The 2018 Nerdies: Young Adult Fiction (Part Two), Announced by a Convention of Nerds*
Today we announce the second half of the 2018 Nerdies for Best Young Adult Fiction of the Year and close out the Nerdy Book Club Awards for this year. Thank you to everyone who nominated books and volunteered to write reviews for our announcement posts. Nerdy remains a vibrant reading community because of all of you. Here’s to another great year of reading and learning together.
Congratulations to the winners of the 2018 Nerdies for Best Young Adult Fiction (Part Two). You can find the winners from Part One of our list here in yesterday’s announcement post.
Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick Press)
Louise Wolfe, a high school senior, is proud of her Muscogee heritage, but she is weary of the constant micro-aggressions she experiences and witnesses, such as Indian school mascots and remarks about Indian princesses. After breaking up with her white boyfriend because of his racist comments, she decides that “dating while Native” is more trouble than it’s worth. When a new photojournalist, Joey (who is Muslim-American), winds up as her partner for school newspaper assignments, Lou tries to keep him at arms length in spite of their growing attraction. When the drama teacher announces a color-blind casting call for the school’s production of The Wizard of Oz, conservative parents in her Kansas town protest the decision and demand that the play reflect the all-white cast of the classic movie.
Lou’s little brother, Hughie, auditions for the role of the Tin Man, influential community members seek to censor newspaper stories supporting the production, and Lou, Joey, and the rest of the newspaper staff are pulled into the controversy. Tensions build when Lou makes a terrible mistake with Joey and Hughie learns that L. Frank Baum, the creator of the Oz books was an unrepentant racist who hated Native Americans. Hearts Unbroken is a wonderful story about identity, censorship, the erasure and stereotyping of Native Americans, and the challenges of romantic relationships when you have to protect your heart at all costs. An engaging addition to school, home, and classroom collections seeking more #ownvoices books featuring contemporary Native experiences and stories, drama and journalism nerds, or any reader looking for an empowered, complex heroine like Lou.–Donalyn Miller
Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (Soho Teen)
In her secret heart, Maya Aziz wants to move to New York City, attend film school, and pursue her dream of becoming a filmmaker. Her strict Indian parents want her to attend college close to home in Chicago and find a Muslim boy from good family. Maya is torn between two identities–a respectful Muslim daughter and an American teenager who wants to find her own way. When a violent act stokes Islamophobia in her community, Maya experiences hatred and fear from neighbors and classmates, even those who have known her family for years. Told in alternating chapters switching between Maya and a slowly-revealed character, tension mounts until both storylines collide and readers must confront their own prejudices and inferences. A coming-of-age story ripped from the headlines full of pop culture references, sweet romance, and a powerful message about what it means to be a young American (no matter the hyphens) in a climate of nationalism and fear, Love, Hate and Other Filters is a perfect choice for book clubs seeking to share relatable, relevant titles that spark discussion, or #ownvoices additions to school and library collections. Look for Ahmed’s 2019 release, Internment, in March.–Donalyn Miller
Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (Disney-Hyperion)
On the surface, Danny Cheng’s life seems to be going well. He’s got a scholarship to RISD and his parents are very supportive of his art. He has a bright future, but ominous clouds are looming. His parents have always been a little secretive about the past and when Danny finds a box of files and photos he has more questions than answers. On top of that, he and his friends have also been dealing with a tragedy over the past year. Danny is also in love with his best friend Harry and doesn’t know how college and separation will affect their friendship. This book has a slow start, but picks up speed as Danny makes discoveries about his family and works through who he is and what he wants in life. Danny’s voice is compelling and his story will speak to many young people as it touches on mental health, family, human connection, immigration and much more.–Crystal Brunelle
Pride by Ibi Zoboi (Balzer + Bray)
Ibi Zoboi’s novel Pride stands on its own as a critique of modern urban life: the gentrification, the ownership of place, and the suspicion of newcomers all resonate with those who struggle to define “authenticity” in our world. Zuri Benitez finds the Darcy family, especially Darius Darcy, arrogant and wants them out of her Bushwick neighborhood. That this book is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice adds to the complexity of Zoboi’s nuanced storytelling. Readers do not need to know the original story to find much to think about in this book, but knowing the source material allows for a greater appreciation of what the author is creating. The power of this book is not in the roots of the past or its potential to get people to read “real” literature. Instead, the power comes from Zoboi’s ability to read the rich culture of Brooklyn into its own past, its own history. Zoboi offers contemporary youth a window into seeing the value of their own cultures and neighborhoods as something worthy of artistic consideration, using the rich language of youth to raise the level of wordplay.–Jennifer Ansbach
Sadie by Courtney Summers (Wednesday Books)
Where is Sadie? That is all radio personality West McCray wants to figure out. Who killed Mattie? That is all Sadie wants to figure out. Sadie is told in alternating chapters and formats between West’s podcast transcript looking into Sadie and Mattie’s lives, Mattie’s murder, and Sadie’s disappearance, and Sadie’s first person account of her revenge-seeking road trip to find the person who took Mattie from her while also sharing tidbits of her past. Sadie’s grief and anger are her driving forces, and readers will feel along with Sadie as she reveals more and more of her heartbreaking past and her motive for her vengeance. While Sadie’s chapters are filled with emotions that the reader cannot escape, the podcast chapters are filled with clues and give the reader a universal look at the story. The author’s use of timeline was brilliantly implemented. Sadie’s chapters are barely in the future while West’s investigation is following behind; this truly adds instant suspense to the narrative that the reader can feel from page one and will make it so you cannot put it down because you, too, want to know: Where is Sadie & who killed Mattie?-–Kellee Moye
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
An important exploration of mental illness and depression, Pan’s debut novel is rich with imagery, color, and honesty. After her mother’s suicide, Leigh is visited by a stunning red bird. Convinced the bird is her mother trying to tell her what she was unable to write in her suicide note, Leigh begs her father to take her to Taiwan. Half Asian and half white, she has never met her maternal grandparents and believes that connecting to the past her mother kept secret will bring her answers. Her grief is complicated by the confusion of a kiss with her best friend that happened the same day her mother died. Troubled with guilt, grief, and sleeplessness, Leigh finds herself on a journey of ghosts, secrets, lost memories, heartbreak, and insight. Told in flashbacks, magical visions, blurry realities, and vivid colors, Leigh’s immersion into her mother’s culture and family begins to bring understanding and clarity. Pan’s lyrical writing beautifully captures the loneliness of grief and the destruction of regret while also offering up love and hope. This book will haunt you and leave you illuminated. Family can break us but it can also show us the path to healing.–Abby Harrison
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform Books)
Dhonielle Clayton’s fantasy The Belles constructs a world where beauty is all that matters to almost everyone in society, and none of that beauty is real. Camille Beauregard is a Belle, one of the chosen whose powers can make others beautiful, because people are born gray and rely on the Belles’ magic to change their appearance. Full of palace intrigue, teacup-sized exotic animals, and desserts, the opulent world challenges readers to consider what beauty means and what sacrifices it is worth. Camille discovers that power comes at a price and must wrestle with the truth of the world: that ugliness lies under the ornate. The second book, Everlasting Rose, comes out in March.–Jennifer Ansbach
Thunderhead (Arc of Scythe) by Neal Shusterman (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t read Scythe by Neal Shusterman, yet, you might want to skip this review. You should totally go to a bookstore or library and get started on this fantastic series.
Neal Shusterman, master of science fiction and the speculative narrative, ventures further into the recesses of imagination with Thunderhead, the sequel to Scythe. Rowan and Citra, having battled each other for a place within the Scythedom, are now, ostensibly, on opposing sides. Citra, victor of the competition, has secured a place among the Scythes; Rowan, having gained immunity because of Citra’s cleverness, has gone rogue. The Thunderhead, the artificial intelligence that oversees all things, yet refuses to interfere, has observed actions and ideals it does not like. As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans (a euphemism for killing) more humanely than her fellow Scythes, and her motives are questioned by her mentor and fellow gleaners. Rowan is off the grid, moving furtively through the Scythedom and murdering those complicit in the political mayhem uncovered in Scythe. Their paths intersect throughout the book and their feelings for one another deepen as they uncover the secrets of the Scythedom and learn how devious and underhanded people are when they are desperate and hungry for power.
I devoured Thunderhead in a day and was left breathless by the edge-of-your-seat thrills as both Rowan and Citra grasp at the threads of their humanity, fighting to survive in a corrupt world. How can they escape? Will they survive if they do? Will the Thunderhead intervene, ignoring its self-imposed dictum? Kids and adults will fall in love with Shusterman’s exquisite novel, but make sure you pick up a copy of Scythe for the full story.–Travis Crowder
Truly Devious: A Mystery by Maureen Johnson (Katherine Tegen Books)
The Ellingham Academy is a private school for gifted students nestled in the remote mountains of Vermont. Stephanie “Stevie” Bell, aspiring detective and crime enthusiast, applies to the school with one goal in mind: to solve the notorious murder mystery that took place there decades ago. Not long after the school was started in the 1930s by wealthy philanthropist Albert Ellingham, the school founder received a sinister note signed “Truly, Devious.” Then his wife and young daughter were kidnapped, and another student murdered. Stevie, an expert on the cold case, is now at Ellingham trying to put the pieces together at the scene of the crime. But, her current classmates hold secrets of their own. It’s not long before “Truly, Devious” revisits, and Stevie finds herself attempting to figure out more than just the case of 1936. Author Maureen Johnson adeptly navigates between the past and present, alternately unfolding the stories of the Ellingham mystery and the current Ellingham students.
This novel has everything to delight lovers of whodunits …. an elite boarding school, remote setting, wealthy glamorous family, cold case, eerie ransom note, angsty secretive teens, romance, betrayal, and an epic cliffhanger. I expect Agatha Christie herself would have been glued to the pages, attempting to piece together the clues. Readers will enjoy the twists and turns and eagerly await the second volume in the trilogy (The Vanishing Stair, publishing January 2019).–Jill Bellomy
We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss (Greenwillow Books)
Toby has been letting his best friend Luke look after him for as long as he can remember. Whether his dad has gotten drunk and started hitting him, or he’s managed to get in trouble at school yet again, Luke is always managing to defuse the situation. When Luke’s life starts to unravel along with Toby’s though, the two start to drift apart until one unfortunate moment that lands Luke in prison, on death row. We’ll Fly Away chronicles the slow deterioration of Toby and Luke’s friendship, as well as their respective relationships with new people in their lives (girls, coaches, new step-parents, etc.) with the third person narration punctuated throughout with letters that Luke is writing from prison. This book is many things. It is difficult to read at times, but also worth reading for the same reasons. Bliss’s novel is punch in the gut, but it is also a depth and complexity that readers can savor as they piece together the events leading up to Luke’s incarceration, and his experiences facing the death penalty.–Rob Bittner
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera (HarperTeen)
*According to a Facebook poll Donalyn conducted in 2016, “chapter” and “conference” were identified as a good collective nouns for a group of nerds.
Jennifer Ansbach is a lifelong reader and book lover. She loves introducing her students to new titles. You can often find her on the sofa curled up with tea and a book. Her book Take Charge of Your Teaching Evaluation: How to Grow Professionally and Get a Good Evaluation is out now from Heinemann. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in American Studies at Rutgers University-Newark.
Jill Bellomy is a lifelong reader and learner. After teaching for many years, she became a librarian and has worked at both the elementary and middle school levels. She has served on the Caldecott Award Selection Committee, Texas Lone Star Reading List Committee, and is a member of the North Texas Teen Book Festival Steering Committee. Jill lives in Dallas with her husband, two pugs, and a cat. She can be found @jillbellomy and www.jilliciousreading.com but can usually not put a book down long enough to tweet or post.
Rob Bittner is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia, in the iSchool, and is also an instructor of children’s and young adult literature. His main research focus is LGBTQ+ representation and young readers, but he reads a lot of other things too. If you’d like to keep up with him, check out @r_bittner on Twitter or his website, docrob.ca.
Crystal Brunelle is a PK-5 library media specialist and a co-founder of the YA blog Rich in Color. You may find her on Twitter @librarygrl2 or somewhere cozy with a cup of tea and a book.
Travis Crowder (@teachermantrav) is a 7th grade ELA and social studies teacher in Hiddenite, NC. He believes in the transformative power of reading and writing in the lives of young people, and he shares his ideas on his blog (www.teachermantrav.com/blog). Travis is coauthor of Sparks in the Dark.
Abby Harrison is the Head Librarian at the Greenhill School in Addison, TX. She spends much of her time pushing books to middle and upper school students, teachers, and parents. You can find her on Twitter @goodbookpusher but she would rather be baking or reading with her kids.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read and creating successful reading communities at school and home including, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013), and Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids (Scholastic, 2018). Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter @donalynbooks.
Kellee Moye is a middle school reading teacher/coach in Orlando, FL. She blogs at http://www.UnleashingReaders.com and can be found @kelleemoye.
Julia Reynolds is an educator in Michigan who loves all things books. She is an advocate for supporting students, loving teachers, and taking care of ourselves. She can be found on Twitter @jmrliteracy.