Tag Archives: Nora Olsen

On Gender, Leslie Feinberg, and Liberation

Nora Olsen’s latest novel, Maxine Wore Black, is a retelling of Rebecca with a transgender lesbian main character.

By Nora Olsen

oldsen-maxineI was all fired up to write my guest blog post about gender diversity. Then on Monday (November 17) I learned that Leslie Feinberg has died. Leslie Feinberg wrote the legendary novel Stone Butch Blues as well as nonfiction about transgender topics, and was also an activist. Feinberg was only 65 years old and was taken from this world too soon. It’s a hard thing when our heroes die. Stone Butch Blues means a lot to me. I first read it in 2007 and it opened my eyes in a lot of ways. In the last two years I have given away literally hundreds of books as I try to create more space in my life and on my bookshelves, but Stone Butch Blues is one that I can never let go of. Feinberg’s death has made me feel very reflective. That’s a good thing, but not in a way that helps with a blog post. I don’t think there’s anything I can say about gender diversity that would be more helpful than, “Go read or re-read Stone Butch Blues.” But that word count is too low. So I will tell you about my favorite eatery, Village Yogurt in New York City. And it will all come back to Leslie Feinberg in the end.

I have been eating at Village Yogurt since it opened when I was six. The elderly owners, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, used to give me a cookie because I was so cute. Alas I am no longer that cute and I no longer get a cookie. Recently the place had a big makeover, and when I saw the new storefront my heart skipped a beat because I thought Village Yogurt had closed. But no. They still have the same headshots of not very famous people on the wall and the same 1970s foods on the menu. But now the place looks more contemporary and there are some new items on the menu. Mr. and Mrs. Kim retired or possibly moved into the kitchen, which is no longer visible to customers. Now surly, gum-snapping young people take the orders and mix up the shakes.

The one shake which has always been on the menu is called Special Shake. It is frozen yogurt, milk, honey, and wheat germ, which were all perceived as health foods in the 1970s. But now there are also non-dairy shakes which contain fruits, which are perceived as health foods today. My favorite has strawberry, banana, orange juice, protein, ginseng, and flax seed. It is called the He Man/Wonder Woman. In a way, I like this name because I loved both of those TV shows as a kid. I can’t tell you how many times I lifted a pencil over my head and shouted, “By the Power of Grayskull! I have the power!” and then pointed it at my cat Amber, hoping she would turn into a mighty battle cat. And even more times I wore my Wonder Woman underroos and spun around and around, just like Diana Prince does when she turns into Wonder Woman. But mostly I don’t like the name because you’re supposed to order “He Man” if you’re a man and “Wonder Woman” if you’re a woman.

Yes, really. That is what all the people do. Umm, it’s a drink. It doesn’t have a gender. And it has the same ingredients no matter who orders it. At every encounter with the He-Man/Wonder Woman I am confronted again with the knowledge that I live in a strange, mixed-up science fiction universe. Just as the characters in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series think radical cosmetic surgery is totes normal, just as the characters in Alex London’s Proxy series think it’s normal for poor people to take punishment for the rich, just as the people in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince think human sacrifice is completely regular, we have ideas about gender that are absolutely bananas. We have built incredibly complex rules that most people don’t even think about. And it’s all based on … nothing. Even if there really were only two genders, there’d be no need for all these taboos and barriers. But there aren’t.

Most of my books have been about gender in some way. In my first YA novel, The End: Five Queer Kids Save the World, one of my main characters was genderqueer, except that I had never heard the word genderqueer when I wrote the book. My second novel Swans & Klons was set in a world where there are no men. The protagonist of my most recent novel, Maxine Wore Black, is a young woman who is transgender and a lesbian. Most YA novels with transgender protagonists are focused on the character’s coming-out process and transition. You cannot say that theme has been done to death because there are only a handful of these books, unfortunately. But I decided to go down a different road, focusing instead on a troubled love interest, an untimely death, and a house haunted by tragedy. This is because Maxine Wore Black is a retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca, so gothic thriller was the way to go. I wanted the fact that my main character, Jayla, is transgender to be an important part of who she is but not really a plot point.

When I write a story, I’m basically writing it for myself. Sure, there are a lot of other things to take into consideration like, who would want to publish this story? Has this story been told before? How might a young person feel when they read this story? Are the characters real or based on stereotypes or lazy thinking? But basically, the first person I’m trying to please is myself. I’ve written numerous times that I write so that QUILTBAG (LGBTQ) youth can see themselves reflected in the pages of a book and know that their experience counts. And that is true. But really? If I’m honest? It’s the part of me that is a queer teen that I am writing to.

I think this is probably true for many other writers too. So, you other writers, I have a tip for you. Write about gender. If you are writing a story set on another planet or in another world, you don’t have to make it so there are only two genders. That’s not even true right here at home on Planet Earth, so why would it be true on Xabulox–6? In addition, transgender people don’t have to be erased from fiction. They exist all over the place in real life and they can exist all over the place in the pages of your book if that’s what you want. Why am I telling you this? Is it to help your readers, the teens of today and the teens of tomorrow? No. This is about what your writing does for YOU.

Writing about gender is amazing because it makes you question everything you thought you knew about it. It changes you. And that’s a good thing! If you write a book about pirates and you are not already a pirate, it won’t make you a pirate. If you are writing about a Ghanaian math genius and you are not already a Ghanaian math genius, it won’t make you one. But if you are writing about defying the deeply ingrained gender rules and gender roles in our society, I bet money that would turn you into a gender warrior even if you are not already one. That might sound scary, but actually it is a really positive and fun development.

Leslie Feinberg said, “Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.” When you begin to create that poem, you don’t know what you will discover about yourself. You may discover that the gender you’ve been assigned fits you like a glove, or that it does not. That knowledge will help you be the truest self you can be, which is as fulfilling as it gets. Somewhere along the way you discover that a person’s sex assigned at birth based on their anatomy does not necessarily dictate their gender. That knowledge liberates other people, and it liberates you too. If you begin to see that there are people all around you who do not fall into the gender binary and do not identify as male or female, that greater understanding of the world around you will help you make authentic connections in this life.

Leslie Feinberg also said, “More exists among human beings than can be answered by the simplistic question I’m hit with every day of my life: ‘Are you a man or a woman?’” If you can see people you encounter in social situations as person without feverishly needing to immediately classify them as man or woman, that knowledge will allow the door of your cage to swing open.


Nora Olsen was born and raised in New York City. Nora’s YA novels are Frenemy of the People, Swans & Klons, The End: Five Queer Kids Save The World, and Maxine Wore Black. Nora lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her girlfriend and their cat. You can learn more at http://noraolsen.com.

Maxine Wore Black is now available.

New Releases – October 2014

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews (Simon & Schuster)

“In a plainspoken and sometimes-humorous memoir, transgender teenager Andrews discusses his life so far. Andrews received national recognition when he was profiled on television’s Inside Edition as one half of a transgender teen couple (the other half, Katie Rain Hill, has written her own memoir, Rethinking Normal). In a conversational tone, the author describes events from his childhood and teen years. … Friendly and informative.” — Kirkus

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

“In this provocative thriller, Bacigalupi (The Drowned Cities) traces the awakening of a smart, compassionate, and privileged girl named Alix Banks to ugly realities of contemporary life, while seeking to open readers’ eyes, as well. Alix’s life is thrown into disarray when an activist group targets her family, its eyes on her father’s powerful public relations business. Moses is a charismatic black teen living off the money from a settlement with a pharmaceutical company after one of its medications killed his parents. Along with four other brilliant teens who have lost family to this sort of legal/medical maleficence, Moses hopes to enlist Alix’s help to release incriminating data from her father’s files, à la Edward Snowden.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Boy Trouble by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (K-Teen)

Book Description: Maya’s best friend Kennedi has flipped head over heels for her new boo, Kendrick. But when Maya learns Kennedi and Kendrick’s relationship is full of violence—and Kennedi is the aggressor—will she get her best friend to see love shouldn’t hurt? Meanwhile, Sheridan has found love too, but her Prince Charming isn’t all that he seems, and Sheridan won’t listen to anything her friends try to tell her. Maya is trying to navigate all of that while dealing with her own family drama as her parents go through a nasty divorce. How is a diva supposed to stay sane when everything around her is falling apart?

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall (Sky Pony Press)

“Alyx, an intersex teen, leaves California for Milwaukee to live as a girl for the first time. … Tall and a lover of basketball, Alyx becomes quick friends with her school’s varsity team, including pushy and dangerously hot-tempered Patti ”Pepper“ Pitmani. Background information about intersex conditions and Alyx’s own experience of her body are woven easily into the text, informative without being either dry or sensationalistic.” — Kirkus

Night Sky by Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Best known for her romantic thrillers, Suzanne Brockmann teams up with her daughter Melanie for a YA adventure set in her Fighting Destiny world. Sixteen-year-old Skylar Reid is shocked to discover that she’s a Greater-Than, born with superhuman powers. … Skylar joins her wheelchair-bound friend Calvin, motorcycle-riding bad girl Dana, and mysterious hottie Milo to rescue a missing child and bring down those who would exploit people like her.” — Publishers Weekly

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw (Roaring Brook Press)

“In this no-holds-barred autobiography, 21-year-old Burcaw sheds light on what it has been like to grow up with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a deadly disease that has left him confined to a wheelchair and dependent on others. … His honesty, tempered by mordant humor and a defiant acceptance, is refreshing, even as he thumbs his nose at the disease that is slowly stripping him of the basics.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Sorcerer Heir (The Heir Chronicles, Book 5) by Cinda Williams Chima (Disney-Hyperion)

Book Description: The delicate peace between Wizards and the underguilds (Warriors, Seers, Enchanters, and Sorcerers) still holds by the thinnest of threads, but powerful forces inside and outside the guilds threaten to sever it completely.

Emma and Jonah are at the center of it all. Brought together by their shared history, mutual attraction, and a belief in the magic of music, they now stand to be torn apart by new wounds and old betrayals. As they struggle to rebuild their trust in each other, Emma and Jonah must also find a way to clear their names as the prime suspects in a series of vicious murders. It seems more and more likely that the answers they need lie buried in the tragedies of the past. The question is whether they can survive long enough to unearth them.

Old friends and foes return as new threats arise in this stunning and revelatory conclusion to the beloved and bestselling Heir Chronicles series.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest)

“The year was 1892, and 19-year-old Alice Mitchell was in love with Freda Ward, 17. She determined that if she couldn’t marry Freda, nobody else would, either. … This is a captivating account, and readers will quickly become absorbed in the suspense surrounding Freda’s murder. Additionally, the book provides a foundation for discussion of sociocultural themes, such as how LGBT relationships have historically been viewed by society, gender and femininity, and even journalism.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Earth and Sky by Megan Crewe (Skyscape)

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong. But despite the visions of disaster that torment her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy. Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: that our world no longer belongs to us. For thousands of years, life on Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for humans and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments. Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help to save the world and keep the very fabric of reality together. Megan Crewe’s latest tale takes readers on a mind-bending journey through time with a cast of unforgettable characters.

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (Balzer + Bray)

“Nalia lives in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, a glittering world of parties and fast cars. She can have anything she wants—except her freedom. Nalia is ”just another jinni on the dark caravan“ of the slave trade, forced to spend her days granting wishes on behalf of her human master, Malek, in order to advance his wealth and power. … The story unfolds at a swift, even pace, and the worldbuilding is superb; the jinn inhabit an intoxicating, richly realized realm of magic, politics, spirituality and history. Readers will wish they had a jinni to grant them the next book in the series.” — Kirkus, starred review

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince (Knopf)

“A compelling narrative of the journey of an African orphan whose hard work, emotional strength, and supportive adoptive American parents helped her build a life as a professional dancer, 19-year-old Michaela DePrince’s memoir, coauthored by her mother, holds many stories. … There is plenty of ballet detail for dance lovers to revel in, and the authors achieve a believable, distinctive teenage voice with a nice touch of lyrical description.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (First Second)

“Online gaming and real life collide when a teen discovers the hidden economies and injustices that hide among seemingly innocent pixels … Through Wong’s captivating illustrations and Doctorow’s heady prose, readers are left with a story that’s both wholly satisfying as a work of fiction and series food for thought about the real-life ramifications of playing in an intangible world. Thought-provoking, as always from Doctorow.” — Kirkus

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (Algonquin)

“With self-deprecating wit and a keen eye for interpersonal dynamics, Iranian-American narrator Leila Azadi details the dramas taking place in the intersecting circles of her elite New England private school and high-achieving Persian community. When a family friend comes out, his parents’ obnoxious bragging turns to silence, causing Leila to fear being disowned for her “lady-loving inclinations.” … Farizan exceeds the high expectations she set with her debut, If You Could Be Mine, in this fresh, humorous, and poignant exploration of friendship and love, a welcome addition to the coming-out/coming-of-age genre.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill (Simon & Schuster)

“Katie knew she was a girl on the inside, even when she was a suicidal kid named Luke growing up in a disjointed family in Oklahoma. Bullied relentlessly at school and unsupported by administrators, other students’ parents, and even her own father, Katie finds an ally in her mother, who stands by her child as she starts dressing like a girl, legally changes her name, and travels to get genital reconstruction surgery the day after turning 18. … Being so open—and openly imperfect—makes Katie relatable on a human level, not just as a spokesperson.” — Publishers Weekly

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books)

“Lost memories, a deadly pandemic flu and the children of D.C.’s elite come together in this sophisticated bio-thriller. … Johnson, who astounded with her cyberpunk teen debut, The Summer Prince (2013), immerses readers in the complexities of Bird’s world, especially her fraught relationship with her parents and the intersections of race and class at her elite prep school. The often lyrical third-person, present-tense narration, the compelling romance and the richly developed cast of characters elevate this novel far above more formulaic suspense fare. Utterly absorbing.” — Kirkus, starred review

Martyr by A.R. Kahler (Spencer Hill Press)

Book Description: Three years have passed since magic destroyed the world.

Those who remain struggle to survive the monsters roaming the streets, fighting back with steel and magic–the very weapons that birthed the Howls in the first place.

Tenn is one such Hunter, a boy with the ability to harness the elements through ancient runes. For years, the Hunters have used this magic to keep the monsters at bay, but it’s never been enough to truly win the war. Humans are losing.

When Tenn falls prey to an incubus named Tomás and his terrifying Kin, Tenn learns there’s more to this than a fight for survival. He’s a pawn in a bigger game, one with devastating consequences. If he doesn’t play his part, it could cost him his life, his lover and his world.

The Family by Marissa Kennerson (Full Fathom Five)

Book Description: Just like any average seventeen year old, Twig loves her family. She has a caring mother and a controlling father. Her brothers and sisters are committed to her family’s prosperity…

All one hundred and eighty three of them.

Twig lives in the Family, a collective society located in the rainforest of Costa Rica. The Family members coexist with the values of complete openness and honesty, and a shared fear of contagious infection in the outside world.

So when Adam, their Father, prophet, and savior, announces that Twig will be his new bride, she is overjoyed and honored. But when an injury forces her to leave the grounds, Twig finds that the world outside is not necessarily as toxic as she was made to believe. When she meets Leo, an American boy with a killer smile, she begins to question everything about her life within the Family, and the cult to which she belongs.

But when it comes to your Family, you don’t always get a choice.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu (Putnam)

“A new series—fantasy, this time—from the author of the best-selling Legend dystopia. … In a gorgeously constructed world that somewhat resembles Renaissance Italy but with its own pantheon, geography and fauna, the multiethnic and multisexual Young Elites offer a cinematically perfect ensemble of gorgeous-but-unusual illusionists, animal speakers, fire summoners and wind callers. A must for fans of Kristin Cashore’s Fire (2009) and other totally immersive fantasies.” — Kirkus, starred review

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt and Co.)

“A racially charged shooting reveals the complicated relationships that surround a popular teen and the neighborhood that nurtured and challenged him. Instead of a gangster after retribution, 16-year-old African-American Tariq Johnson’s killer is a white man claiming to have acted in self-defense. Despite their failure to find a weapon on the black teen, the police release the shooter, rocking the community. … Magoon skillfully tells the story in multiple, sometimes conflicting, voices. This sobering yet satisfying novel leaves readers to ponder the complex questions it raises.” — Kirkus, starred review

Pig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (Cinco Puntos)

“Residents of a declining neighborhood band together to turn their economy around by building a tourist attraction. Masi spent her life working in her family’s bakery in Pig Park, so named for the lard company that, until outsourcing, provided most of the area’s jobs. The multiethnic Chicago neighborhood agrees to the outlandish scheme of building a ‘Gran Pirámide’ in their park, as a famous community developer suggests. … The story of a community working together is uplifting.” — Kirkus

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez (Katherine Tegen Books)

“After discovering that her father and boyfriend are killers, 17-year-old Valentina Cruz runs away to Montreal. Penniless, she lives in a rented closet, works as an artist’s model, and practices her stolen mandolin by night in an empty cafe. She thinks the music will sustain her good memories of her boyfriend, Emilio, who taught her to play. … Valentina’s decision making is sometimes opaque, but her strong voice, full of sensory imagery, and her exquisitely drawn relationships with Emilio, Marcel, and her father make this a memorable thriller.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Beau, Lee, the Bomb & Me by Mary McKinley (K-Teen)

“When 16-year-old Rusty sees new boy Beau appear at her school, she’s relieved—he’ll be ”fresh meat“ for the bullies who torment Rusty for being fat. She’s right; they paint ”Die Fag“ on Beau’s locker and beat him up. Desperate, he decides to run away in search of his gay uncle in San Francisco. Rusty goes with him, as does Lee, a girl who’s sex-shamed at school and happens to be sleeping with a teacher. … Pair this love letter to the West Coast and to the victims and survivors of the gay American AIDS crisis with David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing (2013).” — Kirkus

Bottled Up Secret by Brian McNamara (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Brendan Madden is in the midst of his senior year of high school and couldn’t be happier. He has a great group of friends, his pick of colleges, and he has recently come to terms with his sexuality. One night, he meets Mark Galovic, a gorgeous, younger classmate of his. In a matter of minutes, Brendan is hooked. As the friendship between them grows, Brendan reaches his breaking point when he spontaneously confesses his feelings to him. Brendan is shocked and elated to find out that Mark feels the same way about him. The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret. As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.

Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books)

Maxine is the girl of Jayla’s dreams: she’s charming, magnetic, and loves Jayla for her transgender self. There’s only one problem with Maxine—she already has a girlfriend, perfect Becky. Jayla quickly falls under Maxine’s spell, and she’s willing to do anything to win her. But when Becky turns up dead, Jayla is pulled into a tangle of deceit, lies, and murder. Now Jayla is forced to choose between love and the truth. Jayla will need all the strength she has to escape the darkness that threatens to take her very life.

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

“Told in first-person free verse, Crazy is a beautifully written and emotionally impactful novel about growing up around bipolar disorder in a time period when even doctors didn’t truly understand the ramifications of such a disease. Laura’s shame about her family and her guilt for hating her mother for something she cannot control are heartrending. Phillips’s poetry coupled with her personal experiences truly make this a poignant read. It should be in the hands of anyone—teen and adult—who has ever felt powerless at the hands of mental illness.” — School Library Journal

The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat (Red Deer Press)

Book Description: Award-winning author Caroline Pignat’s new historical novel recreates the world of a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858. Through the different points of view of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher the world of the plantation comes to live in this verse novel. Phoebe belongs to Master Duncan and works in the plantation kitchen. She sees how the other slaves are treated — the beatings and whippings, the disappearances. She hasn’t seen her mother since Master Duncan sold her ten years ago. But Pheobe is trying to learn words and how to read and when she is asked to show the master’s Canadian visitor, Doctor Bergman, where he can find warblers and chickadees she starts to see things differently. And Doctor Bergman has more in mind that just drawing the local birds. Pheobe’s friend Shad works on the plantation as well — but mostly he worries about his brother Will. His brother is the last member of his family and he is determined to escape from the master and the tobacco plantation. He has already been caught and beaten more than once. And the stories about life in Canada can’t be true, can they? How does a man survive without the master there taking care of everything?

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos)

“Struggles with body image, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, rape, coming out, first love and death are all experiences that touch Gabi’s life in some way during her senior year, and she processes her raw and honest feelings in her journal as these events unfold. … Readers won’t soon forget Gabi, a young woman coming into her own in the face of intense pressure from her family, culture and society to fit someone else’s idea of what it means to be a ”good“ girl. A fresh, authentic and honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity.” — Kirkus, starred review

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (Scholastic)

“That 20th-century speculative-fiction staple, the what-if-Hitler-won-the-war alternate history, meets 21st-century special-girl dystopia. It’s been almost a century since the Axis powers divided a conquered North America among them: Japan in the west, Germany in the east, and Italy in the Dakotas. In the Nazi-controlled Shenandoah Valley, 16-year-old half-Japanese Zara is an Untermensch, a half-breed fit only for scut work. Though she works all hours as both a janitor and a farm girl, Zara desperately wants Uncle Red to allow her to join the Revolutionary Alliance, the anti-Nazi underground. … Overall, a satisfying and appropriately hectic action adventure.” — Kirkus

Schizo: A novel by Nic Sheff (Philomel)

“Sheff’s novel reveals the painful and confusing world of teenage schizophrenia through the experience of Miles, a junior at a small San Francisco private school. … Readers fascinated by the dark side of the human mind in realistic fiction will enjoy this deft portrayal of a brain and a life spiraling out of control. Miles is an endearing character whose difficult journey will generate compassion and hope.” — School Library Journal

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

“In the final book of the ”Unwind Dystology,“ everything comes full circle. Shusterman expertly reminds readers about the characters and their current situations without distracting from the current plot. Teens gain information on all of the key players, and each well-crafted narrative moves at a refreshing pace. … Characters old and new are integrated into the story line, providing insight and closure. Shusterman generates a lot of thought-provoking topics for discussion. The story is intriguing: a wonderful end to a unique and noteworthy series.” — School Library Journal

Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters (Ooligan Press)

Book Description: Shy, intellectual, and living in rural Oregon, Triinu Hoffman just doesn’t fit in. She does her best to hide behind her dyed hair and black wardrobe, but it’s hard to ignore the bullying of Pip Weston and Principal Pinn. It’s even harder to ignore the allure of other girls. As Triinu tumbles headlong into first love and teenage independence, she realizes that the differences that make her a target are also the differences that can set her free. With everyone in town taking sides in the battle for equal rights in Oregon, Triinu must stand up for herself, learn what it is to love and have her heart broken, and become her own woman.

Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan (Ravenstone)

“In this adrenaline-fueled supernatural adventure, a young woman channels her anger into fighting, only to risk losing everything due to her lack of control. Jade Barrera, 17, is a rising star in the mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit, but after she snaps and hurts the wrong person, she’s sent to regain her focus by training in Thailand, where she’s exposed to new ways of thinking and living. … SF author Sullivan (Lightborn) spins a kinetic, violent, and magical tale that makes excellent use of Jade’s hard-edged voice. Sullivan brings to life the beauty of Thailand and the sweat and blood of the gym, infusing them with magic and danger.” — Publishers Weekly

Stray by Elissa Sussman (Greenwillow)

“Fairy-tale tropes are turned on their heads in this exploration of class and ideology. Aislynn is a princess who has always intended to follow the Path. However, her wicked heart is often at odds with her desperation to obey the rules that state she must resist the curse of her innate magic. … The creative use of the role of fairy godmother is fascinating, as is the fantasy world.” — Kirkus

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen)

“Sarah Dunbar, a black high school senior in the graduating class of 1959, is nervous about entering the formerly all-white Jefferson High School with nine of her black classmates. … The big issues of school desegregation in the 1950s, interracial dating, and same-sex couples have the potential to be too much for one novel, but the author handles all with aplomb. What makes it even better is that both Linda’s and Sarah’s points of view are revealed as the novel unfolds, giving meaning to their indoctrinated views. Educators looking for materials to support the civil rights movement will find a gem in this novel, and librarians seeking titles for their LGBT displays should have this novel on hand.” — VOYA

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters (Simon Pulse)

“Mara Stonebrook knows she does not belong; she is ”different.“ Her small town is conservative and strictly religious. … Mara has managed to escape her father’s abuse for 15 years, but she knows that if anyone finds out her deepest secret, that she is a lesbian, she will be punished as an abomination in the eyes of their conservative church. If her father finds out, she will be lucky to live. Keeping her secret is easy until Xylia comes to town. … Emotionally wrenching, this novel will resonate with students struggling with their own sexual orientation.” — School Library Journal

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)

“When 10th grader Jam Gallahue meets British exchange student Reeve Maxfield, she fees like she finally understands love, and when she loses him, she can’t get over it. Her grief eventually lands her at the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teenagers. … Making her YA debut, acclaimed author Wolitzer writes crisply and sometimes humorously about sadness, guilt, and anger.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

New Releases – May 2014

Shelter by Patricia H. Aust (Luminis Books)

Book Description: Miguel’s dad is at it again—physically abusing his mom and sister and terrorizing Miguel for no good reason. But when Miguel’s mom and sister, who have been whispering to one another for some time, decide to stand up to the abuse and decide to move to a women’s shelter, Miguel’s life begins to take turns he never expected. After the family moves out, it isn’t long before Miguel’s dad promises to change his ways before once again becoming abusive; leaving Miguel to summon the courage to stand up to the man he thought he loved. This emotional and stirring novel is told from the point of view of a young man who is torn between the love he feels for his abusive father and the responsibility to protect his family.

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

“Being forced to attend summer school becomes a blessing in disguise for 14-year-old Alek Khederian when it sparks a romance with an older boy named Ethan, who runs with a crowd of skateboarders and perceived burnouts. … Barakiva avoids stereotypes and clichés to create a sweet portrait of nascent adolescent love between two boys growing up and finding themselves (with some help from nearby New York City).” — Publishers Weekly

Remember Me by Melanie Batchelor (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Jamie Richards has lost a lot. Her father died four years ago and her mother is consumed by her career. Jamie finds an escape through her artistic passion and her first love—the one person who hasn’t abandoned her, Erica Sinclair.

Overwhelmed by their own harsh realities, Jamie and Erica create a world of their own in an abandoned park—a place they call “Wonderland.” Jamie idolizes Erica until the two grow closer, and she realizes that her ideal image of Erica is nothing shy of fiction. When cracks beneath the exterior become more prevalent, Jamie begins to question the love she thought she had for Erica, and if that love was ever reciprocated.

And then it happens. A shocking event occurs that changes Jamie and Erica’s relationship forever. Jamie knows that there’s no escaping this reality—she’ll have to find a way to move forward without hiding behind her sketchbook.

Truth or Dare (Rumor Central #4) by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (KTeen Dafina)

Book Description: Maya has no problem turning up the heat when she takes her show on the road for Spring Break in Cancun. On and off camera, the drama with her crew is chart-topping scandalous. And when a reckless bet Maya makes with Evian turns into a full-blown kidnapping crisis, Maya turns disaster into a major ratings win. But she’d better watch her back, because Evian is taking advantage of her moment in the spotlight and she just may push Maya out of the way for good. Maya will have to work all her skills and face some hard truths to save her credibility—and make sure the best gossip diva wins …

Call Me by My Name by John Ed Bradley (Atheneum)

“A friendship between two teens, one black and one white, emerges both because and in spite of racial change in a 1970s Louisiana town. … Bradley is an accomplished sportswriter and deftly evokes the cultural importance of small-town sports and how these communities experienced racial change in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Rodney and his family are richly drawn characters; indeed, narrator Rodney’s grappling with his ambivalence about race is especially well-done.” — Kirkus

Undone by Cat Clarke (Sourcebooks Fire)

Book Description: Jem Halliday is in love with her best friend. It doesn’t matter that Kai is gay, or that he’ll never look at her the way she looks at him. Jem is okay with that. But when Kai is outed online by one of their classmates, he does the unthinkable and commits suicide.

Jem is left to pick up the pieces of her broken life. Before he died, Kai left her twelve letters—one for each month of the year—and those letters are all Jem has left. That, and revenge.

Although Kai’s letters beg her not to investigate what happened, Jem can’t let it go. She needs to know who did this, and she’ll stop at nothing to find the person responsible for Kai’s death. One way or another, someone is going down. Someone is going to pay.

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles (Candlewick)

“Giles’s (Dark Song) background teaching special education students informs this blunt, honest, and absorbing story about two young women overcoming challenges that have less to do with their abilities to read or write than with how society views and treats them. In short, alternating chapters, the girls narrate in raw and distinct voices that capture their day-to-day hurdles, agony, and triumphs. The “found family” that builds slowly for Quincy, Biddy, and Elizabeth—with no shortage of misunderstandings, mistrust, or tears—is rewarding and powerful.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

While We Run by Karen Healey (Little, Brown)

“In the follow-up to When We Wake (2013), a diverse, skilled and politically committed group of teenagers fights a chillingly sinister government in a future Australia. … This is the best kind of speculative fiction, combining diverse, well-realized characters with thought-provoking dilemmas. Abdi’s strong voice and keen awareness of his own ability to manipulate situations provide a compelling window into a future world. Suspenseful, well-crafted and visionary.” — Kirkus, starred review

Portrait of Us by A. Destiny and Rhonda Helms (Simon Pulse)

Book Description: Corinne is looking forward to a perfect summer taking classes at a local art studio, where a famous artist-in-residence will be teaching. She’s always wanted to focus more on her art, and the related competition (and grand prize) would be a perfect way to end the summer.

Her dreams become muddled when she finds out she has to work with Matthew—the arrogant, annoying jock whose postmodern style seriously clashes with her classic aesthetic.

But what she expects to be a total nightmare turns out to be something different when she finds that maybe, just maybe, Matthew isn’t as bad as she thought. Underneath that jock exterior, he might be someone Corinne could tolerate. Or possibly even like.

The question is…does Matthew feel the same way? Or is this all just a summer fling?

Reborn by C.C. Hunter (St. Martin’s Griffin)

Book Description: For Della Tsang, Shadow Falls isn’t just a camp: it’s home.  As a vampire who’s just starting to come into her powers, it’s the one place she can finally be herself. But when a new evil threatens everyone she cares about, Della is determined to do everything she can to save them … even if it means teaming up with the one boy who can break her heart. In Reborn, return once again to C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls, a camp where supernatural teens learn to harness their powers and discover the magic of friendship and love.

The Screaming Divas by Suzanne Kamata (Merit/Adams Media)

“Rock music offers four teen girls a much-needed outlet and escape in mid–1980s South Carolina. The Screaming Divas are an unlikely ensemble. Brought together by Trudy, a magnet for trouble who is fresh out of juvie, the band also includes gorgeous Cassie, a former child-beauty-pageant queen; stoic Harumi, a classically trained violinist who had a meltdown at her Juilliard audition; and shy Esther, who harbors a secret crush on Cassie. The third-person narration rotates through the four members’ viewpoints to show what attracts each girl to the group.” — Kirkus

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (Dutton)

“At age 18, Emi Price is making big strides toward a career in production design, with a rent-free Los Angeles apartment and an enviable and promising internship on a movie set. When Emi and her best friend Charlotte discover a letter written by a recently deceased film icon (think Clint Eastwood), it leads them to his unknown granddaughter, Ava. Emi is smitten, and as her life and career take ever more fortunate turns, her recently broken heart begins to heal with the hope of new love with Ava.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Guardian by Alex London (Philomel)

“It’s a grave new world when the revolution a reluctant hero inspired could mean the death of everyone he tried to save, including himself. … Proxy should be read first to fully comprehend this sequel’s complex conflict and characters. Though Book 1 established Syd’s homosexuality, he experienced only unrequited crushes. Here, Liam’s affection for Syd and Syd’s reluctance to perpetuate emotional attachment … is more foreground than back story. Don’t assume for a second that romance takes away from the volatile action and high-stakes tension. Corrupt powers, budding romance, an epidemic and grisly action synthesize to sate sci-fi fans.” — Kirkus

Frenemy of the People by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Clarissa and Lexie couldn’t be more different. Clarissa is a chirpy, optimistic do-gooder and a top rider on the school’s equestrian team. Lexie is an angry, punk rock activist and the only out lesbian at their school.

When Clarissa declares she’s bi and starts a Gay-Straight Alliance, she unwittingly presses all of Lexie’s buttons, so Lexie makes it her job to cut Clarissa down to size. But Lexie goes too far and finds herself an unwitting participant in Clarissa’s latest crusade. Both are surprised to find their mutual loathing turning to love.

A change in her family’s fortunes begins to unravel Clarissa’s seemingly perfect life, and the girls’ fledgling love is put to the test. Clarissa and Lexie each have what the other needs to save their relationship and the people they love from forces that could tear them all apart.

Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber (Margaret K. McElderry Books

“Ever since age four when Lily joined the Firestone household, where ‘hard topics are… wrapped in sandpaper and swallowed,’ she has wondered why her parents adopted her. When the advent of the Korean War exacerbates the barrage of ethnic slurs 17-year-old Lily, her school’s only Asian student, endures…she is increasingly less able to ‘make a joke of it,’ as her father advises. Lily’s determination to resist her tormenters sparks a search for her pre-adoption origins and core identity. … a remarkable journey of self-discovery, inner resilience, and the fragile, surprising, and exquisite complexity of family.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen Books)

“Flowing free verse tells the story of a teenage dancer in Chennai, India, who loses a leg and re-learns how to dance. … Veda’s no disabled saint; awkwardness and jealousy receive spot-on portrayals as she works to incorporate Hinduism and Buddhism, life experience and emotion into her dancing. When she does, her achievement is about being centered, not receiving accolades. A beautiful integration of art, religion, compassion and connection.” — Kirkus, starred review

Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel (Random House)

“Calliope Margaret LeRoux deMinuit, half-human and half-Unseelie, Heir to the Midnight Throne, can save or destroy all of fairykind. Now that Callie and best friend Jack have rescued Callie’s parents, everything’s going to be just fine, right? Jack, Callie and her parents reach Depression-era Chicago, struggling against dangers both magical (cold iron, which has a worse effect on Callie’s Unseelie father, Daniel LeRoux, than on half-fairy Callie) and mundane (the racism of Jim Crow, which endangers dark-skinned Daniel more than light-skinned, half-white Callie). … Callie and Zettel bring this stellar trilogy to a satisfyingly sentimental conclusion.” — Kirkus, starred review

New Releases – May 2013

Get Over It by Nikki Carter (KTeen Dafina)

“Wholesome, down-to-earth fun.” — Kirkus

How To Be a Star by M. Doty (Poppy)

Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman (Delacorte)

“A gripping tale with important lessons for any young man.” — New York Times

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (Arthur A. Levine)

“A sometimes painful story of self-discovery, it is also a beautifully written, absolutely captivating romance between two boys, Rafe and Ben, who are both wonderfully sympathetic characters. With its capacity to invite both thought and deeply felt emotion, Openly Straight is altogether one of the best gay-themed novels of the last ten years.” — Michael Cart, Booklist starred review

Mystic (Soul Seekers Book #3) by Alyson Noel (St. Martin’s Press)

Since arriving in the dusty desert town of Enchantment, everything in Daire Santos life has changed…and not always for the better. While she’s come to accept and embrace her new powers as a Soul Seeker, Daire struggles with the responsibility she holds navigating between the worlds of the living and the dead—and her mission to defeat the evil Cade Richter. …

The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler (Simon Pulse)

“Narrator Jude’s voice is steady, honest and clear as she faces head-on her responsibility for her father’s care, her desire to step from her sisters’ shadows, her own genetic connection with her father’s disease and forbidden love. At its core, this is a touching father-daughter story made even stronger by realistic family complications and Jude’s need to find her own voice.” — Kirkus

Swans & Klons by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books)

“Philosophical dystopia fans of all orientations will find much to appreciate in this story that tackles big ideas.” — Kirkus

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez (Running Press Kids)

“Sanchez’ expertly crafted narrative … [pulls] readers into Frenchie’s anger and pain without straying into clichés of teen angst… . An exceptionally well-written journey to make sense of the senseless.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks (First Second)

“Shen’s plot ably balances drama, humor, angst, and robotic geekery, giving the book an immediate YA appeal, but one that’s broad enough to be enjoyable to older readers, as well. Visually, Hicks’s wide-eyed, inky b&w panels infuse the characters with real emotion and personality, capturing the book’s heartfelt youthfulness.” — Publishers Weekly

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith (HarperCollins)

“Most fascinating in this stirring coming-of-age novel are the blurred lines between perception and reality, genius and madness, peace and turmoil. Debut author Smith embraces the complexities of grief, family dynamics, creativity, mental illness, and love and pens them with a thoughtful, subtle hand.”— The Horn Book

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson (Delacorte)

“A sensitive and compelling read that will inspire teens to contemplate how they can make a difference.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Coda by Emma Trevayne (Running Press)

“Atmospheric and emotionally rich, this intense story practically sings with defiance, swaggering like the rock and punk of old. A strong debut from an author to watch.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review)