Click here to see all of the current Quick Picks nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Lux: The New Girl by Ashley Woodfolk
Workshop / Penguin
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
When Lux is kicked out of yet another school for fighting, she has one more chance to fit in and make things work at a local high school. At Harlem’s Augusta Savage School of Arts, she meets a group of students known as the Flyy Girls. Being a good friend and leaving her old life behind is hard, even with the best of intentions.
This book is less than 150 pages and is smaller in size than a regular hardcover YA novel, with straightforward text and short chapters that include diary entries and lots of dialogue. The simple but real plot is not overly complicated and readers will end up caring about and relating to Lux’s success, stress over social media, family dynamics, and everyday obstacles.
For teens who enjoy real life dramas, like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Kendra by Coe Booth, or girl gangs like in Pretty Little Liars. Book two in the Flyy Girls series has already been released.
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat
Publication Date: October 13, 2020
In June 2018, twelve boys and their coach took a break from soccer practice to explore a cave system in Thailand. Trapped by heavy rains, the team spent seventeen days underground. This is the story of their survival, and the heroic efforts of the men and women from around the world who came to the rescue.
Soontornvat expertly capitalizes on the thrilling nature of this real-life disaster in order to build tension and suspense. She launches right into the team’s cave exploration and the unexpected heavy rains, so readers are immediately drawn in to the drama. The detail-oriented text is very straightforward and engaging, and it never feels overly technical or scientific. It’s fast-paced with short chapters, and is broken up by many color photographs, sidebars, and infographics. Soontornvat offers important contextual glimpses into Thai culture, current immigration issues, and Buddhism, while also highlighting a few of the many individuals who contributed to the rescue mission.
Hand this to readers who enjoy works of adventure or suspenseful nonfiction like those by Marc Aronson or Gail Jarrow. Readers might also enjoy fictional survivalist thrillers like The Unfortunates by Kim Liggett or Found by Joseph Bruchac.
–Kathleen J. Barker
Dear Justyce by Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
17-year-old Vernell LaQuan Banks (Quan) is incarcerated and facing 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Through a series of flashbacks, letters, and short reflections, Quan details his troubled history, tough home life, and tangles with the legal system.
A partial sequel to Nic Stone’s acclaimed debut, Dear Martin, this book features crossover characters, including Justyce, who now attends Yale. Although this book will appeal to previous readers, it also stands alone for new readers of Stone’s fiction. (To note: there are some spoilers present for those who haven’t read Dear Martin.) The book’s examination of the systemic racism within the criminal justice system makes it a compelling and important read. Readers will be drawn in by Quan’s honest and often vulnerable voice.
Dear Justyce is recommended for fans of Stone’s other work as well as other similarly-themed stories that examine the racial disparities in our country, including The Hate U Give, All American Boys, and Tyler Johnson Was Here.
–Marie A. LeJeune
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Teen Enchanted Jones dreams of a music career, but ends up falling prey to master seducer and much older R&B mega-star Korey Fields (think: R. Kelly). The story alternates between the NOW (after Korey has been murdered) and BEFORE, detailing how Enchanted became involved with Fields and was groomed and subjected to abuse after their lives were entwined. Over the course of the novel, she acknowledges the reality of what happened to her and other young girls in Fields’ circle, and helps reveal to society the monster he truly was.
The cover is visually stunning and will draw a reader in to learn more about this beautiful girl and question the meaning of the title. The plot sparks tension immediately, as it begins with the young protagonist at the scene of a murder. The story is based loosely on what a possible victim of R. Kelly might look like, and should have reader appeal and cultural relevance based on widespread knowledge of the real R. Kelly story. Readers will be, in turns, drawn into and appalled by Fields’ seduction and trafficking of underage girls. Short chapters also make this a real page turner. This book makes a strong appeal to a young reader’s need to see justice for Enchanted and Korey’s other victims, especially as a group of black girls who society has overlooked.
Fans of Grown would also enjoy dark dramatic stories like Jane Anonymous (Laurie Stolarz) in which another young female protagonist tries to reconcile her abuse with the abuser, suspenseful and complex coming-of-age titles like Deb Caletti’s Girl, Unframed about the objectification of teenage girls, and social justice tales such as Punching the Air (Ibi Zoboi) and Dear Justyce (Nic Stone), in which other young Black protagonists struggle to climb out of circumstances largely outside their control.