#BFYA2019 Nominees Round Up, September 21 Edition

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Little, Brown Book for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
ISBN: 978-0316262286 

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot and killed by a white police officer who says he felt threatened by a big, scary black man (Jerome is 12, 5′ tall, 90 lbs) with a gun (plastic). As a ghost, Jerome learns from the ghost of Emmett Till about the history of racism in America that led to his death, and tries to help his family heal.

In Ghost Boys, Rhodes tells not only the story of Jerome’s death, but his life that led up to his murder, the history of racism in America that led to the very moment of his death (and the court case that follows), the conflict within and (hopefully) growth of Sarah, the police officer’s daughter, and the story of Emmett Till and other “ghost boys” need to be remembered by all of us. Jerome is a believable and heartbreaking 12 year old, and his interactions with Sarah and Emmett will inspired conversations and introspection in any reader, no matter their age. Concise and short sentences make for a quick read in the convincing voice of a young teen, but the underlying themes of racism, history, family and growth make this a novel that will hopefully make readers think about their own necessary role in fighting injustice and racism.

Share Ghost Boys with younger teens who are interested in social justice and novels about the state of racism in America like David Barclay Moore’s The Stars Beneath Our Feet, but aren’t quite ready for Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give or Jason Reynolds’s The Long Way Down.

–Cate Merlin


The Universe is Expanding and So Am I by Carolyn Mackler
Publication Date: May 29, 2018
ISBN: 978-1681195995

Sophomore year is winding down, and plus-sized Virginia Shreves has to face the fact that she has inexplicably fallen out of like with her boyfriend, Froggy Welsh the Fourth. She’s unsure if she can bring herself to break up with him, because doing so would undermine her number one rule of “how to make sure skinny girls aren’t the only ones who have boyfriends”. However, Virginia soon finds herself with bigger problems to worry about when her older brother Byron is arrested for rape, an ordeal that sends her picture-perfect family into immediate disarray. As her family spends the summer struggling to deal with the repercussions of Byron’s actions, Virginia must also navigate her insecurities over her place in her family, her body image, and her growing feelings for a new boy she meets, who turns out to be majorly off-limits.

Virginia is a relatable, curvaceous, and plucky heroine who traverses her personal challenges with irreverent wit throughout, while never undermining the gravity of what her brother did, nor forgetting about the victim of his assault. Fans of Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks will recognize in Virginia’s voice a kindred spirit to relate to, laugh with, and root for. Though this is a sequel to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (2003), it stands successfully on its own as a timely coming of age story for today’s generation, as well as a charming love letter to New York City.

–Jenny Zbrizher


Everything Else in the Universe by Tracy Holczer
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: June 12, 2018
ISBN: 978-0399163944 

It’s summer, and everything is changing for twelve-year-old Lucy, who likes her life to be orderly and predictable. Her father, who went to Vietnam as an Army doctor, returns home missing an arm and emotionally drained. Lucy wants to help her dad but instead is moved next door to the home of her aunt and uncle. While there, Lucy meets Milo, a neighbor her age, and their friendship grows as they face the effects of the war on their families.

Lucy and Milo find a buried box in the woods; inside is a military helmet and a Purple Heart. They decide to try to find the owner of the award so they can return it; during their quest, they learn about the returned veterans who have struggled to find their place among a society that often has negative opinions about the war. Lucy navigates her own challenges at home: her distant father, her cousin Gia’s active protest against the war, Gia’s boyfriend facing the upcoming draft lottery, and Lucy’s own tendency to keep herself at a distance from other children her age. As Lucy’s self-awareness grows she becomes more sensitive to the feelings of those around her and less dependent on her own persistent comfort behaviors, and the story comes to a positive, though not rosy, conclusion that celebrates family and connections. An author’s note explains the experience of returning Vietnam War veterans given the discord of the time, and provides details about how the draft lottery worked.

This book will appeal to younger teens who are interested in historical fiction. Share this with readers who have enjoyed Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor or She Loves You, Yeah Yeah Yeah by Ann Hood.

–Cathy Rettberg and Molly Dettmann