Kimberly Giarratano

Two South Jersey boys find love in this beautifully wrought debut novel from New Jersey native James Acker.

Rising senior Sebastian “Bash the Flash” Villeda is a popular track star at Moorestown High School, which has allowed him to get away with being a jerk for years. Grieving the death of his mother, Bash won’t let anyone in—not his hardworking stepfather, his ex-girlfriend, Luce, or even Matty, his supposed best friend, whom Bash can’t stand hanging out with anymore. Bash is weary of his tough-guy facade, but he doesn’t know how to change it. He’d rather sprint away from his feelings than face them.

Enter Sandro Miceli, whose shot put is as good as Bash’s 200-meter dash. Cruelly nicknamed “the Italian Yeti” by his classmates because he’s tall and hirsute, Sandro also struggles with the deep-seated anger issues he’s developed due to the behavior of his oppressive, insensitive family. He is terrified that his homophobic father and brothers will find out that he’s gay, and he dreams of attending college out of state, where he’ll be able to love who he wants without his family knowing.

James Acker explains why he wrote the love story he never got in ‘The Long Run.’

When Bash and Sandro connect at an end-of-summer party, all of that begins to change. During the year that follows, what starts as a genuine friendship leads to romance and forces the boys to explore aspects of themselves they both hoped never to confront.

The Long Run is a raw, emotional love story anchored in two journeys of self-discovery. Sandro knows who he is: an angry, neglected softy who can’t stand up to his family, which he describes as “a screaming match in a crowded restaurant personified.” Meanwhile, Bash only knows who he doesn’t want to be: a high-profile athlete who gets roped into fistfights with kids from the rival track team.

The most honest bond the two boys have is with each other, and Acker handles every aspect of their relationship with great care. His frank depictions of their sexual interactions are particularly well done, with awkwardness and enthusiasm that feel romantic yet realistic. There’s plenty of humor, too, including excellent banter that’s resplendent with New Jersey vernacular and slang.

The Long Run is a stunning novel about two boys who discover happiness and hope in the unlikeliest of places: each other. 

Read a Behind the Book essay by ‘The Long Run’ author James Acker.

Resplendent with authentic and often hilarious New Jersey vernacular, The Long Run is a raw, emotional love story anchored in two journeys of self-discovery.

In June 1994, the small town of Henley, Ohio, was devastated by a tornado, a flash flood and its first and only murder—still unsolved—all in the span of one week now known as “the long stretch of bad days.” Thirty-ish years later, aspiring journalist Lydia Chass learns that she is one history credit shy of meeting graduation requirements, due to an error by her guidance counselor, who has substance abuse issues. So Lydia’s principal makes her a deal: In exchange for keeping quiet about the counselor, Lydia will use her podcast to tell the story of that week in June and earn her missing credit. 

Lydia needs access to the unsavory parts of Henley, so she recruits Bristal Jamison to be her co-host. Bristal and her family have a reputation in Henley for criminality, but despite her bad-girl persona, Bristal is determined to become the first person in her family to graduate high school. When Lydia and Bristal’s inquiry reveals that a teenage girl also went missing during the long stretch of bad days, their investigation shakes loose a killer. 

A Long Stretch of Bad Days reads like a clever buddy-cop mystery, but the buddy cops are a pair of determined teen girls with something to prove. Lydia’s father is a defense attorney whose advocacy on behalf of violent criminals often draws Henley’s ire, and Lydia is sick of constantly projecting a nice, polite image to people who seem to actively hate her. Meanwhile, Bristal chafes at Henley’s assumptions about girls in her family (that they’re usually pregnant before graduation, and that they never marry their children’s fathers). Together, Lydia and Bristal form an excellent team, with Bristal bringing necessary comic relief to Lydia’s seriousness.

Author Mindy McGinnis often explores feminist themes in her fiction, and here she explores the societal expectations faced by young women in small-town America. As Lydia exposes Henley’s underbelly, she is constantly reminded not to ruffle any feathers and not to portray anyone too negatively. Henley’s hermetic hold means that most of its residents can trace their lineage back to the town’s founders. No one moves away; instead, generations upon generations live within Henley’s boundaries and hide its secrets, perpetuating a cycle of protecting one’s own at the expense of outsiders.

Despite the serious subjects at its core, A Long Stretch of Bad Days uses humor and poignant emotion to build a well-crafted murder mystery that is hard to put down and even harder to forget.

A Long Stretch of Bad Days reads like a clever buddy-cop mystery, but the buddy cops are a pair of determined teen girls with something to prove.

Sixteen-year-old Winifred Blight lives in a small house near the gates of one of the oldest cemeteries in Toronto with her father, who runs the crematory. For as long as Winifred can remember, her father has been in mourning for her mother, who died giving birth to her. Winifred, too, has been shaped by this absence, as she knows her mother only through the now-vintage clothes and records left behind. 

Desperate to assuage her father’s grief and form her own deeper connection with her mother, Winifred goes to her favorite part of the cemetery one day and calls out to her mother’s spirit—but she summons the ghost of a teenage girl named Phil instead. Soon, Winifred no longer aches with loneliness, nor does she care that her best (and only) friend doesn’t reciprocate her romantic feelings. But Winifred and Phil’s intimate connection is threatened when a ghost tour company wants to exploit the cemetery and Winifred’s con-artist cousin risks exposing Phil’s existence. To protect Phil, Winifred will have to sacrifice the only home she’s ever known.

Acclaimed author Cherie Dimaline’s Funeral Songs for Dying Girls is a lyrical coming-of-age ghost story that’s more interested in capturing emotion than explaining the nuts and bolts of its supernatural elements. Phil is a specter who appears when Winifred thinks of her, but her body is, at times, corporeal; in one scene, Winifred braids Phil’s long hair. The novel instead focuses on how the bond between the girls lessens the grief that roots them both in place as Phil slowly reveals to Winifred what happened in the months leading up to her death.

Dimaline is a registered member of the Métis Nation of Ontario, and Winifred and Phil’s Indigenous identities play crucial roles in the novel. Winifred’s mother and great aunt Roberta were Métis, and Winifred infers that Phil is Ojibwe. The stories Phil tells about her life as a queer Indigenous girl growing up in the 1980s are often harrowing, as she recounts moving from the reservation to the city to escape a miserable situation at school only to find herself in even worse circumstances that ultimately lead to tragedy.

Wrenching and poignant, Funeral Songs for Dying Girls is a haunting tale about what it means to search for home—not the place, but the feeling you carry with you.

This lyrical ghost story portrays how a bond between two girls—one living, one not—transforms the grief that roots them both in place.

Seventeen-year-old Honor Lo and her tightknit family are reality show celebrities, but life in the spotlight has taken its toll. Their show, “Lo and Behold,” is no longer on the air, so Honor’s parents and older siblings make their money from endorsements, brand sponsorships and book deals. To maintain that cash flow, they must present an image of togetherness and likability, which becomes nearly impossible after Honor’s parents announce their separation. The family becomes the subject of criticism in online forums and gossip magazines, and Honor even cuts off ties with her two best friends because she thinks one of them sold her out to People magazine. 

Honor doesn’t want anything to do with a public persona; the pressure of fame has even led to panic attacks. She’d rather make art—miniature clay food—and spend time with her family, even as divided as it is. She meets a boy at school, Caden, who is experiencing his own family dysfunction, but his personal struggles leave her feeling insecure. And just when things are at their worst, the family receives devastating news that alters their whole trajectory. 

Kelly Loy Gilbert’s fourth novel is an incredible exploration of celebrity obsession, consumerism and the way even “wholesome” reality TV can exploit children, all told through the story of a loving family that has lost its way. Honor’s mother pushes her kids to maintain their brand and “control [their] narrative,” while her dad constantly speaks like he’s giving a TED Talk. Though some people may deem the Los’ pursuit of fame exploitative, Honor’s parents view their success as an embodiment of the American dream, particularly since Honor’s Chinese ancestors worked tirelessly so their descendants could thrive. 

The members of the Lo family feel like real people whom Gilbert has simply observed and described, even as she goes deeper and questions their culpability. For example, how much privacy are they entitled to if they put their entire lives online? Complete with realistic dialogue and achingly wrought emotion, Everyone Wants to Know is a thought-provoking novel about empathy, individuality and toxicity that reminds readers of social media’s power to distort reality, and that behind the accounts are real people whose real stories you know nothing about. 

Kelly Loy Gilbert’s fourth novel is an incredible exploration of celebrity obsession and consumerism, told through the story of a family that has lost its way.

Author Holly Black returns to the world of Faerie with this highly anticipated spinoff from her bestselling Folk of the Air trilogy. The Stolen Heir follows Wren, the exiled queen of the Court of Teeth, and Prince Oak, the heir to Elfhame and Wren’s former betrothed.

Wren grew up a changeling, a faerie left in the care of a mortal family when she was just a toddler. She spent a blissful childhood among humans until her vicious faerie parents, Lord Jarel and Lady Nore, stole her away to the Ice Needle Citadel in the Court of Teeth. There, she endured years of humiliation and abuse before finally making her escape. She’s lived in isolation in the woods ever since, hiding from humans and faeries alike. 

A charismatic and beguiling young man, Oak has spent much of his adolescence in the cutthroat Faerie court learning to combat the many assassination attempts on his life. While his sister, Jude, and her husband (the central couple of Black’s previous trilogy) rule Elfhame, Oak has been trying to put a stop to Lady Nore’s growing power and the threat it poses. He has hatched a dangerous plan that involves infiltrating the Court of Teeth. To carry it out successfully, however, he needs Wren’s insider knowledge of the citadel. 

Wren crosses paths with Oak when he rescues her from a kidnapping attempt, then conscripts her into joining his plans. The Court of Teeth—her former prison—is the last place Wren wants to return to, but if she’s ever going to stop living on the run, she must confront her past and embrace her power, no matter how monstrous it makes her feel. 

Black centers The Stolen Heir, the first book in a planned duology, on the scars of childhood trauma. Wren is the rightful claimant to a throne she is too frightened to command. Although she longs to return to her human family, her pale blue skin and sharply pointed teeth are constant reminders that she can never rejoin the mortal world. Oak’s unworldly allure—his golden curls and amber, foxlike eyes—makes her doubt the sincerity of his affection. As in all of Black’s books about the world of Faerie, beauty and cruelty exist side by side, and neither is ever completely what it seems.

Readers awaiting cameos from Jude and Cardan may feel slightly disappointed that Black keeps them in the background here. The Stolen Heir belongs wholly to Wren and Oak, but their story is just as satisfying as readers could hope for, deliciously wrought with mistrust and longing. Meanwhile, newcomers to Black’s Faerie books will be enticed to gobble up everything she has ever penned.  

This highly anticipated spinoff to Holly Black’s bestselling Folk of the Air trilogy offers a tale deliciously wrought with mistrust and longing.

Two years after his mother dies of breast cancer, high school junior and amateur photographer Jamison Deever decides to channel his grief into a photography project. At a street corner he could see from his mother’s hospital window, Jamison photographs whoever happens to show up at 9:09 p.m., the exact time at which his mother died. 

Initially, Jamison simply wants to honor his mother’s memory, but when he creates a website and begins uploading his work online, the photos garner attention, both local and national. A popular girl named Kennedy exploits Jamison’s talent in the hope of kickstarting a modeling career, while another girl named Assi, who is dealing with her own loss, butts heads with Jamison in English class. Friendship—and then something more—grows between them. As Jamison’s photography inspires others to embark on their own 9:09 projects, he begins to understand the transformational power of expressing his grief. 

As author Mark H. Parsons was drafting The 9:09 Project, his mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and she died before the book was published. Through Jamison, Parsons offers a strikingly honest and moving depiction of loss, grief and healing. As the novel opens, Jamison is adrift, struggling with the reality that life after the death of a loved one doesn’t come with a road map. Instead, he must find his own path, apart from but alongside his supportive sister, father and friends. 

Parsons’ first-person narration is spare and never weighed down by heavy descriptions, focusing instead on Jamison’s thoughts from moment to moment. This strong internality adds to the novel’s appeal as Jamison undertakes a journey through grief, which, sooner or later, every reader must also experience. Not every teen who has suffered a loss will be ready for the raw emotions Parsons captures here, but when they are, the novel’s honesty will likely be a comfort.

In The 9:09 Project, author Mark H. Parsons draws on personal experience to craft a strikingly honest depiction of loss, grief and healing.

Kit Sutherland is a new codebreaker, hired by the United States government to decipher Japanese codes during the height of World War II. Unbeknownst to her colleagues, Kit is also an imposter. She had been working as a lady’s maid to a fragile student at Arlington Hall, a prestigious Virginia boarding school. Just before her employer died, she made Kit promise to assume her identity: “Say you’ll live, even when I can’t.” 

Contributing to the war effort at Arlington Hall, which has been purchased by the U.S. Department of War, gives Kit a chance to make a difference. For the first time in her life, she makes friends, saves lives and controls her own destiny—until she and her friends stumble upon a gruesome crime scene. Another girl who works at Arlington Hall has been viciously murdered, and she isn’t the perpetrator’s first victim. The police ignore obvious clues and connections, so Kit and her friends set out to solve the crimes using their codebreaking skills, even though doing so means putting themselves directly in the murderer’s path. 

Australian author Ellie Marney’s The Killing Code is an engaging historical mystery with a vibrant cast of characters, including Moya, Kit’s glamorous supervisor and romantic interest; Dottie, Kit’s loyal roommate; and Violet, a Black codebreaker from the segregated unit whose friend was one of the killer’s first victims. Together they form a fearsome team as they utilize their codebreaking expertise to develop a profile of the murderer. Scenes that depict how Kit and her fellow codebreakers intercept and decipher Japanese ciphers are as fascinating as the investigation itself and are likely to send readers to the resources mentioned in Marney’s author’s note, which also includes two codes for such readers to try their hand at cracking. 

Marney (None Shall Sleep) knows how to pen suspense. Although seasoned mystery fans will likely guess the perpetrator long before the reveal, Marney ratchets up the tension by focusing on how Kit and her friends systematically take down the murderer, ending with a nail-biting showdown. Teens are sure to recommend this book to their friends; they might even do so in code.

A WWII codebreaker sets out to solve a series of gruesome murders by using her codebreaking skills in this engaging historical mystery.

High school senior Brynn Gallagher has recently moved from Chicago back to her Massachusetts hometown, a welcome if difficult change. After a scandal in Chicago got her kicked off the student newspaper, Brynn is now starting over at her old private school, Saint Ambrose.

In an attempt to repair her reputation and impress college admissions officers, Brynn lands a coveted internship at “Motive,” a buzzy true crime TV show. Her first assignment is digging into the four-year-old unsolved murder of William Larkin, a Saint Ambrose English teacher whose body was discovered in the woods by three students.

One of those students is Brynn’s former best friend, Tripp Talbot, who ended their friendship in humiliating fashion. As the anniversary of Mr. Larkin’s death approaches, Tripp is still haunted by the lies he told, and he’s drinking more than ever.

The danger mounts when secrets from Mr. Larkin’s past collide with Brynn’s investigation. Brynn and Tripp are surrounded by suspects, including their own family members, and it begins to look like everyone at Saint Ambrose has a motive for murder.

Nothing More to Tell is another suspenseful page turner from bestselling author Karen M. McManus. In her signature style, McManus (One of Us Is Lying) never gives readers a moment to relax, drawing out suspects and secrets in rapid succession. As the clues build momentum, so will readers’ desire to plow through the novel to see how it all ties together.

However, the most compelling element of McManus’ storytelling is neither the crime nor the victim but the trauma of the survivors left behind. As Tripp drinks to numb his pain, Brynn makes sacrifices to help him, stoking both romance and healing between them. The novel’s well-rounded cast of supporting characters includes Brynn’s feisty genius of a sister; her uncle, who has a troubled Saint Ambrose connection of his own; and Regina, who owns the bakery where Tripp works and is a supportive breath of fresh air.

Brimming with twists and turns, Nothing More to Tell is a fine addition to the genre that McManus helped popularize.

The most compelling element of bestselling author Karen M. McManus’ latest thrill ride is neither the crime nor the victim but the survivors left behind.

Zarela Zalvidar is practically royalty in Santivilla, the capital city of Hispalia. Her mother was a celebrated flamenco dancer before she was killed by dragon fire, and her father is a respected Dragonador whose family has owned and run La Giralda, a dragon-fighting arena, for more than five centuries. After some dragons escape during a show at the arena, killing many spectators and gravely wounding Zarela’s father, she must find a way to save La Giralda from financial ruin and unmask a traitor who is sabotaging her family’s business.

In order to lure back La Giralda’s audience, Zarela must enter the ring herself, but she’ll need a trainer if she’s to leave the ring with her life. Arturo, a handsome former Dragonador turned trainer who scorns the Zalvidar family and their dragon-fighting legacy, seems like the perfect choice—if only Zarela can convince him to help. With only one chance to secure her family’s future, Zarela will do anything and risk everything to succeed.

Headstrong, resourceful and tenacious, Zarela is eager to emerge from the shadow of her mother’s fame. Arturo is a worthy foil who challenges Zarela to rethink her long-held beliefs regarding dragon fighting. He’s also one of only a few people in Zarela’s life who doesn’t underestimate her, and their crackling chemistry will please fans of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

In Together We Burn, author Isabel Ibañez (Woven in Moonlight) grounds her fantasy world in the culture of medieval Spain, including its food, art and language. Her depiction of the divisions between characters who believe that dragon-fighting is cruel versus those who defend it as a cultural tradition mirrors present-day debates in countries that practice bullfighting.

Packed with high stakes, a well-executed mystery and an appealingly swoony romance, Together We Burn has something to entertain a wide range of genre fiction fans.

In this medieval Spain-inspired fantasy tale, Zarela will do anything to save her family's dragon-fighting arena—even if it means entering the ring herself.

Best friends Evelyn and Mina were 10 years old when they summoned a spirit to do their bidding. They wanted to clear Evelyn’s father of suspicion in the mysterious drowning deaths of three Long Island teenagers known as the Cliffside Trio. Six years later, the girls are still paying the price: Mina has a painful scar on her wrist in the shape of a sand dollar, and Evelyn’s family has collapsed. Even the girls’ friendship couldn’t survive the fallout. 

When Evelyn gets caught in an academic cheating scandal, she summons another spirit to salvage her college prospects, but the consequences are even more disastrous. The only person who can help Evelyn out of her supernatural mess is Mina, but it won’t be easy. The malevolent spirit not only haunts the girls but also draws power from tormenting the souls of the Cliffside Trio. Evelyn and Mina’s attempts to investigate and banish the spirit reveal secrets and cover-ups, not to mention a budding romance. It’s soon clear that they’ll have to risk everything to discover the truth.

In The Drowning Summer, Christine Lynn Herman’s elaborate ghost mythos departs significantly from typical haunted house narratives. The souls of the novel’s dead dwell in the ocean, where they can be called upon by the living to vanquish problems, as Evelyn and Mina did when they were children. Readers who enjoy detailed world building will find their appetites thoroughly satisfied by Herman’s creative framework.

In addition to a compelling ghost story, however, The Drowning Summer is a deft exploration of both girls’ grounded, authentic family dynamics. In a well-intended but misguided attempt to protect Mina from danger, Mina’s mother unintentionally puts her daughter in harm’s way. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s older sister, who is still reeling from their parents’ divorce and their mother’s abandonment, causes additional hurt to their suffering father.

Herman struggles at times to craft a mystery as absorbing as her story’s supernatural and interpersonal elements. For instance, the novel establishes that Evelyn’s father had the means to commit the Cliffside Trio murders, but never indicates what his motive would have been. Most mystery enthusiasts will nonetheless find the compounding clues and the novel’s resolution fulfilling.

Fans of Shea Ernshaw, Kerri Maniscalco or the CW’s “Nancy Drew” will love The Drowning Summer’s blend of supernatural thrills, cold-case mystery and sweet romance. It’s an empowering tale about working through family trauma and rising above expectations.

Christine Lynn Herman’s The Drowning Summer blends supernatural thrills, a cold-case mystery and sweet romance for a haunting tale perfect for fans of the CW’s “Nancy Drew.”

Rafael “Flaco” Herrera and his buddies, Magaña and Tiny, live in an impoverished Houston neighborhood where their choices for the future are limited. They can decide between working low-paying jobs or joining the military and possibly winding up dead, like Flaco’s cousin Carlos.

So when the boys have an opportunity to buy and fix up a rare 1959 Chevy Impala that Magaña’s godfather is storing in a barn in a south Texas town called Diamond Park, they jump at the chance. They plan to restore the car to its former glory and sell it for cash. Tagging along on the trip is Susi Taylor, a neighborhood girl Flaco has a serious crush on.

What starts as a youthful adventure quickly becomes a nightmare when a man is murdered and Susi is arrested for the crime. Feeling responsible, the boys embark on a journey into Mexico to clear Susi’s name. Their quest puts their lives and their families in jeopardy, but also transforms them into the men they have always hoped to become.

Author Phillippe Diederich, the son of Haitian exiles who grew up in Mexico City, has penned a poignant and powerful story about a compelling group of Mexican American teens. Flaco knows his mother wants more for him than the meager living she makes. He wants to become an artist, but she’s pushing him to study medicine or law. Magaña, whose father is in prison, worries that his only option will be to work at the local AutoZone. And despite his stellar grades, Tiny can’t apply to college because his parents entered the country without documentation when he was a child. Instead, he lives in fear of being discovered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported. Through their stories, Diederich offers a moving depiction of the injustice, poverty and trauma that many new Americans experience every day.

In Mexico, Flaco begins to find his way to hope when he reflects on how his life would have been different if his mother hadn’t come to the U.S. “It’s weird how one decision made by one person changes everything for everyone who comes later,” he thinks. There’s hope, too, when tough-talking Magaña has an epiphany of his own. “We need to shoot for more than what they expect from us,” he tells Flaco.

Tense, raw and gorgeously written, Diamond Park will resonate with any reader who, in a world filled with ample reason for pessimism, strives instead for optimism.

Tense, raw and gorgeously written, Diamond Park follows an adventure that becomes a nightmare when Flaco’s friend is falsely accused of murder.

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