The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Living in the 125th Street neighborhood of Harlem, Lolly’s life is populated by a vibrantly drawn, diverse cast of characters: his ma and her girlfriend Yvonne, his best friend Vega, the neighborhood kids at the community center where he attends after-school, and the young thugs who populate his neighborhood, pressuring him to join up in the wake of his older brother Jermaine’s gang-related death. Amidst these pressures and his still-raw grief at Jermaine’s death, Lolly finds solace in building fantastical, epic cityscapes out of the Lego bricks Yvonne brings home from her job as a security guard at a toy store. When his outsized buildings and imagination outgrow his apartment, community center director Mr. Ali lets him expand into the basement of the rec center. There, his Lego building attracts the attention of the other kids and especially Big Rose, a bullied girl with a prickly manner and a big heart, who may be on the autism spectrum but has no interest in being labeled autistic. Lolly and Big Rose form a tentative but meaningful bond based on mutual respect, even as he feels Vega withdrawing from him towards the pull of the streets.
These spirited, authentic characters give a vibrant voice to their Harlem neighborhood and speak to the transformative power of family and friendship. Lolly’s personal crossroads between childhood innocence and adult reality is poignantly depicted amid the colorful backdrop of his lively and diverse intersectional community. Though no child should have to grapple with the tough decisions that Lolly and his friends face, the fact is that many do; this lively, warm-hearted book will surely serve as both a powerful mirror and a window to young teen readers. The Stars Beneath Our Feet is a promising debut should find a welcome audience with fans of Jason Reynolds’ and Kwame Alexander’s books.
–Carol Maples and Jenny Zbrizher
Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
Swoon Reads / Macmillan
Publication Date: January 23, 2018
When 19-year-old Alice’s girlfriend dumps her before what was supposed to a fun-filled summer, she swears off dating for the time being, not just because she’s hurt, but because being asexual is not something most of her romantic partners have understood. That all changes when Takumi enters the picture as her story time knight in shining armor, who she might be more attracted to that anyone else she has had feelings for. Throw in parents who are threatening to cut off her college funds if she does not follow their future plans for her, and her best friends leaving her behind while they move on with their lives, Alice is in for one interesting summer.
With a light-hearted tone and strong and relatable characters, Let’s Talk About Love, while an older teen read, is still relatable to today’s teens. With a LGBTQIA main character, something not typically seen in YA, this book also tackles issues teens will being facing in their lives soon, if they are not already.
Fans of romances such as The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon and Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee will enjoy the various dynamics within friends/family/and romantic relationships. Fans of the newly released Love, Simon will also enjoy another story about a character figuring out what love means to them.
The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli
Harper Teen / HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Asha is the Iskari, the death bringer, and the daughter of the King of Firgaard. Chosen at a young age to destroy the old ways by killing the oldest dragon, Kozu, Asha lures dragons to their deaths by telling the forbidden stories of the old one. These same stories also give dragons their power to produce fire, thus making the slaying that much harder. As Asha connects with the old one through a series of gifts which includes her very own dragon, she is sent on a quest that defies her original charge. A chance encounter with the brutal commandant’s slave challenges the rules of society she has always lived by, and a forbidden love has the potential to bring the empire to its knees.
A fast pace and lots of action keep this story moving. Forbidden love, destiny, and issues of class and privilege are handled deftly. Although familiar fantasy tropes will be found in this novel, the author keeps them fresh. World building is accomplished through the use of stories and storytelling (a device also used beautifully to move the action) interspersed between early chapters of the book.
Hand this first book in a new series to fans of Eragon by Paolini, Seraphina by Hartman, Talon by Kagawa, or Ember in the Ashes by Tahir.