GIRL: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You, by Karen Rayne (2017)

Girl: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You by Karen RayneImagine having an highly discreet older sister who is there every time you have a question that there’s  no WAY you’d ever ask your mum or coolest teacher or even your best friend. Questions about STIs and not getting pregnant or being bisexual or what to expect on a date or how to insert a tampon right so it doesn’t hurt or all the other things that crop up for young people who identify as girls. Written by psychologist and educator Karen Rayne, the book’s stated intent is to address what it means to be a girl, physically, emotionally, and sexually. It’s exactly the kind of book I sought out in my teens as I tried to navigate relationships with my family and friends, transitioning into adulthood while exploring my identity. Read more of this post


The Animators, by Kayla Rae Whitaker (2016)

The Animators by Kayla Rae WhitakerIn The Animators, two young women meet in a drawing class at a posh upper New York college and discover a shared background of what one character calls their “white trashiness.” Mel Vaught is outgoing, brash, and fearless, and wants to be a cartoonist. Sharon Kisses is quiet and talented, but oh so full of doubt. But both are fiercely ambitious, and by graduation they are not only best friends but business partners in creating animation. They also share troubled childhoods; Mel draws to understand her past, and Sharon draws to escape it. Ten years later, now living in New York City, Mel and Sharon find critical success with their first full-length feature, based on Mel’s difficult childhood with a hooker mother and a series of misbehaving “stepdads.” Read more of this post

The Lauras, by Sara Taylor (2017)

Contemporary Fiction
The Lauras by Sara TaylorAlex’s mother hits the road in the middle of the night after a final fight with her husband. It’s not the first time she has taken off, but this time it’s with pubescent Alex, who struggles with Ma’s decision to leave without telling Dad where they are going. It is the start of a years-long journey crisscrossing the United States as Ma reconnects with significant people and places from her past, settling debts and scores and fulfilling long-ago promises. The title refers to the Lauras Ma has known throughout her life, giving Taylor a useful device for slowly revealing key events in Ma’s own story. The book is narrated in the first person by Alex, some 30 years hence, though it is set in this century. Read more of this post

Transphobia: Deal With It, by j. wallace skelton (2017)

Transphobia: Deal With It, by J. Wallace SkeltonThis is a new release from James Lorimer Books, the latest in the “Deal With It” series which tackles discrimination issues in colourful, illustrated books aimed primarily at middle school readers. In just 32 pages, readers learn what transphobia is and how they can be “gender transcenders.” The book opens with Transphobia 101, including a quiz to help readers identify situations of transphobia, just plain sexism, or simply lack of understanding. Using age-appropriate and accessible language and cartoon-like drawings, skelton and illustrator Nick Johnson collaborate to help readers learn how to respond to various scenarios in order to create a safe and supportive space for all genders. Read more of this post

More Happy than Not, by Adam Silvera (2015)

Grit Lit
More Happy than NotSixteen-year-old Aaron Soto just wants a little happiness, or at least respite from the life he lives with his overworked mother and cruelly silent brother in their one-bedroom Bronx apartment. He is also desperate to forget finding his father’s body in the tub, a memory so distressing it led to his own suicide attempt. He focuses his hopes on the promise of “memory relief” from the Leteo Institute, but his mother simply cannot afford the costly medical procedure. He finds solace in the arms of his girlfriend Genevieve and with his new friend Thomas, with whom he shares a passion for action comics and movies. When his friendship with Thomas deepens, Aaron is confused and grows even more convinced that Leteo offers his only hope. Read more of this post

Stranger, by Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith (2014)

Ages 13-18
The StrangerPicture the wild west, in which a teenage boy is on the run from a bounty hunter after the valuable package he carries on his back. He escapes capture, but is mortally wounded. Luck intervenes in the form of a patrolling sheriff who lifts him effortlessly onto her back and races back to the walled town. On foot, dodging the carnivorous roses and deadly crystal shards along the way. In town, a doctor saves the teen’s life by warping time. Oh yeah, and it gets even better. This first in a series (The Change) can only be described as a genre-bending futuristic fantasy dystopia with a utopian twist. It offers the mindblowing and cool factor of Cowboys Vs Aliens but with much richer results. Read more of this post

Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polonsky (2014)

Genre: GLBTQ
Interest Level: 11-14
Gracefully GraysonIn this beautifully written middle school novel about gender identity and self-acceptance, we meet 12-year-old Grayson, who has a really big secret. On the outside, he is a boy; on the inside is a girl desperate to come out to the world. When no one is watching, Grayson holds up dresses and imagines the swish of the skirt while walking. Every day, he lives with the secret, using an oversized purple hoodie to hide the extra-long t-shirts he wishes were dresses over the skinny jeans he imagines are leggings. Polonsky does a masterful job of bringing this young person’s voice to life and give us an authentic sense of this dichotomous experience. Read more of this post

Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith (2014)

Genre: Science Fiction
Appeal: 14-21
Grasshopper JungleRemember how impressed I was by the reliable science behind The Martian? Yeah, that doesn’t happen here. This can only be described as a darkly – nay, blackly – comic end-of-the-world coming-of-age twisted tale about sexual identity. Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba is in love with both his best friend Robby and his girlfriend Shann. Still a virgin, he is “so confused” about his sexuality and what makes him horny, because pretty much everything does – a touch from Shann, a kiss from Robby, the thought of a threesome, Robby’s mother, the floor of a laundromat … at the same time, the end of the world as we know it has arrived in Eeling, Iowa, in the form of giant bugs. Read more of this post

Why We Took the Car, by Wolfgang Herrndorf (2010, 2014)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Level: 12-17
Why We Took the CarMike Klingenberg is facing the start of summer vacation completely on his own. His mother is, once again, in rehab – what she calls “the beauty farm.” As the cab takes her way, Dad hands Mike 200 euros, tells him not to get into any trouble, and hops into the car for a “business trip” with his hot young assistant, leaving Mike alone at home in Berlin. There is little chance of any mischief – Mike has just been dealt a crushing blow to his ego. Tatiana is the love of his life but doesn’t know he exists. She is throwing a party and invited practically the whole class, but not Mike, and not their newest classmate, Andrej Tschichatschow. Tschick convinces Mike to do something about the overlooked invitations. Read more of this post

Julio’s Day, by Gilbert Hernandez (2013)

Genre: Graphic Novel
Interest Level: Adult
Julio's DayRemember The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared? Reimagine it in graphic novel form, and you have Julio’s Day. The book opens in 1900 on the day Julio is born to American parents of Mexican descent, and ends 100 years later on his death. In between we watch Julio grow up and discover the people who make a difference in his life, both good and bad. We learn family secrets and suspect a few ourselves. Along the way, historical events of the 20th century are woven into the storyline. Many of these events touch Julio’s life barely at all, others are more impactful. The Depression required a few lines, and his images of the 60s were just plain fun. Read more of this post

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, by Emily Horner (2010)

Genre: Contemporary Realism
Interest level: 15-adult
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best FriendOverall, I liked this story of Cass, a teenager coming to terms with the sudden death of her best friend Julia while at the same time working out issues of loyalty, sexuality and trust. There are two storylines: one in which she is attempting to cycle across the country with Julia’s ashes, and another, after her return, in which she and friends are staging Julia’s unfinished play, Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad. The timeline swaps back and forth, and that is what weakens this book in my view. I like authors who can play with time, but it has to be done well. This isn’t. It feels like Emily had two plots and couldn’t decide, so she wrote them both and just flipped between them. Read more of this post

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach (2011)

Genre: Adult Fiction
Interest level: Adult
The Art of FieldingAnother terrific first novel! As the title may suggest, this is a baseball novel. But don’t let that put you off, if you, like me, are not particularly into the sport. (I am very proud of one–the only–amazing catch I made when I was, mystifyingly, in retrospect, playing third base.) The baseball lessons are delivered easily, mixed in with the narrative in such a way that you naturally understand more and more as you progress through the novel. Henry Skrimshander (the Skrimmer) is a shortstop extraordinaire, and is poised for greatness in his sophomore year at Westish College in the midwest. (Wisconsin, if that’s the midwest. I think it is). But his major league future is suddenly in doubt when he begins to falter on the field. Read more of this post