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 Karen English
Clarion Books, 2017
Middle grade, historical fiction, ages 10 – 12, grades 5 – 8
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
by Lauren Wolk
Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016
Middle grade, historical fiction
Ages 10 and up, grades 5 +
Additional formats: Kindle, paperback
Honors: Newbery honor * NPR Best Book of the Year * Booklist Best Book of the Year * Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of the Year * Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year *Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year * School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book of the Year * ALA Notable Children’s Book * Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award nominee * Goodreads Choice Award nominee * Carnegie Medal nominee
There’s a lasting sting to the first time we learn about hate, pain, and dishonesty. Wolf Hollow captures that sting in a compelling work of historical fiction set in rural Pennsylvania in 1943. In this story Annabelle, must find the moral courage to face down Betty, an “incorrigible” girl who has come to live in their town with her grandparents. Betty threatens people with sticks, kills birds by breaking their necks, and will create a terrible and believable lie about a man in their town who is suffering from PTSD, as a result of his service in the war. This novel is a page-turner and a lovely look at rural Pennsylvania, a place of beautiful landscape, hardworking people, and simmering bigotry. This is historical fiction and beautiful writing about people, the sorrow they carry, and how it reveals itself to the world. It is the story of a girl learning about how complicated morality can be – for her, for her friends, and for the greater community she has always called home.
“The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie, the book begins.”
Our 2017 Girls of Summer guest author is the fantastic Rita Williams-Garcia!
We are thrilled to share Rita in person with our RVA Community at the 2017 Girls of Summer party at the Richmond Public Library on 6/21. Check out this Richmond Times-Dispatch interview with Rita, Read Toward Your Dreams. We encourage all of our Girls of Summer readers to dive into this beloved trilogy and all of Rita’s incredible work.
We celebrated the first volume of the trilogy, One Crazy Summer, in 2011 – our first year of Girls of Summer – with this review by Meg:
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad Books, 2010
Awards/recognitions: * National book Award finalist * Newbery Finalist * Coretta Scott King Award *Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Once I got past the fact that a time period I actually remember qualifies for historical fiction, I warmed up to One Crazy Summer. I’m glad I did. This middle grade novel is about three dueling sisters, a mother who abandoned them, and the summer they are reunited — all against the backdrop of working with the Black Panthers in the late 1960s. Regardless of whether you think the Black Panthers were an armed leftist group or a justified response to the racial injustices of the time, this is a story that offers readers a more nuanced and honest look at the Civil Rights movement beyond Dr. King’s non-violent model, which has been the safer topic in children’s books. Williams-Garcia makes us look through the eyes of children who are awakening to the racism around them and to the power of their own response.
There’s so much to love about this book (note the long string of awards it has received), but for me what shines most are the characters of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. Eleven-year-old Delphine occupies the revered and burdensome role of oldest sister as they leave Brooklyn alone to spend the summer in Oakland with their mother, whom they haven’t seen since their infancy. Cecile now calls herself Nzila, and she is working as a poet associated with the Black Panthers. Their grandmother, Big Ma, refers to Cecile as a troublemaker, and at first, it seems as though Big Ma may be right. The girls immediately find themselves practically on their own, dodging Nzila’s gruff ways and spending their days at the community center run by the Panthers. They catch their evening meals at Mean Lady Ming’s Chinese takeout and eat on the floor.
This is the story of funny, squabbling girls who are developing personal power, and for that I adore this book. In Delphine, I see depth, resilience and the practical skills of survival. I see a girl finding her voice and questioning what is around her. What is “mother”? What is fairness? What is the difference between making trouble and insisting on dignity? Delphine keeps her wits about her as she tries to decide whom to trust with what, keeping her heart open to what surprises the grown world brings. MM
by Sharon M. Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015
Middle grade, Ages 9-13
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Stella likes to slip out of the house at night to practice her writing because she thinks more clearly in silence, under the stars. One night her little brother, JoJo, follows her and the two siblings witness a Ku Klux Klan meeting. The re-emergence of the KKK in rural Bumblebee, NC sends fear into Stella’s tight-knit community.
The novel is set in the Depression-era, a time of transition in America and the rural south. Some people in Bumblebee want to destroy social progress that has been made, using violence and threats. Stella and her father know the only way to go is forward toward education, opportunity, and equal rights.
Standing up for yourself and your family takes courage and clarity, as Stella learns by accompanying her father and their pastor to the voting poll on Election Day. The danger they face is real; the consequences suffered heart-breaking. Rather than fight fire with fire, Stella chooses the power of the pen as her weapon. She fights back with written words full of truth and faith.
There is so much to love in this book. Draper writes endearing, charismatic adult characters who encourage the children to help each other, to take risks, to sing loudly, and learn by watching and listening and trying. The language and phrasing resonate a time when the spoken word made strong use of storytelling, oral history, rhymes, and riddles. Scenes of joyous meals and earnest worship combine into a vibrant, inspiring depiction of a beloved community where the people find solace and fortitude in one another.
Best of all is Stella, drawn with palpable connection to the people around her, a girl with a brave, loving heart and a desire to write the truth. – Gigi
by Deborah Wiles
Scholastic Press, 2014
Middle grade documentary novel, ages 9 – 12
Additional formats: available as e-book and audio
Awards: National Book Award finalist * Golden Kite Award, 2014
All Sunny Fairchild wants to do is swim in the pool and stay away from her new stepmother, kind as she may be.
This isn’t just an ordinary summer, though. It’s Freedom Summer, and “agitators from the North” plan to come to Sunny’s town in Mississippi to register black voters.
Revolution is the second book in a trilogy about the tumultuous 1960s. What I love about this 522-page book (pretty hefty for middle grade) is its marriage of great storytelling and heart-wrenching documentary. We follow the journey of a strong girl whose eyes are opened to the racial discrimination she has never bothered to consider. But we are also following a carefully researched documentary of the sacrifices that went into the early Civil Rights era. Readers can see the startling artifacts of the time: KKK communiqués, pamphlets that were distributed by Freedom School volunteers, as well as news accounts of murders and disappearances. The frightening realities of the Deep South come alive.
I’m especially fond of how Deborah drew Sunny and her family. Sunny is imperfect: so proud, daring, and smart but also bullheaded and, at times, selfish.
Her family runs the gamut from those who want no change, to those fighting for it or flailing for some murky middle ground in the face of danger.
Raymond, a talented baseball player, is a wonderful counter character, and his family experiences offer a similar bold look inside the African Americans who were struggling to register for the vote and desegregate their communities.
Fact and fiction have met beautifully in this novel. A book like one this reminds us that a strong girl will see hard things in her lifetime. What matters is how she responds. ~MM
We here at Girls of Summer love a little scandal, especially if it involves strong, smart girls. So, we’re happy to include Margarita Engle’s latest novel-in-verse, The Lightning Dreamer, about Cuba’s great abolitionist poet, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, whose work was once considered so scandalous for its interracial, feminist and abolitionist themes that it was burned.
Never heard of Avellaneda? No problem. Margarita Engle is a master at digging in the dark corners of history to shine a light on figures from Latin American history that you might not otherwise meet. And she does it with impressive results. Engle is the first Latina winner of the Newbery Honor Award, twice the recipient of the
prestigious Pura Belpre´ prize, and the recipient of the 2012 Américas Awards.
In The Lightning Dreamer, we meet Tula (Gómez de Avellaneda’s nickname) as a young girl growing up in early 19th century Cuba. This is the Cuba where slavery is the backbone of the sugar economy, where an educated woman is seen as a threat, and where Tula’s best choice for becoming well-read may actually lie behind the walls of a convent where her access to books would be unfettered.
Tula struggles against her mother’s plans for her marriage, and in this she has several key allies, including her faithful brother, Manuel. Despite every effort to the contrary, Tula awakens to the power of books, the outrage of her own situation, and to the abolitionist movement.
The story is told in Margarita Engle’s signature style: short poignant poems where each character is given a chance to speak. Tula’s voice is strong and unapologetic, but the secondary characters also build her world: her frustrated mother, Manuel, Caridad the servant, the orphans, and the nuns who prove to be pivotal in her education.
It has never been easy to be a strong girl, but Tula reminds us that female visionaries have existed in all countries throughout history. I admire this book for celebrating a woman who was ridiculed and shunned for having ideas that were far ahead of her time. MM
By Jeri Watts
Middle Grade fiction
Ages 9 and up, Grades 5-8
Candlewick Press, 2012
additional formats: e-book, audio
Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year *Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies *Parents’ Choice Awards Recommended
Kizzy Ann Stamps is a strong girl who hates dresses and her annoying neighbor Frank Charles but loves her border collie to distraction. She’s also a girl with a distinctively scarred face that makes her stand out – exactly what she doesn’t want as she prepares to attend the formerly whites-only school in her town.
Jeri Watts’ novel is set in 1963 rural Virginia, just as public schools are beginning to integrate. Thanks to Miss Warren, who has taught at the black school for thirty-seven, Kizzy Ann is required to write a letter to her new teacher, Miss Anderson, who will teach the first integrated classroom. With each letter, Kizzy Ann reveals her skill as a southern storyteller. Her stories of her life’s daily trials not only flesh out her family, the black school, the library, and the appalling neighbors, but they also give name to the fears and misgivings of being asked to step into a hostile territory every day. This is the Virginia where a school must designate one out of every three bathroom stalls for use by black children, the Virginia where a black child can get spanked publicly for sassing a white man, the Virginia where an athlete like Kizzy Ann’s brother James, can never earn a place on his high school varsity football team, regardless of his skill.
Through all of this, Kizzy Ann enjoys the faithful companionship of her dog, Shag, who keeps dangerous neighbors at bay and who puts his life at risk for hers. In turn, when it is time to fight for Shag’s right to compete in dog trials where he will surely shine, Kizzy Ann finds her strength to prove that they both have a right to be there.
This lovely debut middle grade novel brings a piece of Virginia’s difficult racial history into focus for young readers, never an easy task. Yet at its core, Kizzy Ann Stamps is the story of a strong girl with the voice and courage to make change happen. MM
Listen to an audio excerpt from Kizzy Ann Stamps.
By Dori Jones Yang
Random House/Delacorte Press, 2011
Awards/Recognitions: *Amelia Bloomer Project selection *Children’s Book Committee of Bank Street College of Education, Best Books of the Year *National Council for the Social Studies *Notable Trade Books for Young People
Set seven hundred years ago in Xanadu, the summer palace of Mongolian emperor Kubla Khan, Daughter of Xanadu is the story of Princess Emmajin, the Khan’s eldest granddaughter. Emmajin is athletic and headstrong and dreams of joining her grandfather’s army and becoming a legendary warrior. She is determined to take advantage of her last days of official childhood by competing in an archery contest between the young men of the royal court. Everyone but Suren, her best friend and eldest grandson of Kubla Khan, tries to block her from competing even though she’s grown up practicing the three superior arts: archery, horseback riding, and wrestling alongside the boys of Xanadu. These arts are the territory of men, yet because Emmajin excels in each of them, she has been allowed to participate. However once Emmajin and Suren turn sixteen, everything will change. Suren will become a warrior; Emmajin will be expected to marry.
In her final competition, Emmajin’s expertise and courage impress the Khan and the royal court. The Italian merchant Marco Polo has just arrived at the royal palace and as a reward for Emmajin’s brilliance, her grandfather assigns her to spy on Marco Polo and Marco’s father and uncle. She must report everything about these foreigners to her grandfather’s advisers. At first, Emmajin is disturbed by Marco Polo’s red hair and green eyes, but he’s such a kind and accepting person that despite her upbringing, Emmajin grows to like him. That presents a couple of problems.
Not only would loving Marco Polo always be a forbidden love, a romance of any kind would only distract her from her goal of gaining acceptance into the imperial army. While there’s some betrayal involved in Emmajin’s pursuit of her ambition to become a warrior, she wins the opportunity march with twelve thousand men on a secret mission to for the Khan.
And guess who goes along for the journey? Oh, I can’t tell you who. Yes, I can. Her cousin, Suren, goes with her. They are friends for life – the inhale to the other’s exhale. Emmajin proves herself on the battlefield next to Suren. She kills hundreds of the enemy’s soldiers, but she finds that becoming a legendary warrior carries an extraordinary cost and meeting Marco Polo changes how she defines enemy.
Daughter of Xanadu is a sweeping story of friendship, war, ambition, and romance in the Mongolian Empire. Dori Yang’s Emmajin is a heroine of ancient times and a shero for our time. History buffs, time travelers, and explorers of the internal and external worlds will love this book. GA
By Jennifer Donnelly
Harcourt Books, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-15-216705-9/978-0-15-205310-9 (paperback)
Awards/recognitions: *Printz Honor Book *ALA “Top Ten” Best Book for Young Adults *Booklist Editor’s Choice *Booklist Top Ten Youth First Novel *Book Sense 76 Top Ten Book for Teens *Junior Library Guild Selection *A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age *A Parent’s Guide Children’s Media Young Adult Honor Book *A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year *A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
This is our oldest selection for Girls of Summer, and I couldn’t be more committed to including this title. It debuted when I was writing my first novel, and I still remember closing the book and wondering if I would ever be able to write something that felt so completely satisfying. Jennifer Donnelly has gone on to write other acclaimed titles, but none have earned my heart the way this one did as a word geek, as a writer, as a feminist, and as a fan of good whodunit.
It’s 1906, and Mattie Gokey, working as a hotel domestic for the summer, finds herself faced with a girl drowned in the lake – and a pocketful of letters the girl asked her to burn. So begins the unraveling of a sad mystery based on the scandalous real-life death of skirt factory employee Grace Brown, whose untimely death was the basis for Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy and later, the Academy-award winning movie, A Place in the Sun.
In Donnelly’s deft hands, however, Grace Brown’s death is a parallel to the larger conflict for Mattie: being a girl robbed of choices. A deathbed promise to her mother has left Mattie caring for her three sisters and father, who are struggling with the daily demands of keeping up a farm. Her dreams to study at Barnard, where she has already been accepted, are at odds with virtually every reality in her life: her promise, her father’s wishes, and the social mores for women of the time. The future she wants is on a collision course with the approval of her entire social circle, including Royal Loomis, the handsome young man every girl should want.
Mattie is a girl searching for the words to name and explain her experience, words that are too big, too scary for all but her dearest friends. In the end, like all strong girls, she has to ask herself the hard questions and find her own answers. What defines a woman as respectable – or conversely, as dangerous, immoral, and even a lunatic? Who gets to make those definitions? Populated with a cast of layered and contradictory characters, A Northern Light gives us a story about people, motives, and the tough choices we make in order to find ourselves. MM
By Julia Alvarez
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2002
ISBN: 0375815449 / 978-0375815447
Also available in paperback and audio
Awards/recognitions: * ALA Best Books for Young Adults * ALA Notable Book; Miami Herald Book of the Year * Winner of the Amércias Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature * Winner of the Pura Bupré Award
Julia Alvarez is a titan in the world of Latino literature, so it isn’t surprising that a decade past its publication, her first YA novel, Before We Were Free, is still one of my favorites to recommend for middle school readers. The novel is historical fiction, but it’s not based on American history. Instead, it’s set in the Dominican Republic during the early 1960s as the brutal 30-year dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo was unraveling.
Rafael who? Yes, that’s exactly the problem. This bloody history happened right in our global neighborhood, but ask your average middle school kid about it and you’ll get a blank stare. So, for girls who like world history, a little bloodshed, espionage, and murder plots, this is a terrific pick.
The country is in upheaval, and the secret police are investigating anyone who is suspected of betraying “el jefe” Trujillo. Anita de la Torre’s uncle has already disappeared, and her beloved cousins are fleeing to the United States, plucked from school one day and told to take one thing they cherish. Anita stays behind with her parents, only vaguely aware of her father’s involvement in the plot against the president.
The book touches on the tragedy of those caught in political upheavals the world over. Family separations, secrets kept from children for the sake of safety, and of course, the gut-wrenching decisions people have to make about morality, ideals, torture, and murder. But what is on full display here – and what strong girls will respond to — is the cost to young people: their voice and their innocence. MM
Learn more about Julia Alvarez.