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.

New Picture Book: Beyond the Pond – Joseph Kuefler

With the visual grace and elegance of Jon Klassen, Kuefler’s debut offers a classic story about the power of the imagination. It’s an Indie Next pick and this sweet little video offers a nice sense of the book.


“Kuefler reveals an impressive toolbox of visual storytelling skills in a story whose wide-eyed characters and broad washes of limpid hues carry echoes of Jon Klassen and Wes Anderson. His hero, Ernest D., bored of his house and his town, gazes into the pond in his backyard, trying unsuccessfully to sound its depths….He and his trusty dog dive in, and the camera pulls back to reveal, with a grin, dark, deep water where the shadows of sharks and squid lurk. Equipped with a flashlight, camera, and wooden sword, the two emerge to find a parallel world crammed with all the adventure a bold child could want, from a tiny mouse astride a unicorn to a terrifying, gigantic clawed paw that reaches out to grab him. When Ernest D. and his dog return, ‘His town looked a little less ordinary… Beyond every street and silent corner was a place unexplored.’ It’s a witty, auspicious debut.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[A] tale of transformation and wonder…reminiscent of Sendak’s Max and his Wild Things.”
   — School Library Journal

 “This lovely picture book is a tribute to imagination and the wonder in everyday spaces…will resonate with young readers.”
   — Booklist

Beyond the Pond (9780062364272) by Joseph Kuefler. $17.99 hardcover. 10/6/15 on sale.

New Teen Fiction: Fans of the Impossible Life – Kate Scelsa

This story of three outsiders — a girl, her gay best friend, and the boy who is in love with them both — may remind some of Perks of Being a Wall Flower but it’s a plot set up that goes back at least to Brideshead Revisited. However, this Indies Introduce Pick shows a kind of originality and spark that lets it stand tall on its own.

Teens are likely to be drawn into the compellingly-told story of Sebby the gay teen who is out and proud in world but who is bullied at school and closeted in his foster home; Jeremy the shy boy with two gay dads who has feelings for both Sebby and Mira; and Mira who struggles with her own feelings for both boys. I admired the skill of this debut author writing in three different points-of-view—and also in third person, first person, and second person respectively. These shifts are well done and add a real sophistication to the writing.

Scelsa debuts with an evocative novel about finding friendship, love, and oneself, as well as the pain that often accompanies the journey. When Jeremy, a shy artist who has kept to himself after a humiliating incident at school left him scarred and vulnerable, meets Mira and Sebby, two sophomores with troubled pasts, the three form a strong bond. Mira, who is struggling to tame debilitating depression, makes Jeremy feel a profound sense of belonging, while his attraction to Sebby, an openly gay foster kid, ignites a passion he’s never known. But Sebby’s demons, Mira’s self-doubts, and Jeremy’s insecurities begin to seem too much for the trio to bear, and their world of shared laughter and easy camaraderie starts to crumble. Scelsa alternates among the perspectives of these three characters seamlessly, allowing readers to feel their raw emotions and deep emotional needs. Themes of betrayal, forgiveness, and resilience resonate strongly, while the characters’ stories are so beautifully told and their struggles so hauntingly familiar that they will stay with readers long after they have finished the book.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Rounded characters large and small, drawn with insight and empathy, drive the plot. Buoyant writing and wry humor balance the pathos in this powerful debut, a moving tale of friendship as refuge and shield against a hostile world.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“Mira, Jeremy and Sebby are trying to live the “impossible life”. They are three friends, supporting one another, as they each work through the issues that define them – and make them different from one another. Can their supporting friendship conquer all? This story is poignantly told, in their three unique voices – the voices of teens dealing with mental health issues, sexual orientation, foster care, discrimination and more. The honesty and grit in their voices is so real and eye-opening that parents and teachers, as well as teens, should be reading this stunning debut.”
— Arna Lewis, Buttonwood Books & Toys, Cohasset, MA

Fans of the Impossible Life (9780062331755) by Kate Scelsa. $17.99 hardcover. 9/1/15 on sale.