A Peek at the SLJTeen Live! Books

Reviews of the books featured at this year's SLJTeen Live! virtual conference on August 8.

SLJTeen Live!, SLJ's free day-long virtual conference that celebrates all things YA and teen services, is happening on August 8, and more than two dozen high-profile and up-and-coming authors will talk about their latest titles for teens.

In advance of the event, here are SLJ's reviews of some of the books that will be discussed—including seven starred reviews. Take a look at the full schedule, which also includes presentations from innovative librarians tackling timely issues , and register here.




Internment coverAhmed, Samira. Internment. 400p. Little, Brown. Mar. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316522694.
Gr 8 Up—In a world disturbingly similar to our own, the president of the United States incites hate, sending Muslim Americans to a prison camp in the California desert, near Manzanar, where those of Japanese descent were incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II. Seventeen-year-old Layla burns with anger—at the malevolent Director, who runs the camp; at the complicit Muslim American “minders” who work for the camp; and at those who let these injustices happen. Though Layla’s parents worry about her, she is compelled to shut down the camp, with the help of fellow prisoners; her boyfriend, David, who’s on the outside; and a seemingly sympathetic guard. As in Ahmed’s debut, Love, Hate and Other Filters, a teen grapples with both typical adolescent concerns and burdens that weigh heavily. Layla wonders if putting her family in danger is worth taking a stand. Though this tense novel brims with action, it also gives Layla, and readers, space to contemplate questions like this. She darkly notes that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, yet she also realizes that “forgetting is in the American grain.” Teens who finish Ahmed’s captivating work won’t soon overlook the ugly truths stamped into our nation’s history. VERDICT Sensitive and stirring. For all collections.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal 
For more on Internment, check out our review of the audiobook and our roundup of Muslim protagonists in YA.

Family Matters

Liars of Mariposa Island coverMathieu, Jennifer. The Liars of Mariposa Island. Roaring Brook. Sept. 2019. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626726338.
Gr 9 Up–The Finney family’s carefully constructed world begins to unravel as they struggle to hide dreams, disappointment, and deceptions. Primarily set in 1986 Texas, brother and sister Joaquin and Elena live with their single Cuban refugee mother, Caridad. Controlling, volatile, bitter, and always drinking, Caridad creates a culture of dread, manipulation, and lies. Elena’s only escape is babysitting for the Callahans and sneaking off with her new boyfriend, while Joaquin works as a waiter and dreams of finding the strength to break free from his family and leave Mariposa Island. Their difficult home life is contrasted with chapters set in 1950s Cuba, where Caridad lives an easy life full of wealth and love. When she is sent to the United States during the Cuban Revolution, Caridad’s life begins to fall apart. Joaquin makes a discovery that pushes them toward the potential for finally being truthful, but the secrets and silence that feel necessary for survival threaten to destroy the small family as they continue to lie to themselves and each other. With chapters from the perspectives of all three main characters, readers gain insight into the depth of lies, isolation, and frustration they all live with. The flawed, secretive, and well-developed characters make up for a plot that sometimes lags. Mathieu, the daughter of a Cuban refugee, spins an emotional, sensitive, and heartbreaking story about one dysfunctional family’s survival and unhappiness. VERDICT Quietly powerful, this layered story full of unreliable narrators will appeal to readers of character-driven stories.–Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine coverMoulite, Maika & Martiza. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine. Inkyard. Sept. 2019. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781335777096.
Gr 7 Up–Catholic school senior Alaine, an independent and sometimes even iconoclastic student with a reputation for shaking up the nuns, has grown up close with her Tati Estelle, her mother’s twin in Haiti, through email. Alaine resents the long distance relationship with her famous television journalist mother, Celeste. After her parents divorced, Alaine stayed in Miami with her psychiatrist father, also a Haitian transplant. For a class assignment, Alaine delves into Haiti’s revolutionary history to produce a shocking presentation with disastrous results. In place of suspension, she takes an internship in Haiti with Patron Pal, her aunt’s non-profit app to benefit the country’s economically challenged kids. The bonus is spending time with her jet-setting mother, also forced to take a time out after an on-air humiliation and health scare. Alaine sees the privilege of her wealthy family in Haiti, descendants of its founders, and the disturbing poverty of others as she tries to understand her relationship with her mother, her family’s belief in a revenge curse that brings them misfortune, and how immigrants never completely leave their countries of origin behind. The novel, told in multiple formats, includes postcards, diary entries, texts, tweets, diagrams, lists, and more to capture’s Alaine’s coming of age. The sisters Moulite have realistically created in Alaine an energetic, smart first-generation teen in a quest to understand herself via family. VERDICT A strong offering mixing a romance, mystery, and adventure in a Caribbean travelogue.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA 
13 Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All coverRuby, Laura. Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All. Harper Collins/Balzer + Bray. Oct. 2019. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062317643.
Gr 9 Up–Ruby’s first young adult novel since her Printz Award–winning Bone Gap is a feminist historical ghost story that is based on the author’s mother-in-law’s childhood experiences in a World War II–era Chicago orphanage. In 1941, after losing his wife and struggling to support his family, Frankie’s Italian immigrant father “temporarily” sends his three adolescent children to a Catholic orphanage. However, he soon remarries and moves away, taking only one of his children. Frankie and her sister, Toni, are left under the watch of the iron-fisted nuns with their oppressive rules. Frankie dreams of growing her hair past her ears, becoming an artist, and falling in love. She never suspects that someone unseen is actually watching over her and longing to protect her: the ghost of a teenage girl, Pearl, dead since 1918, who haunts the orphanage. As Frankie wishes for freedom, Pearl longs to have an impact on the physical world. And Pearl, like Frankie, has been let down by her family, been treated as a commodity, and suffered great loss. Each girl draws strength from her hardships, however, and refuses to submit to those who would control her. Some sexual content and brief, yet disturbing descriptions of violence make this title most appropriate for older readers. VERDICT Powerful plotting, masterful character development, and a unique narrative device set this work apart. Make room on the shelf next to Code Name Verity and The Book Thief.–Liz Overberg, ­Zionsville Community High School, IN
Cursed coverSilverstein, Karol Ruth. Cursed. 320p. Charlesbridge Teen. Jun. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781580899406.
Gr 9 Up–Recently diagnosed with arthritis, 14-year-old Ricky Bloom now lives in "the Batch Pad" with her dentist father and attends a new middle school in Philadelphia. Ricky begins "the Charade," ditching school to avoid bullying and the pain of getting there. Instead she spends her time sleeping, taking hot baths, and daydreaming about Julio, a cute drummer. Embarrassed by her pain and limitations, she prefers to keep to herself; the only person she chooses to see is her older sister Dani, a college basketball player who lives with her girlfriend of three years. When Ricky's truancy is discovered, she risks having to repeat ninth grade, which would bring more unwanted attention to her already miserable, angry days. Back to school (for real this time), she finds unlikely support from an English teacher and an adorkable guy named Oliver, a cancer survivor. These relationships and a new doctor who listens to her provide Ricky a sense of hope, allowing her to become a better version of herself. Silverstein's debut young adult novel is an accurate portrayal of the challenging relationship between parents and teens, as well as the frustration of living with a chronic illness. VERDICT Readers will enjoy this contemporary coming-of-age story featuring a resilient protagonist and charming plot.–Laura Jones, Argos Community Schools, IN

The Power of Love

Permanent Record coverChoi, Mary H.K. Permanent Record. S. & S. Sept. 2019. 432p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534445970.
Gr 10 Up–Pablo Rind’s actual first name is Pablo Neruda, but he’s not Latinx (he is South Korean/Pakistani), and that’s just one of the things that confuses him about his life. He has dropped out of NYU, has more debt than he can contemplate, and is working at a bodega. He isn’t proud of any of these things but feels helpless to change them, or to even tell his parents the magnitude of his issues. Things look up, however, when pop star Leanna Smart drops into the bodega one very early morning. Pablo is quickly pulled into the whirlwind that is Leanna’s life and learns that the brand she has created is a lot more complicated than he could see on her social media. Choi pulls from themes in her previous book, Emergency Contact, and has created a compelling and quirky tale of love and negotiating early adulthood in New York City. There are discussions of mental illness, racial and cultural identity, and social media woven in with romance and the story of Pablo trying to figure out what he wants and how to get there. This has mature content and is written for an older audience than many current YA titles. VERDICT Recommended for purchase by libraries serving older teens and new adults, or where Emergency Contact circulates highly.–Kate Olson, Bangor School District, WI
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph coverColbert, Brandy. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Little, Brown. Aug. 2019. 325p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316448567.
Gr 8 Up–Sixteen-year-old Dove “Birdie” Randolph faces challenges during the summer before her junior year of high school. She is expected to spend the summer taking SAT prep classes and helping at her mom’s beauty salon, but what she really wants to do is spend time with Booker. Unfortunately, because Booker has been in trouble with the law, Birdie knows her strict parents won’t approve of the relationship, so she sees him behind their backs. In the meantime, her aunt Carlene comes to live with the Randolph family after completing rehab. The troubled relationship between Carlene and Birdie’s mother adds a layer of complexity to Birdie’s summer plans; Carlene also provides Birdie with an ally to figure out how to convince her parents that Booker has dealt with his legal issues and is on the right path. In the midst of all this, a long-kept family secret surfaces and Birdie has to redefine the way she sees her family. This is a lovely portrait of a close-knit urban African American family that offers insight into the push from within for black excellence. In addition, it portrays a family struggling with addiction and helps illustrate what recovery can look like. Also, big cheers for a darker-skinned African American teen on the cover. VERDICT A great addition to teen collections everywhere. Give to readers hungry for The Hate U Give read-alikes.–Kristin Lee Anderson, Jackson County Library Services, OR
Last True Poets of the Sea coverDrake, Julia. The Last True Poets of the Sea. Disney Hyperion. Oct. 2019. 400p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781368048088.
Gr 8 Up–Violet is an out-of-control NYC teen who is shipped off to her mother’s hometown in coastal Maine after her younger brother attempts suicide and her parents try to get a handle on both of their children’s problems. While living with her uncle, Violet is forced to volunteer at the aquarium in town. While there, she makes friends with some of the local teens and begins to research her family’s origins, with help from her new friends Orion and Liv. Supposedly her great-great-grandmother survived a shipwreck and was a founder of the community. Violet’s search for answers about her mysterious ancestor mirrors some of the journey she and her brother Sam are on. Debut author Drake has created an authentic and romantic tale, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, that shows that life can be embraced again even after enduring a tragedy. Teen sexuality is respectfully addressed with a frankness that is welcomed. The realities of questioning yourself and the deep emotions that go with falling in love are ably displayed with the burgeoning relationship between Violet and Liv. Sibling bonds and the importance of family also balance out this narrative about battling grief and building bridges to a better tomorrow. VERDICT This contemporary romance has relatable characters on journeys of self-discovery and healing. A must-buy for all YA collections.–Nancy McKay, Ella Johnson Memorial Library, Hampshire, IL
A Curse So Dark and Lonely coverKemmerer, Brigid. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. 496p. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781681195087.
Gr 9 Up–Prince Rhen, heir to Emberfall, is cursed to repeat the autumn of his 18th birthday until he can find a woman to fall in love with him even as he transforms each season into a monstrous beast. The season resets after every failure—all 327 of them. When Harper intervenes in what looks like an abduction on the streets of Washington, DC, she is transported into another world. Instead of worrying about her dying mother or the risks her brother is taking to pay off their absent father's debts to a loan shark, Harper is trapped in Emberfall at the center of the curse. Harper, who has cerebral palsy, is shocked to learn that she is Rhen's last chance to break the curse. But Harper isn't sure if the fate of a kingdom can be enough to make her fall in love. Kemmerer's "Beauty and the Beast" retelling introduces a unique world filled with fantasy and menace. Rhen is an accomplished if pessimistic strategist while Harper is impulsive to the point of recklessness. Despite their obvious tension and occasional chemistry, Rhen's evolving friendship with his guard commander Grey is often more compelling than Harper's interactions with either man. While Harper and Rhen accomplish much over the course of the novel, this installment has little in the way of closure. VERDICT Rich world-building, hints of a love triangle, and unresolved questions will leave readers anxious to see what happens next. A strong choice.–Emma Carbone, Brooklyn Public Library
Frankly in Love coverDavid Yoon. Frankly in Love. Putnam. Sept. 2019. 432p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781984812209.
Gr 9 Up–Identity, family, secrets, sacrifice, first love, and transitions all come together in Yoon’s sparkling debut. Frank Li is one of the “Limbos,” a group of second-generation Korean-American children who are forced to hang out once a month when their parents organize dinners that are part support group, part competition. The Limbos are caught between two worlds, a sense Frank keenly feels as he begins dating his first girlfriend, who is white. After his sister is disowned for marrying a Black man, Frank decides to enter a fake relationship with Joy, another Limbo, so that they can both date the people they want without parental involvement. Frank’s romantic relationships change along with his relationship with his family, as he grapples with hard family news. This is an outstanding novel where the emotions are deeply felt but honestly earned. The characters are complex and nuanced, and all are on their own authentic journeys. The highlight of the book is Frank’s voice—he is a sharp observer who is funny, insecure, and deeply conflicted. Yoon’s writing is filled with highly specific descriptions that make Frank’s world feel fully realized, from the fruit-named phone chargers sold at his parents’ store, to his group of unique and nerdy friends, dubbed the “Apeys” for their Advanced Placement course load. This will be a hit with teens who like introspective realistic fiction, romance, and humor. VERDICT Full of keen observations about love, family, and race with a winning narrator, this is a must-purchase (multiple copies!) for any teen-serving library.–Susannah Goldstein, The Brearley School, New York City

True Life: I Write YA Nonfiction

Gender Queer coverKobabe, Maia. Gender Queer: A Memoir. illus. by Maia Kobabe & Phoebe Kobabe. Lion Forge. May 2019. 240p. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781549304002.
Gr 9 Up–Kobabe, who uses the pronouns e, em, and eir, was assigned female at birth but never felt that this designation fit. As e grew up, e learned about the spectrum of gender designations and settled on nonbinary as the best descriptor. E came out to eir family as nonbinary and asexual and found that eir family supported em however e identified. In this memoir, Kobabe chronicles eir life from the time e was very young through eir coming of age and adulthood. E describes common situations from the perspective of someone who is asexual and nonbinary: starting a new school, getting eir period, dating, attending college. The muted earth tones and calm blues match the hopeful tone and measured pacing. Matter-of-fact descriptions of gynecological exams and the use of sex toys will be enlightening for those who may not have access to this information elsewhere. VERDICT A book to be savored rather than devoured, this memoir will resonate with teens, especially fans of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Mason Deaver’s I Wish You All the Best. It’s also a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand.–Jenni Frencham, Indiana ­University, Bloomington
Fly Girls coverO'Brien, Keith. Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History. 320p. glossary. index. notes. photos. HMH. Mar. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781328618429.
Gr 8 Up–This is an excellent adaptation of O'Brien's original and exceptional Fly Girls, a history of five women pilots in the golden age of flight. The women faced enormous odds in a nascent, dangerous, and male-dominated profession during an era when society believed a woman's proper place was at home. There is enough detail to satisfy both curiosity and research needs for middle to high schoolers, but also not too much text. The fascinating personal and public stories, historical details, facts, and photos will enable teen readers to develop an interest and empathy for these young women in an earlier era fighting for the right to make their own choices, both at work and at home. Many chapters focus on one pilot as the book moves through time, weaving the narratives together. This format, coupled with a helpful glossary, extensive endnotes citing sources, and an index, make it an excellent research tool. VERDICT This compelling story will appeal to teen readers of all persuasions. There is something for everyone from civil science to the science of flight, to daring and death-defying exploits.–Gretchen Crowley, formerly at Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA
Dissenter on the Bench coverOrtiz, Victoria. Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Life and Work. 208p. appendix. bibliog. index. photos. Clarion. Jun. 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544973640.
Gr 6 Up–This accessible and engaging biography of the Supreme Court Justice successfully weaves together information about her life and major court cases in which she had significant influence. Each of the 10 chapters highlights a different court case and a segment of Bader Ginsburg's life, including her academic pursuits, experiences as a woman facing blatant gender discrimination, and her marriage to Martin Ginsburg. The many challenges Bader Ginsburg faced as a person of the Jewish faith growing up during the time of World War II, and as a woman studying law in an overwhelmingly male field are described. Her ferocious determination to fight injustice and inequality stem from personal experience. The first three cases involve teens, (a 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched at school, a 16-year-old girl who fought random drug testing at school, and an 18-year-old boy who fought for his right to freedom of speech and expression at school), and should be particularly relatable to today's youth. Ortiz provides a good overview of how the court system works and how cases reach the Supreme Court. She also explains what it means to dissent and how Bader Ginsburg was encouraged from an early age through the teachings of Judaism to question, challenge, and disagree. Ample black-and-white photos show the subject throughout her life, including the people she defended and befriended. A lengthy bibliography is provided and the appendix includes the Bill of Rights. VERDICT A straightforward and up-to-date biography about a groundbreaking American icon.–Madeline J. Bryant, Los Angeles Public Library

Seeing Is Believing: Graphic Books for Teens

Joe Quinn's Poltergeist coverAlmond, David. Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist. illus. by Dave McKean
Candlewick. Sept. 2019. 80p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536201604.
Gr 6 Up–Almond and McKean’s latest graphic collaboration, based on a previously published story by Almond, centers on Davie, a teenager living in a small English village, whose dull summer is disrupted when the obnoxious Joe Quinn claims to have a poltergeist at his house. Rumors about the Quinns abound—that Joe’s father is a hit man and his mother is a Rolling Stones groupie. At the Quinn house, Davie witnesses dishes taking flight and breaking as he becomes involved in the family’s domestic dramas. As Davie struggles to determine if the poltergeist is real, he must also come to terms with the death of his sister, his impending adulthood, and the realization that adults are often as clueless as children. The connection between adolescence and poltergeist activity is not new territory, but this book offers a fresh take on the subject, in large part thanks to McKean, whose mixed-media illustrations evoke the kinetic energy of supernatural activity and teenage angst. Most of the art is full page, but when McKean uses panels, they mirror Davie’s confusion. Deftly exploring each sides of a seemingly supernatural scenario, Almond once again creates compelling characters torn between facts and beliefs in their search for the truth. VERDICT A visual delight and a witty approach to those adolescent moments that push past the boundaries of the rational world.–Jennie Law, Georgia State University, Atlanta
Mooncakes coverWalker, Susanne (text) & Wendy Xu (illus). Mooncakes. Lion Forge. Oct. 2019. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781549303043.
Gr 7 Up–Nova is a small-town witch, fulfilling her apprenticeship at her grandmothers’ New England bookshop. When rumors surface of a white wolf wandering the forest, Nova knows it’s her long-lost werewolf friend Tam. Nova goes to find them, only to encounter a terrifying demon who’s possessing a neighbor’s horse—and who can’t be defeated by any magic she knows. The two get away, and Nova and her grandmothers take in Tam. With their combined witch and wolf magic, Nova and Tam must work together to defeat this demon, all while their undeniable chemistry rekindles their long-dormant mutual crush. Xu and Walker have created a charming, magical tale. Tam and Nova are multifaceted, with developed backstories and motivations. Their shared identities (they are both Chinese American and queer) are integral to their characters; Tam’s nonbinary identity and Nova’s hearing impairment are similarly authentic. Xu’s illustrations infuse the spells and witchcraft with a dynamic, exhilarating magic. There is some mature language, some violence, and a gentle romance. VERDICT This sweet, spellbinding story will appeal to fans of magic and romance.–Anna Murphy, Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn


I Was Their American Dream coverGharib, Malaka. I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir. illus. by Malaka Gharib. Clarkson Potter. Apr. 2019. 160p. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9780525575115.

Gr 7 Up–In this graphic memoir, Gharib recounts her experiences growing up as a first-generation American. Her father was Egyptian and her mother Filipina, and she often felt like an outsider, not only in her California hometown but also within her own family. She details her struggles balancing vastly different religious expressions, social customs, and language barriers. Gharib attended a high school with a diverse student body, where she encountered other first-generation Americans, and attempted to talk about her ethnicity by asking other teens of color the well-meaning but misguided question, “What are you?” As a young woman of color, the author grappled with her complicated feelings about the overwhelmingly white images in the media. As an adult she married a white man from the South and shared her culture in an accepting relationship. Ultimately, she concludes that cultural heritage is a crucial part of identity. Gharib details her transformation in simple, self-deprecating cartoons. She peppers the narrative with interactive elements like microaggressions bingo, mini-zine pages, and a paper doll sequence that highlights her attempts to literally wear different aspects of white culture as she navigated her adult life. VERDICT This engaging memoir is an uplifting ode to Gharib’s bicultural background, her immigrant parents, and her road to self-acceptance. An essential purchase.–Elise Martinez, Zion-Benton Public Library, IL
Author Image
Katy Hershberger
Katy Hershberger (khershberger@mediasource.com) is the senior editor for YA at School Library Journal.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing