Sarah Welch

When German-born Eva Gerst arrives at Powell House in New York in the wake of the Second World War, she’s on a mission—but not the mission the United States government thinks they’ve enlisted her for. Yes, she’s searching for the Nazi leader they’ve asked her to find, but she has no intention of turning him over to them as instructed. She knows they’ll only protect him. Worse, they’ll allow him to continue his grotesque psychological experiments, like the ones he conducted on the people imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in the interest of staying one step ahead of the Soviets. No, Eva is determined to bring this Nazi to justice herself.

In Bluebird, author Sharon Cameron (The Light in Hidden Places) dives deep into the dark, little-recognized period immediately following WWII, when the U.S. raced to secure German technology, including Nazi expertise, equipment and strategy, both for its personal use and to keep it out of Soviet hands. The depth of Cameron’s research on this historical era results in a completely immersive novel. Readers will find themselves dropped directly into postwar Germany and New York City alongside Eva as she witnesses the atrocities of the concentration camps and the racist attitudes of both Germans and Americans. They’ll also find beacons of hope among the American Friends Service Committee, which welcomes Eva to Powell House when she first arrives in America. The AFSC, writes Cameron in a lengthy author’s note, was a real organization that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for its efforts during both world wars and was “one of the few organizations willing to work immediately with non-Jewish German immigrants” after WWII.

Cameron pulls no punches in Bluebird. Although the novel is rarely graphic and never gratuitous, many of Eva’s experiences, including her physically and psychologically abusive parents and the aftermath of her best friend’s sexual assault, resonate viscerally. Despite the novel’s weighty material, Cameron never loses sight of the heart at the center of the story. Eva’s loyalty to her best friend, her struggle to understand her identity and her budding romance with Jacob Katz, whom the AFSC has assigned to help her settle into her new life in America, all keep Bluebird grounded, providing touchstones of warmth amid the horrors of Eva’s past. And when it comes to the impossible decisions Eva must make, Cameron ensures that readers will be searching for the “right” choice right along with her.

In Bluebird, author Sharon Cameron (The Light in Hidden Places) dives deep into the dark, little-recognized period immediately following WWII, when the U.S. raced to secure German technology, including Nazi expertise, equipment and strategy, both for its personal use and to keep it out of Soviet hands.

Finch Kelly feels most at home on the debate stage, and he knows winning the national debate championship could be his ticket to achieving his dreams: admission to Georgetown University and the first step toward becoming the first transgender member of Congress. But his family’s finances are falling apart, his feelings for his debate partner, Jonah, are growing more and more complicated and the topic for the championship debate will require him to argue against his own human rights. As the pressure mounts, Finch begins to lose confidence in everything he once believed.

In this sharp and emotional first novel, author Peyton Thomas explores the queer high school experience through Finch, who longs to look more like the teenage boy he is and whose feelings for Jonah are causing him to question his sexual orientation. The novel also confronts racism through Jonah’s experience as a Filipino American who deals with microaggressions from debate judges and his gorgeous, Juilliard-bound boyfriend. Add in the socioeconomic woes that are never far from Finch’s thoughts, as his parents grapple with unemployment and his debate opponents' families write huge checks to prestigious colleges, and Both Sides Now is jampacked with timely issues.

Thomas doesn’t pull any punches on difficult topics and never once reduces his characters to objects of pity. Instead, he depicts teenagers who are working hard to find their places in a world that has thrown obstacle after obstacle in their paths. The novel balances serious political conversations and scenes of moving emotional hardship with moments of comedy and a spirit of true camaraderie and respect between Finch and Jonah.

Teens who participate in their schools' debate or Model United Nations programs will especially appreciate the book’s detailed exploration of contemporary political issues, but Thomas’ witty prose, strong pacing and knack for creating vivid, dimensional characters have broad appeal.

Finch Kelly feels most at home on the debate stage, and he knows winning the national debate championship could be his ticket to achieving his dreams: admission to Georgetown University and the first step toward becoming the first transgender member of Congress.

In 1930s England, Bea’s parents are determined that she should become a proper lady, but she’d rather be studying insects. So when she mortifies her parents yet again (in a dinner scene that involves a discussion of the mating habits of glowworms, the local vicar and the word fecundity), they send her to Italy so her strict Uncle Leo can set her straight. 

Bea arrives to discover that her uncle’s fiancée, Filomena, has turned his once stuffy villa into an artists’ haven. Rather than polishing her manners, Bea will spend her summer studying art with Ben, an obnoxious though decidedly handsome painter. In an effort to keep Ben’s ego in check and to give Bea a taste of the romance she craves—in the interest of scientific inquiry, of course—friends dare Bea and Ben to start up a summer fling, but it soon becomes clear that they’re both in for far more than they bargained for.

Under a Dancing Star is an effervescent retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, in which author Laura Wood transplants Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick to an artists’ colony in Tuscany. There, young Bea is encouraged to explore her passions under the watchful but mischief-minded eyes of her new friends.

Wood’s second YA novel resurrects the dazzle that made her first, 2020’s A Sky Painted Gold, such a gem. Readers will be immersed in the electric heat of an Italian summer, surrounded by vibrant characters and inspired by their free-flowing conversations and progressive ideals. 

Although Wood treats the political tensions in Italy on the eve of World War II seriously, the novel’s primary focus is Bea’s personal journey. In the beginning, she’s a witty and intelligent girl who’s unhappy with the status quo but uncertain how to define her ambitions. Over the course of her transformative summer, it’s heartening to see Bea’s evolution into a self-assured young woman who is determined to chart her own course. And if readers fall just a little bit in love with Ben in the meantime, well, who could blame them?

Under a Dancing Star is an effervescent retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, in which author Laura Wood transplants Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick to an artists’ colony in Tuscany.

Evie used to believe in love. She has bookshelves full of romance novels to prove it. But she’s recently realized just how naive she’s been. After all, her father’s affair and her parents’ subsequent divorce are irrefutable evidence that, in real life, love stories always end in heartbreak. 

When Evie tries to get rid of her romance novel collection, a strange encounter leaves her with two things: the address for the La Brea Dance Studio and unnerving visions of exactly how other couples’ love stories will end. As Evie tries to discover the source of her visions, she makes her way to the dance studio, where she finds herself entering a ballroom dance competition with a boy named X. Despite her best efforts and better judgment, Evie begins to fall for X, and her growing feelings for him prompt her to wonder whether love is such a terrible idea after all.

Nicola Yoon’s Instructions for Dancing will break readers’ hearts and put them back together again several times. Evie and X are both healing from their own tragedies while also balancing family expectations with their personal needs and desires. Teen readers will relate to the authentic and sometimes messy way they navigate these journeys. 

Excellently developed secondary characters add richness and depth to Evie’s experiences as she tries to reconcile her cynicism with her undeniable feelings for X—all while dealing with the new configuration of her family and her unwelcome visions of heartbreak. Evie’s “best friend forever,” Martin, encourages her to work out what’s causing her visions even as he struggles to work up the courage to ask out Evie’s sister, Danica. Meanwhile, Cassidy and Sophie (Evie’s “other best friend forever” and her “other other best friend forever”) navigate their new romantic relationship with each other. Both romances fuel Evie’s cynicism but remind her how happy relationships can be. Evie’s parents do their best to protect their daughters from the fallout of their divorce, making it clear that adults don’t always get it right, even when they have the best intentions.

Yoon delivers this captivating story of first love with beautiful prose, clever dialogue that swings between laugh-out-loud funny and wildly insightful, clear respect for the complexity and nuance of her teen characters’ perspectives and emotions—and just enough magic to make it all truly unforgettable.

When Evie tries to get rid of her romance novel collection, a strange encounter leaves her with two things: the address for the La Brea Dance Studio and unnerving visions of exactly how other couples’ love stories will end.

Kate and Andy have always loved having crushes on the same boys. After all, what could be more fun than spending time with your best friend dissecting every glance, word and text message for hidden signs of reciprocation from the object of your mutual affection? But when their summer theater camp crush, Matt, shows up at their school on the first day of junior year, their lighthearted attraction to him suddenly becomes a little too real. As Kate navigates her feelings for Matt—not to mention the stress of the fall musical—she wonders if her friendship with Andy can withstand first love.

Though Kate’s and Andy’s competing crushes on Matt take center stage for much of the book, Kate in Waiting celebrates love in all its forms, including friendship, family, unrequited attractions and new romances. Kate’s BFF-ship with Andy is fierce, flawed and extremely relatable, as is her sibling dynamic with her older brother, Ryan, and her budding flirtation with Ryan’s best friend, Noah.

Becky Albertalli creates a colorful, true-to-life cast of supporting characters, from “the squad” of Kate’s theater friends to their jock antagonists, “the f-boys.” Although these tropes can be found in any teen movie, Albertalli makes them entirely her own, transforming theater kids and jocks alike into fully developed characters who blur the lines between their cliques.

Fans of Albertalli’s Creekwood novels (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, et al.) will feel right at home with Kate in Waiting, which encapsulates all the joys and anxieties of the high school experience, with special attention paid to the strange and wonderful electricity of the theater. The result will make both loyal Albertalli fans and newcomers alike give Kate in Waiting a standing ovation.

Kate and Andy have always loved having crushes on the same boys. After all, what could be more fun than spending time with your best friend dissecting every glance, word and text message for hidden signs of reciprocation from the object of your mutual affection?

For as long as she can remember, Penelope Prado has felt at home at her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos, where she cooks love into food that brings her community together. Pen wants to open a pastelería alongside the restaurant, but her parents don’t approve, so she’s torn between following her dream and disappointing them, or following their dreams and giving up on her own.

Xander Amaro, the restaurant’s new hire, has never really felt at home anywhere. Originally from Mexico, he’s spent the last 10 years living with his grandfather in the U.S. without legal documentation, always looking over his shoulder, always feeling he doesn’t quite belong. If only he could track down his biological father, Xander thinks, he might finally feel comfortable in his own life. 

When a dangerous loan shark threatens the community, Pen and Xander must work together with their families—the ones they were born into and the ones they’ve made—to save the restaurant. Along the way, they discover exactly where they’re meant to be.

Laekan Zea Kemp’s debut YA novel, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet, is fueled by vivid imagery and evocative descriptions, from the chaos of the kitchen on a busy night to the smells of the restaurant that linger in Pen’s hair after each shift. Chapters alternate between Pen’s and Xander’s first-person perspectives as Kemp explores their nuanced personalities and never shies away from their dark places, including Pen’s depression and Xander’s anxiety about his immigration status. Kemp develops these aspects of her protagonists with respect, making them parts of their whole, complex selves. 

Pen explains to Xander that Nacho’s Tacos employees are a family, and this perfectly describes the cast of characters Kemp has assembled. Though the book’s villain, El Martillo, feels a bit underdeveloped, the other supporting characters are as complex and well-crafted as the protagonists. This is a powerful, heartwarming story of family, first love and resilience.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Laekan Zea Kemp reflects on the role that hunger has played in her own life as well as in her first book.

For as long as she can remember, Penelope Prado has felt at home at her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos, where she cooks love into food that brings her community together. Pen wants to open a pastelería alongside the restaurant, but her parents don’t approve, so she’s torn between following her dream and disappointing them, or following their dreams and giving up on her own.

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