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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.

Miliani, Inez, Natalie and Jasmine are best friends bound by magic and love. When Jasmine is killed by a drunk driver, everything the four girls once shared is shattered. Mili, Inez and Nat try to support one another in the wake of the tragedy while also dealing with illness, addiction and the threat of deportation within their own families. But Mili, the last of the girls to see Jas alive, isn’t content to merely mourn. Drawing on the magical traditions of her Filipino heritage, she convinces her friends that they can bring Jas (or at least a version of her) back from the dead. Though Inez and Nat hesitate, they are spurred onward by Mili’s insistence that their efforts can succeed.

Soon, the girls are attending seances at Mili’s mysterious Aunt Lindy’s house, performing rituals of their own and testing the boundaries between the realms of the living and the dead. But magic always comes with a price, and as the trio descend deeper into spellwork, they uncover terrifying secrets about one another and their families that endanger the plan to resurrect Jas—and could break apart their lives completely. Can the three friends perform the final ritual before everything crashes down around them?

Riss M. Neilson’s ambitious debut novel, Deep in Providence, is a dense, meticulously plotted story. It sits at a curious crossroads, functioning both as a contemporary YA novel about grief and a fantasy rooted in magical practices from Filipino and Jamaican cultures. Remove the novel’s magic and you’d have an emotional yet often-told tale. But by incorporating elements of fantasy, a genre historically predisposed to whiteness and straightness, Deep in Providence becomes a boundary-pushing addition to the canon of teen witches.

Alternating between Mili’s, Inez’s and Nat’s perspectives enables Neilson to create a multifaceted portrait of their close-knit friend group, in which private hurts and joys are refracted and magnified by the girls’ constant proximity. The book’s magic system serves as a metaphor that provides an added layer to the book’s exploration of loss. As the girls’ desperation grows, so too do their powers—and what the trio is willing to do with them. Neilson doesn’t shy away from emotional intensity: The girls’ grief isn’t pretty or palatable, and the spirits answer in full force.

At almost 500 pages, Deep in Providence suffers a bit from too much table setting. Early chapters focus on the girls’ backgrounds without much rising tension, and not all readers will be hooked by the slow start. But once magic enters the scene, the story deepens and widens, eventually arriving at a satisfying emotional climax and denouement.

Deep in Providence is a beautiful, haunting novel about letting go and finding peace for yourself and for those who are gone.

Three girls set out to raise their friend from the dead in Riss M. Neilson’s ambitious, haunting and boundary-pushing addition to the canon of teen witches.

This is what River McIntyre knows about who they are: They are a competitive swimmer. They were born and raised in Haley, Ohio, a town infamous for its failing marine park, SeaPlanet, and they feel a bitter kinship with the park’s captive-raised creatures. They have two parents and an older brother, and they’re Lebanese on their mom’s side. These are the facts River knows for certain.

River begins to realize that everything else is a lot more complicated after a run-in at SeaPlanet with Indigo Waits, an out and proud teenager from River’s past. Seeing Indy forces River to admit that they’ve been drowning under the tide of gender dysphoria and internalized homophobia for far too long. In the absence of the words to process their feelings, however, River jumps into SeaPlanet’s shark tank and sets off a chain of events that will forever link Indy’s and River’s lives.

In Man o’ War, author Cory McCarthy engages with every aspect of River’s life to create an extraordinary story with incredible depth. River’s experiences as a competitive swimmer enable McCarthy to explore the complex relationships that trans athletes have with their bodies, while River’s Arab American heritage raises discussions about biracial identity and passing in a world that’s prejudiced in favor of white, cisgender people.

McCarthy’s prose is suffused with emotion and often employs SeaPlanet’s sharks, orcas, Portuguese man-of-wars and other creatures as beautiful metaphors for River’s feelings. The jagged edges of dysphoria, the suffocating pressure of familial expectations and the all-encompassing need for love bleed through River’s internal monologue with biting clarity.

The novel’s exploration of queer identity ferociously resists the idea that coming out is a simple or straightforward process. River’s journey of self-discovery takes years, and Man o’ War follows them through high school and college. They try on different labels, experience both acceptance and rejection from their queer peers and navigate the joys and trials of medical transition. Along the way, McCarthy’s story provides space for every uncertain step, portraying River’s attempts to untangle the snarl of confusion and self-loathing inside themself with empathy and patience.

In Man o’ War, McCarthy validates how finding your name, accepting your name and telling others your name can all be separate, unique battles. Despite the pain those battles sometimes bring, River’s transition is driven by an irrepressible hope—a hope that will assure readers their true happiness is always worth the fight.

River's plunge into the shark tank at SeaPlanet sets off a journey of self-discovery and transition driven by an irrepressible hope for true happiness.

Minah Okar is content with the home that she and her father have built in Brooklyn, New York. With her hilarious best friend, Nikki, and loving boyfriend, Mike, by her side, Minah feels that she has left her old life in Obsidian, Michigan, behind for good. But when Minah learns that her estranged mother has died, Minah is forced to reconcile memories she’d much rather forget. She returns to Obsidian for the first time in five years to confront the truth about her family’s deepest secrets.

Break This House, the second novel from National Book Award finalist Candice Iloh (Every Body Looking), explores Minah’s joys and heartaches through her immersive first-person narration. Minah is insightful as well as observant, offering vivid descriptions of everything from the smells on New York City subway cars to the cacophony of songs that play simultaneously from different speakers at a family party. Neither the humor nor the horrors of her family’s past escape the broad scope of her pensive reflections.

Iloh’s visceral depictions of Minah’s inner and outer worlds make Break This House’s themes of loss and grief all the more impactful. As Minah sifts through her muddled memories and her family’s fragmented recollections, she begins to determine what she really thinks about herself, her parents and her faith. Suspended between her past and her future, she must craft an identity that honors her family but gives her the agency to make her own choices.

Break This House is a tender, poetic story about what it’s like to experience loss and learn to continue living anyway. It’s heart-wrenching to follow Minah as she tries to answer impossible questions that everyone eventually faces: What must we leave in the past, and how can we move forward without it?

When Minah learns that her estranged mother has died, she travels back to her hometown to confront her family's secrets in this poetic, heart-wrenching novel.

There are times when only a gothic novel will do, and such times call for Gallant (7.5 hours) by V. E. Schwab, author of the Shades of Magic series. Everything you could possibly want is present in Schwab’s latest standalone: a mysterious manuscript, a haunted house (the titular Gallant) and an unlikely heroine in the form of Olivia Prior, the orphan who unravels Gallant’s secrets.

Actor Julian Rhind-Tutt delivers an outstanding performance as the audiobook narrator. As a veteran film and voice actor, he brings nuance and sensitivity to his reading, with a low, husky voice that makes listening to Gallant a unique pleasure. Rhind-Tutt sounds like he’s sitting with you in a darkened room, confiding a secret so profound that only you, his listener, can be trusted with it.

Read our review of the print edition of Gallant.

The low, husky voice of actor Julian Rhind-Tutt makes listening to V. E. Schwab’s Gallant a unique pleasure.

For Lou, the months before college are full of change and uncertainty. She just broke up with her too-pushy boyfriend, and she thinks she might be asexual. Her mother, Louisa, is away selling beadwork on the powwow circuit, and her former best friend, King, is back in town for the first time in three years. And her family’s ice cream business is going under.

Then a letter arrives from Lou’s father, a dangerous, manipulative white man who has recently been released from prison and demands to be involved in her life. Lou was conceived when he sexually assaulted her mother, and the pair spent years running from that history and their own Métis heritage before finally settling down with Lou’s uncles. If anyone in Lou’s family learns that her father is out of prison, Lou fears that Louisa will want the two of them to disappear again, and Lou will lose every ounce of stability she’s managed to find. With support and tough love from King and other friends, Lou spends a pivotal summer learning to finally embrace who she is, who she loves and what she stands for.

In The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, Jen Ferguson (Border Markers) portrays one weighty subject after another, including Lou’s exploration of her sexuality, her relationship to her Métis heritage, her quest to save her family’s ice cream shack, her father’s threats and her burgeoning relationship with King. Each of these storylines could easily fill a whole novel, but Ferguson impressively blends them all together in a complex depiction of one teenager’s struggle to find her center when every aspect of her life seems on the verge of collapse.

Lou is wonderfully multidimensional, and so is everyone around her. As Lou comes to a new appreciation of her community and its power, Ferguson paints the novel’s ancillary characters with vivid strokes, creating detailed and dynamic portraits of Louisa, King, Lou’s uncles and even her ex-boyfriend.

Readers will appreciate that Lou’s journey toward strength and self-acceptance is not neat or linear; instead, it’s messy and filled with as many stumbles as steps forward. They’ll empathize with her when she reaches for King and when she pushes him away. It’s moving and inspiring to witness Lou’s tenacious drive to understand, on her own terms, what family and identity truly mean.

Jen Ferguson’s The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is a moving, inspiring portrait of one teenager’s tenacious desire to understand what family and identity truly mean.

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