The 2019 Nerdies: Young Adult Fiction (Part Two), Announced by a Convention of Nerds
Today we announce the second half of the 2019 Young Adult Fiction Nerdies and wrap up 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 is a collective space and we appreciate you supporting other educators, families, and kids with your time and words. Here’s to another great year of reading and learning together!
Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 Nerdies for Best Young Adult Fiction (Part Two)!
Slay by Brittney Morris (Simon Pulse)
Kiera Johnson is an honor student and one of the few Black kids at Jefferson Academy. At school, she is tired of people expecting her to speak on behalf of all Black people and their experiences. At home, she is frustrated that her mom tries to “correct” her language to remove anything that resembles African American Vernacular English. With her boyfriend, she questions whether his dream of them going to HBCUs, getting married, raising babies, and showing the world what Black excellence looks like is what she really wants. In the multiplayer online gaming world, she’s fed up with microaggressions and racism. To combat her resentment and confusion, she creates SLAY, a MMORPG that celebrates and teaches the rich, diverse culture from across the African diaspora. It becomes a safe space for her and thousands of others to be their true selves. Kiera keeps her identity as SLAY creator and player a secret from everyone. When an in-game dispute crosses over into the real world and a player is murdered, the media brands the game as racist and exclusionary and Keira must decide which of her worlds she’s willing to fight for.
Some books are important. They challenge assumptions, provide new voices, change our perspectives, shine light on unexplored experiences, and drop brave, unapologetic knowledge to better us as readers. Some books are good. They have authentic voices, characters who are flawed but learn and grow, compelling twists and turns, and they start crucial conversations that continue even when the last page is turned. The best books are important good books. Slay by Brittney Morris is an important good book. We all need this smart, powerful, Black girl gamer and the vital conversations she demands. — Abby Harrison
Spin by Lamar Giles (Scholastic Press)
Lamar Giles, two-time Edgar Award finalist and founding member of We Need Diverse Books, delivers a tightly plotted, suspenseful mystery with Spin. When rising teen DJ, Paris Secord (known as DJ ParSec) is found murdered before a show, her two friends, Kya, Paris’s childhood best friend and tech whiz, and Fuse, DJ ParSec’s #1 fan and social media advisor, reluctantly join forces to uncover what really happened to their former friend. Dismayed by the authorities ineffective efforts to find Paris’s killer, her online super fans, known as ParSec Nation, scream for justice on social media–threatening Kya and Fuse’s safety. Told in alternating first-person chapters from all three girls’ points-of-view, Spin reveals (in both flashbacks and the present) each girl’s identities, experiences, and dreams for themselves, how their friendships fell apart, and the circumstances that led to Paris’s murder. The shocking conclusion will satisfy mystery fans! A masterful story with rich explorations of justice, social media’s power, friendship, obsession, and grief.--Donalyn Miller
Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly (Scholastic Press)
In Eighteenth-century France, young women are expected to marry well–securing their status and financial security. At least, that’s what pretty, pliant girls are expected to do. But that’s not Isabelle. According to her cruel mother, Isabelle is much too plain, poor, headstrong, and mean-spirited to find an acceptable husband. Even mutilating her own foot to shove it into a too-small glass slipper didn’t work! Her beautiful and kind stepsister, Ella, donned the slipper, married the prince, and lives in the castle now. Isabelle, her older sister, Tavi, and their mother, now live with the outright animosity of the townspeople and their own shrinking prospects. Determined to take care of her family and find her own way in the world, Isabelle must rely on her bravery, intelligence, and personal code of honor.
Little does Isabelle know that her destiny is part of a larger conflict between the Fates, who map out the life of every person, and Chance, the Fates’ nemesis, who has stolen Isabelle’s life map from the Fates and hopes to alter the direction of Isabelle’s predicted failure and doom. Can Isabelle overcome the forces conspiring against her and take control of her own destiny?
In this powerful reimagining of Perrault’s classic fairytale, Cinderella, Carnegie Medal and Printz Honor winner, Jennifer Donnelly, explores gender and fairy tale archetypes and stereotypes, beauty, families, and forgiveness.–Donalyn Miller
Find more Stepsister resources and read Jennifer Donnelly’s thoughts about the story’s origins here.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Jo Kuan is a seventeen-year-old Chinese American girl who works as a lady’s maid but writes a popular ladies’ advice column at night. in 19th century Atlanta, Jo and Old Gin, the man who took her in after her parents left, live in secret in the basement of a local newspaper publisher. When her columns start to ignite a few fires in the households of Atlanta she receives a mysterious letter that sets her on a path to find out more about her parents. As her column becomes more popular and controversial her opponents become determined to out her. Jo must decide if she wants to step into the public eye and if so, what that will mean for her friends and family.
Raise your hand if you had any idea that after slavery was abolished the South brought in Chinese immigrants to work as laborers? Stacey Lee takes a familiar time period, the Reconstruction South, and presents it through the perspective of voices that have often been suppressed. Readers will love the exploration of intersectionality in the women’s suffrage movement and the deep dive into Asian immigrant experiences after the Civil War. This is a compulsively readable story of a determined young woman. A must-have for classroom libraries!–Sarah Gross
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Phillipe (Balzer + Bray)
Norris Kaplan is a black, French Canadian who loves hockey, but he’s also a teenager who moves from Montreal, Canada, to Austin, Texas, for his mom’s new job while his dad stays in Vancouver, Canada, with his new wife and infant son. This debut novel by Ben Philippe takes a high school story of feeling like an outsider while also navigating friendship, dating, working, sports, and family, and chronicles the experiences through notebook jottings and engaging narrative prose. Norris is cynical and sarcastic, which makes him a bit caustic as a friend or a romantic prospect. Yet, through the story, Norris learns so much, while sweating profusely in the Texas heat!, about being a good friend, showing kindness to others, valuing family in whatever form it takes, experiencing American (albeit, Texas) culture, and owning up to your mistakes. The characters are unique, not stereotypical, and the high school story avoids clichés by surprising readers with unexpected twists and turns.–Julia Reynolds
The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel Books)
Once again, Ruta Sepetys expertly illuminates a dark chapter from history. In The Fountains of Silence, she takes us to Madrid, Spain in1957. While tourists and businessmen are flocking to the glamorous Castellana Hilton, the Spaniards are suffering under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and hiding horrific secrets. Sepetys focuses the story on American teen Daniel Matheson, son of a Texas oil tycoon. With dreams of becoming a photojournalist, he travels to Madrid hoping to connect with his mother’s homeland through the lens of his camera. As Daniel focuses on the local sights, he captures provocative images that begin to expose the underlying secrets. He meets the beautiful Ana, a maid at the hotel, who captivates him immediately but whose family’s secrets paralyze her with fear.
Using multiple narratives, a rich cast of authentic characters, and quotes from primary source documents, Septeys masterfully crafts a gripping novel of lies, loss, and love. The reader is able to feel the fear and desperation of seeking truth, trying to discover one’s identity, and searching for hope under a terrifying, oppressive regime. We know the villains. But, through her powerful story, Sepetys invites us, most importantly, to know the victims.–Jill Bellomy
NOTE: The novel is well-researched and includes excellent back matter. Daniel Matheson is from Dallas, Texas, and Dallas residents will enjoy the many references to the city.
The Toll by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
*When the cliffhanger of Thunderhead saw the world in January, 2018, all of the readers of Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series waited with baited breath for the conclusion of the series. And to the relief of all, the fate of Citra, Rowan, and the elaborate cast of characters does not disappoint. Three years have passed since the final events in Thunderhead and the main events in The Toll, and the world has changed from what we all saw in the first two books. The delicate balance of good and evil has broken and no one knows how to return to the utopia that was first introduced to readers in Scythe. But all is answered in In The Toll. Shusterman once again takes the reader on an unexpected journey. If you had asked me for 100 different ways that I thought The Toll would go, I could have never guessed what was going to happen, and Shusterman pulls it off in a way that will leave you reeling, yet satisfied, from the conclusion to the trilogy.–Kellee Moye
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
“Why does the world want girls to be sorry, some even more than others? Sorry, sorrier, sorriest.”
Set in Chicago from the end of the Great Depression and through World War II, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All examines poverty, death, love, betrayal, loss, and the suffocating restrictions placed on girls’ and women’s behavior and self-agency.
When Frankie’s mother dies, her father puts Frankie and her two siblings in a Catholic orphanage temporarily until he can earn money and make a better life for them. When her father returns with a new wife and no plans to take Frankie and her sister, Toni, with him, the girls are left behind–unwanted and abandoned. Frankie rails against the controlling (and often abusive) nuns at the orphanage and longs for a life of her own, but Frankie knows that she and her sister cannot risk being thrown out. They have no one watching over them.
Except Pearl, the story’s narrator.
Pearl, a young woman who died in 1918 and continues to haunt the orphanage, watches Frankie and struggles to accept the circumstances of her own tragic death. She sees herself in Frankie’s desires and hopes, and remembers. Just like Frankie, Pearl wanted more for her life, but she didn’t get it. She was punished for wanting. Like some girls are.
Printz Award winner and National Book Award finalist, Laura Ruby, based this intricate story on the teen years of her mother-in-law, who spent time in an orphanage. Ruby artfully weaves rich historical detail, the moody atmosphere in the orphanage (and America during this time), and the girls’ yearning for empowerment and safety into a brilliant story about ghosts–the ghosts who haunt us, the ghosts we whisper to, and the ghosts we can become.
Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan (Bloomsbury YA)
High school juniors and best friends Jasmine and Chelsea attend a New York City high school that focuses on social justice. It also requires every student to join a club, and when the girls become frustrated with the sexism in the clubs they have been in, they quit and form a women’s rights club, with a blog called “Write Like a Girl.” The story, told in the girls’ alternating voices by chapter, follows them through the school year and the challenges their activism faces from both the school and other students.
Jasmine’s father is dying of cancer and Chelsea chafes at her mother’s parenting, adding family dynamics to the story. The two girls, however, remain a strong focus as they, along with their friends Isaac and Nadine, learn about how to become activists and fight for their beliefs. Some romance is included, but the overt discussions of the intersectional challenges women face dominate the book. The girls are both poets, so poetry and blog posts add another dimension to the text as well, making it strong book to recommend to students who are interested in writing or in student activism.–Jennifer Ansbach
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)
The people in the caliphate of Demenhur survive simply because the Hunter is able to navigate the Arz, a cursed forest. A few select individuals know that the Hunter is truly a Huntress, Zafira.. She’s had to disguise herself since women are seen as lesser beings. Nasir, known as the Prince of Death, is the Sultan’s assassin. He’s learned to tamper his feelings and thoughts down until they are nonexistent. When the two are unexpectedly thrown together on a quest for the lost jewel, they begin as enemies, shift to reluctant allies, then their alliance dissolves into…well, you’ll have to read all the way to the Epilogue…
This novel has a strong female protagonist that has determination, keeps her end goal always in front of her, seeks to figure out her place in the world, and has the courage to stand up to a threat greater than she could ever imagine. Two elements I particularly liked about this novel was 1) how the cast of characters pulled together and used their resources/talents and were not afraid to call each other out if they stepped out of line; and 2) immersed the reader in Arabian mythology and the world of ancient Arabia.–Kelly Vorhis
Wilder Girls by Rory Power (Delacorte Press)
The Raxter School for Girls has been quarantined because of the Tox. The virus has affected everyone differently. The teachers have died until only the girls are left with physical abnormalities that they themselves can barely accept. The Tox has permeated the entire island, forcing the girls to stay within the confines of the school’s grounds waiting for the world to rescue them with the cure. Hetty and Byatt tell the story, and when Byatt goes missing, Hetty must decide if she’ll break the stringent rules that have kept them all safe for the past eighteen months.
Leading up to publication, Wilder Girls was touted as a feminist Lord of the Flies, so I anxiously anticipated cracking the cover. What I found once I began reading was not a retelling of a classic novel, but a story of survival, perseverance, friendship, and, to my surprise, a science fiction-horror story. The writing is suspenseful, straightforward yet lush (especially Chapter 14…gah!). Wilder Girls is a title to put on your To Be Read lists in 2020.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)
Philadelphia high school senior Emoni Santiago struggles with many challenges in her life: keeping up with her school work, missing her father who returned to Puerto Rico and left her abuela to raise her after her mother died, and raising her own daughter, the product of a relationship her freshman year. Emoni’s passion is cooking, and when a new culinary program comes to her charter school, she hesitates to upset the delicate balance of her life by pursuing her passion. The book mixes Emoni’s narration, emails with family, and her ever-present food and recipe meditations.
Acevedo brings to life the rocky transition graduating high school seniors make between having their life designed for them and designing a life of their own, one that reflects their own values and beliefs. Emoni navigates falling in love as a single parent, making decisions about college, and staying connected to her family with determination and grace. Her journey takes outside her comfort zone emotionally and physically to find a fusion of her heritage and herself.--Jennifer Ansbach
**In a social media poll a few years ago, Donalyn asked for collective nouns for a group of book nerds. The two most popular suggestions were “chapter of nerds” and “convention of nerds.” We use these terms for our group of YA Nerdies posters every year.
English teacher Jennifer Ansbach is a lifelong reader and book lover. She loves introducing her high school 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 working at the intersection of YA literature and social justice. You can reach her at @JenAnsbach on Twitter.
Jill Bellomy is the librarian at Highland Park Middle School. She has served on the Caldecott Selection Committee, is a member of the 2021 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Committee, and is part of the steering committee of the North Texas Teen Book Festival. Jill lives in Dallas with her husband, two pugs, and a cat.
Sarah Gross is a National Board Certified teacher who teaches ninth-grade and twelfth-grade English at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. She does lots of reading while hiking with her dogs (audiobooks are real reading!) thanks to her three library cards.
Abby Harrison is the Head Librarian at Greenhill School in Addison, TX. She spends much of her time pushing books to middle and upper school students and teachers. 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 teacher-librarian in Orlando, FL. She is currently serving on the Schneider Family Book Award jury and is the Social Media Chair for ALAN. She blogs at 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.
Kelly D. Vorhis teaches high school English in northern Indiana. She spends her time talking about books, reading, and writing. She can be found on twitter at @kelvorhis.