April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Little Heart | New in YA Romance

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From coming-of-age stories with a dusting of romance to a modern-day Romeo & Juliet, there’s something here to suit everyone.

Upside of UnredstarALBERTALLI, Becky. The Upside of Unrequited. 352p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062348708. POP
Gr 9 Up–Growing up can mean growing apart, which is a hard revelation for twins Cassie and Molly Peskin-Suso. When Cassie, who is a lesbian, begins dating Mina, a pansexual Korean American, Molly feels a little cast aside. Molly, who has an anxiety disorder, has silently nursed 26 crushes and is working on finally risking the rejection she fears and starting to date. Cassie wants Molly to hook up with Mina’s best friend, Will, but Molly might be more interested in sweet and endearingly geeky Reid. While the girls are navigating these new worlds of romance, things don’t slow down in other parts of their lives. Cassie and Molly’s moms are finally getting married, so there’s a wedding to plan, much to the delight of Pinterest-savvy Molly; plus there are jobs, friends, and a busy baby brother. Molly, Cassie, and all of the secondary characters are well-developed and distinctive. The outspoken girls have honest, humorous, and sometimes awkward conversations with each other, their friends, and their supportive and loving moms about relationships and growing up. Albertalli’s keen ear for authentic teen voices will instantly make readers feel that they are a part of Cassie and Molly’s world, filled with rich diversity (Cassie and Molly’s family is Jewish and interracial), love, support, and a little heartache. In the satisfying conclusion, Molly and Cassie learn that letting new people into their lives does not have to mean shutting out others. VERDICT Readers will fall in love with this fresh, honest, inclusive look at dating, families, and friendship. A top purchase for all YA collections.–Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN

our own private universeTALLEY, Robin. Our Own Private Universe. 384p. ebook available. Harlequin Teen. Jan. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780373211982.
Gr 9 Up–Aki has always been a perfect preacher’s daughter—responsible, polite, safe. This summer, though, things will be different. Aki will be traveling with a group of teens and chaperones (her father included) to help build a new church in a rural Mexico. Aki is hoping for a new distraction after being rejected by the music program of her dreams. She finds it in Christa. Both girls want a simple summer romance, but Aki is only out as bisexual to her best friend, and Christa is terrified that her parents will find out that she likes girls. Talley does an excellent job of portraying how a closeted relationship can start to unravel, despite genuine affection, and the depiction of Christa and Aki’s emotional lives seems honest and real. There are sometimes too many side plots, such as sudden revelations about Aki’s long deceased uncle, but they don’t overwhelm the central themes. And even with her infatuation, Aki never becomes singularly focused. She devotes energy to her brother and to conversations about the upcoming convention, where their church will take official stances on topics such as same sex marriage and foreign aid. Particularly important is the novel’s information on safe sex between two women, so commonly ignored, that is effortlessly worked in. VERDICT This pitch-perfect romance is all heart, touching on serious issues but never becoming too heavy, and will be a strong addition to any teen collection.–Amy Diegelman, formerly at Vineyard Haven Public Library, MA


Katcher, Brian.Deacon Locke Went to Prom. 400p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062422521.
Gr 8 Up–When Deacon Locke can’t find a date for the senior prom, he decides to invite his grandmother Jean, who missed her own prom because her date (Deacon’s grandfather) was serving in the Vietnam War. Deacon has never been able to depend on his fly-by-night father, and his mother isn’t in the picture: Jean, with whom he has been living for the past two years, has been the sole rock in his life. When a video of the unlikely couple dancing at the prom goes viral, awkward, loner Deacon experiences his first taste of popularity. As he looks toward the future, he grapples with his newfound celebrity; pursues a relationship with his dance instructor, Soraya; and realizes that Jean may be dealing with dementia. While Deacon occasionally comes off as insensitive when it comes to race and gender (“The non-politically-correct part of my mind wonders if [Soraya] has an exotic accent”), he grows and develops as he learns of the bigotry that Soraya, who is Muslim, has confronted. The plot is somewhat predictable in places (Soraya and Deacon’s relationship is temporarily derailed when another suitor asks Soraya out right before Deacon can), and characterizations are a little thin. However, Deacon’s wryly self-deprecating voice will resonate with readers, and Katcher’s commentary on Internet fame rings true. Teens will enjoy this light but touching tale of maturation. VERDICT Those seeking coming-of-age stories with a bit of romance will be pleased with this quick, heartfelt read.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

ronitLASKIN, Pamela L. Ronit & Jamil. 192p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062458544.
Gr 7 Up–Poet Pamela Laskin’s short, lyrical novel-in-verse is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in present-day Jerusalem. Ronit is an Israeli girl whose father, Chaim, is a pharmacist, and Jamil is a Palestinian boy whose father, Mohammed, is a physician. Chaim supplies prescription medications to Mohammed’s patients. The two teens first meet at the clinic where both their fathers work, and, as in Shakespeare’s original, the young lovers fall for each other after meeting only briefly. Through secret texts and clandestine meetings, they desperately try to be with each other while facing opposition from their parents and the very real physical barrier between Israel and the West Bank. The story departs from the original, though, with the implication that Ronit and Jamil will escape the conflict and will find a way to be together—an underlying message of hope for the larger Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Laskin frequently quotes Shakespeare’s play, but she also quotes from Middle Eastern poets, including Rumi and Mahmoud Darwish, and makes skillful use of Middle Eastern poetic forms, such as the ghazal. Readers may occasionally find it difficult to tell which character is speaking, but the accessible poetic lines and universal questions about crossing cultural lines make for a quick and powerful read. VERDICT An obvious choice to pair with Romeo and Juliet in a literature class, this can also open discussion about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and about bridging cultural boundaries.–Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ

the education of margot

RIVERA, Lilliam. The Education of Margot Sanchez. 304p. S. & S. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481472111.
Gr 9 Up–Margot is disappointed to be spending her summer working in her family’s Bronx-based chain of grocery stores, away from her elite prep school crowd. She is suffering the consequences after misappropriating her father’s credit cards to finance her wardrobe. She would much rather be partying with her friends and her crush in the Hamptons. Teens will recognize the obvious consequences of her decisions as she is rude to her family’s employees, rejects her childhood friend, steals beer from her family to impress her friends, and casually loses her virginity (to a guy who clearly doesn’t value her much) after she’s been drinking. Her attempts to redeem herself as she finally sees the error of her ways are effective, though, and over the course of the summer, Margot slowly learns the value of real friendship, navigates some family secrets, and begins to see her Puerto Rican heritage in a different light, culminating in an unsurprising but happy conclusion. VERDICT A fairly standard problem novel, but the realistic Latinx characters make this a welcome addition to YA shelves.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH


Smith, Jennifer E. Windfall. 432p. ebook available. Delacorte. May 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780399559372. POP
Gr 9 Up–What would you do if you won the lottery? A question almost everyone has contemplated becomes a reality for high school senior Teddy, who receives a winning ticket from his best friend, Alice. She bought the ticket on a whim, and it sends them down a much different path than either had anticipated. Both have had their share of struggles. Alice, an orphan, has moved to Chicago to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin. Teddy’s father is a gambling addict who left Teddy and his mother penniless. Winning millions of dollars seems to be the best thing that could have happened to Teddy, but Alice knows that more money means more problems, and she sees how the money changes Teddy and how other begin to behave around him. As Teddy continues to be oblivious to her hopeless love for him, Alice finds herself battling old ghosts—and her heart. Smith weaves a poignant novel of teens coping with loss and change as they balance on the verge of adulthood. A story that could easily skim the surface of emotions plunges head on into the complexities of grief, loss, and love. Healthy doses of humor and small victories for the main characters keep the atmosphere from feeling too heavy, and Smith creates more gentle tension as readers wait to see if love blossoms and if Alice will do something just for herself. VERDICT Fans of Morgan Matson and Deb Caletti’s books will want to curl up with a box of tissues as they fall under Smith’s storytelling spell. Recommended for most YA collections.–Carrie Finberg, South Park High School, PA



  1. Lauren Gledhill says:

    Rumi isn’t an Arab poet, he’s Persian. There’s a difference!

    • Shelley Diaz says:

      Hi Lauren,

      Thanks so much for that correction. We apologize for the error! We will update the review above and anywhere else the review might appear.

      Shelley Diaz, SLJ Reviews Manager