Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed is an author who knows how to rip at your heart strings. So far, I have read two of her young adult fiction titles and they have decimated me, but in a way that had me thinking about the state of the world. Three years ago, I read Internment and had such a devastating book hangover after I finished that I knew I needed to read whatever she published next (Internment is set in a futuristic United States when Muslim-Americans are forced into internment camps. It tells the story of Layla Amin, a seventeen-year-old who leads a revolution against those complicit in silence). Samira’s latest soul-wrenching title is Hollow Fires. I’m still reeling from this book, yet I believe it’s a necessary read especially in today’s climate.

Hollow Fires is a powerful novel that tells the story of the evil that lives around us every day and how alternative facts created by the privileged bend the truth of a narrative to their will and desire. It’s a story of silent complicity, as well as outright and hidden racism. It’s about the will of a young journalist desperate to uncover the truth of what actually happened to a missing boy. If you enjoyed Sadie by Courtney Summers or Dear Martin by Nic Stone, I highly recommend you read this book.

Safiya Mirza wants to become a journalist. She is currently the editor of her private school’s newspaper, reporting on the facts of what is happening at her school, despite the administration wishing to push their own biases onto the paper. Safiya is a scholarship student, growing up in vastly different ways compared to her privileged classmates. Her desire to report only the facts and leave out any personal feelings changes the moment she finds the body of a murdered boy.

Jawad Ali was only fourteen years old. His public school had a makerspace where he was allowed to take recycled materials and repurpose them for whatever he wanted. Having had his current project approved by his teacher, Jawad built a cosplay jetpack to add to his Halloween costume. He brought the finished project to school to show his teacher and friends. One of his teachers mistook his jetpack for a bomb and alerted the police, which led to Jawad being arrested, labeled a terrorist, and eventually kidnapped and murdered. After his arrest, Jawad was cleared by the police, but his school still suspended him. His peers labeled him ‘Bomb Boy’ and his life as he knew it was changed forever.

Safiya is devastated after discovering Jawad’s body. His presence, voice, and smell are haunting her throughout the investigation, leading her to seek out the entire truth about Jawad’s murder and those who killed him because of their hate-fueled beliefs. Jawad was a person whose life was worth remembering exactly how he lived it and not how the media have spun it. Racist acts have been sprouting up all over Safiya’s school, as well as at her mosque and her parents’ store. Concerned they could be related to Jawad’s disappearance and with a lack of confidence in the local police department, Safiya begins an investigation of her own with the help of her friends and Jawad’s voice in her ear.

This book is also available in the following format:

Young Adult Reads: The Inheritance Games series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is an acclaimed writer of more than a dozen young adult novels. She wrote her first novel when she was 19 and sold her first five novels when she was still in college. Jen holds advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science, as well as graduate degrees from Cambridge University. She was a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge as well. Jen also received her PhD from Yale University in 2012. In case you aren’t impressed enough already, Jen has written multiple pilot scripts for television networks. She is also considered a leading expert on the psychology of fandom as well as the cognitive science of fiction and the imagination. In addition to her work as an author, Jen is an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma where she teaches in both Psychology and Professional Writing.

Author photograph © Kim Haynes Photography

“Everything’s a game, Avery Grambs. The only thing we get to decide in this life is if we play to win.”
― Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Inheritance Games

The Inheritance Games is the first book in the series of the same name. This book was recommended to me by our teen librarian and oh, she was so right that I would enjoy this book! Let’s dive in.

Avery Grambs is brilliant. Her mind has helped her survive high school so far and if she’s lucky, she will hopefully win a scholarship and escape the crappy town where she lives. All of her plans change when she is called to the office to find a dapper young man telling her that her life is about to change.

Flying off to Texas with her older sister Libby, Avery finds herself ensconced in the lives of the mysterious Hawthorne family. Avery soon learns that billionaire Tobias Hawthorne has left Avery virtually his entire fortune – and his family almost nothing. Avery didn’t even know Tobias Hawthorne, so why would he leave his entire billion dollar fortune to her? Avery must live in Hawthorne House for a year in order to inherit, a rule that doesn’t seem like much at first, but the longer she stays, the more daunting it becomes.

Hawthorne House is massive – full of secret passages, as well as riddles, puzzles, and codes hidden everywhere. The entire Hawthorne family also lives in Hawthorne House and they are not pleased. They see Avery as an unnecessary interloper, but also as a sort of clue to the inner workings of Tobias Hawthorne’s last wishes. Avery frequently finds herself butting heads with the four Hawthorne grandsons: handsome, dangerous, magnetic, and brilliant boys who all thought they would inherit billions one day. They see her as a con-woman, a teenager who must have known their grandfather. Others see her as a puzzle to be solved. After all, Tobias Hawthorne’s deep love of puzzles, riddles, and codes permeated every part of his living life, so adding them to his will seems exactly like something he would do. Avery is thrust into a dangerous world of wealth of privilege where in order to survive, she will have to play Tobias’s game.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Inheritance Games series

    1. The Inheritance Games (2020)
    2. The Hawthorne Legacy (2021)
    3. The Final Gambit (2022)

You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen McManus

My favorite author Karen McManus continues her winning streak with this Ferris Bueller-inspired mystery starring three estranged friends racing against time to discover why one of their classmates has been murdered. Quick-paced with relatable characters, You’ll Be The Death of Me is perfect for fans of mysteries, YA books, and of course McManus’ earlier work.

Ivy, Cal, and Mateo haven’t been close since eighth grade when they suddenly grew apart, but the day after the senior student council election they each find themselves desperate to recapture the spirit of their former friendship and adventures. Ivy just lost the election – badly – to the class slacker “Boney” Mahoney; Cal is trapped in a conflicted relationship that’s making him long for simpler days, and Mateo is exhausted from working multiple jobs to help his family. In an impulsive moment, they skip school together, awkward though it is with all that’s been left unsaid. But then they see the class slacker (and new president) also out of school, and decide to follow him. It may be the worst – and last – decision they ever make. Before they know what’s happened, Boney’s been murdered, Ivy’s a suspect, and if they don’t figure out what happened they’ll lose more than just their friendship.

If we’re being honest there’s too much tension right off the bat to really strike a Ferris Bueller vibe, but the echoes are there in the ways Mateo, Ivy, and Cal relate to each other – Ivy and Mateo’s unspoken attraction contrasts with Cal’s loneliness as an outsider, and they consistently drag each other into variously flawed decisions. Along the way some pretty serious conversations are had, and no one person or relationship will leave the day unchanged. There’s also a sibling/rival figure, a rogue teacher, and a race to beat the parents home (and keep them from finding out what’s really going on). In a way it’s Ferris Bueller if the story had been told from his sister Jeannie’s perspective, complete with a darker tinge and lots of unresolved feelings and secrets to resolve.

I loved how distinct the characters were, and how realistic their different problems were; and as usual McManus expertly shifts between their voices to round out all perspectives. The action is both propulsive and realistic for the characters’ age, and the bit of romance isn’t gratuitous but is entwined with the plot and character development. I also really appreciated the representation of positive, supportive, and involved parenting in several different styles.

If you like Karen McManus as much as I do, or just YA mysteries in general, this is definitely a book you won’t want to miss.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones is Namina Forna’s debut young adult novel and the first in her new West-African inspired fantasy series entitled Deathless. As someone who loves elegantly crafted epic fantasy worlds, The Gilded Ones did not disappoint!

Deka is a mix of emotions. As a sixteen-year old, she is now eligible for the blood ceremony that will determine whether or not she will become a member of her village. This ceremony fills her with both fear and anticipation because if her blood runs gold, she will be forced out. Gold blood means that you are impure and the consequences of that are worse than death.

The day of the ceremony arrives. When it is Deka’s turn, she is stunned to see that her blood runs gold. Deemed impure, Deka’s life is effectively over. A mysterious woman shows up in her village offering Deka a choice: stay in her village and succumb to her fate or leave and fight in an army of girls just like her. These girls are called alaki. They are near immortals who have a myriad of rare gifts. The only ones who can stop the biggest threat to the empire.

Deka decides to leave the village and travel with this mystery woman to the capital to begin her training. The minute she reaches the walled city, Deka realizes that not everything is as simple as it’s made out to be. Nobody is quite who they say they are, including Deja herself.

 

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Published in 2019, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow has lived on my to-read shelf for much too long. Deciding to read it based on my love of Harrow’s 2020 book The Once and Future Witches, I was not disappointed. The Ten Thousand Doors of January contains many elements that I enjoy: magical realism, fantasy, antiquities, multiverses, books, and strong-willed women.

January Scaller just wants to find her place in the world. Growing up as the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, January grew up roaming multiple sprawling mansions filled to the brim with peculiar and mysterious treasures. Her father travels the world hunting antiquities to add to Mr. Locke’s collection and as a result, he is seldom home with January. Mr. Locke treats her as well as can be expected, but January never quite fits in. She is instead largely ignored, while simultaneously given fancy clothes and is groomed as yet another piece of his collection. She feels out of place and just wants to find where she truly belongs. Mr. Locke treats her as a precious treasure to be trotted out in front of his rich friends. He can mold her into whatever he wants. January and her father become increasingly separated from each other, leaving January to feel imprisoned in this sprawling mansion and longing to see her father.

One day while January is looking around the rooms, she finds a strange book. The more she reads the book, the more she begins to see that there are other worlds out there full of breathtaking impossibilities. It tells the story of secret doors hidden everywhere that lead to other worlds full of danger, love, and adventure. One story has a deep pull on January. It becomes increasingly difficult for January to separate herself from the book as that one story has woven itself deep into her life.

This book is also available in the following format:

Key Changes: Gen Z Hitmakers

I don’t know about you, but I’m hugely vulnerable to earworms: those songs that stick in your head and just never leave. Now, I fall squarely in the “millennial” camp, but in my experience lately, there are some Generation Z (born 1995-2015) pop artists that are making really catchy songs that spread like wildfire on social media and everyone finds themselves singing. Here are three top-rated Gen Z artists whose new albums we’ve recently purchased for the library, full of new earworms for you to love and hate – you’re welcome!

Billie Eilish became iconic for her oversized fashion and green-and-black hair alongside her homemade, whisper-sung tracks. I always found her work atmospheric and spooky, leaning into the dark side of humanity and growing up. For her new album, Happier than Ever, Eilish has changed her image to blonde hair and a nude color palette – but her softly sung, otherworldly musical style and lightly cynical lyrics remain largely unchanged. You might have heard her hit song Bad Guy from debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? This time around, watch out for Therefore I Am, which has a similar sound but revolves around defying bullies and haters.

Tones and I, AKA Toni Watson of Australia, rocketed to fame on the song Dance Monkey in 2019. Like Billie Eilish, she has a unique vocal sound, which in her iconic track is paired with danceable beats (evidence: the song is my favorite from the game Just Dance 2021). Dance Monkey was released on the 6-song EP The Kids Are Coming in late 2019. The new album, Welcome to the Madhouse, may have grown in scope as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: Watson added 5 more songs and took extra time to do most of the production work herself. According to critics, the songs on this album are Watson being really vulnerable and exploring her mental health and the cruelty of haters, through clever lyrics and strong vocals.

This last entry was added to our collection a few months back, but it’s too popular not to be mentioned in this group. Olivia Rodrigo was originally known for her acting work on Disney shows, including High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, but with the release of her smash hit album Sour, her fame has definitely shifted. The earworm (for me, anyway) in this case is Good 4 U, an energetic and danceable take on the anger after a breakup, especially when an ex-partner moves on quickly. The album as a whole is very centered on the teenage experience, especially falling in (and out of) love: the other popular track is Driver’s License, about getting a license but losing a partner. Guaranteed to knock around your brain for a while, this is not an album to miss – even if you’re not a teenager anymore.

This is My America by Kim Johnson

My latest read is a dive into racial injustices in the American justice system, albeit a fictionalized account. Kim Johnson has written a young adult novel examining mass incarceration and the affect it has on families. This is My America is a necessary read from the perspective of the families of those incarcerated.

Tracy Beaumont is seventeen. Her father is on death row. He only has 267 days left. He has been on death row for seven years and Tracy is angry. Every week, and sometimes every day, Tracy writes letters to Innocence X. She is hopeful that the organization will be able to help get her father off death row and discover who really committed the crime for which he was sent to prison. Tracy is growing increasingly desperate, willing to do whatever it takes to get Innocence X’s attention, so when her older brother Jamal and their whole family is invited for a television interview showcasing his athletic talents, Tracy has to decide if she will potentially ruin his opportunity by talking about her father’s plight.

Tracy doesn’t know what to do. Just when she thinks things can’t get worse, the unthinkable happens. Police swarm their house in the middle of the night and fighting off flashbacks to the night when her dad was arrested, Tracy and her mom discover that they are there to arrest her brother. In an instant, Jamal switches from a promising young track star with college plans to a thug accused of killing a white girl. Jamal is on the run. Tracy and her family find themselves living in a nightmare. Working hard to free her father and figuring out what actually happened the night of Jamal’s alleged crime, Tracy soon discovers who she can actually trust. As she starts investigating what happened between Jamal and the murdered woman, Angela, down at the Pike, Tracy uncovers a dark racist history in the town that may relate to what happened that night. By proving her brother’s innocence, Tracy may inadvertently destroy her relationships with the people in her life.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Tiffany D. Jackson is the master of soul searching young adult fiction. Her first young adult novel, Allegedly, was published in 2017. This novel is based on a story that was in the headlines years ago that caught the author’s attention.

Allegedly tells the story of Mary B. Addison. She killed a baby. Allegedly. After the police were called and she was brought in for an interview, Mary didn’t say much. In fact, she didn’t talk. Mary’s situation was very much a trial by media. Since little was being said about the circumstances surrounding the baby’s death, the media drew their own conclusions. A white baby had died while under the care of a black woman and her daughter. The woman went to church while her daughter was only nine-years old. Mary went to trial. The public and the media had all but convicted Mary of the crime and the jury sentenced her.

Mary was sent to baby jail for six years before being placed in a group home. She never came out and said what actually happened, so her fellow prisoners and jailers all treated her as if she was guilty. The group home is bad. Mary lives in a state of constant fear and the other girls who live there constantly torment her. The women in charge of the home degrade the girls and treat them badly.

The only bright spot in her life is Ted. Since Mary is in a group home, she is able to leave for certain things: one of them being her assignment to work at a nursing home. It is at that nursing home that she meets Ted. He sees her for who she really is: a young woman in desperate need for kindness. Ted also doesn’t know Mary’s dark past and she isn’t quite sure when, or even if, she should tell him until she discovers that she is pregnant. With the state threatening to take away her baby, Mary needs to get the truth out about what happened the night the baby died. She won’t lose her baby over something that she didn’t do. In order to prove her innocence, Mary has to fight. She also has to get her Momma to tell the truth.

You see, no one but Mary knows the real Momma. Momma puts up a huge front and since the baby died, she has been born again. She has written out the nasty story of what Mary did and is working to start anew. Mary must get her to acknowledge the truth of what happened that night if she has any hope of keeping her baby and staying with Ted.

This book is also available in the following formats:

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Young adult fiction hardly ever fails me. When I need a pick-me up read, I can generally find one in the young adult section with little effort. My latest read came recommended by another librarian, so I knew I would most likely enjoy it and it didn’t disappoint!

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is so many things: a romance, an underdog story, friends becoming lovers, but most of all it is full of yearning. Liz Lighty has grown up believing that she is never enough. She’s awkward, poor, black, and doesn’t fit in with the rich and prom-obsessed kids who go to her high school. Liz isn’t what people expect her to be in her tiny midwestern town of Campbell, Indiana, but she has always known that she has an escape. Liz plans on getting out of this super small town to attend Pennington College to play in their orchestra. Eventually she wants to become a doctor in order to treat patients who have the same life-threatening condition that killed her mom and is ravaging her younger brother.

Liz’s senior year is sailing by and the world finally seems to be on her side. All of that comes crashing down when Liz learns that the financial aid and scholarship she was depending on in order to go to college falls through. She is $10,000 short and has no idea how she will get the money to cover the cost and let her keep her Pennington hopes alive. Knowing that her grandparents would sell their house to support her, Liz is desperate to find a solution on her own.

The solution she finds? She must win prom queen. Why? Her school awards a scholarship to the prom king and queen. The very last thing that Liz wants to do is campaign to be prom queen, but with no other options, she reluctantly turns to her friends to help her win. Her high school’s competition for prom court is elaborate: full of mandatory public events, social media popularity, and fellow contestants willing to do whatever it takes to sabotage Liz so they will win. With her friends by her side, Liz struggles to get over her fear of being the center of attention in order to get herself to Pennington.

At the first prom meeting, Liz meets a new student who rocks her whole world. Mack does not fit into the cookie cutter mold that Campbell tries to put their students in: she’s hilarious, smart, and different enough to repeatedly catch Liz’s eye. The only downfall to Liz is that she is also running for queen. The closer the two get, the more Mack wonders if their relationship will keep her from getting to Pennington. What is she willing to risk?

This book is also available in the following formats:

Book Club @ Night – ‘The Sun is Also a Star’ on December 9th

It’s time for a new book club! On the second Wednesday of the month through December 2020, Book Club @ Night is meeting at 6:30pm to talk about young adult books!

On Wednesday, December 9th, Book Club @ Night will be discussing The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Information about how to join is below.

Using GoTo Meeting, patrons will be able to meet to talk about a new book with one of our librarians. Book club books available at the Eastern Avenue Library.

Curious what The Sun is Also a Star is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

Two teens–Daniel, the son of Korean shopkeepers, and Natasha, whose family is here illegally from Jamaica–cross paths in New York City on an eventful day in their lives–Daniel is on his way to an interview with a Yale alum, Natasha is meeting with a lawyer to try and prevent her family’s deportation to Jamaica–and fall in love.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Book Club @ Night
Wed, Dec 9, 2020 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM (CST)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/171122357

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (224) 501-3412

Access Code: 171-122-357

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/171122357