Emily Koch

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Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly is having a big year. Following the March publication of her eighth middle grade novel, The First State of Being, she’s releasing a new illustrated chapter book, Felix Powell, Boy Dog. Fans of Kelly’s previous chapter book series featuring Marisol Rainey will instantly recognize Marisol’s friend, Felix Powell, and both new and returning readers will delight in how Kelly leans into magical realism as she plays out a fantasy many have likely had: What is it like to be a dog?

““I really wanted to explore more of Felix’s world and I just thought it would be fun if he, and by extension readers, could experience what it’s like to be a dog,” says Kelly.Early on in Felix Powell, Boy Dog, Felix and his dog, Mary Puppins, are playing with a blanket he picked out at a thrift shop, when the blanket transforms Felix into a dog. Kelly admits, “When I was a kid, I always daydreamed about being a bird, and I still kind of do!”

Kelly calls writing for younger middle grade readers “palate cleanser” projects, explaining that there are “all kinds of complications of being a middle schooler, and Felix is only 8 years old. It was nice to live in that 8-year-old world where they’re still very full of wonder.” But sheestablishes early on that Felix isn’t like most 8-year-olds, either in words or actions. To start, he can speak to Mary Puppins even before turning into a dog himself.

Kelly loves writing about kids who aren’t like others because “I think that one of the hardest parts of childhood is when you feel like you’re different from everyone else.” She recognizes that, especially in school, “difference is not always treated with the respect, compassion and excitement that it should be. It brings me joy to be able to write about kids who do feel a little different, in whatever way they feel different, because it’s like writing a letter to my young self and . . . to all kids who feel like they don’t quite fit. It’s celebrating young people who go against the grain because those are the people who will change the world later.”

Kelly spends a lot of time imagining her readers, and she recognizes the importance of “representing all different kinds of family dynamics.” In the book, she beautifully and simply explains that “Felix’s mom couldn’t take care of him anymore, so Nan adopted him.” Kelly says, “It makes me happy to think there might be a kid reading it who lives with their grandmother or grandparents and thinks, ‘Oh, I live with my grandparents too!’ Just that moment of connection, even if it’s like one second as they’re reading the book, is so important, because the more connections we can make like that, the more impact we have on children’s lives.”

Kelly has a unique way of thinking that transfers over to her characters. In an intense emotional moment, Felix describes his rising frustration as feeling like a “human boy with a grumpy mechanic in his body, turning his gears.” Kelly says that came from her own childhood imagination: “I was so curious about how my body worked, and of course, I didn’t understand all the science behind it. So I would imagine there are these little workers in my body, and they were grinding the gears and pushing out the tears and making me laugh and making me eat.” Although cushioned with humor, the scene presents a very real example of how emotions can get the better of us, which is Kelly’s way of offering a moment for readers to know that they’re not alone in saying “things they don’t mean when they’re angry or frustrated.”

“Just that moment of connection, even if it’s like one second as they’re reading the book, is so important.”

Her love of dogs is apparent throughout Felix Powell, Boy Dog. She explains that a lot of the book “came from observing my dogs. I used to actually be on the board of the Humane Society of Southwest Louisiana,” and it was an easy choice for her when it came to picking what animal Felix should turn into in this book. “I just find them to be fascinating and, in many ways, perfect little creatures, in my mind anyway.” However, she teases, “my hope is that it continues as a series as he changes into various [other] everyday animals.”

As an author who writes a lot of varying books within the juvenile fiction classification, working on something for younger readers is what Kelly calls a “palate cleanser” to working on her upper middle grade books. She says there are “all kinds of complications of being a middle schooler, and Felix is only 8 years old. It was nice to live in that 8-year-old world where they’re still very full of wonder.”

Kelly also enjoys illustrating her own books—as she did with Felix Powell, Boy Dog—because it “activates a different part of my brain.” Kelly goes one step further by also incorporating graphic novel elements into Felix Powell, Boy Dog: For example, when Felix is telling the story of meeting Puppins, the prose narrative shifts into comic strips that add special emphasis to this “best day of his life” and highlight Puppins—amid a crowd of dogs who all had names—as an unnamed puppy with whom Felix connected right away. Right now, “young readers can’t quite get enough of graphic novels. So I wanted to be able to marry the traditional chapter book with the celebration of graphic novels that we have right now.” She hopes that both the kids who resist reading prose novels, and the parents who resist letting their kids read graphic novels, will be happy to pick this book up.

“I wanted to be able to marry the traditional chapter book with the celebration of graphic novels that we have right now.”

Of course, one wonders if Kelly will ever take the plunge and write a full graphic novel. “I used to say ‘Oh no, I couldn’t draw an entire graphic novel,’ but actually, writing Felix showed me that maybe I could, if I got the right idea.” Kelly admits. “Never say never, huh?”

The award-winning author and illustrator’s latest middle grade novel explores a common daydream: living life as a dog.
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STARRED REVIEW

September 29, 2021

2 young adult graphics to celebrate Pride

In these books, Molly Knox Ostertag and Theo Parish combine expressive art and writing to offer poignant explorations of LGBTQ+ identity, relationships and self-acceptance.

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Magdalena Herrera has a lot of responsibilities. On top of trying to finish high school, she works a part-time job and is the sole caregiver for her grandmother. Mags has a lot of secrets as well. She’s hooking up with a girl who has a boyfriend. And every night she disappears down a trapdoor in her house, and emerges drained in more than one way.

Then her childhood best friend, Nessa, shows up for the first time in a decade, and starts asking questions the Herreras don’t want anyone to ask. What’s more, Nessa is stirring up feelings that Mags long ago accepted people in her family can never have. But Nessa has secrets, too, and the girls are about to learn the hard way that secrets thrive best in the dark.

The Deep Dark is a moving and eerie graphic novel exploring identity, generational trauma and queer love. Molly Knox Ostertag takes the successful elements of her previous books, The Girl From the Sea and The Witch Boy trilogy, and elevates them. Her characters are complex and nuanced, and their dialogue is natural and impassioned. Ostertag expertly interweaves magical realism and mystery into what is also an adorable love story.

The art is stunning, with expressive characters and the beautiful setting of the Southern California desert. Ostertag twists typical comic conventions, coloring the present almost exclusively in black and white, while the flashbacks are in full color, making it apparent that Mags’ life has been in shades of gray since Nessa left. Page gutters are black during night scenes, intensifying the creepiness. Throughout, Ostertag’s dynamic illustrations elicit emotional responses; for example, panels get progressively smaller during a moment of panic, literally creating tunnel vision.

The Deep Dark leaves some questions unanswered, but that’s the point: A conflict as intricate as the one in this story cannot be wrapped up neatly. But as Ostertag discusses in her author’s note, this graphic novel follows the “first careful steps of unraveling,” and you’ll root for Mags and Nessa to keep taking those steps.

The Deep Dark is a moving and eerie graphic novel exploring identity, generational trauma and queer love.
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Theo remembers feeling uncomfortable with how the world saw them from a very young age. Frustrations built up, from boys assuming that they couldn’t play chess to being forced to cut their own hair because hairdressers always insisted on more feminine looks. But experiences in art school, at comic-cons and playing tabletop roleplaying games, plus countless searches on the internet, led Theo to realize they feel most at home identifying as nonbinary.

Homebody, by debut author Theo Parish, is a delightful, beautiful graphic memoir celebrating the journey they took to discover their gender identity. Reading it feels like receiving a warm hug. Parish dedicates Homebody “for you, whenever and however you need it,” offering frequently interspersed epiphanies anyone can hold on to, such as “living authentically in a world that takes every opportunity . . . to squeeze you uncomfortably into a box of someone else’s design . . . is the most radical act of self love.”

Parish generates gorgeous imagery through a color palette of pinks and blues, sometimes blending the colors together. Shades of joyful pink illustrate Theo’s moments of gender euphoria. The most striking time Parish uses purple is in a full-page introspection about moments when they felt . Throughout the memoir, Theo is drawn with a literal house for their body, as an extended metaphor that is both powerful and charming.

This title truly matches the sweet nature and adorable, expressive illustrations of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper, while being exceptional in its own way as a nonfiction offering. On the first page, Parish lists facts about their life before even mentioning that they’re nonbinary: In this vein, while Parish includes musings concerning general transgender and nonbinary identity, Homebody is first and foremost a memoir centered around Parish’s specific coming of age in England. Still, through this deeply personal exploration of gender identity, many who traditionally have been left out of narrative storytelling may see their own experiences reflected, as Parish “[shines] a beacon of hope to those yet to flourish.”

 

Homebody is a delightful, beautiful graphic memoir celebrating the journey Theo Parish took to discover their gender identity.

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In these two graphic novels, Theo Parish and Molly Knox Ostertag combine expressive art and writing to offer poignant explorations of LGBTQ+ identity, relationships and self-acceptance.
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Theo remembers feeling uncomfortable with how the world saw them from a very young age. Frustrations built up, from boys assuming that they couldn’t play chess to being forced to cut their own hair because hairdressers always insisted on more feminine looks. But experiences in art school, at comic-cons and playing tabletop roleplaying games, plus countless searches on the internet, led Theo to realize they feel most at home identifying as nonbinary.

Homebody, by debut author Theo Parish, is a delightful, beautiful graphic memoir celebrating the journey they took to discover their gender identity. Reading it feels like receiving a warm hug. Parish dedicates Homebody “for you, whenever and however you need it,” offering frequently interspersed epiphanies anyone can hold on to, such as “living authentically in a world that takes every opportunity . . . to squeeze you uncomfortably into a box of someone else’s design . . . is the most radical act of self love.”

Parish generates gorgeous imagery through a color palette of pinks and blues, sometimes blending the colors together. Shades of joyful pink illustrate Theo’s moments of gender euphoria. The most striking time Parish uses purple is in a full-page introspection about moments when they felt . Throughout the memoir, Theo is drawn with a literal house for their body, as an extended metaphor that is both powerful and charming.

This title truly matches the sweet nature and adorable, expressive illustrations of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper, while being exceptional in its own way as a nonfiction offering. On the first page, Parish lists facts about their life before even mentioning that they’re nonbinary: In this vein, while Parish includes musings concerning general transgender and nonbinary identity, Homebody is first and foremost a memoir centered around Parish’s specific coming of age in England. Still, through this deeply personal exploration of gender identity, many who traditionally have been left out of narrative storytelling may see their own experiences reflected, as Parish “[shines] a beacon of hope to those yet to flourish.”

 

Homebody is a delightful, beautiful graphic memoir celebrating the journey Theo Parish took to discover their gender identity.
Review by

Magdalena Herrera has a lot of responsibilities. On top of trying to finish high school, she works a part-time job and is the sole caregiver for her grandmother. Mags has a lot of secrets as well. She’s hooking up with a girl who has a boyfriend. And every night she disappears down a trapdoor in her house, and emerges drained in more than one way.

Then her childhood best friend, Nessa, shows up for the first time in a decade, and starts asking questions the Herreras don’t want anyone to ask. What’s more, Nessa is stirring up feelings that Mags long ago accepted people in her family can never have. But Nessa has secrets, too, and the girls are about to learn the hard way that secrets thrive best in the dark.

The Deep Dark is a moving and eerie graphic novel exploring identity, generational trauma and queer love. Molly Knox Ostertag takes the successful elements of her previous books, The Girl From the Sea and The Witch Boy trilogy, and elevates them. Her characters are complex and nuanced, and their dialogue is natural and impassioned. Ostertag expertly interweaves magical realism and mystery into what is also an adorable love story.

The art is stunning, with expressive characters and the beautiful setting of the Southern California desert. Ostertag twists typical comic conventions, coloring the present almost exclusively in black and white, while the flashbacks are in full color, making it apparent that Mags’ life has been in shades of gray since Nessa left. Page gutters are black during night scenes, intensifying the creepiness. Throughout, Ostertag’s dynamic illustrations elicit emotional responses; for example, panels get progressively smaller during a moment of panic, literally creating tunnel vision.

The Deep Dark leaves some questions unanswered, but that’s the point: A conflict as intricate as the one in this story cannot be wrapped up neatly. But as Ostertag discusses in her author’s note, this graphic novel follows the “first careful steps of unraveling,” and you’ll root for Mags and Nessa to keep taking those steps.

The Deep Dark is a moving and eerie graphic novel exploring identity, generational trauma and queer love.
Review by

“Who invented love, anyway?” Elio Solis wonders as he starts to see ultraviolet colors whenever his classmate, Camelia, is around. Eighth grade has been full of changes, both inside, where his emotions run wild, and outside, where it seems like all his guy friends talk about is girls. “The hormones were poppin’ / I mean, everyone was down bad!”

The adults in his life are giving Elio mixed messages about how to be a man: His dad tells him that the Solis way is to be macho and “suck it up,” while his mom is trying to teach him feminist values. Then betrayal strikes, and suddenly the only color Elio can see is red.

Award-winning author Aida Salazar’s previous middle grade novel-in-verse about puberty, The Moon Within, featured a Latina girl. In a letter to the reader, Salazar reveals that Ultraviolet came about because her tween son and his friend asked her to write a similar story that reflected their experiences with “puberty, first crushes, gender and rites of passages” as cisgender Latino boys. And she delivers.

Salazar’s verse is captivating, with the imagery of the text heightening when Elio’s emotions rise. Maintaining a conversational tone sprinkled with mentions of farts and boogers to entertain, she also loads in similes like “A collision of feelings / blisters me / like molten lava” to illustrate the dual nature of being an awkward but thoughtful young person. Goofy pop-culture references, such as a video game called “Mindcrack” (referencing Minecraft), and an alpha male-type social media influencer who is never named, are easily recognizable. 

Commenting on topics that range from patriarchy to colonialism, the internet to peer pressure, and first loves to heartbreaks, Salazar delivers a fully intersectional look at what it means to try to embody masculinity without toxicity. She filled a gap she saw in middle grade literature, and countless readers will see themselves in the pages, regardless of race or gender, but especially Latino boys. 

Commenting on topics that range from patriarchy to colonialism, the internet to peer pressure, and first loves to heartbreaks, Aida Salazar delivers a fully intersectional look at what it means to try to embody masculinity without toxicity.
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To say Michael Rosario is anxious about Y2K would be an understatement. It’s August, 1999, and the 12-year-old boy is convinced that incalculable issues will arise when all internal program systems reset to the year 00. He’s stockpiling stolen canned goods under his bed so that he can provide for his single mom when society crumbles at the start of the new millennium. 

The only thing that can distract Michael from his anxieties is his crush on his 15-year-old babysitter, Gibby—that is, until Michael and Gibby find a mysterious boy named Ridge outside their apartment complex. Ridge claims to be the world’s first time-traveler and proves it with a futuristic book detailing the next 20 years. While Ridge marvels at 1999 culture and tries to convince Gibby to take him to the mall, Michael starts concocting a plan to steal Ridge’s book so he can find out what will happen with Y2K.

The First State of Being by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Erin Entrada Kelly is an exciting tale about friendship that blends historical and science fiction. Short chapters build tension as Michael’s morality is tested and Ridge wonders if he will be able to get back to the future at all.

The third person prose is imbued with personality, for example when describing Gibby’s brother, Beejee: “Michael still couldn’t figure out how the world’s most perfect creature could be related to a rotten potato like Beejee, but these were the mysteries of the universe.” Kelly shines in the details, such as how given coordinates accurately lead to the exact, real-life neighborhood in Delaware found in a map at the beginning. Occasional glimpses of the year 2199 are given in the form of textbook entries, interviews between scientists, and transcripts of conversations from the lab housing the Spacial Teleportation Module that Ridge uses. Foreshadowing for the plot twists is expertly woven in and leads to well-laid surprises.

This short but suspenseful novel is Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me meets Tae Keller’s Jennifer Chan is Not Alone. Though it takes place at the turn of the millennium, modern readers will be able to identify with Michael’s anxieties over the future of the world, and find his journey compelling. 

Though The First State of Being takes place at the turn of the millennium, readers will be able to identify with Michael’s anxieties over the future of the world.
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Kevin Lee just wants space and time to draw comics. At home, if he’s not bickering with his sister, Betty, over their shared room, he needs to help their single mom at her alteration shop underneath their apartment. Plus, his grandmother has been staying with them for the last six months, and though Kevin loves Popo, he also finds her incredibly embarrassing.

School isn’t much better, as Kevin stands out as one of the only three Asian Canadian students. Things go from bad to worse when Popo sends Kevin to school with a century egg for lunch, and eating it leads his peers to give him a new nickname: “Egg Boy.” Kevin just has to survive until Friday when his class goes to Thrill Planet, the amusement park field trip they’ve been looking forward to all year, then everything will be better . . . right?

Alterations is Ray Xu’s debut graphic novel, but he is well-versed in drawing funny stories, with experience as a storyboard artist for films including The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Captain Underpants. Kevin Lee’s story is hilarious and heartfelt, with semi-autobiographical elements from Xu’s childhood in Toronto in the ‘90s. Alterations is like the century egg Kevin eats: On the outside, it looks like a story about middle school drama, but once you bite in, you realize the family dynamics are the umami flavor you can’t ignore.

The graphic elements are lively and entertaining. An embedded narrative of a fanfiction comic that Kevin is creating for a series called Star Odysseys adds a layer that will keep readers engaged, even if it does occasionally result in abrupt transitions. Background colors pop with cartoon-like onomatopoeias. The colors of the narration boxes helpfully change throughout: yellow for Kevin’s story, blue for the fanfiction comics, and pink for Popo’s folktales.

Semi-autobiographical graphic novels for middle grade readers are booming, and rightfully so. This one is a tad more fantastical than Dan Santat’s A First Time for Everything, and a bit more realistic than Yehudi Mercado’s Chunky, and it will certainly appeal to fans of both.

Alterations is like the century egg Kevin eats: On the outside, it looks like a story about middle school drama, but once you bite in, you realize the family dynamics are the umami flavor you can’t ignore.
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Abby Akerman believes in the Universe. Leo Brewer believes the Universe hates him. The only thing the two have in common, other than being queer 16-year-olds from small towns, is that their respective marching bands have just arrived in New York City to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Abby thinks this trip will be the perfect moment to come out to her best friend, Kat, and confess her love for her with a grand romantic gesture. Leo can’t focus on anything other than the broadcast of the parade, which, along with a local news segment, will out him as a trans boy to his extended Southern family. But NYC—or maybe the Universe—has other ideas: Abby and Leo accidentally step into the same train, which leads them away from their bands and toward an epic love story neither of them could have imagined.

This Day Changes Everything is Edward Underhill’s heartfelt and delightful sophomore novel about two band kids trying to find their rhythm outside the marching formations. Spanning less than 48 hours, the whirlwind plot takes Abby and Leo on a unique quest that challenges them to both celebrate queer joy and explore the challenges of being queer youth. Underhill excels balancing out his first dual narrative plot: Both Abby and Leo are complex, passionate and engaging.

The pair’s friends make up an intersectional, diverse cast whose extreme charm makes it easy to suspend disbelief at some of the comical ways they trick their chaperones into thinking Abby and Leo are still with the groups. Arguably, New York City itself is a bustling side character, and Underhill succeeds at capturing the wild nature of the city.

Fans of rom-coms will love how This Day Changes Everything operates within familiar tropes while putting Underhill’s queer spin on them. It’s a perfect blend of Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star and Becky Albertalli’s Imogen, Obviously.

Spanning less than 48 hours, the whirlwind plot of This Day Changes Everything takes Abby and Leo on a unique quest that challenges them to both celebrate queer joy and explore the challenges of being queer youth.
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A Desi auntie sits in her cardamom-and-sugar-scented cottage, a cup of chai in hand and a pile of envelopes in front of her. Wedding season approaches, and she needs to decide which to attend, out of the many she’s been invited to. “Weddings were her favorite. Big declarations of love, gold-spun dresses, glittering jewelry, dramatic interactions with family members, and the food. Oh, the food.” She closes her eyes and randomly picks eight envelopes . . .

Editor Prerna Pickett (If You Only Knew) brings together award-winning and debut Desi authors in a young adult anthology of short stories celebrating love as it unfolds at Desi weddings. Anthologies work best when the stories are tied together by a unifying theme, and this one takes things a step further by also centering a unifying event and its unique, beautiful traditions. Yet there’s no monotony; the ethnicities, religions and languages spotlighted in My Big Fat Desi Wedding vary widely. A broad range of romantic tropes is explored, from the classic old flames rekindling to an enemies-to-lovers story between two families with competing pickle businesses. One story even refreshingly excludes romance, instead featuring a Muslim boy gathering the courage to go to his disowned brother’s wedding, which his disapproving parents have forbidden. The multitude of experiences portrayed wonderfully mirrors the wide array of events one can witness at a Desi wedding, which often blend multiple traditions as families are joined.

However, for all the diversity this collection encompasses, it is predominantly heteronormative. There is one story with an explicitly bisexual main character, and it’s the one with the heaviest fantasy elements. While that story, which features vampires, is phenomenal, this reviewer wishes there had been more LGBTQ+ representation throughout.

Whether readers have attended a Desi wedding or not, they’ll feel welcomed like a family friend, as the ceremonies are given just enough background context. Throughout My Big Fat Desi Wedding, it is a true joy to look out for the recurring auntie with a mole and bob haircut, and watch her interactions with the characters in each story. Fans of anthologies with vibrant characters like those in Blackout and Come On In will be thrilled to attend these eight celebrations.

Anthologies work best when the stories are tied together by a unifying theme. My Big Fat Desi Wedding takes things a step further by centering a unifying event as well—the Desi wedding and its unique, beautiful traditions.
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Anya is about to become a Moth Keeper, a guardian tasked with protecting the Moon-Moths. According to the lore in Anya’s desert village, the moths were a gift from the Moon-Spirit, who wished to show her gratitude for the villagers’ choice to forswear daylight. Instead, they live their waking hours at night so the Moon-Spirit doesn’t have to be alone. Every year, the luminous Moon-Moths pollinate the Night-Flower tree, which the village relies on to thrive.

At first, Anya is convinced that caring for the moths will keep her “warm inside even on long, cold nights,” but the temptation of daylight chips away at her resolve. When the solitude and darkness become too much, Anya makes a decision with consequences that ripple across the desert and history itself. In The Moth Keeper, Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist K. O’Neill portrays how isolation can break even the strongest will, but a supportive community can mend all rifts.

O’Neill (The Tea Dragon Society, Aquicorn Cove) has established themself as a phenomenal graphic novel creator for middle grade audiences. Their work often explores themes of community and the natural world, and The Moth Keeper is no exception. In one scene, Anya’s friend Estell tells her about the essential role that the Night-Flower tree’s pollen plays in the desert: “That’s the magic of it—it’s part of the rhythm of nature. Everything is connected.” 

In their signature style, O’Neill’s soft, gentle artwork invites readers into a fantasy world dominated by every shade of blue and yellow. O’Neill plays subtly with graphics conventions to great effect. By eliminating the gutter when folktales are being told, for instance, they convey the larger-than-life significance of the stories to the village’s culture. Similarly, double-page spreads of the vast, rolling desert landscape capture “the smallness one feels standing amid such scenery,” as O’Neill explains in an afterword.

O’Neill’s books have a singular quality that makes them difficult to compare to anyone else’s work, aside from their own. Although its world building isn’t quite as rich as in the Tea Dragon series and the character development not as deep as in Aquicorn Cove, The Moth Keeper is still a charming story that will delight O’Neill’s fans and new readers alike, drawing them in like Moon-Moths to a lantern. 

This standalone graphic fantasy from Eisner Award winner K. O’Neill will delight fans and new readers alike, drawing them in like moths to a lantern.
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Nichole “Nic” Blake and her father, Calvin, have moved 10 times in as many years. In Jackson, Mississippi, Nic has finally managed to make a friend, JP, by bonding over their shared love of the bestselling Stevie James fantasy book series, but there’s one thing Nic must hide from her friend. She and her father are Remarkables, born with a Gift that’s “more powerful than magic,” and this is the year that Nic’s father has promised to teach her how to use it, so long as she keeps it a secret from Unremarkables like JP. But when Nic’s 12th birthday arrives, Calvin instead gives her a hellhound puppy and the same old promise: “Next year.”

Nic’s world turns upside down at a Stevie James book signing when the series’ author, TJ Retro, reveals to her that the books are actually based on his childhood, with two characters inspired by Nic’s parents. The revelation sets off a chain of events that leads to Calvin making a number of his own confessions, including that he’s actually been on the run for the past decade. Nic, JP and a newly revealed relative are thrown into a quest for an immensely powerful weapon called the Msaidizi that offers the only way to clear Calvin’s name.

Award-winning, bestselling YA author Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give) makes her middle grade debut with Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy, the magnificent, hilarious and captivating start to a planned series. Nic’s opinionated running commentary makes her instantly appealing, and Thomas’ skill for conversational prose and dialogue shines. Rapid shifts in tone keep readers on their toes and turning pages as quickly as possible. For instance, Nic and her friends meet a spirit who shares that one of the best parts of being a ghost is going anywhere you want, including Beyoncé’s headlining set at Coachella, only to scramble to escape from skeletal hands that burst through the floor moments later. 

What makes this novel truly special is Thomas’ world building. She seamlessly intertwines fantastical Remarkable history with real-life Black history, as when Calvin explains that “nothing about any Black people started with slavery” and describes how “the Gift was first given to our ancestors . . . in Africa.” Fans of mythology will be delighted to learn that the Msaidizi has been used by folklore legends John Henry, High John and Annie Christmas. Just as captivating is the concept of Glow, auras of various colors visible only to Remarkables that signal the identities of vampires, giants, fairies, merfolk and Manifestors like Nic.   

It can be challenging to satiate the appetites of readers who devour beloved middle grade fantasy series like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, Dhonielle Clayton’s The Marvellers and B.B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers. Those readers will inhale Nic Blake and the Remarkables—and then begin counting down the days to its sequel.

Readers who devour series like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books will inhale Nic Blake and the Remarkables and then begin counting down the days to its sequel.
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Eighteen-year-old Imogen Scott obviously knows who she is. She’s a top-tier people pleaser and “the kind of person who has a favorite adverb (obviously, obviously).” She’s straight but a visible ally, having attended every Pride Alliance meeting at her high school and consumed as much queer media as she can.

As Imogen, Obviously opens, Imogen is spending her spring break visiting her childhood best friend, Lili, at Blackwell College. There, Imogen learns that Lili has, in an effort to fit in with her new group of ride-or-die queer friends, told a lie: that she and Imogen used to date. Suddenly, Imogen is pretending to be bisexual, a role she didn’t expect to find so comfortable—until meeting Lili’s friend Tessa. Three nights later, Imogen can’t help asking herself, “One girl can’t topple your entire sexuality, right?” 

Bestselling author Becky Albertalli’s latest novel offers a gentle, hilarious and authentic look at figuring out who you are on your own timeline. A heartfelt letter from the author to the reader included with advance editions of the book fills in anyone unfamiliar with Albertalli’s own coming-out story, and it’s easy to see how writing this novel must have been a cathartic way to allegorize her experience.

Each of the book’s nine parts constitutes a different day of Imogen’s visit with Lili, and this structure, combined with her intimate first-person point of view, provides an almost stream-of-conscious quality to the narrative. It also makes it nearly impossible for the reader not to love Imogen. As in Albertalli’s previous books, the dialogue is realistic, and text message conversations sprinkled throughout add humor and depth. Pop culture junkies will eat up all the But I’m a Cheerleader references (including the book’s gorgeous cover) and feel genuine disappointment to discover that the rom-com Shop Talk isn’t real.

There’s no shortage of coming-out novels, but there is always a need for more. Imogen’s coming out is unique, just as Albertalli’s was, and any reader will be able to identify with Imogen’s desire to be her true self while battling her fear of others’ judgment. Imogen will obviously be welcomed into the lives of Albertalli’s fans and new readers alike.

Bestselling author Becky Albertalli’s latest novel offers a gentle, hilarious and authentic look at figuring out who you are on your own timeline.
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Sixteen-year-old Maya Krishnan, an Indian American aspiring artist, lives in Citrus Grove, Florida, a suburb of Orlando with “two sides, like a coin.” There’s the side she and her friends live on, with a diverse community of people “who have thick accents and even thicker blood.” And then there’s the side of bake sales, white picket fences and bigoted remarks about immigrants. Maya seethes about the hypocrisy around her but is unsure how else to express her frustration other than through her art.

Maya’s portfolio attracts Juneau Zale, a wealthy white senior with a rebellious spirit. Juneau sees a spark in Maya and invites her to join the Pugilists, a secret society of students who use “art, pranks [and] mischief” to shine a light on inequalities in their school, such as the overpolicing of students of color. Soon Maya’s falling for Juneau, despite the cracks appearing in Juneau’s carefully crafted facade. As tensions at school rise and pranks turn into potential crimes, Maya will have to decide how close she’s willing to fly to Juneau’s sun.

In All the Yellow Suns, debut author Malavika Kannan captures the emotional turmoil of high school, with relationships as likely to bleed into one another as the watercolors on Maya’s palette. Kannan’s dialogue is natural in a way that reflects the author’s experience as a 22-year-old student of comparative studies in race and ethnicity and creative writing at Stanford University. She crafts beautiful prose filled with eloquent metaphors such as, “When two humans wear each other down, erode until their bodies fit together like clay—that’s what love feels like. Sanding somebody’s edges and crooks. Settling into their ridges.”

The fact that All the Yellow Suns is so intensely character-driven means the plot with the Pugilists doesn’t quite pack the punch their name promises. However, Maya is such a likable, passionate narrator that readers will relish the intimate story of her coming to terms with her sexuality. The large cast of side characters is spread thin throughout the book, though each is as complex as they can be for the space they receive. Juneau’s character is the most complex of all, fascinatingly difficult to pin down: a manic pixie dream girl who has a potential white savior complex and is battling internalized homophobia.

Darker than Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler and lighter than Courtney Summers’ I’m the Girl, this sapphic contemporary coming-of-age story is intensely realistic and beautifully heartbreaking and will capture the attention of readers who are passionate about activism.

Darker than Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler and lighter than Courtney Summers’ I’m the Girl, Malavika Kannan’s sapphic coming-of-age debut is beautifully heartbreaking.

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