February 2020, Fiction

Jackpot by Nic Stone

Jackpot  by Nic Stone. October 15, 2019. Crown, 343 p. ISBN: 9781984829627.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 670.

Meet Rico: high school senior and afternoon-shift cashier at the Gas ‘n’ Go, who after school and work races home to take care of her younger brother. Every. Single. Day. When Rico sells a jackpot-winning lotto ticket, she thinks maybe her luck will finally change, but only if she–with some assistance from her popular and wildly rich classmate Zan–can find the ticket holder who hasn’t claimed the prize. But what happens when have and have-nots collide? Will this investigative duo unite…or divide?

Nic Stone, the New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out, creates two unforgettable characters in one hard-hitting story about class, money–both too little and too much–and how you make your own luck in the world.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Racial insensitivity, Strong language, Underage drinking, Mention of underage smoking

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Grades 8-12. Seventeen-year-old Rico Danger (pronounced DON-gur) helps her single mother pay rent and raise nine-year-old Jax, which leaves no time for making friends or having dreams. Then, while working at a gas station register, she sells a lotto ticket to a cute old lady, who—after no one claims the $106 million prize—Rico is sure has the winner. She turns to millionaire teen heartthrob Zan to help her find the woman, but when he takes a more-than-friendly interest in Rico, she must figure out how she can possibly fit into his upper-class world. Stone (Odd One Out, 2018) delivers a heartfelt, humorous teen romance fraught with the tension between financial privilege and the lack thereof. While presenting a shrewd depiction of the resulting power dynamics, the stakes feel surprisingly low, and the romance is somewhat humdrum. Despite puzzling chapter intervals written from the perspective of omniscient objects (e.g., a saltshaker, Zan’s bedsheets), there’s something about Stone’s storytelling—and Rico’s narration—that is entirely engaging, making this an ultimately hard-to-put-down, enjoyable read.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
Seventeen-year-old Rico’s family is living paycheck to paycheck and way beyond their means, even with Rico’s practically full-time job and her mother’s long hours. When a customer purchases the winning ticket at the Gas ’n’ Go where she works but doesn’t claim it, Rico begins searching for the elderly woman she believes to be the winner. She enlists the help of Zan, the superrich heir of Macklin Enterprises in their hometown of Norcross, Georgia. Rico tentatively begins to hope in the future as her feelings for the privileged and complex Zan and her camaraderie with new friends finally start balancing out her family’s struggles. Filled with rich character development, whip-smart dialogue, and a layered exploration of financial precariousness, Stone (Odd One Out, 2018, etc.) touches on rising health care costs, the effect of illness in the family, interracial dating, and biracial identity. Intermittent passages from the perspectives of inanimate objects—including the winning ticket—around the characters add humor, and the short chapters inject the narrative with suspense. Rico is white, Latinx, and black. Zan is Latinx and white, and they live in a predominantly white neighborhood. Readers will have to suspend disbelief at the book’s conclusion, but this romantic coming-of-age novel will have them hoping for their own lucky ending. Stone delivers a thoughtful and polished novel about class, privilege, and relative poverty. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.  Her website is www.nicstone.info

Teacher Resources

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February 2020, Fiction, Graphic Novel

The Avant-Guards, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin

The Avant-Guards, Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin. September 3, 2019. BOOM! Box, 112 p. ISBN: 9781684153671.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

From Carly Usdin (Heavy Vinyl) and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer, Goldie Vance) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Transfer student Charlie is content to not get too involved at her new college, but determined, aspiring actor Liv will stop at nothing to get her to join her start-up basketball team, the Avant-Guards, even if it means she has to recruit the rest of the team members to subtly—or not so subtly—persuade her. Despite her reservations, Charlie finally agrees, and the team is surprised to learn at their first game that, hey, they’re not that bad! Amid all the basketball action, Usdin drops in plenty of backstory for the other team members and cultivates warm personalities through their comical interactions. Hayes and Nalty’s dynamic artwork in bright colors matches the cheerful tone and does a fantastic job of depicting the teammates, who are refreshingly diverse in skin tone and body shape. The figure designs nicely play up the personalities of the characters as well, and the basketball scenes are drawn with clear-cut action. This lighthearted ensemble story with a glimmer of romance is ideal for fans of John Allison’s Giant Days comics or Ngozi Ukazu’s Check, Please! (2018).

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2019)
What happens when a basketball team is determined to recruit a bona fide loner? Charlie Bravo (she’s heard all the jokes) is a recent transfer to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics. She’s determined to keep to herself and focus on her film studies—until Liv sets her sights on getting Charlie to join her newly minted basketball team. Liv is a determined walking motivational poster who loves leading teams. She recruits the rest of her ragtag basketball crew to convince Charlie—each in their own unique fashion—just before the first game. Ashley, Nicole, Jay, and Tiffany eventually wear her down with their numerous attempts, not only welcoming her to their team, but also into their circle of friendship. Plagued by memories of her last university, Charlie finds that her new team might just be what she needs to love basketball again—and to find love. The author has crafted a cast of endearing individuals who together form an unlikely friendship group that is an unstoppable combination on and off the court. Humor coupled with the fast pace makes for an energetic story. The bright colors, pop-out panels, expressive facial expressions, and dynamic lines express joyful excitement. The highly diverse cast is multiracial with varying gender expression and sexual orientation. Readers who love humorous friendship stories and adorably awkward lesbian flirting will enjoy every moment. (Graphic novel. 15-adult)

About the Author

Carly Usdin is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Her first feature, Suicide Kale, won the Audience Award for Best First Feature at Outfest 2016. After playing over 30 festivals worldwide the film is now available on iTunes and Amazon Prime. In 2017 Carly served as showrunner and director for the scripted series Threads, produced by New Form for Verizon’s go90 platform. The 20-episode horror and comedy anthology series brought to life outrageous stories from internet forums like Reddit. Carly is also the creator and writer of two comic book series for BOOM! Studios: Heavy Vinyl and The Avant-Guards. Heavy Vinyl was nominated for a 2018 Prism award, honoring the best in LGBTQAI+ comics.

Her website is carlyusdin.com.

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February 2020, Fiction, Graphic Novel

The House by Paco Roca

The House by Paco Roca. November 5, 2019. Fantagraphics Books, 127 p. ISBN: 9781683962632.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In this graphic novel by the internationally acclaimed, award-winning Wrinkles cartoonist, three adult siblings relive old conflicts as they clear out the family vacation home after their father’s death.

The graphic novel The House is at once deeply personal (dedicated to Roca’s own deceased father) and entirely universal. Three adult siblings return to their family’s vacation home a year after their father’s death. They each bring their respective wives, husbands, and children with the intention to clean up the residence and put it on the market. But, as garbage is hauled off and dust is wiped away, decades-old resentments quickly fill the vacant home. Roca asks what happens to brothers and sisters when the only person holding the family together is now gone. Full-color illustrations throughout

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2020 (Online))
Award-winning Spanish comic book creator Roca draws the story of three adult siblings reuniting following their father’s death. Coming together at their childhood country home, they find much of the house unkempt and in need of repair as they reminisce about their father’s DIY-style. The upkeep of the premises has always been demanding, and now the distractions of work and new families regularly keep them away. However, the idea of selling the home threatens to erase part of their father’s legacy and they struggle with the decision. The full-color drawings are professional and conscientious, but the storyline fails to achieve any major climactic action. Between flashbacks and visits from a elderly neighbor, the reader gets a sense of authenticity from the narrative, yet few lessons are learned aside from the fact that death is difficult in the best of circumstances. Though the audience for this title will likely be small, the work’s sincerity and artful drawings should have special appeal for adult readers mourning their parents. A simultaneously released Spanish-language version is also available.

Library Journal (December 1, 2019)
Following the death of their father, a trio of siblings converges upon their family’s decaying vacation house in order to prepare it for sale. As they clear the yard, restore crumbling walls, and repair leaky pipes, José ponders whether their father was proud of his professional accomplishments, Carla laments that he died before getting to spend much time with her daughter, and oldest son Vicente struggles with whether he made the right choice when he decided not to have him resuscitated on his deathbed. A mildewed swimming pool, a hastily assembled pergola, and orange and almond trees all serve as triggers for memories of the energetic, inventive man their father was in his youth and the depressive loner he became in his declining years, leading the siblings to wonder if selling the property will sever their connection to their father, and one another, forever. VERDICT Celebrated Spanish creator Roca’s (Twist of Fate) cartoonishly drawn characters are juxtaposed against highly detailed backgrounds, showcasing the strange dislocation they feel inhabiting a space that ought to feel much more like home in this melancholy and deeply sympathetic meditation on sibling dynamics and the role memory plays in the grieving process

About the Author

Paco Roca (Francisco Martínez Roca) is a graphic artist and a cartoonist from Valencia, Spain, who has won several art/writing awards. His graphic novel Wrinkles has been adapted into an animated movie.

His website is www.pacoroca.com.

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February 2020, Nonfiction

Accused! by Larry Dane Brimner

Accused!: The Trials of the Scottsboro Boys: Lies, Prejudice, and the Fourteenth Amendment by Larry Dane Brimner. October 15, 2019. Calkins Creek, 189 p. ISBN: 9781629797755.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This chilling and harrowing account tells the story of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African-American teenagers who, when riding the rails during the Great Depression, found their lives destroyed after two white women falsely accused them of rape. Award-winning author Larry Dane Brimner explains how it took more than eighty years for their wrongful convictions to be overturned.

In 1931, nine teenagers were arrested as they traveled on a train through Scottsboro, Alabama. The youngest was thirteen, and all had been hoping to find something better at the end of their journey. But they never arrived. Instead, two white women falsely accused them of rape. The effects were catastrophic for the young men, who came to be known as the Scottsboro Boys. Being accused of raping a white woman in the Jim Crow south almost certainly meant death, either by a lynch mob or the electric chair. The Scottsboro boys found themselves facing one prejudiced trial after another, in one of the worst miscarriages of justice in U.S. history. They also faced a racist legal system, all-white juries, and the death penalty. Noted Sibert Medalist Larry Dane Brimner uncovers how the Scottsboro Boys spent years in Alabama’s prison system, enduring inhumane conditions and torture. The extensive back matter includes an author’s note, bibliography, index, and further resources and source notes.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Mild language, Racism

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Brimner, who won the 2018 Sibert Award for his book Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961, now looks at the case of the Scottsboro boys, nine black teenagers who were arrested and falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931. The teenagers were riding the rails, hoping to find work in Alabama. Instead, they got into a fight with some white boys and were arrested when the train was stopped. But the fight wasn’t the only trouble they found—two white women who had been aboard the train accused them of rape. Brimner has his work cut out for himself in telling this complicated story. There are numerous accounts from defendants, witnesses, and lawyers; the perspective switches between the accused young men, who at times turn on each other; and the story contains important political and social elements, including an exploration of racism and the willingness of a Communist organization to defend the nine to promote its ideology. Not all the plates are kept in the air, but Brimner gives the narrative both heft and heart. The book’s design uses black-and-white photos to good advantage. A solid look at a noteworthy event that touched upon many aspects of U.S. society.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2019)
Brimner (Blacklisted!, 2018, etc.) revisits the history of injustice in America. Brimner has extensively researched the heartbreaking story of the suffering and stolen futures of nine African American teens falsely accused of the rape of two white women in Alabama in 1931, laying all the facts on the table in a concise, gripping volume. The engaging, easy-to-follow text will draw readers into a historical account that mirrors many of today’s headlines. Ultimately, it took over 80 years for justice to finally be served for these young men; they were not fully exonerated until 2013. In the meantime, they were nearly lynched, attacked and beaten by guards, and faced execution. Even after they were released from prison, their lives were ruined, and they were never able to fully recover. The text is enhanced with primary sources including photos, newspaper clippings, ephemera, and court documents that give readers a sense of immediacy. The author’s note provides context about the enduring impact of the trials. This volume stands as a reminder to readers that lies have consequences and that no matter how long it takes, “We need to right the wrongs that have been done in the past.” The parallels between the perils the Scottsboro Boys endured and current news stories show the continued relevance of this history, making this a must-have for both school and public libraries. Engaging and historically accurate; highly recommended. (author’s note, bibliography, source notes, index, picture credits) (Nonfiction. 13-adult)

About the Author

Larry Dane Brimner is the recipient of the 2018 Robert F. Sibert Award for the most distinguished informational book for children for his title Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. He is known for his well-researched, innovative, and award-winning nonfiction for young readers, and is the author of multiple acclaimed civil rights titles, including Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights; and Black & White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor.

His website is www.brimner.com.

Teacher Resources

Scottsboro Boys Lesson Plan

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February 2020, Nonfiction

Something Deeply Hidden by Sean Carroll

Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll. September 10, 2019. Dutton, 347 p. ISBN: 9781524743017.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

As you read these words, copies of you are being created.

Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and one of this world’s most celebrated writers on science, rewrites the history of 20th century physics. Already hailed as a masterpiece, Something Deeply Hidden shows for the first time that facing up to the essential puzzle of quantum mechanics utterly transforms how we think about space and time.  His reconciling of quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of relativity changes, well, everything.

Most physicists haven’t even recognized the uncomfortable truth: physics has been in crisis since 1927. Quantum mechanics  has always had obvious gaps—which have come to be simply ignored. Science popularizers keep telling us how weird it is,  how impossible it is to understand. Academics discourage students from working on the “dead end” of quantum foundations. Putting his professional reputation on the line with this audacious yet entirely reasonable book, Carroll says that the crisis can now come to an end. We just have to accept that there is more than one of us in the universe. There are many, many Sean Carrolls. Many of every one of us.

Copies of you are generated thousands of times per second. The Many Worlds Theory of quantum behavior says that every time there is a quantum event, a world splits off with everything in it the same, except in that other world the quantum event didn’t happen. Step-by-step in Carroll’s uniquely lucid way, he tackles the major objections to this otherworldly revelation until his case is inescapably established.

Rarely does a book so fully reorganize how we think about our place in the universe. We are on the threshold of a new understanding—of where we are in the cosmos, and what we are made of.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Armchair physicists everywhere know how Niels Bohr bested Albert Einstein in their clash over quantum mechanics. But Carroll convincingly shows that Bohr prevailed by offering powerful formulas while dodging the questions Einstein raised about the fundamental realities behind those formulas. Readers revisit these questions by pondering the puzzling consequences of any measurement in Bohr’s quantum system and considering the baffling failure of that system to explain the dynamics of quantum phenomena. Laying aside Bohr’s mystifications, Carroll finds a rigorous response to Einstein’s concerns in the quantum theorizing of Hugh Everett III. Readers will recognize the attractiveness of Everett’s quantum paradigm, offering a clear picture of reality, not merely a blur of probabilities. They will appreciate, too, the conceptual parsimony of a quantum science distilling its entire framework in a single wave formula. But they must confront the paradigm’s controversial implication that every quantum event spawns a new, parallel universe. Though many physicists resist Everett’s notion of physically unobservable universes, Carroll argues persuasively that every available alternative to Everett’s formulation entangles scientists in inconsistencies likely to foreclose progress in developing a much-needed quantum explanation of gravity. Readers in this universe (and others?) will relish the opportunity to explore the frontiers of science in the company of titans.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
The latest attempt to describe the “holy grail of modern physics.”Although in theory it works brilliantly, no one fully understands quantum mechanics. However, Carroll  works hard—and somewhat successfully—to deliver an accessible explanation. “Quantum mechanics,” he writes, “is unique among physical theories in drawing an apparent distinction between what we see and what really is….If we free our minds from certain old-fashioned and intuitive ways of thinking, we find that quantum mechanics isn’t hopelessly mystical or inexplicable. It’s just physics.” This doesn’t bother most physicists, who belong to the shut-up-and-calculate school, and searching for a deep meaning is unfashionable. Carroll swims against the tide, explaining several theories that attempt to describe what is happening, with an emphasis on his favorite, the many-worlds theory. He begins by pointing out that in our everyday world, the world of classical mechanics, every object has two features: a location and a velocity. Everything is transparent; whatever happens to that object is explained by classical laws of physics—essentially Newton’s. In contrast, every quantum object has one feature: a wave function defined by Schrödinger’s 1926 equation, which explains what happens when one measures it. Although true for objects of any size, quantum mechanics becomes essential at the atomic and subatomic levels. Some popular writers proclaim that this demonstrates our ignorance or perhaps a mysterious spiritual element in the universe. The author disagrees but admits that, as a description of how reality works, it makes no sense. Eschewing mathematics, Carroll labors mightily to reveal the meaning behind quantum mechanics with a major detour into general relativity, both of which might benefit from at least a little math. Readers who remember freshman college physics will be intrigued; others will struggle.

About the Author

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993. His research focuses on issues in cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His book The Particle at the End of the Universe won the prestigious Winton Prize for Science Books in 2013. Carroll lives in Los Angeles with his wife, writer Jennifer Ouellette.

His website is preposterousuniverse.com.

Teacher Resources

Basic quantum physics lesson plans

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February 2020, Fiction

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah. October 29, 2019. Hyperion, 311 p. ISBN: 9781368036887.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the last days of the twenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trapped in the abyss, humankind wavers between fear and hope–fear of what lurks in the depths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to the surface.

When sixteen-year-old submersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. The Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. But the race takes an unexpected turn, forcing Leyla to make an impossible choice.

Now she must brave unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a guarded, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If Leyla fails to discover the truths at the heart of her world, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–or worse. And her father will be lost to her forever.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Grades 7-11. Sixty-five years ago, Leyla’s world was above the waterline. But in 2099, the earth has drowned and the people with it. Leyla lives alone with her father, an astronomer, and she makes ends meet by competing in sub races around famous London landmarks. Or she did until her papa was arrested for terrible crimes she’s certain he didn’t commit. Running out of time, running out of money, and coming up empty on answers, Leyla determines to find and rescue him herself. When she discovers a whole underwater world, her life gets much more interesting—and dangerous—than she ever imagined it could be. While the book seems to end on a firm note, there could easily be more stories in this undersea dystopian world. Shah’s prose sometimes turns melodramatic (“Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters”), but this is a fine postapocalyptic novel that hits a timely note with its climate-change narrative. A solid purchase for large collections.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
In 2099, London is underwater. Sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen, a Muslim submersible racer, will stop at nothing to find her father, Hashem, who has been arrested and charged with encouraging “seasickness sufferers to take their lives.” When she is picked as an entrant in the London Submersible Marathon, Leyla is determined to win and ask the prime minister for her father’s freedom. But things do not go as planned, and when Leyla learns that her father is not really being detained in London as she’d been told, she leaves, evading the Blackwatch security forces who are kept busy overseeing New Year’s celebrations. Leyla, along with unwanted partner Ari, the son of a family friend, must drive her submersible through waters she has never before navigated. Along the way, she learns that she must question the statements of a corrupt government, as themes in the story echo issues in the present day. Debut novelist Shah vividly describes a world below the ocean’s surface, evoking people’s nostalgia for the Old World, when Great Britain lay aboveground. Leyla’s character grows and changes over the course of her journey, her love and loyalty toward her family only growing stronger. Leyla is Pashtun and of Afghan heritage; diversity in the book reflects that of contemporary London. This thrilling journey packed with unexpected discoveries will leave readers eager for plot resolutions in the next installment. (Science fiction. 12-17)

About the Author

Author London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Pashtun ethnicity. She has lived in Britain’s capital city for most of her life via England’s beautiful North. When she’s not busy re-imagining the past, plotting an alternate present or dreaming up a surreal future, then she’s most likely drinking copious amounts of tea, eating all the sweets and cakes, strolling through Richmond Park or along the Thames, getting lost on an evening in the city’s older, darker alleyways—preferably just after it’s rained—listening to punk rock, or losing herself in a fab SFF book or film. If she could have only one super power, it would be to breathe underwater.

Her website is www.londonshah.com.

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February 2020, Fiction

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. October 8, 2019. Flatiron Books, 458 p. ISBN: 9781250313072.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The mesmerizing adult debut from Leigh Bardugo, a tale of power, privilege, dark magic, and murder set among the Ivy League elite

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Mild sexual themes, Sexual assault, Strong language, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Bestselling YA author (and Yale alum) Bardugo’s first adult novel follows Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a survivor who has won a place at Yale because of her ability to see ghosts. She’s the newest initiate of Lethe, the ninth of the university’s notorious secret societies, responsible for oversight whenever magical rituals are conducted by the other eight. As Lethe’s new Dante, Alex is supposed to learn how all the societies operate, make sure they’re not breaking the rules, keep ghosts from interrupting arcane rites, and take a full load of courses and keep up the appearance of being a normal first year student. Then Alex’s mentor disappears and a townie with connections to several societies is murdered. Alex’s violent past hasn’t necessarily prepared her for the academic and arcane rigors of Yale, but she finds she is admirably suited to the role of tenacious detective as she works to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together. This atmospheric contemporary novel steeped in the spirit of a mystical New Haven is part mystery, part story of a young woman finding purpose in a dark world, and is the first in a potential series.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2019)
Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story. Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who’s a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt. With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

About the Author

Leigh Bardugo is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of fantasy novels and the creator of the Grishaverse (coming soon to Netflix) which spans the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, the Six of Crows Duology, The Language of Thorns, and King of Scars—with more to come. Her short stories can be found in multiple anthologies, including the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. Her other works include Wonder Woman: Warbringer and Ninth House(Goodreads Choice Winner for Best Fantasy 2019) which is being developed for television by Amazon Studios.

Leigh was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Southern California, and graduated from Yale University. These days she lives and writes in Los Angeles.

Her website is leighbardugo.com.

Teacher Resources

Ninth House on Common Sense Media

Ninth House Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

Ninth House on Amazon

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February 2020, Fiction

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer. November 19, 2019. Tor Teen, 304 p. ISBN: 9781250165084.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 820.

How much does the internet know about YOU? A thought-provoking near future YA thriller that could not be more timely as it explores issues of online privacy, artificial intelligence, and the power and perils of social networks.

Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet―a social media site where users upload cat pictures―a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.

When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and ChesireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.

Catfishing on CatNet is a surprising, heartfelt near-future YA thriller by award-winning author Naomi Kritzer, whose short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism, Strong sexual themes, Misgendering, Stalking, Domestic violence, Kidnapping

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Steph’s life isn’t easy. Her mother keeps moving her from town to town every few months to evade her father, who may or may not be a dangerous kidnapper. Meanwhile, Steph finds friendship in an online forum for cat-lovers, known as CatNet. But after she moves to New Coburg and manages to find some real-life friends, she gets involved in a hacking prank that goes awry. In the aftermath, Steph begins to find out more and more disturbing information about her past, and her father just might have enough information to track down her online friends—and maybe even her. Although the narrative style seems to struggle with understanding what it wants to be (the AI’s introspection is a bit too on the nose), Kritzer manages to keep the plot from going entirely over the top. In her first foray into YA literature, she explores social anxieties around technology and automation, artificial intelligence, and gender and sexuality, all while also providing readers with a captivating and mysterious near-future thriller.

Kirkus Reviews starred (September 15, 2019)
Dual narrators—a cat picture–loving AI and a teen with a dangerous past—develop a friendship. Steph’s spent her whole life constantly on the move, never in one town or school long enough to make friends, as her mother keeps them carefully hidden from Steph’s abusive father. Her realest connections are her online friends from an internet community called CatNet. CatNet is secretly run by one of those friends—username CheshireCat—a powerful AI that uses the community for cat pictures and to counter loneliness. When Steph and her friends hack her new school’s sex ed–instructing robot (to give actual, correct answers to questions instead of “You’ll have to discuss that with your parents!”), the resulting hilarity and scandal attract unintended media attention, leading to worries that Steph’s father will be able to use the story to find them. Preemptive digging into her father reveals worrying inconsistencies in what Steph thinks she knows, kicking off a tense, fast-paced thriller storyline. The believably applied near-future technology grounds the wilder plot elements. The personhood elements of the AI narrator’s story complement identity themes among the cast at large—though the new town is nearly all white (with one biracial black/white character), the characters offer positive, realistic LGBTQIA+ representation—especially nonbinary identities and characters still exploring their identities. Refreshingly, the characters also feel like generally-woke-but-still-imperfect humans. Wickedly funny and thrilling in turns; perfect for readers coming-of-age online. (Thriller. 13-adult)

About the Author

Naomi Kritzer has been making friends online since her teens, when she had to use a modem to dial up at 2400 baud. She is a writer and blogger who has published a number of short stories and novels for adults, including the Eliana’s Song duology and the Dead Rivers Trilogy. Her 2015 short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula. Naomi lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family and four cats. The number of cats is subject to change without notice.

Her website is www.naomikritzer.com.

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February 2020, Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

Fever Year by Don Brown

Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown. September 3, 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 96 p. ISBN: 9780544837409.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1020.

New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.

When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.

What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 7-10. As WWI neared its end, the world began another war. From army camps to the world’s great cities, Brown presents the terrifying influenza pandemic of 1918 as a three-act tragedy. Brown follows the disease’s lightning-fast spread carefully, capturing both its large scale and daily effects on a full one third of humanity. Pertinent historic details and quotes heighten the drama, from the denial by authorities—“don’t even discuss it . . . talk of cheerful things,” advised the Philadelphia Inquirer—to the blind search for a cure based on a faulty nineteenth-century theory. Brown is comics’ premiere chronicler of historical catastrophes, and he knows that the story requires emotional investment. This he finds by, for instance, highlighting the common bravery of nurses and volunteers, and making keen visual choices: a double-page splash showing “the life of the city stopped,” and intimate panels depicting family corpses laid to rest “in a corner of the household.” A somewhat abrupt ending relating a scientist’s efforts in 1995 doesn’t detract from the urgency of the tale.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2019)
Brown (most recently The Unwanted, rev. 9/18) here turns his attention to the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which brought “sickness to a third of the planet and death to millions of people.” The book, in comics format, is billed as “a tragedy in three acts.” Act I covers the first half of 1918 and describes the disease’s probable origin in the United States; Act II, the longest section, covers the second half of 1918 and details the inexorable spread of the infection throughout the world; Act III covers 1919 as the epidemic finally begins to fade away-leaving in its wake “incalculable” misery and sorrow. In his illustrations, Brown has a knack for dramatizing details with striking visual angles that produce maximum emotional impact while still conveying solid, accurate information. His text succinctly traces the evolution of the medical disaster with statistics and anecdotes woven in, while his somber, muted palette expertly captures the mood of the period (“America was at war…People had decided to ration happiness along with beef and chicken”). Source notes and a bibliography are appended.

About the Author

Don Brown is the award-winning author and illustrator of many picture book biographies. He has been widely praised for his resonant storytelling and his delicate watercolor paintings that evoke the excitement, humor, pain, and joy of lives lived with passion. School Library Journal has called him “a current pacesetter who has put the finishing touches on the standards for storyographies.” He lives in New York with his family.

His website is www.booksbybrown.com.

Teacher Resources

Great Flu Epidemic Lesson Plans

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February 2020, Fiction

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy. October 29, 2019. G.P. Putnam’s Son, 351 p. ISBN: 9780525518587.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 800.

Sixteen-year-old Eva is a princess, born with the magick of blood and marrow–a dark and terrible magick that hasn’t been seen for generations in the vibrant but fractured country of Myre. Its last known practitioner was Queen Raina, who toppled the native khimaer royalty and massacred thousands, including her own sister, eight generations ago, thus beginning the Rival Heir tradition. Living in Raina’s long and dark shadow, Eva must now face her older sister, Isa, in a battle to the death if she hopes to ascend to the Ivory Throne–because in the Queendom of Myre only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive.

When Eva is attacked by an assassin just weeks before the battle with her sister, she discovers there is more to the attempt on her life than meets the eye–and it isn’t just her sister who wants to see her dead. As tensions escalate, Eva is forced to turn to a fey instructor of mythic proportions and a mysterious and handsome khimaer prince for help in growing her magick into something to fear. Because despite the love she still has for her sister, Eva will have to choose- Isa’s death or her own.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
Princess Evalina Killeen attempts to tap into her magical abilities in preparation for a magical showdown. Eva has always known she was born with the feared magick of marrow and blood which she is supposed to use in a fight to the death with her sister, Isa, for the queendom once they both come of age. But Eva’s only accessed her magic twice, and both times its violence frightened her. Mere months before her nameday, Eva is desperately searching for a magick teacher when she stumbles across Baccha, a fey of immense power who shares her magical abilities. Though Eva is often empathetic, she’s sometimes whiny, and her lack of awareness and acknowledgement of her own privilege—and complete obliviousness toward other people’s needs—may irritate readers. However, as she learns to access her magic and begins uncovering family secrets, she also continues to grapple with the current and historical bias (species, not color, based) of Myre, whose diverse population is made up of humans, fey, bloodkin, and khimaer. Her willingness to question the status quo may help readers forgive her for being otherwise self-centered and sometimes rash. A surprising twist and multiple unsolved mysteries will leave readers looking forward to the next book. Black-haired Eva is biracial (her father is brown-skinned while her mother has light pink skin) while Isa has golden hair and lighter brown skin. Supporting characters are racially diverse. A compelling debut. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Publishers Weekly (August 26, 2019)
Evalina Grace Killeen is the younger princess of the Queendom of Myre, a land populated by humans, fey, bloodkin, and the subjugated khimaer, formerly Myre’s ruling class. Since her magick was declared “marrow and blood,” like that of the most powerful, ruthless human queen in Myre’s history, Eva has been the subject of fear and isolation by courtiers, citizens, and her queen mother, who has long favored the persuasive magick of the elder princess, Isadore. When Eva reaches her 17th year, the magick-wielding sisters will fight for the sitting monarch’s throne, battling to the death for the right to rule. Biracial Eva, who can seem reactive, regards her own magick as a curse and loathes the thought of fratricide, but after she is attacked repeatedly before the battle, she must unlock the secrets of magic and heritage that have haunted her family and her Queendom for years. Debut author Joy’s engrossing, North African-inspired series opener draws effectively on real-world prejudices to inform her richly created universe’s complex history of species-based oppression and imperialism.

About the Author

Amanda Joy has an MFA from The New School, and lives in Chicago with her dog Luna.

Her website is www.amandajoywrites.com

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