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There are so many reasons to read this book, including the author's local connection and the National Book Award sticker on the cover, but that barely scratches the surface. The Way Back is a beautiful and haunting story about two children who, after an encounter with the Angel of Death, have to journey into the Far Country, a land of demons and the dead inspired by Jewish folklore. Gavriel Savit is a strong and unique voice in YA right now, and I can attest that the award sticker is well deserved! Fans of Neil Gaiman will find Savit's writing to be reminiscent, but powerful in its own right. A delectably creepy book, and one that should absolutely not be missed.
How We Show Up is a brilliant nonfiction read, which explores community building and models for connection. It's also a book I want to discuss with everyone I know. Birdsong pulls inspiration from many places: Black communities, queer relationship models, transformative justice movements, and more. Packed with anecdotes and real world examples, this book manages to stay grounded, but it's also an open invitation to rethink our own communities and to create deeper connections in our own lives. I think there is so much to be gained from reading this book!
The Groom Will Keep His Name is absolutely THE BOOK—as in, the book I want all of my friends to read ASAP, and quite possibly my favorite book of the year! Matt Ortile’s collection of essays is full of brilliant and witty and sensual commentary on being gay, being Filipino, being an immigrant, the city of New York as aspirational, the process of decolonizing identity and the American Dream, and navigating a multitude of identities in various spaces. There are essays here that feel especially relevant in this specific moment, particularly the one about how we relate to history by rewriting and sanitizing it, but every essay touched me. This is a collection of essays but also a wildly smart and sharp manifesto. I cannot more highly recommend!
Legendborn is an epic King Arthur retelling you do not want to miss!! When Bree starts at UNC’s early college program, she witnesses something that shouldn’t be real. When a “Merlin” tries to erase her memory, it backfires and unlocks a hidden memory from the night her mom was killed, leading Bree to dive into the world of a pretty much all white secret society descended from the Knights of the Round Table. Deonn manages the impossible here, simultaneously honoring, subverting, and adding to her source material, all while creating an intricately woven plot with twists that will keep you reading late into the night. With southern Black Girl Magic and an incredible cast of characters, Legendborn is easily THE standout YA fantasy for me!
Framed through the lens of conversations with her family and friends, Mira Jacob’s Good Talk is a wonderfully insightful rumination on race in the US. When confronted by her son’s questions about Michael Jackson, Trump, their own interracial family, and more, Jacob starts to explore what it means to have these conversations in the world we live in. While this is a memoir focused on Jacob’s own life, it also illuminates deep and broadly relevant truths. As we begin to face the after effects of the Trump presidency, Good Talk invites us all to start having the hard conversations. With a cleverly unique art style, this book balances humor and wisdom, and is a must-read for the America we live in right now.
This book is why science fiction exists! Riot Baby follows the relationship between two siblings—a young man indefinitely jailed in Rikers prison and his sister who has a Thing that allows her to communicate telepathically and to cause pain. But the author manages to write the dystopia here from the most dystopian parts of reality in America, giving the story an unflinching call out for our own times. This is a novel about race, and about family, justice, anger, and loss. In his author's note, Tochi Onyebuchi says he set out to "write angry, the type of angry that still leaves room for love." This book sizzles with both anger and love, and maybe even hope for an end to the dystopia.
This is absolutely THE epic fantasy of the year! A ship launches from a distant shore, carrying a blind man and a captain with secrets of her own. They are headed to the holy city of Tova, where unrest from the surrounding clans threatens the Priests' seat of power there. What unfolds is an incredibly exciting and thoughtful adventure. Rebecca Roanhorse is an incredible storyteller, and anyone looking to get lost in a completely immersive and political intriguing fantasy world will fall in love with this book. At times dark and at times hopeful, I loved everything about Black Sun. Absolutely a new favorite for me!
Tien speaks mostly English, and his parents speak mostly Vietnamese. Tien is also gay, but he doesn’t even know where to begin explaining that to his mother in the words they do share. They connect by reading fairy tales together, and through the stories they tell, the two create their own lines of communication, and grapple with family heartache together. This story is an intimate one, a close up on one family’s experience, but I really do think anyone with a love of stories or anyone who has struggled to communicate who they are to others will find something that resonates. The art is also beautiful, and just as magical as the fairy tales it depicts. All in all, a stunning graphic novel!
I fell head over heels for this totally swoon-worthy romance! Astrologer Elle goes on a disastrous date with the uptight Darcy, and the fall out leads to an elaborate fake dating scheme. What starts as pretend quickly turns into something more than either woman bargained for. With a mix of electric chemistry, interesting side characters, and tense family dynamics, with quite a few astrology memes sprinkled in for good measure, Written in the Stars hits all the right notes. Alexandria Bellefleur cleverly updates Pride and Prejudice for the millennial reader, and the result is equal parts funny, sexy, and touching.
If you're looking for incredible worldbuilding, look no further! In The Space Between Worlds, Johnson takes on the multiverse theory in a completely original way. On Earth Zero, technology has developed to allow people to “traverse” to other Earths. The catch? You can only travel to a world where you’ve already died. Enter Cara, a cunning traverser who has died on all but 8 worlds and who might just bring the multiverse down. The unique story offers a compelling look at choice, fate and how our lives end up the way they are, set against an exciting sci-fi backdrop full of gloriously flawed characters and a fast-paced plot. An extremely thought-provoking read that I couldn't put down!
What an absolutely delectable book of poems! Reading The Nightgown and Other Poems is like wading through a glorious bog of rich, evocative language and eerie creatures. And while these poems are fairytales, they don’t necessarily have happy endings—which is not to say that you won’t feel their magic. Taisia Kitaiskaia finds magic in creatures as strange as goblins and as mundane as jam and butter. I read this entire book, put it down, and immediately picked it back up because I wasn’t yet done wading into these wild and witchy poems. Read The Nightown and you’ll see the world through Kitaiskaia’s eyes, which is to say, in a completely new and enchanting light.
In Star Daughter, Shveta Thakrar’s enchanting debut, Sheetal is the daughter of both a star and a mortal, not fully a part of either world. When her own starfire injures her dad in a fatal accident, she whisks away to the heavens where only participating in a celestial competition might save her father. Sheetal’s struggle to belong is a beautiful story of what it means to be human and the choice to love in spite of fear. Nothing in Star Daughter shines brighter than the world-building, with immersive descriptions full of vivid colors and smells. Thakrar’s prose is made of music and moonlight, and it’s easy to fall right into the Hindu mythology-inspired world. Star Daughter is a gorgeous book that will dazzle readers!
The Black Flamingo is a fiercely unique book that I want to gift to all of my friends! Told in verse, Dean Atta’s brilliant coming-of-age story follows Michael, a young mixed-race gay teen trying to navigate love and family while feeling like he’s never enough for any of his communities. When he discovers drag, Michael feels like he might have finally found his place. While many of the individual poems could stand on their own, they also come together into a powerful and introspective story that offers meaningful commentary on masculinity, queerness, and race. This book is such a needed addition to the YA canon, and I can highly recommend it to anyone young or old who wants to be inspired to find beauty in their own identities. The Black Flamingo manages to be both singular and universal, and it’s the fierce, fun, moving book we all need in our lives!
This should be required reading in the lead up to the 2020 election. Zerlina Maxwell clearly and eloquently analyzes where our politics are right now, and where they need to go. This book so perfectly articulates the need for progressive identity-based politics that aren't white politics, and she looks at all of the major and minor political players to make her case. Maxwell's perspective on electoral politics will definitely invigorate readers and voters, so register to vote and then go pick up this book!
Move over Twilight, there are new werewolves in town! Romina Garber’s Lobizona is a wonderful blend of Argentinian witch and werewolf lore, a magical school setting, and contemporary commentary on immigrant justice. Its unique magic system acts as the perfect setting to explore themes of belonging, love, family legacy, and what it means when we call a person illegal. This richly told story will entice young readers who’ve enjoyed Harry Potter, Shadow and Bone, and more, and I can’t wait for readers to connect with this epic story!
A memoir told in essays, Here For It is a hilarious and heartfelt reflection on Thomas's life as a black, gay, and Christian man living in America. It's the most human commentary on pop culture and politics that I've read. Here For It reads like a mix between Bad Feminist and Hannah Gadsby's Netflix comedy special, but it has a voice that's entirely its own. This book made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me cry from laughing. Everyone needs to read this treasure of a book!
Gene Luen Yang is a master of the graphic novel form, and Dragon Hoops is some of his best work! Read it for an engaging story that is part history of basketball, part memoir, part (true) underdog sports story, and all around fun. I truly can’t describe how much this book moved me, taught me, made me laugh. I love love loved every page of it, and I hope you will too!
I love The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi's lush historical fantasy! Set in 1880s Paris, the book follows an unlikely band of allies who have everything to gain and even more to lose in their hunt for an ancient and powerful artifcat. I loved the dynamic characters most of all, but there was lots here to enjoy. The romantic chemistry was electric. The banter was witty. The mystery was intricately constructed and a complete joy to watch unfold. I absolutely fell into this fun, original, and enchanting read!
It's hard for me to capture how thoroughly I fell in love with this book! Part romance and part election story, Red, White & Royal Blue tells the story of Alex, First Son of the US, and Henry, Prince of Wales, and their secret love affair amidst Alex's mother's reelection campaign. This book has it all: witty banter, beautiful love letters, timely political commentary, and an awesome squad of characters. Especially in such dark and chaotic political times, this book is a much needed breath of fresh air. Fun, flirty, and so, so smart!
In this fun and colorful story, two worms are in love and decide to get married. All the other insects tell them about all the ways weddings “have always been done,” but the traditions don’t quite fit our two love bugs! This great book turns tradition on its head as Worm and Worm learn that their love is the most important thing of all. A sweet and simple story that makes a great statement!
Stargazing charts the friendship between two very different girls learning to be friends and it hits all the right notes. Jen Wang is truly a queen among graphic novelists! Her art and storytelling speak to such intimate parts of the characters, but with tremendous whimsy and grace. Her drawings are fun, evocative, beautiful, and playful. I cannot recommend this book (or her first, The Prince and the Dressmaker) more highly!
This book completely captured my heart! It's a story that follows Danny Cheng, a young artist heading off to college, but whose life starts unraveling as the anniversary of a tragedy at school approaches and secrets about both family and friends surface. Kelly Loy Gilbert's lyrical writing perfectly captures what it is to be in high school and come into yourself as a person. I loved how the timeline jumped between past and present, allowing relationships to beautifully unfold in nonlinear ways. Never preachy, the story touches on immigration, poverty, adoption, suicide, and coming out, leading to a stunning ending that completely moved me. Such a beautiful book!
“Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. All organizing is science fiction.” So begins Octavia’s Brood, an anthology of social justice science fiction stories. I’m a big believer that the best activists read fiction. It teaches us the power to imagine lives that aren’t our own, and worlds that aren’t our current reality, and no book uses that power more so than Octavia’s Brood. Filled with pieces by writers from various worlds of organizing, this collection of “visionary fiction” is a must-read, especially in our current moment. Some of the stories are gentle, some are angry. Some have happy endings, some are open-ended. But all of the stories in Octavia’s Brood inspired me, and I hope you’ll let them inspire you too!