cover reveal

Best known for her young adult novels Daughter of the Burning City and the Shadow Game series, author Amanda Foody will make her middle grade debut in the spring of 2021 with the whimsical fantasy-adventure The Accidental Apprentice, the first book in the Wilderlore series.

Here’s how Foody’s publisher describes the tale:

The adventure begins when Barclay Thorne, an apprentice to the town’s mushroom farmer, accidentally bonds with a magical Beast. Determined to break his bond and return home, Barclay must journey to find the mysterious town of Lore Keepers, people who have also bonded with Beasts and share their powers. But after making new friends, entering a dangerous apprenticeship exam and even facing the legendary Beast of the Woods, Barclay must make a difficult choice: Return to the home and rules he’s always known, or embrace the adventure awaiting him.

The Accidental Apprentice hits shelves at libraries and bookstores everywhere on March 30, 2021, but BookPage is thrilled to reveal its breathtaking cover below! The cover illustration is by Petur Antonsson, with cover design by Karyn Lee and art direction from Sonia Chaghatzbanian. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Foody and an exclusive excerpt after the reveal.

The Accidental Apprentice is your first middle grade novel, though you've published several YA novels. What drew you to creating a story for younger readers? 
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, so even though middle grade is not where I got my start professionally, it feels like where I got my start creatively. I was the sort of child who often fantasized myself into the worlds of my favorite stories; I eagerly anticipated my Pokemon adventure when I turned 10 and my Hogwarts letter when I was 11. After writing a few dark and gritty YA worlds, I was eager to try my hand at something just as vast and magical but a touch more lighthearted, and it was so rewarding. It felt like coming home.   

What was most challenging about making the leap from YA to middle grade? What was the most enjoyable? 
My greatest challenge was overcoming the feelings of intimidation that I’d developed about middle grade. It’s been over a decade since I was actively reaching for middle grade books, and when I began drafting this book, I didn’t feel tapped into the current market the way I feel with YA. Truthfully, I still often feel that way. But that reading and learning process has also been the greatest joy! I have discovered many new favorites, such as the Percy Jackson and Nevermoor series.  

Like some of the most beloved works of children's literature, The Accidental Apprentice is a fantasy-adventure story. What kinds of books did you love to read as a kid? What do you hope kids will love about The Accidental Apprentice
I was an avid reader as a kid, though I read more broadly than I do now. I loved fantasy series like Septimus Heap, Pendragon, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Harry Potter, but I was also a huge fan of Agatha Christie, Clique and Warriors. I’ve grown more wholly devoted to fantasy as an adult, now that magic so often feels in shorter supply.  

What I personally hope kids will love about The Accidental Apprentice is the world. Between all the magical places to visit and Beasts to bond with, the story is full of imagination fodder, and I would love nothing more than for kids to imagine themselves bonding with their own beastly companions, choosing their own magical apprenticeships and setting off on their own adventures exploring the many sights that the natural world has to offer.  

Barclay, the hero of The Accidental Apprentice, accidentally bonds with a magical Beast. Do you have any pets who may have inspiredor wish they could inspireany of the Beasts in the book? If they could have a magical power, what do you think it would be? 
I do! I have an orange tabby named Jelly Bean, who is a very rambunctious and friendly kitty. Of the Beasts in the novel, he actually inspired the antics of Mitzi, the baby dragon of Barclay’s closest friend. Mitzi delights in tipping over glasses and nipping at her owner’s ears.  

If Jelly Bean had a magical power, it would be teleportation. Truthfully, I’m not convinced that he doesn’t already have this ability. I feel as though I’m constantly leaving him behind in one part of my apartment only to find him awaiting me in the next room.

Chapter One

Barclay Thorne knew almost all there was to know about mushrooms, and there was a lot to know.

He knew the poisonous ones never grew on trees. He knew the red ones with white spots made warts bubble up between toes, but the white ones with red spots cured warts, welts and pustules of all kinds. He knew which ones made you drowsy or loopy, or could even knock you right dead, if you weren’t careful.

“You’re supposed to be taking notes,” Barclay hissed at Selby. Both boys were apprentices to their town’s highly esteemed mushroom farmer, but because Barclay was older and smarter, he was the one in charge. And he took his position very seriously.

“I c-can’t write and walk at the same time,” Selby blubbered, clutching his quill with his whole fist. Selby was a very pink boy. He had a pink nose and pink cheeks, like a plucked chicken, a resemblance made all the worse by his buzzed blond hair and stocky frame.

In nearly all ways, Barclay was the opposite. Though three years older, he was so short and skinny that Selby would likely outgrow him before next spring. His dark eyes looked like ink smudges on his papery white skin, and his shoulder-length black hair was combed harshly to both sides, slick with oil to make it lie flat.

He didn’t see what was so hard about writing and walking. He doubted it was harder than reading and walking, and Barclay rarely walked anywhere without an open book in his hand.

The two apprentices had been assigned an extremely important mission to find a rare mushroom called the Mourningtide Morel, and for this, they had ventured to the edge of the Woods.

The Woods was no average wood. It was so large that no map could fit all of it, so dangerous that no adventurer dared explore it. It loomed to the west of their town like a great shadow.

The trees along the edge were gray and spooky, their trunks twisted like they’d been wrung out, and their branches reached up like claws toward the overcast sky. It was quiet except for the rustle of decayed leaves and the snaps and cracks of brittle twigs beneath boots. This was the only time to find the Mourningtide Morel: that bleak in-between part of the year after the leaves had all fallen but before the first snow.

Selby stumbled over a tree root and bumped into Barclay’s back.

“It would be easier to write and walk if you weren’t always looking over your shoulder,” Barclay grumbled.

“But we’re so close! You know what Master Pilzmann says about—”

“We haven’t gone in. And the town is right there.” Barclay pointed behind them to Dullshire. Their small town crouched on a knobby hill, encircled by a stone wall covered in spears, like a giant thorn bush. The people were about as friendly as thorn bushes as well. They didn’t like laziness—naps were expressly forbidden. They hated visitors—visitors could mean tax collectors, circus performers, or worse, Lore Keepers.

The only things the people of Dullshire loved were rules. But they only had one rule about the Woods.

Never ever, ever stray inside.

Because the Woods would trick you if you let it, leading you too deep within to find your way out.

And deeper in the Woods lurked the Beasts.

But Barclay, being a dutiful apprentice, would never dream of breaking Dullshire’s most important rule—especially because of how often he got in trouble for accidentally breaking so many little ones. He would do exactly what he’d come here to do, and that was to find the Mourningtide Morel. With or without Selby’s help.

Barclay didn’t understand why Master Pilzmann had insisted Selby come along, or why he’d even taken on a second apprentice in the first place. Dullshire didn’t need two mushroom farmers. And when Master Pilzmann retired, it would be Barclay—not Selby—who took over for him.

After all, Barclay made sure he was the perfect apprentice. He took detailed notes in neat cursive handwriting. He had memorized every mushroom species in The Filosopher’s Field Guide to Finding Fungi volumes one through nine. Even Master Pilzmann himself had claimed that Barclay was the hardest-working boy Dullshire had ever seen.

Which was why Barclay refused to leave the mission empty-handed. He needed to prove to Master Pilzmann that he only needed one apprentice.

“I’m not leaving. Not yet,” Barclay declared, and he continued marching along the tree line.

Selby followed but whimpered as they walked.

As the older apprentice, it was Barclay’s responsibility to comfort Selby—not just to teach him. Selby had never been near the Woods before, and even Barclay, as experienced as he was, still thought the twisted trees looked a bit frightening.

But Barclay found it very hard to be nice to Selby. At home, Selby had many brothers and sisters who cared about him. Parents who looked after him. A room of his own. Barclay had none of those things. He’d had the last one, at least, until Master Pilzmann had let Selby move in.

There was no orphanage in Dullshire. If you wanted supper and a bed for the night, then you had to work for it. So Barclay had grown up working many jobs. He’d stacked books in the library, recorded new rules for the lawmakers, and delivered more spears to the sentries. But even though Barclay had tried to be exceptional at everything, when it came time to choose his apprenticeship, no one in Dullshire had offered him a spot. They were too worried about the futures of their own children to care about a scrappy rule-breaking orphan too.

And so Barclay had knocked on old Master Pilzmann’s door and begged for this apprenticeship, a job no one else wanted. Master Pilzmann had refused, and refused, and refused. But Barclay kept trying until he agreed.

And it had been fine for two years, all until the day that Selby showed up. He still cried and fled back home every chance he got, but Master Pilzmann hadn’t refused him. Not once.

“It’ll be dark soon,” Selby whined to Barclay.

“Not for hours,” Barclay told him.

“It’s freezing.”

“It’s winter. What did you expect?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Didn’t you eat lunch?”

“I fed it to Gustav.”

Gustav was Master Pilzmann’s pet pig, who sniffed out valuable truffles hidden in the ground. Normally, Gustav would join the boys on quests such as these, but Gustav had mysteriously gained weight these past few months, so much weight that waddling exhausted him. He spent all day napping by the fire.

You’ve been feeding Gustav?” Barclay buried his face in his hands. The mystery of the pig fattening was solved, and once again all of Barclay’s problems proved to be Selby’s fault.

“I don’t like mushrooms!” Selby complained. “They’re slimy, and they taste like dirt!”

Barclay could hardly believe what he was hearing. “Then why are you here?” he shouted. It was the very question that had bothered him for months. He also felt personally offended—he liked mushrooms very much.

Selby’s pink face flushed several shades pinker, and he burst into tears. “My mom said it was a good future for me.”

This seemed to be a lot of pressure to put on an 8-year-old, and for a moment, Barclay did feel rather bad.

But Barclay couldn’t get distracted. If he wanted to keep his apprenticeship, he didn’t have time to feel sorry for anyone but himself. This job was the only thing that ensured Barclay really fit into Dullshire, and Dullshire, however small and rural and rule-obsessed, was Barclay’s home. He would never leave it.

When Barclay had been very small, before his parents had died, he used to dream of adventure. He spent hours imagining the world that existed beyond Dullshire’s prickly walls, other towns and cities and kingdoms in far-flung realms beyond the Woods.

But his parents had loved Dullshire—they wouldn’t want such a life of uncertainty and danger for their only child. And so Barclay refused to disrespect their wishes. He tried to forget about the call of adventure, concentrating instead on how to stay. To belong.

Barclay focused back on the mission, and for the next several minutes, the only sounds were Selby’s teeth chattering, his nose sniffling or his stomach rumbling.

As Barclay knelt to examine a promising fungus, Selby tapped him on the shoulder. “Look. Look.”

Barclay swatted him away and pulled out his forager’s notebook, to compare the sketch to the subject before him. He frowned. He needed a scarlet dome, but this one was clearly crimson. Mushroom foraging was a very precise science.

He dug it out anyway and added it to his basket.

I’ve done it again, Barclay scolded himself, inspecting the dirt underneath his fingernails. Master Pilzmann hated how dirty Barclay got himself, and how his hair looked wild only hours after combing it. Repeat after me, Master Pilzmann would always say when he quoted Dullshire’s lawbook. Filth is prohibited—no dirt, no odor, no potty mouths. Cleanliness is orderliness.

“Barclay!” Selby squeaked, and Barclay finally stood up and turned around.

The grass between them and Dullshire was alive, with dozens—no, hundreds—of tiny, glowing white eyes peering at them between the weeds.

The piles of leaves beneath the boys’ boots shuddered and shook as small figures dashed within them. Selby hopped back and forth as though he stood barefoot on hot coals.

“Barclayyyyyyyy,” he wailed.

But Barclay was frozen, his gaze fixed on a single creature perched on a rock. It looked like a mouse, except without a tail and with six curled spikes protruding from its back.

Barclay had seen Beasts before. Sometimes, on breezy autumn days, strong gusts of wind carried glowing insects from the Woods to his town, whose stingers turned your skin swollen and green. He’d spotted Beasts flying in V shapes across the sky, seeking out warmer places for the winter and leaving trails of glittery smoke behind them. Occasionally, more vicious Beasts snuck out from the Woods to break into chicken coops and goat pens for nighttime feasts.

When Barclay was 4 years old, the Legendary Beast who lurked in the Woods, named Gravaldor, had destroyed Dullshire on Midsummer’s Day. Though Barclay had never glimpsed Gravaldor’s face, he remembered how the town walls had crumbled from the force of his roar. Gravaldor had torn roofs off homes with his jaws, sinking fangs into stones as though they were butter. His magic had caused the earth to rupture, making whatever remained of their once flat town now stand on a tilt.

It was thanks to Gravaldor that Barclay was an orphan.

Knowledge of Beasts had since been forbidden in Dullshire. Travelers who spoke of them were turned away from inns, in case they could be Lore Keepers, wretched people who bonded with Beasts and shared their magic. Children who played too close to the Woods were punished. Even the Beast-related books in the library were burned, making the entire subject a mystery.

“I thought the B-beasts stayed in the Woods,” Selby moaned.

“They usually do.”

Barclay had foraged along the edge of the Woods before without ever spotting a Beast.

But Midwinter was only a few weeks away, and like Midsummer, the holiday was known to make Beasts behave strangely.

Barclay took a careful step away from the mouselike creature. He considered reaching into his pocket for the charm he kept to ward off Beasts. But it was already too late for that.

“Don’t panic,” he told Selby. “They’re blocking our way back to town. But if we just think of . . .”

Except Selby didn’t listen. Dropping his notebook and quill behind him, he turned around and shot off.

Into the Woods.

The hundreds of eyes in the grass seemed to blink all at once. Barclay glanced at Dullshire in the distance, his whole body trembling. Selby was gone. Into the Woods. If Barclay could get around the terrible creatures, he could alert the sentries, who protected Dullshire from the Beasts. Selby had parents and a family, after all. The townspeople would grab their pitchforks and go after him.

But before Barclay could take off, one of the mice leaped out of the leaves and landed on Barclay’s boot.

It squeaked.

Barclay screamed.

He shook it off and sprinted after Selby. As soon as Barclay crossed into the trees, the daylight dimmed, swallowed by the knotted branches overhead. The already cold weather went colder, a fine, icy mist prickling against his skin.

Barclay was small for an 11-year-old, which made him an easy target for older kids looking for trouble. They tore pages out of his library books or stole the coins he saved for apple pastries.

If they could catch him.

Because when Barclay ran, even the sheepdogs struggled to keep up. And so he barreled down the forest hills and soon caught up to Selby, who ducked between the gray trees.

The wind blew, and leaves tumbled farther into the Woods, as if dragged by a riptide. The trees bent low, as though pointing Selby deeper, deeper.

“Selby!” Barclay screamed.

His long hair whipped across his face as he ran, quickly growing wild and tangled. The wind seemed to push him forward, like it was trying to carry him off as well.

“Selby, stop!”

Behind him, Barclay had lost sight of the edge. There were only trees and mist in every direction.

We’ve broken the rules, and now we’re going to die, Barclay thought with panic. Even if they escaped the Woods without being eaten by a Beast, what would they tell everyone? Selby and Barclay were both terrible liars.

Then Selby suddenly stopped running. Barclay skidded to a halt and slammed into him, knocking both boys down a thorn-covered hill. They rolled in a tangle of leaves and legs and branches, mushrooms spilling out of their baskets and bouncing down after them. They each screamed until they collided with the base of a fallen tree.

“What were you thinking?” Barclay shouted, shoving Selby off him. “We could’ve broken our necks! And—”

Selby let out a strangled sound and scampered back up the hill.

“What . . . ?” Barclay turned around to see what had scared Selby off, and froze.

On the fallen trunk of a massive tree, there stood a girl.

And on her shoulder, there sat a dragon.

Author photo by Diane Brophy Photography.

Best known for her young adult novels Daughter of the Burning City and the Shadow Game series, author Amanda Foody will make her middle grade debut in the spring of 2021 with the whimsical fantasy-adventure The Accidental Apprentice, the first book in the Wilderlore series. Here’s how Foody’s publisher describes the tale: The adventure begins […]

Ready for the dog days of summer to be over? Get a glimpse of a wintery wonderland as we reveal the cover of A Sled for Gabo, which will be simultaneously published in a Spanish edition, Un trineo para Gabo, translated by Alexis Romay, on Jan. 5, 2021. Author Emma Otheguy’s charming tale of a boy experiencing snow for the first time features illustrations by Ana Ramírez González.

Here’s how the book’s publisher, Atheneum, describes the story:

On the day it snows, Gabo sees kids tugging sleds up the hill, then coasting down, whooping all the while. Gabo wishes he could join them, but his hat is too small and he doesn’t have boots or a sled. But he does have warm and welcoming neighbors in his new town who help him solve the problem in the sweetest way possible! The Snowy Day meets Last Stop on Market Street in this heartwarming classic in the making about a young Latinx boy who is new in town and doesn’t have much, but with the help of a loving community discovers the joys of his first snowy day.

See the beautiful covers for both A Sled for Gabo and Un trineo para Gabo and read an exclusive excerpt below!

Images from A Sled for Gabo reproduced courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Ready for the dog days of summer to be over? Get a glimpse of a wintery wonderland as we reveal the cover of A Sled for Gabo, which will be simultaneously published in a Spanish edition, Un trineo para Gabo, translated by Alexis Romay, on Jan. 5, 2021. Author Emma Otheguy’s charming tale of a […]

Acclaimed author Margarita Engle’s forthcoming young adult novel, Your Heart My Sky, is the story of two teens who fall in love while struggling to survive during one of the darkest periods in Cuban history. Engle, the former National Young People's Poet Laureate, has won countless awards for her writing, including the 2019 NSK Neustadt Prize.

Here's how Engle's publisher describes her latest verse novel:

The people of Cuba are living in el período especial en tiempos de paz, the special period in times of peace. That’s what the government insists that this era must be called, but the reality behind these words is starvation. Liana is struggling to find enough to eat. Yet hunger has also made her brave: She finds the courage to skip a summer of so-called volunteer farm labor, even though she risks government retribution. Nearby, a quiet, handsome boy named Amado also refuses to comply, so he wanders alone, trying to discover rare sources of food. A chance encounter with an enigmatic dog brings Liana and Amado together. United in hope and hunger, they soon discover that their feelings for each other run deep. Love can feed their souls and hearts—but is it enough to withstand el período especial?

Your Heart My Sky will be available on shelves at libraries and bookstores everywhere on March 23, 2021. In the meantime, we’re thrilled to reveal its gorgeous cover, which was illustrated by Gaby D'Alessandro and designed by Rebecca Syracuse, and to share our discussion with Engle about Your Heart My Sky—and an exclusive excerpt from the book.

How did you feel when you saw the cover of Your Heart, My Sky for the first time?
When I first saw this cover, I was thrilled by the expressions on the characters’ faces. They are people I felt I knew so well, and the illustrator captured their wistfulness as well as their hopes. Struggling to survive in a time of unexpected hardships, they remind me of the entire world now, with our own wistfulness for the innocence of a few months ago and our desperate need to remain hopeful. The colors are perfect, too, so tropical and yet gentle. The abundance of fruit makes me aware of the characters’ imaginations. It’s magic realism, a true Caribbean reality.

Your Heart, My Sky takes place during a period in Cuban history commonly referred to as “the special period,” an economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, lasted nearly a decade and had an enormous negative impact on the everyday lives of Cubans. What initially drew you to the idea of setting a story in this period?
I returned to Cuba in 1991, after a 31-year absence. The drastic hunger shocked and saddened me. I experienced the surreal survivor’s guilt of possessing a U.S. passport that would allow me to leave, escaping the near-starvation that my cousins were forced to endure. I spent the ’90s traveling often, carrying suitcases filled with food, vitamins and medicine. I wrote about el período especial at that time, but I discovered that most adult readers in the U.S. weren’t interested or didn’t believe me. So now I’ve written about it again, hoping that young readers will be more empathetic and compassionate.

Like many of your books, Your Heart, My Sky is a novel written in verse. Could you recommend some of your favorite poets or poetry titles for readers to explore while they wait for your new book to be published?
A few of the YA verse novelists I admire most are Elizabeth Acevedo, Jacqueline Woodson, Padma Venkatraman and Nikki Grimes. I also hope readers will also give my verse memoirs a try, if they’re interested in my personal experience with Cuban history. Enchanted Air is a verse memoir about my childhood and early teen years, while Soaring Earth is the high school/college companion book.


The tall boy who gazes at me
is even skinnier than the rest of us.

He’s skeletal but appealing
in a days-on-earth-are-numbered
sort of way.

He must be courageous
to skip la escuela al campo!

As soon as that admiring thought
flashes across my mind, I realize that
I’m brave too.

Sometimes it takes a clear view
          of someone else
before I can see my own
          unexpected self.



The girl’s curious eyes make me want
to go home and look at myself
in an effort to see what she perceives:
Bones barely concealed
by skin, my face the same deep brown
as this old mirror’s scratched
mahogany frame.

The girl has no way to know that I crave
so much more than food—I need freedom
to speak out, demanding my right
to reject silence.

My older brother is already in prison
for the same crime that I plan to commit—
evading the draft by staying away on the day
when I’m ordered to report for military duty.

Our grandfather fought in Bolivia,
our father in Nicaragua and Angola,
enough bloodshed to leave both of us
unwilling to join future battles.

I glare at the mirror.
Wavy patches.
Blurry streaks.
As if I’m already
fading away
in a prison cell.

What if I don’t have the courage
to keep the pact that I made with my brother,
speaking up, explaining to the government
why we need to choose peace?

But this country is not at war right now,
unless you count our constant struggle
against hunger.

Maybe I should let myself be trained to kill,
become a soldier, gun-wielding, violent,
a dangerous stranger, no longer



The dog and I crouch,
watching ourselves
in a shallow tide pool,
shimmery bronze faces
rippling as we hover
above pink anemones
and purple sea urchins.

We gobble
odd-shaped creatures
raw, then glance
at ourselves again,
the dog’s hair short and straight,
mine long, wet, and twining
in dark ringlets like tendrils or seaweed.

Our eyes resemble four sleek black planets
floating in the tide pool’s
miniature galaxy.

Do canines understand mirror images,
or can they only recognize themselves
by smell?

I’ll never know, unless I learn
the ancient language of dog songs.

After a while, we rise and climb
the steep, brightly flowered hills of town,
passing old houses with climbing vines
that enclose wide-open windows and doors,
an invitation for the sea breeze, doves,
butterflies, wasps,
perhaps also thieves. . . .

At home in my kitchen,
I check the refrigerator,
finding it empty as usual.

No electricity either.
Just invisible


The singing dog

If he can somehow manage to urge them
toward each other, then neither one will feel
so completely alone, and his unusual instincts
tell him that these two are so perfectly
right for each other that if he fails
to meet his natural goal they will wander
like detached spirits, souls just as starved
as bodies. . . .

The last time a singing dog worked at matchmaking
was in the human year 1519, when a violent pirate
named Hernán Cortés had stolen a ship and anchored
on the island’s southern shore,
recruiting all the Spanish men
of Trinidad de Cuba as soldiers,
then seizing all the native Ciboney Taíno men
as enslaved porters for an expedition
of slaughter and conquest, across the western sea
in Aztlán, land of Moctezuma, ruler of Tenochtitlán.

Only women, children, and singing dogs
were left behind in the village of Trinidad,
along with one guard and one prisoner,
a pacifist called Uría, half Ciboney
and half Canary Islander, a poetic scribe
who loved to write
and refused to fight.

A singing dog led a Ciboney girl called Arima
to the little prison, where she freed Uría,
then helped him escape, and showed him
how to thrive in el monte, wild mountains,
dense jungle, her home.

Now this new boy called Amado is peaceful like Uría,
and the girl named Liana is brave like Arima,
so the modern dog’s task is clear—
just guide these two young people until
they accept each other’s companionship.
Some matches are simply
meant to be.

If you lived in another time and place,
you might think of the singing dog as a winged thing:
A guardian
who specializes
in love.

Author photo by Marshall W. Johnson

Acclaimed author Margarita Engle's forthcoming young adult novel, Your Heart My Sky, is the story of two teens who fall in love while struggling to survive during one of the darkest periods in Cuban history. We’re thrilled to share our discussion with Engle about Your Heart My Sky as we reveal its cover and an exclusive excerpt.

After penning seven mysteries starring stylish 1930s sleuth Amory Ames, author Ashley Weaver kicks off a new historical mystery series with A Peculiar Combination, which will introduce readers to World War II-era thief-turned-British spy Electra McDonell. The official synopsis is below: 

Electra McDonnell has always known that the way she and her family earn their living is outside of the law. Breaking into the homes of the rich and picking the locks on their safes may not be condoned by British law enforcement, but World War II is in full swing.

Therefore Ellie and her uncle can't resist a tip about a safe full of jewels in an empty house. All goes as planned—until the pair are caught red-handed. But rather than being arrested, government official Major Ramsey is waiting with an offer: Ellie must help him break into a safe and retrieve blueprints before they are delivered to a Nazi spy.

A Peculiar Combination is the first in the new Electra McDonnell series from Edgar-nominated author Ashley Weaver—a delightful novel filled with spies, murder, romance and the author's signature wit.

A Peculiar Combination will be published on May 11, 2021, but in the meantime, feast your eyes on its gorgeous cover and read an exclusive excerpt!

“May I have the paper and pencil please?”

Major Ramsey reached into his pocket and handed it to me. They were the only tools I had told him I needed, but I had no place to carry them. The dress was decidedly not made for concealing things.

“How long will it take you?” he asked behind my shoulder.

“Longer than necessary if you hover behind me.”

He let out a breath and stepped back. I listened as his steps moved toward the desk. The drawer rattled.

“Locked?” I asked, looking over my shoulder.

“I didn’t expect it to be open.”

“Here, let me.” I moved toward him as I reached up and took a pin from my hair. It was the sort of thing that was always being done in books and at the cinema, but it really did work. One just had to have the right angle and know the right sort of pressure to apply.

It was the work of only a few seconds for the lock to give. Really, if more people knew how easily ordinary locks were picked, they would invest in better security for their important things.

The major began sifting through the papers, and I moved back toward the safe.

I tuned him out after that, focusing the way Uncle Mick had taught me to do. For a long time there was nothing but me and the dial, the almost imperceptible changes in give as I found the contact points.

I supposed the major wished the lock was as pliant as the one on the desk drawer had been, but I was enjoying every moment of it. I felt calm, almost relaxed, as I worked, testing the dial and graphing the points in the notebook.

My brain felt sharper and clearer than it ever had. Was it the knowledge that I was using my talent for the good of my country? Whatever the case, I graphed out the combination in what felt like record time.

Turning the dial, I felt it give, and I pulled the safe open. “There,” I said softly.

Major Ramsey was at my side in an instant. “Well done, Miss McDonnell.”

He pulled a torch from his pocket and shone it inside the safe. Reaching in, he sifted through the contents.

I held my breath.

Cover art by Minotaur Books.

Excerpt from A Peculiar Combination by Ashley Weaver. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

See the gorgeous cover for Ashley Weaver's new historical mystery, A Peculiar Combination, as well as an exclusive excerpt.

As you might guess from the title, bestselling author Renée Watson's next YA novel, Love Is a Revolution, is a love story—about loving another person, loving your community and, above all, loving yourself. Watson’s 2017 YA novel, Piecing Me Together, received a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Award. Her picture book Harlem's Little Blackbird was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

Here's the official synopsis of Love Is a Revolution from Bloomsbury, Watson's publisher:

When Nala Robertson reluctantly agrees to attend an open mic night for her cousin-sister-friend Imani’s birthday, she finds herself falling in instant love with Tye Brown, the emcee. He’​s perfect, except . . . Tye is an activist and is spending the summer organizing events for the community when Nala would rather watch movies and try out the new seasonal flavors at the local creamery. In order to impress Tye, Nala tells a few tiny lies to have enough in common with him. As they spend more time together, sharing more of themselves, some of those lies get harder to keep up. As Nala falls deeper into her lies and into love, she’ll learn all the ways love is hard and how self-love is revolutionary.

In Love Is a Revolution, plus-size girls are beautiful and catch the attention of hot guys, the popular girl clique celebrates strong friendships between women, and the ultimate love story is not just about romance, but showing radical love to the people in your life—including to yourself.

Pick up Love Is a Revolution from your local bookstore or library on February 2, 2021! In the meantime, you can see its stunning cover, which was illustrated by Alex Cabal, designed by Jeanette Levy and art-directed by Donna Mark, and read a Q&A with Watson and an exclusive excerpt of the book.

How did you feel when you saw the final cover of Love Is a Revolution for the first time?
The cover took my breath away. I love everything about it: Nala’s bold stance, the expression on her face, the brown lipstick, the bright yellow shirt, even her nail polish and bangle bracelets. Every detail was intentional, and I’m very proud of it. I appreciate my editor, Sarah Shumway, who always invites my input and feedback when it comes to covers. So many times in literature, big bodies are erased or portrayed in defeated, downtrodden ways. I am intentional about having girls with big bodies on covers who are happy, content and fashionable. I truly believe that representation matters, and that includes body diversity as well.

Alex Cabal’s art is always vibrant and striking. She did the U.K. edition of What Momma Left Me, and I was thrilled to work with her again for Love is a Revolution.

Could you give us a little introduction to Nala and share where she’s at when readers meet her? What do you hope readers will love about her? Are there any pieces of you in her?
Readers meet Nala right when she’s at the crossroads of figuring out what activism means to her and how she’s going to show up in the world. She’s pretty confident and sure of herself, but still, there are moments when she feels insecure because she fears that she is not “woke” enough. She’s certainly an imperfect character—she exaggerates (and flat-out lies) to get the attention of a boy she has a crush on. She also loves her family fiercely, and I hope readers enjoy her sense of humor and her bold personality.

My temperament is very different from Nala’s, but one thing I do have in common with her is being Jamaican. I’m really excited to share this part of my Jamaican heritage in a book. It’s the first time I’ve written about a Jamaican American family.

Throughout the book, Nala talks about a (fictional) singer she loves. The song lyrics are in the novel, and they are all about loving your body, loving yourself. The lyrics really inspire Nala, and I hope readers are empowered by them, too.

There’s such a need for stories of Black joy. What joys do you hope Love Is a Revolution represents to readers?
Nala understands that while it’s necessary to bring awareness to social issues, it’s equally important to spend quality time with loved ones, to enjoy simple things like listening to your favorite song on repeat or indulging in your favorite dessert. Harlem is the perfect backdrop for this summertime love story, and I really enjoyed the scenes where Nala is carefree, roaming the streets of her neighborhood and hanging out with friends. Even with all that’s happening in our nation with conversations about equity and anti-Blackness, Black youth are still living their everyday lives, still laughing, still dancing, still loving, and I wanted that represented on the page.

Love is a revolution. What an awesome, powerful statement to choose for the title of a book! How did you arrive at it? How does it reflect what you hope readers experience when they read the book?
There’s a scene when Nala’s grandmother tells her, “The most radical thing you can do is love yourself and each other.” After I wrote that sentence, the title came to me. I think the word love gets used so much that we forget how heavy of a word it is, how serious and hard it is. Love is patient, generous, forgiving. It’s not easy to be patient, generous or forgiving. The definition of revolution is “a sudden, radical, or complete change, a fundamental change in the way of thinking about something.” Love—true love, of self, family, neighborhood, romantic partner—changes you, pushes you to be better. Practicing that kind of love will bring about the change so many of us want in our daily lives. That concept is at the heart of the novel.

Imani walks over to us and sits next to me, in the middle of her birthday crew. The lights dim even more, and once it is completely blacked out, there is cheering and clapping. The stage lights are too dark at first, so I can’t really see the person talking. “Good evening, everyone. We’re here tonight to remember Harlem, to honor Harlem, to critique Harlem, to love Harlem . . . we’re here tonight to Inspire Harlem.”

There are shouts and whistles and so much clapping.

Then, finally, the lights rise.

And I see him.

“My name is Tye Brown, and I will be your host for the evening.” While everyone is still clapping, he says, “Tonight’s going to be a special night,” and then I swear he looks at me and says, “Sit back and enjoy.” I almost yell out I will! Oh, I will! but I keep it together and settle into my seat.

I whisper to Imani, “Who is he? I’ve never seen him before.”

“Tye. He’s new,” she says.

And I turn to Sadie and whisper, “I mean, if I had known guys like that were a part of this, maybe I would have joined too.”

Sadie laughs.

“Shh!” Imani scolds us.

I sit back, give my full attention to Tye. He explains what Inspire Harlem is and talks us through how the night will go. Then, his voice gets serious and he says, “Singer and activist Nina Simone said, ‘It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.’ This isn’t your typical talent show. Each act has thought about the message in their art, the mission behind their performance.”

A few people clap when he says this.

“This is a supportive, brave space—please only show love for everyone who has the courage to come to the stage,” Tye says. And then, he smiles the most gorgeous smile I have ever seen and says, “Let’s begin.”

I don’t believe in love at first sight. I don’t even know if I believe that there’s such a thing as a soul mate or one true love. But right now, in this moment, I am ready to profess my love for Tye Brown.

OK, fine, I don’t really love him. I don’t know him (yet), but there are some things I know about him in just the first 30 minutes of the talent show and those things, I love.

3 Things I Already Love about Tye Brown

1. I love his dark skin. The way his white shirt contrasts against his deep brown complexion. I love his style. How his shirt has the letters B L A C K across his chest, making him a living poem.

2. I love the way his deep voice bellows out, filling up the space, how his voice is electric shock waves when he needs to amp up the crowd, how it is a warm hug when he welcomes each person to the stage.

3. I love that when the fourth person gets choked up with tears because he can’t remember the lyrics to his rap, Tye comes from back stage and stands next to him, putting his hand on his shoulder. I love how they just stand there for a whole minute and the audience is silent, how Tye asks, “Do you want to start over?” I love how Tye stands there while the boy performs, never leaving his side, bobbing his head and moving to the beat.

Yeah, those are the things I love about Tye. It was definitely worth coming out in the rain tonight.

The next person up is a girl named Gabby. Her hair is pulled back in a neat ponytail, and I can’t tell if the glasses she is wearing are for necessity or fashion. She sings a song she wrote just for this event, and that alone should make her the winner. I feel sorry for the people coming after her.

The next performance is a group of steppers. They have the crowed hyped. By the time they are done, I think maybe they might beat Gabby. But if they do, it’ll be close. I completely tune out during the next act. A girl is singing some type of Heal-the-World song, and I am bored and barely listening to her. It’s not that she can’t sing—the song is just corny. To me anyway. All I am thinking about is when will Tye be coming back to the stage. But once the girl stops singing, the lights come up for a short intermission.

Most people rush to the bathrooms. I walk over to the snack table—I want to get something to drink and also, I see that Tye is standing over there. I am trying to think of something to say to him, but I can’t even get my mouth to open. Up close he is even more handsome and now I can smell his cologne. I just want to run away and look at him from across the room.

“Enjoying the show?” Tye asks. He is talking to me. To me.

“Um, yes, I—I’m really, yes, I’m enjoying it.” Get it together, Nala Robertson. Come on.

“Are you new to Inspire Harlem?”

“Oh, no. I’m not a part of it. Hi, I’m Nala. Imani is my cousin. She invited me.”

“Oh, Imani? That’s my girl. I’m Tye.” He shakes my hand, which I think is kind of formal, but holding his hand feels like holding silk and I want to hold on to him and never let him go. Tye lets go and fills his water bottle. He takes a long drink.

Say something, Nala. Say something. “Inspire Harlem is a great program. Imani really likes being in it.”

“Yeah. I love it so far. I’m excited about what we’ve planned for this summer. Did Imani tell you about it?”

“No,” I say. But of course she did. I just want to keep talking to him.

“All summer long we’ll be having awareness events—I’m the team leader for our community block party. You should come,” Tye says. I have never heard someone sound so excited about a community service project. Tye steps away from the table because we’re holding the line up. I realize I don’t even have anything in my hand, no water or plate of veggies and dip to play it off like I didn’t just come over here to talk with him. “What about you? What are you up to this summer?” he asks.

“Oh, I’m, um, I’m . . . I volunteer for an organization that offers activities for elderly people in the neighborhood. We do, um, like arts and crafts stuff with them—nothing super important or at the magnitude of Inspire Harlem,” I say. He doesn’t need to know that really, I am just talking about the one time last month when I spent the day at Grandma’s helping her put a puzzle together.

“That’s great that you’re doing that,” Tye says.

“Yeah, some of them don’t have family that come visit and just need to get out of their apartments and do something. We do all kinds of activities with them.”

“Like what?”

“Um, well, like I mentioned, arts and crafts . . . um, knitting. We also have story time, not like kindergarten story time, but I read novels to them and sometimes we just play games and build puzzles.”

All of this is a true-lie.

I’ve done these things with Grandma and her friends. Just not with a formal group of people or with an organization. But I had to say something. I mean, I couldn’t tell him that I’m spending my summer watching Netflix and trying out the summer flavors of ice cream at Sugar Hill Creamery.

Ms. Lori, the director of Inspire Harem, walks over to us. “Tye, we’re just about ready to start the second half,” she says. “Five minutes.”

“Okay.” Tye refills his water bottle one more time. “Nice to meet you, Nala,” he says.

Author photo by Shawnte Sims. Excerpt from Love Is a Revolution used with permission of Bloomsbury Publishing.

Bestselling author Renée Watson's forthcoming YA novel, Love Is a Revolution, is a love story about loving another person, loving your community and loving yourself. We're thrilled to share our discussion with Watson about Love Is a Revolution as we reveal its cover and an exclusive excerpt.

Readers have waited patiently to return to the fantastical world of Kristin Cashore's bestselling Graceling Realm books. Cashore introduced the world of the Seven Kingdoms in 2008's William C. Morris Award finalist, Graceling. The tales continued with Fire in 2009 and moved to the neighboring kingdom of Monsea with 2012's Bitterblue. In January 2021, readers can finally make their long-awaited return to the Graceling Realm with the publication of Winterkeep.

Here's the official synopsis of Winterkeep from Dial, Cashore's publisher:

For the past five years, Bitterblue has reigned as Queen of Monsea, heroically rebuilding her nation after her father’s horrific rule. After learning about the land of Torla in the east, she sends envoys to the closest nation there: Winterkeep—a place where telepathic foxes bond with humans, and people fly across the sky in wondrous airships. But when the envoys never return, having drowned under suspicious circumstances, Bitterblue sets off for Winterkeep herself, along with her spy Hava and her trusted colleague Giddon. On the way, tragedy strikes again—a tragedy with devastating political and personal ramifications. Meanwhile, in Winterkeep, Lovisa Cavenda waits and watches, a fire inside her that is always hungry. The teenage daughter of two powerful politicians, she is the key to unlocking everything—but only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life.

Pick up a copy of Winterkeep from your local bookstore or library on January 19, 2021! In the meantime, scroll down to see the exquisite cover of Winterkeep, which was illustrated by Kuri Huang and designed by Theresa Evangelista and Jessica Jenkins. We're also thrilled to share the gorgeous new covers for each of the Graceling Realm tales, as well as our discussion with Cashore and an exclusive excerpt from Winterkeep.

How did you feel when you saw the cover for Winterkeep and the redesigned covers for the previous Graceling Realm novels for the first time?
I was blown away. The artist, Kuri Huang, creates images of such color and depth. It was a fascinating process, too, because with the way the artist works, we saw early sketches that turned into rough color representations, then eventually led to the gorgeous, detailed, layered images that you see now. So in the beginning, I wasn't sure where it was going. It was exciting to watch it go to such a beautiful place! I couldn't be happier.

Winterkeep features a person of color on the cover. What does this mean to you? What do you hope it will mean to readers?
Winterkeep is told in multiple perspectives, including those of characters from my previous books and some new characters, too. Arguably the most central character, the person at the heart of the book, is a young woman named Lovisa Cavenda, who's a student at the Winterkeep Academy and the daughter of Keepish politicians. Like most people in Winterkeep, Lovisa has brown skin and dark hair and eyes. And since our conceit with these new covers is to show a main character on the cover, Lovisa was the obvious choice. It was important to me that the woman on the cover look and feel like Lovisa! It wouldn't have made sense to represent her any other way. I hope readers agree.

I couldn’t help but notice that Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue (and your stand-alone novel, Jane, Unlimited, for that matter) are all essentially named after their protagonists, whereas Winterkeep seems to be titled after its setting rather than after a person. Does this reflect a change in the lens of the story? Is Winterkeep the story of a place rather than of a person?
Titles are always so tricky! Since this book, unlike my previous books, is told in multiple perspectives, it didn't feel entirely right to try to name it after one character. The other titles in the series are each a single word with a fantasy-ish feel, so after a lot of consideration, Winterkeep felt like the best choice. We also considered Winter Keeper, which would have brought it back to the idea of character, but it was a little vague, and it broke our one-word tradition. So we went with Winterkeep. (I spent an entire writing retreat with friends years ago agonizing over what the place should be called, even creating a whiteboard with options, but that's a whole other story!)

Winterkeep is a land my readers won't have seen before, wintry and beautiful, with an elected government, airships, telepathic foxes and powerful fuels that are creating an environmental crisis. And while I suppose on some level, Winterkeep is the story of a place, really it's the story of people, just like all my other books. I tend to write pretty character-driven books. I'd say it's the story of families and friends, working to figure out how to take care of each other and the earth.

I hear that you’re a fan of wintry settings but not of winter itself. Could you share a few of your favorite literary winters and what you love about them?
There are some passages in the Kingdom Books by Cynthia Voigt that broke my heart open with their winter imagery. I think I've been drawn to those settings ever since! There's something so delicious about reading a book that has all the atmosphere of winter, snow and harsh beauty, wanting to be a part of that story but not really. Wanting to imagine being a part of that story, while in fact you're comfortable and cozy inside. I suspect that some of my childhood wintry reads, like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, also worked on my heart this way. As I was writing Winterkeep, I had the great good fortune to participate in an artist retreat on a tall ship in the Arctic Ocean for two weeks, sailing around the coast of Svalbard. The landscape entered my heart in the same way, like a little seed of magic taking root. I don't think Winterkeep is my last wintry book!


Giddon was carrying a sleeping child through a rocky tunnel when he got his first clue that something was wrong in Winterkeep.

The child’s name was Selie, she was 8, and she was not small. In fact, Giddon was starting to wonder if she was growing while he carried her. Surely she was objectively heavier now than she’d been when she’d held her arms up to him two hours ago, a gesture that hadn’t surprised him, for the children always wanted Giddon to carry them through the tunnels. He was bigger, more interesting and less anxious than their parents, or so the children thought. Giddon was actually quite anxious during these missions for the Council, these smuggling journeys through the tunnels from Estill to Monsea, but he buried his worries deep, where they couldn’t reach his eyes or his voice. It was more helpful to seem calm and reassuring.

So he carried Selie calmly, with exhausted shoulders and dead arms, wading through streams, trying to measure the fatigue in the drawn, white faces of her family, stepping carefully from rock to crevice to stone on an uneven path lit by the lantern of Selie’s older sister, Ranie, who, at 19, kept giving Giddon sly, flirtatious glances. He was used to this, too, on these missions. He’d gotten in the habit of mentioning his beloved girlfriend frequently in conversation. Giddon didn’t have a girlfriend. It was another thing he pretended, to keep things simpler.

He put up a hand to stop Selie’s head from lolling. Children are bizarrely flexible, thought Giddon. Sometimes it seemed like her head would roll right off her body and plop onto the rocks. And Selie was the reason for this journey through the tunnels to Monsea, for she was a Graceling, Graced with mind reading. In Estill, Gracelings were the property of the new government, which exploited their special abilities however it saw fit. There were all kinds of Graces, ranging from skills as banal as imitating bird calls to more useful capacities such as speed on foot, predicting the weather, fighting, mental manipulation or mind reading. In Monsea, where Queen Bitterblue made the rules, Gracelings were free.

The Council—which had no other official name, just the Council—was a secret international group of spies, rescuers, fighters, plotters and consultants, headed by Giddon and a few of his friends—Raffin, Bann, Katsa, Po—that came to the aid of anyone anywhere in the Seven Nations suffering unjustly under the rule of law. The Council had started small some 14 or 15 years ago—Katsa had started it—but now its reach was vast.

Giddon and his friends had, in fact, assisted the Estillans with the coup of their corrupt king. But then the makeshift republic that had taken the place of Estill’s monarchy had turned out to be more militarized than the Council had anticipated. And the Council never held with governments owning Gracelings.

So here Giddon was, secretly sneaking Gracelings away from the Estillan government he’d helped to establish. Trying to avoid the Estillan soldiers armed with swords and bows who had begun patrolling the Estillan forests recently, asking for the identification of anyone they met.

Giddon’s sword was heavy at his side. He found some strength to hold Selie tighter, in case she was cold. It was early May and frigid underground. A steady trickle from a hidden ledge above had been plaguing them for the last 20 minutes, and Giddon had found it hard to keep the child’s hat and scarf dry. Some two hours from now, the path would change, turn into the steady, downhill slope that would deliver them gently to the forests outside Bitterblue City. And Giddon would bring this family to the Council allies in Monsea who were awaiting them, then return himself to Bitterblue’s court. Fall into bed, sleep for a year. Then go find Bitterblue.

“Did my father remember to give you that message?” Ranie said to Giddon, speaking so quietly that he had to move closer to her, lean in.

“What message?” he said, liking, despite himself, the way voices rumbled through these tunnels, turning into whispers, like the trickling water.

“Papa?” said Ranie, turning back to speak to the balding man who plodded along resolutely behind them, a sleeping baby strapped to his front. Beside him, his wife marched with an expression on her face like she would walk forever, if that’s what it took. It was an exhausted but determined sort of expression that Giddon recognized. He suspected she was walking on blistered feet. Parents did heroic things for their children.

“Papa, didn’t you have a message for Giddon?” said Ranie.

“Oh, yes,” said the man, blinking as if waking, then seeming startled by the volume of his own voice. The tunnels could do that, lull you into a sense of being inside yourself. Conversation could seem like violence.

“It’s a message about those two Monseans whose ship went down in Winterkeep,” said the man. “You know about that ship, the Seashell?”

Giddon suddenly saw Queen Bitterblue at the door to his rooms, clutching a letter, her tear-strewn face upturned to him. Bitterblue’s envoy to Winterkeep, Mikka, and one of her advisers, Brek, had died in that shipwreck on the other side of the world. And it had been an accident—Giddon had assured her over and over, hugging her in his doorway—but still, she’d blamed herself, for she’d been the one who’d sent those men away, to a death so far from home.

“Yes,” Giddon said grimly. “I know about the drowned Monseans.”

“I’m supposed to tell you that they had some news about something called zilfium.”

“News about zilfium?” said Giddon, who found this message rather opaque. Zilfium, to the best of his memory, was a kind of fuel that was important in Winterkeep, but he couldn’t remember why. “What news?”

“I don’t know,” said the man. “I only know that they wanted to tell Queen Bitterblue some news about zilfium, but then they went sailing that day and drowned. So the queen should learn what she can about zilfium.”

“Who told you to tell me this?” said Giddon.

“The man who brought us to the start of the tunnels, where you met us,” he said. “Bann, the one who’s the consort of Prince Raffin of the Middluns. He said he had it from Prince Raffin, who had it from a letter one of the Monseans wrote to him before he drowned.”

Council messages were often passed like this—from mouth to mouth. “Did Bann give you anything for me in writing?”

“No, nothing,” said the man. “Only what I’ve said: that before that ship went down, the Monseans had wanted to tell Queen Bitterblue some news about zilfium, so maybe Queen Bitterblue should look into zilfium.”

This message was intensely annoying, and Giddon didn’t think it was merely because he was wet and exhausted and carrying a child made of lead. One, he didn’t understand it. Two, he suspected some part of it was missing. And three, the reminder of her dead men was probably going to make Bitterblue cry.

Ranie was walking close to him again and speaking so quietly that he had to bend down to her. He began to wonder if she might be doing this on purpose.

“What’s zilfium, Giddon?” she asked.

A stream of icy water hit the back of his neck. “I’m not sure,” he said crossly.

“She is doing it on purpose,” said Selie sleepily in his ear, making him jump. He’d been sure the child was asleep.

“Doing what?” he said, somehow finding this to be the most aggravating thing yet. Mind readers!

“Ranie’s talking in a low voice so you’ll get close to her,” Selie whispered, too quietly for anyone else to hear. “Also, I know your girlfriend is imaginary.”

“Oh? And do you know you’re as heavy as a horse?”

Selie was giggling. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “I won’t tell.”

Kristin Cashore returns to the world of her bestselling Graceling Realm novels with Winterkeep. We're thrilled to share our discussion with Cashore about Winterkeep as we reveal its cover and an exclusive excerpt.

Nicole Melleby debuted on the children's literature scene in 2019 with her acclaimed middle grade novel, Hurricane Season, a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Now we're thrilled to reveal the cover of her next book, How to Become a Planet, a heart-wrenching yet joy-filled story about the summer that changes everything for a girl named Pluto.

Here’s the official synopsis of How to Become a Planet from Algonquin, Melleby’s publisher:

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything. Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

Pick up a copy of How to Become a Planet from your local bookstore or library on May 25, 2021. In the meantime, you can see the incredible cover of How to Become a Planet, which was created by David Curtis, and read a Q&A with Melleby and an exclusive excerpt from the book. Just scroll down!

What was it like to see finished cover of How to Become a Planet for the first time?
First and foremost, I have never been so excited to have the letter O in my name before! David's art is stunning; the first time I saw the cover I didn't even know where to look first. The colors, the planets, Pluto-as-Pluto! This is probably the smallest thing, but I also immediately was drawn to Pluto's little flipflops and the way her toe is curved to hold it on her foot! I seriously couldn't have asked for a better cover. It's gorgeous and absolutely something that would have pulled me to a book when I was young and browsing the shelves at a bookstore.

Was How to Become a Planet the working title of this novel all the way through the creative process for you?
This was the first of the three of my published books for which the working title actually ended up being the finished title, and it came about in kind of a boring but amusing way: When I started writing Pluto's story, I knew that I wanted the main character to have depression, and I knew that I wanted her name to be Pluto. When I was a kid, Pluto-the-planet was still a planet, and while I knew it's not considered one anymore, I didn't really know why, so I Googled it to find out. I typed into the search bar: "How to become a planet." It all kind of clicked into place from there.

Like your previous books, Hurricane Season and In the Role of Brie Hutchens, How to Become a Planet is rooted in the experience of an authentic and nuanced female protagonist. Could you introduce us to Pluto and where she's at when readers meet her? Are there any pieces of you in here?
At the start of the novel, Pluto has just gotten a diagnosis for depression and anxiety. The summer is just beginning, but she hasn't been to school in over a month; she hasn't been texting with her friends in just as long; she's pretty much shut herself down. Now that it's summer—and her mom has a pizzeria on the boardwalk to run, and Pluto is now on medication—her mom isn't letting her isolate herself anymore. It's a struggle for them both, and Pluto can't help but compare how last summer (and all the summers before it) started and felt with how it feels now. And she feels kind of helpless because of it; she doesn't know how to be her old self again.

My second book, In the Role of Brie Hutchens, was probably my most personal book: I put a lot of myself into Brie, which is always challenging and hits different emotionally while writing. While I can absolutely empathize with Pluto, and while I wanted to explore summer from a Jersey beach kid's perspective (which was my life growing up), Pluto-the-person is very different, personality-wise, from me. She makes choices I wouldn't; she's gentle in ways I'm, well, not; and I've never been a big science buff (I actually had to do a LOT of astronomy research for this book!).

What are some things you love about writing middle grade books and writing for middle-grade readers?
I write very purposely about mental illness and LGBTQ+ characters, and I love being able to connect with my middle-grade readers about that. I think that, with mental illness especially, people tend to treat it like an adult issue, but it's not, and I want my readers (and my LGBTQ+ readers especially) to know that I see them and that they aren't alone. I've done school visits where kids come right up to me, open and honest in ways I couldn't imagine at that age, and they tell me exactly what it is they love about my work—why it's important to them. And while I will always say yes, I write books for the kid I used to be, I mostly write books for the kids who need them now—who need much different things than I did and who are so, so excited that there's a place for them on the shelves.

As a fellow self-avowed Jersey girl, I have to ask you about the New Jersey-ness of Pluto's story. What are some things you love about New Jersey that people who've never lived or visited there might not know about? How do they manifest in How to Become a Planet?
There was a poem in the Asbury Park Press about growing up on the Jersey shore that I heard when I was a kid that started with the line, "Beach kids feel no pain. . . ." that's always stuck with me. Obviously that's not true—we felt pain, all of us—but there was still something so magical about spending our days at the water.

I think people tend to think about two things when they hear Jersey Shore: Snooki and the rest of the MTV crew, and the tourist-heavy fancy beaches people drive down to on the weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. For us, though, the beaches were—are—home. The Keansburg boardwalk, where Pluto's mom's pizzeria is, was where I went to countless birthday parties, just like Pluto and her best friend Meredith. My dad's first job was at the Olde Heidelberg hot dog joint, which I name-dropped in the book, because it's still there!

That feeling of being a beach kid in the summer is what I wanted for Pluto—even if she can't experience it like she used to, the beach is still home. I think it'll always feel that way for me, too.

Chapter Two

When it finally came after 180 long days, the first day of summer break didn’t matter to Pluto. The countdown she’d made with Meredith still read 34 Days Until Freedom!!! because Pluto hadn’t been to school in over a month. She hadn’t had to worry about end-of-the-year pool parties, or endless have a great summers, or Meredith begging her to just be her friend again.

And, finally, she didn’t need to worry about school calling home, asking where she was, asking when she was coming, making her mom’s voice tremble as she spoke into the phone, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do, either.”

Instead, what Pluto did have to worry about was that her mom was already out of the shower, shuffling around in the bathroom they shared, nearly ready to start the day. The hall light was on, bleeding into Pluto’s bedroom, making the thick purple curtains that blocked out the morning sun null and void. If she had a bedroom door, she would close it to block out the light and the sound of her mom as she hummed while she got dressed.

But Pluto did not have a bedroom door, and hadn’t had a bedroom door for a little over a month now.

Her mom stuck her head in the doorway. “Hey, Shooting Star,” she said, words mumbled as she spoke around the toothbrush in her mouth. “You’re with me today, kid, so start making some moves.”

Pluto and her mom both knew she would not be “making some moves.” Pluto resented the fact her mom even suggested it, that her mom went about her morning as if nothing had changed inside Pluto, as if an endless month in bed could suddenly come to a stop without trouble.

When she didn’t move: “Plu, I’m serious.” As if that made a difference.

Pluto was serious, too. She needed to stay in bed, under her thick purple blanket covered in white little stars. Her mom had picked out the bed set the moment Pluto outgrew the small wooden crib with the solar system mobile. The blanket was warm, and it was soft, and it was not something she was willing that morning, or any other, to give up.

The bed shifted as her mom climbed in, smelling like the Taylor Swift perfume Pluto had bought her for Christmas last year. Her mom’s arms wrapped around Pluto’s middle, holding her close against the scratchy fabric of one of the low-cut tops her mom always wore that Pluto hated. Her mom’s breath tickled her ear. “I don’t want to pay for a sitter, Pluto. I want you to come with me.”

Pluto felt a familiar feeling rise from her stomach up into her throat, one that made her want to scream and cry and argue, if only she weren’t so tired. Tears came anyway. Twelve-year-olds couldn’t stay in bed all day on their own, no matter how much they might need to. If she was older, an adult, she would stay in bed and no one could force her to do anything, a fixed planet around which everything else moved while she ignored it. But for now, Pluto was the moon and her mom was the planet she was forced to orbit.

Even if that meant being pulled out of bed, every inch of her silently protesting, while an invisible rubber band that kept her body strapped down was yanked taut as her mom tugged her into sitting. “There’s my girl,” she said, as Pluto blinked at her slowly. Her mom’s eyes were gray, like clouds during a rainstorm, and while they were always so gentle when they looked at Pluto, they hadn’t wrinkled at the corners with a genuine smile in what felt like forever. That, though, was comforting, because Pluto could not remember the last time she really smiled, either.

“Get dressed,” her mom said simply, as if she wasn’t asking her to do something that required a Herculean effort on Pluto’s part. “I’ll go make you something to eat. It’s the first day of summer, Plu. It’s time to start having fun again.”

She left Pluto alone to fight the urge to curl into herself and sleep. Standing hurt. Looking over at the Challenger book still placed on her desk with the ripped spine hurt. She picked it up, and the cover and first handful of pages slid away from the rest. Even broken, it was heavy in her hand, which was heavy on her arm, which was heavy on her shoulder. Gravity, it seemed, was extra hard on Pluto.

In fairness, gravity had been harder on the Challenger. The shuttle had fallen from the sky before it was even close to orbit. It all happened so quickly, the smoke and the explosion and the destruction. Pluto often wondered about what that moment had been like, the one after everything was okay, but before everything was not okay, where the Challenger and the seven lives on it were somewhere in between, not okay but not not okay.

Pluto called the Hayden Planetarium Astronomy Question and Answer Hotline to ask, once. After a brief moment of absolute silence, the voice on the other end of the phone quickly launched into a detailed account of all the mechanics of why the Challenger didn’t have a successful takeoff, which didn’t answer Pluto’s question at all.

She placed the broken book back on her desk and reached for her phone instead, the one she got for her 10th birthday “just for emergencies” but mostly used to download podcasts and, at the time, text back and forth with Meredith.

There was a notification that one of her favorite astronomy podcasts had a new episode about meteoroids, comets and asteroids waiting to download.

Pluto knew a lot about meteoroids, comets and asteroids already. She knew that when objects speed into Earth’s atmosphere, the heat produces a streak of light from the trail of particles they leave in their wake.

She looked over at her bedroom wall, at the little white specks left in the gray paint from where she’d yanked off the plastic stars one by one a month ago, hearing her favorite podcast narrator in her head: Like an asteroid, Pluto Jean Timoney leaves a trail of her own destruction in her wake.

“Pluto!” her mom called. “Don’t forget your meds!”

The little orange bottles sat right on top of her desk, next to the broken book. Take 1 with food. Take ½ in the morning. Take 1 as needed.

Depression and anxiety. Two words. One brand-new diagnosis.

Author photo courtesy of Elizabeth Welch.

Nicole Melleby debuted on the children's literature scene in 2019 with her acclaimed middle grade novel, Hurricane Season, a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Now we're thrilled to reveal the cover of her next book, How to Become a Planet, a heart-wrenching yet joy-filled story about the summer that changes everything for a girl named Pluto. […]

We're delighted to reveal the stunning covers of not one but two historical romances! First up is A Yuletide Kiss, a collection of Regency Christmas romances from Madeline Hunter, Sabrina Jeffries and Mary Jo Putney that all take place at the same country inn. 

Here's the official synopsis of A Yuletide Kiss from its publisher, Kensington Books:  

The reigning queens of Regency Romance return with another delightful Christmas collection of three sparkling holiday romances, as stranded travelers find merriment, mistletoe and holiday romance waiting at a quaint country inn . . .

Jenna Waverly has closed her inn, anticipating a blissfully quiet Christmas, until a snowstorm brings the first of several strangers to her property. Lucas Avonwood, as charming as he is secretive, is on a mission to track down a scoundrel, but the inn’s lovely owner is giving him a more compelling reason to stay . . .

When Flora Younger first met Konrad Juncker, she thought she’d found her match, only to have her hopes dashed. Konrad is now a famous playwright whose plays Flora has secretly panned in reviews. But a chance meeting in a secluded inn may help them rewrite this star-crossed romance . . .

Kate McLeod is shocked to find that her fellow guest in the snowbound inn is the dashing soldier who may or may not be her husband. Daniel Faringdon barely remembers that long-ago night when he rescued her from disaster, but the desire they discover now will be impossible to forget, or to ignore . . .

A Yuletide Kiss will be available on September 28, 2021, which gives you plenty of time to pick up a copy from your local bookstore or library before Christmas! But while you wait, feast your eyes on the gorgeous cover below, which was designed by Alan Ayers. 

Also coming from Kensington Books this fall is Mary Jo Putney's Once a Laird, the sixth book in her Rogues Redeemed series. Here's the official synopsis: 

He yearns to escape his past . . .

After the death of his fiancée, Kai Ramsey left Scotland to roam distant lands. He has searched ancient ruins, collected priceless antiquities and escaped certain death after being imprisoned as a spy during the Napoleonic War. Ramsay has lived on the edge of danger for years—but everything changes the day a letter arrives for him from Scotland . . .

She’s determined to protect her future . . .

Signy Matheson has dedicated her life to the people of Scotland’s remote Thorsay Islands. With a fiery spirit and agile mind, she is a faithful ally to the aging laird. But now their leader is near death, and Signy must summon the laird's successor at once. It’s time for Kai Ramsey to come home . . .

Together, they discover ancient treasures and disturbing attraction . . .

When Ramsay returns to Thorsay, he’s shocked to find that Signy has blossomed into an alluring beauty and a force to be reckoned with. Their complicated past interferes with their unspoken desire as they work together for their people—until a wild storm sparks first passion, then unexpected danger when a treasure trove left by their ancestors comes to light . . .

You'll be able to experience Ramsay and Signy's love story on October 26, 2021, when Once a Laird is available everywhere! To tide you over, here's the beautiful cover designed by Jon Paul. 

We're delighted to reveal the stunning covers of not one but two historical romances!

Neal Shusterman is one of the most successful and beloved authors working today. He is best known for his young adult books, which include the bestselling Unwind dystology and the Arc of a Scythe trilogy. Among Shusterman's many honors are a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, a Michael L. Printz Honor and a National Book Award for Young People's Literature. We're thrilled to reveal the cover of his next book, Roxy, a heart-pounding exploration of the true cost of the opioid crisis, which he co-authored with his son Jarrod Shusterman. The two previously partnered on 2018’s bestselling Dry, which was optioned for film after a six-way auction by Paramount before it was even published, and readers have been eagerly awaiting their next collaboration ever since.

Here's the official synopsis of Roxy from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, the Shustermans' publisher:

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods, Roxy and Addison—Roxicodone and Adderall, the low-level cronies of more illustrious bosses, who more than anything else want to prove their own lethality. The wager—a contest to see who can induce overdose first—is a race to the bottom of a party that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, seduced by the release they bring. Tempted by the control they offer. They are beautiful, and they will give you the world—as long as you promise them forever.

But there are two I. Rameys—Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

Which one are you?

Pick up a copy of Roxy from your local bookstore or library on Nov. 9, 2021. In the meantime, you can see the stunning cover, which was art directed and designed by Chloë Foglia with artwork by Neil Swaab, and read an exclusive excerpt from the book. Just scroll down!

Chapter 3: Roxy Can’t Contain Herself

I am so hot right now. And everyone knows it. It’s like I own the world. It has no choice but to yield to my gravity.

As I step into the Party, all heads turn, or want to turn, and are fighting the urge. The music hits me first. Loud and rude. It’s not just in your face, but in your blood. The lights flash to hypnotize, and the beat takes over your own, replacing it, forcing you to move to it. We are the pacemakers, and right now I’m the one who sets the rhythm. There’s no better time to be me.

Al greets me at the door, a glass of champagne in each hand. He’s always been the designated greeter, and never misses an arrival. Al’s older than the rest of us, been around longer, but he carries his age well.

“My, my, Roxy, you are looking fine tonight!”

“Are you suggesting that I didn’t last night?”

He chuckles. “My dear, you get more irresistible every day.”

Al slurs his words. It’s almost like an accent, the way he’s perfected that slur. Consonants and vowels spill over one another. Words in a waterfall. He holds out a champagne flute to me, and I take it. It’s how we shake hands here.

“But where’s your plus-one?” Al asks, looking behind me.

“I’m on my own tonight, Al.”

“On your own?” he repeats, as if it were a phrase in some other language. “That’s unfortunate—what will I do with this second glass of champagne?”

I grin. “I’m sure you’ll put it to good use.”

“Indeed, indeed.” Then he leans closer, whispering, “Maybe you could steal a plus-one.” He looks over at a gaggle of revelers, singling out Addison. He’s dressed in conspicuous style, like he belongs to a yacht club that his father owns. All prestige and privilege. But we all know it’s overcompensation for being forever on the periphery. In the Party, but not of the Party.

“Addi’s rather full of himself tonight,” Al says. “He’s held on to his date longer than usual—you should steal her before someone else does.”

“You’re always making trouble, Al.”

He raises an eyebrow. “I do love a little drama.”

Addison is at the bar, intently focused on a young woman, who, in turn, is caught in his hypnotic gaze. He’s selling her on how he’ll make her life so much better. All the things he can help her accomplish, blah, blah, blah. Even now, he’s still going on about his keen ability to focus the distracted. There are moments I admire him for his singularity of purpose. Other times I pity him, because he will never be great like the rest of us. Like me.

Addison and I came up together. Different family lines, but similar circumstances. Born to help others rather than help ourselves. The problem with Addison is that he never outgrew that stifling idealism. I suppose because most of his work is with kids and adolescents, he still holds on to the youthful naïveté of the task he was created for. True, I still do my job when necessary—dulling angry nerve endings on a strictly clinical basis—but it’s such a minor facet of what I’ve become. They label me a killer of pain, but that doesn’t come close to defining me. I’ve found far more entertaining and empowering uses for my skills.

Al, reading my faint grin, says, “Oh, how I love to watch you calculate, Roxy.”

I give him a wink and head off toward Addison. I won’t steal the girl from him—I’m fine being solo tonight. After all, we do have to clear our palate once in a while.

Nonetheless, Addison’s so much fun to tease.

I make my way to the bar, pushing past the sloe-eyed barflies. Al has long since replaced their empty beer bottles with crystalline glasses filled with more elegant, liver-challenging liquids. Martinis heavy on the gin. Aged scotch. Name your poison, and Al will provide it.

I come up in Addison’s blind spot, upstaging him. “Hi, I’m Roxy,” I say to the girl, pulling eye contact. She’s intense and twitchy. Like she’s in the process of being electrocuted but just doesn’t know it yet. Too much of Addison can do that to anyone.

“Hi! I love your dress!” she says. “What color is that?”

“What color do you want it to be?”

Addison turns to me, bristling. “Isn’t there somewhere else you’d rather be, Roxy? Someone else you’d rather grace with your presence?” He looks around. “How about Molly? She looks like she could use a friend right now.”

Molly does look pretty miserable. Dripping wet and crestfallen. “He was in my hands,” I can hear Molly complaining. “I had him—and then some idiot threw me into the pool!”

“Not what I’d call a state of ecstasy,” I quip. Then I smile at the girl Addison has been trying to charm. “Molly’s a whiner—I’m much happier to hang with you two.”

I’m enjoying Addison’s irritation—and for a moment, I do toy with the idea of claiming her as mine . . . but it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. Addison’s positively obsessed with one-upmanship. If I lure her away, he’ll never rest until he thinks he’s bested me. Poor Addison. He tries to be like me, but he’s still too deeply mired in the mundane to ever be a player.

And as if to prove it, the crowd parts, and I see a commanding presence coming toward us through the breach. It’s the head of Addison’s family. The undisputed godfather of his line. I take a small step back, knowing this doesn’t concern me.

“Crys . . . is everything to your liking?” says Addison as he sees his boss. I can see Addison deflate, but he does his best to keep up the facade.

From a distance, Crys is small and unassuming, but up close he’s larger than life. Then he becomes intimidating far too quickly. It can be disconcerting for the uninitiated.

“And what do we have here?” Crys says, zeroing in on the girl. He smiles darkly, a sparkling quality about him. Or maybe it’s just the glitter on his fingernails. “Addison, aren’t you going to introduce us?”

Addison leaks a quiet sigh. “Crys, this is . . . This is . . .”

“Catelyn,” the girl reminds him.

“Right. Catelyn.” Addison will forget her name as soon as she’s out of sight. So will I. A benefit of living in the moment.

“Charmed,” Crys says. Then he takes the girl’s slender hand, his fingers closing around hers like a flytrap on a mosquito. “Dance,” Crys says, and pulls her out onto the floor. She doesn’t resist—but even if she did, it wouldn’t matter. Crys always gets his way.

Addison watches them go, pursing his lips, stifling all he wished he could say to his superior. “He could have given me a little more time with her.”

“It’s not his way,” I remind him.

Beneath the flashing lights, Crys and the girl begin their dance. It will not end well for her. Because before the night ends, Crys will pull her into the VIP lounge. Intimate. Deadly. The one place where she’ll get everything she’s ever asked for and a whole lot she didn’t. The VIP lounge is the place where the real business of the Party is done. The girl should consider herself lucky, for Crys is the shining jewel of his line. You can’t trade up any higher than that.

Addison shakes his head. “I really don’t like Crys’s style. I wish I had your boss.”

“No you don’t.”

“Are you kidding me? Hiro never leaves the back office. He lets you bring your plus-ones to him when you’re good and ready.”

I don’t argue with him. No one can know what it’s like to be on someone else’s chain.

“Are you going back out to find someone fresh?” I ask him.

“Why? Just to have them stolen again?”

“Maybe the Party just isn’t for you, Addison.” And although I mean it as a sincere suggestion from a friend, he takes it as a jab.

“Things are always changing, Roxy. Crys won’t always be the head of my line. There’s room for someone smart to move up the ladder.”

I could almost laugh, but I spare him my derision. He gets enough of that from his upline. “You mean someone smart like you?”

“It’s possible.”

“But you’ve never even brought someone to the VIP lounge. You’ve never been with them to the end. That’s not who you are.”

He glowers at me. “Just because I haven’t doesn’t mean that I won’t,” he says, and strides off, indignant.

After he’s gone, I step out onto the deck for some air. The club is high above everything, giving it a spectacular view of the world below—all those city lights. Any city—every city—and here, those lights are always twinkling, because it’s always night. The date might change, but the scene is the same. The bar never closes. The DJ never stops spinning one song into another. This place exists at that golden moment when the bass drops.

I join Al, who’s taking a moment too, standing at the railing, looking down on all there is. The turmoil and excitement. The winds that both lift and shred.

“So many parties down there,” I say.

“There’s only one Party,” Al points out. “The rest are but a faint reflection of this one. People can feel it, reach for it, but can’t find it. Not without an invitation.”

And then I hear a voice to my left. “Do you ever wish we could do better?”

I turn to see a slight figure wearing a tie-dye dress and a vague expression. Around her neck hangs a heavy diamond necklace completely out of sync with her style. If you can even call it style.

“Do better?” says Al, amused by the thought. “How so, Lucy?”

“You know,” Lucy says, as if it’s obvious. “Find what we were meant to be. Transcend all of this.”

“Right,” says Al, still smirking. “Good luck with that.”

“We are what we are, Lucy,” I say, shutting her down. “That won’t change, so you might as well embrace it.”

“Well,” she says, “It’s nice to dream.” Then she goes back inside, spreading her arms wide and careening side to side, like she suddenly decided she was an airplane.

“I never liked her,” Al says. “There’s something terribly off-putting about her eyes.” Then he goes back in as well to greet newcomers and freshen everyone’s drink.

I linger, looking out over the endless array of lights.

Do you ever wish we could do better?

The question rankles me. I am better. At the peak of my game. Loved by those who matter and hated by those who don’t, because they wish they were me.

Addison might be bitter, but not me. It’s time for me to get back out there and bag a new one. I’m ready for my next plus-one.

Excerpt from Roxy © 2021 Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman. Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Neal Shusterman is one of the most successful and beloved authors working today. He is best known for his young adult books, which include the bestselling Unwind dystology and the Arc of a Scythe trilogy. Among Shusterman's many honors are a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, a Michael L. Printz Honor and a National Book Award […]

It's difficult to think of a recent fictional family more beloved than Karina Yan Glaser's Vanderbeekers of Harlem, New York, who burst onto the children's literature scene in the fall of 2017 in Glaser's bighearted debut, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, and have since starred in three additional novels with a fourth, The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish, coming in September 2021. In the spring of 2022, Glaser will release her first standalone title, A Duet for Home, and we're thrilled to reveal its cover and an exclusive excerpt!

Here's the official synopsis of A Duet for Home from Glaser's publisher, Clarion Books:

It's June’s first day at Huey House, and as if losing her home weren’t enough, she also can’t bring her cherished viola inside. Before the accident last year, her dad saved tip money for a year to buy her viola, and she’s not about to give it up now. Tyrell has been at Huey House for three years and gives June a glimpse of the good things about living there: friendship, hot meals and a classical musician next door. As their friendship grows over a shared love of music, June and Tyrell confront a new housing policy that puts homeless families in danger. Can he and June work together to oppose the government, or will families be forced out of Huey House before they are ready?

Pick up A Duet for Home from your local bookstore or library on April 5, 2022. In the meantime, you can see the stunning cover, which was illustrated by Felicia Chen and designed by Celeste Knudsen, and read an exclusive excerpt from the book. Just scroll down!

Chapter One

Can bad luck follow a person forever? June Yang had always believed there was a cosmic distribution of fortune by which everyone had equal amounts of good and bad luck in their lives. But here June was, miles away from home, standing in front of a drab, used-to-be-white building with her viola strapped to her back and a black garbage bag next to her filled with everything she owned in the whole world. Her theory about luck must be wrong, because it seemed as if she had had enough bad luck for two lifetimes.

“What is this place?” asked Maybelle, her little sister.

June didn’t answer. She stared up at the building. The entrance had a crooked sign nailed over the entrance that said HUEY HOUSE.

Maybelle, who was 6 years old, wore multiple layers of clothes on that unseasonably warm September afternoon: several pairs of underwear, leggings under her jeans, two T-shirts, three long-sleeved shirts, a sweater, and her puffy jacket, a scarf, winter hat and sneakers with two pairs of socks. If she fell over, she might roll down the street and disappear forever. June admired Maybelle’s foresight, though. By wearing nearly every item of clothing she owned, she had freed up room in her garbage bag for the things she really could not live without: her books (all about dogs) and stuffed animals (also all dogs).

Maybelle really liked dogs.

“Is this like jail?” Maybelle continued, poking the bristly hairs from the bottom of her braid against her lips. “Did we do something really bad? When can we go home again?”

June put on her everything will be just fine! face. “Of course it’s not jail!” she said. “It’s an apartment building! We’re going to live here! It’s going to be great!” Then she reached up to grab the straps of her viola case, reassuring herself it was still there.

“It looks like a jail,” Maybelle said dubiously.

June gave the building a good, hard stare. Even though it appeared sturdy, it seemed . . . exhausted. There were lots of concrete repair patches on the bricks, and every single window was outfitted with black safety bars. The door was thick metal with a skinny rectangle of a window covered by a wire cage, just like the windows at school.

It did look like a jail, but June wasn’t going to tell Maybelle that.

She glanced at her mom, but June already knew she wouldn’t have anything to say. Mom had stopped talking about six months ago, right after the accident.

“June, where are—”

Before Maybelle could finish her sentence, the metal door of the building creaked open. A man—his head shaved, two gold earrings in the upper part of his ear and wearing a black T-shirt—emerged and stared down at them from his great height. He looked like a guy who belonged on one of those world wrestling shows her dad would never let them watch. Maybelle shrank behind her, and Mom stood there still and quiet, her face blank and unreadable. June referred to this as her marble-statue face. Once, on a school field trip, June had gone to a fancy museum and there was a whole room of carved marble heads, their unemotional faces giving nothing away.

“You guys coming in?” the man asked, jamming a thumb toward the building.

June fumbled in her jeans pocket for the piece of paper the lady at EAU, or the Emergency Assistance Unit, had given her. The marshal, who delivered the notice of eviction, had instructed them to go to the EAU when June told him they had nowhere else to go.

June had packed up all their stuff while Maybelle cried and Mom shut herself in her bedroom. After checking and double-checking directions to the EAU (June had had no idea what that was), she’d managed to pack their things into three black garbage bags. She told Maybelle that they were going to a new home but then immediately regretted it when her sister wanted to know all the details: Was it a house or an apartment? How many bedrooms did it have? Was the kitchen large?

That was last night. Other than a funeral home, the EAU was the most depressing place June had ever been. After filling out a stack of forms and spending the night in the EAU hallway, which they shared with three other families and buzzing fluorescent lights, June had been told by the lady in charge to come here. Staring at the building and hoping it wasn’t their new home, June crossed her fingers and begged the universe to have mercy on them.

The universe decided to ignore her, because the man said, “The EAU sent you, right? First-timers?”

June nodded, but her stomach felt as if it was filled with rocks.

“I’m Marcus,” he said. “Head of security here.”

Security? Maybelle moved even closer to June while Mom maintained her marble-statue face.

Marcus pointed to June’s viola case. “You can’t bring that inside. It’ll get confiscated in two seconds.”

June wrapped her fingers around the straps so tightly she could feel her knuckles getting numb. “It’s just a viola,” she said, her voice coming out squeaky.

“Exactly. Instruments aren’t allowed.”

June tried to look strong and confident, like her dad would have wanted her to be. “There’s no way I’m letting you take this away from me.” After all, the viola was the only thing Dad had left her. It was equal to over two years of his tip money. Even after so many months, June could picture him as if he were still with them. Dad making delivery after delivery through congested and uneven Chinatown streets, plastic bags of General Tso’s chicken and pork dumplings hanging from his handlebars. Dad riding his bike through punishing snowstorms because people didn’t want to leave their house to get food. Dad putting the tip money into the plastic bag marked Viola in the freezer at the end of every shift, his version of a savings account.

Maybelle, still hiding behind her, called out, “June’s the best 11-year-old viola player in the world.”

“That’s not true,” June said humbly, but then she wondered if Marcus thought she was going to play awful music that drove him bananas. She added, “But I’m not, like, a beginner or anything. No one had a problem with me practicing in our old apartment. And I play classical music. Mozart and Vivaldi and Bach.” She felt herself doing that nervous babble thing. “I can also play Telemann if you like him. He lived during Bach’s time . . .”

Marcus’s mouth stayed in a straight line, but she could tell he was softening.

After a long pause, he spoke. “I can hide it in my office. If you bring it inside and she sees you with it, she’ll throw it out.”

June swallowed. What kind of monster would throw away an instrument? And how could she be sure that Marcus wouldn’t run off with it?

“I promise to keep it safe,” he added simply.

June felt Maybelle’s skinny finger stick into her back. “You’re not really going to give it to him, are you?”

June never let anyone touch her instrument, ever. Maybelle had known that rule the moment June showed her the viola for the first time. But what choice did June have now? It was either trust a stranger with her viola or lose it forever.

She handed the viola case over, her skin prickling with a thousand needles of unease.

Author photo of Karina Yan Glaser courtesy of Corey Hayes. Excerpt from A Duet for Home © 2022 Karina Yan Glaser. Reprinted with permission of Clarion Books.

BookPage reveals the cover and an excerpt of Karina Yan Glaser's new standalone middle grade novel, A Duet for Home.

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