By Mitali Perkins
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Ages 14 and up, Grades 9 and up
Other formats: e-book, audio
Honors: Long list for the National Book Award 2017 * Walter Award Honor for Teen Literature * Multiple “Best Book” lists (PW, SLJ, Horn Book Fanfare, NYPL, Boston Globe, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults)
I have always loved being transported by books, especially by sweeping tales that span the globe and pull me into lives of people who love and sacrifice over time.
You Bring the Distant Near is nearly perfect for my appetite. In lush and poetic language, Perkins opens the novel in 1965 Ghana, with the imperious Ranee Das and her two daughters, Tara and Sonia, already locked in the pattern of what will be their lifelong battle of wills.
Told in alternating voices, we follow three generations of the Das family women as the family emigrated to the US. Reunited with their father, the girls begin the long and convoluted process of reimagining themselves in a new country. Deaths, secret loves, and the maddening complexities of race and culture are all explored as the girls move through high school and college, clashing with each other and with their parents along the way. Finally, in the last section of the book, it is Tara and Sonia as adults—an activist and a film star—who are mothers struggling to raise their own American daughters.
Nuanced, historically accurate, and populated with unforgettable characters, it’s a YA novel with easy crossover appeal. Perkins is at her best as she draws the intricate realities of immigrant families: how we stay connected, how our thinking changes, and how we struggle to remain a family when our identities pull from different sources. But mostly, I love that You Bring the Distant Near is a testament to how strong girls are forged over time with love and suffering, each generation drawing strength from the one before. MM
By Helen Frost
Margaret Ferguson Books: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Ages 10 – 12, Grades 4 – 7
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
By Laurie Halse Anderson, Illustrated by Emily Carroll
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, BYR 2018
Young Adult, Graphic Novel
Ages 14 and up, Grades 9 and up
Other formats: kindle
Melinda is the kid no one likes, the girl who called the cops on a high school drinking party and got everyone in trouble. Now she roams through her life at school in baggy clothes, keeping near total silence.
But what really happened at that party? And why can’t Melinda bring herself to tell?
Laurie Halse Anderson’s groundbreaking young adult novel, Speak, was first published in 1999. All these years later, with the #MeToo movement in full swing, we find that Speak: the Graphic Novel is just as relevant today.
With chilling black and white illustrations by Emily Carroll and dialogue taken directly from the original novel, Anderson pulls the reader inside a girl’s experience with sexual assault at the hands of one of her own classmates. Melinda has not told anyone the truth and blames herself in the convoluted way of so many victims. And every day she sees her attacker continue to enjoy the highest social status at school, even as he grooms new victims for his aggressions. The sense of dread is palpable on the pages. Sinking deeper into her depression, Melinda finds respite only in her art class, where she can access her voice and feelings without words. The graphic format of the novel is a perfect complement to Melinda’s journey to use art as a way to name the most horrific acts and lay them bare.
This is a hard story: Melinda is blamed and cruelly ostracized. She learns to hate and hurt herself. But ultimately, the novel is about her resilience and survival despite an entire community that would prefer not to believe or support her. Her strength shines through all the trauma.
Sometimes, girls have to reclaim their power after its been stolen from them. Speak: the Graphic Novel shows them how to win it back. MM