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.

New Releases: November & December

The complete list for 2016 releases by Native Americans and Authors of Color can be found here.  I’ll continually update the page, so feel free to forward titles I’ve messed for readers ages 8 and up (MG and YA).

NOVEMBER
The Mermaid Girl by Xequina; Bedazzled Press. ages 9-12
A series of big storms flood the sea town where Camila lives and she finds a tiny, newborn mermaid in a puddle of water. Camila adopts her and names her Mermary. She tells no one, especially her mother, a marine biologist who would take the mermaid away for research and study. Camila is extremely shy and the mermaid becomes her only friend. She reads everything she can about mermaids and earns the nickname “The Mermaid Girl” from her classmates. Before long, rumors spread of a mermaid in the lake. Now Camila has to figure out how to protect Mermary not only from scientists but from people who want to do more than just catch a glimpse of a mermaid.

Dear Yvette by Ni-Ni Simone; Kensington. ages 14 and up
All sixteen year old Yvette Simmons wanted was to disappear. Problem is: she has too many demons for that. Yvette’s life changed forever after a street fight over a boy ended in a second degree murder charge. Forced to start all over again, she’s sentenced to live in a group home far from anything or anyone she’s ever known. She manages to keep her past hidden, until a local cutie, known as Brooklyn, steps in. Slowly, Yvette lets him into her heart and he gives her the summer of her dreams…
But in Yvette’s world things are never as they seem.
Brooklyn has a few secrets of his own and Yvette’s past comes back with a vengeance. Will she face life head-on? Will she return to her old ways? Or will an unexpected letter decide her fate?

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon; Delacorte Press. ages 12-18
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Dork Diaries 11: Tales from a Not-So-Friendly Frenemy by Rachel Renée Russell; Aladdin. ages 9-13
Nikki and her friends Brandon, Chloe, and Zoey are up for another adventure.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Young Readers Edition by Misty Copeland and Brandy Colbert; Simon and Schuster. ages 8-12
Determination meets dance in this middle grade adaptation of the New York Times bestselling memoir by the first African-American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre history, Misty Copeland.
As the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has been breaking down all kinds of barriers in the world of dance. But when she first started dancing at the late age of thirteen no one would have guessed the shy, underprivileged girl would one day make history in her field.
Her road to excellence was not easy a chaotic home life, with several siblings and a single mother, was a stark contrast to the control and comfort she found on stage. And when her home life and incredible dance promise begin to clash, Misty had to learn to stand up for herself and navigate a complex relationship with her mother, while pursuing her ballet dreams.

December
The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee; Harper Collins. ages 12-18
Sometimes love is right under your nose.As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn t always a choice you can make.

Sunday MorningReads

A few days ago, Varian Johnson took to Twitter.

 

With the re-affirmation that the voices of Native Americans and people of color are not being heard; with the awareness that LGBT+ people, those with disabilities and/or from lower income groups and who are Muslim are threatened, attacked and denied rights; what do we caretakers of messages to our children do in the face of this election? How do we maintain our hope and have enough left over for young people who really need to hear from us? How do we communicate that we cannot rest in feeling the isolation, the insecurity and the bitterness? How do we remember our power? Our purponse?  And how do we tell allies we need you but we need us more? We need to hear from us, our #ownvoices.

It’s a messy place where we are because we ALL need to speak out and speak up regarding human rights and dignity up but allies, do not speak for me or over me. Do not explain me. Do not assume you know my pain because it is not new with this election. For me, its different, but it’s not new.

I want to say to Varian that  I need your voice to help our young people know how to navigate this world and to help them figure out how to create their own space in it. Varian, you give our young people hope when you normalize the day to day of America for them and you give them power when  you re-create and validate them on paper and when you expand their tomorrow by building worlds of ‘what if’. You give them tools of resilience and resistance when you visit their schools and libraries, look in their eyes and speak with honesty and with possibilities.

Librarians, booksellers and educators need to be aware of books that tell stories in our #ownvoices and incorporate them into booktalks, displays and into the curriculum under subject headings other than ‘diversity’. Decolonize those collections! LGBTQ+ books are not issue books to hide in the 800s or 300s. Tanita Davis’ Peas and Carrots is about families more than it’s about diversity.

The New York Times recently came out with its list of Best Illustrated Books of the Year which is beautifully inclusive.

Jason Reynolds’ As Brave As You just won the 2016 Kirkus Prize.

These works of fiction are definitely worth everyone’s attention and should be in library collections across this country from tiny rural hamlets to major urban centers. We’ve all talked about how segregated we are on Sunday mornings when we go to church, but we cannot ignore how segregate our library collections continue to be. Let’s work on organic, American diversity.

Our government is being disrupted. I can’t be mad at voters for wanting a change in our system, but I can be angry that the education system and that the media has failed to bring to light real issues that are confronting us thus letting voters be disillusioned and led down a path that will bring us all more harm than good. And, I can be angry about librarians who fail do what they should to provide free and open access to information, to provide information literacy skills and to provide materials that inform rather than entertain.

At some point soon we really need to talk about children’s non-fiction. Soon.

Varian’s question is real and while he was reflectively speaking aloud, it’s a question all information providers should be asking themselves.

added after publishing the post: Some of you on Facebook will be able to access this link https://www.facebook.com/groups/ALAthinkTANK/permalink/1257965614276256/. It will take you to a post by Debbie Reese the relates so much to my post here today, but gives a deeper context to what librarians, librarians and Dewey do to our users.

 

 

 

#AngryVoices

Children’s and young adult literature is overwrought with who gets to tell The Story.

The story is as personal as it is profound.

The Story is a colonized script we dictate to our children.

The Story, the body of work we call children’s literature, is in a messy, disrupted state that I can’t help but believe will eventually lead it to being filled with stories that are profoundly inclusive and as erudite as they are imaginative. #WeNeedDiverseBooks has become a game changer. But, this change can’t happen as long as Whiteness dominates, controls and colonizes literature.

Whiteness ≠ white people.

Indications that whiteness persists in children’s literature

To want to find someone to tell the stories of marginalized people is not enough. It is in fact a rather clueless response.

I get that the thing in publishing is to not want to work with people who seem to be difficult to work with and right now, it may seem that many of us who are advocating for paradigm shifts in the crap that’s fed to our children are difficult to work with, but we’re not. Make no mistake that some of us are angry and I think being a #nastyWoman is the moniker de jour for being a force. Yes, we’ve been getting angry for a long, long time but this anger and this passion is fueling the fires of change. I know that in The Academy, anger is detested and we much face every dilemma with ‘civility’. Our anger is not rage, not hostile and it is not brutal.

Our anger consists of  exerting the necessary amount of force to ladder up to #ownvoices in children’s literature. We are angry it has taken so long. We are angry that we have to get angry to get a response. We are angry that there are those who want to tell us we have no right to be angry, that we must remain docile and fragile creatures.

And yet, in our anger we are wise, poised, adamant, dynamic, forward-thinking, intent and purposeful. And, we are listening.

I listen because I really want to hear that story that explores our humanity and all its         –isms in ways that confound all of us; in ways that weave stories beyond stereotypes and misrepresentations of cultures. I want to see a book with a black male child who never touches a basketball and makes me LMBAO. I want to find a book with a Native American girl who solves a 21st century mystery without have to rely on the spirits of her ancestors. How about a queer Latinx protag who is a space pirate?

Yet, I listen and I hear about The Continent by Kiera Drake. While I haven’t been active on Twitter or in conversations about this book, I hear troubling things. I applaud those who have reached out to Harlequin TEEN to say ‘hey, can you fix this before you release it’? There is anger at having to do this again, but respect and wisdom for the author, the story and the process.

Who gets to tell the story? Whiteness lets profit margins rule; lets whatever will sell be written and denies any sense of integrity. Creativity honors the sacred, knows and understands the present while bending the possibilities. Decolonization removes the restraints and the Whiteness and lets books be windows, mirrors and sliding doors. I love that imagery from Rudine Sims Bishop. It fits so well with what I believe about books: that they help us find where we belong in the world.

It all starts with The Story.

Update 7 Nov., 7:40pm: Harlequin TEEN has issued a statement in which they have listened, they have heard and they have decided to push back the release date. The complete statement is here http://www.harlequinteen.com/image/152874005241

 

 

Monday EveningReads

It feels like it’s been forever since I blogged about anything and I don’t really feel like I have a post in me  right now. I just know that I don’t want anyone to feel as though I’m giving up on CrazyQuiltsEdi; I’ve just been busy.

October started with me in LA to visit family and celebrate my birthday. The next weekend, I was in Cincinnati for Books by the Banks where I met Will Hillenbrand, Cinda Chima Williams, Adi Alsaid and Skila Brown. I also picked up a copy of The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border by Christopher Phillips, a history professor at the University of Cincinnati. I don’t get much of a chance to read adult books and am looking forward to this history about the region where I’ve lived most of my life, this region once viewed as the West with a strong influence on slavery, race and racism in the development of this country. The highlight of the even for me was the panel Children’s Diverse Book Matter with bookseller Alia Jones and authors Greg Leitich Smith and Zetta Elliott, hosted by librarian extraordinaire, Sam Bloom . Did you know there are more children’s books set in Australia than Texas printed in the U.S.? Given the tremendous influence that TX has on children’s books, the rest of us don’t hold much hope of being represented in children’s literature. Diversity can feel so much like the same conversation over and over again, but it’s a conversation that really has been limited to those of us connected to children’s literature. Books by the Banks was an opportunity to reach a new audience and kudos to Sam and the organizers for working to make this happen. And of course, there was tea.

The next weekend was New York where I presented at Book Fest @ Bank Street with Cheryl Hudson. I want to say that our presentation was a really small part of the day, but there’s nothing small in having the honor of presenting with Cheryl. Although we all know her as the co-founder of Just Us Books, she actually spent an early part of her career as a graphic designer. With visual literacy as the theme of the day and presenters including but not limited to Francoise Mouly, Rudy Gutierrez, Raúl Colón, Laurent Linn, Hervé Tullet, Angela Dominguez, Jason Chin, Brian Pinkney, and Christopher Myer well, I’m still processing information! I wish Pam Munoz Ryan’s keynote could be made available. It was insightful, eloquent and inspiring. I keep reeling in a charge that she gave: If you are comfortable where you are, you’re not doing enough. Me? I’m comfortable. I’m always comfortable.

I was home this past weekend but am going to Chicago tomorrow. Hamilton. A presentation on campus next weekend a bit similar to the one I did with Cheryl on reading images in picture books for thematic development, social justice and visual geography but with more of an emphasis on classroom use. I’ve got a presentation coming up with grad students on accessing, locating and organizing information sources and then it’s ALAN where I’m moderating a panel with debut authors Randi Pink and Rahul Kanakia. Immediately following that is the Literacy Research Association Conference where I’m on a panel with real experts: KT Horning, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Ashley Hope Perez, Pat Enciso and Denise Davila on changes brought to children’s literature through social media.

I think that’s it for 2016.

My Printz Committee duties will be kicking in soon and that will have an impact on my blogging as my reading requirements will shift and I’ll not be able to blog or discuss 2017 books. I have actually spoken with a few authors about interviews, I’ve got to make time to get those done. Seriously, do follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I do post there with greater regularity.

Even with this going on, I make time to pay attention #NoDAPL and the situation at Standing Rock. With so little coverage in the national media, I have to look for the news and I’m OK with that because as I follow the hashtag on Twitter, I can get factual evidence of the event. The visceral hated directed at Native Americans during this time is disgusting. We’ve stolen land from the Sioux once and here we are doing it again. Most recently, the United Nations has shown up to attempt to media the situation.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Star Spangled Banner (verse 3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

review: Into White

575634564_140title: Into White
author: Randi Pink
date: Feiwal and Friends; 2016
main character: Toya Williams

I could go with the premise here. I can believe that young people are often willing to exchange their racial identity for one that seems more appealing. Isn’t that what Rachel Dolezal tried as an adult? So often when teens are trying to figure themselves out, they think they don’t want to be who they are: that fat boy or that Black girl or that Native American braniac. Yet, they are who they are.

Toya Williams doesn’t want to be Black. She attends a predominantly white high school in an affluent suburb of Montgomery, Alabama and has accepted every negative stereotype about being Black. She never speaks up for herself and is an object of ridicule. She’s convinced that life is better for white girls, so she asks Jesus to make her White. And, he does. While the ending is predictable, not everything in the story is.

Pulling off the transformation from black Toya to the transformed white Katerina was as clunky. Toya’s not missing at home because her family sees her as they always have. But at school, Toya’s gone and there’s a new student. How would you explain that? Not easily. As Katerina, Toya experiences life as a stereotypical spoiled, rich white girl.

The stereotypes that fill Toya’s head are never repudiated and this is a weakness in the story. These stereotypes, unfortunately are written into the narrative, giving a poor representation of the African American experience, communicating that it’s woeful to be a black teen. Toya’s family is much less affluent than the families of her white peers. While her classmates can afford to give new cars as presents, Toya’s family cannot afford to furnish their home. Toya’s mother and aunt are vocal, “strong” black women. Toya’s father derails her mother’s dreams and embarrasses the family with his broke down cars. While his heart is in the right place, he does a poor job of providing for his family. White characters are seen as narrow-minded, privileged teens whose parents can buy them out of any situation. Without giving away too much, it’s the guys who save Toya, who get her to draw some conclusions. It’s too often the guys who save the girls!

I really wanted to like this book. I expected something that would truly explore racial identity as today’s teens experience it. This book unfortunately relied upon the same trite stereotypes that permeate our culture with regards to African Americans. The problem isn’t that the stereotypes are in the book, it’s that they’re never called to question. Casually relating that black girls are heavier that white girls would give readers reason to believe it must be so, when it truth young black girls are as aware of and likely to practice healthy lifestyles as are whites in the same income group. Relying upon such predictable characters doesn’t allow the story’s theme to shine through.

And Jesus. When you call on Jesus to be a significant part of the story, you really need to go a bit deeper into matters of faith, belief and justice and a few church scenes do not do that.

Into White is Randi Pink’s first young adult novel.

October Releases

Rebellion of Thieves by Kekla Magoon; Bloomsbury. ages 8-12.
Robyn Loxley can’t rest now that she’s the #1 Most Wanted Fugitive, Robyn Hoodlum. The harsh Nott City governor, Ignomus Crown, may have increased the reward for her capture, but this won’t stop Robyn from masterminding her biggest mission yet: infiltrating the governor’s mansion to rescue her parents.

The perfect opportunity arises when the Iron Teen contest comes to Sherwood. If Robyn scores high enough, she’ll be invited to a dinner at the mansion. But performing well in the contest could put her directly in Crown’s sights. Can she and her crew of misfit friends pull off such a grand scheme, or are they walking into bigger trouble than they can handle?

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes; Boyds Mills/WordSong. ages 8-12.
Garvey’s father has always wanted Garvey to be athletic, but Garvey is interested in astronomy, science fiction, reading—anything but sports. Feeling like a failure, he comforts himself with food. Garvey is kind, funny, smart, a loyal friend, and he is also overweight, teased by bullies, and lonely. When his only friend encourages him to join the school chorus, Garvey’s life changes. The chorus finds a new soloist in Garvey, and through chorus, Garvey finds a way to accept himself, and a way to finally reach his distant father—by speaking the language of music instead of the language of sports. This emotionally resonant novel in verse by award-winning author Nikki Grimes celebrates choosing to be true to yourself.

Mice of the Round Table: A Tail of Camelot by Julie Leung, illus. by Lindsey Carr; Harper Collins. ages 8-12.
Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of becoming a Knight of the Round Table. For generations, his family has led the mice who live just out of sight of the humans, defending Camelot from enemies both big and small. But when Calib and his friend Cecily discover that a new threat is gathering—one that could catch even the Two-Leggers unaware—it is up to them to unmask the real enemy, unite their forces, and save the castle they all call home.

The School the Aztec Eagles Built by Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson; Lee & Low Books. ages 8-11.
In May 1942, German U-boats torpedoed two unarmed Mexican oil tankers off the Gulf Coast, forcing Mexico to enter World War II. With the help of United States President Roosevelt, Mexican President Camacho arranged to send one Air Force squadron to fight in the war. Thirty-eight of Mexico s top pilots, and about two hundred sixty additional military crew were carefully selected to form the 201st Air Force Squadron, also known as the Aztec Eagles. The squadron was the first unit in history to leave Mexico on a fighting mission. To mark this historic event, President Camacho asked the men if they had any last minute requests before they went to war. Sergeant Angel Bocanegra, a former teacher and now squadron ground crewmember, stepped forward and made a request. He asked that a school be built in his small village of Tepoztlan. The School the Aztec Eagles Built tells the exciting story of how a Mexican Air Force squadron and an unknown schoolteacher made their mark in history.”

The Treasure of Barracuda by Llanos Martinez Campos; ages 9-12. Little Pickle Stories. Sparks is an 11-year-old cabin boy on the Southern Cross, a pirate ship led by Captain Barracuda. When he and the crew discover a book left by the infamous pirate Phineas Johnson Krane, they must learn to read in order to decipher its contents and go in search of Krane’s hidden treasure. A satisfying tale packed with pirates, outlaws, danger and, in the words of its narrator, “no second chances.”

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ages 9-12.
Pinmei’s gentle, loving grandmother always has the most exciting tales for her granddaughter and the other villagers. However, the peace is shattered one night when soldiers of the Emperor arrive and kidnap the storyteller. Everyone knows that the Emperor wants something called the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Determined to have her grandmother returned, Pinmei embarks on a journey to find the Luminous Stone alongside her friend Yishan, a mysterious boy who seems to have his own secrets to hide. Together, the two must face obstacles usually found only in legends to find the Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s grandmother–before it’s too late.

The Lovely Reckless by Kami Garcia; Macmillan. ages 12-18
Seventeen year-old Frankie Devereux would do anything to forget the past. Haunted by the memory of her boyfriend’s death, she lives her life by one dangerous rule: nothing matters. At least, that’s what Frankie tells herself after a reckless mistake forces her to leave her privileged life in the Heights to move in with her dad―an undercover cop. She transfers to public school in the Downs, where fistfights in the halls don’t faze anyone and illegal street racing is more popular than football.

Marco Leone is the fastest street racer in the Downs. Tough, sexy, and hypnotic, he makes it impossible for Frankie to ignore him…and how he makes her feel. But the risks Marco takes for his family could have devastating consequences for them both. When Frankie discovers his secret, she has to make a choice. Will she let the pain of the past determine her future? Or will she risk what little she has left to follow her heart.

 And The Midnight Star by Marie Lu; G. P. Putnam’s Son. ages 12-18. Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all she’s gained.

When a new danger appears, Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds, putting not only herself at risk, but every Elite. In order to preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest—though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger.

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz; Simon and Schuster. ages 8-12.
Twelve-year-old Jaime makes the treacherous and life-changing journey from his home in Guatemala to live with his older brother in the United States in this gripping and realistic middle grade novel. Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead. Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

Inspired by true events, The Only Road is an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

Riding Chance by Christine Kendall, Scholastic.
Troy is a kid with a passion. And dreams. And wanting to do the right thing. But after taking a wrong turn, he’s forced to endure something that’s worse than any juvenile detention he can imagine-he’s “sentenced” to the local city stables where he’s made to take care of horses. The greatest punishment has been trying to make sense of things since his mom died but, through his work with the horses, he discovers a sport totally unknown to him-polo. Troy has to figure out which friends have his back, which kids to cut loose, and whether he and Alisha have a true connection. Laced with humor and beating with heartache, this novel will grip readers, pull them in quickly, and take them on an unforgettable ride. Set in present day Christine Kendall’s stunning debut lets us come face-to-face with the challenges of a loving family that turn hardships into triumphs.

Bessie Stringfield: Tales of the Talented Tenth by Joel Christian Gill; Fucrum Publishing. ages 12 and up.
Imagine a five-foot-two-inch-tall woman riding a Harley eight times across the continental United States. Now imagine she is black and is journeying across the country in the pre-Civil Rights era of the 1930s and ’40s. That is the amazing true story of Bessie Stringfield, the woman known today as The Motorcycle Queen of Miami and the first black woman to be inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame and the Harley Davidson Hall of Fame. Stringfield was a pioneer in motorcycling during her lifetime; she rode as a civilian courier for the US military and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club in Miami, all while confronting and overcoming Jim Crow in every ride.

Phoenix by SF Said, illus. by Dave McKean; Candlewick.  Ages 10–up.
Lucky lives a relatively normal life on a remote moon of the planet Aries One, safe from the turmoil and devastation of the interstellar war between Humans and Aliens. Lucky has seen images of the horned, cloven-hooved Aliens before, but he’s never seen one up close. Then one night, he dreams that the stars are singing to him—and wakes to evidence suggesting that he is not so normal after all. When Lucky’s mother sacrifices herself to help him escape an elite Human military force called the Shadow Guards, he must rely on the Alien crew of a ramshackle starship, where he finds that humanity’s deadly enemies seem surprisingly Human up close. In fact, they may be more Human than Lucky himself, who has a dangerous power that could change the course of the war and the fate of the galaxy—if he can learn how to use it. Star Wars fans seeking another saga to love need look no further than this epic middle-grade adventure