“Wide awake” David Levithan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2006. Knopf Books. 221 p.

WideAwakeDuncan and his boyfriend Jimmy, along with their friends, have been working hard on the campaign of Abraham Stein hoping he will become the first gay, Jewish President of the United States. Stein wins by 1000 votes, and everyone is ecstatic – except for the governor of Kansas who insists there was election tampering and hopes to have him defeated. With his opponent refusing to concede the election, hoping to have Stein lose votes in the recount, Stein invites Americans to join him in Kansas to protest the behind-the-scenes politics working to take away the people’s vote.

Jimmy fiercely believes in action when he spots wrongdoing, while Duncan hopes silence will make bad things disappear. Their differences of opinion begin to rise to the surface with Stein’s election issues, and the trip to Kansas seems to be the match that could set them off in different directions. With a strong belief in America’s founding principles of “liberty and justice for all,” the two embark on a trip that will forever change the views they hold of their country, its citizens and themselves.

Levithan mixes politics, romance, relationships and history to give readers a dystopian story that, though written in 2006, is eerily prescient of the 2016 elections. His descriptions of the Kansas rally reminded me of the Atlanta Women’s March, where I joined millions of other women across the nation to march in solidarity for civil rights and liberties. It’s impossible to not compare the hateful vitriol spewed forth from the opposition party in “Wide awake” to that emitted by supporters of our current administration.

Eleven years have passed since Levithan took pen to paper, and many things have happened politically – including the election of our nation’s first Black president. One can only hope America will have its own Abraham Stein to elect in the years to come. Thank you David for opening our eyes to its possibility.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

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“Die for you” Amy Fellner Dominy

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Delacorte Press (Random House). 292 p. (Includes “Author’s Note” and “Resources.”)

dieforyouAfter Emma’s mother leaves her father for another man, Emma moves across town to be with her dad and help pick up the pieces of his life. Starting her senior year at a new school is rough, but meeting Dillon helped erase the darkness of hating her mom and seeing her dad’s pain. With Dillon she is able to love and be loved.

Emma and Dillon are so happy. They’ve promised to always be there for each other, to take care of each other, and to be together forever. However, it doesn’t take long before Emma finds that “forever” is more than just a word to Dillon. He always follows through on his promises. Always.

Dominy’s fast paced novel about what happens when relationships turn bad is sure to be an eye opener for many readers. The Author’s Note and Resources sections hold information that could unlock the cages of many relationships, making “Die for you” a book that needs to be on the shelves of every high school and public library.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Seven ways we lie” Riley Redgate

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 2016. Abrams.343 pp.

sevenwayswelieOlivia hates that her mother walked away from her family three years ago. Kat holes up in her room with Internet games. Matt fills his days getting high. Juniper is the perfect queen of Paloma High. Valentine is a loner. Lucas is everyone’s go to guy for beer and weed. Claire wonders why she can’t be like Olivia and Juniper.

When the news breaks that someone is involved in a secret affair with a teacher, everyone is shocked. Each of these students has the power to reveal the truth, yet they all have their own secrets. Are someone else’s secrets more important than your own? As truth and lies blend, this unlikely group of students become bound together in ways they never imagined.

“Seven Ways to Lie” was very thought provoking, with each character having their own chapter to articulate their issues and thought patterns. She challenges her readers to think about the “why” of situations, reminding them that things are not always as they seem.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Piecing Me Together” Renee Watson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Bloomsbury. 260 p. To be published February 14, 2017.

piecingmetogetherJade is starting her junior year at a very exclusive high school located on the other side of her neighborhood. She did not want to leave her old school or friends, but accepted a scholarship because she wanted to learn Spanish and travel with their study abroad program.

As one of a handful of black students at the school, Jade finds that because she is black and poor she is expected to act, speak and think a certain way. She is even expected to participate in a mentorship program offered only to African American girls, causing her to feel that her classmates and teachers disregard her, and are unable to understand why their expectations are hurtful. Prejudices and stereotypes at school as well as in the news cause Jade to create beautiful artistic collages from her self-examinations, as she reflects upon the state of the world for herself and other blacks.

Watson’s thoughtful observations about a young girl finding her voice, while telling her story about what it means to be black, will be an eye opener to many who don’t understand white privilege. I especially loved her poem “Things that are Black and Beautiful” on page 136. I can’t quote it here, because this is an ARC and the author/publisher might choose to change it for the final version of the book, but it is lovely. The beautiful cover art is also striking, while the title of the book excellently conveys Jade’s talent and her actions as she seeks to express herself.

I predict “Piecing Me Together” will win the Coretta Scott King Book Award at the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards, as well as a few other book awards.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Lily and Taylor” Elise Moser

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Groundwood Books. 186 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

LIlyAndTaylorTaylor lives with her older sister Tannis and her son Mason. Tannis is constantly beaten by her boyfriend, but loves him and is sure things will get better. When he winds up killing her in a fit of rage, Taylor moves in with her grandmother and Mason. Little Mason gives Taylor a goal in life as she helps care for him, but she misses Tannis and her boyfriend Devon. Despite the fact that Devon regularly beat her, wouldn’t let her have friends, and made her call him several times a day to “check in” Taylor loved him, and would do anything to make him happy.

Lily has spent years taking care of her brain-injured mother, helping her recover from abusive boyfriends, but has managed to hide her troubles. She and Taylor become fast friends as Taylor gradually becomes a better student, leaving her to think she can live a normal life, but Devon has other plans.

Unhappy with Taylor’s inability to visit due to finances, Devon decides to unexpectedly show up with his friend Conor and insist Taylor go for a ride. After inviting herself along to keep Taylor safe, the girls wind up being held captive in a freezing cabin in the middle of the snow covered woods. As events unfold, readers wonder if Taylor will ever gain the strength to love herself more than she loves her boyfriend and break the cycle of abuse in her family.

“Lily and Taylor” paints a true picture of the ugliness of domestic abuse in teen and adult relationships. To drive this point home the author includes statistics, tips and hotline information, hoping her readers will make the call that will let them out of their own abusive situations. I hold out the same hope as the author.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“This Song Will Save Your Life” Leila Sales

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Farrar Straus Giroux. 214 pp. (Includes “Recommended Listening” song list).

ThisSongWillSaveYourLifeSixteen-year-old Elise Dembowski hates herself, and her life. After being ostracized by every single student in her school since fourth grade, and having this behavior continue through middle and high school, she decided to spend her summer studying fashion, song titles and other “cool” trends. Elise was ready to remake herself, and was sure the popular kids would like and accept her if she knew the right ways to be popular. When the taunting and bullying continued, Elise realized she would never be different and could never change. Thus, she felt her only recourse was to kill herself.

With her suicide attempt unsuccessful, Elise was at the end of her rope. Unable to sleep, she began walking the streets late at night where she came upon a weekly underground dance club. Despite being underage she was befriended by Vicky and Pippa, two girls who knew what they wanted in life and went out to get it. They introduced her to handsome Char, the club’s DJ, who took her under his wing teaching her how to mix music and other skills.

Elise soon discovered she had a natural talent as a DJ, along with several friends and a new, albeit secret, life. Looking forward to spending time at the club helped make her miserable days at school more bearable, but it was only a matter of time before online bullying reared its ugly head threatening Elise’s newfound strength and happiness.

Leila Sales paints a true-to-life story of a young girl living on the edge who finds friends who care about her wellbeing. I hope her readers will take seriously the importance of being a friend to someone in need of social acceptance.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

“All we had: A Novel” Annie Weatherwax

5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published August 5, 2014. Scribner.

AllWeHadRuth starts her story in June 2005 when she was thirteen years old. At that time, she and her extremely beautiful mother Rita were living with Phil, another of her mother’s many boyfriends. Times were tough, and Rita’s many low-paying jobs were never enough to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. At a young age, Ruth learned to eat out of trashcans, steal food, endure hunger pangs and sleep in their ratty old car. She’d learned to know her mother’s many moods, including the ones she used to entice men so they could have a place to live. Though their lives had always been rough, love kept them close.

Deciding to make a new life for themselves they robbed Phil and took off traveling as far as their money would take them, landing in a small town called Fat River where, for the first time in their lives, they found love and acceptance. Mel, the friendly owner of the only gas station and restaurant in town, gave Rita a job waitressing and a place to live while Ruth went to school and worked as a dishwasher. Peter Pam, his cross-dressing waitress nephew, became her best friend and voice of reason.

Within a few months, they had enough saved to rent a house. Soon a smooth-talking salesman named Vick Ward convinced Rita she had good credit and could own her own home, so she signed his paperwork. That was the beginning of the end for them, as the economy soon took a turn for the worse. Local businesses began to fold, waitressing slowed, and they couldn’t keep up with the mortgage. Soon, Rita and Ruth found themselves facing another crisis in their lives. With time running out, Rita makes the only decision she can to ensure their survival. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be one of her wisest choices, which leaves her to make an even costlier decision that will cost more than they’d ever lost in their lives.

“All we had” is a beautifully written, honest, funny, sad, heart-breaking, poignant novel of what can happen when someone has to continually live at the end of their rope and what they have to do to survive. The question “what should you do when you’re at the end of your rope?” followed by the answer “tie a knot and keep hanging on” is Ruth and Rita’s life story. However, what do you do when that knot loosens and you find yourself slipping?

The ugly side of poverty, along with the beauty of hope offered to those slipping off their ropes, are fully revealed in “All we had.” Ruth and Rita’s story shows that life can knock you down, but you have to keep moving forward the best way you can.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.