Fiction, March 2020

Shadowscent by P.M. Freestone

Shadowscent by P.M. Freestone. November 5, 2019. Scholastic Press, 362 p. ISBN: 9781338335446.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

An Ember in the Ashes meets Indiana Jones in an electrifying, steal-your-breath away, supercharge-your-senses YA fantasy adventure.

Across the Aramtesh Empire, scent is everything. Prayers only reach heaven on sacred incense, and perfumes are prized status symbols. 17-year-old Rakel has an uncanny ability with fragrances, but her skills aren’t enough to buy her dying father more time.

Ash bears the tattoos of an imperial bodyguard. When his prince, Nisai, insists on a diplomatic mission to an outer province, Ash is duty-bound to join the caravan. It’s a nightmare protecting Nisai on the road. But it’s even harder for Ash to conceal a secret that could see him exiled or executed.

Rakel and Ash have nothing in common until smoke draws them to a field of the Empire’s rarest flower. Nisai’s been poisoned, flames devour the priceless blooms, and the pair have “suspect” clinging to them like a bad stench. Their futures depend on them working together to decipher clues, defy dangers and defeat their own demons in a race to source an antidote . . . before the imperial army hunts them down.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 5))
Grades 8-11. In a society dependent on perfumes, oils, and elixirs, all Rakel wants is to use her gift for fragrances to make enough money to care for her dying father—easier said than done if you aren’t born into the right family. Ash’s only desire is to serve his best friend Nisai, the prince and heir to the empire, as his faithful Shield guard—and to protect a secret that could cost him his life. Yet somehow, when the prince is poisoned and left comatose, Rakel and Ash end up on the run to save their lives as well as Nisai’s. Journeying through the five provinces in search of a way to save him, Rakel must use her skills and Ash his swords to overcome the endless challenges before them. In her debut, Freestone crafts rich, fantastical imagery through mythical creatures, magical lands, and mysterious abilities, all tied up in an engrossing plot that will have readers begging for the sequel. Hand this book to fantasy-lovers and mystery aficionados alike.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2019)
A girl who gets mixed up in politics and the crown prince’s bodyguard must work together to save the prince—and themselves. Rakel has an affinity for scents: She can understand what’s in them and how to re-create them. In a world that runs on fragrances and magic, she should be able to care for herself and her ailing father. But when she goes to the city of Aphorai to find work as a perfumer, she learns that things are not so simple. Despite her best intentions, she is accused of a plot to assassinate the First Prince. Her only hope of survival lies in unraveling the components of the poison and concocting an antidote. Joined by the prince’s Shield, Ash, Rakel sets out on a quest through each of the kingdom’s regions, uncovering secrets about each of their pasts along the way. Following standard plot beats, Rakel and Ash confront corruption and conspiracy within their kingdom while exploring relationships, with each other and with others in their lives, both present and absent. While overdramatic at times, with characters painted in broad strokes, the romance and tension will appeal to readers hungry for adventures set against an intriguing, if underexplored magical world. Few physical descriptions make ethnicity difficult to determine in this desert kingdom; homosexuality is briefly mentioned and not stigmatized. A standard fantasy romp built on lush descriptions of fragrances. (Fantasy. 12-16)

About the Author

P. M. Freestone hails from Melbourne, Australia, and now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland with her partner, their Romanian rescue dog, and a collection of NASA-approved house plants. She is a Clarion Writers‘ Workshop (University of California) graduate and a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award winner, and holds degrees in archaeology, religious history and a PhD in the sociology of infectious diseases. She’s only ever met one cheese she didn’t like.

Her website is pmfreestone.com

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Fiction, March 2020

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wang

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wang. January 7, 2020. HarperTeen, 414 p. ISBN: 9780062957276.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

“Our cousins have done this program,” Sophie whispers. “Best kept secret. Zero supervision.

And just like that, Ever Wong’s summer takes an unexpected turnGone is Chien Tan, the strict educational program in Taiwan that Ever was expecting. In its place, she finds Loveboat: a summer-long free-for-all where hookups abound, adults turn a blind eye, snake-blood sake flows abundantly, and the nightlife runs nonstop.

But not every student is quite what they seem:

Ever is working toward becoming a doctor but nurses a secret passion for dance.

Rick Woo is the Yale-bound child prodigy bane of Ever’s existence whose perfection hides a secret.

Boy-crazy, fashion-obsessed Sophie Ha turns out to have more to her than meets the eye.

And under sexy Xavier Yeh’s shell is buried a shameful truth he’ll never admit.

When these students’ lives collide, it’s guaranteed to be a summer Ever will never forget.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Physical abuse, Domestic abuse; Alcohol

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 7))
Grades 10-12. Ever Wong has spent 18 years being measured against the impossible standards of her parents’ admiration for high-achieving Chinese Americans. They literally ran her crush away (devastatingly into the arms of her best friend!) and, on the cusp of adulthood, are forcing her to pursue medical school instead of her true love, dance. When she’s sent to Chien Tan in Taipei, what she expects to be a laborious language and cultural program she finds is nicknamed “Loveboat” for a reason, turning Ever’s summer into one of love, mischief, and self-awakening that she will soon not forget. Wen’s depiction of a wild summer disguised as an educational summer camp is brimming with hormones under scant supervision and Loveboat’s rowdy reputation. Ever’s thorny friendship with Sophie and a love triangle between brilliant Rick, with his effortless charm, and bad boy Xavier provides a strong romance, but some heavy subplots make it a serious read, too. It’s Ever’s resulting growth in the face of parental expectations and heartache that will resonate most with readers far and wide.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2019)
A sheltered teen with a passion for dance finds love, drama, and herself at a summer camp in Taiwan. Eighteen-year-old Everett “Ever” Wong braces herself for a summer of curfews and vocabulary lessons after her parents reveal that they signed her up for a Mandarin language and Chinese culture program. But upon arriving at Chien Tan, Ever quickly discovers how the program earned its nickname, Loveboat. As her new roommate, Sophie, says, “Ever, you are never going to meet this many eligible guys in one place.” Ever seizes this opportunity away from her strict parents to experience a slew of forbidden activities, from sneaking out at night with other campers for illicit clubbing to taking classes at a local ballet studio. Complications arise when she unintentionally stumbles into a love quadrangle involving bad boy Xavier, handsome prodigy Rick, and glamorous Sophie. The novel evokes the style of bingeworthy Taiwanese TV dramas, complete with dramatic plot developments and characterizations that occasionally toe the line between exaggeration and caricature. Between hookups, glamour photo shoots, and camp classes, Wen addresses a number of hot-button issues for many Asian Americans, the foremost being the struggle to reconcile immigrant parents’ expectations with personal aspirations. Characters are predominantly Chinese American; a secondary character is Indigenous Taiwanese. An entertaining and heartfelt debut that takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of romance and self-discovery. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Abigail Hing Wen holds a BA from Harvard, a JD from Columbia Law School, and an MFA from the Vermont School of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing stories or listening to her favorite scores, she is busy working as an attorney in venture capital and artificial intelligence in Silicon Valley, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Loveboat, Taipei is her first novel.

Her website is www.abigailhingwen.com

Teacher Resources

Loveboat, Taipei on Common Sense Media

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February 2020, Fiction

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen. December 3, 2019. HarperTeen, 429 p. ISBN: 9780062857309.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Lady Victoria Aston has everything she could want: an older sister happily wed, the future of her family estate secure, and ample opportunity to while her time away in the fields around her home.

But now Vicky must marry—or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s treacherous season.

Sadly, Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s exact circumstances: whether the roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend, Tom Sherborne, is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the unfortunate fashion sensibility.

Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her…ones that could prevent her from surviving until her wedding day.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Sexual assault, Alcohol, Domestic abuse, Mention of rape

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Grades 8-12. When Vicky, more properly known as Lady Victoria Aston, receives the unwelcome news that she must find a husband soon to secure her family’s ancestral home estate—and, thus, safety—she takes on the burden and participates in the London social season with determination. But no spirited young woman would willingly marry a milksop, a mountebank, or a cad. And sadly, Tom, the childhood friend she secretly loves, seems strangely distant since his return from the Continent. Meanwhile, who’s behind the accidents and attacks targeting Vicky? Can she unmask the villain before it’s too late? Vicky’s frequent references to Jane Austen’s novels will charm readers who love them as much as she does. The story brims with Austen-like characters, dilemmas, and turns of phrase. Vicky’s emotional turmoil will ring true for today’s readers, though her feisty responses to physical attacks are less believable in an era when young ladies lacked training in the art of self-defense. Putting such quibbles aside, contemporary fans of the Austen novels and their screen adaptations will relish this rousing, late Georgian romance.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2019)
A Regency-era teen needs to find a husband to save the family estate—provided someone doesn’t murder her first. When 17-year-old Lady Victoria Aston’s older sister, Althea, flees her abusive husband, Viscount Dain, Victoria’s parents tell her she must marry soon: Without Vicky’s erstwhile husband as a possible heir, should her father die before Althea’s separation can be legally recognized, his estate and title would default to Dain. But someone seems intent on harming Vicky: She’s attacked by a stranger and later survives a mysterious carriage accident. Tom Sherborne, her old friend and neighbor returned from years in exile after succeeding to his father’s title, saves her both times. But Vicky’s still angry that Tom dropped their friendship when he left five years earlier. As various suitors vie for her hand, Vicky has one question: What would Jane Austen’s heroines do? Cohen’s debut is lighthearted and well researched, but a lack of focus—is it mystery? Romance?—keeps it from being a page-turner. The central conceit—that Vicky draws inspiration from Fanny Price, Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, etc.—only muddles the story, as it’s likely going to be lost on many YA readers who may not know who these characters are. There are mentions of India, the West Indies, and abolition, but all characters seem to be white. Not scary, not sexy, not quite enough. (historical note) (Historical fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Jennieke Cohen (JEN-ih-kah CO-en) is used to people mispronouncing her name and tries to spare her fictional characters the same problem. Jennieke writes historical fiction for young adults inspired by real people and events because life is often stranger than fiction. She studied English history at Cambridge University and has a master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California. Jennieke loves exploring new locales but always returns home to Northern California where the summers are hot, the winters are mild, and life is casual. Her website is www.JenniekeCohen.com.

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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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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 Beautiful by Renée Ahdeih

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdeih. October 8, 2019. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 425 p. ISBN: 9781524738174.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans is a safe haven after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent in the middle of the carnival season, Celine is quickly enraptured by the vibrant city, from its music to its fancy soirées and even its danger. She becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s enigmatic leader, Sébastien Saint Germain.

When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in Sébastien’s own lair–the second dead girl to turn up in recent weeks–Celine battles her attraction to Sébastien and suspicions about his guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

After a third murder, New Orleans becomes gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose–one who has now set Celine in his sights. As the murderer stalks her, Celine finally takes matters into her own hands, only to find herself caught in the midst of an age-old feud between the darkest creatures of the night, where the price of forbidden love is her life.

Part of Series: The Beautiful (Book 1)

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

 

Book Trailer

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. When Celine arrives in New Orleans fresh from Paris, she’s looking for a new start. It’s 1872, and options for a woman alone are limited, but Celine, who has dark secrets in her past, is determined to find a way. Celine finds herself falling in love with New Orleans, which, in the middle of carnival season, has a wild, seductive beauty. But the city has its dangers: Celine meets Bastien, a man she is attracted to but resists, who is at the forefront of a mysterious group active in the city’s underworld. And a vicious serial killer begins stalking the city—one who drains the blood of his victims . . . one who may not be entirely human. Eventually Celine catches his eye, but he doesn’t know what’s in her past. Ahdieh (Flame in the Mist, 2017) kick-starts the vampire story with a series opener that, while it owes more to Interview with the Vampire than it does to Twilight, is all its own. An action-packed third act and a final reveal will have readers grasping for the sequel.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
Forbidden love is tested by suspicion and murder in this latest addition to YA vampire lore. Celine Rousseau, a French and Asian (mother’s exact origins unknown) seamstress, sails from Europe to America in hopes of leaving her shadowy past behind. En route, she bonds with Pippa, a white English émigrée, and both girls find refuge in an Ursuline convent. Celine’s talent as a couturier leads to a commission from Odette, a beautiful member of the opulent-yet-mysterious Cour des Lions, where students of the occult practice their craft unmolested. Before long, Celine is swept up in a world of mystical forces centering around Sébastien Saint Germain, an enigmatic aristocrat to whom she is irresistibly attracted. When a fellow convent member is found murdered, Celine suspects all her acquaintances, including Sébastien. The novel, wading into the waters of forbidden romance between teenage girl and hunky immortal vampire previously navigated by Buffy Summers and Bella Swan, feels less magical than it should despite the lush Victorian-era New Orleans setting. At times the mounting attraction between Bastien and Celine is told rather than shown, which makes the central relationship feel forced rather than organic and passion filled. Ahdieh (Smoke in the Sun, 2018, etc.) brings New Orleans vibrantly to life, particularly when exploring the complicated racial and gender restrictions of high society through main and supporting characters of mixed-race origin. Sure to please fans of the author and of the vampire-romance genre. (Fantasy. 12-adult)

About the Author

Renée Ahdieh is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog. She is the author of Flame in the Mist and Smoke in the Sun as well as the #1 New York Times bestselling The Wrath and the Dawn and its sequel, The Rose and the Dagger.

Her website is www.reneeahdieh.com

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Fiction, November 2019

Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi

Permanent Record by Mary H.K,. Choi. September 3, 2019. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 432 p. ISBN: 9781534445970.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

On paper, college dropout Pablo Rind doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. His graveyard shift at a twenty-four-hour deli in Brooklyn is a struggle. Plus, he’s up to his eyeballs in credit card debt. Never mind the state of his student loans.

Pop juggernaut Leanna Smart has enough social media followers to populate whole continents. The brand is unstoppable. She graduated from child stardom to become an international icon and her adult life is a queasy blur of private planes, step-and-repeats, aspirational hotel rooms, and strangers screaming for her just to notice them.

When Leanna and Pablo meet at 5:00 a.m. at the bodega in the dead of winter it’s absurd to think they’d be A Thing. But as they discover who they are, who they want to be, and how to defy the deafening expectations of everyone else, Lee and Pab turn to each other. Which, of course, is when things get properly complicated.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Marijuana, Strong language, Strong sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Pablo has dropped out of college, is massively in debt, and feels aimless. One night when he is working the overnight shift at the 24-hour health food bodega, he meets Lee, who breaks him out of his rut. They have witty banter and great chemistry, but at the end of their encounter he figures out that she is Leanna Smart—the pop mega-star whose image is plastered everywhere and whose songs are inescapable on the radio. Navigating these barriers while falling in love pushes them into uncharted territory, and while it’s swoony and dramatic, it’s also messy and fraught. Choi (Emergency Contact) has penned a smart and funny read that is as much about finding your path as it is about falling in love. Pablo is a winning narrator with a natural voice, and readers will root for him in his romance with Lee, as well as on his rocky journey to self-actualization. Choi’s specificity, realistic dialogue, and humor ensure that the personal and romantic journeys feel warm and rewarding but never saccharine. Pablo’s friends and family, a diverse cast with rich inner lives of their own, are loving but firm with him, and readers will relate to the ultimate message of the book, delivered by his father: “Doing nothing is the only stupid.”

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
A chance encounter between a college dropout and a pop star in a New York City deli leads to unexpected romance—and expected complications. Korean Pakistani American Pablo Rind, a former NYU student struggling to figure out what he wants to do with his life, is weighed down by a mountain of student loans and credit card debt. Feeling paralyzed by his Korean anesthesiologist mother’s high expectations, he works the graveyard shift at a deli. Into his monotonous existence comes Carolina Suarez, aka mega-star Leanna Smart, who enters the store early one morning on a snack run. Mutual attraction (and a shared love of snacks) leads to a whirlwind, jet-setting romance, but when the disparity between their worlds puts pressure on their relationship, Pablo is given the opportunity to come to some hard realizations about himself and the responsibilities he’s been avoiding for too long. That, along with some prodding from friends and family compels him to finally face what he needs to do in order to change his life, stop taking his loved ones for granted, and pursue his dreams. While the language has a contemporary feel and the range of diverse, appealing characters accurately reflects modern-day New York, the plot frequently drags, and character development is weak. Hip characters and jargon adorn a predictable storyline and unconvincing romance. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Mary H.K. Choi is a Korean-American author, editor, television and print journalist. She is the author of young adult novel Emergency Contact (2018). She is the culture correspondent on Vice News Tonight on HBO and was previously a columnist at Wired and Allure magazines as well as a freelance writer. She attended a large public high school in a suburb of San Antonio, then college at the University of Texas at Austin, where she majored in Textile and Apparel.

Her website is www.choitotheworld.com.

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