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 Lila Quintero Weaver
Young adult/non-fiction/graphic format
The University of Alabama Press, 2012
I am so very proud to include this debut work in Girls of Summer. I had the pleasure of meeting the author at this year’s national Latino Children’s Literature Conference, where I sat utterly amazed by her talent and grace.
Set in Marion Alabama during the 1960s, Darkroom is a memoir in graphic novel format. It’s about growing up as the only Hispanic family in a town where racial tensions erupted into violence and murder during the Civil Rights era. Weaver, daughter of an amateur Argentine photographer, gives us an unflinching account of what she saw and how she grew to make sense of all that surrounded her.
Neither black nor white in the eyes of her neighbors, she felt shame at her own heritage, especially as she became increasingly conscious of the appalling racial injustice against blacks at the time. The memoir hinges on the events of a single night that ended in the death of a peaceful marcher, an event that would change her thinking forever.
We all know that children have never been exempt from history’s horrors. What’s remarkable here is how expertly Weaver has found an honest way to talk about this awful chapter in our country’s history – and how well she keeps us in the perspective of the young girl she once was. Her black and white illustrations are especially clever in partnerships with spare, elegant text. This is a writer who has depth and knows that her readers do, too.
I think young women reading this will find a doorway into history. So many of the events are disturbing. (The snapshot of the fourth grade history book is particularly alarming. And be warned: Weaver keeps true to ugly slurs of the time.) But I think strong girls will love this book because it’s a story of a girl who didn’t give in to the pressures around her. Instead, she learned to open her eyes to what was really around her and inside her. It’s a story of a shy, unsure girl finding her voice at a dangerous time. MM
By Veronica Rossi
Awards/Recognitions: *Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Summer is made for guilty pleasures, and what better way to fit the bill than a romantic fantasy that features a dystopian future, a feral hottie, and an opera-singing strong girl? I am happy to introduce you to Under the Never Sky, the first in a planned trilogy with HarperCollins.
Veronica Rossi’s debut novel pulls you immediately into Reverie, a dystopian world of pods that keep out poisonous Aether. Our heroine, Aria, lives with other genetically-engineered people, a perfect looking bunch, all strapped with Smart Eyes that allow them to visit virtual realms to alleviate the boredom of life inside a pod. Beyond their protected world are the Outsiders, tribes trying to survive the harsh landscape of a world dominated by roiling skies filled with swirls of electrical charges that create devastation in their path. When Aria is expelled from the pods and set outside to die, she has to find a way to adapt to a world where an enemy can scent your emotions or hear you coming from miles off. It’s a world where you have to face down cannibals, wolves, and near starvation.
Rossi is a master at invention and pacing. She’s written a page-turner, whether in the high action fight scenes or in the scenes where she builds sexual tension between Aria and Peregrine in a futuristic spin on Romeo and Juliet.
I’m hopeful for the next two books in the series – mostly because Aria goes from pampered girl to kick ass heroine. I’ll admit I worried at the early scenes where the boys did too much survival teaching, but I can see there’s much more to come. Under the Never Sky is for all of you who didn’t flinch once at the premise of The Hunger Games — and who don’t mind a good knife-fight now and again. MM
By Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango
Delacorte Press, 2011
Awards/recognitions: *A School Library Journal Best Book of 2011 *TAYSHAS list (Texas student reading list) 2012-2013 *ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012 *A Junior Library Guild Selection *An Amelia Bloomer Project Recommended Book
There is no shortage of horrors that can befall a little girl in the world. Laura Resau brings us the fictionalized account of her co-author’s life as an impoverished indígena who is given to (or stolen by, just depending on your view) a metizo couple in Ecuador.
The novel follows seven-year-old Virginia as she leaves her difficult rural life for the frightening role of babysitter and house slave to her adoptive family. Along the way, you’ll get a ringside seat to the racism that plagues indigenous cultures throughout Latin America.
If you’re worried that this novel will read like an anthropology text, don’t. You’ll fall in love with Virginia – difficult, stubborn, intelligent, a survivor – and you’ll be more than willing to see her win. MM
By Nancy Amanda Redd
Penguin Group, 2007
With Body Drama, former Miss Virginia and a Miss America swimsuit winner, Nancy Redd, wrote the book she wished she had had in high school and college. What better season to embrace of self-love and body-confidence than summertime?
Part reference book, part girlfriend, Body Drama aims to reassure young women about their bodies, encourage them to appreciate their natural strength and beauty, and remind them that there are no stupid questions. Nancy Redd leaves no question unasked or unanswered. The book is presented in five sections: Skin, Boobs, Down There, Hair Mouth Nails, and Shape. Each section follows the same friendly, accessible format:
- Body Drama
- What’s Going On?
- How Do I Deal
- What if They Notice, and
- How to.
The body dramas covered range from the timeless – My face is a zit factory – to the contemporary – My piercing isn’t healing well – to the confessional – It’s a forest down there – and everything in between.
There’s almost nothing better than having a girlfriend who you can trust with any fear, who you can ask any question. You know, the one who keeps a hug for you in her back pocket? If a book could be that girlfriend, Body Drama would be her – someone to laugh with over all the nicknames you can think of for your boobs or your period and one bold enough to even teach you nicknames for your vulva (p. 118). My favorite? Grassy Knoll.
Body Drama makes a perfect gift for a young woman headed off to college or for any woman who could use a friend to remind her as this book does, “No Body is Perfect. Every Body is Beautiful. Every Body is Different. Different is Beautiful.” GA
By John Green
Dutton Books, 2012
Awards/recognitions: * #1 New York Times bestseller * #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller * #9 The Bookseller (UK) bestseller * #1 Indiebound bestseller * New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice * Starred reviews from Booklist, SLJ, Publisher’s Weekly, Horn Book, and Kirkus
Okay, look: The Fault in Our Stars is a cancer book. It’s also a hilarious, gut-wrenching, and beautiful story of romance between two young people who have a zero tolerance policy for bullshit. If this novel doesn’t win the Michael L. Printz Award, I don’t know what will.
Seventeen and addicted to America’s Next Top Model, Hazel is battling thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She is well aware that there is no cure for her disease – only a way to prolong her life and keep her comfortable. Turns out, none of that gets in the way of friendship or falling in love with a handsome bone cancer-survivor named Augustus.
I’ll admit that Hazel and Augustus can be a bit too prep school precocious as characters. (Seriously, not many kids quote sonnets to one another – or use the word “alas.”) But what is irresistible here is their razor-sharp assessment of dying young. Better still, in Hazel we have a young woman at her most physically frail emerging as a force you’ll remember long after the last pages.
John Green takes what most of us think of as a worst-case scenario and gives us a story that somehow still celebrates life. He captures the spirit of being young and doing anything – including dying. MM
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