Full of heroism, romance and wisdom, Sleep Like Death is a wonderful coming-of-age fantasy story that will delight readers searching for a robust fairy tale retelling.
Full of heroism, romance and wisdom, Sleep Like Death is a wonderful coming-of-age fantasy story that will delight readers searching for a robust fairy tale retelling.
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Being afraid of the dark is “a family thing” for the young moth protagonist of Shine. When the sun goes down, he doesn’t want to leave his cozy home, but the twinkling stars give him the strength to fly away from his family and discover how many creatures there are to befriend—in particular, a host of fireflies.  

However, fireflies aren’t the only animals in the dark. Despite his fright, can the moth discover the bravery he needs to keep his new friends safe? 

Debut author-illustrator Bruno Valasse pulls from his own childhood fear of the dark in this inspirational picture book, which encourages children with the knowledge that “together, we can always be a light in the darkness.” 

Where Shine glows brightest is in Valasse’s illustrations. An earthy, muted palette allows Valasse’s fantastic creatures to take center stage as our moth friend hides among mushrooms, camouflages against an owl and hides other bugs within his wings. This beautiful artwork may inspire parents to theme a room around its imagery, and make little kids want to design big, beautiful wings of their own.

The sparse text of Shine is perfect for its message, but the short book may not be enough for eager young readers who fall in love with Valasse’s whimsical illustrations. Those kids will find that Shine pairs well with books like Phoebe Wahl’s Little Witch Hazel and Yeorim Yoon’s It’s Ok, Slow Lizard. But for parents who love to read nature-driven, emotional tales to their children before bed, Shine will provide a beautifully illustrated, bite-sized storytime.

For parents who love to read nature-driven, emotional tales to their children before bed, Shine will provide a beautifully illustrated, bite-sized storytime.
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In 1940, Safiyyah lives in the Grand Mosque of Paris with her parents, grandmother Setti, toddler sister and several other families. Smart, curious and spunky, she loves exploring the city—especially the map room of the nearby library, as she dreams of becoming a world explorer. Her carefree ways quickly change, however, as Nazi soldiers approach and invade, plunging her orderly world into the chaos of World War II. Setti warns Safiyyah, “There will come a day when you have the choice to use what you’ve been given in one way or another. . . . There is no use in a million maps unless they lead you to light.”

Hiba Noor Khan’s debut novel, Safiyyah’s War, is a beautifully written, well-plotted work of historical fiction based on the heroic efforts of Mosque activists who forged identity documents for Jews, hid them in the mosque and led an estimated 500 to 1700 through the catacombs to safety. Khan does a particularly good job at making Safiyyah not only an eyewitness but also a bold heroine who dives into action, risking her life for others. 

As Paris becomes increasingly dangerous, Khan introduces a diverse, multigenerational cast that enriches the soul of this novel. There’s Setti, who longs for her native Algeria, which she was forced to leave as a teenager; Safiyyah’s father, who tends to Mosque business and taught Safiyyah to always help others; Monsieur Cassin, an elderly, well-known botanist who shows Safiyyah the wonders of an adventurous life; Timothée, a refugee shepherd boy from northern France; and Hana, a Jewish classmate whose parents have been captured by the Nazis and who comes to live with Safiyyah’s family. 

Khan builds an intricate drama around these characters, ramping up the tension with each chapter as Safiyyah carefully observes what is going on outside in the city as well as within the confines of the Mosque. Adept at investigating, Safiyyah soon finds herself helping the resistance out in unimaginable ways, especially during the novel’s thrilling climax. 

Safiyyah’s War brings WWII Paris clearly into focus as it shows how people of all ages—from different cultures and religions—can band together in the face of evil. Khan is a writer to watch, and Safiyyah is a heroine worth remembering.

Hiba Noor Khan’s debut novel, Safiyyah’s War, is a beautifully written, well-plotted work of historical fiction based on the heroic efforts of activists at the Grand Mosque of Paris who led Jews to safety.
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In some ways, Grant Snider’s Poetry Comics is exactly what you’d expect—a series of short narratives that combine lyrical words with cartoons. But in almost every other way, this collection manages to surprise readers at each turn of the page.

Poetry Comics is loosely structured around seasons of the year, beginning in spring with tadpoles and leafing trees, and wrapping up in winter with snowfall and the boredom of being stuck indoors. But not all the topics of Snider’s poems—which are mostly in free verse but include some rhyming verses—are seasonal in nature. Many are introspective, touching on personal growth and the creative process in ways that will resonate with readers of various ages: “Maybe a moment is a taste— / a pickle’s sour crunch. / If only there were a way / to put it on paper / I could capture a moment / in all its wild power.” A recurring exploration of “How to Write a Poem” addresses frustration and revision before reaching a joyful conclusion.

Most of the poems include one or two figures leaping acrobatically through panels, often interacting with birds, insects, plants, trees and other elements of the natural world. The pen-and-ink illustrations, colored and edited digitally, span a gorgeous range of pastel and more saturated hues (on display to particularly great effect in “Poem for Painting My Room”). At times, the artwork is more conceptual, as in “Best Friends,” which visualizes a friendship via shapes in two different colors, or “Shape Story,” whose creative panel structure might prompt readers to think not only about what makes a poem but about how comics are constructed.

That may be the greatest value of Snider’s creativity-infused collection: Young readers and aspiring creatives who might be daunted by the prospect of writing a traditional poem or drawing a full graphic novel will find in these pages dozens of new models for, as Snider puts it, helping “say things / I never knew were in me.”

Grant Snider’s Poetry Comics are often introspective, touching on personal growth and the creative process in ways that will resonate with readers of various ages.

Jo-Lynn Kirby’s always been one of the boys: “For so long, I was the cool girl. I was loud and fun and untouchable, always hanging with the guys—no girls allowed but me.” So it was both a thrill and a surprise when she and Maddie Price became best friends, and together reveled in their popularity at Culver Honors High School—until Maddie abruptly dumped Jo at the end of ninth grade. Jo was deeply hurt, but she’d be fine with her guy pals, right?

As Meredith Adamo’s masterful debut Not Like Other Girls opens, it’s senior year and graduation is on the horizon. But instead of celebrating, Jo’s in survival mode, trying to be invisible.

Last fall, private nudes were stolen from her phone and sent to her classmates. Her grades plummeted, she was labeled “Senior Slut,” and even her supposedly lifelong buddies now ostracize and bully her. Jo’s dismissive parents and brother aren’t thrilled with her either, and a safe place feels like a thing of the distant past.

When Maddie goes missing, Jo decides to investigate in the name of their former friendship. She’s aided by her classmate Hudson, who proposes a faux romance that’ll get her back into the popular clique and closer to people who might know what happened. As the two ferret out information about Maddie, Jo also plumbs the murky depths of her own memories, unearthing truths about the last few years that provoke fresh pain but also bring her self-image—and the motivations of those around her—into sharper focus.

Maddie’s senior year is an eye-opening one, rife with revelations that change her life and offer hope for her future. Not Like Other Girls is a powerful book that’s likely to do the same for its readers as it delivers a fiercely feminist take on rape culture. Whether crafting authentic and immersive narration, spinning a sweet and sexy fake-dating storyline, or building a suspenseful and twisty mystery, Adamo proves herself to be absolutely an author to watch.

Whether crafting authentic and immersive narration, spinning a sweet and sexy fake-dating storyline, or building a suspenseful and twisty mystery, Meredith Adamo proves herself to be absolutely an author to watch.
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For many years, Icarus Gallagher has slipped into the dangerous Mr. Black’s mansion on opportune nights to steal priceless artworks and replace them with perfect forgeries created by Icarus’ father, Angus. Their strange mission is one of revenge: Mr. Black hurt Angus’ family, and so Angus has spent almost two decades trying to hurt Mr. Black.

As a consequence of his father’s obsession, Icarus lives a half-life devoid of any real connection. At 17, he only has a year before he can leave and never see Angus again. Until then, he’ll keep his head down. 

Except one night, Icarus is caught by Helios, Mr. Black’s teenage son. While he originally appears to be a threat that could expose Icarus, the two soon form a tentative friendship—and then something more intense. For Icarus, a boy made of want, it’s almost more than he can bear. But his connection with the broken, golden Helios might prove to be the key to freedom for both of them. 

K. Ancrum’s extraordinary fifth novel Icarus is an elegant, multifaceted gem about art, power and fear. Ancrum performs a confident high-wire act in balancing the weighty manifestations of these themes alongside those of connection, desire and contradiction. 

Icarus—book and boy—is the embodiment of raw yearning, and all of Ancrum’s characters wear their hearts on the tips of their tongues. Occasionally the book’s dialogue can feel unrealistic or even overwrought, showing an honesty and openness not necessarily common among 17-year-old boys. But there is an intimate truth in the intensity of feeling behind their words, and this is one of Ancrum’s greatest skills as a writer. 

“Some of us lead lives that would require suspension of belief from others,” Ancrum writes in the novel’s dedication. Perhaps she references the unreality of a teenaged art thief who tends ferns and scales buildings, but maybe she’s simply talking about the unreality of everyday injuries and ecstasies: the cold rage of abuse; the emptiness of grief; the rapturous beauty and agony of being touched. 

Ancrum’s prose is also thrillingly decadent in certain moments, channeling the masterpieces of art whose power she telegraphs through every page. Often sudden bluntness, either of sentence length or metaphor, gives an edge to the gilded phrasing. In Ancrum’s novel, Icarus’ wings striving for the heat of the sun becomes both a beautiful representation of queer love and a sharp, artful subversion of the original Greek mythos.

In her extraordinary fifth novel, Icarus, K. Ancrum performs a confident high-wire act, balancing the weighty manifestations of connection, desire and contradiction.

In her creative and contemplative debut How Do I Draw These Memories?: An Illustrated Memoir, Jonell Joshua reflects on the people, places and events that helped her become the person—and artist—she is today. 

An interesting pastiche of illustrative styles give this mixed-media memoir a scrapbook-like feel, and Joshua’s artistic range is on full display in painterly full-page pieces, expertly drawn black-and-white comics and colorful, vibrant illustrations. Through the inclusion of photographs of prominent figures in her life, Joshua also illuminates the ways in which others’ perspectives can become woven into our own. 

The author’s childhood years were peripatetic: After Joshua’s father’s death when she was very young, she moved with her mother and brothers to her grandparents’ home in Savannah, Georgia. She and her brothers also lived with their other grandparents in New Jersey while her mother sought treatment for bipolar disorder. The author notes, “I envied the schoolmates who’d grown up together. . . . I kept tabs on how many [schools] I’d gone to. It was like a game I played in my head. Five elementary schools, four middle schools, one high school.” 

While How Do I Draw These Memories? begins with the author’s earliest memories and ends approximately in the present, the memoir moves back and forth chronologically in between, resulting in a reading experience that’s more akin to an assemblage. As Joshua moves from state to state, school to school, her memoir also switches between narrators and storytelling styles—straightforward prose, Q&A format, illustrated narratives, etc.

Additional insight is offered via sections like the informative and empathetic “Bipolar Disorder—From My Perspective” and a detailed chronicle of her path from post-high school uncertainty to where she is today: an illustrator whose clients include the New York Times, CRWN Magazine, and NPR; and someone whose memories remind her that “The moments of joy I felt growing up . . . felt immeasurable. The love I was raised with is the love I carry with me.”

An interesting pastiche of illustrative styles give How Do I Draw These Memories? a scrapbook-like feel. Jonell Joshua’s artistic range is on full display in painterly full-page pieces, expertly drawn black-and-white comics and colorful, vibrant illustrations.
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We all have days where everything feels dull and monotone. Calmly encouraging, Gray examines those emotions and gives its young narrator—and us—space to feel all the colors. 

Author Laura Dockrill writes in a manner that matches how one might feel on gray days: not exactly sad, but flat like “tea when it’s gone cold,” with simple words, short statements and a serious tone. A second look will have readers appreciating Dockrill’s skill at subtly peppering in alliteration, assonance and repetition. Hidden within this deceivingly overcast narration are the keen observations and striking descriptions of a watchful, thoughtful child. Later, another, chattier narrator—perhaps the child’s parent—joins in, turning the monologue into a conversation. But this second voice isn’t here to cheer us up. Rather, they remind us that even gray has its purpose, just as sidewalk puddles give the sun a chance to reflect. It’s a gentle, loving and well-handled approach that stands out against more typical attitudes of forced positivity.

Lauren Child, of Charlie and Lola fame, enlivens a somber day with her spot-on artwork that ventures outside the lines. Just like a little kid’s emotions, the artwork is charmingly messy and crayon-sketchy, bold and straightforward. Child brings us in extremely close, focusing our perspective on the child’s immediate surroundings and foregoing minute details. But her cleverly pared-down art captures a spectrum of emotions. We instantly become part of the child’s struggle, with little to distract us—much like how the child is unable to think about much besides their gray feelings. Child’s characters are always lovable and empathetic. Maybe it’s the side-eye expression she has mastered drawing. We can’t help but care. 

Readers will appreciate Gray for a genuine and realistic voice that will speak to young people (and not-so-young people) without feeling cloying or annoyingly cheerful. Gray doesn’t end in an unrealistic explosion of ecstasy, but in the exact way it should: full of color, not necessarily happy, but safe and calm and wrapped in love.

Readers will appreciate Gray for a genuine and realistic voice that will speak to young people (and not-so-young people) without feeling cloying in its gentle, loving approach.
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Anzu is used to classmates making fun of her name, food and culture. In a new town, she’s prepared for the teasing to continue. When she asks for spirits to help her disappear during the Obon festival, Anzu doesn’t expect the spirit guardian of Yomi, the Shinto underworld, to steal a necklace gifted to Anzu by her grandmother. When the canine guardian disappears back to Yomi, Anzu chases after him and accidentally falls into the spirit realm.

Most of the souls in Yomi mean Anzu no harm, but Queen Izanami wants to add Anzu to her collection of spectral children. For Anzu to return home, she must escape Izanami’s magic and flee through the damaged Marsh Gate back to her own world. But Anzu realizes it isn’t enough to save herself. If she’s careful and brave, Anzu can save every child Izanami has stolen and help repair the gate before Obon is over and she is lost forever.

Pilu of the Woods author Mai K. Nguyen explores the strength that culture and ancestry provide in Anzu and the Realm of Darkness. Muted purples and blacks with occasional pops of brighter pigments from colorist Diana Tsai Santos help set the mood of the whimsical yet spooky spirit realm.

There are many characters to love, from the too-cute Nurikabe spirit that helps Anzu escape, to Anzu’s magically gifted grandmother, but Anzu still shines brightest. Despite her best attempts to hide herself—introducing herself as “Anne,” a nickname given by cruel classmates who thought her given name too strange—Anzu’s strength comes from embracing who she is. Anzu and the Realm of Darkness reminds readers that girls like Anzu need not shrink themselves: They deserve to use their voice, love what they love, and take up space.

Nguyen blends Japanese folklore with Shinto and Buddhist stories to create the spirits Anzu meets in her interdimensional adventure. For children who want to learn more, a mythological guide to the kami and yokai that make appearances in the story can be found in the backmatter. 

Fans of Hayao Miyakazi’s beloved film Spirited Away or supernatural graphic novels like Remy Lai’s Ghost Book will find Anzu and the Realm of Darkness a worthy addition to their shelves.

Anzu and the Realm of Darkness reminds readers that girls like Anzu need not shrink themselves: They deserve to use their voice, love what they love, and take up space.
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Since the advent of The Folk of the Air series in 2018, Holly Black has held legions of YA fantasy readers in thrall to the world of Faerie: its acorn cups and everapples, redcaps and ragwort steeds, mad revels and delicate, deadly riddles. Her latest novel, The Prisoner’s Throne, is another delicious descent into the intricacies of Faerie family and politics. 

The Prisoner’s Throne is the sequel to The Stolen Heir and the final installment in the Novels of Elfhame duology, which follow the faerie Prince Oak, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Elfhame, and the Queen of the Court of Teeth, Suren, now known as Wren. 

Whereas The Stolen Heir centered primarily on Wren, this time, we delve into the storm of calculations and insecurities that swirl beneath Oak’s curling hair and curving horns. Oak finds himself Wren’s prisoner after his last misstep shattered the tentative trust they had begun to build. His imprisonment beckons war between Elfhame, which is ruled by his sister Jude, and Wren’s Court of Teeth. Oak’s loyalties are torn: On one hand, he understands his family’s anger; on the other hand, his feelings for Wren and his knowledge of her character have him convinced she is not his enemy. 

Readers will identify with Oak’s desperation for peace as well as his struggles with being a people pleaser. He is undeniably a teenage boy, complete with an overprotective mother and a tad too much angst over whether he is truly known or loved. Wren is less present in this book, but her wintry demeanor is as endearing as it was in The Stolen Heir, and her relationship with Oak retains its innocent, wistful heartbeat. The greatest charm of The Prisoner’s Throne is in the secrets that Oak must unravel, from hidden motives to conspiracies to “straightforward” questions with complicated answers. If you’ve known Oak since his Folk of the Air days, he is no longer a little prince—this is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a saga of magic and mischief.

For fans of Oak and Suren, The Prisoner’s Throne is a fraught and fitting conclusion to their tangled, wild adventures. Fans of Jude and Cardan from the first series: You will not be disappointed.

Holly Black captivated legions—and we mean legions—of fans with the Folk of the Air series, then she whisked them away once more to Elfhame with the Stolen Heir duology. The Prisoner’s Throne picks up where The Stolen Heir left off, switching to Prince Oak’s perspective as he struggles through the explosive consequences of his journey north with Wren. Audience favorites Jude and Cardan might just make an appearance.
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Since the underground caverns are the only place in her town of East Independence, Ohio, where she doesn’t experience hallucinations, 16-year-old Neely takes a job there as a tour guide. There, she meets Mila, a leggy, confident college kid who leads the cavern tour groups. As Neely seeks peace away from her hereditary mental illness and her brother’s haunting suicide, she is drawn to Mila’s kindness, and the two grow closer, eventually buddying up at the staff party—which, between the weed and the alcohol, Neely doesn’t reliably remember anything about. When she and the other tour guides find Mila murdered in the caverns, Neely’s mind breaks. If Neely can figure out who killed Mila, maybe she can get her hallucinations back under control. Assuming, of course, that Neely isn’t the killer.

Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis’ Under This Red Rock is a gritty, brutal young adult novel that blurs the line between broken imagination and reality.

Readers should be prepared for serious themes, including blunt descriptions of suicide, physical and sexual assault, and animal abuse. Those who prefer their psychological thrillers with a raw edge will find McGinnis’s slow-burn plot and fast-paced writing more than satisfactory. Explorations of drug use, the darker side of Internet culture, and how society abandons poorer folks to struggle alone ground a story that could otherwise feel fantastical firmly in reality. Neely’s position as an unreliable narrator will keep readers guessing, leading to several stomach-dropping twists and an ultimately satisfying conclusion.

Disturbing yet compelling, Under This Red Rock is a must-read for readers of unflinching teen thrillers. Fans of Courtney Summers and Tiffany D. Jackson should pick this one up.

Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis' Under This Red Rock is a gritty, brutal young adult novel that blurs the line between broken imagination and reality.
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Every year, Muslim students from different Los Angeles high schools celebrate Independence Day together at Monarch Beach. But this year, while everyone’s waiting for the fireworks, an offshore explosion detonates, destroying the beach, injuring many and even causing death. Police detain six Muslim teenagers at the scene, calling it terrorism. Samia, Nasreen, Qays, Muzhda, Abdullahi and Zamzam are caught in a court case that seems stacked against them, and proving their innocence might mean giving up personal secrets from that night. Can they work together to find the truth? Who can they really trust?

Six Truths and a Lie is a powerful examination of modern justice. The story unfolds from six different points of view, in a dizzying experience that sets up heart-racing tension from the very beginning. As the large cast of characters reveal bits and pieces of the truth, the reader—like the teenagers—must figure out how everything fits together.

The suspects are determined to defend their innocence, at the risk of revealing their true whereabouts and intentions on the night in question. Their dreams and dignity are threatened by accusations of terrorism, and the authorities seem determined to take everything from them.

Ultimately, each teenager just wants to walk free. But Six Truths and a Lie forces them, and readers, to reconsider: What does freedom really mean? And what are you willing to sacrifice, for even just a piece of it? The book holds a mirror up to our modern world and asks us to acknowledge how racism and prejudice still plague our legal system and our everyday interactions—and how our preconceived notions of people can mislead us.

Harrowing and heartbreaking, Six Truths and Lie sheds light on the uncomfortable truth that justice is not blind, while demonstrating the inspiring bravery of those who fight for true justice, no matter what it costs.

Harrowing and heartbreaking, Six Truths and a Lie sheds light on the uncomfortable truth that justice is not blind, while demonstrating the inspiring bravery of those who fight for true justice.
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To grab a young reader’s attention, a book often needs to combine the familiar and the outrageous. Patrick Flores-Scott deftly employs this equation. In No Going Back, he introduces readers to Antonio Echeverria Sullivan on the morning he’s released on parole. After 18 months at Zephyr Woods Detention Center, Antonio has gotten sober and is ready to make amends to those he has harmed, particularly his mom and his best friend, Maya. The conditions of his parole are strict but manageable—even the part about having zero contact with his dad. 

No Going Back opens with a “Dear Reader” letter from Antonio, where he explains what’s about to unfold: the “whole honest-to-God true tale of the seventy-two hours after my release . . . including the improbable and gripping encounter with the same stolen money that got me stuck in Zephyr in the first place.” Teen readers will be compelled by how Antonio navigates returning to a home and a life that looks completely different. The book alternates between short narrative chapters (each with a day and timestamp at its heading) and free verse poems from Antonio’s perspective that describe his relatively happy childhood as well as his father’s alcoholism and abuse. The fast pace of the book will keep readers engaged as they bounce between the present and the past, learning more about Antonio. Eventually, the story accelerates into the thrilling, leaving readers wondering how Antonio might escape from a dangerous situation. Antonio’s voice is inconsistent at times, but the energy of his story will sweep interested readers along, and they will sympathize with his desire to become the person he knows he can be throughout this novel focused on friendship, loyalty and redemption.

The energy of No Going Back will sweep readers along, and they will sympathize with Antonio’s desire to become the person he knows he can be throughout this novel focused on friendship, loyalty and redemption.

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