book, about her experiences growing up poor and as a refugee. What was the biggest revelation for you during these discussions?

Growing up, I often thought my mom worked not only by necessity, but by preference. In other words, she was a workaholic, and sometimes I was resentful of this when I was a kid. Through these conversations with my mom, I came to understand why she was compelled to work so much and I could better empathize with her. Not only was she providing for her family and achieving financial security, but she was earning her own sense of worth. That was a heartbreaking realization for me--that her sense of self-worth was dependent on how much money she made.

How has writing about people with autism helped you in your daily life?

Writing these books has helped me process and understand my own autism so I can better communicate my needs with the people in my life and advocate for myself. For example, as I wrote The Bride Test, I finally understood why I bring books to wedding receptions. These events are truly overwhelming to me and because I'm physically trapped there, I read in an attempt to escape into myself. Now, instead of bringing a book to a wedding, I can leave early and it's okay. People don't get angry.

Your voice, and those of your protagonists, are specific and distinctive. What have readers told you they've learned the most from your characters and stories?

From what I've heard, it is eye-opening to read from the perspective of an autistic and/or Asian/Asian American character.

Regarding the autistic perspective, readers have appreciated learning about the specific challenges facing autistic people, but they've also remarked that they were happy to see that people of different neurotypes still have the same basic emotional needs and insecurities as most everyone else.

Khai's brother, Quan, has made memorable appearances in The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, and steps onto center stage in your next book. Anything juicy you can tell us about it?

I've been conceptualizing Quan's book as a gender-swapped Sabrina, where instead of the chauffeur's daughter and the two rich brothers, we have the chef's son and the two rich sisters.

You write about people who rarely get to be the center of Westernized stories. The couple in The Kiss Quotient include a half-Vietnamese man (who's hot, not nerdy!), while both leads in The Bride Test are of Vietnamese descent, though one is half Vietnamese. Any plans for a story with both leads being 100% Vietnamese?

For Quan's book, his love interest is Chinese American, and my next contracted books after this feature Michael's sisters from The Kiss Quotient, who are all half Vietnamese. I don't have specific plans to write a story with both leads being 100% Vietnamese, but I'm certainly not ruling it out. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Book Candy

Turning Kids into Bookworms

"How do you turn kids into bookworms?" Ten U.K. children's laureates shared their tips with the Guardian.


Mental Floss found "10 characters left out of the movie adaptations of popular books."


"Which writers have won the most major prizes?" Lit Hub offered a "ranking by the most absurd metric."


National Geographic explored a "lost" book of "exquisite scientific drawings rediscovered after 190 years."


Using a retired Chinese bike-share bicycle, LUO Studio "designed a mobile library in the shape of a winged beetle," Colossal reported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Longest Day

This coming June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when U.S., British and Canadian forces landed in Nazi-occupied France. In the run-up to this milestone, Shelf Awareness will periodically highlight some of the best books about D-Day.

Irish writer Cornelius Ryan became a war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph in 1941. He flew on 14 bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces before transferring to General George Patton's Third Army for the remainder of the war. After working for several American magazines, Ryan toured Normandy in 1949, where he became interested in writing a comprehensive history of Operation Overlord. He conducted more than 3,000 interviews in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany. In 1959, Ryan published The Longest Day, which has since sold tens of millions of copies. Ryan helped adapt his book into a 1962 film with an enormous ensemble cast including John Wayne, Sean Connery and Henry Fonda. On May 7, Library of America published Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far ($45, 9781598536119), which includes Ryan's history of the disastrous Operation Market Garden paratrooper attack on Nazi-occupied Holland in September 1944. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review



by Max Porter

Following his first novel, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter again takes his reader into a weird and magical world with Lanny. Similarly short, lyric and mysterious, this touching story is partner but not sequel.

Lanny's mum and dad have moved to a village not far from London, "fewer than fifty redbrick cottages, a pub, a church." Lanny's dad commutes into the city while his mum works on writing her murder thriller. Lanny goes to school and plays in the woods, singing, fairy-like and joyful; he is "young and ancient all at once, a mirror and a key." There is also an old man in the village named Pete, an artist who works with natural materials and was once famous in London. He describes himself as a "miserable solitary bastard" but is actually caring and sensitive; he becomes the closest friend Lanny's family has in town.

And then there is Dead Papa Toothwort, a legend and an enigma, tied up in trees and leaves and related to the green men carved in old churches in this part of the world. As a force, it is unclear whether Dead Papa Toothwort is good or evil; he is associated with death as well as seasonal renewal. And he is obsessed with Lanny.

The whole village, in a way, revolves around Lanny--especially after misfortune strikes. Often a stream-of-consciousness style leaves the reader a bit off-kilter, but this is suited to Lanny's dreamlike setting: trust in the story will be rewarded, and Porter's prose is undeniably gorgeous. These elements in combination are every bit as imaginative, compelling and magical as Lanny himself. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This novel about family, the power of the woods and the creative spirit, centered on a special young boy, will charm any reader.

Graywolf Press, $24, hardcover, 160p., 9781555978402

The Den

by Abi Maxwell

Abi Maxwell's (Lake People) second novel, The Den, features cleverly interwoven stories about two pairs of sisters on the same land 150 years apart.

In modern-day New England, sisters Henrietta and Jane, ages 15 and 12, live in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town. Jane is distressed when Henrietta starts to distance herself from her family after meeting a boy from town, and she follows the young couple, hoping to get close to her sister again. One night, Henrietta disappears without a trace, leaving her parents and Jane distraught and stunned.

On the same property, 150 years earlier, Elspeth Ross lives in a small cabin in the woods with her husband, who works at the local mill, and their three sons. She hated to leave her beloved younger sister, Claire, and her parents behind in Scotland, but Elspeth was forced to move with her new husband to hide her pre-wedding pregnancy. After a series of violent incidents involving the mill owner, Elspeth and her family leave town without a trace.

These two stories are intricately connected, not only by the locations and similarities but also by a fantastical story about the Rosses' disappearance in a local book that Henrietta and Jane's father read to them over and over. In both cases, the older sisters vanish under mysterious circumstances, while their younger sisters pine for them. This intriguing story of two families separated by time also explores desire, shame and secrets. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

Discover: In this intricate story of shame and longing, two families on the same land, separated by 150 years, are devastated when the oldest sisters disappear.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 288p., 9780525655282


The Bride Test

by Helen Hoang

Khai Diep is certain he has a stone heart, one that can't feel love or sadness. During his cousin Andy's funeral, Khai remains dry-eyed. It doesn't bother him too much, though. Isn't it a good thing grief can't touch him? Who wants to wail like his aunties? Besides, he likes being alone with his routines, not dealing with messy emotions.

But his mother has other ideas. She knows Khai processes emotions and social cues differently because he has autism. She goes to Vietnam to choose him a bride and meets My, a feisty young single mother who cleans hotel bathrooms. Khai's mother gives My a startling offer: she'll pay for My to spend the summer with Khai in California and get him to marry her. Other than the possibility of a better life for her and her young daughter, My has another reason for accepting the offer: she wants to find her American father, whom she's never known.

My renames herself Esmeralda, and her plan to win over Khai leads to unexpected discoveries about herself and what she wants from life.

Helen Hoang's The Bride Test is even more affecting than her breakout hit, The Kiss Quotient. With heart and humor, she humanizes people who are routinely marginalized, and Esme especially is someone to root for--a woman born into poverty who knows her value even when the world looks down on her. By the time Hoang says in the author's note that Esme is based on the author's own mother, a war refugee who became a successful businesswoman, readers might find their eyes aren't dry at all. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Over one summer, a mixed-race woman from Vietnam stands in front of a Vietnamese American man with autism, just asking him to love her.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 320p., 9780451490827

The Charmer in Chaps

by Julia London

Ella Kendall returns to her hometown of Three Rivers, Tex., a little better off than she started. After being raised in the foster care system, she's been taking and cherishing what she can get: her old, beat-up car, the rundown house she inherited and the memory of a stolen kiss from Luca Prince in high school. The Princes are a dynasty in Cimarron County--rich, famous and a staple of the community. Ella has no idea why Luca kissed her that night, or why he's decided to notice her when she moves back home.

Julia London (the Highland Grooms series) could have easily put Luca in the billionaire bad boy role, but instead creates a well-developed character. Luca has had a comfortable upbringing and wants for nothing. However, his family willfully ignored his dyslexia while he was growing up, leaving him functionally illiterate as an adult. His drive to become a conservationist and revert his family land to wildlife spurs him to learn how to read as an adult. Luca's soft heart for animals and desire to become more than just his money make Ella to fall for him. The majority of the book is fun and lighthearted, but the last quarter takes a darker turn as Ella deals with her toxic relationship with Stacy, a friend from the foster system. However, London steers the story back to the hopeful and delivers a satisfying happily-ever-after. --Amy Dittmeier, adult services librarian, Brookfield Public Library, Ill.

Discover: This new contemporary western series promises lots of laughs and cute animal friends while following the Prince family's path to love.

Jove/Berkley, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 368p., 9780451492357

Biography & Memoir

Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of Her Century

by Lorene Cary

Lorene Cary (If Sons, Then Heirs) shares a heartfelt, multifaceted story of caring for her "Nana Jackson," her paternal grandmother, during the end of her life. Nana, who lived to be 101 years old, was complex. An African American who could "pass for white," Nana was strong, independent, affluent and elegant. She drove fancy cars, went to museums and concerts, doted on Cary and generously established a scholarship fund for black students. Nana could also be tough; she demeaned her husband and was a no-nonsense landlord.

Nana's life was not easy. She was raised with four siblings by their widowed father and lived through many health crises and a serious car accident late in life. Nana and Cary's father, whose bond once "seemed inseparable," also stopped speaking to each other for many years.

Approaching her 100th birthday, Nana--a widow struggling to live on her own in a now-unmanageable house in suburban New Jersey--began to suffer from degenerative heart disease. When she could no longer care for herself, Cary and her second husband, a minister, arranged to take Nana in at their rectory in Philadelphia. This arrangement revealed an ornery and demanding grandmother who tested Cary's patience and love amid Nana's complicated end-of-life care.

The last year and a half of Nana's life becomes fertile literary ground for Cary to mine her memories and her family's history in order to pull Nana's remarkable life--and her own--sharply into focus. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: This reflective memoir steeped in love and forgiveness explores a devoted granddaughter's perceptions about her grandmother.

Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 256p., 9780393635881

At Home with Muhammad Ali: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Forgiveness

by Hana Ali

There may be no more recognizable person than three-time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali, "The People's Champion." Ali's persona is highlighted by his feats in the ring, quick wit, religious conversion and stance against the Vietnam War. Many books have been written about Ali, including three by his second-youngest daughter, Hana (Ali on Ali). In At Home with Muhammad Ali, Hana Ali changes focus and shares an intimate look at Ali's private moments with his family and what it was like to be the child of The Greatest.

A sentimental softy, Muhammad Ali recorded the goings-on in Hana's childhood home, the tapes part of the legacy he left for his children. Shared at length, transcripts include him "messin' " with his kids, prank calling friends and participating in various political causes, including trying to resolve the Iranian hostage crisis. A practicing Muslim, Muhammad Ali believed that by helping one person he was helping hundreds, and he was known to invite strangers from the street to the house.

A loving family man and father, Ali doted on his kids, making sure all seven of them (from multiple wives and mothers) grew up knowing each other. Hana is open about her father's professional pressures and romantic complications, but also his true love with her mother, Veronica, and the later-discovered letters that shed light on their sad parting. A beautiful, in-depth look at a complex and beloved man, Hana Ali's memoir is also a personal journey of forgiveness and the incredible bond between father and daughter. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Hana Ali shares transcripts of recordings, love letters and various other childhood mementos that project an intimate light on her childhood with one of the most famous men in the world.

Amistad, $25.99, hardcover, 480p., 9780062917393


Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins

by Annie Jacobsen

The president of the United States has three options when dealing with threats to American interests abroad: diplomacy, war or covert action. Tertia Optio, meaning third option, is the motto of the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division (SAD). For more than half a century, this branch of the CIA has conducted assassinations, paramilitary missions and other clandestine operations around the world.

Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins by Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen (Area 51; The Pentagon's Brain; Operation Paperclip) chronicles SAD's long and often troubling history. She begins with the World War II-era predecessor of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services, and its missions behind enemy lines, which laid a groundwork for the CIA's SAD (another part of their legacy was training Ho Chi Minh how to fight the occupying Japanese army). During the Korean War, many similar airborne insertions ended in failure, in part due to betrayals by supposed indigenous allies (which again became a problem in Afghanistan). Jacobsen devotes much of Surprise, Kill, Vanish to the career of Billy Waugh, a Vietnam Green Beret who later worked for SAD in Libya and Sudan (where he spied on Osama Bin Laden and facilitated the capture of Carlos the Jackal), and, at age 71, in Afghanistan.

Surprise, Kill, Vanish is a compulsively readable history of violence perpetrated in the name of American interests. Jacobsen's 40-plus insider interviews present both a thrilling and disturbing account of SAD missions over the decades. The result is a surprisingly nuanced take on what seems, at first glance, to be unmitigated evil. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A Pulitzer Prize finalist offers an enlightening look at the darkest reaches of the CIA.

Little, Brown, $30, hardcover, 560p., 9780316441438

Psychology & Self-Help

Millenneagram: The Enneagram Guide for Discovering Your Truest, Baddest Self

by Hannah Paasch

Hannah Paasch, a blogger and Twitter influencer credited with starting the #churchtoo movement and #millenneagram, has turned her snark to good use in Millenneagram: The Enneagram Guide for Discovering Your Truest, Baddest Self, a funny and profane update to the ancient personality typing system of the Enneagram.

Paasch, who calls herself an Ex-vangelical, has updated the Enneagram for the millennial crowd, replacing its spiritual overtones with her brash, insightful look at life today. Millenneagram, "a revamped spin on the Enneagram that helps us be our truest, enough-as-is, bad-ass selves," is sure to make readers laugh and also cringe a little as they recognize themselves in the nine personality types of the Millenneagram. From One ("The Machine") to Four ("The Tortured Artist") to Nine ("The Wallflower"), Paasch offers penetrating glimpses into how personality shapes us and how best to live a mentally healthy life.

Each chapter offers warning signs on disintegration (what direction each type heads when not at their healthiest) and helpful tips for improving integration (moving in a mentally healthy direction). Paasch also breaks down each of the nine types into their three instinctual subtypes: the self-preserving, the social and the sexual. For readers who haven't yet jumped on the Enneagram bandwagon, Paasch offers tools and tips for helping to determine your type. A quirky combination of Unfu*k Yourself and The Road Back to You, Millenneagram is quick and refreshingly honest. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this irreverent update to the Enneagram personality typing system, readers are sure to recognize themselves in one of nine types.

HarperOne, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780062872395


The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance

by Adharanand Finn

Ultra running (running a race of any distance greater than a marathon) has boomed in recent years. Experts estimate a 1,000% increase in the number of ultra races held around the world each year and, according to ULTRA magazine, the number of ultra finishers in the U.K. jumped from 595 in 2000 to 18,611 in 2017. But why, wondered self-identified "runner-geek" Adharanand Finn (Running with the Kenyans), would anyone want to run that far, that hard and for that long? That's what he sets out to answer in The Rise of the Ultra Runners. He uses his own experience training for--and running--one of the world's toughest ultramarathons to try to understand why this "admirable... courageous... mad and insane" sport has seen such a rise in popularity.

Documenting 18 months of training and 10 ultramarathon finishes, Finn leaves no stone unturned in his journey to understand ultra running. He registers for races of increasing distances (from a 50k to a 100-miler) across varied terrain (the desert, a track loop in London, the mountains of France) and speaks to as many elite participants as he can along the way. While The Rise of Ultra Runners will be most appealing for those who have dabbled in, or been intrigued by, the sport, any reader who has wondered about his or her own limits will revel in Finn's stories of the grit and determination it takes to finish one of these races. After all, as ultra runner Elisabet Barnes told Finn, "It's always interesting to push your boundaries. If you always succeed you don't know where your limits are." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A marathoner and author sets out to understand the increasing popularity of ultra running by training for and running one of the world's toughest ultra races.

Pegasus Books, $27.95, hardcover, 272p., 9781643131351

Parenting & Family

How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results

by Esther Wojcicki

In How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, Esther Wojcicki offers a direct rebuttal to the prevalent style of intense, overprotective parenting. Reflecting on her own journey as a mother, Wojcicki presents an altogether calmer and more wholesome prescription for effective childrearing.

A teacher for more than 35 years, Wojcicki raised three bright, productive daughters and mentored countless teenagers through her journalism program at Palo Alto High School in California. Forget the pressure-cooker parenting techniques of tiger mothers, she advises. Instead, focus on cultivating self-confidence and independence in children and teenagers. It begins with instilling trust and letting them take risks and make mistakes. Respect for each child's autonomy is essential.

Respectful parenting is supportive but also demanding, because it's important to hold one's child to standards that help them grow and learn. Wojcicki encourages parents to nurture a culture of kindness so that children and teenagers can experience the personal rewards of helping others through selfless acts. Collaboration between parent and child, where each family member contributes to discussions, is also an integral part of Wojcicki's parenting approach.

But it's not just about the children. Parents are urged to reflect on their own childhoods and work through unresolved traumas and challenges to avoid inflicting those same wounds on the next generation. Wojcicki, now a grandmother of nine, cautions against the myth of the perfect parent and wholeheartedly embraces the mistakes she made as a mother. Her best piece of advice? Let go of your parenting fears by forgiving yourself for past errors in judgment and trust in your ability to do right by your children. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: A mom, journalist and teacher imparts straightforward, time-tested parenting techniques to combat the modern affliction of anxious, competitive childrearing.

Houghton Mifflin, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781328974860

Children's & Young Adult

Lion and Mouse

by Jairo Buitrago, trans. by Eliza Amado, illus. by Rafael Yockteng

Jairo Buitrago's (Walk with Me) retelling of the classic fable "The Lion and the Mouse" is likely to have early readers giggling with glee. Buitrago injects a playful air into this story about an improbable friendship between a mouse and the lion who resists eating him, describing the mouse as "a busybody" who the lion thinks is "too small and ugly" to have a girlfriend. The mouse, venturing "uninvited" into the lion's house to steal some food, is "well mannered" and makes sure to wipe "his feet on the lion's mane." The lion--amazingly--does not eat the mouse, and the scene is set for a humorous romp through the forest. Buitrago's jovial, joking text entertains young readers while also making subtle, witty jabs at modern society that may amuse older readers (the lion doesn't recognize the mouse "because all mice looked alike to him").

Adding to Buitrago's wonderful waggishness is Rafael Yockteng's delightful mixed-media illustrations. The colors, textures and shading enhance the natural feeling of the setting--flowing water, gnarly trees--while matching the stylized depictions of the animals. Plus, the rich images of their friendship in the latter half of the book are whimsical and uplifting. What youngster can resist a mouse dressed up as a lion to scare away a bug?

The entertaining text and superb illustrations combine to spark new life in this old tale of kindness, compassion and friendship. No matter the age, we can all stand to be reminded of what the lion learned, "You know, seeing you so close up, friend mouse, you aren't... at all ugly." --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The timeless fable of an unlikely friendship between lion and mouse gets a modern makeover in this charming picture book.

Groundwood Books, $18.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781773062242

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

by Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell

Laura Dean has broken up with Freddy Riley three times. This time, Freddy walked in on Laura kissing another girl at a dance. Her friends Eric, Buddy and Doodle comfort Freddy outside the school, where she decides to chug a bottle of liquor (" 'Where did you get Schnapps?' 'Oh my God. I can smell it from here.' "). Couple Eric and Buddy head home, leaving Doodle to take care of the very drunk Freddy. Life proceeds miserably for a bit until Laura shows up at Freddy's doorstep and the two begin dating again.

Freddy can tell that her "nonprofessional advice-giving friends are struggling to muster sympathy for [her] increasingly ridiculous situation," so she writes a series of e-mails to an advice columnist. The e-mails work as the graphic novel's exposition while also giving readers an idea of how Freddy perceives the world. Completely involved with Laura, Freddy realizes she's being a bad friend, but can't seem to break out of the cycle. Doodle is in desperate need of a friend--will Freddy come through for her?

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me is almost too real. Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell get the ache, desire and humiliation of being in a relationship that has moved past love into compulsion. Tamaki's Berkeley, Calif., teens are witty and bright, cracking jokes and holding serious discussions about the age of consent. Valero-O'Connell's pencil, ink and digital illustrations depict the rawness of the teen's emotions, every feeling showing in their faces and postures. Each character is infused with personality: Doodle's quiet shrinking into herself; Laura's sexy self-confidence; Freddy's low self-esteem and indecision. Laura Dean isn't a light read, but it's certainly a true one. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me is a young adult graphic novel featuring a heartbroken teen who won't stop getting back together with her ex.

First Second/Macmillan, $24.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9781250312846

When Aidan Became a Brother

by Kyle Lukoff, illus. by Kaylani Juanita

"When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl." But his name, his room, his clothes just didn't fit. Aidan realized "he was really another kind of boy": Aidan is transgender. With the help of other families with transgender children, Aidan's family figured things out. Now his parents have announced they are having another child, making Aidan a soon-to-be big brother. As the baby's arrival approaches, he expresses his fears: "I don't want them to feel like I did when I was little, but what if I get everything wrong? What if I don't know how to be a good big brother?" Thoughtfully, his mother explains, "We didn't know you were going to be our son. We made some mistakes, but you helped us fix them." Most fundamentally, "you taught us how important it is to love someone for exactly who they are."

Like Aidan, when author Kyle Lukoff (A Storytelling of Ravens) was born, everyone thought he was a girl; he reveals in his author's note that parts of his own story are "very much like Aidan's." Kaylani Juanita clearly enjoys challenging gender expectations with her digital illustrations. As Aidan explores "different ways of being a boy," Juanita shows him posing in a superhero cape (with cutouts from his discarded dresses) and wearing pink shoes with bows. His wardrobe couldn't be more gender-defyingly fabulous, comprised of a mishmash of stripes, zig-zags, checks and animal prints. Together, Lukoff and Juanita create "a world that supports and believes in [Aidan]," modeling a community that embraces "all different kinds of kids." With insight and empathy, both author and artist encourage and enable young readers to help "create that world." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: When Aidan, a transgender boy, learns he's going to be a big brother, he helps his parents prepare for the newest addition to their family in the most welcoming ways.

Lee & Low Books, $18.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9781620148372

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