Jill Ratzan

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Twelve teenage pilots, each representing a different European country. Four adult chaperones. One route through seven major European cities. And one race organizer who hopes to demonstrate how youth sport and its accompanying pageantry hold the power to promote international cooperation and peace. But it’s late August 1937, and Europe teeters on the brink of war.

Seventeen-year-old Stella North is the only female competitor in the fictional Circuit of Nations Olympics of the Air (inspired by the real-life Women’s Air Derby of 1929). She’s flying for the United Kingdom despite having little connection to it; her family left their native Russia as refugees when Stella was very young. At the Salisbury airfield, where the first leg of the race will begin, Stella dodges prying questions from the press and seemingly omnipresent photographers as she tries to manage her nerves. But once she’s aloft and soaring over the English Channel, she witnesses something she wasn’t supposed to see, and when the contestants reassemble at their destination in Belgium, only 11 pilots can be found. The 12th has disappeared. 

Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity won a Printz Honor in 2013 for its twisty, suspenseful portrayal of young female pilots serving in Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. Stateless is sure to satisfy fans of that novel and its related works (Rose Under Fire, The Pearl Thief, The Enigma Game), as Wein once again showcases her talent for writing feminist historical mysteries. Interpersonal dramas among the racing pilots smartly mirror the international conflicts that surround them, and the air race offers an ideal venue for Wein to incorporate the details of early aviation that have become one of her calling cards. 

The solution to the central mystery unfolds amid missing items, unlikely lookalikes, unexpected telegrams and suspected sabotage; careful readers may catch clues that Stella misses. Even the novel’s table of contents, structured around a well-known passage from John Donne, is part of the storytelling. Emerging friendships (and possibly more), along with questions of identity, add a human element to the pilots’ discussions of complex politics, such as the bombing of Guernica, Spain, and the imprisoning of political dissidents in a concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. Grim situational irony balances out any Hunger Games-esque vibe, as contemporary readers know where these historical events will lead, but the characters don’t.

Grab your goggles and fasten your flight harness: Stateless is a wild ride from takeoff to landing.

Elizabeth Wein showcases her talent for writing feminist historical mysteries in Stateless, a standalone novel sure to satisfy longtime fans.
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Hidden in the woods beyond the Idle River lies the village of Greymist Fair. Traveling merchants who follow the road to the village discover that their watches stop and their sense of distance becomes distorted, while those who try to mark paths through the surrounding forest find their markers obliterated. Wolves and wargs (and possibly worse) stalk the shadows between the trees, and village children are warned never to stray from the lantern-lit path lest they be stolen away, leaving only their empty boots behind.

In Greymist Fair, seven intersecting stories move back and forth in time. The tailor’s daughter seeks the witch in the woods and makes a shattering discovery. A prince grants magical wishes to those who correctly answer his riddles. A ghost’s revelation exposes a terrible secret. An itinerant doctor discovers the nature of home. Death, alone on the road, longs for companionship. A beautiful noble yearns for a normal life. And a Yuletide celebration takes on particular significance as the ordinary and the extraordinary collide.  

Readers of traditional fairy tales have certain expectations: Animals will talk, wishes will go awry, male and female characters will pair up and everyday people will vanquish evil. In Greymist Fair, author Francesca Zappia nods at such expectations before subverting and exceeding them. She freely remixes her source materials, which include familiar Brothers Grimm tales such as “Hansel and Gretel” and more obscure stories like “The Fisherman and His Wife,” “The Riddle” and “Godfather Death.” The book’s nonlinear structure allows effects to be introduced long before their causes, creating revelatory moments as dots connect and wider pictures emerge. Meanwhile, platonic and familial relationships, rather than romantic connections, provide the most compelling sources of love. 

Much of the action is driven by the village teenagers’ emerging senses of selfhood and power, and Zappia frequently places the heartwarming and the frightening side by side, enabling them to reflect and amplify each other. The strongest element in these stories are their redemptive arcs, which are sometimes sweet, sometimes sorrowful but always deeply satisfying. In Greymist Fair, even when darkness threatens, second chances for lasting harmony are still possible if we make peace with our worst fears.

In the seven intersecting stories that compose Greymist Fair, author Francesca Zappia nods at fairy-tale conventions before subverting and exceeding them.
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Five teenagers, spread across two rival countries, each have a story to tell in The Isles of the Gods, the first book in a fantasy duology from Australian author Amie Kaufman

Selly is an Alinorish sailor whose magician’s marks never matured, leaving her without the ability to communicate with elemental spirits. Alinor’s Prince Leander knows that he should have fulfilled his royal obligation—sailing to the Isles of the Gods to make an important sacrifice—a year ago, but he delayed making the journey for reasons of his own. In neighboring Mellacea, Laskia will do anything to convince her older sister, Ruby, the head of a bustling but illicit business empire, that she’s not a little kid anymore. And while Jude needs to stay in Ruby’s favor to keep his sick mother alive, Keegan is desperate for the chance to study at the world-renowned Bibliotek. All the while, Alinor’s goddess, Barrica the Sentinel, keeps watch over her twin brother, Macean the Gambler, god of Mellacea, for if he wakes, war between their lands is all but inevitable. 

Fantasy readers who favor fast-paced, intricate plots will find much to love here, including a multitude of characters and settings, explorations of the intersections between religion and politics, a proliferation of scheming and counter-scheming, a healthy dose of moral ambiguity and plenty of action, including some intense moments of violence. A budding romance between initial enemies leads to zesty sparks, and unexpected friendships form among teens with contrasting social identities (the popular party kid, the nerdy bookworm).

Kaufman builds her world gradually, trusting readers to put its myriad parts together as her characters’ paths intersect. Automobiles exist side by side with playful water spirits, gods walk among and communicate directly with mortals, and nightclubs, marketplaces and ship’s decks can all be places where the extraordinary can happen.

Readers left bereft by the novel’s ending and in dire need of its planned sequel are advised to reread the prologue, set 501 years before the story’s main events. In just eight pages, Kaufman offers up a vivid warning about the most dreaded outcome of her novel’s human hostilities: a war between the gods.

Fantasy readers who favor fast-paced, intricate plots will find much to love in Amie Kaufman’s The Isles of the Gods, the first book in a planned duology.
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Meeting new people in new places is definitely not Gael’s thing. But his best friend, Nicole, a sophomore in college, is the leader of Plus, a gathering of LGBTQIA+ teens, and she thinks the group would be good for Gael, a transgender boy who attends a conservative high school in Tennessee. Nicole introduces him to Declan, a boy in his AP Literature class whom Gael hadn’t previously gotten to know. 

As Gael explores a world of friendship and socializing that he hadn’t realized he’d been missing, he also contends with unexpected feelings of attraction. Are trans boys like him “allowed” to also be gay? Can he be desired for who he really is? Can he really share his heart, when his depressed mother and absent father have led him to believe that love will always hurt? And, in the larger world, will fundraising and actively courting sponsors be enough to keep the endangered Plus from permanent closure?

If I Can Give You That feels like a worthy homage to one of the first young adult books to feature a gay relationship, John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. Gael, like Donovan’s Davy, is just beginning to be aware of his own thoughts and feelings. Declan and Nicole, like Davy’s friend Altschuler, serve as wise companions. Gender dysphoria, generalized anxiety, depression and complex family dynamics are portrayed thoughtfully and compassionately, and Gael’s desire to live in the moment will strike a chord with teen readers who are frustrated by the need to think ahead about college and careers. 

Author Michael Gray Bulla, who was the 2017 Nashville Youth Poet Laureate, grounds his debut YA novel in contemporary concerns. The current politics of being transgender in Tennessee, health care hoops to jump through and classroom debates about bathroom bills (Gael isn’t allowed to use the men’s restroom at his school) connect the fictional story to our difficult reality. Declan, who wants to be an English professor, tells Gael that “the best literature does what it’s writing about.” If I Can Give You That fulfills this description, modeling multiple possible ways to be an queer teen, an activist, a family caretaker and a friend.

This thoughtful debut novel models multiple possible ways to be a queer teen, an activist, a family caretaker and a friend.
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Blood and gore are everywhere. Screams echo through the night. The masked killer, machete in hand, is at the gate . . . but Charity, ready with her knife, stabs him first. She announces that she’s the final girl—the one who always survives.

It’s just another night at Camp Mirror Lake, a terror simulation game where Charity and her teenage co-workers chase paying guests through the woods in a loose reenactment of a cult classic horror movie that was filmed there a generation ago. The summer is almost over, but Camp Mirror Lake is short staffed—where have Heather, Jordan and Felix gotten to?—so Charity invites her girlfriend, Bezi, and their friend Paige to pitch in for the last few days. The sound effects are cued up, the fake blood and raw chicken mixture is ready to be poured and the latex body parts have been strategically placed. But on the night before the season finale, someone appears who isn’t in the script. And then the real terror begins. 

Author Kalynn Bayron knows the ins and outs of the horror genre, and she lets us in on all the tropes through the character of Paige, a wise and wisecracking horror fan who’s quick to call out the dangers of flirting (“As soon as people start having sex, it’s like a bat signal to the killer.”) and the stupidity of chasing clues after dark (“Why do the thing that always leads to somebody getting murdered in the woods?”). Like the Scream franchise and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods, these self-referential hat tips don’t give away the plot as much as they make the path through it even more fun. The tension is high, the isolated camp setting is delightfully creepy and the premise of embedding real murders among the trappings of fake ones is used to clever effect. Creaky trapdoors, secret passageways, dusty storage rooms and bobbing canoes abound, creating spookily atmospheric imagery that matches the characters’ increasing sense of dread. And Paige is right that pieces of the full story are often lurking in the corners, revealed little by little as the body count rises.

Plan to read You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight under a blanket with a flashlight, but only if you’re willing to stay up late. As horror fans know, there’s always one last twist at the end.

In You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight, Kalynn Bayron uses the premise of embedding real murders among haunted house-style fake ones to clever effect.
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Teen sleuth Stevie Bell is back! It’s the autumn of her senior year at Ellingham Academy, and she and her friends Nate, Janelle and Vi have been invited by Stevie’s boyfriend, David, to join him in London to solve another cold case. One rain-soaked night 1995, nine inseparable friends played a game of hide-and-seek on the country estate of Merryweather. The next morning revealed the brutally murdered bodies of two of the nine companions. A burglary gone awry was the official explanation, but Izzy, the teenage niece of one of the original nine, recently learned that her aunt saw something unusual that night but never reported it to the police. That information points to a long-hidden secret: One of the nine may be a murderer.

As Stevie and her friends pursue leads and attempt to convince the head of Ellingham that they really are in England to study, they also undertake a whirlwind tour of London’s most famous attractions, learn about some gruesome Tudor history and navigate interpersonal dramas galore. College application season is upon them, and while her friends are each coping with the pressure in their own ways, Stevie is definitely not prepared. She also tries to make space for intimate moments with David but faces new worries that his attention is being drawn away by Izzy’s infectious charm. 

Maureen Johnson reveals which aspects of the country-house murder subgenre she was most excited to put her own spin on in ‘Nine Liars.’

In Nine Liars, bestselling author Maureen Johnson employs the hallmarks of classical Agatha Christie-style mysteries, such as frontispiece maps and a (metaphorical) locked room, while cleverly subverting others. Stevie still gathers the suspects together to reveal the solution, but she does so in a fresh and unexpected way, and Johnson replaces Christie’s stock characters with Stevie’s diverse and emotionally nuanced friends. 

Flashbacks to 1995, including sometimes conflicting witness statements, alternate with Johnson’s present-day narration, enabling readers to form and then question their own theories of the case. This structure allows parallel models of friendship and romance, trust and lies, to form between the two time periods. Readers who flip frequently between past and present as they read will be richly rewarded, since Johnson’s fair-play mystery provides enough clues for especially observant readers to solve the case before its resolution. 

Like Johnson’s previous Stevie Bell mystery, The Box in the Woods, Nine Liars can be enjoyed as a standalone, but readers who know and love Stevie and her classmates will feel like they’re returning to a satisfying jaunt with beloved friends.

Read our Q&A with ‘Nine Liars’ author Maureen Johnson.

In her fifth book starring teen sleuth Stevie Bell, Maureen Johnson both employs and subverts the hallmarks of classical English country house mysteries.

Game On

Give this to a reader who has a competitive streak, whether it manifests on the field, in the classroom or at game night. 

Game On: 15 Stories of Wins, Losses, and Everything in Between highlights the importance of “playing the game” to find yourself. In each tale, characters interact with a game, from sports and video games to neighborhood pastimes and more. Many stories illustrate the thrill of competition, even as characters grapple with why rivalries and the act of winning mean so much to them. Nearly all the stories capture the central game’s emotional underpinnings, allowing characters to become closer to one another, to find courage in other aspects of their lives or to see something in a new light. 

Standout story: Gloria Chao’s “Mystery Hunt” follows two college freshmen who share an adorably nerdy passion for language puzzles as they embark on the linguistics department’s annual scavenger hunt. As they race to piece clues together, Faye’s growing friendship with her cute classmate, Pierce, inspires her to form deeper connections with other people in her life. The story’s puzzles are challenging, the emotional stakes are high, the pace is fast, and by the end of the hunt, readers will be eager for more adventures with Faye and Pierce.

—Annie Metcalf

★ Tasting Light

Give this to a reader who yearns to expand the limits of what is possible.

Every story in Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perceptions masterfully demonstrates how powerful science fiction can be. Whether the teens in these futuristic tales are sipping coffee in a spinning city, exploring parallel universes or experiencing bold new technologies, they’re contemplating themes like race, class, disability and gender as thoughtfully as teens today, while dreaming up new and inventive ways to improve themselves and their worlds. As one character muses, “You can be a teenager and make things happen. They’re not mutually exclusive at all.”

Standout story: Junauda Petrus-Nasah’s “Melanitis” begins in the middle. What’s a FAN, and why is it a big deal that another one has been murdered by police? To give away more would spoil the experience: As narrator Amari processes the unfolding news, so do we. Petrus-Nasah takes a classical sci-fi theme—the perils of scientific overreach—and applies it to the disparity between joyous Black energy and the dangers of being Black in a white-dominated society. The result is daring and devastating.

—Jill Ratzan

Eternally Yours

Give this to a reader who is smitten with all things magical, mysterious and macabre.

In Eternally Yours, editor Patrice Caldwell collects 15 paranormal romance stories that feature supernatural suitors ranging from ancient immortals to undead high school students. Many of the tales have contemporary settings, their speculative elements intertwined with familiar teenage concerns like part-time jobs and parties. These realistic details—and the often relatable protagonists—give the collection a grounded core that allows readers to truly connect with larger-than-life dramas such as hunting vampires or making out with mermaids. This anthology will sweep romance-minded readers away into one otherworldly love story after another.

The standout story: Marie Rutkoski’s dreamlike “Bride-Heart” follows a teenage waitress caught up in the ominous affections of a wealthy older man. As it becomes clear that there is far more to the rich stranger than anyone suspects, a test of agency, control and subtle magic unfolds. Rutkoski crafts an atmosphere of creeping dread as she upends many paranormal romance tropes. Her tense, twisty tale will keep readers guessing all the way to the end. 

—RJ Witherow

Generation Wonder

Give this to a reader who knows exactly what they’d do if they woke up with superpowers. 

Many of today’s most successful superhero stories were dreamed up long before current teenage readers were born. The 13 tales in Generation Wonder: The New Age of Heroes introduce brand-new, contemporary superheroes across a range of genres, from comical adventures to fast-paced thrillers. In a clever touch, each story opens with an illustration in the epic style of a comic book cover by artist Colleen Doran. Diverse, imaginative and entertaining, these stories prove that extraordinary heroes can truly come from the most ordinary circumstances.

The standout story: In Nulhegan Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac’s “Ordinary Kid,” Leonard is a Native American teen just trying to survive high school—and figure out how to use his newly acquired superpowers, of course. After an encounter with a mysterious entity called Crow, Leonard becomes telekinetic and gains an “uncanny ability to sense when someone [is] picking on someone else.” He decides to use his powers to disrupt his town’s drug trade before turning his attention to an even more dangerous target. Leonard’s self-deprecating humor and hunger for justice call to mind such well-known superheroes as Captain America and Spiderman. 

—Hannah Lamb

Teens will discover whole new worlds within the short stories of these four anthologies.
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Quinta has spent the seven years since her mother died searching for a curiosity shop called the Vermilion Emporium. With her last breath, Quinta’s mother gave her a vial of moonshadow and told Quinta that she would find its purpose there. When she finally finds the magical shop, it’s down an alley and around a corner where no shop had been just a few days before.

Twain has also found his way to the emporium’s door, hoping to sell enough razorbill feathers to book passage on a ship sailing out of Severon. While collecting the feathers, he stumbled onto something even more valuable: a rare strand of starlight, a substance that was once crafted into magical lace that granted power and prestige to those rich enough to afford it. 

The pair meet on the emporium’s doorstep, and after a chance encounter with the Casorina, the ruler of Severon, Twain and Quinta agree to make her a dress of starlight in time for the upcoming Scholar’s Ball. This puts the teens in a Rumpelstiltskin-esque quandary: They have just the one strand of starlight, and the secrets of harvesting and crafting with it have been lost for generations.

The day of the ball occurs at the halfway point of The Vermilion Emporium, the first fantasy novel from author Jamie Pacton (The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly). From there, Pacton pulls together threads from earlier in the story to weave a tale of grief and healing, enchanted rooms and family history, politics and ambition, and how far someone will go for the sake of love.

In her author’s note, Pacton reveals she wrote The Vermilion Emporium in tribute to the Radium Girls, a group of young female factory workers from the early 20th century whose real-world situation mirrors Quinta’s fantastical one. The Vermilion Emporium will be enjoyed by readers who appreciated Laini Taylor’s exploration of who benefits from magic and who pays its costs in her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, and by those entranced by the world of Elizabeth C. Bunce’s A Curse Dark as Gold, set in a society on the verge of exchanging magic for science. Come for the steampunk vibes and Pacton’s lavish imagery, but stay for her thoughtful commentary on social class, technology and power.

Jamie Pacton’s first fantasy novel features steampunk vibes, lavish imagery and thoughtful commentary on class, technology and power.
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This will be Enrique’s summer of self-improvement. As his junior year of high school comes to a close, Enrique plans to tell his parents that he’s bisexual, get past his romantic feelings for his friend Saleem and find out where his interests in three other guys—Manny, Tyler and Ziggy— might lead. This might even be the summer when he finally tells his best friend, Fabiola, about “The Breakdown” from two summers ago and his ongoing experiences with anxiety and occasional suicidal ideation. But will the summer live up to Enrique’s expectations, or will it be messier, more complicated—and better—than he could ever plan?

Aaron H. Aceves’ debut novel, This Is Why They Hate Us, is laugh-out-loud funny, from Enrique’s analogies for sexual attraction, including a scene in which he compares bisexuality to choosing which dessert to eat at a wedding, to the awkward result of his brief dive into a hookup app. Aceves thoughtfully explores his characters’ diverse backgrounds, such as Fabiola’s complex feelings about her Afro Puerto Rican Cuban heritage. He crafts a scene in which Enrique recalls a series of interactions between Saleem, who is Palestinian, and some of their teachers with notable sensitivity. 

Although Enrique’s romantic and sexual foibles drive the plot, the novel’s greatest strength is Enrique’s friendship with Fabiola, whom he has known since kindergarten. Their relationship, which survived the time they “fooled around” at Fabiola’s 14th birthday party, is a model for what a best-friendship can be. Fabiola makes Enrique laugh, listens to his problems without judgment, supports his romantic explorations and comes to his rescue unquestioningly any time he needs a hand—even while she’s on a date with the girl of her dreams.

Even if you think you know who Enrique will wind up with by the novel’s end, the story of his transformative summer is still witty and heartfelt. This Is Why They Hate Us is a tale of self-discovery that’s enjoyable all year-round. 

Even if readers guess whom Enrique will ultimately end up with by novel’s end, this story of his transformative summer is witty, thoughtful and heartfelt.
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Zharie’s mother began turning into a zombie five days before she died, and Zharie has been seeing the undead everywhere ever since. To avoid these apparitions, she prefers to sit alone in her room in her aunt’s apartment, texting her internet friend, Mini. Returning solo to the dance studio where Zharie and her mother prepared together for West Coast Swing competitions is out of the question. And she definitely isn’t interested in talking to Bo, the boy who just moved into the apartment upstairs. 

But when Bo appears to be partially zombified and then mysteriously returns to his normal self, Zharie decides that he might be the key to understanding why she’s plagued by these gruesome visions. Spending time with Bo and his family and friends makes Zharie feel happy and safe, until she witnesses something that shatters her newfound sense of belonging. Finding a way forward will require as much love, courage and forgiveness as Zharie can muster.

Much like the zombies of debut author Britney S. Lewis’ The Undead Truth of Us, Zharie’s journey toward healing staggers, stumbles and trails broken, rotting parts in its wake. The question of whether the zombies Zharie sees are real underpins every encounter with them, and Lewis wrings every possible drop of suspense from this uncertainty as she leads readers to the novel’s final revelation, which is both totally surprising and utterly satisfying. 

Lewis’ novel has many strengths, including nuanced depictions of Zharie’s experiences as one of the only Black dancers in the mostly white world of West Coast Swing. Zharie’s dreams and visions, inspired by Dutch impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh, are filled with stunning imagery of climbing vines and blooming sunflowers.

Every generation remakes literary creatures of the night anew. Slow burning and surreal, The Undead Truth of Us more than earns the mantle of Gen Z’s first great zombie novel.

This slow-burning and surreal debut novel more than earns the mantle of Gen Z’s first great zombie novel.
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Young sleuths searching for great mystery novels know exactly what they’re looking for: engaging characters, a suspenseful story, a satisfying resolution and a touch of heart. They’ll find all that and more in these two middle grade books.


If the animal menagerie of Deborah and James Howe’s classic Bunnicula series had included a goldfinch, the result might have been something like Duet. Like Bunnicula and its sequels, Duet features an animal narrator. Mirabelle is a young goldfinch who helps her favorite people find answers to perplexing questions.

Mr. Starek has retired from teaching piano lessons, but he makes an exception for Michael, a sixth grader whose musical talent is matched only by his stubbornness. Mirabelle has kept Mr. Starek company from the trees outside his windows since the recent death of his sister, Halina, and now the little yellow bird delights in singing along while Michael practices a series of pieces composed by Frédéric Chopin, including the technically challenging and exquisitely beautiful Ballade in F Minor. 

As Mirabelle searches for a way to join Michael at an upcoming competition, Michael and Mr. Starek are joined by Emily, a former protege of Mr. Starek’s. Emily used to teach Michael piano, but now she’s studying music history at the conservatory. Together, the trio search Halina’s house for a rare, hidden piano known as a Pleyel, one of two types of pianos on which Chopin composed. However, Halina was a hoarder, which Broach depicts with empathy and understanding, and the house contains more secrets than anyone suspects.

Masterpiece Adventures author Elise Broach fills Duet with evocative details of Mirabelle’s avian life, including adventures with her brothers, the welcoming of new siblings to her family’s nest and a harrowing description of a thunderstorm. Broach also incorporates a number of intriguing and memorable stories about Chopin and his artistic friends. Her writing is peppered with fun vocabulary (appurtenances, daguerreotype), and Duet includes an author’s note that explains how the conclusion of the novel’s mystery connects to fascinating real-life events.

At one point, Emily acknowledges her limitations as a pianist, providing a refreshing and mature balance to the other musicians’ focus on perfect performances as their primary goal. Music, Duet suggests, can be enjoyed by everyone—including goldfinches. Find a recording of Chopin’s ballades and let Broach sweep you away on wings of word and song.

Chester Keene Cracks the Code

Chester Keene appreciates his routine more than your average sixth grader. Every day after school, until his mom gets off work, he plays laser tag and knocks down pins at his mother’s best friend’s bowling alley. His routine does not include finding an envelope with his name on it that contains two riddles bearing the numbers one and four. And it especially does not include being joined at his solo lunch table by the outgoing Skye, who’s holding riddles number two and three. 

Chester thinks the clues must have been left by his absent father, whom Chester has long been convinced is a spy. What if the riddles are Chester’s dad’s way of communicating that he’s in trouble and needs Chester’s help? As Chester and Skye decode the puzzles, which seem intentionally designed to require them to work together, they form a friendship. When they overhear a group of bowlers plotting a heist, they begin to wonder whether stopping the crime could be the key to rescuing Chester’s dad. But could Chester’s reliance on careful observation be leading him astray?

Readers who pay close attention to detail will be rewarded not just with the solutions to the riddles, which involve puns, number games and creative thinking, but also the answers to the novel’s larger mysteries, such as why Chester and Skye have been brought together in the first place. The revelation of the riddles’ true purpose takes Chester Keene Cracks the Code in a direction that’s as fitting as it is initially unexpected. Maybe what Chester longs for most is actually closer to him than he realizes.

Diversity is a part of Chester’s world in quiet ways: Both Chester and Skye are biracial, and Skye encourages Chester to “break free of traditional gender roles” and embrace his inner warrior princess. Chester’s town’s various small businesses, including the bowling alley, evoke a small-town, working-class setting. His solitary habits and reliance on down-to-the-minute schedules also suggest a neurodivergence that acclaimed author Kekla Magoon leaves unspecified.  

Chester Keene Cracks the Code is a heartwarming puzzle mystery whose narrator has multiple codes to crack: the code of the riddle messages, the code of friendship, the code of handling a bully and the code of family. 

Join young detectives on quests for answers that may be hiding in plain sight.
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While out for a walk with a dog, a goat, a piglet and some ducklings—a typical occurrence for the daughter of two veterinarians—11-year-old Oriol meets a poet named Gabriela Mistral. Like Oriol, Gabriela speaks both English and Spanish, and she offers to teach Oriol to express her thoughts through poetry. 

Oriol has a lot on her mind, including grief over her grandmother’s death, disappointment with her family’s recent move from Cuba to California, frustrations at school, and hope that someday she, too, will become a veterinarian. When Oriol’s parents are asked to care for Chandra, a pregnant elephant at the wildlife ranch, Oriol quickly bonds with the creature and is thrilled when Chandra gives birth to twins. But a famous movie actor has a shocking plan for the baby elephants, and Oriol must combine her love for animals and her newfound abilities as a poet if she is to right the grievous wrong.

Oriol narrates Singing With Elephants in conversational verse that often incorporates Spanish words and phrases, the meaning of which is always clear from context: “Una mezcla, la poeta suggests / let us mix our languages together.” Newbery Honor and Pura Belpré Award-winning author Margarita Engle frequently employs alliterative imagery (“windy whispers,” “hug me / with hums”) and repetition. Vivid metaphors drawn from the natural world become a way to talk about the nature of poetry itself, such as when Mistral tells Oriol that “poetry is like a planet,” explaining how “each word spins / orbits / twirls / and radiates / reflected / starlight.” Language, Oriol discovers, can be used for both nefarious and benevolent ends, and “grief and joy / have a way / of taking turns / in the vast / spinning / galaxy / of verses.”

A lengthy author’s note provides information about the life and legacy of Gabriela Mistral, a Chilean poet who is the only Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Engle also includes the original Spanish text of one of Mistral’s lovely children’s poems, “Animales,” and an English translation by the science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin. 

Singing With Elephants will have young readers humming with delight and ready to champion a righteous cause.

A young girl must use her newfound poetic gifts to save a family of elephants in this novel in verse from the Newbery Honor author of Echo.
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★ A Million Quiet Revolutions

“You look stunning,” one narrator thinks about the other at the beginning of Robin Gow’s A Million Quiet Revolutions. The narrators are in love and beginning the process of transitioning their gender identities. After one narrator, a history buff, reads about two Revolutionary War soldiers named Aaron and Oliver who may have been transgender, the narrators adopt these names as their own, deciding that “We’ve been erased from / so much history. / Someone needs / to write us back in.”

When a terrible event at Aaron’s church causes his family to quickly move away from their small Pennsylvania town to New York City, the narrators face being separated for the first time since they were in first grade. During this time, Oliver tries on a chest binder and wonders whether he’ll have to redo his bat mitzvah, while Aaron’s new queer friends give him strength to come out fully to his Catholic Puerto Rican family. The pair reunite in New Jersey for a reenactment of the Battle of Monmouth, where their understandings of the past meld with their hopes for the present and future.

In Gow’s free verse poems, line breaks occur in unusual places and allow for contemplative pauses: “I stay on the low branches as / you climb higher.” Through Aaron’s and Oliver’s interactions with each other, their siblings and their parents, readers will find models for supporting trans family members. Gow also thoughtfully depicts Aaron and Oliver asking for and giving sexual consent.

Aaron and Oliver are frustrated that much of history ignores “what it was like to live as someone / other than a / white / Protestant / land-owning / man,” and as they discover that life needn’t follow gender binaries, their revelations ring with authenticity. Fans of classic YA literature will enjoy a subtle allusion to Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 novel, Speak, a book that was revolutionary in its time, too.

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin

The more we understand history, the more opportunities we have to form connections with one another. Such connections play a key role in Kip Wilson’s The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin, which is set in the eponymous city just before Hitler’s rise to power.

Eighteen-year-old Hilde has just left her orphanage with a handful of Reichsmark coins and the painful memory of Gretchen, the girl who stole her heart. Looking for a job, she stumbles into Café Lila, a club where “all / kinds / of / love / are / possible,” and learns that they’re in need of a musical waitress. Hilde tries to summon up the courage to sing—which is especially difficult in front of the beautiful Rosa, whose aunt warmly welcomes Hilde to their Jewish home. Meanwhile, an important election is approaching and tensions are rising. Hitler’s National Socialists might win over desperate crowds through promises to end hunger and unemployment, but they’re also eager to find someone to blame for Germany’s problems, and they disapprove of what they consider “degenerate” establishments—places like Café Lila.

Alliteration (“languidly, leisurely, lovingly”), onomatopoeia (a clock counts “ticktack”) and words that travel across the page as Hilde moves around Café Lila (“tables / bar / floor / round and round”) add aural and visual interest. Hilde’s realization that she can decide what kind of person she wants to be strikes a quiet note of rightness. Although there’s no on-the-page sex, there’s plenty of acceptance, found family and sweet romance between two girls who know they’re “different from the others” in a time and place where being different means being in danger.

Both A Million Quiet Revolutions and The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin use poetry to sidestep pronouns. The former makes dexterous use of “you” and “we,” while Ute, the “perfectly androgynous pianist” of the latter, is never referred to with pronouns at all. Both novels also use changes in layout to denote shifts in voice. Words are aligned with the left margin when Oliver and Hilde narrate, and with the right margin when Aaron, Rosa and Rosa’s aunt speak.

Readers in search of insight into the lives of queer teens throughout history—and inspiration for their own lives today—will find plenty of it in these books. As Oliver writes to Aaron about his history project on the gay rights movement during the late 1960s, “It makes me feel like / revolutions are still possible.”

These novels in verse offer stories about LGBTQ people in two eras, illuminating truths about the past and offering touchstones for teens today.

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