by Josh Funk
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
The two lions outside the New York Public Library come to life in this sweet tale. When Patience goes missing one morning, Fortitude finally ventures into the library to try and find him, going from room to room and interacting with the various famous features of the historic building. I loved that when Fortitude reunites with his pal Patience, he learns that Patience has been reading up stories to share with him. It’s a lovely homage to the NYPL, despite the fact that the layout may be different in the near future.
I loved Josh’s previous picture books, especially Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast and How to Code a Sandcastle, and this one did not disappoint. If anything, Josh’s rhyming has gotten even more impressive, with every stanza having an ABAB rhyming scheme (as opposed to ABCB in previous books). (In the interest of full disclosure, Josh is a friend, so I am especially aware of how hard he works on his rhymes, and how hard it is to get them right!) He makes them seem effortless, and the story is solid. A bit more grounded in reality than Lady Pancake, but no less creative for it.
by Kate Messner
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Nora’s summer is shaping up to be very ordinary, at least until 2 inmates break out of the maximum-security prison her dad runs in their small town in the Adirondacks. At nearly the same time, a girl named Elidee moves to town with her mother so that they can be closer to her brother, who is in the prison. The mainly white town is not very welcoming to Elidee, who is black, and this, paired with the racial issues surrounding the escaped inmates (one of whom is white and one is black), put Nora through an interesting racial coming-of-age. She learns a lot from her older brother, Sean, who includes nuggets of wisdom like, “Don’t burden Elidee with your questions, come to me,” and goes after their father on criminal justice reform. Their father responds by saying things like “I’m not the judge, I just take care of them when they get to me.” There were also some honest reflections like when Elidee complains about white people and how you have to “keep teaching them.” I was intrigued to see that Messner is white and that she consulted some people of color and I wonder what this book would have sounded like written by a black author and with a black protagonist.
Nora’s best friend Lizzie’s grandmother gets swept up in the crime, and that angle is equally interesting and adds new dimensions to the complexities. It’s fascinating to see how Nora grapples with the gray areas – how you can love your uncle the cop and also be wary of cops and how they treat people of color. She does tremendous growing over the summer. Also of note is that the story is told not through traditional narration and dialogue but through a collection of different media that Nora draws on under the guise of submitting it to the community time capsule. Nora is a budding investigative journalist, so she writes her own news articles as well as including CNN reports, audio recordings of conversations, text message conversations between herself, Lizzie, and her family, Lizzie’s parody articles, and letters to the future Wolf Creek time capsule readers, among others.
by Christina Lauren
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Tanner’s family move to Provo, Utah, from Palo Alto, California, where Tanner had been an out and proud bisexual (and his parents possibly even more proud). His mom had left the LDS church years before when her parents kicked out her sister for being gay, and had never looked back, marrying Tanner’s dad, who is Jewish. For the past three years, Tanner has dated girls in Provo but never told a soul, including his best friend Autumn, about his bisexuality – just running down the clock until he could get out of there. But then Autumn challenges Tanner to take a book-writing seminar, TA’ed by Sebastian Brother, an LDS BYU student who had taken the same class the year before and had his book published and a big fuss made. It doesn’t hurt that Sebastian is HOT – and apparently into Tanner, too, which is obviously complicated.
I really liked this book but the one major detractor for me was how much it reminded me of Openly Straight (which was published four years earlier). It was distracting – super supportive liberal parents on one side, moving to a new town where the liberal kid has to be suddenly in the closet, down to nearly-identical scenes, like when a parent walks in on them. BUT. I loved it anyway. I would even love a sequel like Honestly Ben, told from the other boy’s point of view. I enjoyed the love story and the Mormon angle, even though the reader doesn’t get to see a lot of Sebastian’s struggle (hence being primed for a sequel), and actually I felt a bit jostled where the narrative skipped out. Tanner’s goth sister, Hailey, was an interesting source of comic relief, though.
by Gaby Rodriguez with Jenna Glatzer
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
High school senior Gaby Rodriguez had been told all her life that she was destined to become a teen mom. Everyone in her immediate family was a teen parent, meaning all 7 siblings and her own mom. Despite hearing this fate at every turn, Gaby grew up determined to beat the odds, and by the time she was in high school, she was annoyed about all the negative messages she heard to do something about it. So for her senior project, she decided to fake being pregnant, record reactions from her family and peers (through her own observations as well as those of her boyfriend, best friend, and mother, who were in on the secret), and present her findings at an all-school assembly. The project went off better than she could have imagined, resulting in immediately being hounded by reporters from her town’s paper to Good Morning America, and a book and movie deal.
I read this on the recommendation of the teen librarian at my library, who added the caveat that she read it when it first came out (2011) and remembered mostly being annoyed at how preachy Gaby seemed at times. She sounded a little preachy to me, but overall I could see the throughline of her core argument at all times, which is that teens get all sorts of messages based on their backgrounds that end up being part of a self-fulfilling prophecy, so everyone (teachers, families, peers) needs to watch especially the negative messages they give teens. The fear that supporting a pregnant teen will somehow send the message that it’s okay or even good to get pregnant young, but it’s clear that negative messages to pregnant teens does nothing to break the cycle and actually make it worse because they end up having a much harder life than they need to, putting their own kids at more risk of making the same mistakes. Overall, a hugely interesting social experiment with impressive results. Gaby talks a lot about how she underestimated the emotional impact on her and her boyfriend of being shunned and gossiped about, even when they knew it wasn’t true.