2017 Debut Authors of Color and Native Americans

Thanks to everyone on Twitter who helped me compose this list. It’s important that we connect with these new YA authors; follow them on social media and read their books because this is critical to their careers.

I do hope this list is incomplete and more names will be added in the comment section. While I didn’t thoroughly vet, I did try to find racial/ethnic identities for everyone listed as well as to insure their books would be released in 2017. Here’s wishing you all much success in 2017 and beyond.

Kate Hart (member of Chikasaw Nation with Choctaw heritage)
After the Fall; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; January

Celeste Lim (Malaysian American)
The Crystal Ribbon; Scholastic, January

Tiffany D. Jackson (African American)
Allegedly; Harper Collins; January

Angie Thomas (African American)
The Hate U Give; Balzer + Bray; February

Ibi Zoboi (Haitian American)
American Streets; Balzer + Bray; February

Rhoda Belleza (Asian American)
Empress of a Thousand Skies; Razorbill, February

S. “JJ” Jae-Jones (Korean American)
Wintersong; A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin, February

Lilliam Rivera (Latinx)
The Education of Margo Sanchez; Simon and Schuster; February

Karuna Riazi(Muslim American)
The Gauntlet: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster; March

Pablo Cartaya (Cuban American)
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora; Viking/Penguin, May

Sandhaya Menon (Indian American)
When Dimple Met Rishi; Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster; May

Sajidah K Ali (Muslim American)
Saints and Misfits; Simon and Schuster, June

Tochi Onyebuchi (African American)
Beasts Made Of Night; Razorbill, September

Somaiya Daud (Muslim American)
Mirage; Flatiron Books, Fall

Julie Doa (Vietnamese American)
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns; Philomel Books, Fall

Heny Lien (Taiwanese American)
Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword; Razorbill/Random Penguin House, Fall

Axie Oh (Asian American)
The Amaterasu Project; Tu Books, Fall

Rebecca Barrow
You Don’t Know Me But I Know You; HarperTeen, August

Leah Henderson (African American)
One Shadow On the Wall; Atheneum, June

Linda W. Jackson (African American)
Midnight Without A Moon; HMHKids, January 2017


I have a new ‘do!

I never did pick a word for 2017, haven’t set any goals (well, except one) and haven’t made any resolutions. Yet, this year feels so new and so filled with possibilities!

For the first time, I paid attention to the solstice, watching the shortness of those deep screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-4-10-53-pmdark days of December and actually noticed the growth in the length of daylight toward the end of the month. On 1 January, without intending to, I was up in time to watch the sunrise. That brought a much greater sensation of newness to me than staying up until midnight (sober or not) has ever done.

I haven’t re-arranged my bedroom in the five years that I’ve been in my apartment but this weekend, it’s going to take on a new look.

Yes, change is in the air. I’m focusing on taking care of me, on improving my health and nutrition practices. I’ll be working on another institute this summer with area teachers for their renewal and I’m pretty sure self-care will be the focus of my session. Reading is something that so many people do for relaxation and for escape but it’s not always that when it’s part of your vocation. I plan to get the job done by specifically focusing on self help, self care and self maintenance books.

I recently read Jerica Coffey’s “Storytelling as Resistance” in which she relates various lessons used to teach narrative fiction in her classroom. She begins the piece by relating a lesson when she asked students what people think of the community where they live and she then asked what they themselves thought of the community. She compared outsiders’ perspective to an insider’s; an opinion based upon second or third hand information contrasted to lived experience.

But here’s the thing; here’s my light bulb moment: whose perspective is wrong?

I think therein lies a basic problem with the “diversity” discussion. As much as I want to believe an outsider’s perception of my community is wrong,–hard typing this—it’s not. It’s their perception. Of course, I want to believe that the insider knows their world –their language, food, geography and familial relationships – best, but ‘perspective’ is much like truth in that there’s yours, mine and ours. Children’s and young adult literature is filled with books written in whiteness, my contention is that it needs to be decolonized. It needs to brimming with authentic insider voices; with another perspective.

I think I would have missed this point if I hadn’t just read Laura Jimenez’s interview on Reading While White.

What I’ve discovered is that treating White, straight, able people as the problem or the enemy does not work.  I take that stance seriously.  Whiteness as an identity can’t be the problem–I start with that in mind.  I have to give them opportunities so they have the chance to be aware of their own identity.  It sounds strange to people, but I truly believe that White people do not realize that they are White.  It’s like trying to ask a fish to identify the water.  So I try to give them opportunities to see the water.  I have them identify their identities out loud.  I get them used to literally saying the words out loud: race, racism, White, Latinx.

If you’re looking for a resource to help you grow your perspective regarding race, consider reading selections from #CharlestonSyllabus. The syllabus originated from a discussion on Twitter after the massacre in Charleston on 17 June, 2015. The material has been developed into a book that attempts to contextualize the history of race and racism. It’s this contextualization that gives meaning to our stories. I have a pdf of the readings and plan to use it to grow my own awareness. It’s a new year, how about a new perspective?




January 2017 Releases


After the Fall by Kate Hart; Farrar Strauss and Giroux. ages 12 and up
Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn t really get it and he d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother. The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up and which ones are worth putting back together.

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim; Scholastic
In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing’s name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power. Jing’s life isn’t easy. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and her family has come to the conclusion that in order for everyone to survive, Jing must be sacrificed for the common good. She is sold as a bride to the Koh family, where she will be the wife and nursemaid to their three-year-old son, Ju’nan. It’s not fair, and Jing feels this bitterly, especially when she is treated poorly by the Koh’s, and sold yet again into a worse situation that leads Jing to believe her only option is to run away, and find home again. With the help of a spider who weaves Jing a means to escape, and a nightingale who helps her find her way, Jing embarks on a quest back to Huanan–and to herself.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes; Bloomsbury USA. ages 10-14
In this collection of poetry, Nikki Grimes looks afresh at the poets of the Harlem Renaissance — including voices like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many more writers of importance and resonance from this era — by combining their work with her own original poetry. Using “The Golden Shovel” poetic method, Grimes has written a collection of poetry that is as gorgeous as it is thought-provoking.

This special book also includes original artwork in full-color from some of today’s most exciting African American illustrators, who have created pieces of art based on Nikki’s original poems. Featuring art by: Cozbi Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E. B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: The Wall of Fame Game by Crystal Allen; Balzer + Bray. ages 8–12
The most fabulous nine-year-old cowgirl in Texas is back in this heartwarming and hilarious sequel to The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: ek Showdown Perfect for fans of Clementine and Ivy and Bean.

Nine-year-old Mya Tibbs is in a triple heap of trouble. As the Tibbs household prepares for the new baby, Mya is extra excited to spend time with her mom watching their favorite Annie Oakley marathon before her new sister arrives. Until she’s cornered into a bet with her number-one enemy, Naomi Jackson, that she can beat her in the famous fourth-grade Wall of Fame Game which means Mya is stuck studying every night instead of hanging out with Mom. As if that wasn t enough, Mya just entered Bluebonnet’s annual chili cook-off, even though she doesn t know how to cook Holy moly. Can Mya find a way to beat Naomi, win the chili cook-off, and get some special mom/daughter time before it’s too late?

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson; Katherine Tegen Books. ages 13–up
Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted and their unborn child to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson; HMH. ages 10–12.
Shackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy by Michael Cottman (Jan. 3, hardcover, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-4263-2663-9) is the story of the many people forced to travel to the New World on slave ships. Ages 8–12.

Flying Lessons & Other Stories ed. by Ellen Oh; Crown Books For Young Readers. ages 8-12
Collects tales saluting uniqueness and universality by Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Grace Lin, Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, and others.

Because of the Sun by Jenny Torres Sanchez; Delacorte Press.ages 12–up.
Dani learned to tolerate her existence in suburban Florida with her brash and seemingly unloving mother by embracing the philosophy Why care? It will only hurt. So when her mother is killed in a sudden and violent manner, Dani goes into an even deeper protection mode, total numbness. It’s the only way she can go on. But when Dani chooses The Stranger by Albert Camus as summer reading for school, it feels like fate. The main character’s alienation after his mother’s death mirrors her own.
Dani’s life is thrown into further turmoil when she is sent to New Mexico to live with an aunt she never knew she had. The awkwardness between them is palpable. To escape, Dani takes long walks in the merciless heat. One day, she meets Paulo, who understands how much Dani is hurting. Although she is hesitant at first, a mutual trust and affection develops between them and as she and her aunt begin to connect, Dani learns about her mother’s past. Forgiving isn’t easy, but maybe it’s the only way to move forward.

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera; Soho Teen. ages 14–up
When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

book review: Burn Baby Burn

burnbabyburn_cvrsktch-7-copy-2title: Burn Baby Burn
author: Meg Medina
date: Candlewick Press; 2016
main character: Nora Lopez

I was in my second year of college at the University of Cincinnati in 1977 so,  I recognize the music, the fashions and the language of that time. I recognized that disco ball on the cover of Burn Baby Burn but with that flame coming from the top near the wire that would suspend it from the ceiling, it looked more like a bomb.1383086-lit-cartoon-bomb

But, because I was not in New York City during that summer, I didn’t live with that fear of the Son of Sam. Nora Lopez, a Latinx of Cuban heritage, is a 17 year old high school senior in this period piece who lives in New York City and  is living in that fear. She finds there are monsters everywhere. “The real dangers are often closer than we’d like to admit”. (back cover)

Medina seems to write for girls like herself who are growing up in urban environments. These girls are steeped in street literacy far more than they’re even aware’ they can almost intuit situations. Nora, and her BFF Kathleen MacInerney, a white girl of Irish heritage, can read tones of voice and body language as well as they can talk slang and maneuver a busy city street. But, as the girls approach their 18th birthday, their literacy skills are on overload with their awareness of the world around them increasing at the same time as the dangers in their world. As important as realizing where the dangers are is identifying who will provide protection. Medina’s array of characters explore how gender, education and financial stability allow adults the means to guard those in their world.

Nora lives with her mother and younger brother, Hector. There are monsters everywhere, even in her home. Hector’s emotional instability rules their home while their mother’s precarious job situation causes further unease. Nora does not feel safe in her own home.

I toss and turn as I try to fall asleep, but I keep imagining sounds outside my window. Is it the wind, or is someone climbing the rusted rungs of the fire escape? The blinds move, but it could be a draft. I don’t dare get up to check. Instead, I back against the wall and stare at the blinds, waiting for the sound of a crowbar splintering wood. When I finally drift to sleep, a stranger follows me into my dreams.

He’s not a burglar. It’s the serial killer.

Click. Click. Blood splatters the wall like it did in Carrie. I try to scream, but no one hears me at all. (p.50)

She’s not hopeless! She’s got her BFF and a job at a local bodega where the owner is very much a father figure. And, there’s that cute new stock boy, Pablo. I particularly liked that Nora found her passion in carpentry work. In Burn Baby Burn, Nora continues to learn about reading people and situations, now through more mature eyes.

Burn Baby Burn, released in March, has received the following recognition.

In the Margins 2016 Book Awards List
Booklist Top 10 Books for Youth 2016, Historical Fiction
The Kirkus Prize 2016 Nominee, Young Adult
National Book Awards: Young People’s Literature, 2016 Longlist
SLJ’s Best Books of 2016, Young Adult
New York Public Library 2016 50 Best Books for Teens, Fiction
National Public Radio’s Guide to 2016 Great Reads
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016, Teen

Amazon Best Book of 2016


This break has been brutal. Too short. Too many disappointments. Too little cash.

And I could stop there or, I could flip the coin.

I’ve been busy getting things done. I’ve tapped into my creative energy. I’ve gotten some reading done. I’ve cleaned my diet up a bit more.

I can go high, or I can go low. Little things can make a difference, but when it comes down to it, it’s all in the attitude, right? I used to be one who thought if I was just saying what I felt, I was being honest, not negative. I’ve been wise enough to be able to work through that fallacious reasoning on my own without spending hundreds of dollars on therapy. I mean, it doesn’t take much to realize that when your feelings are based in anger, hurt or despair your truth will be, too. I watched Viola Davis brilliantly play the role of Rose Maxson in Fences yesterday. She was a woman who managed to go high.

While the movie, based upon August Wilson’s play, is focused on her husband, Troy, I was most struck by Rose’s willingness to chain her happiness to her husband. He was a black man who’d faced so many disappointments in life and who buried them deep inside where they festered in rage. Perhaps Rose admired the way he lifted himself to meet his responsibilities; the way he lifted himself from bed every morning to muddle on through. Perhaps she saw him as a safe harbor for her own rage. What more could a woman whose life intersected with her blackness and with her limited economic means in the 1950s in middle America do?  I’m sure  there are those who mock her for so easily giving up herself, but I think she gives us a portrait of what our mothers and grandmothers did to get by for our sake at a time when oppression was palpable. Although she hid parts of herself, she found ways to make self visible and she found a way to let her attitude wade in the higher water.

Prior to the movie’s beginning, oh you know there were trailers. Because I was seeing a movie with African American actors, I saw numerous movies featuring more of the same, including Get Out.

I often talk about the need for YA books that explore race and racism in imaginative, reflective and innovative ways and this movie seems to do that. Let me be clear: I will NOT go see this movie because my imagination is way too active for the situations it presents, but, WOW!!! This intellectually thrilling movie looks at a black/white mixed race couple visiting her white parents for the weekend. They don’t know that the odds are against him coming out alive. From what I saw in the trailer, this horror movie uses what horrifies most African Americans in this country and intensifies it by isolating the characters in an idyllic/White setting filled with the ghosts of the ancestors. Yeah, the fear is real. Will he come out alive?

There are real situations based in fear as well, particularly as we move closer and closer to inauguration day. First, let me say that we while we need to remain vigilent, we ought not be diverted too long by those baffling TrumpTweets. State and local elections are what really need our attention. It’s here where our daily lives will be most impacted. I just spent 2.5 hours in movie theater. Now, I need to spend at least that much time in a city council or local library board meeting. We have got to quite letting our attention be mesmerized by shiny, pretty things. No doubt, we all need a little R&R from time to time, but I think some spend a lot of time obsessing on the rich an famous when they are not the ones who affect the quality of our lives.

I hope you’ve found little to no relief in Facebook declaring that it will no longer provide a forum for “fake news”. What is fake news? Is it only bogus articles created as a means within itself? Does it include speeches and articles that inflate statistics to make a point? What about reports that completely ignore opposing viewpoints? Or satirical writing from The Onion? I think our ability to critically read the news is more of a problem than nebulous “fake news” and expecting anyone, include Facebook to delete it is a fake solution. Real solutions go back to schools teaching beyond the test, teaching students to read critically; to be critically literate. A good start comes with critically reading, asking those basic questions about who wrote the article, when they wrote it and why but, students today need more than that. The need to be able to look at any form of text (articles, tweets, news videos, advertisements…) and asked who does this piece empower? Whose voice is missing? Why did the author create this? What’s the author’s background? How is the author influencing me? How am I changing from reading this?

While teachers in many content areas could address these questions in their teaching, teaching this literacy is a fundamental part of what librarians do. While we promote and encourage reading, we strive to create citizens who are informationally literate. Libraries started with people like Dewey, Carnegie and Jewett creating collections that would be the backbone of our democracy. Libraries continue to be places that provide free and open access to information, places that protect our democracy and places that in our democracy that need to be protected. Working with educators to provide information literacy is a crucial part of what librarians, particularly school librarians, do regularly.

So, I admit here my fear of the evil in scary movies while professing my passion for #ownvoices, for critical literacy (#critlit) and for open access. This passion will not let me be averse to real life opression, injustice or inequity. Maybe I can go high.


Sunday Morning Reads

Around this time last year, my word for 2016 became “HARMONY”. It seemed like a pleasant enough word and I was sure I’d get as much out of it as I did ‘COURAGE’. ‘TENDERNESS’, and ‘SHINE’ in previous years. I remember with courage that I interviewed several people regarding their personal courage and I had oodles of fun finding ways to ‘shine’ on others. It really didn’t take me long to realize these words weren’t about me, but about the ways I interact with others. HARMONY really brought that home.

While harmony is indeed about others, it has to begin with inner harmony, the wisdom that comes from the inner love I have for myself. At first, I thought about musical harmony and the way all the sounds blend to make beautiful music, but harmony has been more difficult than that for me. Remember the rabbits?

Buddha teaches that harmony (avirodha or sahita) “is the smooth, pleasant and non-contentious functioning together of two or more things.”

Since Thanksgiving, the thought of ‘home’ has been very much on my mind. Winter set in and temperatures dropped into my favorite time of the year. There are foods I began eating that I’d savor with my eyes closed and mind in a place I’d call ‘home’. That feeling for me is ‘home’ more than any place, perhaps because I’ve lived too long in a state that has never felt like home. Winter gets me close to there.

I think the books we enjoy the most are the ones that take us home, that take us to an emotional place where we truly feel we belong. Harmony is reaching a new level of belonging in unfamiliar places. We’re welcomed in these places both when we’re open to the possibilities and when the possibilities are open and available to us. This works in gardens as well as in books and stories.

A lot has been written lately about censorship. I think this has become such a political term, one in which we often miss the way it privileges some and not others. In its purest form, if there is no censorship there is no disharmony, no contentious functioning because every voice is accounted for. But, censorship is so pervasive in literature, particularly children’s literature that it becomes a tool many use only for their advantage.

People of color, people from lower income groups, from the “wrong religion” or from too much religion are censored from positions within the publishing industry, from positions as booksellers, agents and publicists.

Stories written by Native Americans are censored for being ‘too Native’ just as books by Black authors are “too black” or because there are too many Native or too many Black stories on the market. It doesn’t matter how good your story is, how innovative or imaginative. Black and brown children are routinely censored, silenced and ignored. Working from my annual list of books, Zetta Elliott has identified a total of 59 middle grade and young adult titles written by African American authors in 2016. (14 nonfiction and 45 fiction) I’ll have to check the Library and Book Trade Almanac for the latest figures, but there are about 6,000 young adult titles published annually in the US. I’d say the fact that only 59 of them were by African American authors is censorship.

One-upmanship is a childish game, but how do you compare a self-made decision to stop publication of a book to the invisibility of black voices in children’s literature? Are we going to call one censorship and the other reverse censorship?

Censorship is routine in children’s literature. We use these books and stories to socialize, protect and form young citizens. Decisions of what they are exposed to is political in every sense of the word. Honestly, I think on some level we might all agree that there are some things to which young people should not be exposed, but we’ll probably never agree on what those things are. Parents, raise your children, don’t let the state do it!

That we think there are some things to which children should never be exposed is exactly why it is so difficult to decolonized children’s literature. It’s why the black, brown, queer and disabled voices will be censored as long as the present power structure remains in control. There is no harmony in that unnatural silencing no more than there is harmony in stories built upon oppressive language, racist ideology or white supremacy. While there are those who may think this Whiteness is as present in the real world and that they are representing my home, please know it is not. I, like many, many marginalized people not only resent your deficit thinking about us, we resist and deny as we are live our lives in many of the same places as you, earn incomes and find empowerment through new technologies. I’ve always thought it was odd how a young child was embraced and revered for her work in trying to promote books for African American children, when so many have been doing it for decades with not a single recognition. Was is just me, or did this slight render those voices invisible? Censorship once again. I bow to Satia Orange, Debbie Reese, Alma Flor Ada, Cheryl & Wade Hudson, Jean Mendoza, KT Horning, Rudine Sims Bishop, Nancy Tolson, Oralia Garza de Cortes, Michelle Martin, Walter Dean Myers and so many, many more that I never should have started listing names. Feel free to give a shout out in the comments.

Censorship happens when bookstores refuse to carry books by marginalized people because “those books don’t sell here” or when they charge thousands of dollars to place books face out on their shelves, knowing that only works by A-List Authors will be afforded this luxury.

Censorship happens when librarians ignore how few books they have by marginalized groups, when they don’t manage their budgets effectively enough to afford a few more books with disabled characters rather than more ABC books. Librarians also censor when they disappear books from collections either by hiding them in an obscure area of the Dewey or by never getting the book on the shelf. It also happens when Latino and LGBT stories never make it into story time, well except during those specialized month.

When books that echo views of colonizers or that perpetuate biases and stereotypes come to light and are eventually removed from the market then, we’re going to call that ‘censorship’? I do wonder how many of these books will be amended and re-released and more important, I wonder if we’ll see fewer of these racists publications in the future. The thought of censoring racism, oppression, discrimination and hatred from children’s books is a thought I can get behind. Must I turn in my librarian card?

How do we go from this censorship of oppression to a sense of harmony in the world we’re presenting to our children? Should there be a manifesto? Would that bring the 100+ year battle to improve representation to a quicker end? Should #ownvoices develop #ownpublications? Zetta Elliott says there should be reparations. What do you say? I’ve been doing this ten years and in that time have only become more aware of how entrenched this is. Can we change children’s books without changing society? Is it really so difficult to create more books that help young readers find ‘home’?

Oh, 2016 you have taught me much! I’m reading for my 2017 word.


Book Review: The Last True Love Story

tstatic1-squarespaceitle: The Last True Love Story
author: Brendan Kiely
publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster; 2016
main character: Ted Hendrix (aka Hendrix)
Young Adult Fiction

There was something in the way Angie Manfredi described this book that made me want to read it sooner rather than later, so I rushed it to the top of my TBR pile, a pile consisting of enough books to open a small bookstore. I’m glad I made that move. I only review books by white authors when they write about children/teens of color or Native Americans. A major character in The Last True Love Story is Guatemalan and there is interaction with Native American culture.

The Last True Love Story. You’ll spend some time trying to figure out that title and you should expect to get all teary eyed when you do.

I think the cover is a sky full of shooting stars caught in a whirlpool similar to what Hendrix and Corrina might see as they lay under the desert sky. The font has a very old feel to it, as does the worn purple hue on the jacket. See the conundrum: this is an old story, but it’s the last. true. love story, implying it’s recent. There’s a prominent respect for age from the moment one encounters this book.

But, this is a YA book. In his writing, Kiely seems to be addressing teens who aren’t quite woke to the world around them, but who want to be. Most of them are probably white readers, but this story will have a wider appeal than that. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to a teen who likes romance, rock and roll or who is a poet at heart.

As with life, it’s all about the journey. Gpa has Alzheimer’s Disease and can no longer live with Hendrix and his mom. Hendrix and his gpa developed a very close relationship over the years when they did live together and Hendrix wants to honor that by doing this one last thing for gpa who wants to get back home, back to where he can best remember his wife, his true love. Hendrix has promised to take him there.

“Let the disease kill me, Teddy, but don’t let me forget her.” (p16)

Hendrix’s also kinda crushing on Corrina. He recognizes her pain and is willing to take her on his journey.

“We’d both taken the Poetry Workshop elective that spring, but even though I remembered so many of her poems so clearly, intimate one about her being adopted in Guatemala by a white couple from LA, that didn’t make us friends. We were just two people who recognized each other among a sea of thousands. So I didn’t really know her, I just knew I loved listening to her sing, and when you’re a junior in high school and your life feels like a whirlpool sucking you further and further down, and everything you thought you know is cracking and falling apart and sinking with you, those little moments of beauty are the pockets of air that give you the energy to keep kicking up above it all.” (p. 18)

Hendrix is a person of his word and he plans to take both Corrina and gpa to New York.

“You are your word, Teddy.”

“I know. I promise,” I said, but the knot cinching tight in my gut told me I was telling him a lie, even though it was a truth I wanted to believe.” (p.15)

While his journey focuses on these two individuals, Hendrix also has a personal journey going on to discover his dad, otherwise known as Dead Dad.

Along the way, the trio finds themselves in situations that reveal the inequities of our world, situations where power becomes abusive and threatens one’s personal safety. Hendrix critically explores these situations and takes his role to heart, both at times when he is privileged and at others when he is not. With the exception of the scene regarding Native Americans, these instances evolve organically in the story. I think he’s a bit didactic when explaining that the over 500 Native American tribes are separate nations, not culture groups. Small criticism on my part; he makes a good point.

Kiely’s craftsmanship shines as use uses the environment to amplify situations and predict outcomes. I enjoyed passing through locations out west with them, learning bits of American rock music history along the way. It was that one simple line [SPOLIER ALERT] “I washed his feet” with all its cultural and religious implications that got me the most.

In his acknowledgements, Kiely discusses the very real and personal nature of this story that began when he, his grandparents and his uncle traveled through Ireland. Many family stories were shared on the trip and many more were made on what was perhaps their last trip together as a unit because his grandfather has Alzheimer’s. Kiely writes this story from his heart with characters who pay attention to the world around it and learn from it. Yes, this is The Last True Love Story.

Brendan Kiely is the author of three published YA novels.