Fiction, January 2020

Rogue Heart by Axie Oh

Rogue Heart by Axie Oh. October 8, 2019. Tu Books, 357 p. ISBN: 9781643790374.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 790.

NEO BEIJING, 2201. Two years after the Battle of Neo Seoul, eighteen-year-old telepath Ama works by day in a cafe and moonlights as a lounge singer in a smoky bar at night. She’s anonymous, she’s safe from the seemingly never-ending war, and that’s how she’d like to stay. But then PHNX, a resistance group specializing in espionage and covert missions, approaches her with an offer to expose a government experiment exactly like the one she fled. Soon, Ama is traveling with PHNX on a series of dangerous assignments, using her telepathic powers to aid the rebellion against the authoritarian Alliance.

As the war ramps up, PHNX is given its most dangerous mission yet: to infiltrate the base of the Alliance’s new war commander, a young man rumored to have no fear of death. But when Ama sees the commander for the first time, she discovers his identity: Alex Kim, the boy she once loved and who betrayed her.

Now, Ama must use her telepathic abilities to pose as an officer in Alex’s elite guard, manipulating Alex’s mind so that he doesn’t recognize her. As the final battle approaches, Ama struggles with her mission and her feelings for Alex. Will she be able to carry out her task? Or will she give up everything for Alex again–only to be betrayed once more?

Part heist novel, part love story, Rogue Heart is perfect for fans of Marie Lu’s Warcross and Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series.

Part of Series: Rebel Seoul (Book 2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Online))
Grades 8-12. In 2201, genetically engineered supersoldier Ama is in hiding, believed killed in a transport carrier crash during the battle of Neo Seoul two years ago. She’s tried to put her painful past behind her, but when a resistance group seeks her help exposing a government experiment like the one she was subjected to, she agrees to become a covert operative. With her telepathic (and light telekinetic) powers, she’s an important asset on dangerous assignments, but Ama’s biggest mission comes when she’s sent to spy on the boy, now a respected army commander, who broke her heart and still believes her dead. This companion novel to Oh’s debut Rebel Seoul (2017), pitched as Pacific Rim meets K-drama, follows a new set of characters, with some overlap. The plot is fast (sometimes too fast), and there’s a lot going on (sometimes too much), but Oh delivers in spades on rich East Asian representation and high-stakes forbidden romance in a story brimming with futuristic Asian metropolises, teens piloting mecha robots, and all the espionage your heart can handle.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
A telepathic 18-year-old in Neo Beijing in 2201 is haunted by troubling memories and assaulted by her exquisite sensitivity to others’ thoughts. All Ama has wanted since escaping the Alliance government lab that turned her and two other teen orphans into experimental supersoldiers is to lie low, enjoy her newly found freedom, and forget the boy who betrayed her. All of that changes, though, when, two years after her escape, the Alliance tries to assassinate her while its opposing faction, PHNX, attempts to convince her to join their rebellion. How will Ama sort out her complex feelings for those close to her who remain loyal to the Alliance, those loyal to PHNX, and those loyal only to themselves? The novel is narrated in the first person by Ama, allowing readers to become acquainted with her personal history through her inner monologue. Oh deftly and seamlessly weaves fast-paced action, futuristic technology, the East Asian cultures and languages of the Neo Council, inclusive relationships, and a new spin on K-drama romance into the Blade Runner–esque universe she first shared in her previous, companion novel Rebel Seoul (2017). However, Asian people, as well as their families, lovers, partners, friends, and cultural practices, are the main characters here instead of simply an exotic backdrop. A fantastic, fun, and fast read for fans of Stranger Things, The Hunger Games, Pacific Rim, and romantic Korean dramas. (Science fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American, born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California San Diego and holds an MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea, and she currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her puppy, Toro (named after Totoro).

Her website is www.axieoh.com

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Rogue Heart on Amazon

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January 2020, Nonfiction

Body 2.0 by Sara Latta

Body 2.0 by Sara Latta. November 5, 2019. Twenty-First Century Books, 96 p. ISBN: 9781541528130.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1170.

Scientists are on the verge of a revolution in biomedical engineering that will forever change the way we think about medicine, even life itself. Cutting-edge researchers are working to build body organs and tissue in the lab. They are developing ways to encourage the body to regenerate damaged or diseased bone and muscle tissue. Scientists are striving to re-route visual stimuli to the brain to help blind people see. They may soon discover methods to enlist the trillions of microbes living in our bodies to help us fight disease. Learn about four strands of bioengineering―tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, neuroengineering, microbial science, and genetic engineering and synthetic biology―and meet scientists working in these fields.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 7))
Grades 8-12. Young scientists need look no further for a solid introduction to engineering in biology and medicine. Latta educates readers on the use of stem cells in the regeneration of limbs, the creation and repair of organs, brain-computer interfaces that help with restoring movement, gene therapy and its role in treating illnesses, as well as research on neurons and the part played by bacteria in improving health and immunity. Material is made engaging through interesting anecdotes that introduce each chapter. Large color photographs and diagrams accompany the text, and each chapter contains additional factual asides and related text within boxed sidebars. Spotlights on notable biomedical and chemical engineers highlight these important role players as well as the steps necessary to pursue such a career. The inclusion of statements from researchers and scientists working on real-life cases adds further insight, with each case highlighting the incredible possibilities of the field. This foundational text is must-have for juvenile nonfiction collections.

Kirkus Reviews starred (September 15, 2019)
A primer on biomedical engineering. Veteran science author Latta (Zoom in on Mining Robots, 2018, etc.) here spotlights the fascinating convergence of medicine, engineering, and scientific discovery, offering provocative glimpses into the burgeoning fields of tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, neuroscience, microbiology, genetic engineering, and synthetic biology. Inspiring problem-solving–minded teens to explore these STEM disciplines by describing projects so cutting edge they seem like science fiction, Latta also includes brief profiles and photos of diverse researchers that enable readers to imagine themselves pursuing similar careers. Says Dr. Gilda Barabino, “I think there’s a little bit of an engineer in everybody. It’s curiosity! Everybody wants to know how things work.” Areas of potential breakthrough covered include brain-computer interfaces that may one day allow people with paralysis or limited mobility to move their limbs or control a robot helper; editing the human genome to treat chronic diseases like sickle cell disease by removing and replacing damaged DNA; optogenetics, which hopes to combine gene therapy with light to reduce pain and cure blindness; and growing bespoke body parts like bone, skin, arteries, and more in the lab, seeded by one’s own cells and partially crafted by 3-D bioprinters. Full-color diagrams and photos combined with informative text boxes and a lively, conversational style make this an appealing choice. Hot and heady: an enticing calling card for researchers of tomorrow. (glossary, source notes, bibliography, further information, index, photo credits) (Nonfiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Sara Latta is the author of seventeen books for children and young adults on topics that include dark matter, the secret life of microbes, DNA, bones, and forensic science. She also has a masters degree in immunology. She does have a bit of a phobia about heights, as she discovered when faced with having to climb down from a pyramid in Teotihuacan, Mexico.

Her website is www.saralatta.com

Teacher Resources

Collection of Biomedical Engineering Lesson Plans

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Fiction, January 2020

Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris. September 24, 2019. Simon Pulse, 321 p. ISBN: 9781534445420.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 930.

Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give in this dynamite debut novel that follows a fierce teen game developer as she battles a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther–inspired video game she created and the safe community it represents for Black gamers.

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Racism, Strong language, Underage drinking, Racist slur, Domestic abuse

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. So often, Black gamer girls and Black girls in STEAM are overlooked. However, Morris unapologetically brings both identities front and center with her explosive debut. Seventeen-­year-old gamer Kiera Johnson finds that being Black leaves her largely ostracized from the larger gaming community. As a result, she ingeniously creates SLAY, her own online virtual reality game that becomes more than a hobby—it becomes a community for thousands of Black gamers to embody Nubian personae in a role-playing game. The game functions as Kiera’s refuge from the racism and traumas of the outside world. But her precious, necessary safe space is threatened when a player is killed due to an in-game dispute. It creates a stir in the media and paints SLAY in a negative light. The game is stereotyped much like many Black people are; it’s being called violent and criminal; and it’s charged with being racist and exclusionary. Suddenly, Kiera is faced with the need to both protect her game and keep her identity as the developer secret. This excels at depicting everyday life for Black teens and the very specific struggles Black teens face. More than a novel, this is a conversation about safe spaces, why they’re necessary for minorities, and why we should champion their right to exist without being branded exclusionary or racist.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2019)
A high school senior secretly creates a massively multiplayer online role-playing game dedicated to black culture but is attacked in mainstream media after a player is murdered. Frustrated by the rampant racism in the online multiplayer game universe and exhausted by having to be the “voice of Blackness” at her majority white high school, honors student Kiera creates SLAY—a MMORPG for black gamers. SLAY promotes black excellence from across the African diaspora as players go head-to-head in matches grounded in black culture. Although Kiera is proud of the game and the safe space it has become for hundreds of thousands of participants, she keeps her identity as lead developer a secret from everyone, including her black boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are a tactic on the part of white people to undermine black men and hold them back from success. When a dispute in SLAY spills into the real world and a teen is murdered, the media discovers the underground game and cries racism. Kiera has to fight to protect not only her identity, but the online community she has developed. Despite some one-dimensional characters, especially Kiera’s parents, debut author Morris does a fantastic job of showing diversity within the black community. Nongamers might get bogged down in the minutiae of the game play, but the effort is well worth it. Gamers and black activists alike will be ready to SLAY all day. (Fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Brittney Morris holds a BA in Economics from Boston University because back then, she wanted to be a financial analyst. (She’s now thankful that didn’t happen). She spends her spare time reading, playing indie video games, and enjoying the Seattle rain from her apartment. She lives with her husband Steven who would rather enjoy the rain from a campsite in the woods because he hasn’t played enough horror games. Brittney is the founder and former president of the Boston University Creative Writing Club, a four-time NaNoWriMo winner and a 2018 Pitch Wars mentor.

Her website is www.authorbrittneymorris.com

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Fiction, January 2020

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher. October 1, 2019. Saga Press, 399 p. ISBN: 9781534429574.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods in this chilling novel that reads like The Blair Witch Project meets The Andy Griffith Show.

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones is a gripping, terrifying tale bound to keep you up all night—from both fear and anticipation of what happens next.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals, Strong language, Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Mouse goes to rural North Carolina to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, finding an unsettling, hoarder mess. Amidst the garbage, she finds her step-grandfather’s journal, which describes horrors in terrifying detail, and which Mouse and her dog also begin to experience. Told with a “found book” frame and an intense first person narration, this folk horror novel begins with the unease of Mouse telling readers how her life was forever tainted by the experience she is about to recount. The tale is as tightly twisted and menacing as the carvings she finds in the woods. Readers will stand back in awe as it all unravels, slowly at first, and then with great and terrifying speed. This is a modern retelling of Arthur Machen’s seminal weird fiction tale, “The White People,” a story that greatly influenced H.P. Lovecraft, but readers won’t need that context to enjoy The Twisted Ones. Kingfisher brings this brand of horror to a new generation, and the book will appeal to readers of Lovecraftian adaptations by Caitlin Keirnan, Matt Ruff, and Paul La Farge.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2019)
A woman realizes she’s not alone while cleaning out her late grandmother’s remote North Carolina home. Freelance book editor Melissa, aka “Mouse,” can’t say no to her father when he asks her to clear out her grandmother’s house. Unfortunately, the house, which has been locked up for two years, is a hoarder’s paradise, but Mouse digs in with her beloved coonhound, Bongo, at her side. One day bleeds into another as she hauls junk to the nearby dump and makes friends with her kind and quirky neighbors, Foxy, Tomas, and Skip. When she finds a journal belonging to her stepgrandfather Frederick Cotgrave, things get creepy. The prose sounds like the ravings of a man unhappy in his marriage to a woman who wasn’t a very nice person, but the mention of something called the Green Book is intriguing, and the line “I twisted myself about like the twisted ones” gives Mouse the chills. While walking Bongo in the woods, Mouse stumbles on a strange gathering of stones on top of a hill that shouldn’t exist. After discovering a gruesome deer effigy hanging in the woods, Mouse confides in Foxy, who tells a few strange tales of her own. Something is lurking just outside Mouse’s house, and that effigy isn’t of this world, but just when she’s ready to leave, Bongo disappears. And Mouse isn’t going anywhere without Bongo. Kingfisher effortlessly entwines an atmospheric and spooky “deep dark woods” tale with ancient folklore and pulls off more than a few very effective scares. Mouse is a highly relatable and frequently funny narrator who is also refreshingly willing to believe her own eyes. The charming supporting cast is a bonus, especially the glamorous, 60-something Foxy, who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help Mouse when she needs it most. Read this one with the lights on.

About the Author

T. Kingfisher, also known as Ursula Vernon, is the author and illustrator of many projects, including the webcomic “Digger,” which won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story and the Mythopoeic Award. Her novelette “The Tomato Thief” won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, and her short story “Jackalope Wives” won the Nebula Award for Best Story. She is also the author of the bestselling Dragonbreath, and the Hamster Princess series of books for children.

Her website is ursulavernon.com

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Fiction, Graphic Novel, January 2020

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki. September 3, 2019. DC Ink/DC Comics, 201 p. ISBN: 9781401283292.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Outspoken, rebellious, and eccentric fifteen-year-old Harleen Quinzel has five dollars to her name when she’s sent to live in Gotham City. Harleen has battled a lot of hard situations as a kid, but her fortune turns when Gotham’s finest drag queen, Mama, takes her in.

And at first it seems like Harleen has finally found a place to grow into her most “true true,” with new best friend Ivy at Gotham High. But then Harley’s fortune takes another turn when Mama’s drag cabaret becomes the next victim in the wave of gentrification that’s taking over the neighborhood.

Now Harleen is mad. In turning her anger into action, she is faced with two choices: join Ivy, who’s campaigning to make the neighborhood a better place to live, or join The Joker, who plans to take down Gotham one corporation at a time.

From Eisner Award and Caldecott Honor-winning author Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) and Eisner Award-nominated artist Steve Pugh (The Flintstones) comes a coming-of-age story about choices, consequences, and how a weird kid from Gotham goes about defining her world for herself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Harley Quinn is notorious for her allegiance to the Joker, but how did she start on her path to chaotic villainy? That’s what this origin story tackles, starting when Harleen Quinzel arrives in Gotham City, where she lives with Mama, a larger-than-life drag queen living in her late-grandmother’s building. As Harley settles into her new school, she makes friends with smart, justice-oriented Ivy, and together they lock horns with John Kane, the scion of Gotham’s hottest real estate developers, who are swiftly gentrifying neighborhoods like Harley’s. Tamaki’s take on Harley Quinn is remarkably nuanced. Harley’s motivations are largely noble, though her actions are far more volatile than those Ivy chooses, like protest or civil disobedience. That, coupled with Tamaki’s exceptional talent for writing snappy dialogue, makes for deeply multifaceted characters. Pugh’s beautiful artwork carries that dynamism out, as well: his realistic figures are shaded with plenty of depth and represent a refreshingly realistic array of distinct body shapes and sizes. This appealing entry point to the DC universe presents a captivating, vivid portrait of a so-called villain.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
Tamaki’s (Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up With Me, 2019, etc.) version of Harley operates with a moral compass while still being bubbly and outgoing. Harley has been sent to live with her grandmother in Gotham City. She discovers her grandmother has died, but apartment manager Mama, a white, gay man who also manages the local drag queen bar, lets her stay. Harley finds her place among a colorful “mutiny of queens” and makes a new best friend, Ivy Du-Barry. Ivy, who is biracial (Chinese and black), carries the bulk of the load when it comes to educating Harley, who is white, about intersectionality, representation in media, and the gentrification of their neighborhood. Harley’s happiness doesn’t last—Mama receives news of an impending eviction and crosses paths with the Joker. Through flashbacks, shaded in orange, readers get a deeper understanding of what motivates her to fight for what she loves. Pugh (Supergirl, Vol. 3: Girl of No Tomorrow, 2018, etc.) uses a mostly gray and black color palette with background bursts of scarlet. When characters are truly in their element, their signature colors are used: a red and black scheme for Harley, shades of green for Ivy, and the Joker’s signature purple. The fast-paced plot enhanced by Harley’s trademark style of speech examines the impact of gentrification, and Harley’s character development follows a redemptive arc that will have readers rooting for her and her colorful family. A riotous read. (Graphic novel. 13-18)

About the Author

Mariko Tamaki is a Canadian writer living in Oakland. Works include New York Times bestseller This One Summer and Skim with Jillian Tamaki, Emiko Superstar with Steve Rolston and the YA novel (You) Set Me on Fire. This One Summer was the winner of Printz and Caldecott Honors in 2015 and received the Eisner award for Best Graphic Album (New).

Her website is www.marikotamaki.com

Teacher Resources

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass on Common Sense Media

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January 2020, Nonfiction

Life Undercover by Amaryllis Fox

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox. October 15, 2019. Alfred A. Knopf, 229 p. ISBN: 9780525654971.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.


Amaryllis Fox’s riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world’s most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter

Amaryllis Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at Oxford studying theology and international law when her writing mentor Daniel Pearl was captured and beheaded. Galvanized by this brutality, Fox applied to a master’s program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, where she created an algorithm that predicted, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. At twenty-one, she was recruited by the CIA. Her first assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the Counterterrorism center. At twenty-two, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to “the Farm,” where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover–the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war, Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Violence

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 3))
At the age of 18, Fox traveled to Burma, a country in the midst of antigovernment riots, and interviewed the leader of the opposition movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest. So begins Fox’s path to the CIA. For a decade, she works as an undercover agent abroad, fighting terrorism and countering nuclear proliferation—all without her friends or family knowing her reality. She and her husband, whom she met in the CIA, don’t even know the details of each other’s missions. It is a strange and lonely life, but Fox manages to find moments to share her truth and discovers that recruiting assets (like Jakab, an arms broker who steals every scene he is in) is aided not by fear but by finding their shared humanity. Fox’s clear, present-tense prose keeps readers in the action while maintaining the heft of reality, even in totally surreal situations. With loads of suspense and adrenaline, and a streaming series starring Brie Larson reportedly in the works, this insider’s view into how the CIA functions and what life is like for a covert agent will appeal to many, including readers who don’t normally stray from fiction thrillers.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
A journalist recounts her formative years in the CIA.Fox engagingly—and transparently—describes her work as an undercover agent for the CIA, which recruited the author while she was still in college. “What will happen if I tell the world the truth?” she asks, having returned to civilian life as a young single mother following the dissolution of a marriage that was all but arranged by the agency. Motherhood changed her perspective and priorities, and she now devotes herself to the cause of peace. In her fast-moving debut memoir, she seeks to “spill that most secret of secrets: that all we soldiers and spies, all the belching, booming armored juggernauts of war, all the terror groups and all the rogue states, that we’re all pretending to be fierce because we’re all on fire with fear.” The author’s life was extraordinary even during her childhood, as if she were being raised for a life in espionage. She often went “wild world-wandering” with her father, who consulted with foreign governments on matters she never quite understood. Fox was raised to invent elaborate fantasies to play with her brother, and her world of make-believe intrigue became real to her as she volunteered to aid refugees after high school and became immersed in global affairs during college. She came to the CIA as an idealist, and she found idealism and basic humanity within those who were apparently pitted against her. She also found that she had to keep the reality of her career a secret from everyone, even from family and friends. Throughout much of her remarkable life, secrecy was the norm, but by the time she left the agency, she’d had enough. A well-written account of a life lived under exceptional secrecy and pressure.

About the Author

Following her CIA career in the field, Amaryllis Foxhas covered current events and offered analysis for CNN, National Geographic, al Jazeera, BBC, and other global news outlets. She speaks at events and universities around the world on the topic of peacemaking. She is the co-host of History Channel’s series American Ripper and lives in Los Angeles, CA, with her husband and daughter.

 

Around the Web

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Fiction, January 2020

Crying Laughing by Lance Rubin

Crying Laughing by Lance Rubin. November 19, 2019. Alfred A. Knopf, 325 p. ISBN: 9780525644682.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 740.

A tragicomic story of bad dates, bad news, bad performances, and one girl’s determination to find the funny in high school from the author of Denton Little’s Deathdate.

Winnie Friedman has been waiting for the world to catch on to what she already knows: she’s hilarious.

It might be a long wait, though. After bombing a stand-up set at her own bat mitzvah, Winnie has kept her jokes to herself. Well, to herself and her dad, a former comedian and her inspiration.

Then, on the second day of tenth grade, the funniest guy in school actually laughs at a comment she makes in the lunch line and asks her to join the improv troupe. Maybe he’s even . . . flirting?

Just when Winnie’s ready to say yes to comedy again, her father reveals that he’s been diagnosed with ALS. That is . . . not funny. Her dad’s still making jokes, though, which feels like a good thing. And Winnie’s prepared to be his straight man if that’s what he wants. But is it what he needs?

Caught up in a spiral of epically bad dates, bad news, and bad performances, Winnie’s struggling to see the humor in it all. But finding a way to laugh is exactly what will see her through.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Racial insensitivity, Strong language, Discussion of adultery

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 4))
Grades 7-10. Winnie is funny, but she’s also in high school, where not everyone appreciates true comic genius. Having grown up learning comedy from her dad, Winnie knows she’s funny, and that’s enough—until classmate Evan actually laughs at her jokes and suggests she join the school improv troupe, that is. However, when her attempt at sharing with her parents that she’s considering joining a performance group is interrupted by the news that her father might have ALS, Winnie’s world starts to crumble. Firmly set in 2019, Rubin’s latest (Denton Little duology) is a review of comedy culture sprinkled throughout a hilarious and heart-wrenching tale. With a refreshingly diverse cast of characters, Rubin weaves together high-school drama, improv failures, bad dates, and friendship fights with a family fighting to stay together when its foundation is suddenly shaken. This book is for anyone who’s ever attended high school, had a crush, gotten news they weren’t prepared to deal with, or learned that someone close to them isn’t quite who they thought they were—in short, for everyone.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2019)
Winnie Friedman is navigating her sophomore year of high school, evolving friendships, and family worries. After a stand-up comedy fail at her bat mitzvah, 15-year-old Winnie swore off public performances. However, when she is asked by Evan Miller, a popular junior, to join the school’s Improv Troupe, she decides to take the risk. Her best friends, Muslim, hijabi identical twins Leili and Asmaa, are very supportive. However, just when Winnie believes she really will do comedy again, she finds out her father may have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A girlfriend for Asmaa and friendship troubles with Leili add to the changes and turmoil. Winnie just wants to make people laugh and find humor in the world around her—but can she, with her father’s health problems, complications with Evan, and the falling out with Leili? Rubin’s (Denton Little’s Still Not Dead, 2017, etc.) writing realistically brings to life teens struggling to find their paths and be happy, lending the story a feeling of authenticity. Small, telling details of the girls’ interactions in their interfaith friendship and pop-culture references add to this reality. This is a touching look into one girl’s high school experience as she seeks the funny moments even in the midst of tragedy and challenging relationships. Winnie is white and Jewish, Leili and Asmaa are Iranian American, and there is diversity in secondary characters. Charming and affecting. (Fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Lance Rubin is the author of Denton Little’s Deathdate and Denton Little’s Still Not Dead. He’s worked as an actor, written and performed sketch comedy (like The Lance and Ray Show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre), and done a lot of improv. He’s also the co-writer, along with Joe Iconis and Jason SweetTooth Williams, of the musical Broadway Bounty Hunter. Lance lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons.

Her website is www.lancerubin.com.

Around the Web

Crying Laughing on Amazon

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Fiction, January 2020

Gravity by Sarah Deming

Gravity by Sarah Deming. November 12, 2019. Make Me a World, 394 p. ISBN: 9780525581048.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 850.

Gravity “Doomsday” Delgado is good at breaking things. Maybe she learned it from her broken home.

But since she started boxing with a legendary coach at a gym in Brooklyn, Gravity is finding her talent for breaking things has an upside. Lately, she’s been breaking records, breaking her competitors, and breaking down the walls inside her. Boxing is taking her places, and if she just stays focused, she knows she’ll have a shot at the Olympics.

Life outside the ring is heating up, too. Suddenly she’s flirting (and more) with a cute boxer at her gym–much to her coach’s disapproval. Meanwhile, things at home with Gravity’s mom are reaching a tipping point, and Gravity has to look out for her little brother, Ty. With Olympic dreams, Gravity will have to decide what is worth fighting for.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Criminal culture, Marijuana, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Violence

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Sixteen-year-old Gravity Delgado is making her mark on the world of amateur women’s boxing, with a Golden Gloves victory under her belt and undefeated status in the ring. Finding the Cops ‘n Kids boxing gym in Brooklyn was her salvation, quickly changing from a place where she could simply channel her anger at her drunk, abusive mom to Gravity’s ticket to a better life with her kid brother, Ty. Now the Olympic trials for the 2016 games in Rio are approaching and Gravity is training hard to knock out any competition among her fellow Lightweights and secure a spot on the U.S. team. Deming’s own background as a boxer, coach, and sports journalist comes through in vivid writing that slings sweat and pulls no punches. Fights and sparring matches are energetically relayed and exciting to follow, even for those unfamiliar with the sport. She also provides narrative variation by inserting accounts of fights and boxing news from a respected boxing blog that Gravity follows. Though fiercely passionate about boxing, Gravity’s love for Ty is unrivaled, and their relationship is tenderly depicted. She also has her first bouts with sex and dating, which are realistically complicated and messy but always secondary to her Olympic dreams. Readers will want ringside seats for this gritty debut title from Christopher Myer’s new Make Me a World imprint.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2019)
A 16-year-old boxer dreams of winning Olympic gold. Gravity Delgado (half Dominican and half Jewish) feels like she has been fighting and breaking things her whole life. However, since joining PLASMAFuel Cops ’n Kids boxing gym in Brooklyn four years ago, she has channeled her fighting spirit toward a single goal: boxing in the 2016 Summer Olympics. As Gravity arduously trains for Rio, she grapples with different parts of her identity. On the one hand, her absent father’s Dominican family provides comfort and a safe haven from the abuse and neglect her drunk mother inflicts on Gravity and her younger brother, Tyler. On the other, praying a shema before every fight tethers her to her mother’s faith. A diverse set of characters populates the boxing world Gravity inhabits, including a Ukrainian brother and sister, wheelchair user Coach Thomas, Haitian American fellow boxer D-Minus, and Kimani, a kind, large, dark-skinned man who is painfully aware of the racism in people’s fearful responses to him. Deming’s (contributor: Viticulture & Vinification, 2013, etc.) own amateur boxing career and knowledge as a boxing correspondent are clearly evident in her masterful descriptions of the grueling training process and intense bouts. Readers will immediately stand in Gravity’s corner as she battles distractions and fights against the odds in pursuit of her dreams. A riveting pugilistic must-read. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Sarah Deming wrote for CNBC’s 2012 Olympics coverage and assisted on the New York Times bestselling sports memoir Eat & Run. She was an HBO Boxing insider, as well as a senior boxing correspondent for Stiff Jab. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, the Threepenny Review, the Guardian, Penthouse Forum, the Washington Post, HuffPost, WNYC.com, and the Morning News, and have been noted in Best American Essays and Best American Sportswriting. She’s been awarded a Pushcart Prize and a MacDowell Fellowship.

Before becoming a writer, Sarah was a chef, a yoga teacher, and a Golden Gloves boxing champion. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Ethan Iverson, and works with young boxers at the nonprofit community gym NYC Cops and Kids.

Her website is sarahdeming.typepad.com

Teacher Resources

Gravity Discussion Guide

Around the Web

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Fiction, January 2020

The Cheffe: A Cook’s Novel by Marie NDiaye

The Cheffe by Marie NDiaye. October 29, 2019. Alfred A. Knopf, 287 p. ISBN: 9780525520474.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the Booker Prize-nominated author of Three Strong Women: an elegant, hypnotic new novel about a legendary French female chef–the facts her life, the nearly ineffable qualities of her cooking, and the obsessive, sometimes destructive desire for purity of taste and experience that shaped her life.

Continuing her tradition of writing provocative fiction about fascinating women, here Marie NDiaye gives us the story of a Great Female Chef–a chef who was celebrated as one of the best in a world where men dominate, and the way that her pursuit of love, pleasure, and gustatory delights helped shape her life and career. Told from the perspective of her former assistant (and unrequited lover), now an aged chef himself, here is the story of a woman’s quest to the front of the kitchen–and the extraordinary journey she takes along the way.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 3))
Lauded French-Senegalese author NDiaye (Ladivine, 2016) introduces the otherwise-unnamed “Cheffe,” a woman so consumed with creating unique culinary delicacies that this desire overrules everything else in her life. Her story is told by an unnamed narrator, a former student and admirer who has an obsession of his own: single-minded dedication to recounting the Cheffe’s story along with his own interpretations. As the novel progresses, readers learn that although the Cheffe enjoys some aspects of the fame that her culinary prowess affords her, she is stubbornly secretive about the rest of her life. When she becomes pregnant and must choose between her work and her baby, she ultimately decides to leave the child to her family, and focus on opening a restaurant: a choice that comes back to haunt her in the future in ways that readers won’t have predicted. Hauntingly original, and told in a conversational tone that quickly makes readers feel they are the narrator’s confidants, this is another entry in NDiaye’s already impressive volume of work.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
A saint in the kitchen: the legend of a culinary genius recounted by her most devoted disciple. “Every day I get something from what my love made of me, and if I can live my life on good terms with myself it’s only because my exclusive, absolute, imperishable love transformed the boy I was, conventionally eager to succeed, ordinary, pragmatic, into a young man capable of marveling and sacrificing.” To present the story of a renowned restaurateur known only as the Cheffe, NDiaye (Ladivine, 2016, etc.) has created a uniquely unreliable (and unnamed) narrator, the chef’s former apprentice and No. 1 fan, now living in boozy retirement on the Spanish Mediterranean. In his hands, the life of the Cheffe is a hagiographic fairy tale, complete with an ugly witch—the Cheffe’s daughter, whom the narrator is still furiously fighting for favor even long after his mentor’s death. “I have my own opinion, you’ve met her, you’ve seen that unpleasant, sterile woman, arrogant and vain and now trying to peddle specious anecdotes about the Cheffe to the whole wide world.” The preferred version of the story—the narrator’s version—begins once upon a time in the village of Sainte-Bazeille, where a sweet little girl was born to destitute farm laborers. They put her to work in the fields, then sent her away as a teenager to work for some wealthy weirdos in a neighboring town. Obsessed with food, the Clapeaus install the girl in their kitchen, where she discovers her vocation: “Now, moved and joyous, she realized her body was made up of many little animals who’d learned to work flawlessly all on their own, and who, that afternoon, happy, modest, at once obediently and quietly enterprising, showed her all their savoir faire, working as a tight-knit team that in a sense excluded the Cheffe for her own good.” My, my. The mice and bluebirds that sewed Cinderella’s ball gown take a backseat to these industrious creatures. What specious anecdotes could that awful daughter possibly come up with to match these? So eccentric, long-winded, and overblown, it’s almost endearing.

About the Author

Marie NDiaye was born in Pithiviers, France, in 1967; spent her childhood with her French mother (her father was Senegalese); and studied linguistics at the Sorbonne. She started writing when she was twelve or thirteen years old and was only eighteen when her first work was published. In 2001 she was awarded the prestigious Prix Femina literary prize for her novel Rosie Carpe, and in 2009, she won the Prix Goncourt for Three Strong Women.

Around the Web

The Cheffe on Amazon

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The Cheffe Publisher Page

Fiction, January 2020

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi. October 15, 2019. Razorbill, 450 p. ISBN: 9780451481672.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The year is 2172. Climate change and nuclear disasters have rendered much of earth unlivable. Only the lucky ones have escaped to space colonies in the sky.

In a war-torn Nigeria, battles are fought using flying, deadly mechs, and soldiers are outfitted with bionic limbs and artificial organs meant to protect them from the harsh, radiation-heavy climate. Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life. Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together. And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there.

Part of Series: War Girls (Book #1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. In a futuristic Nigeria torn asunder by civil war, catastrophic battles are fought using soldiers augmented with bionic limbs and artificial organs. Sisters Onyii and Ify find themselves on opposite sides of the war. Eldest sister Onyii is the practical one. She’s a caregiver and leader who will stop at nothing to see Ify have a better life. However, Ify doesn’t necessarily like being coddled. When a years-long civil war rips the sisters apart, they will do anything to fight their way back to each other. Onyebuchi (Beasts Made of Night, 2017) uses a sf setting to explore very heavy, real-world issues, like climate change, nuclear disasters, and child soldiers. Onyii and Ify both face horrors as children of war and live with the traumas induced by being exposed to such violence at a tender age. The story also explores bioaugmentation and what it means to be human while asking whether we should use a technology just because we have it. Onyebuchi makes up for the sluggish narrative start with his staggering, imaginative world, which immediately draws readers in and effortlessly makes them feel and root for its characters. This brilliant novel about sisters, war, and freedom should be in every sf collection.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
In a world ravaged by nuclear war, climate change, and resource conflict, two sisters dare to dream of peace. In his novel based on the Nigerian civil war and wars decades later in other parts of the African continent involving child soldiers, Onyebuchi (Crown of Thunder, 2018, etc.) creates a richly detailed, post-apocalyptic Nigeria. Onyii, who comes to be known as the Demon of Biafra, has been caught in the thick of the war between the Biafrans and Nigerians over mining rights for Chukwu, a precious mineral. She has even become an Augment, one of those who have replaced missing limbs and organs with mechanical ones. Ify, Onyii’s sister, is ingenious and resourceful: Having been bullied for her lighter skin by the other girls in the Biafran war camp, she finds solace in exploring the world via her Accent, technology she created that grants her powers of perception and communication. When the Nigerians attack, Ify is kidnapped and the camp left in ruins. Believing her sister to be dead, Onyii agrees to fight for the Republic of Biafra. Meanwhile, Ify is discovering much about her true lineage. The intense plot is narrated in alternating third-person perspectives, and the author explores themes surrounding colonization, family, and the injustices of war. The story culminates in an unexpected, heart-wrenching end. An exhilarating series opener. (author’s note) (Science fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Tochi Onyebuchi holds a B.A. from Yale, an MFA in Screenwriting from Tisch, a Masters degree in Global Economic Law from L’institut d’études politiques, and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. His writing has appeared in Asimov’s and Ideomancer, among other places. Tochi resides in Connecticut where he works in the tech industry.

His website is www.tochionyebuchi.com

Teacher Resources

War Girls on Common Sense Media

Around the Web

War Girls on Amazon

War Girls on Barnes and Noble

War Girls on Goodreads

War Girls on LibraryThing

War Girls Publisher Page