Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

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Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A teen girl who is working through the grief and guilt of losing her baby sister.

What made me pick it up: I was reading The Kite Runner when I just got really sick of what a fucking bummer it was so I went looking for a lighter book and stumbled upon this YA novel in audio on OverDrive. On double speed you’ll get through it in just a couple hours.

My favorite parts: I enjoyed the authentic depictions of various types of grieving and the discussion of and character arrivals at forgiveness. The relationships between all the teen characters were great, and very realistic. I appreciated the way it dealt with heavy themes in a hopeful way and didn’t feel like it was including horrific incidents just for show (looking at you, Kite Runner). It reminded me of Sarah Dessen novels mixed with just a smidgen of John Green.

Who it’s great for: Anyone struggling through something heavy who wants a break. Those looking for a quick, engaging read.

Erica’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Find this book on Amazon or in your local library.


 

Marlena by Julie Buntin

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Fifteen-year-old Cat is uprooted from her middle-class suburban life and finds herself a member of the rural poor. She fills her days with Marlena, the neighbor with whom she develops a teenage friendship defined by wildness, loss, and addiction.

What made me pick it up: I heard a review of this on a podcast and was immediately intrigued.

My favorite things: The story is told through both reflections by an adult Cat still struggling to make sense of her time with Marlena, and by teenage Cat as she experiences the life-defining friendship. Cat’s two voices weave together to seamlessly to illustrate the desperation and urgency of her friendship with Marlena. Bonus: the whole time I was reading I had that one Wallflowers song playing in my head.

Who it’s great for: This is a good choice for fans of Elena Ferrante or readers looking for something with a similar feel to Winter’s BoneThe Lovely Bones, or History of Wolves.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: After a tragic loss of her first love, Louna no longer believes in happily ever after which is tough because her day job as a wedding planner has her surrounded by a thousand versions of just that.

What made me pick it up: Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite YA authors and one of my most enjoyed author follows on Twitter. I was excited to learn about this new book and grabbed it as soon as I could.

My favorite parts: Dessen doesn’t shy away from real teen behavior or feelings which I appreciate. Louna has suffered a catastrophic loss and spends her time with two cynical parental figures who no longer believe in love. Her growth throughout the story and courage to be honest with herself and willing to consider love again is powerful. More than anything Dessen shows how sadness and hope go hand-in-hand.

Who it’s great for: Teens of all ages. Dessen fans. Anyone looking for a hopeful love story that stays on the realistic side.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon with our handy affiliate link.


 

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Rishi heads to a coding camp to finally meet and get to know Dimple, the woman his parents have selected for him to marry. Dimple is trying to become a world changing app developer and can’t figure out why some weirdo at coding camp is stalking her and talking about marriage.

What made me pick it up: It was getting a lot of press and play on Twitter. The cover is very engaging.

My favorite parts: This excellent YA novel is a wildly entertaining comedy of errors. While the timeline is, of course, a little condensed I really felt the emotions were authentic. I enjoyed the communication between teens and their families and even though it was a struggle, it was honest. The story line also incorporated the pressures of Indian-American children to uphold family traditions and cultural expectations while making their own way in America.

Who it’s great for: Teens of all ages. Anyone who wants a fun, light story and quick read. Readers looking for diverse books.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


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


 

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A fictionalized account of a 1979 murder that took place in the author’s hometown while he was in high school. Told through 6 different narrators – including the killer.

What made me pick it up: I was intrigued by the plot, but when I realized it was based on a real murder from my hometown’s past I knew I had to read it.

My favorite things: Wolf changed the name of the town and the people involved, but he kept the names of streets, events, and local businesses. For a native of the town where the murder occurred, reading this was a bizarre experience but still engaging. I love the variety of voices, used to paint a more complete picture of the events that took place, with each of the narrators trying to discover ways they could have prevented the senseless murder.

Who it’s great for: Older teens and adults who crave mysteries or suspense. The short chapters and rotating narration make this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A teen girl watches her oldest friend as he is murdered by the police. She contemplates Tupac’s concept of THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone) while struggling to stand up for her community.

What made me pick it up: This has been getting crazy good press so I scooped it up as soon as I could.

My favorite things: Starr’s voice is genuine and her heartbreak palpable. Thomas captures the essence and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement without exploiting or forgetting the real lives that have been lost. The current movement is tied to the past through more than Tupac’s words; reminiscent of the response by Bloods and Crips to the Rodney King verdict, local opposing gangs band together to protect their communities and join in protest against the violence they face at the hands of the state. The overall effect is both breathtaking and devastating.

Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking to understand and process the violence faced by communities of color in our society.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch

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Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: A young boy trains to become protector of his best friend, the prince, but on the verge of doing so he breaks an oath he did not know about and his world is shattered until he goes on a journey to uncover the truth.

What made me pick it up: I was ordering books for the library years and years ago and saw this and planned to purchase it and read it. Purchase, yes. Read? Not for ages because I changed jobs and my new library did not have a copy. We do now. And the sequel which I am very excited to begin.

My favorite things: This is some top notch YA fantasy. Once you get through the initial world building and character introductions the tale sprints along to the conclusion. Equal parts action and mystery, you will be fully immersed following Raim as he tries to clear his name and discovers the truth about his world and powers in the meantime.

Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking for some great fantasy writing.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find a copy at Amazon (affiliate link) or at a library near you.


 

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Fourteen-year-old Linda lives her life as an outsider, her solitude punctuated by problematic relationships. She struggles to find herself as she navigates intrigue, illness, fringe religions, and death.

What made me pick it up: I loved the cover art and, although I couldn’t remember what it was about, I knew I’d read good reviews.

My favorite things: I gave this a lot of shells because it is very well written and I recognize that it’s a great book, but it’s also a bummer and I’m not a big fan of literary fiction, so at times it kind of made me want to gouge my eyes out. That said, Fridlund’s perfectly crafted prose walk the line between sinister and simply heartbreaking with ease.

Who it’s great for: Readers looking for a complex and unusual coming of age story. Those seeking a young woman protagonist who is believable and strong. Anyone interested in an extremely well-written story.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Never Caught tells the story of Ona Judge’s time as a woman enslaved by George Washington, her escape from the President’s home, and the rest of her life as a fugitive.

What made me pick it up: I first read about Ona Judge in the YALSA Nonfiction Award Finalist In the Shadow of Liberty by Kenneth Davis. When I saw an entire book dedicated to her I knew I needed to know more.

My favorite things: This is a compelling read that is never dry. Dunbar seamlessly weaves Judge’s own account with other recorded details from history to create a well contextualized and more comprehensive report. Dunbar repeatedly reminds her readers that no matter how “good” or “kind” slaveholders were or tried to be toward the people they enslaved, those that they considered property would choose freedom of any kind every time they could.

Who it’s great for: Teens and adults interested in learning more about the reality of slavery and the lives of the fugitives who escaped during the early days of the United States. Readers who struggle to engage with nonfiction and history will appreciate Dunbar’s style of narrative nonfiction.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The story of a 1921 murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma unwinds through two perspectives: William’s, set at the time of the murder, and Rowan’s in the present day.

What made me pick it up: I read a prepub review that piqued my interest and put it on hold as soon as our library ordered it.

My favorite things: Latham uses the dual timelines explore the parallels between racially motivated violence in the early 20th century and the violence of today that has inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. Based on the 1921 massacre of Tulsa’s African American community, the author effectively uses mystery and suspense to bring attention to an often forgotten part of American history.

Who it’s great for: Teens interested in understanding racial violence and justice in American history. Fans of murder mysteries and readers of historical fiction.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.