Swing by Kwame Alexander

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: A teen guy who loves his best female friend but can’t bring himself to tell her, so he makes her anonymous art collage love letters. And their other best friend, Swing.

What made me pick it up: I adore Kwame Alexander and read everything he puts out.

My favorite parts: My favorite thing is the thing I can’t tell you. It’s the thing that made me cry in the LAST TEN PAGES and which I never saw coming. But I guess, generally, I can say it was the friendship. This book is about an angsty, mixed up teen who needs the guidance of his bestie to help him get the girl. And his friend shows up every time for him. Giving him advice. Lending him money. Introducing him to older, wiser individuals and the all important jazz music that permeates the book. This book is sweet and then it’s unexpected and sad and hard. Alexander wrapped all his strings up so well at the end and right under my nose as a reader. In hind sight I should’ve added everything up and known what was coming, but I guess even readers get hopeful that maybe the world isn’t the way it ends up being. Or at least maybe books won’t reflect that sad world back to us.

Who it’s great for: Everyone middle grade and up.

Erica’s rating: five shells

Unbound by Ann E. Burg

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A family who escaped slavery and their journey to join the colony of maroons in the middle of Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp to live freely.

What made me pick it up: A coworker came down to tell me she was working on her book talk for it and I realized I had read the author’s previous work (Serafina’s Promise) and love a novel in verse so I took it from her when she offered and checked it out.

My favorite things: This book is powerful. The verse nature of the writing makes it go very quickly. The first-person narration helps bring to life the experience of slavery for Grace. As someone who once was a nine-year-old who had trouble keeping her thoughts in her head and not saying whatever she thought, it really brought home how that once had much worse consequences. I could relate to all of Grace’s emotions — especially guilt. Even though you are fairly certain of the outcome, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat read as Grace and her family flee for their lives.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to learn more about a lesser known group of runaway slaves/slave settlement. Readers who want an emotional portrayal of the slavery and runaway experience.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Girls Like Me by Lola StVil

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Shay Summers is struggling through being fifteen. She’s trying to cope with her father’s death, her best friend’s terminal illness, a school bully, being overweight, and the ache of an unrequited crush. But then she finds love in a chat room.

What made me pick it up: This one was recommended to me by a colleague.

My favorite things: StVil tells this story in verse and in instant/text message – and she does it very effectively and intentionally. The characters make a lot of use of the medium, reveling in the anonymity and using fonts to flirt and fight. The teen angst and heartache is too real and perfectly captured, and the excitement over blossoming romance is palpable and infectious. I love that StVil wrote an overweight character without hinting at weight-loss, it’s definitely something I’d like to see more often.

Who it’s great for: Teens who feel like they’ll never fit in and never find love. Those dealing with the death or terminal illness of a loved one. Reluctant readers. Fan’s of Isabel Quintero’s 2014 young adult debut, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.

Abby’s rating: four-shells

Serafina’s Promise by Ann Burg (2015)

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What it’s about: A young Haitian girl named Serafina and her dream to be a doctor when she grows up despite all the challenges she faces.

What made me pick it up: This book was recommended to me by Goodreads after I rated another novel in verse.

My favorite things: The message of hope in this book is wonderful. Serafina is a very determined character. The author also gave a very honest portrait of the hardships of daily life in Haiti. I especially enjoyed the incredibly lyrical language.

Who it’s great for: Older kids. Teens. Adults. Anyone interested in the struggles of developing nations. People who want a quick read. Those who like poetry.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Booked by Kwame Alexander

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A teen boy has his first romantic interest while struggling to deal with bullies at school and his parents divorce.

What made me pick it up: I saw Kwame Alexander  speak at the Virginia Library Association annual conference in October and hadn’t read any of his books. In one weekend I checked out and completed this and his earlier Newbery Medal-winning book The Crossover. Oh yeah, and the entire book is written in verse.

My favorite things: Alexander has an ability to really make books about sports feel like the sporting event. They just have a flow to them. I really appreciated the true depiction of a teenager – priorities confused, emotions confused, everything dramatic but not any more than would actually happen. I was also pleased to see support for mental health issues by adults surrounding the teen characters.

Who it’s great for: Teens. Adults. Anyone looking for a quick, fun read with realistic characters. Fans of soccer and unusual vocabulary words. People looking for something a little different.
Erica’s Rating: four-shells 


Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or at your local library.