Lily lives in a perpetual nightmare. The bullying she faces in and outside of school is horrific.
The bullies take photos of her, attack her and call her names like pig, fatty and much, much worse.
Lily's mum is morbidly obese and hasn't left the house in years out of fear and embarrassment. She's dealing with her own family trauma, her brother Ray is a cop, but not a cop you can really trust at all.
Lily's dad works long nights at a tough job to keep things together at home. He's furious at those who are destroying Lily's life, but feels powerless to do anything about it. Meanwhile, Lily is spinning into a pit of despair.
Then, her father has an idea, he brings out his old boxing equipment and starts to show her some moves. At first she thinks it's a ridiculous idea but when she gets to imagine she's punching the faces of the people that hurt her, her attitude changes. This leads Lily to a boxing gym, I don't want to spoil any more of this novel because it's so amazing you should read it yourself.
Gloves Off is told in verse and alternates between Lily's perspective and occasionally her mother's. It's a very powerful look at fat shaming and the consequences that it has. Fat shaming is often overlooked as a "real" bullying issue, primarily based on the ridiculous claim that it will help the person being bullied to lose weight.
It's known that high school students who believe themselves to be overweight or obese are more likely to suffer depression and attempt suicide. (source)
There are other issues at play here as well. Lily's family can't afford to eat healthy. A report submitted in Sept 2018 by The Food Foundation showed that 3.7 million children in the UK live in households that earn less than £15,860 / year and are unable to afford the diet that is recommended by the government in order to stay healthy.
As a School Librarian, I haven't really come across a novel that packs this much punch (pun intended). It's an important story that needs to be told. It's not just the message that rings home, the story is beautifully told. It's raw at times and so heartbreaking you'll need to read it in private unless you don't want to be blubbering mess in front of strangers.
I can't recommend Gloves Off enough, it's published in August 2019, go get it.
London is melting under an oppressive heatwave. Nik & Norva live in the Tri, a high-rise building where their father is the caretaker.
When one of the residents, Hugo, is found murdered, Nik & Norva are on the case.
They loved Hugo, he taught an art class in the common area of the Tri and always had interesting information about the Tri and surrounding community.
It's summer, so Nik & Norva have a lot of time on their hands to devote to the case, to the annoyance of the local residents and police. However, for the most part, the police aren't trusted in the Tri. This gives the detective duo more access to conduct their thorough and (sometimes) reckless research into who committed the horrible crime. As the suspect list mounts, Nik & Norva find themselves in a race against time to find the killer before their lives are turned completely upside down.
High Rise Mystery is an amazing new series by author Sharna Jackson. I loved following Nik & Norva's adventure through the Tri as they unwraveled the crime. They are smart, curious, stubborn and not against bending a few rules to get the job done. They are the perfect team to solve the case and I'm excited to know that they will be back with new stories and new cases to solve in the future.
The supporting characters in High Rise Mystery are just as strong. Nik & Norva's friend George is hilarious and more clever than he lets on. Mark is a potential love interest but also a suspect. Nik & Norva also don't like the way Jane has been acting, in fact, everyone in the building is a suspect.
Good thing they are organised and ready to take on whatever is thrown at them. It's funny, smart and a great who-dunnit that should not be missed.
Sharna recently spoke to the BBC on the importance of young readers seeing their lives, their cultures, religions, backgrounds and communities reflected in the books that they read. You can read the article here.
It also references a new report published by BookTrust, the UK's largest reading charity. The report states that "over the pas 11 years, fewer than 2% of all authors and/or illustrators of children's books published in the UK were British people of colour."
This is why BookTrust has launched #BookTrustRepresents, a campaign to promote and support these authors who are severely underrepresented in the UK.
It's 1984 & Jo Kwan has just moved with her family to Coventry, UK to start a new life. However, it's not the life Jo had imagined for herself. She's going to live above the Chinese takeaway that her family owns and operates. She hasn't seen her older brother Simon for a few years because he was sent to live with their grandparents for reasons that are unknown to Jo. She has a younger sister Bonny who has taken to smoking and stealing money from the cash register in the shop. Jo also takes money but only when she really, really needs it.
Jo's mother speaks little to no English, her father speaks both English and Chinese but rarely speaks. Throw in the fact that Jo and her sister can't understand Chinese and it makes for a very interesting family dynamic.
Chinglish is told through Jo's diary entries and doodles. The story track's Jo's attempts to fit in at school and how she experiences casual and not so casual racism from both children and adults in her neighbourhood. Jo starts her diary by saying she is only going to include the nice memories. As the diary continues, more and more of the "bad stuff" creeps in, and man oh man there is a lot of bad stuff. I wanted to jump into this novel on several occasions and take Jo and her sister as far away from her parents as possible, more on that later.
There are some genuinely hilarious moments in this novel which are always tinged with sadness. Jo never receives Christmas or birthday presents from her family, yet she's convinced that she did receive a chair shaped like a teddy bear when she was six years old. There's no evidence of the chair existing and her parents don't acknowledge that the chair was ever purchased. It's one of those moments that slowly burns inside your brain, it's terribly sad but I had to laugh at it because Jo has to ask herself if she's going insane, why would her parents decide to lie to her about buying a teddy bear chair? Who does something like that?
Then there are the animal stories, many of which can be considered animal cruelty, which Jo fully recognises. I won't spoil any of them but one of them involves goats and again, made me laugh out loud and then wonder if I should be laughing but it's so tragic and bizarre that I just couldn't help it.
Jo becomes needed more and more in the takeaway, and she has to experience real problems in there. Racist customers, drunk customers, customers who demand refunds and many other issues. Her school work slips, she starts taking more and more time off because of her life is simply spiralling out of control. Her father becomes increasingly sullen, despondent and abusive. As we learn more and more about his past (the little that Jo can piece together) Jo begins her quest to remove herself from the family. With the help of her friend Tina, she starts to trust herself and have a little self confidence, especially when it comes to her only respite: art. Jo's love of art transcends the absolute madness that is her home life.
I really loved this story, it's hilarious and really heart breaking at the same time. Jo's life is completely unique and fascinating, it's like watching a car crash over and over again. You will definitely feel for her and her family, it's a story of tragedy, abuse, neglect and hope. I think it's amazing and can't wait for it to come out in September.
Vera wants to be what she thinks is a "regular" person. But it's hard as a Russian girl living in the U.S. suburbs. All of her friends seem to have way more money than her and they get to go to cool summer camps. Vera? She's sent to Russian summer camp.
Determined to fit in, Vera soon discovers that she once again starts to feel left out. There are cliques, boring history lessons and disgusting bathrooms that make life unbearable for her.
Still, Vera puts her head down and tries to make the most of it, only the strong willed can survive, and she's a survivor. I really loved this comic from Vera Brosgol (Anya's Ghost), its her own memoir of her time at a Russian summer camp and you can feel the authenticity oozing off of every page. It's funny, sad and awkward all rolled into one great story. Any fan of Raina Telgemeier will absolutely love this amazing tale of adventure, hardship and outhouses from Hell. Loved it, don't miss it.
AJ wants to be different. As it stands, he doesn't feel special, he hasn't grown over the summer holiday, he doesn't have anything that makes him stand out from the crowd and the girl he has a crush on has absolutely no idea that he exists.
When he finds out that his crush, Nia, is in love with a popular teen vampire series, AJ takes matters into his own hands. Then the stars align and he and Nia are paired up to do a group project on, you guessed it: Transylvania!
This is AJ's time to shine, if he can convince Nia that he's as into vampires as she is, she might actually notice him and see how much he cares for her.
Not all is as it seems, though. Not only is Nia harbouring a deep secret, there's something seriously off with their new teacher from the UK. He acts strange, takes his phone out in class and has urgent, hushed conversations and gets agitated really, really quickly. As the mystery unfolds, AJ has much more on his plate than the social hierarchy at school.
I really loved FAKE BLOOD, it's like The Lost Boys, only cooler, funnier and more interesting. There are tons of nods to vampire pop culture and teen literature. It's a hilarious parody that is really fun to read. I work with students who are going to absolutely love this, I can see them existing in this comic, they talk like this, they are the kids who come to the Library to escape the madness that can exist in the hallways on the outside. All Librarians should buy this and have it on display immediately, loved it.
Set a few years after the U.S. presidential election, Internment is the story of Layla Amin, a 17 year old Muslim American. Layla can't go to school and, like all Muslims in America, live under a strict curfew. Her father has lost his job and his mother's career is taking a nose dive. People are burning books in town centres that are written by or are sympathetic to Muslims.
Then, the inevitable happens. Her and her family are rounded up and thrown into an Internment camp for other Muslims.
Almost immediately, and despite constant surveillance, Layla starts to plot ways to get her and her family out of this nightmare.
While at the camp, she meets other sympathetic teens and together the wheels of revolution start to turn. I loved that it was the teens that ignite the rebellion in the camp, I feel this is a very accurate portrayal. Sure they act recklessly sometimes, but no revolution was successful without a little recklessness.
Desperate to make contact with David, her boyfriend on the outside, Layla finds friends in surprising areas of the camp to help her achieve this goal.
Once people start to disappear, and rumours of torture start swirling around the camp, Layla and her friends must make a choice: are they going to go through with their plan? Do they have what it takes to potentially endure torture? It's clear that their parents aren't going to stand up against the guards and the evil Director, so the choice must be made.
I really loved Internment, it focuses on what Muslims are experiencing in the modern world. It is a call to action and educates readers on the power of subtle and not so subtle racist terminology. I'm really excited to get this into the hands of the students I work with, highly recommend it!
Brody Fair is suffocating. He's falling behind at school and has no real plan for the future. His brother is a genius who spends every spare millisecond cramming his head full of knowledge so he can get into a good university. His father has agoraphobia and hasn't left the house in years. His mother takes on as many shifts as she can and is completely overwhelmed and exhausted.
To make matters worse, Brody is bullied on a daily basis by a couple of girls who verbally attack him on a daily basis. When Brody meets Nico, everything changes.
Nico introduces Brody to Everland, a magical world that exists in a kind of parallel universe in their home city of Edinburgh.
In Everland, Brody meets like-minded people and can be himself. With Nico he feels free to explore his feelings and do what he loves most, drumming, making music and sitting in quiet.
There is a catch to Everland, though. Brody can only visit it once a week, and he only has a limited time to enjoy it. There is a temptation, though, to leave his seemingly crumbling real world behind and stay in Everland forever. Brody finds himself faced with a choice that will alter his future forever.
Last Bus to Everland is a stellar novel that covers several topics facing teens today in a subtle but very effective way. The pressure to succeed at school, poverty, mental illness, coming out, bullying and finding out who you want to be are all part of Brody's journey.
You will feel for Brody, you'll want to join him in Edinburgh and tell him everything's going to be ok. Nico is a character that is also confused and troubled in different ways, with Brody he finds some kind of solace and you will be rooting for them as you fly through the pages of this novel.
The relationship between Brody and his family were some of my favourite parts of the novel. Brody doesn't feel like he really knows his siblings and it takes a few traumatic events for him to have important conversations with them, especially his brother. He loves his father but can't help feeling resentment about the fact that he doesn't work, forcing his mother to have no life outside of her job. It's a very well written dynamic, the idea that haunts a lot of people with mental illness, that they should just "get over it" and get on with their lives. It's never that simple.
The depiction of Everland itself is beautiful and haunting at the same time. It's in this dreamlike fog of bliss that Brody gets some respite from the pressure cooker that his home life.
I really recommend Last Bus to Everland, it's a superb novel that will tear your heart out, but in a good way. Don't miss it.
Mia Tang and her parents have just started running the Calvista Motel in sunny California. It's not a dream job. As Chinese immigrants, they are treated terribly by the motel's owner, Mr. Yao. They aren't allowed to use the pool, they have to pay for almost anything that breaks and Mr. Yao turns out to be a horrible racist that thinks of his customers and employees as dogs.
Mia is undeterred, she both loves and is panicked by working on the front desk, as a ten year old, she loves the responsibility, but sometimes dangerous and scary customers come in, making the job risky.
When Mia's parents start hiding immigrants who are desperate for a place to stay, it puts them all at risk. Mia decides to fulfil her lifelong dream of becoming a writer to enter a competition to win a rundown motel of her own, one her family can run without being under the thumb of Mr. Yao. It's a dream, and it's important to have dreams, no matter how far away they may seem. It will take every ounce of courage that Mia has in order to keep her and her family's head above water as they struggle to survive.
FRONT DESK is without a doubt one of the best middle grade novels out there. Mia is a character that you will want to know more and more about the longer you read. She is gutsy and stubborn and can get in her own way but has a great heart and always sticks up for the underdog. I loved the weeklies, the characters who live permanently at the motel, Hank's story was infuriating and very well written, as was Mia's friend Lupe and Mia's parents, who sacrifice everything in order to try and make a better life for them all. If you haven't checked out FRONT DESK yet, go read it, you won't regret it!
Maxwell is always in trouble. He can't seem to help himself, his best friend is his dog Monster (equally troublesome) and together they make great partners in crime.
Maxwell's parents are constantly fighting, something that makes he and his sister miserable. His only respite comes from visiting his elderly neighbour, how never seems to remember who Maxwell is.
When Maxwell pulls a terrible prank at school, he runs to his neighbour's house and, while messing around with a cabinet filled with strange antiques, wishes that he'd never existed, something strange happens. His entire world is thrown upside down, nobody knows him. Not his parents, his sister, his teachers, not even his friend Charlie at school. At first, he's happy, nobody knows him, no more fighting at home, no more getting in trouble, he can start from scratch. Then he realises that in this parallel universe he didn't save his dog from getting hit by a car and he's lost his best friend.
Desperate to get back, Maxwell must piece together clues as to how he got here in the first place. Only then can he return to his normal life and redeem his past behaviour.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, it's a fast paced read with lots of humour and a great message behind it. Maxwell is a trouble maker but also a likeable character once he starts clamouring to return to his normal life. The novel deals with family issues and even dementia in a respectful and interesting way. Fans of Lisa's other novels will really love this!
In 1947, India gained its independence from British rule and was split into two countries, India & Pakistan. This change created a huge amount of tension between Muslims & Hindus. As people desperately tried to run for safety, thousands were killed. Nisha is twelve and is half Hindu, half Muslim. She doesn't understand why her family is suddenly in danger, but her physician father bundles her and her younger brother and their grandmother up and make a run for the Pakistan border where they hope they'll find safety.
Along the way, Nisha writes diary entries to her deceased mother, whom she never knew. Nisha chronicles the heartache and danger the family faces as they walk towards Pakistan, desperately hoping they will find her mother's brother who has agreed to take them in. Faced with dying of starvation, crazed killers and unfathomable conditions, Nisha's story is as heart breaking as it is exhilarating.
I really couldn't put this novel down, Nisha's letters to her mother are funny, sad and poignant. She is a brave voice in an uncertain world. The novel also educated me on a time period and place I hadn't really paid attention to before. It's a tragic moment in history that is made interesting and heartfelt through this compelling novel. I really think all students ages 10 and up should read this fantastic book.