Latest

Valley Girls


By Sarah Nicole Lemon
Amulet Books, 2018
Young adult, contemporary
ISBN: 1419729640
Additional formats: ebook, audiobook

Rilla is trouble. She’s a party girl from the wrong side of the tracks (though it remains a question if her tiny West Virginia hometown even has tracks) whose recent violent fight with a boyfriend has resulted in her family packing her up and shipping her off to Yosemite National Park to live with an older sister and get her life together. She gets arrested pretty much immediately, and decides this is it: rock bottom. She’s going to climb her way out, figuratively and literally, and become someone better.

Rilla gets close with a few friends of her park ranger sister, climbers who are in Yosemite for the summer. She learns the lingo and how to work the gear, takes odd jobs to afford her own equipment, overcomes an initially paralyzing fear of falling, all to become slick, cool, capable, competent, better. But no matter how high she climbs, she can’t escape herself, her past, or her dysfunctional and untraditional family history. Soon, climbing becomes less a way to run from who she is, and more a way for her to learn that who she is isn’t someone who needs to be run from. She’s strong, smart, and brave, and every rock she clambers over takes her closer to accepting those truths.

She’s not a typically charming main character. This is a hard girl from a hardscrabble place who is used to getting what she wants by being sneaky or through force. She’s insecure, she steals, she’s ungrateful. She cares too much about what her friends think and she makes impulsive decisions. She’s…well, she’s almost every reader at that age. Perhaps we’ve never ended up in a National Park Service jail cell, but we’ve all said things we regret to people we love, and we all have secrets. Watching Rilla put her foot in her mouth but sincerely try to make things right and to be kind and gritty is such a relief: here’s a character who is both likable and unlikable. Who is human.

I’m not an outdoorsy person and reading the descriptions of having to stay in the ropes for days at a time while climbing El Capitan in Yosemite (including, yes, peeing in your harness from thousands of feet up) didn’t change my mind about staying inside on my sofa. But it did give me such an insight into the appeal of climbing, and why we need to get more girls on those rocks. – AN

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Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship

By Irene Latham and Charles Waters, Illustrated by: Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Carolrhoda Books, 2018
Middle grade
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-6
ISBN: 978-1512404425
Other formats:  e-book

Nothing is ever truly black and white. That’s what two classmates in the book Can I Touch Your Hair? learn in fifth grade when they reluctantly wind up paired together for a writing project and believe they have nothing in common.

Irene and Charles’s differences in gender, style, and friends are already stark. Throw into the mix the fact that Irene is white and Charles is black, and both students fear they’re in for an uncomfortable and unmanageable few weeks.

Yet, once each begins to write on the same subject as the other about his or her life experiences and perspectives, Irene and Charles discover that while the differences between them are indeed tangiblein shoe shopping, dinner conversations, church services, hairstyles, and favorite sportstheir differences are unique preferences or circumstances that can be appreciated.

They also learn that color is only skin deep. Even with varying experiences, opportunities, and challenges, at the end of the day, their matters of the heart aren’t so unalike at all, and thus, a friendship unfolds. Readers will experience Charles’s perspective on why it’s annoying to have someone touch his hair, and Irene helps readers understand how one can make awkward fumbles in expressing herself even with the best of intentions.

This book could serve as a great conversation starter for adolescents from middle school age to older youths. Adults may even find it helpful to read these poems with a child and share their own experiences navigating race, identity and friendships. The vibrant illustrations by artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko are an excellent companion to these compelling poems and will help young readers make sense of what it means to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone to try and understand others.  – SHA

Dread Nation


By Justina Ireland
Balzar + Bray, 2018
Young Adult, Fantasy
ISBN: 0062570609
Additional formats: ebook, audiobook

The Civil War is over, but not because the North won. Not because the South won. Because the zombies won.

The dead began to rise on the battlefields of the war, forcing both sides to lay down their arms and defend the nation against the new threat. Now, the zombie hoard is said to be mostly contained. Slavery has ended, and an unsteady peace has begun. New laws have been enacted requiring Native and black children to attend combat schools where they learn to fight the living dead, and many of those children go on to work for wealthy white families as their personal bodyguards.

And that’s the path Jane is on. The daughter of a white mother and plantation owner, Jane avoided going to the schools as long as she could, but it was unavoidable. She’s close to graduation, and her only goal is to return home to defend her family, from whom she hasn’t heard in months. She doesn’t get involved in political questions. Racism is what it is, and she’s just doing what she can to survive.

But then friendly families around the city of Baltimore where Jane attends school begin to disappear. Jane becomes involved in a deep conspiracy run by politicians hell bent on making America safe again, and she can’t remove herself from the situation before she finds herself on a train heading for a frontier town, being forced to defend it against zombies or be killed.

This novel has so many fun elements: teen girl zombie slayers! Reconstruction-era, post-Civil War alternative history! A main character who reminds me more of Huck Finn than anyone else, complete with a “well, let’s see what happens” sense of reckless adventure. But the book is also dealing with very important and urgent political questions about who built, and continues to build, this nation, and what price are we willing to pay to commit to security (especially when the threats are manufactured to keep people scared). – AN

Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done


By Andrea Gonzales & Sophie Houser
Harper Collins, 2017
Non Fiction, Young Adult
Ages 14 and up, grades 8 and up
ISBN 978-0062472472
Additional formats:  Kindle, Audiobook
Honors:  A New York Public Library Best Book of 2017 * A Junior Library Guild selection * A Children’s Book Council Best STEM Trade Book for Students K-12

Andrea “Andy” Gonazales and Sophie Houser are teen tech superstars and creators of the viral video game phenomenon, “Tampon Run.” In their book, Girl Code:  Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done, the two tell the story of their rise to stardom, from their first time meeting at the Girls Who Code summer program to the development of a stigma-breaking video game to their quest into the venture-capital world of tech startups. Told in alternating voices, Girl Code is the comedic and inspiring story of two teen girls making it the male-dominated world of STEM.

Andy Gonazales is the daughter or Filipino immigrants. From early on, she feels the pressure to choose a career in technology. Sophie Houser is plagued with social anxiety and sees coding as a way to make an impact without having to speak in public. They meet in the summer program, Girls Who Code, and are paired together on a project challenging them to make a video game. In brainstorming a direction to take the project, the girls discover they are both interested in social justice and dispelling gender-biased stereotypes. Thus, Tampon Run is born.

Tampon Run receives immediate and far-reaching success, going viral overnight. Andy and Sophie are thrust into the spotlight, gaining a virtually all-access pass behind the scenes of the tech industry.  The two attend major tech-events, visit high-profile companies, and receive illustrious internship opportunities. Through these experiences, the authors give the reader insight into what it’s like to be a female in a traditionally male-dominated field as well the inside scoop on coding.

Written in funny and insightful conversational style, Girl Code is perfect for all the girls out there interested in STEM or just looking for some real-life inspiration from teens just like them. – JD

When My Sister Started Kissing

By Helen Frost
Margaret Ferguson Books: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Middle grade
Ages 10 – 12, Grades 4 – 7
ISBN: 978-0-374303037
Additional format: e-book
Honors: A Boston Globe Best Children’s Book of 2017* 2017 BCCB Blue Ribbon Book * 2017 New York Public Library Best Book for Kids  * 2017 VOYA Top Shelf Fiction * 2018 NCTE Notable Verse Novel  * 2018 CCBC Choices Book 

Claire can barely recall her mom. Only tiny shards of memory remain from that terrible day when Claire was still a toddler and her mother was killed during a lightning storm on Heartstone Lake.  

Claire and her sister, Abigail, are heading up to lake for their annual vacation with their dad, but things are very different now. It’s not just Dad with them anymore. This time they’re traveling with his new wife, Pam, who is about to give birth to a new baby.

So much is changing as they settle into their cabin. Abigail has grown closer to Pam. She’s wearing makeup and calling herself Abi among the other teenagers at the lake, including boys. Claire is left to fend for herself, against a new stepmother who has cleared out her mother’s things in the cabin and against the loneliness of being left behind by her sister. It’s on the lake that Claire does her best rowing and thinking—the very lake that took her mom, the lake with the strong current, the lake that only the strongest swimmer can navigate in safely. It’s in these waters that Claire will grow up and find a way to let go of the past.

This lovely story is everything a novel-in-verse should be: evocative, spare, and masterful in its use of poetic forms. It’s told in alternating points of view by Claire, Abigail, and by the lake itself who has watched each girl grow up over the years.

There are wonderful notes at the end of the book about the forms used: quatrains, free verse, acrostics, as well as references to the many poets whose famous works are part of the poems in the book.  (These include Gwendolyn Brooks, William Blake, Pablo Neruda and more.) This is a true delight, a quiet book about sisters and loss and change. MM

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

by Eleni Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
Timbuktu Labs, Inc. 2016
Picture book
Ages 4 and up
ISBN 978-0120420476

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a unique collection of 100 stories about women around the world of all ages. It tells about each woman from the past and present who changed the world in some way with the actions they took despite the challenges. Each story is one page biography about the amazing feat each one conquered. There are stories about scientists, painters, chefs, dancers, boxers, writers and the list goes on and on. Every girl can find that one person who will inspire them to push the envelope and be extraordinary.  The illustrations are by 60 women artists from around the globe. All the styles are different and fascinating. They really add more dimension to the stories.

This type of book is perfect to get girls of all ages reading and learning about how one person’s ideas, thoughts, and struggles can change an entire culture. It sparks the interests to go out and read more about these strong women as the book just gives them a small taste of each woman’s life. It is meant to inspire us all, but especially our young girls, to dream big- be confident- find our strengths- and help our fellow people. EM

It All Comes Down to This

By Karen English
Clarion Books, 2017
Middle grade, historical fiction, ages 10 – 12, grades 5 – 8
ISBN: 978-0-544-83957-1
Additional formats: Kindle
Honors: Kirkus Prize finalist 2017

How do we learn to love and value ourselves when people in the world around us just won’t?

Twelve-year-old Sophie is the youngest of two sisters living in an upper middle neighborhood in Los Angeles in 1965.

Sophie is the new kid on the block, bookish and serious, which doesn’t suit some of her racist white neighbors at all. Not even the new Jamaican housekeeper her mother hired seems to like her; instead, she openly despises Sophie and her very light-skinned sister, Lily, too. The deck is stacked against Sophie in tryouts for the community center play, and worst of all, her parents’ marriage finally seems to be unraveling right before her eyes.

This summer Sophie will feel the sting of adults’ secrets and their shortcomings, and  she’ll see an entire community, nearby Watts, explode under the pressure of injustice. But she’ll also learn how to reach for her own power to change things that matter to her most. Whether guarding her sister’s secrets or finding ways to stand her ground with friends and enemies alike, Sophie will learn what it takes to be a strong.

In lyrical language, Karen English expertly captures the feel of the 1960s and delves into all heartbreaking complexities around race and class of the time—both within Sophie’s family and in the larger community. The characters all feel like people we know, each of them struggling with frailties that are so relatable in the present day.

But where this book shines most—and why it has earned its place here on our Girls of Summer list—is in how it shines a light on how a strong girl endures, deepens, and grows, even in the most inhospitable of times and places.  MM