Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Good Summer YA Books for Teens & Tweens



Can you believe that it's almost summer? I went for my first ocean swim of the season on Monday and lasted nearly ten minutes in the frigid Maine water. My husband reassembled our hammock, leaving me to compile my annual summer reading list of recently published books for teenagers. You might be tempted to read along with your kids. I've also included one adult nonfiction book that would crossover well to younger readers. Follow the links to the full reviews previously posted on my blog.



YA Short Stories

Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins. Perkins's last YA short story anthology, My True Love Gave to Me: 12 YA Holiday Stories was one of my favorite books from 2014. Once again, she has pulled together a talented group of authors running the gamut from realistic to fantasy, this time on a summer theme. There is something for everyone. Purchased at Bull Moose.



Contemporary YA Beach Books

Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider Who wouldn't love two months in Hawaii? Unfortunately, it's hard to swim or to surf with a cast. Sloane broke her hand punching her boyfriend after he got her best friend pregnant. Nonetheless, Sloane is determined to leave her angst and her ex behind in rainy Seattle. This is the ultimate beach book with a gorgeously lush setting. Native Hawaiian characters add diversity. The author attended college in Honolulu and this is her debut novel. Kindle ebook.
The Season of You and Me by Robin Constantine Although the cover looks like a traditional romance novel, what is missing from the photo is a wheelchair. A former surfer, Bryan now cruises his island home in an adapted car. Working at a summer day camp, Bryan befriends mainland Cassie, who is recovering from a painful breakup and adjusting to her dad's new family. Romance builds slowly on this small island off the Jersey shore. This engaging novel tackles the issues from prejudice toward disability to the challenges of sex as a paraplegic, and yet the tone is light and entertaining like any other YA romance. Purchased at Bull Moose.


This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart This novel is also set on an island off the Jersey Shore, but the writing style is literary and the content is way more innocent. Follow the link to my review of this environmental thriller. Galley from Chronicle Books, publisher.





Historical YA Fiction

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee Released yesterday, this bittersweet novel about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 features Mercy (Wong Mei-Si), the most delightfully headstrong protagonist since Anne of Green Gables. Although there is death, the content is otherwise tame enough for younger readers. Lee's first book, Under a Painted Sky, is also available in paperback and was my favorite YA book from 2015. Galley from Putnam Books, publisher.


Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse I read a Buzz Books excerpt and fell in love with the gorgeous writing and the original premise of this World War II novel. A Dutch teenager who supports her family through blackmarket deliveries joins the search for a missing Jewish girl. This book was nearly published as adult historical fiction and would crossover well to older readers. The author is also a Washington Post journalist. Purchased at Barnes & Noble in NYC.




YA Fantasy

The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge. This historical fantasy is set in Darwin's time on an island off England. After the suspicious death of her father, 16-year-old Faith feeds lies to a magical plant which reveals truths in hallucinogenic dreams. Hardinge was the first children's author to win the Costa Prize in the UK since Philip Pullman. I purchased the Kindle ebook because I couldn't wait for the April hardcover release in the USA.


The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh is the sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn, one of my favorite YA books from last year. This magical retelling of 1001 Nights is set in ancient Persia. I'm saving it to read on the beach. Purchased at Harvard Book Store.






Lower YA/Upper MG (ages 11-13)

Where You'll Find Me by Natasha Friend. Although this novel was shelved in the YA section at the Harvard Coop, the naive POV sounds more upper Middle Grade. The narrator is a 13-year-old girl who has moved in with her dad's new family after her bipolar mom tried to commit suicide. This gritty book explores mental illness and doesn't use it as a plot device to allow the protagonist freedom from supervision. It's also rare to find a book that bridges the divide between MG and YA. The protagonist's sassy but sweet voice brightens the narrative. I can see why Judy Blume blurbed this literary novel with feminist themes.


The Disappearance of Emily H by Barrie Summy This magical mystery set in middle school would be a lighter choice for tween readers. Since I reviewed it last year, this upper MG novel is now available in paperback. Galley from Delacorte Press, publisher.







Narrative Nonfiction (paperbacks)

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch One of my favorite nonfiction books from last year is now available in paperback. Teenage American-Zimbabwean pen-pals form a deep friendship over seven years in this inspiring YA memoir. The accessible style would appeal to younger readers too. Purchased at Longfellow Books.





The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery The New England Aquarium was so impressed by this National Book Award finalist for adult nonfiction, they just named their latest Giant Pacific Octopus after the author. Montgomery also shares the story of a teenage girl with autism who volunteers at the aquarium, making this an excellent crossover read for teens and tweens. The only shocking part would be octopus sex. Follow the link to my full review with octopus photos. Purchased at Gulf of Maine Books.




YA Thriller coming in June: 

With Malice by Eileen Cook After reading a Buzz Books excerpt, I requested the galley. This YA suspense thriller is reminiscent of the Amanda Knox scandal in Italy. Galley on the way from HMH for Young Readers, publisher. I will post a review this summer.

Reviewer's Disclosure:  I was not compensated for these reviews. I'm blog buddies with Beth Kephart and Barrie Summy and requested their galleys. I've read 6 of the listed book and am currently reading or planning to read the rest.

If you have other suggestions of good summer books, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Time to Party for Spring


Before the inundation of tourists, the sand reveals only tideprints.
Waves break under bluebird skies.


Coastal estuaries cycle through mudflat and flood,
rocking clammer boats in empty currents.


Clouds whisk across the sky, 
bringing more rain but also brilliant greens.


In my garden, bumblebees hum over wild violets,


While chartreuse shoots tickle desiccated leaves...


And beer cans are tossed 
from the dorms next door.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Book Lover's Birthday Gift: waging battle in verse

Birthday celebration with my brother, my mother, my father, and me - photo by my sister-in-law Sumie Nobunaga Lamport

My dad must have been my age now when I called him
"an old man." Late on a ski day, he'd taken the intermediate slope rather than following me down an icy double-black diamond with hazard signs.

My dad retaliated by quoting poetry at me,

"I grow old...I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?"

My groaning did not stop his recitation.
My dad - and T.S. Eliot - had the last word.

Or so he thought.


Jump ahead in time. I was now the mother... 

...of a teenager who leaves me in her snowy wake. 


Her grandpa had a big birthday. What should we give him?

My dad started the tradition of giving stupid gifts. Before I moved to Oxford, England for a one-year sabbatical, he gave me a mug featuring the six wives of King Henry VIII. When hot tea was poured, their heads vanished.

For my paternal jester, I considered a poetry collection written in invisible ink, but a beautiful edition of T.S. Eliot's poetry would be more classy.


In Portland, Maine I found an antiquarian bookstore, Carlson & Turner. Although T.S. Eliot died years before my birth, 1965 was not quite ancient enough for a leather-bound volume. The bookseller offered to rebind a 1970s edition, which I found at Yes Books. He rolled out reams of dyed leather and sheets of marbled paper. He'd spent decades mastering the classic art of bookbindery. His gorgeous samples with gold lettering were out of another century. The supple leather was soothing in hand.

This was the gift for my dad: "Time for you and time for me."


 A Love Song from J. Alfred Prufrock and me

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee


After reviewing Under a Painted Sky, my favorite young adult novel from 2015, I requested the galley of Stacey Lee's second book from her publisher. Outrun the Moon exceeded my high expectations, from the heart-pounding runaway hot air balloon opening to the bittersweet chapters about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

Mercy (Wong Mei-Si) is the most delightfully headstrong girl since Anne of Green Gables (1908). Mercy is neither an orphan nor a redhead, but she faces greater social stigma as a 16-year-old feminist in 1906 Chinatown. Although Mercy was born in San Francisco and speaks without an accent, white people treat her like a foreigner with racist disdain and hostile mistrust. She dreams of a better life for her sickly younger brother than toiling sixteen-hour days at their father's laundromat.


"Sometimes, when someone tells me I can't do something, it makes me want to do it more. Ma blames it on my bossy cheeks," says Mercy in Confession. 
Her fortune-teller mother supports her daughter's aspirations, "You cannot control the wind, but you can control the sails."

Present day Chinatown. Photo by my teenage daughter from our recent visit to San Francisco.

Author Stacey Lee
After reading a Book for Business-Minded Women by a Radcliffe-educated rancher, Mercy realizes that education is her ticket to success. Since the public schools in Chinatown don't go beyond elementary school, Mercy cons her way into the best boarding school in California by posing as a Chinese heiress. To her horror, she discovers that this elite Catholic school for white girls teaches Embroidery instead of Economics and discipline is extracted through the hard end of a ruler. Mercy's mock Chinese tea ceremony has to be one of the funniest scenes in YA fiction.

Mercy struggles to fit in until the big Earthquake of 1906 demolishes San Francisco and literally levels the playing field. Her pragmatic ingenuity and selfless bravery might save them all, but only if she can work with her arch nemesis, a popular Franco American girl with an agenda of her own. Like Under the Painted the Sky, there is a touch of romance, but the central relationships are friendships among girls from diverse backgrounds. Apparently, bad puns in the face of misfortune can overcome class barriers.

Photo of the Golden Gate Bridge and me by my daughter.
I read most of this 400-page novel in one day, alternating between laughter and tears. I could visualize the scenes from my recent visit to San Francisco with my daughter. The multi-cultural characters and historical details were beautifully rendered without overpowering the narrative. Although the earthquake scenes - including the deaths of loved ones - were upsetting, the content was innocent enough for all ages. My advanced-reader son, who was once obsessed with earthquakes, would have enjoyed this book in third grade. The literary style and complex themes would appeal to adults as well as to teens.

Outrun the Moon is an inspiring survival story which transcends race, gender and time.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I requested the galley from Putnam, Penguin in return for an honest review. Outrun the Moon will be released on May 24, 2016 in North America and in the UK. Author photo is Stacey's profile image on twitter. San Francisco photos are by my teenage daughter.

Mom Watch: Happy Mother's Day to my mom and to all moms reading this blog!

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@Barrie Summy

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Springtime and Passover in NYC

Carl Schurz Park, Yorkville, New York City, tulips above and walkway below.

Every year we gather in New York City for Passover. My parents host our Seder, and we all take turns reading from a haggadah that has more English than Hebrew. Our mixed-faith family is also multinational: American, British, Japanese, Italian Canadian and Mexican American. Only a few of us went to Hebrew School, but we all mumble along with enthusiasm, especially in the Dayenu chorus. The week-long holiday celebrates the Jews' escape from slavery in Egypt. In remembrance, we eat matzah, unleavened bread (English spelling of Hebrew varies). On the run in the desert, there was no time for the dough to rise. All the food is symbolic.


Passover is always in springtime, but the timing shifts due to the Hebrew lunar calendar. In my neighborhood park, the cherry trees were in peak bloom. My husband and our kids had to return for school, but I stayed a couple extra days to catch up with friends and art.


There's a wonderful Munch exhibit at the Neue Gallery, including his pastel Scream. Afterwards my parents treated me to a Viennese lunch at Cafe Sabarsky (above). The museum and cafe are inside a gorgeous 5th Avenue mansion overlooking Central Park.


Meanwhile back in Maine, my husband texted me this photo of our backyard. My flight back home Tuesday was cancelled due to the snowstorm! This was unusual for late April, even in Maine.


Given an extra day, I enjoyed a leisurely walk in Central Park.


For gym class in high school, I used to jog around the reservoir with my friend Cathy, who now runs Main Point Books in Pennsylvania. Another friend of ours is a librarian at a Harlem high school. We love talking books, and they use my recommendations to restock their shelves. My librarian friend was especially grateful for my Gay YA Romances post, since those are the books that go missing. Her students love romances and dystopia so I promised to keep an eye out for diverse YA in those genres.


For my last lunch, I had matzah ball soup at The Mansion, our local diner which has been there longer than my parents can remember. On the windows were both Passover and Easter decorations. I felt right at home.


Now back in Maine, I found my forsythia blooming over melting snow. Locals call spring snow "poor man's fertilizer." This transplanted New Yorker is feeling inspired.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The New Guy by Amy Spalding


The New Guy (and other senior year distractions) by Amy Spalding is a brilliant comedy of errors about high school journalism. This newly released YA novel starts like a predictable romance set at a private school in LA. Jules is so focused on getting into Brown that she hasn't had time for a boyfriend. The "new guy," Alex, was once a member of a boy band with one viral hit. Unsure how to navigate the real world, Alex is drawn to super-focused Jules. Their romance seems inevitable until Jules discovers that Alex is part of a video news program which threatens the survival of her beloved school newspaper.

Jules is a fine role model for teens, but she's not without flaws. She edits the school newspaper; welcomes new students like Alex; walks dogs at the animal shelter, and helps her two moms cook a healthy dinner. However, her quest for perfection backfires. Goaded by new media competition, her loyalty for the newspaper spirals out of control, threatening her relationships with her boyfriend, her best friend and her faculty advisor. As a prank war between old and new media escalates, Jules makes terrible choices and faces the consequences.

Jules reminded me a bit of myself during senior year: I was the photography editor of my school newspaper, volunteered at an animal shelter and was way too stressed about getting into an Ivy League school. Most of my friends had boyfriends, but I didn't have time for boys until I was accepted to college. Although I could relate to the pressures facing Jules, I found it hard to excuse how she treated her best friend and her boyfriend. Jules's justifications sounded more like self-delusion. Her story is a fair warning to overstretched teens about perspective and priorities.

The New Guy was a fun, light read with solid morals. The content was quite tame for upper YA: no drinking, drug use or hookups. When Jules decides to become sexually active, she visits a health clinic and discusses birth control with her boyfriend. The scene fitted Jules's pragmatic personality and wasn't preachy. I'd recommend this book to college-bound teens, especially to those interested in journalism. There were some good insights on the trade-offs between print and video news. The novel was well crafted and funny too. I'm looking forward to reading more books by Amy Spalding. This is her fourth young adult novel.

Reviewer's Disclosure: when I couldn't find this newly released (April 5th) novel in three bookstores, I bought the ebook from Amazon. Photo of an egret over Monterey Bay from my trip to California.