Two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Marla Frazee’s love for both her art and life itself shine from each page of this gentle, luminous treasure of a book.
Two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Marla Frazee’s love for both her art and life itself shine from each page of this gentle, luminous treasure of a book.
Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell packs entertaining textual and visual details into Evergreen, an epic home-and-back-again adventure about facing your fears.
Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell packs entertaining textual and visual details into Evergreen, an epic home-and-back-again adventure about facing your fears.

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For their entire lives, Penny and Tate have orbited each other reluctantly. Since before Penny and Tate were born, their moms, Lottie and Anna, have been attached at the hip, and this permanent package deal means constant, unwanted proximity for the two daughters. See, Penny and Tate are not friends. They’re also not not friends. They just . . . can’t seem to stop almost kissing at extremely inopportune moments. 

But Tate lives with the ever-present threat that her mom’s illness, a genetic condition that impacts Anna’s lungs and liver, will spiral out of control, while Penny lives in the aftermath of a horrific rafting accident that took her father’s life. Penny’s mom, Lottie, has been distant and cold in the two years since the accident, and Penny tries to tiptoe around her while working through her own grief and guilt.

So when Lottie decides to become a living liver donor for Anna and combine their two households to save money while they recover, it’s a shock to the fragile ecosystem that Penny has so carefully constructed. There’s no way she and Tate can survive an entire summer in the same house without exploding, so they decide to call a truce. Its terms include no fighting, no snitching, equitable division of labor and no stressing out their moms. Unfortunately for Penny and Tate, some things between them just can’t stay buried forever, truce or not.

6 Times We Almost Kissed (and One Time We Did) may sound like the title of a sweet, comedy-of-errors rom-com, but Tess Sharpe’s novel is not so fluffy. Although inspired by the “five things” fan-fiction story concept, the book playfully subverts reader expectations by being about much more than six near kisses. Penny and Tate’s story is rich with the complexity of friendship and family and the messiness of grief. Their relationship leans heavily into a number of classic rom-com tropes, including “only one bed,” roommates and height differences. Both girls are well-drawn, grounded characters, and their internal struggles feel emotional and realistic.

One of the novel’s strongest subplots is the arc of Penny’s relationship with her mom. Sharpe never suggests that a relationship as fraught as theirs can be easily fixed with apologies or in a single conversation. Indeed, she acknowledges that such a relationship might not be possible to repair. Teen readers with difficult parental situations of their own will feel validated by the nuance Sharpe brings to this portrayal.

Sharpe untangles the knotted web of her novel with exacting balance and grace while never compromising the love story at its core. This swoony, Sapphic story is sure to please readers who like their romance with a side of emotional devastation.

This love story between two girls who can’t seem to stop almost kissing at inopportune moments is rich with friendship, family and the messiness of grief.
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Three teenagers fight back against sinister supernatural forces in their New England town in Rochelle Hassan’s debut YA novel, The Buried and the Bound, the first volume of a planned trilogy. 

The world’s witches are born with specific gifts, and Lebanese American hedgewitch Aziza El-Amin’s gift—and responsibility—is maintaining boundaries, particularly magical ones. Her hometown of Blackthorn, Massachusetts, contains numerous borders between the real world and the magical realm of Elphame, so Aziza regularly patrols the city, closing any gaps and ensuring visitors from Elphame don’t harm the humans of Blackthorn. 

While on patrol, Aziza arrives on the scene of a shocking magical attack, where she meets Leo, who has been searching for a way to break the curse placed on his family. Meanwhile, a lonely teen named Tristan grows desperate to escape his contract with a cruel, powerful hag, but he can’t seem to find a way out that doesn’t endanger his loved ones. The weakening boundary between Blackthorn and Elphame brings Aziza, Leo and Tristan together to solve these problems and more. Accustomed to her solitary patrols, Aziza is slow to trust but grudgingly admits that Leo and even eventually Tristan make her job as Blackthorn’s hedgewitch easier and less isolating.

In this story of friendship and family, classic folkloric creatures such as kelpies, hags and the Fair Folk collide with the mundanities of contemporary high school life, with a strong helping of romantic melodrama on the side. Dead parents, lost loves and desperate acts drive the plot and add a touch of gothic flair. The theme of generational trauma is skillfully woven throughout, as family secrets, shames and losses lurk in each protagonist’s past. Hassan imbues Aziza, Leo and Tristan with such rich personalities and backstories that the novel would feel crowded as a standalone tale. Knowing that each of their stories will unfold over a trilogy makes this first book’s unresolved narrative threads easier to accept.

As she brings a Lebanese immigrant family into the heart of a witches-in-New England tale, Hassan deftly highlights magic’s global presence. Although Aziza’s magical specialty is maintaining borders, her sprawling world of magic illustrates the rewards that await readers when fantasy reaches beyond white, Eurocentric inspirations and characters. Imaginative and urgently paced, The Buried and the Bound will be enjoyed by fans of Holly Black, S. Jae-Jones and Alix E. Harrow.

Classic folkloric creatures collide with the mundanities of contemporary high school life in this imaginative and urgently paced fantasy novel.
Review by

Jab. Duck-bap-bap. Jab. Duck-bap-bap. Duckbapbap. Duckbapbap. Find your rhythm. Feel your fists against the pads. Know where your next move is and who’s on your side. In Torrey Maldonado’s Hands, getting stronger, faster and tougher is all that 12-year-old Trevor cares about. 

As the book opens, Trevor’s life has been turned upside down. His stepdad has been arrested for hitting his mom and has threatened revenge against her for calling the police. In that moment, Trevor promised himself that no one will ever hit his mom ever again. 

It doesn’t matter that grown-ups keep telling him that he shows promise—academic promise, artistic promise, athletic promise—or that his dad and uncles wanted him to stay in school so he could get out of the projects. What matters to Trevor is that he has to protect his mom and sisters, and sometimes, he thinks, you just have to solve things with your hands.

Trevor throws himself into getting stronger and learning to fight, first on his own and later with his friend P, who moves into Trevor’s building. But when the trainer at the rec center refuses to help with training because he promised Trevor’s Uncle Lou that he would help Trevor “not to think with his fists,” Trevor begins to wonder whether fighting will solve his problems or just make new ones.

Hands is a compact, fast-paced novel narrated in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness style. Maldonado uses short, staccato sentences like feinted boxing jabs to draw readers in, then rocks them with explosive uppercuts of words and emotions, knocking them into unsteadiness and leaving them uncertain how the next round will go. Trevor’s journey through fear, anger and abandonment toward finding support and true strength is authentic and hopeful.

At just 128 pages, Hands is Maldonado’s shortest work. Although its length makes it approachable for older but less adept readers, the book never sacrifices linguistic or narrative complexity. Readers who enjoy realistic, slice-of-life fiction will be quickly engaged by Trevor’s story, and Maldonado will keep them hooked through all 10 rounds.

This fast-paced novel uses staccato sentences like feinted boxing jabs to draw readers in, then rocks them with explosive uppercuts of words and emotions.

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.

This book was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

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.
Behind the Book by

When Sandro and Bash connect at a party before the beginning of their senior year of high school, they’re surprised by an honest, genuine friendship that grows into something deeper. The Long Run is a frank, funny and beautifully written story about two South Jersey boys finding happiness and hope in the unlikeliest of places: each other. In this original essay, author James Acker reflects on the personal experiences that did—and didn’t—inspire his first book.

I’m 10 and I’m freezing. I’m sitting on top of the rotted wooden playhouse in the biggest tree in Gavin’s backyard. He’s already jumped and the rope’s been returned to me and he’s screaming: Jump! Jump! I jumped, you jump! That was the rule! And I know I’ll be fine because Gavin is fine but he’s always been luckier than me. Jump! Jump! You’ll regret it if you don’t! But I know I won’t jump because I know other ways down. I’ve got something to prove, but it’s not worth the broken ankle. Jump! Don’t you wanna say you did?

I’m 13 and I’m freezing. I’m wandering around an abandoned house on Main Street with boys I won’t be friends with much longer. The house is old and no one’s lived there for years and it was easy enough to break into. I know we shouldn’t be there, but something keeps me wandering. Jump! Jump! You’ll regret it if you don’t! RJ finds a kid’s growth chart inside the closet of what must’ve been a child’s bedroom. It’s in crayon and faded and she only grew to 4 and a half feet. I decide it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen and RJ puts his foot through it. The boys tear the house apart, and today, I am one of the boys. I want to destroy. Jump! Jump! I want the story. Don’t you wanna say you did?

I’m 16 and I’m freezing. I’m in my driveway at 3 in the morning, throwing out bedsheets because my wrestling diet has gotten away from me again. I remind myself that shame is part of growing up. I remind myself that all of this will be useful to me one day. I remind myself that new bedsheets will cost more than new laxatives, and I remind myself that Steph from bio said I was looking real sexy lately. Jump! And if I keep looking sexy and I keep making weight, maybe I’ll start making better memories. I’ll finally start enjoying myself. My high school experience. My childhood. Jump, James! If I leave with the right memories, I’ll have done my job. You’ll regret it if you don’t! If I leave with the right stories, this will all have been worth it. Don’t you wanna say you did?

It’s hard not to think that I’m only writing coming-of-age stories because I don’t like my own. My childhood felt like “Supermarket Sweep”: Fill your shopping cart with whatever you can find. Experience what you can while you can. You’ll sort through it all after time runs out. Jump. I’ve spent a lot of my 20s sorting out my shopping cart. My debut novel is dropping right before I turn 30, and I’ve begun to wonder if my stories are all that interesting. Did I receive store-brand trauma? Was there anything unique in all that crying? Should I have stopped my sweep and considered what I was grabbing before moving on to the next aisle?

“As an adult, I can look at my childhood with a warm, detached fondness. But if I could speak to myself at that age again, I would ask him to live in the moment. Not for the moment.”

The Long Run began as an attempt at capturing what my life felt like in high school. The desire to get this story out had been a long time coming, and I expected all the right anecdotes to present themselves in a polite single-file line. I’d spent a childhood collecting these memories. Where else were they supposed to go? The sweep was over. The buzzer had rung. Now was the time to prove that it had all been worth it. The stories meant something, so why was I staring at an empty page? Every idea for a chapter stayed a bullet point. None of my anecdotes would fill in their blanks. I had nothing.

So I wrote something else. I couldn’t write a memoir, so I wrote what could have happened. I used everything in my shopping cart, everyone I’d met and everything I did, and I wrote a different story. A familiar story. I filled my little New Jersey suburb with different boys in familiar houses. Different names with familiar struggles. I wrote about kids I wished I’d been friends with. Parties I wish I hadn’t skipped, meals I wish I’d eaten, conversations I wish I’d had. And if I couldn’t put myself on the page, I’d split that angry, crying boy into Sandro and Bash. Two parts of myself that never agreed. A lover and a fighter. An asshole and a crybaby. I wrote the love story I never got between two boys I always knew. If I couldn’t agree on my story, I could at least tell theirs.

As an adult, I can look at my childhood with a warm, detached fondness. But if I could speak to myself at that age again, I would ask him to live in the moment. Not for the moment. That kid did so much just for the story, just to say he’d done it, and today I’m left with shreds. Wonderful shreds, but incomplete stories. Sparks of a feeling, never the full picture. 

Writing The Long Run felt like filling in those blanks. Connecting the dots between those snapshots of childhood. A morning on a rooftop. A night in a driveway. Flashbulbs of memories, finally put down to paper. It felt like a lifetime of collection finally coming together. Even if some memories didn’t make the cut, those moments still mattered. They were still useful. Every story mattered. And I’ll spend the rest of my career as a writer trying to put them all together.

Read our starred review of James Acker’s ‘The Long Run.’

Author photo of James Acker courtesy of Bernadette Bridges.

This book was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

The debut author set out to write a memoir, but when his high school experiences refused to coalesce into prose, he had to find a new way to tell his story.
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Thanks to her mom’s successful career at a global consulting firm, 17-year-old Eliza Lin is used to starting over, but she’s tired of becoming “attached to people only to grow apart” when she inevitably moves again. So when she has to post a personal essay to a student-run blog at her new school in Beijing, she tries to fly under the radar with a piece about how she met her lovely but totally fictional boyfriend. 

To Eliza’s dismay, her essay goes viral overnight, landing her an internship offer from Craneswift, her favorite online publication—if she’ll keep writing about her relationship for them. Desperate to keep up the charade, Eliza forms a pact with her new neighbor and classmate Caz Song, who also happens to be a handsome up-and-coming actor. Together, they put on the performance of a lifetime. That is, until it starts to feel a little too real for Eliza.

In her second novel, author Ann Liang immerses readers in Eliza’s life, capturing facets of modern adolescence in a funny, clever and moving voice. Eliza wants to be a writer, and her narration is filled with thoughtful reflections on everyday teenage experiences. Though she tries to maintain emotional distance from her peers, she’s wonderfully open with the reader about her feelings of angst, confusion and even fear, making her a relatable character whose story resonates deeply. 

Eliza’s viral essay sets off big changes in her relationships and her worldview. Her fabricated romance with Caz is a highlight, but Liang also explores Eliza’s connections with her family, her long-distance best friend and her new boss at Craneswift. Many characters experience nuanced arcs of their own, such as Zoe, Eliza’s BFF, who seems to be pulling away from their friendship, and Emily, Eliza’s little sister, who might be less mature than she initially appears. Liang never neglects the important roles these relationships play in Eliza’s life in favor of romance.

Ultimately, This Time It’s Real satisfies because all of the parts of Eliza’s life—romance, vocation, friendship and more—are inextricable from her changing understandings of home, love and identity. Though romance is a key element in Eliza’s story, the novel’s true focus is on Eliza as she learns to embrace honesty and vulnerability and rises to the challenge of becoming a fuller, braver version of herself. 

Readers in search of a sweet romance with a meaningful coming-of-age story at its heart should look no further than This Time It’s Real.

Though romance is a key element in This Time It’s Real, the novel’s true focus is Eliza’s process of learning to embrace honesty and vulnerability and becoming a fuller, braver version of herself.
Review by

Published 20 years ago, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (3.5 hours) is a near-perfect horror story, pitting brave but misunderstood Coraline against a narcissistic monster in a battle for her soul. Sophisticated and profound, this treasure of a middle grade novel, beloved by readers of all ages, is now available in a new audiobook, performed by a full cast for the first time.

All 11 actors contribute to an excellent re-creation of Gaiman’s creepy world, but three standout performers deserve special mention. Julian Rhind-Tutt, whose voice is tailor-made for gothic novels, is excellent as the narrator, and Julian Clary, who clearly understands feline psychology, is totally convincing as a smug but surprisingly helpful cat. But it is teenage actor Pixie Davies’ portrayal of Coraline that gives this audiobook its power. Davies conveys all of Coraline’s complexity—her courage and loyalty, as well as her whininess and selfishness—with skill and confidence. As a result, this audiobook is delightful.

This audiobook was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

Coraline is sophisticated and profound, a treasure for readers of all ages and now available in a new audiobook, performed by a full cast for the first time.
Review by

When Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney died in late 2021, he left behind an inspiring legacy, including the illustrations for more than 100 published books. It turns out that he also left behind an unfinished memoir about his boyhood during the late 1940s and ’50s, when he grew up on an all-Black block on East Earlham Street in Philadelphia.

According to a note from Pinkney’s editor, Andrea Spooner, Pinkney had not yet completed the dozens of graphite drawings he had intended to incorporate into Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life when he died. But he had finished the text and created many preparatory sketches as well as specific instructions for the book’s design. Fortunately for readers, Pinkney’s publisher chose to move forward with publication, using the available materials to achieve Pinkney’s goal of creating a visually immersive effect while also giving the book a lively, improvisatory feel. As it so happens, using sketchbook pages to illustrate a memoir about a young person’s growing identity as a visual artist is particularly apt: The narrator, like the art, is a work in progress. 

Pinkney, who had five siblings, describes seizing any available area in his overstuffed childhood home for drawing, including a favorite spot under the piano. He recalls how visits to his New Jersey relatives inspired his lifelong love of nature, and how much he admired his father’s ability to build things with his hands. Pinkney also writes frankly about the obstacles in his path, including segregation at school and coping with a learning disability. (He was diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult.) 

The most powerful aspects of Pinkney’s story involve the adults who recognized his innate artistic talents and gave them space to flourish. An elementary school teacher appointed Pinkney “class artist” to alleviate his difficulties with reading, and the owner of the newsstand where Pinkney found his first job allowed him to sell his drawings along with newspapers and introduced him to his first artistic mentor. Even Pinkney’s father, who worried about his son’s ability to make a living as an artist, encouraged his talents by letting him draw on the walls of his bedroom. Just Jerry is a moving and vivid reminder that a life in art can be made possible through hard work and dedication, and by giving talented young people the tools and support they need to succeed.

Just Jerry is a moving and vivid reminder that young people can have successful lives in the arts if they receive the tools and support they need.
Interview by

When Theo’s promposal during the biggest house party of the year doesn’t go as planned, he escapes to an empty bedroom to regroup. Over the course of the evening, four more teens, each with their own troubles, join Theo in the mermaid-themed bedroom. What follows is a night of heartfelt conversation and more than one revelation as the five unlikely allies form a plan to confront their respective emotional hurdles. Joyful, funny and deeply felt, As You Walk on By is a story of friendship, love and standing up for the life you want.

Your publisher describes As You Walk on By as The Breakfast Club meets Can’t Hardly Wait, and the book itself references a number of other movies, including House Party. How have movies influenced you as a writer?
Movies have been a huge influence on my writing. Like I do with any great book, I find myself dissecting the movies I really love to discover why they make me feel the way I do. Why am I crying? Laughing? Why am I so invested in a protagonist or side character? There have been some great teen films over the years that have stuck with me, and I took this opportunity to pay homage to them while also giving queer, BIPOC characters their shine.

As You Walk on By opens as Theo is dared to prompose to his crush. Have you ever accepted any wild dares that you could share with us?
Unfortunately, I have accepted one too many dares in my life. One of the wildest was my senior year of high school. I was in Junior ROTC, and we were traveling by charter bus to Orlando, Florida. My best friend dared me to lick one of the windows. It was not the cleanest of buses, but as a queer teen, I think I was more afraid of sharing a truth about myself with my peers than ingesting the germs from a window. Not much has changed!

“Vulnerability is infectious. One moment of honesty from someone can unlock so much about yourself.”

The book features five central characters, but we experience the story from Theo’s point of view. Tell us about Theo and why this is his story.
Theo is a funny, loyal, determined 17-year-old who’s one dare away from learning that he’s also a complete mess. He has a tightknit friend group, a solid relationship with his father and big (romantic) dreams he’s scared to chase.

I wanted to show this messy, queer Black boy who makes awful decisions and is forced to come to terms with the toxicity he allows to exist in his relationships with people. I’d never written a character like Theo, but I wanted to.

While each character has a very important, meaningful storyline, Theo’s felt like the core of what I wanted to explore with this novel: growing, learning and owning our mistakes so we can become the people we want to be.

The alliance that forms between the five teens hiding in the same bedroom becomes central to their growth as characters. Have you ever found support or encouragement from an unexpected source?
Yes. As a queer Black person, I’m always searching for spaces where I feel safe, valued and understood. Although I’ve had the same core group of friends since high school, sometimes my deepest and most personal conversations have happened with people I’ve known for weeks or hours. Vulnerability is infectious. One moment of honesty from someone can unlock so much about yourself.

Young adult books tend to gravitate toward portraying romantic relationships, but much of your work focuses instead on friendships. What do you hope readers take away from your books to help them navigate their own friendships?
I hope readers see that friendships are complex and complicated. Even messy! There’s so much to gain from a friendship, but also so much to lose. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. But when you find that person or group of people, especially as a queer person, you’ll learn what love and growth truly mean. Not just for someone else, but yourself.

“Most of my teen years and early 20s were spent thinking happily ever afters weren’t possible for people like me. . . . Now I get to show young readers we’re more than deserving of the magic promised to everyone else.”

Many of your books deal with queer Black boys as they struggle with how the stories around them don’t reflect their experiences. Theo, for example, finds it hard to picture himself in the fairy-tale-esque prom romances that his straight and/or white classmates take for granted. How does it feel to know that your books are helping real-life Theos imagine their own happily ever afters?
It has been the most rewarding, unexpected part of being an author. Hearing from readers is my favorite thing. I grew up wanting so many of the things I write about. Most of my teen years and early 20s were spent thinking happily ever afters weren’t possible for people like me. There weren’t a ton of examples that I could have one, so I started writing them for myself. Now I get to show young readers we’re more than deserving of the magic promised to everyone else.

Although the characters in As You Walk on By deal with serious issues, the book itself is so uplifting, funny and warmhearted. Is it always your goal to center joy in your writing? Why?
Always. I was given too many books as a kid where the queer or Black person’s storyline was about trauma, pain, discrimination and death. Their existence was a lesson for the readers who didn’t look or identify like them. It left me in a dark place. I refuse to let the next generation of BIPOC and/or queer people feel as though their lives are a lesson for someone else instead of being about finding joy in who they are.

Read our review of ‘As You Walk on By.’

Author photo of Julian Winters courtesy of Vanessa North.

One of YA’s brightest rising stars reflects on taking dares, being honest and writing stories about finding joy in who you are.
Review by

Accepting dares is a way of life for Theo Wright. His close-knit friendships with Jay and Darren revolve around tasking one another with all manner of physical challenges and public humiliations. When Jay dares Theo to ask his crush to prom, Theo knows that his only chance to do so will be at the biggest house party of the year. Unfortunately, Theo’s promposal goes awry, and he exiles himself to an empty bedroom belonging to the host’s little sister. 

Gradually, four more teens, each with their own troubles, join Theo in the mermaid-themed room to escape the social pressures of the party below. There’s Luca, whose own promposal disaster has gone viral; River, a nonbinary teen who’s nervous about announcing their identity; Makayla, a cheerleader who has endured years of slut shaming; and Aleah, Theo’s former best friend. Several heartfelt conversations and one fateful Waffle House run later, the five teens become unlikely allies in a plan to confront their respective emotional hurdles. 

‘As You Walk on By’ author Julian Winters reveals the wildest dare he’s ever accepted.

Although Theo narrates As You Walk on By, each of the five teens could carry their own story, and the web of relationships among the novel’s large cast is realistically complex. Author Julian Winters skillfully uses his characters’ rich interpersonal dynamics to explore the complicated emotions of fractured friendships, the pressures of reputation and family, and the friction between self-image and public identity. Winters also does an excellent job of highlighting how the teens’ diverse and often intersecting racial backgrounds, gender identities and sexualities influence their particular experiences of high school’s social battlefields.

Winters’ dialogue remains as effortlessly funny and charming as fans of his previous books have come to expect. Friends engage in easy banter, gently tease one another and drop plenty of pop culture references. Even the chapter titles are sometimes humorous (“The Same Post Malone Songs on Repeat”). This lightheartedness gives even more impact to the moments when friendships are strained, as characters weaponize their connections to one another with cutting words and painful betrayals. 

All five central characters experience complete story arcs that coalesce in a natural, satisfying way to tell a joyful story of friendship, support and standing up for the life you want. As You Walk on By will leave readers feeling a little less invisible—and a little more invincible.

Read our interview with ‘As You Walk on By’ author Julian Winters.

Five teens become unlikely allies while hiding in the same bedroom during the biggest house party of the year in this joyful, funny novel.
Review by

When Henrietta Weldon’s parents decide that she should switch from private to public school for seventh grade, Henri is excited—and determined to hide her nerves. Between her messy bedroom and her struggles with math, Henri’s family of competitive overachievers treat her like “a problem to be solved.” Her older sister, Kat, refuses to answer Henri’s questions about Alterra Junior/Senior High School, instead insisting that Henri needs to “figure things out for herself,” which makes Henri eager to prove her whole family wrong.

With help from a kind teacher and the right tutor, Henri’s trouble with math turns out to be manageable, no matter how many times her brain tries to flip numbers around. It’s the rest of seventh grade that proves to be the real challenge. Between forgetting important deadlines, trying to convince her parents to let her join the soccer team and making new friends Kat instantly dislikes, Henri must solve the seemingly impossible problem of balancing everything she wants to do while keeping everyone else happy.

Coretta Scott King Honor author Tanita S. Davis’ two previous middle grade novels, Serena Says and Partly Cloudy, depict young people carving out identities and creating supportive spaces for themselves, and Davis explores similar themes in Figure It Out, Henri Weldon. As Henri confronts situations that range from remembering to read a friend’s short story to caring for her sick pet, Wil Snakespeare, she stays motivated to persevere, whether out of love for her friends or sheer spiteful desire to defy her family’s expectations. As Henri gets to know her friends’ close-knit foster family, their supportive bonds contrast starkly with Henri’s own family, enabling her to recognize how harshly they often behave toward one another. Eventually, Henri realizes there isn’t necessarily a wrong way to love, as long as you’re trying. 

The novel’s large cast of characters, along with Davis’ honest depiction of the sometimes antagonistic relationships between siblings, is relatable and authentic. Short excerpts from Henri’s journal open each chapter, grounding the book in a realistic sense of optimism that makes it easy to cheer her on. Figure It Out, Henri Weldon will encourage young readers to take a breath and keep trying, even when the odds—or their families—don’t always seem in their favor.

This book was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

Henri is tired of her family treating her like “a problem to be solved,” so she’s determined to succeed at a new school in this honest and encouraging novel.

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