Baltimore. Orlando. The Stanford rape case. Unhappy news does not always give young people much of a reason to hope. But against these tragic, troubling circumstances and stories stand great books, which have the potential to offer an antidote, and in the place of confusion, to foster growth in understanding, empathy, and curiosity.
These forthcoming titles deal with gargantuan subject matters—racism; sexual assault; violence; persistent prejudice against the LGBT community; even the sadism of those who feed on such misery—and they do so with style, thoughtfulness, and appeal. Their eventual presence on library and home bookshelves is certain to prove a grace to those seeking to make meaning out of (seeming) chaos. Diverse casts and provocative lessons make these titles both timely and significant; at Foreword, we cannot recommend them more highly.
When We Was Fierce, by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo.
Candlewick Press, August 9, 2016
978-0-76367-937-8; Hardcover, $16.95
Theodore was raised in the Split, a neighborhood where young people are pushed toward gangs, but where he and his friends, and his brilliant sister, Monica, fight to live beyond the violence. When he sees a gang member take down Ricky-Ricky, an old friend with special needs, T can’t keep himself from trying to help—but at great expense to all around him, as the streets don’t reward kindness. Caught in an all out gang war and still trying to hold on to what’s right, T narrates his spiraling life circumstances in raw, affecting beat form–not eschewing tough language or edging around hard realities, but doing what he can to locate a hopeful core in the madness. Young readers are certain to appreciate the prose-poetic form of When We Was Fierce, which affords this gripping, violent, and circumstance-transcending story a musical edge.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill.
Algonquin, August 9, 2016
978-1-61620-567-6; Hardcover, $16.95
A beast wanders out of the bog and becomes a poem that overlays the world—a world in which nothing is as it seems. Luna is born in a town that believes it must sacrifice a baby each year to a witch in the woods for their own protection. What they do not know is that all mortal danger exists at home, and that the presumed monster whom they feed is actually ferrying their children toward blessed lives. Especially Luna, who is accidentally enmagicked by the moon, and grows up protected by a witch, a tiny dragon with an enormous heart, and the beast itself. Barnhill’s novel, beyond its enthralling bones, is a work of beauty and enchantment, with its own cosmology, its own vocabulary of hope, and its own pearlescent center. Recommended for children of all ages, with a grateful nod toward its heroine of color.
It Looks Like This, by Rafi Mittlefehldt.
Candlewick Press, September 6, 2016
978-0-76368-719-9; Hardcover, $16.99
Mike’s family has just moved from Wisconsin to a town on a Virginia beach, and he is waiting for things to get back to normal. It’s just that “normal” rhythms feel detached for him: fiery sermons to tune out. A strained family situation to navigate. Taunting to avoid. When Mike meets Sean, though, these cold routines hit a snag: for the first time in a long time, someone other than his little sister seems to understand him. Mittlefehldt’s novel is crucial reading for young people who are approaching puberty, or who are navigating questions of which relationships feel right and natural–as well as for parents and teachers tempted to think that love is something that can be routed or proscribed. Conversion therapy is the clinical and absurd counterpoint to the holy touch of a hand upon a back and a gentle kiss before sunrise in this lovely novel, a book replete with reminders that love begins with acceptance—not just of the other person, but of our truest selves.
Wrecked, by Maria Padian.
Algonquin, October 4, 2016
978-1-61620-624-6; Hardcover, $17.95
College freshman Haley thinks that her world has fallen apart the day a concussion effectively ends her soccer career, but something seems to be plaguing her suddenly distraught roommate Jenny, too. When the truth comes out, it’s something that rocks the whole campus: Jenny, while attending her first college party, was sexually assaulted. A he-said, she-said campus battle ensues, with Haley tapped to be her roommate’s advocate, even as her new love interest, Richard, struggles to understand whether the accusations against his housemate are founded. Its topics are perennially relevant, but even moreso as campus assault cases make national news, and Padian’s thoughtful, multiperspective narrative avoids easy answers in favor of encouraging nuanced, careful approaches to the topic of consent. A critically important book for all high school aged and college aged readers, as well as for parents looking for ways to approach the topic helpfully.
Michelle Anne Schingler