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Birthday by Meredith Russo
Flatiron Books/Macmillan Publishers
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Eric and Morgan have known each other since birth–they were born on the same day, in the same rural Tennessee hospital. This fast-paced emotional book, told from both of their perspectives between their 13th and 18th birthdays, tells the story of their friendship, love story, and of Morgan’s coming to terms with her identity as a trans woman.
Birthday is an engaging, poignant love story that does not shy away from hard truths: Eric’s father is physically and emotionally abusive, while Morgan is severely depressed and brutally bullied at school before coming out as trans. The hook of telling the story over the course of several birthdays makes it engaging for even a reluctant reader, and while some of the story is very painful, it makes you want to read to find out what’s going to be next. Russo provides just enough hints about Eric and Morgan’s love story over the years that it feels inevitable, while still satisfying.
Birthday will appeal to fans of Every Day by David Levithan, the movie One Day, and I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver.
Fifteen and Change by Max Howard
Publication Date: February 1, 2019
Zeke is desperate to help his mom escape their impoverished life with her loser boyfriend.Taking a job at a pizza shop, he meets labor activists who encourage him to fight for better working conditions, including a living wage. When his co-worker (and crush), a local college student, organizes a protest, Zeke isn’t sure he is ready to become a warrior for social justice. Will advocating for others force him to postpone his own dreams of a better life?
Written in verse, this short novel effortlessly introduces many current and compelling topics. In addition to Zeke’s family drama, a diverse cast of supporting characters open his eyes to problems like sexual harassment, poverty, homelessness, and unfair and illegal labor practices.Zeke is a thoughtful and introspective young man, but the page-long verses keep the story moving at a brisk pace. The author hints at a modest happy ending, which is a bit rushed, but leaves the reader feeling hopeful.
Recommended for readers interested in issue-oriented realistic fiction, such as We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss (2018) or John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down (2018). Fans of Jason Reynolds or Kwame Alexander’s novels in verse will enjoy this storytelling format.
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