Diversity Spotlight – 30 March 2017

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Each week, you discuss three books featuring diverse characters or authors, that fall into each of following three categories:

  • A diverse book you have read and enjoyed
  • A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read
  • A diverse book that has not yet been released

 

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Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

This contemporary coming-of-age story centers upon Maya Vidal, a remarkable teenager abandoned by her parents. Maya grew up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandmother Nini, whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973 with a young son, and her grandfather Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer.

 When Popo dies, Maya goes off the rails. Along with a circle of girlfriends known as “the vampires,” she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime–a downward spiral that eventually leads to Las Vegas and a dangerous underworld, with Maya caught between warring forces: a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol.

 Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. In the care of her grandmother’s old friend, Manuel Arias, and surrounded by strange new acquaintances, Maya begins to record her story in her notebook, as she tries to make sense of her past and unravel the mysteries of her family and her own life.

I read Maya’s Notebook when it was first released in 2014; Isabel Allende is one of my favorite authors. I always love reading Allende’s novels, and this was no exception, despite it being very different from most of her other previous work. Compared to her books such as The House of the Spirits and Portrait in Sepia, this one has very little magical realism.

The story is partly a coming-of-age story, partly a crime/mystery thriller, but mostly an honest and open portrayal of addiction and grief. Unfortunately, a topic Ms. Allende knows all too well: three of her stepchildren have struggled with addiction; two have died, the second one passing away the same month Maya’s Notebook was published in the U.S.

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In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

The star of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin presents her personal story of the real plight of undocumented immigrants in this country.

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahit Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family.

In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman’s extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven’t been told. Written with Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families likes the author’s and on a system that fails them over and over.

This quote from the book’s Introduction basically sums up why I want to read it: “For the thousands of nameless children who feel as forgotten as I did – this memoir is my gift to you.”

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Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

I still have not read anything by Renée Ahdieh, yet I have heard enough good things about her to put her latest upcoming release directly on my TBR list! I have heard this book marketed as a Mulan retelling, which could be very intriguing, if done well.

Flame in the Mist will be published on May 16, 2017.

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ARC Book Review – The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

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Title: The Perfect Stranger
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

About the Book

In the masterful follow-up to the runaway hit All the Missing Girls, a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

Megan Miranda’s latest release, The Perfect Stranger, will make for an excellent beach read this summer. While it doesn’t have the punch of All The Missing Girls, I was still caught up in the story and characters, especially in the second half of the novel. This is a slower-paced thriller, which isn’t for everyone, but really hooked me by the halfway point. I love the quiet, sleepy Pennsylvanian town that Megan created, especially since I grew up in Pennsylvania!

There are quite a few mini-mysteries going on in this novel: what exactly happened in Leah’s past, and the strange mystery surrounding Emmy being the two biggest. While I figured out certain aspects fairly early on, other parts of the mystery definitely caught me off guard twoards the end!

Leah is an interesting character, albeit occasionally annoying, and you really get to know her as the plot progresses. She’s a strong woman that doesn’t give up, and the whole storyline brings up some interesting questions. Does the end justify the means? Can you ever really “start over” somewhere new, in a new life? Kyle, the police officer assigned to Emmy’s missing persons case, is one of the weak links in the story. He seemed to be written to be a likable, good guy….but I wasn’t a fan. I do wish his character had been flushed out a bit more. And then there is Emmy, always in the background, a big question mark that is slowly unraveled.

My absolutely favorite part of The Perfect Stranger was the last chapter! I won’t say anything to spoil the ending,  but it was definitely a perfect way to end the book.

If you like mysteries/thrillers that take place in quiet, sleepy communities that hide their secrets well, you’ll probably enjoy The Perfect Stranger.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Read Watch Play #10

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Good morning! Today’s post will link up to The Sunday Salon, and the Sunday Post. Read, Watch, Play is a monthly round-up of bookish and non-bookish entertainment going on in my home this week. Feel free to join in and let me know what fun you have had recently!

What I’m Reading

 

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am slowly plugging away at this one. Don’t be deceived by my slow progress…I love it! My Own Words could best be described as a compilation of Justice Ginsburg’s speeches, articles, and opinions. I love how she continually references and mentions all of the trail-blazing women that came before her, like Belva Lockwood and Florence Allen.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I’m proceeding cautiously with this one, given all the sexism and misogyny. I’m only 30 pages in, but so far I like the world-building.

What I’m Watching

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This Is Us. I binge watched the first half of the season over winter break in December, and have been watching weekly ever since. This is definitely one of my favorite TV series at the moment. I have loved every, single episode, many of which have hit SOO close to home with my life right now (Randall’s reunion with his birth father, mainly). Until the finale. What was that?! I did not like it. I wanted more Randall, Kate and Kevin!

What I’m Playing

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Ticket to Ride. I just realized we have been so busy that gaming has not happened for a while in our house! Instead of leaving this section blank, I’m throwing in the board game that is currently at the top of my wish list!

What are you up to on this sunny, Spring Sunday? 

When Politicians Become Bullies: Jacob’s New Dress

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North Carolina, where I currently live, has had it’s fair share of negative attention over the past year. Most prominently, in relation to the anti-LGBT legislation known as HB2, or “the bathroom bill”.

This week, the spotlight has returned to North Carolina, only this time, it’s in regards to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) school district’s anti-bullying curriculum. My daughter is a student at CMS, a district that has 170 schools and approximately 147,000 students. Therefore, the controversy broiling between our state legislature, the NC Family Values Coalition, and our local school district has a direct impact on my family.

Since November, I have written about #ReadingasResistance, and how books can help guide a person to a new level of political and social activism. How books can be the inspiration that opens our eyes and our minds to new ideas; to people, places, and cultures that are different from us. This is nothing new; in fact, the history of banned books highlights the fear that so many people have when they are confronted with difference. With nonconformity.

Unfortunately, a wonderful children’s picture book, Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, is one of the latest books to be removed from our local school’s curriculum, and therefore, is about to be added to the banned books list. Only this time, it is not a parent or school board that was troubled over a book’s inclusion in a curriculum. It is the state legislators, my lawmakers, that are leading the charge that calls for the removal of Jacob’s New Dress from CMS schools, in the name of “family values” (aka bigotry).

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Jacob’s New Dress is a story about a young boy who loves to play dress-up, and likes to wear dresses to school. The book addresses the unique challenges faced by gender nonconforming boys. Jacob’s parents support their son and his clothing choices, but they worry about him getting teased or bullied at school. The story can be an excellent start to a conversation about what is masculine and what is feminine, and the relationship between the clothes we wear and how we are viewed by society.

The book is included as part of the Welcoming Schools program, a project of the Human Rights Committee to help create safe and welcoming schools for ALL children and families. Jacob’s New Dress is included in the lesson plan, “Discussing Gender Stereotyping with Children’s Books”, with a goal of using literature to understand gender roles and recognize gender stereotyping. Discussion questions for CMS students, obtained by the Washington Post, include the following:

  • Why do you think Christopher is upset that Jacob wants to wear a dress? What does he do to hurt Jacob’s feelings during the story?
  • How did the teacher help him? How could other students have helped Jacob?
  • What should Jacob do if this happens again? (teach students to say STOP, move away, tell a trusted adult)

Risqué stuff, indeed.

Complaints about the lesson plan first arose from one teacher within CMS, who has remained anonymous. Despite the fact that the lesson plan is meant to teach children how to handle harassment and bullying, the NC Family Values Coalition and the House Republican Caucus quickly jumped on board with their disdain.

Our society no longer makes judgments about a girl’s sexuality because she prefers to wear jeans and wrestle, so why do we react so strongly to a boy making similar alternative choices? The author’s who wrote Jacob’s New Dress were inspired by their son, a boy who likes to wear things that dont always adhere to traditional gender roles.

You can’t help but find it ironic that a public school district had to step back from using a book about addressing bullying and harassment after being threatened by North Carolina lawmakers. The NC House Republican Caucus, and the NC Family Values Coalition essentially bullied CMS into using different materials for their anti-bullying curriculum.

And guess what? The bullies don’t like that book either. Red: A Crayon’s Story, is about a blue crayon mistakenly labeled red, and was quickly selected to replace Jacob’s New Dress. The latest word is that Red will also be getting more scrutiny from the Republican Caucus. It is amazing that my state legislators have enough time on their hands to micromanage my daughter’s school reading list.

As a parent within CMS, as someone who has read Jacob’s New Dress and looked at the Welcoming Schools curriculum, I LOUDLY and STRONGLY support including more diverse stories in the classroom. And I call on the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board and District to put Jacob’s New Dress back into the anti-bullying curriculum so that it will go back into my daughter’s classroom, and back into the classrooms of other CMS students.

And let’s be clear: this anti-bullying curriculum is not about “promoting a transgender agenda”, in the words of Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald. It is about using stories and literature to promote safety and acceptance of vulnerable students. Reading a book that teaches students that all people deserve to be free from bias, discrimination, and harm, is a GOOD THING.

You can listen to Jacob’s New Dress on Youtube by going here.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Contemporary YA

Kudos to Angie Thomas for writing a debut novel that is so profound and powerful. How to describe The Hate U Give – or THUG, an author-coined acronym for her book? Let’s start with this:

THUG LIFE – “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone”. ~Tupac

The title of the novel is taken from Tupac Shakur, and his meaning underlying those words. That what society tells our youth has a way of coming back and affecting all of us. We see that in the protests, and riots against police brutality and police killings of unarmed black men. We see that in the anger and frustration that so many feel.

THUG revolves around Starr Carter, a teen that moves between two worlds: the impoverished neighborhood where she grew up, and the expensive suburban private school that she attends:

I get out of the car. For at least seven hours I don’t have to talk about One-Fifteen. I don’t have to think about Khalil. I just have to be normal Starr at normal Williamson and have a normal day. That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang–if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it–even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood”. Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl”. Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.

I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway.

When Starr is the only witness to the shooting of her childhood best friend, at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop even though he was doing nothing wrong, she is forced to confront the dichotomy between her two personas.

I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.

Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.

THUG is an unapologetic – and rightfully so – evocative look into a subject that needs to be torn wide open across the country: the shootings of unarmed black men by police officers. The school to prison pipeline in poor, urban communities. The New Jim Crow era of mass incarceration, the biases institutionalized within the criminal justice system and the policies that control said system. The story is emotionally charged, important, and really, REALLY good.

Putting the important political message aside for a moment, Angie Thomas is a brilliant writer. THUG is incredibly well-written, and the storytelling is so incredibly powerful, not only due to the message, but the sheer intelligence and creative ability of the author. It is very rare that I gush over contemporary YA novels, but here I am! Gushing. In a debut novel, no less!

To go along with the fantastic storytelling is all the wonderful characters that truly made the story shine. Starr is…well, Starr is someone you root for from the very beginning. And her family!! I love when a contemporary YA novel includes a well-flushed out family and Starr’s is one of the best. I love all of the relationships in this book, whether it is between Starr and her parents, or her brother Seven, or her friends. All of the relationships were well-developed and I love how a few of the minor characters really experienced their own growth throughout the story, it is very much an ensemble cast, and they all shine.

Take this conversation between Starr and her Dad:

“Now, think ’bout this,” he says. “How did the drugs even get in our neighborhood? This is a multibillion dollar industry we talking ’bout, baby. That shit is flown into our communities, but I don’t know anybody with a private jet. Do you?

“No.”

“Exactly. Drugs come from somewhere, and they’re destroying our community,” he says. “You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils, who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can’t get jobs unless they’re clean, and they can’t pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life.”

Daddy Carter gave me all the feels in this book. And that is what The Hate U Give does: it breaks your heart, and gives you the warm fuzzies – all in the span of a few pages.

Read this book. No matter where you live – read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

SHEroes: A Parent-Child Reading List for Women’s History Month

Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg celebrated her 84th birthday. Long a champion of gender equality, it also served as a reminder that I had yet to publish my article for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month!

In celebration of the world-changing contributions women have made – and continue to make – throughout history, here is a list of non-fiction selections highlighting these achievements, and companion picture books to read with children covering the same shero or topic. Starting with the birthday woman herself!

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“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made….It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

A trailblazer. She is only the second female justice on the  United States Supreme Court, and is recognized the world over for being one of SCOTUS’s main advocates for advancing women’s rights under the law, including her support for adding an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am currently in the middle of reading this one right now. It is the first book from RBG since becoming a Justice in 1993; a compilation of her speeches, writings, positive and dissenting arguments from her long career.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy. The first picture book written about RBG and just published last year, M received this book in November through the PJ Library program – a free, monthly book club that sends Jewish-themed books to Jewish children and their families. I Dissent tells the story of Ginsburg’s many disagreements with the motto that “disagreeing does not make you disagreeable!”

 

Malala Yousafzai

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“I tell my story not because it is unique but because it is not. It is the story of many girls. Today, I tell their stories too. I have brought with me some of my sisters from Pakistan, from Nigeria, and from Syria who share this story… This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change. I am here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice.”

This young woman has inspired the world. A teenage Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala is a Pakistani girl’s education activist who survived an assassination attempt when she was 15. She is an inspiring individual that works tirelessly for equality in education across the world.

I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb. The story of a young girl who risked her life to fight for the right to be educated, her miraculous recovery after an assassination attempt, and her ongoing work in children’s human rights.

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya. Filled with beautiful illustrations, this inspiring biography is perfect for young readers preschool – 2nd grade.

The Founding Mothers

“If we mean to have Heroes, Statemen and Philosophers, we should have learned women.” ~Abigal Adams, in a letter to John Adams, August 14, 1776

Little attention has been given to the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters that stood with the American Founding Fathers. Author Cokie Roberts brings to life the women in history that also helped to shape American when it was just a duckling. It was the women who insisted that the men come together for civilized conversations. It was the women who helped to keep a young, new country from falling into partisan discord.

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. Highlighting the contribution’s to American history by Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Read Franklin, Eliza Pinckney, Catherine Littlefield Green, and Martha Washington.

Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies – the picture book based on her book for adults, also highlighting the female patriots during the American Revolution.

Women in Science

“Their path to advancement might look less like a straight line and more like some of the pressure distributions and orbits they plotted, but they were determined to take a seat at the table.” ~Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave after losing her battle with cervical cancer, yet practically every doctor and scientist knows her name. Taken without her knowledge or permission, Henrietta’s cells live on in scientific laboratories, known as HeLa cells.

This book brings up grave injustices in the scientific community, including the dark history of experimentation on people of color, and the battle over whether or not we control the very cells that make up our body. Despite Henrietta’s cells providing an inspiring breakthrough in medical research, her children and grandchildren live an impoverished life in Baltimore, they have seen no profits or reparations for what was taken from Henrietta without permission.

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky. Unfortunately, there are no picture books about Henrietta Lacks or HeLa cells, but I highly recommend this book for young readers that highlights the contributions of 50 notable women in STEM fields. Women featured include Wang Zhenyi, one of the greatest minds of the Qing dynasty; Nettie Stevens, who discovered that biological sex is determined by X and Y chromosomes; Edith Clarke, the first female electrical engineer; Alice Ball, who helped to cure leprosy; and Katherine Johnson, who calculated the flight path for the first manned mission on the moon. You may recognize that last name mentioned, since Katherine Johnson is currently getting the attention she so justly deserves as one of the African-American female mathematicians featured in the hit movie and book, Hidden Figures.

Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space by Margot Lee Shetterly. Also available in a Young Reader’s edition.

Happy Women’s History Month! Are there any books you are reading this month to celebrate the contributions that women have made throughout history?

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books on my Spring TBR

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the theme is Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR. There are…ahem…a ton of books that fall into this category! But I will list the ones that I truly hope to finish by the Summer Solstice, and I am not including the two books that I am reading right now.

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda. I have an eARC from Netgalley, and Megan Miranda also happens to be one of my neighbors, so I absolutely hope to have her latest book finished by the April 11th publication date!

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova. Another book set to be published on April 11, and I also happen to have an eARC of this one. I really enjoyed The Historian, so I have high hopes for Kostova’s latest novel.

The Murder on the Links and The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie. Both of these are part of my long-term personal challenge to read all of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels in publication order.

A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin – I had planned on reading the first few books in the Game of Thrones series this year, but for some reason I keep procastinating…especially when the shiny eye candy of new releases draws my attention away from older fantasy series (ahem…Conjuring of Light). We’ll see what happens with these two, but I do hope to at least have read the first one by the start of summer.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – I am slightly ashamed to admit I have never read any of David Levithan’s novels, and this is one of two that were on my list for this year. I already know and love John Green!

Every Day by David Levithan – Both of these two books will also hopefully help meet two of the categories in the #DiversityBingo2017 Challenge that I am participating in this year.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I keep hearing so many great things about this book, I need to read it NOW.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon – This contemporary YA novel will be published in May, but I already have my name on the holds list at the library!

Happy Tuesday! I look forward to seeing what is on your TTT this week. Please feel free to leave a link in the comments!