Erin A. Holt

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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 […]
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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, […]
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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 […]
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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.

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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.

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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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Rising seventh-grader Cassie is looking forward to a summer of competitive swimming and hanging by the pool with her best friends—away from her 17-year-old sister, Julia, who’s a new mom to 6-month-old Addie. Ever since Addie arrived, Cassie’s life has been put on the back burner, and she longs for the closeness she and Julia shared before Addie was born. So when Julia confides in Cassie that she and Addie are leaving without telling their parents, Cassie takes the chance to potentially rekindle their relationship and joins them on a road trip with no planned destination.

Suzanne LeFleur’s Counting to Perfect is a gorgeous novel that illustrates the enduring bond of sisterhood. Tackling issues of teen pregnancy and its aftermath, LeFleur’s wise and honest young characters show warmth and compassion in a muddled situation. Both Cassie and Julia are strong despite their flaws, and there is no question that their bond will remain unbroken.

This optimistic story is a great pick for young readers dealing with their own family issues.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Rising seventh-grader Cassie is looking forward to a summer of competitive swimming and hanging by the pool with her best friends—away from her 17-year-old sister, Julia, who’s a new mom to 6-month-old Addie.

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Leanne “Lee” Bauer is ready to set the record straight. It has been three years since her high school’s mass shooting led to the deaths of 9 students (10 if you count the shooter himself) and 2 teachers. The shooting also left one student paralyzed and the others severely traumatized. Lee was in the bathroom holding hands with her best friend, Sarah, as the shooter aimed and fired at Sarah. Everyone believes that Sarah died while proclaiming her religious faith, but only Lee and one other survivor know the truth of what really happened in the bathroom that day.

When Sarah’s family decides to publish a book about their daughter and the massacre, Lee decides it’s time to reveal what actually happened, because all of the survivors deserve to have a voice.

Keplinger (The Duff) pens an extremely powerful, mind-blowing and chilling account of what it is like to be on the inside of a high school shooting and how details and facts can become misconstrued as a result of trauma. In chapters that deserve a trigger warning, Lee and the other survivors recount the massacre as they experienced it. Featuring a cast of diverse characters, and unique narration that includes poetry and letters,    Keplinger shows she’s up to snuff with this heavy hitting that is unfortunately trending. Reminiscent of Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends (2016), this novel would make an excellent springboard for parents or teachers who want to open a discussion about gun violence with their teens.

Kody Keplinger pens an extremely powerful, mind-blowing and chilling account of what it is like to be on the inside of a high school shooting and how details and facts can become misconstrued as a result of trauma.
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A year after 9/11, 16-year-old Shirin is starting yet another first day of school at her third high school in two years, and she’s over it. Having grown used to the misconceptions, name-calling and outright racism hurled her way for wearing a hijab, Muslim-American Shirin has developed a tough exterior and an even tougher interior. The one place she feels comfortable is in the dance studio with her brother and his break-dancing team. When Shirin joins in and perfects her power moves like crab walks and head spins, she becomes someone else—someone who isn’t afraid of being hurt. But when Shirin is paired with Ocean James in biology class, he slowly begins to chip away at the walls Shirin has constructed.

Tahereh Mafi, best known for her Shatter Me series, has stepped away from fantasy to pen this incredibly realistic novel based on her own experiences. While immersing themselves in gorgeous prose, readers will feel for Shirin as she stands up for her beliefs in the midst of hurtful words and violence, and they’ll cheer as she experiences first love and laugh-out-loud moments. Intense, emotional and resonant, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a riptide that pulls readers in.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

A year after 9/11, 16-year-old Shirin is starting yet another first day of school at her third high school in two years, and she’s over it. Having grown used to the misconceptions, name-calling and outright racism hurled her way for wearing a hijab, Muslim-American Shirin has developed a tough exterior and an even tougher interior. The one place she feels comfortable is in the dance studio with her brother and his break-dancing team.

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Julie Murphy’s companion to 2017’s Dumplin’ (read it first to avoid spoilers) is as full of heart, hope and hilarity as its predecessor. With an incredibly diverse cast of new characters, two unlikely love interests and emotions that are bigger than the state of Texas, Puddin’ will have readers laughing, crying and rooting for these teens as they navigate the tough terrain that is high school and find the strength to persevere when life throws a curveball or two.

While beauty queen Willowdean Dickson is still in the mix, Murphy’s new novel focuses on life after the pageant for reader favorite Millie Michalchuk. Millie hangs with a group of unpopular misfits and is a regular attendee of fat camp, but she’s thrown into an unlikely friendship with popular girl Callie Reyes when a prank goes wrong. Callie is co-captain of the Shamrocks, Clover City High School’s dance team, and the girlfriend of the school’s ace football player. When Millie’s family-run gym gets into financial trouble and has to drop their sponsorship of the Shamrocks, putting the dance team’s chance at winning a national competition in jeopardy, Callie and her fellow dancers decide to take revenge into their own hands—by vandalizing the Michalchuk’s gym, with Callie as the only identifiable culprit. Millie’s Uncle Vernon, the owner of the gym, agrees to drop all charges if Callie will work at the gym for free. Millie and Callie are then forced to either be miserable together or make amends.

In chapters that alternate between Millie’s and Callie’s point of view, Murphy nails the teen voice with online and in-person conversations that are filled with snort-laugh-out-loud lines. The characters are faced with typical teenage dilemmas, from dating and sneaking around (nobody is perfect, even Millie) to facing realistic consequences for their actions.

Hysterical and perfect for teen readers looking to have their voices heard, Puddin’ encapsulates everything that a high-caliber YA novel should.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Julie Murphy’s companion to 2017’s Dumplin’ (read it first to avoid spoilers) is as full of heart, hope and hilarity as its predecessor. With an incredibly diverse cast of new characters, two unlikely love interests and emotions that are bigger than the state of Texas, Puddin’ will have readers laughing, crying and rooting for these teens as they navigate the tough terrain that is high school and find the strength to persevere when life throws a curveball or two.

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Grace King is determined to avoid turning into her mother, who left when she was still a child. Since that day, Grace’s father has been doggedly researching a cure for the schizophrenia that his beloved wife suffered from. He has become distant and consumed by this goal, and he’s missing signs of the same disease manifesting in his daughter. But Grace is smart and independent, and her internship at her father’s lab helps her discover a potential breakthrough in schizophrenia research. However, the events leading up to her discovery are thrown into doubt by the unraveling of her own mind. Can Grace’s findings be trusted, and can she be trusted to know what is truly real?

Printz Award winner An Na’s brilliant new work is a slim yet power-packed read. She digs deep into the mind of a teen with schizophrenia, immersing readers in Grace’s scattered thoughts, hallucinations and delusions. The dizzying pace of the narration at times leaves the reader confused about what is truly happening around Grace and what is not. Through short chapters divided by seasons, readers witness the progression of Grace’s illness as her reality becomes more and more distorted.

An incredibly immersive story that is both excellent and unsettling, younger teens would benefit from reading The Place Between Breaths with an adult.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Grace King is determined to avoid turning into her mother, who left when she was still a child. Since that day, Grace’s father has been doggedly researching a cure for the schizophrenia that his beloved wife suffered from. He has become distant and consumed by this goal, and he’s missing signs of the same disease manifesting in his daughter.

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