Erin A. Holt

In order to get out of the nightmare that is her sixth grade lunch period, April takes on the job of Bench Buddy for fourth grade recess, watching over the playground and encouraging conversation and participation. It isn’t long before she notices Joey Byrd, a loner who spends the recess period dragging his feet through the dirt or laying on his back with his eyes closed.

Curious, April talks to Joey, and he eventually divulges that he is making what he calls “spirals of sadness” and other land art with his feet. Land art, April learns, is art made using natural and often “found” materials, such as soil, rocks and plants. It’s usually created on a large scale and best viewed from a high vantage point. As her friendship with Joey grows, April gains an appreciation for what life looks like through Joey’s eyes.

Shelley Pearsall puts upper elementary and middle school life into perspective in Things Seen From Above, a sweet and kindhearted story. As readers make their way through the book’s alternating points of view, with April’s chapters narrated in text and Joey’s primarily in images, they will love seeing Joey’s world unfold right alongside April. A fascinating author’s note reveals that Joey’s character is based on a member of Pearsall’s own family.

Things Seen From Above offers a creative introduction to a unique art form and an appealing story about learning to fit in to a crowd that’s still learning what fitting in truly means.

In order to get out of the nightmare that is her sixth grade lunch period, April takes on the job of Bench Buddy for fourth grade recess, watching over the playground and encouraging conversation and participation. It isn’t long before she notices Joey Byrd, a loner who spends the recess period dragging his feet through […]

Ali Chu is the only Asian student in her rural Indiana high school. Accustomed to her teacher’s blatantly racist remarks and her friends’ constant misunderstandings of her Taiwanese culture, Ali has learned to survive in a small town by not standing out. She is thrown for a loop however, when Chase, another Taiwanese American student, moves to town. Everyone at school thinks that because Ali and Chase are both Asian, they should become a couple.

Determined not to succumb to stereotype (or to her parents’ strict rule that she only date Chinese boys), Ali tries to resist her attraction to Chase, but as she gets to know him, their relationship moves quickly from friendship to something more. Just as quickly, however, Ali’s mother finds out and forbids Ali from dating Chase. While the two surreptitiously continue their relationship, they begin to discover long-hidden secrets about their families, forcing them to wonder about the circumstances that brought them together in the first place.

Gloria Chao’s beautifully heartbreaking second novel (after 2018’s American Panda) intersperses Ali and Chase’s contemporary story with the historically set Chinese folktake “The Butterfly Lovers.” Chao develops both primary and secondary characters well, particularly Ali’s friend Yun, who is just beginning to explore his sexuality.

With authentic teen voices that will help readers easily connect with the characters and their stories, Our Wayward Fate is an excellent choice for readers who love a mix of contemporary and historical fiction.

Ali Chu is the only Asian student in her rural Indiana high school. Accustomed to her teacher’s blatantly racist remarks and her friends’ constant misunderstandings of her Taiwanese culture, Ali has learned to survive in a small town by not standing out. She is thrown for a loop however, when Chase, another Taiwanese American student, […]

It’s finally the last day of school, but Leah has a long summer looming ahead, with no camp or vacation plans. With boredom starting from day one, she’s aimless in her attempts to stay afloat during the long, hot summer days. She sleeps in, wanders from the kitchen to the couch in pajamas and clicks through the TV channels.

One day, boredom gets the best of her, and she puts on actual clothes and leaves the house. At the nearby creek, she sees a girl with a beautiful mop of huge, curly red hair, lounging on a big rock. The girl looks luminous in the light, and Leah is at first afraid to speak. From a distance, Jasper breaks the ice, introducing herself and explaining that she’s new to the area. But there’s a lot about Jasper that Leah doesn’t know.

Grief plays a prominent role in both girls’ lives. They both have their own secrets, and only time will tell if their newfound friendship will be enough to withstand them. Author Laurel Snyder (Orphan Island) pens a gorgeous yet realistic story about the struggles that a friendship endures when secrets verge into dangerous territory.

Tackling issues of grief, homelessness, alcoholism and abuse, My Jasper June is appropriate for mature young teens. The issues are intense and the consequences realistic, but they’re handled sensitively, making the novel a good fit for readers ready to explore such themes.

It’s finally the last day of school, but Leah has a long summer looming ahead, with no camp or vacation plans. With boredom starting from day one, she’s aimless in her attempts to stay afloat during the long, hot summer days. She sleeps in, wanders from the kitchen to the couch in pajamas and clicks […]

Ellis Kimball is a doomsday prepper, constantly adding to her various survival kits for the end of the world. Her therapist, Martha, is working with her to understand her expectation of an apocalypse, as it is manifesting in Ellis as anxiety.

After a therapy session, Ellis runs into Hannah Marks. They meet up again at school, where Hannah does everything she can to entice Ellis to hang out with her and her friends, Sam and Tal. Ellis soon learns that Hannah has visions and knows when the apocalypse is coming. Their friendship quickly blossoms as the two set out on a journey to save others while inadvertently finding themselves along the way.

Katie Henry’s depiction of anxiety is executed perfectly via Ellis’ inner monologues and outward actions. She captures budding teen sexuality as well as what it means to face your fears within your mind, your religion and your own family.

Let’s Call It a Doomsday is an exemplary portrait of acceptance, trust and revelation.

Ellis Kimball is a doomsday prepper, constantly adding to her various survival kits for the end of the world.

Guards are let down, secrets are revealed, and love blossoms in Amber Smith’s Something Like Gravity

Still processing the aftereffects of an frightening assault, newly out transgender teen Chris goes to his Aunt Isobel’s house for the summer. His new neighbor, Maia, is still grieving the sudden loss of her older sister. A near-fatal accident brings the two together when Maia is trying to take a photograph in the middle of the street and Chris is test-driving his aunt’s old station wagon. They get off on the wrong foot as neighbors, but soon their relationship beautifully unfurls into a romance.

Chris and Maia’s alternating points of view give the reader a bird’s-eye view of how the teens process their feelings both for one another and within themselves. With admirable gentleness and empathy, Chris and Maia explore their burgeoning relationship, slowly revealing their innermost secrets while holding some back. While sensitively tackling subjects of first love, acceptance and friendship, Smith expertly chronicles her characters’ twin journeys of grief and coming out, as well as what it takes to move on despite seemingly permanent damage. 

While readers should be warned that the flashbacks to Chris’ assault are intense, Something Like Gravity is perfect for fans of Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl and Lisa Williamson’s The Art of Being Normal.

Still processing the aftereffects of an frightening assault, newly out transgender teen Chris goes to his Aunt Isobel’s house for the summer. His new neighbor, Maia, is still grieving the sudden loss of her older sister. A near-fatal accident brings the two together when Maia is trying to take a photograph in the middle of the street and Chris is test--driving his aunt’s old station wagon. They get off on the wrong foot as neighbors, but soon their relationship beautifully unfurls into a romance.

Bex just got her ticket out of her hometown of Westmill via an internship on the hit TV teen drama “Silver Falls.” (Think “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”) However, her boss and head writer, Malcom, is none too happy to have his own intern. Nonetheless, Bex is just excited to be part of the show, even if it means getting coffee for the writing crew and green juices for cast members.

When Jane, another writer, takes Bex under her wing, she learns the ins and outs of how a TV show is put together. And later, when Malcom is stumped on how to write his assigned episode, Bex takes it upon herself to draft a script and give it to him. Malcom sneakily rewrites the script and passes it off as his own—right after writing her lesbian character off as straight in order to protect one of the show’s stars who made a homophobic statement. Having just come out of the closet herself, Bex feels the burn, and she makes it her mission to set the record right—both for the LGBTQ+ community and the fandom.

Author Jen Wilde not only gives readers a peek into the television industry, but she also offers an in-depth look at Bex’s coming-out process. Bex finds herself unexpectedly falling for Shrupty, a new actress on the show, and Wilde handles their romance with extreme heart and tenderness. Diverse characters and themes of sexuality and individuality make this an extremely timely story that readers will devour.

Perfect for the #ownvoices movement, Going Off Script is an excellent choice for teens looking to make their mark in society.

In Jen Wilde’s Going Off Script, a teen gets a summer internship on a hot TV teen drama.

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