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T is for Taja whose future is CALLING MY NAME, by Liara Tamani (YA book review)

book cover of Calling My Name, by Liara Tamani. Published by Greenwillow | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Middle sister Taja breathes in learning like she breathes out prayers, wondering how her feelings about God intersect with her parents’ church-centered strictness, why all the rules for Black girls don’t apply for boys, if she can someday go where she is judged just for her own merits.

Grab at popularity like big brother with his new CDs and beatboxing?

Be all talk like little sister on the house telephone? (you know Taja needs her own line, Mama!)

Dare to change like Daddy wanting to learn saxophone as an adult?

From middle school and kickball with friends (praying to need a bra like they do) to high school and crushes that fizzle out or flame bright (Purity Code, meet Houston public schools), track star Taja observes and writes and tries to understand…everything.

Find this debut release by native Texas author at your local library or independent bookstore.

A generation ago, everything was different, but so much was the same.
What memory from your older relatives would you like to experience first-hand now?
**kmm

Book info: Calling My Name / Liara Tamani. Greenwillow Books, hardcover 2017, paperback 2018. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

R for Kimberly Reid & #Prettyboy Must Die (YA book review)

book cover of Prettyboy Must Die, by Kimberly Reid. Published by Tor Teen | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Clever foster kid,
small-time con artist & hacker,
ideal CIA recruit!

The early-training scheme that landed a Black teen from Atlanta in a small Ukrainian town trying to stop a ruthless arms dealer didn’t go well.

So here he is at a new school with a new identity and new friends…but not the only one who isn’t operating under their true name or allegiance!

How do you know who to trust?
**kmm

Book info: Prettyboy Must Die / Kimberly Reid. Tor Teen, 2018. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Now undercover at a prestigious Colorado boarding school, Jake is haunted by his first failure as a CIA operative when a candid photo of the 16 year old African American goes viral and the bad guys arrive, more than ready to kill!

Former foster kid Jake has a new identity as Pete for his senior year at Carlisle (double-crossed Ukrainian arms dealers are more than mean), keeping tabs on the kids of diplomats, high-ranking military, and super-scientists – plus his housemate Bunk who lived underground with his dad till last year.

No coincidence that armed hostiles invade Carlisle the morning after that photo hits social media or that the Ukranian hacker has attacked super-secret projects near Denver or that Jake is the only one who can save his classmates and national security!

Someone inside the school let the hostiles in – why?
Mysterious packages arrived recently – for which international student?

The bad guys say that “Prettyboy must die” but Jake is determined to keep everyone at Carlisle alive!

P is for PATH TO THE STARS: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist, by Sylvia Acevedo (YA book review)

book cover of Path to the Stars, by Sylvia Acevedo. Published by Clarion Books | recommended on BooksYALove.com

The world of books,
the sisterhood of Girl Scouts,
her chance for dreams to come true!

Papa’s attention went mostly to her big brother, Mama focused on little sister whose bout with meningitis scarred the whole family (not much money, lots of love), so Sylvia discovered her own best way through life, with the help of her Girl Scout troop and leaders.

This biography brings readers into Sylvia’s extended family, into the days when Latinas were just being accepted into science professions, into her growing attitude that she can plan and dream and make those dreams come true.

So excited that she is a keynote speaker this week at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in Austin!

What influences have helped you during your life journey?
**kmm

Book info: Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist / Sylvia Acevedo. Clarion Books, 2018. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Also available in Spanish – Camino a las estrellas (Path to the Stars Spanish edition): Mi recorrido de Girl Scout a ingeniera astronáutica / Sylvia Acevedo and Isabel Mendoza. Clarion Books, 2018.

My book talk: From the rocket science lab and executive board room, Sylvia Acevedo looks back on the events which brought her here from a crowded Las Cruces neighborhood, acknowledging the hardships and help received along the way.

Moving across town from the dirt streets where everyone knows everyone’s business to a new neighborhood with air-conditioned houses in the 1960s, Sylvia fights expectations that she’s academically behind her new classmates and gets used to hearing English spoken everywhere except her home.

An invitation to a Brownie troop meeting changes her life, as Sylvia finds the perfect place to explore her own interests (instead of Papa’s limits), learn how to manage money and speak confidently (cookie sales!), and plan for her future (not a strong skill in her family).

She loves science and math and star-gazing and going to the library and dreams of going to college – determination and planning can get her there!

This true story of one Mexican-American girl’s journey from just getting by to getting rockets into space as an engineer celebrates the strength of family love, the power of positive role models during childhood, and her own persistence in learning everything she needs to move to the next step in her plans.

L = Laila and her lingering FINAL DRAFT worries, by Riley Redgate (YA book review)

book cover of Final Draft, by Riley Redgate. Published by Amulet Books | recommended on BooksYALove.com

“So talented!”
“Derivative and unimaginative.”
Did both read the same short story?!

Mr. Madison has told Laila all through high school to be proud of her writing style, but now a renowned novelist substitute teaching that creative writing class says the New York City teen’s work is more sci-fi fanfic than true storytelling. Ouch.

Urged by Nazarenko to get out of her comfort zone, Laila timidly goes to a club with her friends for the first time, meets lovely Hannah, and tries flirting, kissing, escaping her Ecuadorian father’s curfew demands.

Laila’s admission to Bowdoin’s prestigious writing program hinges on this final creative writing grade. May inspiration from Hannah and the city night sky be enough!

When have you decided to move from draft to publicly seen work?
**kmm

Book info: Final Draft / Riley Redgate. Amulet Books, 2018. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

K is for Kiki, overwhelmed in STARFISH, by Akemi Bowman (YA book review)

book cover of Starfish, by Akemi Dawn Bowman, published by Simon Pulse | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Divorced parents,
everything is always about Mom-
where do Kiko and her brothers fit in?

Not accepted by art school, constantly belittled by her white mother for having her Japanese father’s appearance, and now her creepy uncle is moving in?

Thankful for Jamie coming back into her life and taking her far, far away from the chaos…Kiko has to find her place and make her art.

Family drama sent you on a new path?
**kmm

Book info: Starfish / Akemi Dawn Bowman. Simon Pulse, hardcover 2017, paperback 2018. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Starting her life anew at Prism will take Kiko far from disdainful Mom and abusive Uncle Max in Nebraska, but the New York art school’s rejection shatters her plans.

When long-lost childhood friend Jamie offers to take her to California to tour art schools, she jumps at the chance to be with her brother’s friend whom she’s adored for years…and to get away from Uncle Max.

Half-Japanese and all confused.
Self-absorbed Mom sucks all the joy out of life for Kiko and her brothers.
Away, away, just get away and make her art…

“We all start at the same place, but you’re completely in charge of where you finish,” says noted artist Hiroshi when Kiko visits his art gallery with Jamie (p. 191) – and he wants to see her portfolio, maybe write a recommendation for someday-art-school!

J is Japan and MY ALMOST FLAWLESS TOKYO DREAM LIFE, by Rachel Cohn (YA book review)

book cover of My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life, by Rachel Cohn. Published by Disney/Hyperion | recommended on BooksYALove.com

From nice house to shabby apartment,
apartment to terrible foster homes,
foster care to luxury hotel?!

Elle is stunned when ‘Uncle’ Masa arrives at her latest foster home (showers allowed once a week) with her new passport and an invitation from her biological father in Japan – happy 16th birthday after all.

Being so obviously hafu (half-Japanese) and gaijin (foreigner) is no big deal at her prestigious new school attended by kids of diplomats and business people from all over the world, but utterly scandalous to Elle’s new grandmother (no wonder Kenji was forbidden to marry her Native American/ African American mom).

Not sure she’s willing to believe all the gossip about Ryuu’s past or her dad’s convoluted business dealings

When have you been suddenly the outsider?
**kmm

Book info: My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life / Rachel Cohn. Disney Book Group, 2018. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy from the library; cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Swept from foster care in Maryland to a Tokyo highrise, sixteen-year-old Elle must figure out where she fits in her biological father’s family and the social order at an elite international school.

Once the painkillers hooked Mom after that car wreck, drugs took their house, Elle’s security, and put Mom in jail.

When her never-seen dad offers Elle a home in Japan with him, she’s wary but goes along – to an amazing apartment in his skyscraper hotel with 24-hour room service…and his displeased mother and sister nearby.

Elle has to work hard at school to catch up, wondering why fellow swimmer Ryuu is shunned by the popular Ex-Brat crowd who inexplicably adopted her.

Will she always see her father by appointment only?
Can her new grandmother accept Elle’s mixed-race maternal heritage?
What happens if things don’t work out with her family in Tokyo?

As Elle and Ryuu get to know each other at swim practice, some Ex-Brats go beyond pushy, and business pressures are affecting her dad, badly.

E = EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE, by Christina June (YA book review)

book cover of Everywhere You Want to Be, by Christina June. Published by BlinkYA | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Be a dancer? No, go to college!
Who will get the lead role? Watch your back!
Play it safe with her heart? Take a chance, Tilly!

It may be her last opportunity to dance, so she’s working hard with the troupe, refining her technique, hoping her mother will relent and allow Tilly to keep dancing, instead of immediately attending Mama’s dream college.

A backstabbing troupe member, an old friend who may become a new love, late-night stress baking, all of New York City to explore in this too-short summer!

You might have met Tilly earlier in her stepsister Tatum’s story, It Started With Goodbye (I recommended it here), and their abuela and Paolo, too.

And check out Tilly’s guide to New York on the publisher’s website here.

When do you know which dreams are uniquely yours?
**kmm

Book info: Everywhere You Want to Be / Christina June. Blink YA, 2018. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: From her quiet DC suburb to New York City’s clamor, Tilly is thrilled to be with a summer dance troupe, but competition for roles gets vicious!

Their choreographer/director is a genius, telling them that ‘slaying the dragon’ will center their dance in a stunning performance space to end the summer.

What a summer! Grueling and rewarding rehearsals, exploring the city with her roommate, increasingly irksome pranks, and trying to undo the way she ended things at home with musician Paolo.

Scouts from major ballet companies will be at their performance. Their families and friends will be there. Will the saboteur strike there, too?

One final summer to dance, to pray that Mama won’t force her to attend college, to dream that her future is all dance (and some Paolo, too) – too much to ask?

D = difficult choices IN A PERFECT WORLD, by Trish Doller (YA book review)

book cover of In a Perfect World / Trish Dollar. Published by Simon Pulse | recommended on BooksYALove.com

From Ohio to Egypt,
Far from friends and soccer camp,
To an old land and new understandings.

At least Carrie has time to get adjusted to life in Cairo before school starts, with the help of Adam who drives and explains customs and culture and religion and is distractingly cute.

Moving for a parent’s job (story of my life) can be challenging, rewarding, frustrating, amazing, and temporary – just like Carrie and Adam’s friendship?

Also by this author: Where the Stars Still Shine, which I featured in another A2Z year here.

What unexpected joy have you found in a new place?
**kmm

Book info: In a Perfect World / Trish Dollar. Simon Pulse, 2017. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: In Egypt for Mom’s new job, Carrie decides that exploring Cairo will ease her homesickness for Ohio, but cultural expectations collide when their driver’s teen son must take the wheel.

Adam must give up his restaurant job when his father falls ill, now driving Carrie around her new city in the summer before her senior year – so much for her to see and learn…with such a nice young man.

The charity eye clinic must hire a male doctor to assist Mom because most Egyptian men won’t allow her to treat them.

Carrie is Catholic, Adam is Muslim.
He’s Egyptian, she’s American.
She’s in Cairo for a year, he’ll probably never leave.
Tourism fuels both their hometowns, but foreigners aren’t welcome.

Their budding relationship? Haram, forbidden – but in a perfect world…

In wartime, love is written WITHIN THESE LINES, by Stephanie Morrill (YA book review)

book cover of Within These Lines, by Stephanie Morrill. Published by BlinkYA | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Pearl Harbor,
Evacuations and preparations,
American citizens sent to concentration camps.

Yes, Manzanar, Heart Mountain, and the other ‘relocation camps’ where Japanese-Americans were sent – with only the suitcases they could carry – were concentration camps.

Trusting neighbors to safeguard their houses, selling cars and business equipment for pennies on the dollar, Japanese-Americans on the West Coast hoped to return home soon…

Parents and neighbors wouldn’t approve of their relationship, but after his family is sent to Manzanar, Taichi and Evalina write letter after letter, daring to plan a future together.

Happy book birthday on March 5th to Within These Lines!

Would you speak out against popular opinion in stressful times, as Evalina did?
**kmm

Book info: Within These Lines / Stephanie Morrill. Blink YA Books, 2019. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: The budding romance between Evalina and Taichi becomes a long-distance correspondence when his family is ‘evacuated’ to Manzanar concentration camp in the California desert after Pearl Harbor.

Many disagree that Japanese-Americans are true citizens of this country during World War II, but Italian-American Evalina will keep writing persuasive letters to San Francisco newspapers and arguing with her political science professor.

With blankets for apartment walls and dust blowing like despair through any crevice at Manzanar, Taichi will stand against the pro-Japan Black Dragon gang to protect his family.

Even though mixed-race marriage is illegal in their home state, it’s worth dreaming of a future together…right?

Letter by letter, thought by thought, Evalina and Taichi are separated by many valleys and mountains, held together by hope.

Time for rebellion! WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, by Tehlor Kay Mejia (YA book review)

book cover of We Set the Dark on Fire, by Tehlor Kay Meija. Published by Katherine Tegen Books/HMH | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Analytical, the planner – Primera.
Sensual, the mother – Segunda.
Two wives – harmony or life-long tension?

Because one god couldn’t choose between the two women he loved, now all men of Medio’s ruling class live in luxury with two wives, while the poor of the divided island have too little, and revolutionaries are determined to change that imbalance, whatever the cost.

Dani and Carmen have been groomed for years to take their respective places as Primera and Segunda in prominent households, secure in the gated compound far above the salt-soaked lands of the poor, but their roles quickly become masks hiding their true selves and forbidden affections.

Happy February 26th book birthday to Meija’s debut novel! Her short stories have been published in collections including Toil & Trouble, which I recommended earlier this year.

When marriage is a political business, where is love?
**kmm

Book info: We Set the Dark on Fire / Tehlor Kay Meija. Katherine Tegen Books (HMH), 2019. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: On their divided tropical island, the rich get richer, the poor are brutalized, and revolution is snaking through the land, even into the mansion that Dani and Carmen share with their new husband and perilous secrets!

As Primera, Daniela rules her emotions and every aspect of their husband’s household; as Segunda, Carmen will be adored as mother of his children. But the teens soon realize that Mateo is planning violence to keep the poor at bay and that their own secrets endanger them as well.

Dani’s parents escaped over the wall into Medio and sacrificed everything to get her into the Academy where society’s daughters train to become co-wives in ruling class households, where Carmen and friends teased her mercilessly for five years, where the La Voz revolution saves her from being found out and imprisoned.

With Carmen in the same household, how can Dani help La Voz?
Her training decrees that Primeras don’t love – what is Dani feeling now?
Her training decrees that a Segunda keeps her husband happy – why is Carmen so torn?

Fearing their husband, loving each other, Dani and Carmen may have to follow La Voz despite the dangers.