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Week of Tuesday, November 21, 2023

This year has delivered some incredible reading material for children and teens. Our 2023 Best Children's and YA Books encompass titles of varying genres across age ranges--including read-alouds, early chapter books, poetic middle-grade, and introspective nonfiction for young adults. Beautifully illustrated picture books feature tasty spreads of bread, dancing literary figures, and trouble-making kittens. Middle-grade readers will find touching memoirs filled with art, hilarious and courageous fiction, and meticulously researched histories. And our young adult picks highlight horror--both fiction and non--as well as adorable first-like stories. Click through to read our reviews of the top kids' picks for 2023. (Shelf Awareness's Best Adult Books will be announced December 1.)

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

Young Readers
The Only Way to Make Bread by Cristina Quintero, illus. by Sarah Gonzales (Tundra Books)
There Was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds, illus. by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (Caitlin Dlouhy/Atheneum)
10 Cats by Emily Gravett (Boxer Books/Union Square & Co.)
Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman, illus. by Christian Robinson (Viking Books for Young Readers)
A Walk in the Woods by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (Neal Porter Books)
The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)

Middle Grade
Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow (Disney Hyperion)
Kin: Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
102 Days of Lying About Lauren by Maura Jortner (Holiday House)
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat (First Second)
Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself by Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge (Zest Books/Lerner)
When Clouds Touch Us by Thanhhà Lai (HarperCollins)
The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels by Beth Lincoln, illus. by Claire Powell (Dutton Books for Young Readers)

Young Adult
Before the Devil Knows You're Here by Autumn Krause (Peachtree Teen)
Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed by Dashka Slater (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham (First Second)
Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray)
Stars in their Eyes: A Graphic Novel by Jessica Walton and Aśka (Graphix/Scholastic)
The Spirit Bares Its Teeth by Andrew Joseph White (Peachtree Teen)

Best Children's & YA of 2023

Children's & Young Adult

The Only Way to Make Bread

by Cristina Quintero, illus. by Sarah Gonzales

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Food nourishes life and helps us preserve traditions and build community. Cristina Quintero's cozy debut, The Only Way to Make Bread, illustrated in warm, comforting tones by Sarah Gonzales (Maribel's Year), portrays children experiencing both through food culture. A large group of adults and children meet in a kitchen to bake, fry, steam, and grill a diverse range of breads for an afternoon picnic. Each type of bread is prepared by adults and children working together and involves much more than edible ingredients: specific cookware, techniques, and textures are a few of the items noted in Quintero's direct text.

Quintero, a first-generation Colombian Canadian, aimed to "highlight the everyday joy that is created within immigrant communities" in this picture book. An earthy palette in hues of green, brown, gold, and copper dominate Gonzalez's mixed-media illustrations. The grainy depth of the colored-pencil shading creates a scrapbook aesthetic, like a vintage postcard collection. The art, combined with Quintero's graceful text, results in a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the ordinary, love-filled lives of individuals from various cultures. --Rachel Werner, author and teaching artist at Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and The Loft Literary Center

Tundra Books, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9780735271760

There Was a Party for Langston

by Jason Reynolds, illus. by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey

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Three creators at the toe-tapping tip-toppest of their game deliver a soulful tribute to a beloved poet, essayist, and cultural leader in the melodic There Was a Party for Langston, written by Jason Reynolds (Stuntboy, in the Meantime; Ghost) and illustrated by siblings Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (The Old Truck).

The grand opening of the Schomburg Center's auditorium inspires a "jam in Harlem to celebrate the word-making man--Langston, the king of letters." Langston Hughes made words dance on the page and, on this February 1991 evening, literary luminaries boogie the night away in his honor. "All the best word makers were there," but two guests take center stage: Hughes's "word-children," Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka.

Former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Reynolds makes his picture book debut in this joyful and rhythmic triumph--a Kids Indie Next List pick. The text is reverential yet jolly; "Langston's language-laughter tickle[s]" readers without ever losing focus on Hughes's profound literary impact. This boisterous read-aloud is equal parts endearing homage to and history lesson about a literary giant, and it is truly something to celebrate. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Atheneum, $18.99, hardcover, 56p., ages 4-8, 9781534439443

10 Cats

by Emily Gravett

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British author/illustrator Emily Gravett's 10 Cats is a nearly wordless picture book full of bright hues and silly antics. On the first spread of this Kids Indie Next List title, readers meet the eponymous 10 cats: one snowy-white mother, and nine relatively courteous kittens against a white background. From "1 white cat" to "10 multicolored cats," though, the scene grows progressively more chaotic--and polychromatic. When Mama dozes off, her offspring begin to get into mischief with a series of red, yellow, and blue paint cans.

Gravett (Bear and Hare Share) is brilliant at using white space to paint a witty visual story. Her pencil and watercolor artwork is lovely, and should appeal to all ages. 10 Cats is more than fun and games, too. In the process of wreaking havoc, the playful kittens help readers learn about colors, patterns, and numbers. Gravett's cheery primary shades (which turn into secondaries as the bedlam advances) bring to mind the zany 1960 classic Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Boxer Books, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9781914912580

Something, Someday

by Amanda Gorman, illus. by Christian Robinson

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In Something, Someday, Amanda Gorman (Change Sings: A Children's Anthem) tells one story with her words while Christian Robinson (Last Stop on Market Street illustrator) suggests another with his pictures. Intertwining text and art on the same page results in an exquisitely complementary achievement that amplifies each half to produce a remarkable whole.

Change is at the heart of Gorman's verses here. Despite discouragement, she eschews sadness, fear, confusion, and anger. Finding "someone who will hope with you," who will work together toward "something that makes you feel/ Hopeful, happy, and loved," can make dreams come true. Caldecott Honoree Robinson solidifies Gorman's words with a glorious, brilliantly specific narrative. His signature paint and collage art is dynamic, with visible brushstrokes that add layered texture to walls, clothing, and leaves. Each page announces and celebrates the diversity among the neighbors.

Gorman and Robinson are both leaders in their respective fields. Their joint creation--a Kids Indie Next List pick--becomes a powerful antidote to doubters and naysayers, emphatically bearing witness that "the tiniest things/ Make a huge difference." --Terry Hong

Viking, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780593203255

A Walk in the Woods

by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

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The joy in discovering that three greats of children's literature--Nikki Grimes, Jerry Pinkney, and Brian Pinkney--collaborated on a picture book is tempered only by the fact that one of them is gone. Jerry Pinkney had created initial sketches for Grimes's tender and evocative picture book text, A Walk in the Woods. Brian Pinkney began to complete the illustrations, "just weeks after the passing of my beloved father," by adding watercolors (with a digital assist from his niece, illustrator Charnelle Pinkney Barlow).

As a reminder that life often imitates art, the story is about a boy grieving the death of his father. The child discovers a note his father left for him suggesting he take a walk in the woods to find "treasure." Grimes captures the woods' sensory delights with precision and lyricism: the "explosion of flight" of an eagle spreading its wings. To see Jerry Pinkney's sketches lit by Brian Pinkney's dazzling colors and swirling lines is wondrous. This exceptional story stands as a moving account of a Black boy finding solace in nature--but also serves as a marvelous tribute to Jerry Pinkney. --Julie Danielson, reviewer and copy editor

Neal Porter Books, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780823449651

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale

by Jon Klassen

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Caldecott Medal-winning author/illustrator Jon Klassen takes an especially dark turn in an unconventional folktale for hardy early readers, The Skull. This morbid yet profoundly affectionate chapter book about a girl and her bony companion was chosen as the #1 Kids Indie Next List book for July/August 2023.

"One night, in the middle of the night, while everyone else was asleep, Otilla finally ran away." Otilla, arriving at a seemingly abandoned old home, is welcomed by its unexpected proprietor: a skull.

A note describes Klassen's fascinating inspiration, which came from an older retelling, and this unorthodox, five-part folktale tips heavily into Grimm sentiments. The tenebrous, digitally finished graphite-and-ink palette leans toward his work in The Dark (2013), while the unnerving plot evokes Klassen's calamitous The Rock from the Sky (2021). The gripping art melds brilliantly with emotionally hefty text to strike an overwhelmingly eerie and foreboding tone, which plays in exquisite contrast to the blooming solidarity between Otilla and the skull. Make no bones about it, this is a wholly distinctive and delightfully unsettling creation. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Candlewick, $19.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 6-9, 9781536223361

Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life

by Jerry Pinkney

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Jerry Pinkney's mother, knowing her son would make something of himself, dismissed those who teased him for not having a proper name--"Just 'Jerry' is enough." Not only was her prediction accurate, she inspired the title for her Caldecott-winning son's resplendent and candid memoir.

Pinkney (The Lion and the Mouse) wrote this memoir in the decade preceding his death at age 81 in 2021, but did not complete the art. Though using his unfinished drawings was not the original intent, the art is a perfect representation of a master artist in the making. Pinkney describes his adolescence as packed with challenges, and provides an authentic view of post-World War II-era Philadelphia. The author/illustrator brilliantly relates his experience with dyslexia at a time before anyone truly understood the learning disability, and humbly and honestly depicts his hurdles and how those difficulties empowered him and helped build his determination and passion. Just Jerry immerses readers in the life of a remarkable man who made his indelible mark on the world of illustration. Pinkney leaves a precious gift to readers with his final work. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99, hardcover, 160p., ages 8-12, 9780316383851

Simon Sort of Says

by Erin Bow

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Escaping the memories of a traumatic event may be impossible, but in this poignant and remarkably funny National Book Award finalist and Kids Indie Next List title, Simon and his family hope to at least escape public attention.

Twelve-year-old Simon, his undertaker mom, and liturgical director dad move to Grin and Bear It, Nebr., a National Quiet Zone with "no internet and no cell phones." While Simon says that his family was "driven out [of their last town] by alpacas," the truth is that two years earlier, Simon was the only survivor of a shooting in his fifth-grade class. After a year of homeschooling, and--it's true--an unfortunate alpaca incident, Simon and his family seek a fresh start.

Simon Sort of Says is a droll coming-of-age story with hilarity and slapstick, gross-out facts, misunderstandings, and sweet friendships. It's also a literary feat accomplished with grace and sensitivity by author Erin Bow (The Scorpion Rules; Plain Kate). Readers are likely to fall hard for Simon, his friends and his family, every one of whom is worthy of a novel of their own. Simply put: Simon Sort of Says is extraordinary. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781368082853

Kin: Rooted in Hope

by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Jeffery Boston Weatherford

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Coretta Scott King Award winner and National Book Award finalist Carole Boston Weatherford (Unspeakable) teams up once again with illustrator son Jeffery Boston Weatherford (You Can Fly) to explore their shared past and honor their enslaved ancestors through dignified poems and stunning artwork in Kin: Rooted in Hope.

Mother and son begin their narrative in 2016 at the Door of No Return, a trading post on Gorée, an island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, where "captive Africans/ were held for weeks, months,/ until their numbers could fill/ a ship's belly." Next, they travel to the Wye House Plantation in Easton, Md., where their ancestors were enslaved by the Lloyd family. Carole Boston Weatherford's narrative follows both chronological history and the mother/son's trip to uncover the painful past.

Weatherford's rhythmic and artistic narrative, inspired by Alex Haley's Roots, brings to life her ancestors, the places they lived, and their oppression. Jeffery Boston Weatherford accompanies his mother's poems with expressive black-and-white scratchwork illustrations that add further weight, humanity, and grandeur to the history. --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $18.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 10-up, 9781665913621

102 Days of Lying About Lauren

by Maura Jortner

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In Maura Jortner's funny and spirited debut novel, a stouthearted girl brings to bear all the cleverness, courage, and morality she can muster as she survives an impossible and terrifying situation.

One hundred and two days ago, 12-year-old Lauren's struggling mother brought her to "America's most famous amusement park" then snuck away while Lauren was on the Cursed Twirling Teacups ride. The clever tween snagged an employee shirt and a broken name badge. Since then, she has been sleeping in the Haunted House of Horrors by night and pretending to be a 16-year-old amusement park walkway sweeper by day. Lauren thinks she's managing reasonably well, but bad weather is coming, and her fragile pretense may not be able to withstand the storm.

Lauren's poignant, humorous first-person narrative immediately pulls readers onto her side, even as they suspect that her lifestyle is not sustainable. The vivid, remarkable behind-the-scenes details of Lauren's daily survival arrangements, along with well-developed characters, and a timely and realistic depiction of a family in crisis make 102 Days of Lying About Lauren both relevant and engrossing. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 8-12, 9780823453627

A First Time for Everything

by Dan Santat

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Caldecott winner Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle; The Aquanaut) found his protagonist for the National Book Award-winning graphic novel A First Time for Everything in the mirror. Santat's illustrated memoir depicts his regularly awkward middle-school experiences, with a focus on the European trip that opened his eyes to the world beyond the discomforts of adolescence. Despite his best efforts at being inconspicuous in middle school, Dan was teased and bullied, so the idea of a school-sponsored trip to Europe terrified him. But the three-week trip turned out to be the kind of early-adolescent experience that would shape the man Dan became.

Santat's authentic voice and realistic characters will likely take older readers back to their own middle-school days while reminding current middle school-age readers of their own teen angst. Santat's splendidly expressive digital illustrations cement those emotional connections and highlight the humor even in the most agonizing of moments. He unpacks his transformational experience with vulnerability and raw honesty--the sincerity is heartening and the outcome inspiring. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

First Second, $14.99, paperback, 320p., ages 10-14, 9781250851048

Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself

by Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge

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The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, published in 1789, is one of the earliest slave narratives. In Nearer My Freedom, Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge--former fourth grade co-teachers--brilliantly transform the autobiography into "found poems" by cutting and rearranging Equiano's original into verse: "Olaudah Equiano was an excellent writer, and using his autobiography as a source text helps preserve the eloquence of his voice while remixing it into poetry." Indeed, they open their adaptation with Equiano's searing address to the British Parliament, in which he presents "the following genuine/ Narrative" in support of abolition.

Throughout Equiano's narrative, the co-authors insert relevant history and context, such as Caribbean "Sugar Production" and "The Black Community in England." At book's end, they visually present the fascinating process of "Creating a Verse Version," parsing words and phrases directly from Equiano's prose. Further backmatter also includes a contextualizing timeline, glossary, extensive source notes and bibliography. Their deft transformation of Equiano's odyssey is well-equipped to inspire and empower new generations. --Terry Hong

Zest Books/Lerner, $17.99, paperback, 216p., ages 10-up, 9781728464077

When Clouds Touch Us

by Thanhhà Lại

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When Clouds Touch Us, Thanhhà Lại's stand-alone sequel to Inside Out & Back Again, features the same kind of gorgeous prose and memorable moments that won the 2011 title the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor.

Two years ago, Hà and her family escaped the Vietnam War and found safety in Alabama. She is dismayed now at the prospect of moving to Texas, where the promise of better work and better pay awaits her mother and older brothers. In Texas, Hà makes a new friend and earns some money but still feels displaced. When she learns of the My Lai Massacre at school, the students all turn to her, the only Asian student, and say, "Did you know?" And Lại's lines of poetry give the response: "I've become/ an outsider/ to my own war."

As Lại beautifully illustrates Hà's straddling of two cultures and her desire to fit in, she draws a portrait of a life in which Hà and her siblings contribute toward making a home of their own. Her portrayal of the universal need for family, friendship, and a sense of belonging will likely resonate with middle-grade readers. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

HarperCollins, $18.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 8-12, 9780063047006

The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels

by Beth Lincoln, illus. by Claire Powell

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The eclectic Swift kin reunite at their remote estate, where a murder mystery distracts from a treasure hunt in Beth Lincoln's Kids Indie Next List title, The Swifts, a quippy and charming debut with beguiling illustrations by Claire Powell.

The Swifts name their children from "an ancient, leather-bound monster" of a dictionary opened at random. Fourteen-year-old Felicity (so mundane) and her younger sisters, Phenomena (a curious prodigy) and Shenanigan (such mischief!), live in Swift House, a "quirky seventeenth-century manor" whose hidden passages conceal a fortune stashed centuries earlier by dastardly Grand-Uncle Vile. Lincoln's love of lexicon shines with nimble and darkly comedic prose, and personalities play into monikers to make a prolific cast of characters memorable. Powell (At the Heels of History series) punctuates the novel with boisterous spot and full-page line drawings. Chapter headers and character portraits are particularly exuberant and hint at plot twists and turns to come. A delightful pick for sharp readers enamored of gothic sensibilities and clever prose. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Dutton, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 8-12, 9780593533239

Before the Devil Knows You're Here

by Autumn Krause

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Autumn Krause's sophomore YA novel is a dark, lush, original folktale told from two perspectives: Mexican American teen Catalina, a girl searching for the Man of Sap, and John, who, through his misfortune, becomes the Man of Sap.

In a broken-down shack in early-19th-century Wisconsin, Catalina's father is killed, and her brother, Jose Luis, is kidnapped by the Man of Sap, a man/tree creature who, "sowing seeds of sin... grows apples of ash." Seventeen-year-old Catalina is determined to rescue Jose Luis, her only surviving family member. Woven alongside Catalina's third-person odyssey is the first-person tale of John, an apple farmer whose dream of a thriving orchard led him to sign a deal with the devil. Krause (A Dress for the Wicked) invents here an original folktale that is part Johnny Appleseed, part "The Devil and Daniel Webster," and uses dual narratives to tell two distinct, engrossing stories that intertwine in unexpected ways. Her prose is descriptive and delicate, her mythical world populated with creatures both intriguing and terrifying. --Deanna Meyerhoff, reviewer

Peachtree Teen, $18.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 12-up, 9781682636473

Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed

by Dashka Slater

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Award-winning journalist Dashka Slater (The 57 Bus) brilliantly dissects a true-crime story, exhibiting its different parts for readers, and presenting a balanced narrative that illustrates the nuances inherent in all interpersonal interactions, whether in person or online. Accountable centers on a teen's private social media account, where he posts racist and sexist content for the entertainment of his friends.

Charles, a 17-year-old Korean American, created what his male friends viewed as a humorous meme, then started a private Instagram account to feature memes like the first--actually a racist attack on a classmate. The account didn't remain private for long. The exposure of the content set off a series of events that embroiled parents, students, and staff in the ugliness of Charles's online activity. While readers' instinctive response may be to say Charles deserves what he gets, Slater's meticulous research from multiple perspectives highlights the difficulties of attempting to define absolute right and absolute wrong. Slater does not solve problems or answer the questions; instead, she scrupulously illustrates the complexity of this case, and reminds the audience that there are no quick fixes. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $20.99, hardcover, 496p., ages 12-up, 9780374314347

Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam

by Thien Pham

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Family Style by Thien Pham (Level Up illustrator) is a moving, insightful graphic memoir that shares the Vietnamese refugee experience through food. At five years old, Thien Pham and his family fled Vietnam for Songkhla refugee camp in Thailand, where they waited for passage to the U.S. Pham doesn't remember much from that treacherous trip, but he does remember the rice ball his mother gave him. Pham's early life in the U.S. is recalled through the food he associates with the time, such as the potato chips that marked the day when his family became "officially American."

These food memories are cyclical, beginning with Vietnamese dishes, like bánh cuốn, then moving to American ones, like steak and potatoes, and returning to the rice and fish from his first memory, showing the influence of both cultures on Pham's life, but also the struggle of feeling in-between cultures. Pham's impactful text is paired with evocative digital woodblock-style illustrations in panels outlined with a thick black line and arranged like a storyboard. An enlightening and hopeful memoir. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

First Second, $17.99, paperback, 240p., ages 12-up, 9781250809728

Imogen, Obviously

by Becky Albertalli

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Becky Albertalli (Kate in Waiting) is known for her warm and insightful stories about queer teens finding self-acceptance and first love. Her sixth solo novel (and a Kids Indie Next List pick), Imogen, Obviously, is both a sparkling romance and a moving account of a young woman's very contemporary bisexual awakening. Eighteen-year-old Imogen Scott, who is "hopelessly, blindingly, obviously straight," nervously agrees to pretend to be her best friend Lili's bisexual ex for a weekend. When Imogen meets Lili's college friend, dark-haired lesbian Tessa, she feels an instant attraction. A single weekend makes Imogen question if her sexuality might not be so obvious after all.

Imogen, Obviously portrays the Internet-era nature of discrimination against bisexual women through the eyes of one such young woman. Albertalli empathetically considers the nuance of queer identity and the harm caused by gatekeeping who is allowed to identify as LGBTQ+. Imogen, Obviously is a deeply personal novel about queerness in all its colorful complexity, and a rallying cry to "hold space for variation" in the LGBTQ+ community. --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer

Balzer + Bray, $19.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9780063045873

Stars in Their Eyes

by Jessica Walton and Aśka

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Stars in Their Eyes by Jessica Walton (Introducing Teddy) and Aśka (This Is Not a Book) is a delightful graphic novel that sweeps up readers in an intense, whirlwind queer romance. Six years ago, 14-year-old Maisie had cancer and a lower-leg amputation. Now she spends a lot of her time managing pain flares, and "super-inspired" people who are impressed when she does everyday things. Maisie is excited to attend her first fancon, where she meets 15-year-old Ollie, a cute nonbinary volunteer. When Maisie takes a timeout, Ollie tags along, and the pair quickly become "comfy" with each other.

Walton adeptly uses their lived experiences as a disabled, bisexual, nonbinary person to explore queerness, disability, and anxiety. They show the issues some disabled people regularly face through Maisie's inaccessible hotel bathroom and phantom limb pain. Aśka's artwork expresses Walton's text with accuracy and breadth, while adding to the humor and joy with bright colors and visual insider jokes. Winsome art combined with Walton's joyful, charming story creates a celebration of identity, community, and love. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Graphix/Scholastic, $15.99, paperback, 224p., ages 12-up, 9781338818796

The Spirit Bares Its Teeth

by Andrew Joseph White

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Andrew Joseph White's sophomore novel, The Spirit Bares Its Teeth, is a riveting, spellbinding Victorian horror about a neurodivergent trans boy desperate to escape the life his family has planned for him.

Sixteen-year-old Silas has violet eyes that allow him to interact with spirits by lifting the Veil between the mortal world and the spirit world. Silas sees this ability as a curse and wishes he could live as his true self and become a surgeon. His parents, though, exploit his power and force him to suppress his trans identity. After an unsuccessful attempt to avoid an arranged marriage, Silas is diagnosed with "Veil sickness" and forced into an abusive sanitorium for violet-eyed medium girls.

White shows in this sharp, tense novel the same kind of visceral prose that garnered such acclaim for his debut, Hell Followed with Us. He paints an authentic and painfully tender portrayal of Silas's neurodivergent and trans identities in this Kids Indie Next List pick. The plot's candid, often gory accounts parallel the stunningly rendered characters whose physical and emotional wounds bleed out onto the pages. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms

Peachtree Teen, $19.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 14-up, 9781682636114

Great Reads

Great Gifts for Kids

Did you miss Shelf's Children's and YA Gifts issue? There's something for everyone, from the kid who loves trains and planes (Transported by Matt Ralphs, illus. by Rui Ricardo) to great options for history buffs, such as Indigenous Ingenuity by Deidre Havrelock and Edward Kay, or Susan Goldman Rubin's The Women Who Built Hollywood.

Plus, our features spotlight young chef and food justice advocate Michael Platt, and the editors of the Brain Quest brand.

Book Candy

Book Candy

Open Culture screened "the first-ever film version of Lewis Carroll's tale, Alice in Wonderland (1903)."


KPI and SaaS, for example. Mental Floss decoded "25 of the most confusing acronyms and initialisms."


A 318-year-old Bible was discovered in Des Moines, Iowa, retirement home, KCCI reported.,


"Chaucer goes digital as British Library makes works available online," the Guardian reported.

Great Reads

Gifts for Young Chefs

Check out Shelf's delicious round-up of cookbooks that make great gifts for young people.

We suggest some compelling books about food for kids and teens that include different approaches to food: straightforward cookbooks (Cooking with My Dad, the Chef); books of myth with (The Story of Pasta) and without (Chinese Menu) recipes; and fun stories about food with some recipes included (Do Not Eat This Book! and This Is Not a Cookbook). Cheers and gānbēi!


A mother's death forces a teen girl to reevaluate their tumultuous relationship in this powerful coming-of-age novel for teens. For fans of I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

Kirkus Reviews calls And Then There Was Us by Kern Carter "an emotional story of family and growth." 

After years of physical and verbal abuse from her mother, fourteen-year-old Coi moved in with her father, and together they created a peaceful life. But now, four years later, that peace is shattered when her mother dies. 

While Coi struggles to find kindness in her heart for the woman who did nothing but hurt her, her mother's passing does help reopen the door to her mother's side of the family. It's only through reconnecting with her estranged family members, especially her younger half-sister Kayla, that Coi's long-held views about her mother are challenged. 

And when Coi begins to see visions of her mother in her dreams, she is forced to ask herself what it means to forgive and be forgiven, and, most importantly, what it means to be a family. 

Kern Carter is the author of Boys and Girls Screaming, along with two self-published novels, Thoughts of a Fractured Soul (novella) and Beauty Scars. In addition to his writing, Kern is a filmmaker and also teaches professional writing at a local college, committed to supporting emerging writers and helping them find their voice. He lives in Toronto. 


Tundra Books: And Then There Was Us by Kern Carter


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