April 22, 2018

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On the Road, Again: New YA Road Trip Novels | SLJ Spotlight

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Nothing signifies “coming of age” as well as a road trip. And as the protagonists in these YA novels prove, the twists and turns of highways and inevitable vehicle malfunctions are part and parcel of this rite of passage. From an Odyssey-like journey to an artist’s struggle to forge her own identity in the Jim Crow South, the following works highlight the ups and downs of adolescence and the winding adventures of the road.

Clark, Kristin Elizabeth. Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity. 272p. ebook available. Farrar. Nov. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374380069.

ya-spotlight-clark-jess-chunckand-the-road-trip-to-infinityGr 9 Up –Immediately after graduation, Jess and her best friend, Chunk, embark on a road trip from San Jose, CA, to Chicago. Trans teen Jess has tried to fly under the radar, but now she’s ready to show her true self. Where better to make her debut than a surprise appearance at her transphobic dad’s wedding to her mom’s former best friend? The road trip uncovers many worries, tensions, and truths. Jess is concerned for her safety and nervous about passing. Her friendship with Chunk—who really hates the taunting and judgmental nickname and would prefer to be called Chuck—is on the rocks, too. He’s spending the trip texting another girl while growing increasingly irritated at Jess’s utter self-absorption. For someone so aware of names, image, and identity, Jess is extremely insensitive, especially when it comes to weight. It takes seeing (and overhearing) Chuck interact with new people for Jess to understand her feelings and begin to see beyond herself. Though it relies on an engaging premise, the novel is a mixed bag. Some things are true simply because readers are told they are (such as a significant revelation about Chuck that’s barely addressed). Chuck and Jess avoid some really big conversations that would reveal more about themselves and their relationship. Much like their friendship, the ending feels superficial. VERDICT Despite its flaws, this is still a useful addition to collections because of its rare multifaceted picture of a trans girl with a story that is about more than just coming out.–Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN

Convissor, Chris. The Urn Carrier. 242p. ebook available. Bedazzled Ink. Sept. 2016. Tr $11.95. ISBN 9781943837380.

ya-spotlight-convissor-the-urn-carrierGr 9 Up –Tessa is on a road trip. Like all good road trips, this one is packed with self-discoveries. The main objective is to spread her favorite aunt’s ashes in various places across the country. In the meantime, she gets to ponder whether she wants to return to college and if she is in a healthy relationship with her girlfriend. Most important, she begins to remember what shock has blocked out from her memory: her involvement in her father’s prolonged disappearance. Although the plot is slow to start, Tessa’s travels and her self-realizations will resonate with readers. Tessa is not the most accessible character. The author has carefully described the teen’s actions and words, but very little of a developed personality shines through. Overall, it is her lust for adventure and independence more than the mysteries of her past and future that will keep readers engaged. Recommend to those who enjoyed John Green’s Paper Towns and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. VERDICT An additional purchase for fans of road trip novels.–Jaclyn Anderson, Chattanooga Public Library, TN

redstarKiely, Brendan. The Last True Love Story. 288p. ebook available. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481429887.

ya-spotlight-kiely-the-last-true-love-storyGr 10 Up –Teddy Hendrix is a typical teenage boy dealing with hormones, girls who won’t give him the time of day, and family issues. His grandfather, Gpa, is in the throes of Alzheimer’s, and his memories are quickly fading away. After getting into a fight with a popular boy at his school, Hendrix joins up with Corrina, who is equally adrift and on whom he’s been crushing. She is adopted from Guatemala and finds an outlet for her loneliness and pain through music. After an emotional visit at Gpa’s retirement home, Hendrix and Corrina decide to fire up his mom’s car and take Gpa on one last road trip, from Los Angeles to Ithaca, NY. Along the way, the teens learn more about each other and the world and realize that sometimes the past is better left in the past and that the future is bright and vast if you have the right person on the journey. Kiely has constructed a sophisticated story about the power of love, music, and making amends. All three of the main characters are fully fleshed out and leap off the page. Corrina’s struggles will resonate with many teens who are grappling with who they are in society, especially teens of color adopted into white families and those who strive to achieve their dreams. Gpa’s disease is handled in a humane, nonexploitative way. The Odyssey-inspired plot evolves at a leisurely pace, yet it never drags, giving readers a chance to savor this special book. VERDICT Deeply personal and universal at the same time, Kiely’s truly lovely tale should find a home in every YA collection.–Christopher Lassen, BookOps: The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library

Stellings, Caroline. Freedom’s Just Another Word. 232p. ebook available. Second Story. Sept. 2016. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781772600117.

ya-spotlight-stellings-freedoms-just-another-wordGr 8 Up –Eighteen-year-old Easy lives in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1970. Hers is the only black family in town, and her father runs the local garage. She is a skilled mechanic, but her dream is to sing the blues. Her heroine is Janis Joplin. When Janis invites Easy to sing for her in Texas, Easy will stop at nothing to make her way to the recently desegregated South to chase her dream. The teen embarks upon a road trip accompanied by two nuns. While this setup sounds like the makings of a great novel, the story suffers in execution. The casual racism that Easy experiences during her trip does not create the expected responses of anger and sorrow but feels much more cerebral. This may be the result of the author’s heavy reliance on telling rather than showing. There are lost opportunities in the narrative to evoke the sense of danger of traveling as a lone black woman in the South in the 1970s, even one who is somewhat naive about her situation. Easy’s ultimate decision not to sing at Threadgill’s in Austin will be confusing to readers because she doesn’t seem overly concerned about racism until the moment when she might achieve her dream if she sings in front of racists. In spite of this, the well-researched setting makes for interesting reading. VERDICT A unique story about a fascinating place and time. Purchase where deep collections of historical fiction featuring people of color are needed.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH


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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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