I am a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association, and I have the privilege of reading a wide variety of early, middle grade, young adult books each year. I enjoy reading debut novels, works from authors just a few books old, and books from established authors. I take joy in the fact that there’s such excitement in this world of books, and I love its changes, particularly in terms of diversity.
My 2019 involvement with Booklist yielded four rejected books and twenty published reviews, including the three starred reviews below. This year’s list is comprised of two amazing young adult novels and one truly unique middle grade novel.
Why did I give them starred reviews? Simply because each offered something special above and beyond excellent writing and storytelling skills. If you’re looking for a gift for a young friend or relative, you might find the perfect title here. Giving the gift of a book lasts long after the recipient has closed the cover for the last time.
The order in which I list them is by publication date of the books.
P.S. Because I had what amounted to a six-month hiatus from Booklist due to two knee replacements and lengthy physical therapies, I’ve decided to include this year’s SHOUT OUTS. Enjoy and happy reading!
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE
Menon, Sandhya (author).
May 2019. 384p. Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, $17.99 (9781534416789).
REVIEW. First published
March 1, 2019 (Booklist).
Seventeen-year-old, swoonworthy Ashish Patel is the basketball star of Richmond Academy. Bummed after being dumped by his college girlfriend, he challenges his parents to make good on their constant threat to find him an Indian American girl to date. Their choice is Sweetie Nair, Piedmont High’s track star. When Ashish’s mother proposes the match, Sweetie’s mother adamantly insists that their children aren’t compatible—namely because Sweetie is fat. Furious with her mother’s constant ragging about her weight, Sweetie takes matters into her own hands and agrees to the Patels’ four-date contract without telling her parents. Ashish and Sweetie accept the arrangement, each feeling they have something to prove, wondering if this arranged match will work, and not knowing what will happen when Sweetie’s parents find out. Ashish and Sweetie share narrative duties, and both are flanked by supportive friends and caring parents—even if their approaches to love can be painful at times. Menon, as always, champions teens by allowing them the space and pace to make decisions, succeed or fail, learn, and blossom. This companion book to her successful debut, When Dimple Met Rishi (2017), hits all the right notes and delivers a joyful relationship that discards society’s dictates about appearance in favor of loving the whole person. Give this to readers who love a good rom-com with a message.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Menon’s debut won readers’ hearts, and her fans will turn out in droves for its sequel. An author tour will add to the frenzy.
— Jeanne Fredriksen
Booklist Editors Recommend Titles Similar to There’s Something about Sweetie
- Eleanor & Park
- A Very Large Expanse of Sea
- Saints and Misfits
Dowell, Frances O’Roark (author).
Illustrated by Amy Marie Stadelmann.
Oct. 2019. 320p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $17.99 (9781481481793).
REVIEW. First published
September 15, 2019 (Booklist).
Beloved Mrs. Herrera’s sixth-grade class at Milton Falls Middle School is a lively one of 20 students, but since sixth grade is when strange things happen with friendships and other relationships, everyone seems a little bit dazed and confused. Adding to the weirdness is new girl Ellie, who keeps to herself and constantly writes in a notebook as if
she’s psychoanalyzing everyone. And then there’s Sam, who supposedly moved away but keeps showing up at odd times around school. Mystery pervades the classroom when items begin to disappear from Mrs. H’s keepsake box, clearly marked “Do Not Touch,” and a rumor hits that Mrs. H may be in deep trouble with the administration. Award-winning and best-selling author Dowell has created an intricate, laugh-out-loud story, in which readers will recognize themselves and their own classmates through the 20 distinct perspectives that emerge as confessions and pieces of the mysteries fall into place. Intrigue is high, lessons are learned about those whom we think are different from us, and friendships shift as easily the tides. Dowell’s characters are unquestionably realistic, and the story has twists and turns that will keep kids glued to the page. Read-aloud possibilities are endless for this fun mystery, which is a must for every sixth-grade classroom library. — Jeanne Fredriksen
Booklist Editors Recommend Titles Similar to The Class
- The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School
- The Best Mistake Mystery
- Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue!
THE HOW & THE WHY
Hand, Cynthia (author).
Nov. 2019. 464p.
HarperTeen, $17.99 (9780062693167).
REVIEW. First published September 15, 2019 (Booklist).
Being adopted as a baby has given Cass a good life with loving parents and the best friend ever. But now that she’s 18, she feels the urge to search for the woman who gave her life. Little by little—while still mindful of her parents’ feelings—Cass chips away at the blank wall dividing her from information she desperately needs in order to complete her sense of self. The narrative is told via two alternating voices that are rich and distinct: Cass’, as she moves through her senior year, and her 16-year-old birth mother’s, relayed in a series of letters written to the baby while she was pregnant. Their individual issues, dreams, needs, and visions are beautifully rendered and superbly shaped. Inspired by her own experience of being an adopted child, Hand has crafted an absorbing novel that focuses on family, friendship, teen pregnancy, adoption, personal choices, and serious health issues. Cass believably embodies the role of the unassuming female protagonist whose life, through no fault of her own, is roundly challenged, and she finds ways to rise above the conflicts. Give this exquisite novel to readers seeking an emotionally intricate story. — Jeanne Fredriksen
Booklist Editors Recommend Titles Similar to The How & the Why
- Far from the Tree
- How to Save a Life
SHOUT OUTS FROM 2019!
TEENY WEENIES #1:
The Intergalactic Petting Zoo and Other Stories
TEENY WEENIES #2: Freestyle Frenzy and Other Stories (122 pages)
David Lubar, Author.
Illustrated by Bill Mayer.
April 16, 2019.
$12.99 each hardcover; also available in digital format. Grades 2-5.
Warning: These stories made me laugh out loud over my morning coffee, and spit takes were never so much fun!
David Lubar is the master of writing for kids, including young adults. Middle school librarians and teachers surely are familiar with Lubar’s work, for his Weenies collections always have been hit after hit, flying off the shelves and infiltrating impressionable minds. As of April 16, 2019, younger readers have their own series of sidesplitting short stories to read, complete with Bill Mayer’s amazing Weenie comic book style illustrations.
Teeny Weenies: The Intergalactic Petting Zoo and Other Stories and Teeny Weenies: Freestyle Frenzy and Other Stories are two collections of Weenies stories for younger readers, and Lubar conjures up his magic in a dozen stories in each. Stories include bullying in a community pool (with unexpected consequences); the all-consuming desire to collect hard-to-get items; family vacations with surprising outcomes; an unbelievable father-daughter fishing excursion; a swim meet that isn’t quite on the up-and-up; and an aunt and uncle who are mad scientists.
Both collections appeal to boys and girls and are perfect for chapter book readers, reluctant readers, and anyone who loves wacky, hilarious characters in everything from mundane to fantastic situations. All stories contain twists and turns and lessons learned with humor and interesting circumstances with tons of giggles and guffaws.
Bottom Line: The collections are excellent for read-alouds and read-togethers with the kidlets, and they’re so clever—so Lubarian—that teeny weeny readers will gobble these up, guaranteed.
Coming September 3, 2019! Teeny Weenies #3: The Boy Who Cried Wool and Teeny Weenies #4: My Favorite President!
THE LIBRARY OF EVER
Zeno Alexander, Author.
April 30, 2019.
Macmillan. 208 pages.
$16.99 hardcover; also available in digital format.
A library, a focused and strong female protagonist, and a series of unusual events … what’s not to love?
We’ve all been there: bored out of our minds as a kid. However, how many of us have had the good fortune to have that ennui turn into a life-changing experience? Despite being eleven years old and bored to death, Leonora discovers a portal into an extraordinary library that is filled with everything in the world—and in some cases, beyond—or there are no limits. Leonora accepts the position as an assistant librarian, and during the book, she travels to worlds unknown, researches hyper-specific information for unlikely patrons, interacts with beings she never knew existed, gains additional librarian titles, and learns that shady and evil people inhabit her world.
The Library of Ever is a love story to libraries and librarians everywhere and a magical adventure in which a young girl discovers the truth, “Knowledge is a light.” Lenora shines just as brightly as that truth and has the smarts to go wherever the facts lead. The Library of Ever is a temple of curiosity in which Leonora fights evil and the Forces of Darkness by uncovering facts and—seeking truths, pursuits that are imperative in today’s world.
I’m hooked, and it’s all your fault, Zeno Alexander! I absolutely love Lenora, who reminds me of Kirby Larson’s intrepid Audacity Jones—determined, focused, smart. Is it fantasy? Is it sci-fi? Is it phantasmagoria? With a dash of Snickett, a pinch of Rowling, and a whole bunch of fun in places even Leonora never imagined, there’s abundant adventure and a great setup, sending Lenora on her way in the first book of an exciting new series for young readers.
Book 2, Rebel in the Library of Ever, is scheduled to publish April 28, 2020!
EMPEROR OF THE UNIVERSE
(Book One of a Trilogy)
David Lubar, Author.
July 2, 2019
Macmillan Starscape Tor/Forge.
368 pages. $13.99 hardcover; also available in digital format.
A boy, his gerbil, and two pounds of ground beef find themselves at the center of David Lubar’s loopy and witty intergalactic funfest!
Seventh grader Nicholas V. Landrew of Yelm, Washington, is no ordinary kid, but it’s not his fault (if it were, he’d take responsibility—he’s that kind of kid, thanks to author David Lubar). His parents—one half of a Beatles parody group called the Beegles who, of course, wear beagle masks and sing Beatles songs involving dogs—are on tour in Australia, and having been bounced between Aunt Lucy and Uncle Bruce, neither of whom really want to deal a twelve-year old, Nicholas finds himself in a life-changing situation.
While rummaging through the refrigerator, he discovers his pet gerbil Henrietta isn’t in his shirt pocket, where she normally is. At first, he doesn’t think much of it, but after taking out a “two-pound family-sized package of vacuum-sealed fresh-ground hamburger meat” and placing it in Henrietta’s cage, a laser-bright flash of purple light (just like the earlier one he hadn’t seen that had abducted Henrietta) makes the meat disappear. So, what’s kid to do but squeeze into the cage and hope he’ll be able to find Henrietta? (And the meat.)
Transported to somewhere in the galaxy—or some galaxy—Nicholas recovers Henrietta, who by the grace of space can speak and is surprisingly snarky, and the meat, who also by the grace of space can speak and has fleeting memories of its previous life somewhere like a meadow. To rescue his, um, friends, he is forced to stomp on the Craborzi (caterpillar-like aliens with tentacles sporting claws), killing them (with regret), in order to make an escape. And that’s where the chase for Nicholas, Destroyer of Worlds, begins all over, all across, and all around the universe, in a get-away spacecraft courtesy of a social-media-follower-crazed Menmarian space pirate named Clave, who posts his exploits and whereabouts every chance he gets.
During Clave’s stops around the universe, Nicholas meets or evades Yewpees, Zefinorans, Beradaxians, Zengs, Theribans, and other outlandishly shaped aliens. He has a conversation with a leader who has assumed the name President Nixon and meets his Vice President, Gluteus Sofacushion. He is schmoozed by a talent agent named Morglob Sputum. Meanwhile, the Emperor of the Universe, His Hugeness Zrilber Monospokidokapusimus, is dying.
Nicholas learns about and experiences planet scorchers, hyperjumps, j-cubes, and an Amazon-like mega-corporation called Thinkerator. And yet, throughout these madcap adventures, Nicholas tries (sometimes successfully and most times frustratingly) to apply diplomacy, logic, and desperate kindness, turning his once-fugitive status into something … to be continued in the next installment.
Nicholas, on the surface, is a typical seventh grade kid who casually embraces the strangeness of his home life, loves sci-fi movies, and is curious about the world around him. With those attributes, it’s not so bizarre to find him fighting off blobby aliens or strange beings that, in their own ways, are fighting for survival in this tip-of-the-hat to Douglas Adams. Blanks are filled in between chapters by a ubiquitous, omniscient narrator who lectures-not lectures, giving the reader additional information about and insights into the places and beings found along this lively and mind-bending journey.
It’s a wild ride from here to there and back again, filled with humor and punctuated with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Although the cover art speaks to readers younger than the content’s target, kids who crave the different, the adventurous, the truly zany, out-there tales of worlds unknown to mere mortals, will gravitate toward this first entry of hold-onto-your-hat-(and-your-gerbil-and-your-two-pounds-of-ground-beef) excitement. Phew!
Book Two of the trilogy is under construction at this time. No publication date is available.