Fiction, March 2020

The New David Espinoza by Fred Aceves

The New David Espinoza by Fred Aceves. February 11, 2020. HarperTeen, 323 p. ISBN: 9780062489883.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

David Espinoza is tired of being messed with. When a video of him getting knocked down by a bully’s slap goes viral at the end of junior year, David vows to use the summer to bulk up— do what it takes to become a man—and wow everyone when school starts again the fall.

Soon David is spending all his time and money at Iron Life, a nearby gym that’s full of bodybuilders. Frustrated with his slow progress, his life eventually becomes all about his muscle gains. As it says on the Iron Life wall, What does not kill me makes me stronger.

As David falls into the dark side of the bodybuilding world, pursuing his ideal body at all costs, he’ll have to grapple with the fact that it could actually cost him everything.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs; Mild sexual themes; Strong language

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 8))
Grades 9-12. Seventeen-year-old David Espinoza is sick and tired of being too skinny. After getting caught on video on the last day of school as a bully lays him out cold with a slap across the face, David begins to withdraw, deciding to devote himself to bulking up before the start of the next school year. He finds a gym close to home, run by a well-known young bodybuilder, but after a few workouts and not enough gains, he comes to the realization that all the YouTube bodybuilders he’s been following might well have bulked up with some extra help: steroids. David’s journey to an ideal body is fraught with pitfalls as he alienates his girlfriend and his family, develops muscle dysmorphia, and witnesses some truly horrific side effects of steroid use among his new friends. Aceves (The Closest I’ve Come, 2017) sometimes focuses more on the problem of steroids than David as a character, but the book still stands out through its examination of toxic masculinity, body image, and the dangers of pursuing perfection.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2019)
An intense look at male body dysmorphia from the author of The Closest I’ve Come (2017).David Espinoza has always been tormented for his skinny physique, but when the high school bully slaps him in the locker room and catches it on camera, the video becomes a viral meme in his Florida town. The Mexican American teen decides to join a gym and build enough muscle over the summer to lay to rest the incessant teasing. There, he meets bodybuilders who influence him to take steroids in order to speed up the results. With graphic detail, Aceves presents the psychological, physical, and emotional effects of muscle dysmorphia. David’s relationships fall apart—with his family, friends, girlfriend—and the author, who also experienced this disorder in his youth, authentically delineates the ramifications of this illness, which is more prevalent than many believe. After a shocking climax, David finally comes to grips with his addiction, perhaps a little too quickly, but readers won’t mind the not-so-pat resolution. Frank discussions about the sexual lives and drug use of adolescents add authenticity to the story, and the expletive-laden prose makes this more appropriate for older teens. Toxic masculinity, which is cringingly part and parcel of the testosterone-filled world that Aceves portrays, is threaded through the narrative in a contextualized way. David’s friends are mostly Latinx—he has a Puerto Rican girlfriend and a Dominican best friend Searing and thoughtful. (author’s note, resources) (Realistic fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Fred Aceves was born in New York to A Mexican father, and a Dominican mother, which makes him 100% Mexican, 100% Dominican, and 100% American. He spent most of his youth in Southern California and Tampa, Florida, where he lived in a poor, working class neighborhood. At the age of 21 he started traveling around the world, living in Chicago, New York, The Czech Republic, France, Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico, his father’s native land.

Among other jobs, he has worked as a delivery driver, server, cook, car salesman, freelance editor, and teacher of English as a second language. His website is fredaceves.com/

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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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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

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.

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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

Michigan vs. the Boys by Carrie Allen

Michigan vs. the Boys by Carrie Allen. October 1, 2019. Kids Can Press, 299 p. ISBN: 9781525301483.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

When a determined girl is confronted with the culture of toxic masculinity, it’s time to even the score.

Michigan Manning lives for hockey, and this is her year to shine. That is, until she gets some crushing news: budget cuts will keep the girls’ hockey team off the ice this year.

If she wants colleges to notice her, Michigan has to find a way to play. Luckily, there’s still one team left in town …

The boys’ team isn’t exactly welcoming, but Michigan’s prepared to prove herself. She plays some of the best hockey of her life, in fact, all while putting up with changing in the broom closet, constant trash talk and “harmless” pranks that always seem to target her.

But once hazing crosses the line into assault, Michigan must weigh the consequences of speaking up — even if it means putting her future on the line.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination; Homophobic slur; Mild sexual themes; Strong language; Underage drinking; Underage smoking; Violence, Sexual harrassment/assault

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Michigan’s entire life was hockey—when she was not conditioning and training, she was watching hockey movies and thinking about hockey. All of her hard work pays off when she is finally named Assistant Captain of her school team, but a few days later, the team is cut due to funding. Without rich parents to pay her tuition at a private school, she’s seemingly out of options. So, she tries out for the boy’s varsity team, which she easily makes, but her coaches and teammates aren’t happy about it. Michigan endures months of physical and emotional abuse and hazing without reporting it, focusing on her craft instead. Allen’s debut is a plot-driven novel that takes readers inside a misogynistic team and a school and town that allow that behavior to go unchecked. The book’s power comes from highlighting the pain and abuse that barrier-breaking women endure in a male-driven field, but the characters are thinly drawn and the ending is too tidy for such a complicated story. Our admirable heroine deserves more than that.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
Michigan wants to play hockey, which leaves one last audacious option—the boys’ team. Michigan Manning and her best friend, Brie, dream of victory as the new captains of their high school girls’ ice hockey team. Instead, Principal Belmont shocks them by announcing that budgets cuts will render the girls’ hockey team defunct. The close-knit hockey girls scatter—Brie to private school, the rest to other schools and other sports, but Michigan can’t afford private school tuition or long commutes. Inspired by Jack, a handsome, popular swimmer, and a brave girl on her brother’s AAA bantam team, Michigan shrugs off ridicule, taunts, and bullying to earn her way to a coveted center position on the boys’ varsity team. It’s an exhilarating run, as debut author Allen creates a wonderfully authentic hockey world. Determined, resilient Michigan fights for her right to play despite feeling abandoned by old friends and ostracized by her new team. However, readers may feel frustrated by the author’s portrayal of Michigan’s rationalizations and the alpha bad guy trope, which veers toward the cartoonish—after purposely injuring her, one bully “lowers his voice as if talking to a baby. ‘Are you going to be OK to play this weekend? Coach needs his widdle Michigan out there.’ ” The supportive relationships between Michigan and her brother, boyfriend, and father are beautifully written, and the on-ice experience is similarly nuanced and breathtaking. Most characters are assumed white. Nevertheless, a gritty and heroic athlete persists. (Fiction. 13-16)

About the Author

Carrie Allen is a Colorado girl who wears flip-flops year-round and never skips dessert. She is retired from sports medicine, and extra-tired from chasing around two kids and two dogs. She writes contemporary YA about girls who kick butt in sports.

Her website is www.carrieallenauthor.com

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