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

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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

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December 2019, Fiction

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Frankly in Love by David Yoon. September 10, 2019. GP Putnam’s Sons, 406 p. ISBN: 9781984812209.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Two friends. One fake dating scheme. What could possibly go wrong?

Frank Li has two names. There’s Frank Li, his American name. Then there’s Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California.

Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl–which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white.

As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he’s forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don’t leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he’s left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love—or himself—at all.

In this moving debut novel—featuring striking blue stained edges and beautiful original endpaper art by the author—David Yoon takes on the question of who am I? with a result that is humorous, heartfelt, and ultimately unforgettable.

Part of series: Frankly in Love (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Underage smoking, Racist slurs

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. Frank Li has always known his parents expected him to date a fellow Korean American. It was an unspoken rule he tried not to think about until he finds himself kissing, texting, and overall obsessing over Brit—who’s white. To save himself from his parent’s disappointment (or outright condemnation) Frank hatches a plan to create a faux relationship with longtime family friend Joy, who has also fallen for a non-Korean. It seems like the perfect plan, at least, for a little while. With Frankly in Love, Yoon has created a story within the well-trod rom-com trope of fake relationships becoming more than a facade that is completely fresh. Frank is a wonderfully self-aware protagonist with a compelling voice that sometimes seems much older than 18 but never in a way that rings false. To say this debut novel is more than a romance would be to malign the genre it is a credit to, but even readers who aren’t fans of romance will be drawn into this beautifully written exploration of family, identity, and self-discovery.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2019)
A senior contends with first love and heartache in this spectacular debut. Sensitive, smart Frank Li is under a lot of pressure. His Korean immigrant parents have toiled ceaselessly, running a convenience store in a mostly black and Latinx Southern California neighborhood, for their children’s futures. Frank’s older sister fulfilled their parents’ dreams—making it to Harvard—but when she married a black man, she was disowned. So when Frank falls in love with a white classmate, he concocts a scheme with Joy, the daughter of Korean American family friends, who is secretly seeing a Chinese American boy: Frank and Joy pretend to fall for each other while secretly sneaking around with their real dates. Through rich and complex characterization that rings completely true, the story highlights divisions within the Korean immigrant community and between communities of color in the U.S., cultural rifts separating immigrant parents and American-born teens, and the impact on high school peers of society’s entrenched biases. Yoon’s light hand with dialogue and deft use of illustrative anecdotes produce a story that illuminates weighty issues by putting a compassionate human face on struggles both universal and particular to certain identities. Frank’s best friend is black and his white girlfriend’s parents are vocal liberals; Yoon’s unpacking of the complexity of the racial dynamics at play is impressive—and notably, the novel succeeds equally well as pure romance. A deeply moving account of love in its many forms. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

David Yoon grew up in Orange County, California, and now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, novelist Nicola Yoon, and their daughter. He drew the illustrations for Nicola’s #1 New York Times bestseller Everything, EverythingFrankly in Love is his first novel.

His website is davidyoon.com

Teacher Resources

Frankly in Love on Common Sense Media

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December 2019, Fiction

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. October 1, 2019. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 282 p. ISBN: 9780374277789.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the award-winning author of 10:04 and Leaving the Atocha Station, a tender and expansive family drama set in the American Midwest at the turn of the century: a tale of adolescence, transgression, and the conditions that have given rise to the trolls and tyrants of the New Right

Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of ’97. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting “lost boys” to open up. They both work at a psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is a renowned debater, expected to win a national championship before he heads to college. He is one of the cool kids, ready to fight or, better, freestyle about fighting if it keeps his peers from thinking of him as weak. Adam is also one of the seniors who bring the loner Darren Eberheart–who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient–into the social scene, to disastrous effect.

Deftly shifting perspectives and time periods, The Topeka School is the story of a family, its struggles and its strengths: Jane’s reckoning with the legacy of an abusive father, Jonathan’s marital transgressions, the challenge of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity. It is also a riveting prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the trolls and tyrants of the New Right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs; Marijuana; Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Underage drinking; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
The messy relationship between masculinity and language drives this seeking, eloquent story by poet-novelist Lerner (10:04, 2014; Leaving Atocha Station, 2011). Adam Gordon (maybe the same Adam Gordon as in Leaving Atocha Station, maybe not) is a debate-team prodigy. The son of talk-therapy professionals, Adam loves poetry and believes in the power of words. At parties, after a few drinks, freestyle rap keeps him out of fights, unlike his damaged classmate Darren, whose violent impulses are neither sublimated into nor constrained by mere words. Seeking early stirrings of today’s sociopolitical tensions in 1990s Kansas, Lerner interrogates Adam’s personal origins, dependency upon language, and the complicity tacit in his adolescent oblivion. Chapters narrated by Adam’s psychologist parents reveal other masculine transgressions and suggest that Adam’s issues are not his alone. The ekphrastic style and autofictional tendencies echo Lerner’s earlier works, and his focus on language games and their discontents fits nicely within the 1990s setting. But the fear at the core of this tale—that language, no matter how thoroughly mastered or artfully presented, simply isn’t enough—feels new and urgent.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2019)
In which the author scrupulously investigates his upper-middle-class upbringing to confront its messy interior of violence, betrayal, and mental illness. Adam, the center and occasional narrator of Lerner’s (The Hatred of Poetry, 2016, etc.) essayistic and engrossing novel, enjoyed a privileged adolescence in the Kansas capital during the 1990s: He competed nationally in debate, had plenty of friends, and was close to his parents, two psychologists at an illustrious foundation. (Lerner is again in autofiction mode; he, too, competed in high school debate, and his parents are psychologists who’ve worked at Topeka’s Menninger Clinic.) But all is not well: Fred Phelps’ homophobic Westboro Baptist Church recurs in the narrative, a childhood concussion has left Adam with migraines, and his parents’ marriage is strained. Lerner alternates sections written from the perspectives of Adam, his mother, and his father with interludes about Darren, a mentally troubled teen who committed an act of violence at a party that Adam feels complicit in. How much? Hard to say, but the book sensitively gathers up the evidence of abuse, violation, and cruelty in Adam’s life. Though the conflicts are often modest, like Adam’s mom’s fending off Phelps-ian trolls angry at her bestselling book, Lerner convincingly argues they’re worth intense scrutiny. As a debate competitor, Adam had to confront a “spread”—an opponent’s laying out a fearsome number of arguments, each requiring rebuttals—and Lerner is doing much the same with his adolescence. How do childhood microaggressions build into a singular violent act? Were the rhetorical debates between the Phelpses and the foundation a rehearsal for contemporary Trumpian politics? Few writers are so deeply engaged as Lerner in how our interior selves are shaped by memory and consequence, and if he finds no clear conclusion to his explorations, it makes the “Darren Eberheart situation” increasingly powerful and heartbreaking as the story moves on. Autofiction at its smartest and most effective: self-interested, self-interrogating, but never self-involved.

About the Author

Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry (The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path), three novels (Leaving the Atocha Station, 10:04, and The Topeka School) and a work of criticism (The Hatred of Poetry). His collaborations with artists include Blossom (with Thomas Demand), The Polish Rider (with Anna Ostoya), and The Snows of Venice (with Alexander Kluge). Lerner has been a Fulbright Scholar, a finalist for the National Book Award, a Howard Foundation Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and he is currently a MacArthur Fellow. In 2011 he won the “Preis der Stadt Münster für internationale Poesie”, making him the first American to receive this honor. Lerner teaches at Brooklyn College, where he was named a Distinguished Professor of English in 2016.

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