New YA Fiction: The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertali

Few books I’ve worked on in the last few years were met with more grassroots, floor bookseller support than Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. That charming romantic comedy about a gay teen was an Indie Next pick, a Carnegie Medal nominee, and on many “best of the year” lists.

So, anticipation has been high for Albertalli’s next book. Paste, Bustle and Entertainment Weekly all put The Upside of Unrequited on their lists of most anticipated YA novels in 2017. Fans will not be disappointed. Albertalli gives us another funny, realistic story about a loving family and teens negotiating the tricky path to embracing their true selves.

While Simon plays a cameo in this book, the star is 17-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso, the straight daughter of lesbian mothers. Jill Zimmerman, the children’s book buyer at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor get the plot summary just right:

Molly Peskin-Suso has two moms and a twin sister/best friend Cassie who are all out and proud. Molly is straight, a chubby homebody with anxiety who has never had a boyfriend, but instead 26 unrequited crushes. She would rather stay at home crafting or making cookie dough, or hang out with her nerdy co-worker Reid, than go to parties. But when Cassie gets a serious girlfriend, Molly finally agrees to be matched up with a cute boy named Will who seems to like her. Problem is: does Molly like him? A really funny book about finding the confidence to ‘come out’ and be yourself, whatever that might mean to you.”

Indie fans have again put this in their Top Ten on the Spring Indie Next list and the advance reviews are great.

“Albertalli’s follow-up to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda features a diverse family (Molly’s mothers are different races and religions) living in Beltway Washington the year gay marriage is legalized. It’s as full of heart as Simon (Simon himself makes a cameo appearance) and is replete with humor and honestly drawn characters like Grandma Betty, who comments inappropriately about Molly’s weight and thinks all lesbians have short hair. The cheerful resolution has Molly finding her own path, concluding that, no matter how well-intentioned one’s wingman might be, you have to be your heart’s own goalie.”
— Publishers Weekly

Readers will fall in love with this fresh, honest, inclusive look at dating, families, and friendship. A top purchase for all YA collections.”
— School Library Journal (starred review)

“In her second, relationship-rich novel, Albertalli’s take on the agonies and ecstasies of adolescent love are spot-on.”
— ALA Booklist

“I loved Albertalli’s first book, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and The Upside of Unrequited is even better! She’s great at introducing thought-provoking social issues – sexuality, racism, size-ism and bullying – not in a heavy-handed or preachy way, but as an organic part of her story, and her characters make you want to cheer for them. 17-year-old twins Molly and Cassie are best friends in spite of their differences, but when Cassie gets a serious girlfriend, Molly – who has never dated, unwilling to face possible rejection because of her weight – can’t help feeling left out. If you love Rainbow Rowell, check out Becky Albertalli!”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

The Upside of Unrequited is the book I’ve always wanted but never thought I could have. Endlessly smart, earnest, and embarrassing, Molly’s story is one we can all relate to, one we definitely need more of. Hands down the most meaningful, witty, and satisfying book I’ve read in the last year—a true new favorite. Do yourself a favor: buy it, clear your schedule, read, and rejoice, for Becky Albertalli’s new book is even better than the last!”
— Gaby Salpeter, Books of Wonder, New York, NY

The Upside of Unrequited (9780062348708) by Becky Albertalli. $17.99 hardcover. 4/11/17 on sale.

New Children’s Picture Book: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors – Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex

This is hands down the most hilarious read-aloud so far this year. Adam Rex’s illustrations give boisterous life to bestseller Daywalt’s smack down tale. Entirely fresh, it looks like another winner from the author of The Day the Crayon’s Quit. Three starred reviews.

Put on your battle pants, indeed.

 “Many challengers enter the storytime arena, but do they have the verbal dexterity, illustrative finesse, and plotline punch to captivate a crowd of voracious toddlers? Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex’s collaborative entrant The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors has all that it takes. Our titled trio each loves a good fight, but their constant wins amongst household foes have dulled the allure of victory. All that changes when rock, paper and scissors cross paths. Put on your battle pants, it’s time for the fight to end all fights! Gorgeously expressive and endlessly quotable, we are indeed entertained.”
— Molly Gillespie, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Daywalt’s text, set in a range of expressive fonts, combines the heightened verbosity of vintage action comics with the swagger of backyard scuffles (“I hope you’re wearing your battle pants, rock warrior,” warns Scissors), and Rex composes wildly dramatic battle scenes against backdrops of thunderstorms, erupting volcanoes, and missile launches. Forget reading aloud—this story demands bombastic, full-volume performances.”
Publishers Weekly (starred reviews)

“Cheeky humor and prideful asides will have listeners in stitches. A closer-to-perfect pairing couldn’t be imagined. Everyone wins!”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The earnest gravity of the fighters’ quests paired with the mundane setting and melodramatic tone are perfectly balanced to produce a brand of purely absurd, sidesplitting humor that kids will gobble up.”
Booklist (starred review)

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (9780062438898) by Drew Daywalt, Drew and Adam Rex. $17.99 hardcover. 4/4/17 on sale.

Book of the Week: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

It’s the second time in a month that a YA author comes up with the most compelling writing of the week!

If you follow what’s going on in YA fiction, you probably already know about this one. The Hate U Give is one of the most eagerly anticipated novels of the new year and has already been previewed in Elle, NYT and several times in Entertainment Weekly.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement this is the story of how a girl and her community come to terms with the police killing of a young Black man. You might feel you “know” this storyline because, sadly, we see the barebones of it over and over in news headlines. The miracle of this book is the way Thomas brings readers into real human lives as they are lived—how we come to understand the richness, the depth, the complexity, the hope and heartache behind the headlines.

For me, it was an experience in the kind of radical empathy and understanding I need so much right now. I can’t recommend it enough. If you have a moment, you can get a sneak peek at the first three chapters on Epic Reads.

It arrives with a sweep of five starred reviews from all the advance review publications, as well as raves from authors and booksellers. And I expect it to find a prominent place on the Spring Kids Indie Next list.

 

“[Starr Carter attends private school and is] already wrestling with what Du Bois called ‘double consciousness’ when she accepts a ride home from Khalil, a childhood friend, who is then pulled over and shot dead by a white cop. Starr’s voice commands attention from page one, a conflicted but clear-eyed lens through which debut author Thomas examines Khalil’s killing, casual racism at Williamson, and Starr’s strained relationship with her white boyfriend. Though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teenage girl, her loving family, and her attempts to reconcile what she knows to be true about their lives with the way those lives are depicted—and completely undervalued—by society at large.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family. This story is necessary. This story is important.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Beautifully written in Starr’s authentic first-person voice, this is a marvel of verisimilitude as it insightfully examines two worlds in collision. An inarguably important book that demands the widest possible readership.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Pair this powerful debut with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s ALL AMERICAN BOYS to start a conversation on racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.”
School Library Journal (starred review)

The Hate U Give is an important and timely novel that reflects the world today’s teens inhabit. Starr’s struggles create a complex character, and Thomas boldly tackles topics like racism, gangs, police violence, and interracial dating. This topical, necessary story is highly recommended for all libraries.”
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) (Starred Review)

“As we continue to fight the battle against police brutality and systemic racism in America, The Hate U Give serves as a much needed literary ramrod. Absolutely riveting!”
—Jason Reynolds

Angie Thomas has written a stunning, brilliant, gut-wrenching novel that will be remembered as a classic of our time.”
—John Green

“Angie Thomas’ novel gives readers a complex narrative of life in a Black community dealing with the intersectional traumas of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, police violence and death. We follow Starr a sixteen year old trying to navigate Black existence in the white world, through the lens of a predominantly white affluent high school where she spends most of her time, and her community of Garden Heights. It is a powerfully written tale of coming to terms with the things outside of our control and all that which we can change.”
— Sarah Zarantonello, Carmichaels Bookstore, Louisville, KY

“Yes, like Tupac’s Thug Life, understand the impact of the seeds you sow.  Starr has neighborhood ties, and school friends; her slang and their pop culture words–and then one of the most current debates on American minds bubbles up around her.  She witnesses the murder of one of her friends when a young, black boy is killed at a routine traffic stop by a white cop. Suddenly Starr’s status is tabloid and taboo.  A real and critical voice gets to shine in the bildungsroman of our time.”
— Charity McMaster, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

The Hate U Give (9780062498533) by Angie Thomas. $17.99 hardcover. 2/28/17 on sale.

Book of the Week: American Street – Ibi Zoboi

Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own history as a young Haitian immigrant to explore contemporary immigrant experience in this new teen novel. Set in Detroit, it is the story of a girl separated from her mother at the border and thrown into urban life with her American cousins.

Ultimately a family and coming of age story, American Street is also richly infused with Haitian culture and dollop of magical realism. It is a beautiful story about one patch in the crazy quilt of American stories—stories of people from all over the world and from many backgrounds.

It’s already been covered in the NYT and arrives with three starred reviews as well as raves from booksellers and authors alike.

“Filling her pages with magic, humanity, tragedy, and hope, Zoboi builds up, takes apart, and then rebuilds an unforgettable story. This book will take root in readers’ hearts.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Zoboi’s powerful debut, set in current-day Detroit (but based on the author’s experience as a Haitian immigrant in 1980s Bushwick, Brooklyn), unflinchingly tackles contemporary issues of immigration, assimilation, violence, and drug dealing…. Mixing gritty street life with the tenderness of first love, Haitian Vodou, and family bonds, the book is at once chilling, evocative, and reaffirming.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Zoboi’s stunning debut intertwines mysticism and love with grit and violence….Zoboi, who emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti, brings a nuanced portrayal of that culture to the narrative. Evocative prose, where Fabiola calls on voodoo spirits, informs and enriches her character, while standing in counterpoint to her hard-as-nails cousins….Fierce and beautiful.”
Booklist (starred review)

American Street left me absolutely breathless. Ibi Zoboi has written a story about family, about first love, about the crossroads of faith and hope. Through the lens of Zoboi’s gorgeous prose, Fabiola’s voice soars as she struggles to make sense of her new life, longs to be reunited with her mother, and finds herself faced with an impossible choice. This is YA at its very best: Aching, revealing, and so true it hurts, and hurts good.”
— Stephanie Appell, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN

Brimming with culture, magic, warmth, and unabashed rawness, American Street is ultimately a blistering tale of humanity. This is Manchild in the Promised Land for a new generation, and a remarkable debut from Zoboi, who without question is an inevitable force in storytelling.”
—Jason Reynolds

“Ibi Zoboi brings us a Detroit rarely seen: full of wandering spirits, suffused with magic and mystery. At once the story of one determined girl and a family at the crossroads as well as a powerful page-turner, American Street will leave the scent of Papa Legba’s cigar in the air and its mark on your heart.”
—Laura Ruby

“Zoboi’s nascent storytelling gifts ensnare from page one. To this spellbinding voice of the next generation, I bow.”
—Rita Williams-Garcia

American Street (9780062473042) by Ibi Zoboi. $17.99 hardcover. 2/14/17 on sale.

New Children’s Picture Book: I Used to Be a Fish – Tom Sullivan

Along with Words and I Am a Story, this debut is among the very best picture book offerings on our fall list. Simple Seussian illustrations walk small children through evolutionary history while opening kids’ eyes to our world’s past and possibilities.

And it includes a timeline and author’s note at the end for older children or parents who want material for further discussion.

Sullivan makes a strong debut with this clever, matter-of-fact, and much-needed look at humanity’s origins. The narrator is a boy who nonchalantly conflates evolutionary biology with his own backstory. He starts with his beginnings in the sea (hence the title) before moving on to his sprouting appendages and fur….Sullivan’s vignettes have a laid-back earnestness, each one a minimalist, sketchlike cartoon, boldly outlined and employing only three colors—bright red, vivid cerulean, and crisp white. An afterword respectfully delves deeper into the science of it all, but irreverence rules the day, and Sullivan proves that, in this regard, he’s a highly evolved talent.”

Publishers Weekly

I Used to Be a Fish (9780062451989) by Tom Sullivan. $17.99 hardcover. 10/11/16 on sale.

New Young Adult Fiction: Symptoms of Being Human – Jeff Garvin

This is one of those books that caught my attention thanks to the grassroots support of booksellers. It’s the tale of a gender-fluid teen and floor booksellers wrote with the same kind of support they gave to the award-winning Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. And it points out that younger readers are clamoring for quality, issue-forward narratives about sexuality and identity.

This debut chronicles the fortunes of Riley, a 16-year-old gender fluid teen who starts an anonymous blog to deal with hostility from classmates and tension at home. When the blog goes viral, a media storm threatens Riley’s anonymity and challenges him to confront what it means to be a complete person. Author Garvin gives our teen protagonist a breezy, sarcastic voice that gives the reader confidence this teen can take on the challenges ahead.

I suspect that most teens feel like the stakes are high when it comes to issues of sexuality and self. (Why else would the intersection of romance and melodrama be such a perennially hot publishing area?) It’s heartening to me that the empathy quotient of teens is such that many are eager to understand and embrace difference.

The book arrives with two starred advance reviews and great word of mouth.

Gender-fluid Riley wakes up each morning in a different place on the male-female continuum. To be safe, Riley strives for neutrality, but that doesn’t necessarily feel right. As junior year starts, Riley makes an unlikely friend, develops a crush, and—encouraged by a therapist acquired after years of anxiety and secrecy led to a suicide attempt—starts a blog about being gender-fluid. Despite bullying that escalates into full-on assault, Riley gains the courage to come out with help from friends, a love interest, and a support group. Readers never learn Riley’s birth-assigned gender, but there’s no question that Riley is a smart, funny, sharp-eyed force. Debut author Garvin clearly wants to teach his readers about gender and gender fluidity, but the knowledge he imparts buoys this rewarding story, never weighing it down.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“One of the first YA books to deal with the complex issue of gender fluidity…Riley’s emotional life and personal growth shed welcome light on a hitherto obscure subject.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Vibrantly imagined…a welcome mirror for gender-fluid teens.”
Kirkus Reviews

 “While I understand what gender fluidity means, it’s hard to know how to react, or how to make an offhand comment about gender without being unintentionally offensive. This book helps. Riley explains being gender-fluid as being a dial, not a switch….It’s dangerous to come out LGBTQ today. It puts you at risk of abuse by family, friends and the community, as well as making you a target for bullying or worse by people on the street. But if you don’t come out, you risk your own sanity….This is an important read for teens (or adults) who want to understand what it means to be LGBTQ. Very well done.”
— Kate Schreffler, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

Symptoms of Being Human (9780062382863) by Jeff Garvin. $17.99 hardcover. 2/2/16 on sale.

Video: Silly Wonderful You – Sherri Duskey Rinker and Patrick McDonnell

Silly Wonderful You (9780062271051) by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Patrick McDonnell. $17.99 hardcover. 1/5/16 on sale.