Click here to see all of the current Quick Picks nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Find Layla by Meg Elison
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Layla is a 14-year-old aspiring scientist observing a world that doesn’t make sense. She knows that other people don’t live the way she does—in a dangerously run-down apartment filled with toxic mold, mushrooms, and maggots, and without electricity or a working door. Her unstable mother comes and goes as she pleases, leaving Layla to care for her younger brother with few resources. At school, Layla’s unkempt appearance makes her the target of relentless bullying. When a biome project is assigned in science class, Layla films her home and the organisms living in it—and when the video goes viral, her brother is picked up by Child Protective Services. Desperate for them to be reunited, Layla goes into hiding while seeking ways to tell her story on her own terms.
This short, engaging read will draw reluctant readers in with its extreme premise—a girl growing up in a situation of neglect that is unimaginable for most—as well as with the protagonist’s strong narrative voice and unusual perspective on the world. Layla is smart and resourceful, making the best of challenging circumstances by viewing her life as a series of science experiments. Readers will be sucked in by her compelling journey, which includes managing the media attention that comes with her viral video, staying hidden in relatively plain sight, and shaming her former tormentors, all as she navigates the painful experiences of her past and seeks to carve out a better future.
Hand this to teens who connect with intense, emotional reads like Rex Ogle’s Free Lunch or Robin Roe’s A List of Cages.
Found by Joseph Bruchac
Publication Date: February 13, 2020
Teen camp counselor Nick is traveling to his job teaching at a Native school in Canada. When he witnesses a murder and is thrown from a train, he finds himself pursued by the murderer through the wilderness. Using his survival skills and what he has learned from the Abenaki Elders, Nick finds ways to outwit his opponent and eventually gain the upper hand.
The silhouettes on the cover are eye-catching and allude to the mano a mano action and survivalism in this title. At just over 100 pages, the story grabs the reader with action right away and does not let up until the resolution in the last two pages. A capable protagonist who handles problems intelligently and quickly will appeal to teen readers who have no one to rely upon but themselves.
This title will appeal to fans of reality TV survival and adventure shows like Alone, You Vs. Wild, The Amazing Race and Survivor, as well as stories of teens on their own/on the run like Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Go Ask Alice.
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Philomel Books / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
After witnessing a gang-related murder in his hometown of Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, Pulga and best friend Chico fear that their only options are to join the gang, be killed, or run for their lives. Also seeking an escape is Pulga’s cousin Pequeña, about to be coerced into marriage to the gang’s leader. After years of hearing stories about trips to the United States, the three teens set out on a journey of their own. They are unprepared for the grueling conditions on the road or the many dangers they face, from those posed by the harsh environment and other migrants to the freight train (“La Bestia”) that they must ride on top of for long stretches off the journey. Trauma from their pasts mixes with the exhausting, terrifying reality of their present as they struggle to survive and to reach a place of safety.
Told in Pulga and Pequeña’s alternating perspectives, this gripping, heartbreaking read tackles a timely, high-interest subject with psychological depth and realism. The pain and fear that characters experience is visceral and unrelenting, but reluctant readers who gravitate to survival stories will be hooked by the life-or-death stakes, strong pacing and short chapters. This is a read that will inspire readers to discuss, debate, and/or take action on issues related to U.S. immigration policy.
A powerful title that will appeal to fans of raw, intense stories about immigrant and refugee experiences, such as Ibi Zoboi’s American Street or Terry Farish’s The Good Braider.
Girl on the Run by Abigail Johnson
Underlined Paperbacks / Random House
Publication Date: October 6, 2020
Katelyn’s plan to surprise her widowed mother with an online dating profile goes horribly awry when they’re attacked and chased from their home. On the run, and separated from her mother, Katelyn is forced to collaborate with Malcom, a college student with questionable motives. Together they try to unravel the mysteries of her mom’s past.
Reluctant readers will be captivated by this fast-past thriller brimming with action, suspense, and even a little romance. Each short chapter opens with a sensational title (e.g. “Hide,” “Standoff,” and “Ambush”) and ends with a cliffhanger. In between, Katelyn and Malcom make daring escapes from various places, including motels, nursing homes, and even a gas station bathroom. Both are relatable teens dropped into a survival story. Katelyn is terrified but also angry at her mother for hiding so much from her. Malcolm, a kidnapping victim with mad tech skills, feels guilty for his role in Katelyn’s predicament. Overall, this is an intriguing family mystery that offers readers plenty of clues to follow to a satisfying conclusion.
Share this book with readers who enjoy thrillers with strong female protagonists like April Henry’s Run, Hide, Fight Back, and Mindy McGinnis’s, Be Not Far from Me.
–Kathleen J. Barker